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Watching your river of thoughts

There are lots of incredible things about us humans and one of the most fascinating (I believe) is our ability to observe what is going on in our mind.  There is no other species that can do that.  Not only can we know what is going on in our mind but we can step back from it and observe ourselves as we are in the process of knowing!

Sound complicated?  Well, it’s actually really simple and the best way to describe it is by bringing to mind an image of yourself sitting at the side of a river.  As you look at this image in your mind’s eye, you become an observer of yourself.  You can see what is going on in the river AND you can see what you are doing as you sit there watching it.decision making 2

The river contains (metaphorically) all of the thoughts, ideas, stories and memories that are flowing through your mind.  Occassionally, one of these thoughts will pop up to the surface of the river, a bit like a log or a piece of debris or perhaps one of those flying fish leaps out of the water.  Sitting on the bank of the river you notice these thoughts popping up and what you can also notice is that they float on the surface for a while then they disappear of their own accord.

The river is constantly flowing and therefore constantly changing.  This is just like the activity in our mind.  Thoughts come and go.  They appear without us asking them to (and sometimes they can be really random!), and they also disappear without us needing to do anything.

The paradox is, however, that we don’t seem to be able to let that natural flow happen.  Just as we might find ourselves sitting on that river bank throwing stones into the river, or playing “pooh” sticks, or perhaps even taking off our shoes and having a paddle…..we often (metaphorically) find ourselves interupting the natural flow of our river of thoughts.  We see a thought popping up and we get involved in it.  Next thing we know we are thinking, analysing, judging, worrying, planning, ruminating or trying to supress or ignore it.  That calm river might suddenly become a raging torrent!

One minute we feel calm, in control, peaceful sitting watching the river flowing by.  Next minute we find ourselves in the middle of the river clinging on to a passing log for dear life!

If you want to be able to stay sitting on the river bank more often and avoid getting wet, you simply need to become that observer more often. Stepping back from the day to day thinking and doing, as if stepping back out of the situation and looking back at it as if you are looking at a photograph.  The more you do that, the easier it becomes to notice the triggers which set you sliding down the river bank and into the river.  You notice the feelings that arise as you begin to engage in the worrying, planning, ruminating, judging.  You become able to catch yourself before you have plunged into the water.

Becoming the observer on your own mind gives you choice.  Choice over whether you want to jump in and have a swim right now or whether you’re happy sitting on the dry river bank simply allowing the thoughts to come and go.

Want to know more about how to do this?  Take a look at some of my other blogs or get in touch.

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