Today I continue my discussion of mindfulness, but first, what are you thinking about right now? As you are reading this introduction, in these few seconds, are you able to identify any thoughts? Or are your thoughts running away from you so fast you are chasing their shadow? Perhaps the very question I have posed has interrupted your train of thoughts.
So let me ask you a different question: Are you reading this post to escape from certain thoughts, to distract yourself? Or are you conscious of a clear mental intention, like “I am reading this article because I hope it will help me become more mindful or at least entertain me a little”?
Thoughts in action
As you can imagine, identifying and catching thoughts in action might feel a bit strange, sort of like going backstage before a show and looking at performers running around and getting ready. It kills the illusion. But let us do it anyway, at least a little. Let us step behind the curtains for a quick peek.
But how? It is difficult to catch ourselves thinking. Not many of us can act like Sheldon, a character from The Big Bang Theory, in this scene taking place in a university cafeteria:
Sheldon: I’ve been thinking about Dr. Green’s efforts to make science palatable for the masses.
Leonard: Yeah? What about it?
Sheldon: That’s all. I’ve just been thinking about it. Now I’m thinking about fractal equations. Now I’m thinking about the origin of the phrase “train of thought.” Now I’m thinking about trains.
Raj: Are you listening to this guy?
Howard: Hmm? Oh, I’m sorry, I was somewhere else.
Leonard: Lucky bastard!
Sheldon: Now I’m thinking about Jell-O.
So while Howard’s mind was somewhere else, Sheldon was mindful enough to know what he was thinking. For a beginner student of mindfulness, this is hard to do when surrounded by distractions.
So a better way to observe your thoughts is to sit in your room, set the alarm for 5-10 minutes, and close your eyes. Like a cat behind a window watching people go by, watch your thoughts go by. Don’t be surprised if you have all kinds of thoughts: Pleasant or unpleasant thoughts about what is happening right now (e.g., a sound outside), ones about your future plans or what happened earlier, even ones related to the present exercise:
-Do I smell fries?
-Great, neighbors are having a party again, how can I focus now?
-Hey, I noticed that thought! So I was mindful.
-Mindfulness is cool.
-What was I thinking about earlier?
-This is taking forever!
-What am I supposed to think?
-I want to have a little snack, maybe some chips.
-Mindfulness is boring.
-My legs hurt.
-Oh no, I’m remembering that annoying jingle again.
-My legs hurt.
-Perhaps I didn’t set the alarm right because this is definitely more than 10 minutes.
The above are just examples, of course, but you may be surprised by the variety of your thoughts. Don’t try to remember your thoughts during the exercise. Just observe them, as though you are backstage watching your thoughts which are actors on the stage of your mind. Some will be calm and quiet. Others will be loud, busy, continuing to circle the stage. One thought may pass so fast you fail to catch it. Others grab a megaphone and shout…over and over again.
They are a bunch of characters, are they not?
And the drama changes each time you practice mindfulness formally or informally (e.g., waiting in line mindfully at the grocery store).
So how do you feel now? What are you thinking? Okay, enough thinking for one day; let us go back and sit in the audience and enjoy the show. Until next time, when I say more about mindfulness of thoughts.