We experience it everyday: a cyclical stream of thoughts that keeps us from focusing on and appreciating the present moment. Some of these thoughts are distracting, while others take our minds to a place that causes us great suffering.
These thoughts are often fear-based, usually involving emotions such as worry, anxiety, jealousy, depression, regret, and anger. And, they are habitually (every day) draining us of our beautiful creative energy.
For example, we may have been in a situation in the past in which we experienced great emotional pain. This could have been the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, or even the loss of a loved one. Months down the road, we may find ourselves constantly reliving the experience in our mind.
Yet, if we take the time to observe these thoughts, we will notice that they are often not constructive. We have the same thoughts over and over, and we force ourselves to relive our suffering again and again. This is what we call habitual negative thinking.
To someone who identifies with and believes that their thoughts are who they are, overcoming habitual negative thinking may seem impossible.
However, we are not our thoughts.
This simple truth, that I was not my thoughts, was one of the most profound realizations of my life. It came to me shortly after I began my morning meditation sessions. I found that when I would sit down to focus on my chosen mantra (the word “love”), my mind would instead focus on everything else:
- “What am I going to eat for lunch…? I’ll grab lunch with somebody at the office. We should get burritos... No that’s too heavy for lunch. Maybe we should try that new salad spot…. No, that’s too light for lunch…”
- “When should I go to the gym today…? I should go after work, but I may be grabbing drinks with my friends... Hmm, probably won’t happen after that… I should have woken up earlier and gone this morning… Maybe I’ll skip burritos and go at lunch…”
Or we may be experiencing the following thoughts:
- “How could he/she have done that to me…? I thought our relationship was going to last forever... I will never meet another person like her/him again... My life is ruined…”
- “I cannot believe my job let me go in the last round of layoffs… I sacrificed so much of my life to that company… How could my boss have let this happen…? How is it possible to just start back over…? I’m worthless now…”
And on and on, our thoughts keep coming.
Before I began my meditation practice, I had accepted that this chatter was a part of who I was. However, as I began to develop and grow, I realized that there was a distinction between my deeper self and the non-stop stream of thoughts in my mind.
It was unacceptable to me that my thoughts had more control over my mind than I (my deeper self) did. And I was determined to find a way to change this.
Watching The Thinker
I found my answer in Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. He called it “watching the thinker”:
“As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence - your deeper self - behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.”
We can regain control over our minds by learning to watch our thoughts.
We can initially practice watching our thoughts while meditating. We sit quietly, watching each thought as it manifests. We may find that the thought causes an emotional reaction, and we find ourselves anxious, sad or angry. We watch these emotions, as well.
Watching our thoughts and emotions causes them to fade away. This is because, in not identifying with them, we have taken energy away from them. It is important to remember that we do not force our thoughts away. We simply watch them, and they disappear themselves.
With practice, we can learn to watch our thoughts in our daily activities and practice mindfulness in each and every moment.
Transforming Our Thoughts & Reality
By learning to watch our thoughts, and the emotions they generate, we regain control over our minds. This enables us to focus on the beauty and joy available to us in the present moment.
And, once we are living our lives in the present moment, we are able to re-focus our inner conversations on love. Our mind has simply become a tool that we can choose to use to achieve our life’s purpose.