Today, we cover the last basic piece of mindfulness: working with your thoughts and the mind. You have learned so far to use your breath as home, bring awareness into your body, and to begin working with your emotions. All of these things layer on top of each other as you work toward greater self-awareness.
When you began this practice on Week 3, your homework had you noticing your thoughts, letting them go, and returning to your breath. The part of you that is doing the noticing and issuing the instruction to return is called your observer self.
The You that Watches You
Your observer self is the you that watches you. It is the piece that exists outside of your habitual thinking and past conditioning. It is the you that is free to see things clearly and to make decisions from a higher perspective. A large part of initial meditation practice is to cultivate this observer self since it is from this place that you experience true freedom in your thinking, decision making, and choices in life.
Your mind is like a lake. Without training, that lake is often full of choppy waters. All of your thoughts, your past choices, and the things that are happening to you create those turbulent waves. As the water churns and crashes against itself, your mind can be full of noise. You often can't understand which wave is which or even see what started each wave to begin with. It's all just crashing waves and water water everywhere.
Some of the waves were created by positive thoughts and actions while others came from negative thoughts and actions. As both types crash around, they often cancel each other out or one type wins over the other for short periods of time. It can be mental chaos.
Meditation is a tool that calms those waters down. As your lake becomes less choppy and it's surface becomes stiller, your observer self starts to see which waves were created by which actions. You become better able to see the links.
Being able to see the links and to really see which thoughts, internal decisions, or external events are creating which waves is the first step. From there, you become able to stop or sometimes just minimize the harmful waves. And, as the lake calms over time, you become able to create your own more positive waves that lead to better outcomes because they aren't competing with or being cancelled out by the more destructive ones.
Three Stages of Working with Your Thoughts
The lake analogy shows the three stages of learning to work with your thoughts:
So where do I start?
As you start working with your thoughts, we go back to Step 1: Seeing Clearly. This involves being able to work with your observer self. Up until now, you were labeling your thoughts, "Thinking Thinking," and letting them go. This week you will change, "Thinking Thinking" to a more specific label.
As you are doing your sitting, as a thought arises, give it a meaningful label and let it go. For example, if your mind wanders off to review everything you need to do once you are done meditating, that is called planning. You would label that, "Planning Planning," and let it go. Or, if your mind wanders off to think about that argument you had yesterday and how you were right and they were wrong, that is called justifying. You would label that, "Justifying Justifying," and let it go.
Some common labels are: Grasping Grasping, Defending Defending, Planning Planning, Justifying Justifying, Fantasy Fantasy, Distraction Distraction, Judgment Judgment, Ego Ego, and so on.
If you get stuck or just can't find a good label, use "Thinking Thinking," for now. You will get better at labeling your thoughts over time. As you really begin seeing your thinking, your thought patterns will become like old friends. As you sit and the same ways of thinking return, it can often be like, "Oh, hello, distracting thoughts. It's good to see you. How have you been?"
Drop Any Added Judgment or Evaluation of Your Thoughts
It's important to avoid any judgment or evaluation of your thoughts during the meditation process. While actually doing the practice, you are just noticing, labeling, and letting go. No judgments. No evaluations. You are learning to give all thoughts the same weight as they pass by. Just notice, label, and let go.
For example, if you label a thought "Ego Ego," it could come with the added judgment-related thought of, "Darn it. I shouldn't be thinking that way." When you do this, you now have two labels. You have "Ego Ego," for the first thought and then "Judgment Judgment." for that bonus thought.
You will naturally get better at this over time. If this is difficult, be kind to yourself. You don't have to do everything perfectly or "get it right." This is called a "practice" for a reason.
Adding This into Your Practice
This week, add this labeling piece into your meditation. You now have the key component to mindfulness: breathe, body, emotions, and mind. Next week, we will go over everything as a whole so you can see where we are to-date.
Be healthy, be strong, and continue to grow.
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