What do you think?Katja Leslie
Have you ever considered thinking about what you think about your thoughts…..or what your thoughts think of you? Any first impressions or lasting memories? Hmmm our thoughts…….powerful, innovative, suffocating, challenging, inspirational and debilitating….. There’s a lot to think about with thoughts isn’t there……what a merry dance they lead us on and sometimes the dance doesn’t always seem all that merry, does it……
It was French philosopher Descartes who stated ‘I think therefore I am’; suggesting that thoughts are confirmation that we exist. However, our ‘thinking’ on this topic has evolved and expanded since this statement and it is generally agreed, by philosophers and neuroscientists, that our thoughts do not define us. To associate therefore with every thought we have can be misleading and unhelpful, given that some thoughts are simply not useful or productive.
Let’s think about the process of thoughts emerging; the inner dialogue if you will, that occupies our mind when we observe the world around us. You see, we are not simply observing a scene unfolding in front of us, our mind is providing a narrative to the everyday events we witness; a narrative we invariably accept as truth. This is all ok so far until we factor in that the narrative is often negative/fearful in nature. “People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgements, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on,” Eckhart Tolle – author of ‘The Power of Now’ states.
When we become mindful of being the witnesses to our thoughts; when detached observation takes precedent over automatic response/conclusion, we can start to move from passenger along our journey and into the driver’s seat. Thoughts alone are not the single cause of our suffering and unhappiness; it is the meaning and attachment, power and response we ascribe our thoughts that causes us to stumble.
In placing the weight of what is true for us within the arms of our thoughts, rather than connecting with what is really our truth, we experience emotional distress and suffering. As a proponent of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) a common process I might go down with a client is to assist them in weighing up the ‘evidence’ as a judge in court would do, to ascertain the proportion of truth and fallacy inherent within any train of thought or perceived ‘truth’ held by the mind.
If we hold a falsely perceived truth or belief pattern for long enough and we traverse life passive to its impact, suffering, increased anxiety and mental conflict become our experience. The practice of mindfulness creates a tool whereby we can observe runaway thoughts; allowing them to enter our awareness and notice them rather than becoming attached and assigning importance to them. We commence the process of empowering ourselves and asserting control over our thoughts when we consciously choose which thoughts to give energy to.
A thought appears real when we give it enough attention; similar to the email that gets flagged up. Becoming aware of the thought gives it attention, unless you choose to place your attention elsewhere.
I am not advocating denying all thoughts and choosing not to acknowledge them – rather, be present as you observe your mind; your thoughts, emotions, reactions, judgements and feelings. Just as you can choose how to respond to any given situation, you can also choose the meaning and importance you give to your thoughts. What mental energy are we going to give our insignificant or long running negative thoughts?
For many, unwanted thoughts are a serious and quite debilitating situation. In cases where intrusive or obsessive thoughts cause distress and an increase in stress and anxiety, there are ways to begin to alleviate the undeniable suffering and pain some can experience.
A thought ‘is’; both positive and negative thoughts will inevitably arise and resistance to a thought can give strength to their existence. Negative attention is still attention and as much as possible we can endeavour to accept that unwanted thoughts will invariably arise, but will diminish, especially when they do not receive attention. Allowing the thoughts to simply be there; allowing them the space to exist without forcing them to disappear, is a practice that can assist in lessening their power and longevity.
Reframing negative/fearful thoughts can be an empowering tool to become the driver of your journey. Consider the thought and ensuing feelings and physical sensations connected to ‘I’ll never get over this’, as opposed to ‘I may not be feeling better today, but I am doing everything I can to ensure that eventually I will start to feel better…’
So many elements impact our thoughts – beliefs, past events, moods, diet, health, stress, level of self-awareness and so on. Learning to weigh up the validity; the truth or falsehood inherent within any thought or belief; seeking the ‘evidence’ to support the thought pattern as well as intercepting thoughts and negative patterns before they can run amok within our minds is key to healthier thinking and ultimately ‘being’. We have the choice as to whether to attach to our thoughts or allow them to ebb and flow; we are therefore not our thoughts.
As this blog draws to a close, I would like to finish by wishing you all an abundant, blessing-filled 2018 and beyond; life is precious – you are precious, needed and valued – Namaste x