Who doesn't love a parade? Music, dancing, huge balloon versions of cartoon characters; what a blast! But what if you were at a parade that never ended? After a while, the parade would not be so amusing—it would be torture! In a sense, each of us has a parade in our heads. A parade of thoughts. Our minds relentlessly produce judgments, memories and worries, whether we want them to or not. Dealing with a nonstop parade of intrusive and distressing thoughts can have a seriously negative impact on your life. However, observing the patterns of your thoughts will enable you to more effectively cope with them.
Sometimes your thoughts will be a disorganized mess that leaves you exhausted and hopeless. Imagine hosting a dinner party and feeling overwhelmed with the number of preparations that need to be made. Instead of focusing on one thing at a time, your mind erratically jumps first to the menu, then to decorations and then to the guest list in just a few seconds. Not fun!
Alternatively, thoughts may feel ingrained and repetitive, making us wish for a different thought, no matter what it may be. This often occurs when we feel resentment. If a co-worker spreads a nasty rumor about you, your thoughts will likely be fixated on what this person said and what other people think. You may also find yourself rehearsing a scathing rant in preparation for the glorious day when you give that person a piece of your mind. Sound familiar?
In previous "Cloud Nine" articles, I've discussed how to mindfully observe thoughts and how to challenge and change your thoughts. In addition to these two reliable techniques, allow me to offer a third alternative: "Focus and Flow*."
The first step of Focus and Flow is to breathe in and tightly embrace whatever thoughts are in your head. Take ownership of them, round them up and face them.
To Focus, close your eyes, breathe in and say silently to yourself:
"Clear mind, clear mind, clear mind . . ."
This should help you feel more in control of your thinking and give you a sense of calmness and clarity. By repeating the phrase "clear mind," you are asserting yourself in the midst of your distressing thoughts. Think of this like clearing off a cluttered desk: You could try to ignore the clutter, you could feel discouraged by it or you can calmly gather it all up into one big pile. Try it right now and see how it feels.
The second step of Focus and Flow is to breathe out and let the thoughts go. Now that you've assembled a large heap of clutter, push it off the desk and onto the floor. Surrender and trust as you freefall into the unknown.
To Flow, keep your eyes closed, breathe out, and say silently to yourself:
"Don't knowwww . . . . . . ."
When doing this, you may feel a sense of relief and freedom. Regardless of what thoughts you are having, give yourself the gift of feeling completely unattached to them. The phrase "don't know" is meant to distance yourself from rigid thinking; no matter how real a worry or opinion seems to you, you can always question its validity. As I've discussed in a previous article, assumptions are often insufficient; there is always more information to learn. Take a moment to inhale and Focus again, followed by a Flow as you exhale.
Now, continue Focusing and Flowing for about five minutes. Each time you inhale, experience strength, firmness and stability. Each time you exhale, feel detachment, lightness and trust. If you need a momentary break, take a breath just on its own before continuing with the exercise. With time, inflexible thoughts will feel more loose and less dominating; chaotic thinking will become more organized and manageable.
With Focus and Flow, you can discover a healthy balance between firmly anchoring yourself in thought and freeing yourself from mental monotony. So next time the thought parade drags on, breathe in and Focus. "Clear mind, clear mind, clear mind . . ." Now that you feel stable, rooted and in control of your thoughts, toss them away and Flow. "Don't knowwww . . . . . . ."
Keep at it and there may be an end to that parade after all!
*Levey, J. & Levey, M. (1999). Simple Meditation & Relaxation. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press.
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