I tend to have a whirlwind of thoughts in my head at any given time. I am a ‘busy bee’ with a busy mind to match it. I often describe my worry thoughts like a laundry machine that just never stops tumbling or like a storm wildly swirling.
I recently took a Beginner’s Meditation Class… and I struggled. In my very first class, the storm of thoughts in my brain would not settle. I had judgments like ‘You teach DBT, and yet you can’t be mindful!’ I tried so hard to ignore my thoughts, push them away, or even change them. I wanted to do anything to be ‘a good student.’
I shared my busy brain with my group and how I just ‘couldn’t get into this meditation.’ In response, my teacher said, “Well, what if you just spent time being with your thoughts?” As someone who teaches Mindfulness with DBT, I often taught about being mindful and being with your emotions and thoughts. Yet, in my own state of worry, it was incredibly challenging to be with them.
At the time, it felt like my thoughts were facts. We need to remember that our thoughts are just words that we use to describe reality. That does not mean that they are facts. We need to practice thinking of our ideas like facts in disguise – they may be pretending to be true. When we practice mindfulness of our thoughts, we create some space to examine and understand ourselves better.
First, simply observe your thoughts. We must practice observing and acknowledging our thoughts as mere thoughts. We can notice as they come and go without judging them, throwing them away, or ignoring them.
Second, we need to be curious. Without judgment, consider where your thoughts are coming from. Notice all your thoughts and how they are connected. For me, my class was on Monday mornings, so my brain was trying to get prepared for the week ahead of me.
Third, remember that we are not our thoughts. As we observe our thoughts, we must be able to detach ourselves from them. When we are in our emotional mind, we cannot get a true sense of reality. Know that you can cope with this pain and decide what is true and what isn’t. While my week was busy, my judgments about it being miserable or overwhelming were not true.
Finally, do not block or suppress thoughts. Even if our thoughts are not true, they are coming to us for a reason. Consider what they are trying to tell you. Play with your thoughts and invite them in. They’re simply visiting.
Throughout the rest of my meditation class, I continued to struggle with busy thoughts. In fact, it’s still something I notice every day. Yet, the more I sit with my thoughts, the more I am learning to let them go. Instead of being swept up in the storm, I am trying to sit in the eye of the hurricane.
For many of us, anxiety and incessant mental activity can really impact our ability to think and manage daily activities. We hear messages all the time to just ‘be positive.’ Sometimes it isn’t that easy. We cannot always change our thoughts or run away from them, but we can be strong enough to be with them. Next time you feel like you are trapped with your thoughts, take a moment to be mindful of them, and notice what a difference it can make.