“It Does Not Do To Dwell On Dreams and Forget to Live, Remember That.” – Albus Dumbledore
On any given day, it is estimated that we have between 70,000-100,000 thoughts. A significant proportion of these thoughts will be past or future-orientated. For example, churning over situations that have now passed, or worrying about events that are yet to happen. Whilst these types of thoughts can of course serve a useful short-term function of helping us to process unresolved emotions and move forward, or ready us for situations that we may be about to encounter, so often, we can forget to simply live in the here and now. It’s a bit like walking through a dark room with the lights turned off, or daydreaming through life.
Mindfulness is the practise of increasing our ability to pay attention, on purpose, to the present moment. It is about connecting with and observing our current experience with our eyes wide open, and accepting our reality as it is right now, without judgement. Instead of getting caught in the past or future, or trying to change, reject or deny our reality as it is, we can observe it.
There is a wealth of research evidencing the positive effects of practising mindfulness:
- it enhances our wellbeing;
- it increases our ability to connect with positive emotions;
- it reduces our suffering and distress by supporting us to sit with difficult emotions.
Mindfulness to Current Thoughts is one particular mindfulness skill that involves stepping back from and observing our thoughts as they enter our mind. We adopt a position of viewing our thoughts as mental activities of our mind, rather than becoming tangled in them.
How do I practise Mindfulness to Current Thoughts?
First, try to observe your thoughts. Close your eyes and watch the thoughts that come into your mind, as if you are at the top of a mountain looking down on your thoughts below.
It may be helpful to use imagery to allow you to observe your thoughts as they come and go. For example, imagining your thoughts as leaves on a stream that float away; a sushi plate on a conveyor belt; clouds floating past in the sky; or trains that enter and depart a station.
You may choose to label each thought as they enter your mind as a ‘past’, ‘present’ or ‘future’ thought, or you could even try counting how many thoughts you have in one minute. The aim of this skill is to simply try to just observe these thoughts, rather than evaluating them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Next, remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. Many people report feeling like their thoughts are in control of them, and so often we can forget that our thoughts are just thoughts, not facts. By remembering that each thought is just one of thousands of thoughts you will have today, you can ultimately reduce their power. As with all thoughts, it will pass and be replaced by another.
Finally, try not to block or suppress thoughts from entering your mind. Allow them to come and go by themselves, without trying to push them away or fight with them. This can lead to an increase in our distress and make these thoughts more likely to return. A bit like a playground bully at school who tries to torment us, by creating distance from them and observing rather than reacting to them, they lose their power and move on.
By simply observing our thoughts we create distance from them. This distance is helpful in understanding that our thoughts do not represent facts about reality, and that we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are just a temporary experience we are having within us in that moment and they cannot harm us, just as a storm cannot harm the sky.
It is important to remember that we are not trying to challenge or change our thoughts, nor are we trying to rid our minds of thoughts entirely. It is a common misconception that mindfulness involves suppressing thoughts or completely clearing our minds. This isn’t possible – as thoughts are normal activities of the mind that come and go. Simply try to practise observing your thoughts and allowing them to pass.
Lastly, remember that it is normal to find this skill difficult at first. Mindfulness to Current Thoughts requires practise and patience, so try not to get tangled in ‘judgement thoughts’ that you cannot do it! If a judgement thought arises – just notice this as one of the many thoughts that you will have today and allow it to pass.