Watching Your Thoughts
Sitting on a straight-backed chair or couch, or on a cushion on the floor, allow your body to become still. Your back is straight and posture is relaxed. Begin watching your breath as in the previous exercise, and focus on your breathing, noticing how it feels.
As before, you’ll probably notice that your mind wanders off to the past, fantasies, memories or regrets. Or it may move to anticipation of the future. You may find yourself thinking about what you’ll do after this exercise, what you have to do at work, things that you have to do at home.
This time, become aware of thoughts passing through the mind, noticing them but not engaging with them, allowing thoughts to be like clouds, drifting through a vast, spacious sky. If you find yourself carried away by a stream of thoughts or you notice that you are no longer observing right here, right now, in this moment, return to the breath, anchor yourself in the awareness of the breath, coming now to this breath.
When you feel steady in the present, return again to witnessing the thoughts in the mind, allowing whatever is there to be there: thoughts of fantasies, desires, likes, dislikes, memories, judgments, pressures of obligations. Be aware of feelings, too: sadness, fear, joy, peace.
Allow your thoughts to simply emerge, as they are. Witnessing. Observing. Thoughts coming. Thoughts going. Not being drawn into analysis of those thoughts. Not pursuing them. Not rejecting or engaging with them. Watch them as an old man watches children at play—observing without being involved.
And now, drop all thoughts. Just…relax.
I know this isn’t easy. In fact, there have been numerous times—thousands—when I have wanted to flee from practicing mindfulness and wallow in the self-pity of believing that distraction was my life and there wasn’t another way. At times I’ve done just that. I urge you to stick with it, though. With time, patience and practice, you will come to see your thoughts as no more substantial than the clouds in the sky.
Adapted with permission from Minding the Bedside: Nursing from the Heart of the Awakened Mind By Jerome Stone, RN. Copyright 2011. mindingthebedside.com