In session 4 we consider the value of thinking and how far conscious thought has allowed us to develop, whilst recognising that it also brings some pitfalls. Being able to reflect on the past, to plan ahead and to imagine scenarios that are far from any reality can really support learning and creativity. However, unfortunately, we can sometimes get stuck in a 'thinking mode' where we try (and fail) to think our way out of situations which are out of our control, or we are held hostage by our thoughts about things we wish we did differently in the past or are dreading in the future.
Trying to push thoughts away or fight them with more thoughts, they often come back. We might argue with them, but often they hold a really rich emotional intensity which is hard to argue with. And herein lies some useful knowledge: We don't need to fix or make difficult thoughts go away. We can acknowledge that they are thoughts, likely fuelled and coloured by our emotions in the moment, and we can let them just be. In this way, we take a step back, creating space for other thoughts to arise and begin to see that all thoughts come and go. This can free us up and break us out of the 'thinking mode', giving us more control and reducing stress into the next moments.
Imagine a man who has built a pond in his garden. All that he wants is for the water to be still and peaceful. He sits and watches, a smooth reflection on the surface of the water. A moment later, a single leaf drops into the pond causing ripples. In a moment of panic, he jumps into the water trying to push the ripples down with his hands. This may sound like an over reaction, but this is often our response to difficult thoughts or emotions. If the man sits a little longer and watches, the ripples settle down on their own. In the same way, thoughts and emotions can and do pass without us needing to 'jump in' and cause more ripples.
Putting mindfulness of thoughts into practice:
Begin by paying attention to the breath, then when you feel ready, just open to thoughts. Noticing them as they arise (even thoughts that pretend not to be thoughts like "I'm not thinking anything" or "I don't have time for this"), see if you can watch them from a distance without getting wrapped up in them. Then seeing what comes up next. If you get lost in a particular train of thought, come back to the breath, then turn back to thoughts when you feel more grounded.
Some people like to use imagery in mindfulness of thoughts - picturing themselves sat alone in a cinema, and their thoughts appearing and fading away on the big screen in front of them - or sitting by a stream, with each thought represented by a leaf gently flowing downstream - or perhaps watching the blue sky, and thoughts moving across the sky as clouds of varying sizes and shapes. You might have your own image that comes to mind and works for you, that's absolutely fine too.
To try a guided meditation that involves thoughts have a go at any of the 'Sitting Meditation' tab on the Free Resources page. They tend to explore awareness of breath and body before moving to sounds and thoughts. For a shorter sounds and thoughts meditation, here is a short practice guided by Mark Williams.