How to View Your Thoughts as Things and Why You Should
I grew up believing that thoughts are things. It is a principle that my Mom instilled in me from a very early age, and it is probably why I am able to teach meditation. This simple phrase is at the very heart of meditation. Certainly there are other aspects, like breathing and posture, but this premise is why meditation is so effective for a variety of benefits.
When you are stressed, angry or upset you are linking your thoughts to your emotions. It’s true for all emotions, not just the negative ones. We are emotional beings. However, we are not simply emotional beings; we also have the power to reason, to think. When I say that thoughts are things that means I can choose to have a thought and not make an emotional connection. And not so much have a thought, but simply notice the thoughts that come up out of the blue, which seems to be more the case. Most of the thoughts we have in a day are not of our own choosing. In many cases, they are reactions.
For instance, suppose you have been working on a project for weeks. You are pouring your guts into it. Your boss asks you into his office and tells you that the work you have been doing is sloppy, unprofessional and behind schedule. That’s a kick in the gut…possibly. In that moment you feel a host of feelings: anger, frustration, hurt or disappointment. Because they are emotions, if not examined, will lead to a variety of responses. You might begin to cry, fume, stomp and yell…anything…everything. However, all the actions began with a thought. And because you didn’t se those thoughts as things, you became entangled in the emotions that followed; mostly out of reaction.
Simply because you feel something doesn’t mean you have to act on it, either consciously or unconsciously.
With the training that comes from meditation, you are able to do just that; have a thought and not react. You are able to choose not to become entangled in some seemingly spontaneous emotion.
Here’s another way of looking at it; when you watch TV or a movie, you aren’t next to the characters in the show, you are watching them. The movie may be engrossing, but if someone next to you begins texting, you realize that you are not part of the action on the screen, you are just watching it.
Meditation teaches you how to become an observer of your thoughts. It’s not that you become dispassionate, robotic; you just understand that it’s the reactions that cause your stress. If you are able to have thoughts and not tie an emotion to them, you would not experience the anxiety or the other stressors.
Let me give you one last example. When you go grocery shopping, do you examine every item? Of course you don’t. You go up and down the aisles passing by thousands of items. They are just there; you have no concern for them. They are simply things. You don’t like them or hate them, they are just there. Any one of them could be useful to you if you attached a value to it.
Imagine you could do the same with thoughts. Someone says something to you and you feel anger. If you have learned meditation, you would have the ability to notice that anger, just like a jar of pickles at the store, and have no reaction. You would see that anger as an object. Accordingly, you would not be compelled to yell, scream, get hurt, cry, et cetera.
The big question at this point then, is, how do you do it? How do you learn how to treat your thoughts as things? The answer to this question is at the very heart of meditation, so to answer it in a blog would be difficult. However, I can give you a start.
Begin by taking a few simple deep, deep breaths; in through your nose, holding it for a few seconds and letting it out through your mouth. After you have done that, look around you and find an inanimate object, preferably something you can hold in your hand. Select something that has personal meaning for you. Pick it up and look at it intently but objectively. Describe the item as if you were describing it to someone else. They want to know what it is, not the significance it has to you, so leave feelings out of your description. What shape is it? What color? What texture? Be as descriptive as you can.
Next, explain the significance the item has for you. Tell of where you got it. Who was with you, if anyone. Maybe it was a gift. In a complete 180 from describing the physical item, now give the same attention to the meaning of the item for you. How does it make you feel. What do you remember about it? Bring yourself to the moment you got it and experience those feelings again.
This exercise demonstrates that a thing can be without meaning or rich with significance. The same is true of your thoughts; your focus determines how you will interpret them.
A meditation practice is exactly how you begin the process of seeing thoughts as things. Once you have that skill under your belt, you are free to take your level of calm with you wherever you go.