Have you ever laid on your back and watched the clouds? There is an immensely open blue sky and a little white cloud comes into your view. Once you become aware of it, the cloud floats in from one horizon and then disappears into the other. It’s a thing of temporary beauty to watch even the darkest of clouds, and we rarely take the time to stand still long enough to see them.
Your mind is this way, open and still. Along comes a thought into the horizon. We rarely stand still long enough to see our thoughts and watch it arise and disappear. We are often so lost in the cloud of thoughts that we don’t have the separation to see them. We think we are them. Yet, it is possible to sit and watch a thought in the same way.
Your mind is all that you have. It is what you carry with you everywhere that you go. All that you do is preceded by your mind and arises in your mind. This does not mean that you are the thoughts that you have. Thoughts are what your mind is aware of. They are commentary on what has happened, is happening, will happen, and (most likely) will never happen.
The problem is that we identify ourselves with the thoughts that pass over like clouds. We grab hold of the thoughts and replay it over and over and over until we think it is us. We replay conversations we’ve had and hypothetical conversations we wish we’d had. We even think of future things that we want to say to someone. We are just a step away from internally sounding like a schizophrenic on the street. We just know that we shouldn’t say all the things that we think.
It is possible to sit still and watch your thoughts arise and then, without grabbing them, watch them disappear. This is the practice of meditation and mindfulness, a practice that you learn to carry with you. The goal isn’t to stop thoughts. Instead, the goal is the practice of seeing them clearly as they come into view and then letting them go. If you can notice anger or anxiety arising at the ground level, in its first inception, then you can easily watch it dissolve. In these instances, it is present sight, not hindsight, that is 20/20.
Try sitting in a chair for one minute. Become aware of your breath. With each in breath, internally say, “In”. With each out breath, internally say, “Out”. You may not be able to do it. That’s normal. That’s why it’s called practice. This is like shooting free throws alone in the gym so that you know what to do when time is running out and the game is on the line.
Thoughts will come in and you will forget that you are breathing. Let the thoughts go, with no judgment on how many times it happens, and then return to the breath. Consider the breath to be your home and your safe place that you can relax into. Repeat the practice. Later, expand the time. You are training yourself to notice what you are doing in the moment that you are in: breathing. The idea is that you can then take this practice with you when you’re not sitting.
The question is: “What am I doing now?” This question eliminates the chance of getting lost in a hypothetical conversation. You are not rehashing the argument that you and your spouse had, they aren’t even there. You are only driving. As you go through your next car ride alone, see if you can notice your mind wandering. You don’t have to do anything about it except notice it and return to driving. If you can do this one time, you have already made your day more peaceful.
Eric Overby lives in Russell County. You can find his poetry on Amazon and more of his writings on Instagram @mindful_stoic_poet.