Day 3 of a 10 day completely silent meditation retreat. No books, no writing, no making eye contact. Just breathing, walking in nature and meditating - and eating...a little.
On this day I found myself mid afternoon, again noticing the feeling of my breath. This time was different though. I suddenly found my thoughts really getting away on me, but it wasn't so much that I had seen the thoughts out of control as soon as they happened. They had been running amok for probably 10-15 minutes without me even recognizing it and stopping them.
My first thought was...What the heck, who is in control here?!
Up until that point in life I had been under the illusion that we were in control of everything we thought. That we could just turn our thoughts around in an instant. However, what if we didn't recognize when that instant was? What if that instant was 10 - 15 minutes ago and we've now been spreading unhappy messages about ourselves to our body for that long, and now we feel like crap... you see where I am going here...
I certainly cannot call myself a master at controlling my thoughts, but that day changed something inside me. I found myself better able to catch thoughts before they got out of control and made me feel bad. Just by noticing them, not being of them, but being parted from them.
Hopefully these tips can help you notice your thoughts and discover that they do not have to have control over you.
A printable version of these techniques is below:
Technique #1 - All it takes is 1 minute
I am not going to sit here and tell you that you need to do a silent retreat to have this happen. You do not need to do that. All it takes is 1 minute. Try dedicating 1 minute a day to sitting quietly. Allow thoughts to flow through your mind. Do not try and stop them. However, every time you have a thought, or notice that you're having a thought. Say to yourself:
I see that thought.
You're probably going to be cursing me by the middle of that minute because you may find yourself saying this a lot to yourself. Bear with me. At some point in that minute you may find yourself having a thought that surprises you, a thought that you don't like, or a thought that would normally make you unhappy.
Now saying to oneself:
I see that thought, what purpose does that thought have?
You may find yourself in this moment answering yourself. This is great, but again directing the message of I see that thought, towards the answer.
Continue with this practice for a minute, if you can. Notice how many times your mind gets carried away and you have to tell yourself to remember to say, I see that thought.
Allow this part to happen, do not be frustrated with yourself. It is part of the process.
Technique #2 - Stepping Away
If you're more of a visual type. Stepping away from the thoughts can be a good tip.
Sitting quietly, again, allowing thoughts to happen. Imagine your 'self' as being just outside of your body. In front, to the side, to the back, it doesn't matter. You look back at the body and see that the body is experiencing thoughts. Seeing the thoughts now through a lens. Every time you see the body experiencing a thought, send the thought an imaginary checkmark.
You will notice something interesting happen when you do this. You will see the body experiencing thoughts that you notice and say to yourself, I don't like that thought, I don't want to send it a checkmark. Why should that thought get a checkmark?
See what is happening here? This is good. Allow this to happen, it is part of the process.
Do this for a minute or so and find yourself noticing the unhealthy thoughts. Once you notice them they are now in your control to either let in, or let go.
Technique #3 - Interrupting the conversation
No, talking to yourself is not crazy. It is perfectly normal. This is another way to notice your thoughts. This interrupting tip is best used on a day that you may find the body experiencing thoughts that are not so nice.
Sitting quietly, allowing thoughts to flow, pick a spot to interject.
"Hey! What are you going on about?"
Notice your thoughts stop for a split second.
Allow thoughts to flow, pick another spot to interrupt.
"Why are you saying those things? I don't want or need that."
Allow thoughts to flow, picking another spot to jump in.
What you may notice while you're doing this:
Wait...if I am interjecting, then who is running the other thoughts...
If it's not a matter of who, then what...
Okay, it's my subconscious mind pushing nonsense in my direction.
When I interject, I not only notice that thought that was pushed in my direction but I am also breaking the feeling that I would normally get from it.
Hey! I am not those thoughts! (Insert happy dance 💃 )
It may seem a little hard at first to notice and interject, but it will only take a few more times doing this and your mind will develop a nice little habit for you of catching those pesky thoughts that run amok.
Once the body stops reacting to the unhealthy thoughts then the thought will gently dissipate.
Changing the mind, one step at a time...
Every day, many of our thoughts are the same from yesterday. Some studies suggest up to 90%! As we begin to shift our thoughts those little changes will start to show in the days following.
Try not be frustrated or hard on yourself while going through this process. You will see ups and downs. This is very much a lifelong practice, but it becomes so much easier over time.
If you need help at all with this process, please let me know. I am here on the path with you.