Don’t you wish they would stop, all the thoughtsDanusha Laméris
swirling around in your head, bees in a hive, dancers
tapping their way across the stage? I should rake the leaves
in the carport, buy Christmas lights. Was there really life on Mars?
What will I cook for dinner? I walk up the driveway,
put out the garbage bins. I should stop using plastic bags,
visit my friend whose husband just left her for the Swedish nanny.
I wish I hadn’t said Patrick’s painting looked “ominous.”
Maybe that’s why he hasn’t called. Does the car need oil again?
There’s a hole in the ozone the size of Texas and everything
seems to be speeding up. Come, let’s stand by the window
and look out at the light on the field. Let’s watch how the clouds
over the sun and almost nothing stirs in the grass.
When Danusha Laméris talks about wishing all the thoughts would stop, I think she is talking about these proliferating thoughts – the kind that jump all over, pulling us along for the ride. We miss out on the present moment: the light on the field, the clouds, the sun. The loved ones sitting with us. The contentment that’s here, in this moment.
If we lead with awareness, we have opportunities to more skillfully relate to thoughts. We can use thinking to learn about thoughts.
What are our patterns? How are thoughts driven by our experience, and how is our experience in turn affected by our thoughts? Where do these thoughts come from anyway? Where do they go?
We can also learn what kind of thoughts are useful (insights and wisdom, kindness, appreciation – what leads to more ease and well-being for ourselves and the world), and what thoughts aren’t so useful.
The tricky part is that thoughts are very seductive! So it’s easy to get lost. The good news is that no matter how far we go, it only takes a moment to return to awareness.
When working with thoughts – in meditation or when we’re focusing on a specific task – Mark Coleman suggests a practice he calls the 3 Rs: Recognize, Release, Return. We note the thought (perhaps with a label – thinking, planning, analyzing, etc.). We let the thought go. (My favorite saying from Susie is “drop it midsentence.”) Then we come back to the breath, body, sensation.
Or perhaps your may relate to this saying from Ajahn Amaro, which describes the 3 Rs another way:
Rest in the natural peace and ease that is the natural peace and ease that is the natural peace and ease of mind and body. Notice what disturbs that peace and ease, and when the disturbance has passed, return to the natural peace and east of the mind and body.A quote shared by Susie Harrington at a retreat.
Guy Armstrong has a similar quote in his book Emptiness: A Practical Guide for Meditators on page 156.
Elisha Goldstein suggests an attitude of playfulness:
The essential attitude of a meditator is curiosity. Meditation gives us an opportunity to look at what our minds do when we’re paying attention to them. And what the mind often does is wander off. Try to integrate an attitude of playfulness into your practice. Your practice doesn’t need to be rigid and strict—there can be spontaneity and flexibility. So, your mind wanders. See the thought, touch it—say here’s the thought, spend a moment with it. If it’s important, note that you want to come back to it—feel free to say, in your mind, that’s an important thought, I want to remember it. If it’s irrelevant, note that it’s irrelevant. Either way, very gently bring your attention back to your breath. Gentleness is important here, because what we practice and repeat over time becomes a habit.Elisha Goldstein. (2020, April 27). “What to Do When Thoughts Arise While Meditating.” Mindful. https://www.mindful.org/what-to-do-when-thoughts-arise-while-meditating/
For a playful approach to bringing mindfulness to thinking, you might enjoy this meditation by Guy Armstrong (a brief intro, about 40 minutes of meditation, and some follow up comments)
Morning Instructions: Thought Game
I have been appreciating the thoughts you have been sharing with me! Feel free to add your comments or send me an email!
With good wishes,