Just A Passing Cloud-A Meditation For Unpleasant Thoughts
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. –Jon Kabat-Zinn
Have you ever watched a passing cloud?
It’s there in the moment, passes before you, and finally disappears from view.
Unpleasant thoughts act in very much the same way. They arise-and then pass.
Sure, thoughts can seem overwhelming in the moment, but this is temporary. Everything in life is impermanent. Thoughts included.
This can be hard to believe when our minds get stuck.
We truly feel that whatever thought process we are caught up in is never going to end. But, as the old saying goes, “this too shall pass.”
So just what can we do to deal with unpleasant thoughts that cloud our minds?
The key to dealing with unpleasant thoughts that seem to hang on is to be fully present with them so that they can fade away-like a passing cloud.
It’s our natural inclination to resist such thoughts. But in truth, this just makes them linger.
That’s where mindfulness comes into play.
Mindfulness gives us a different view of thoughts that aren’t helpful.
When we practice mindfulness, we experience these difficult thoughts and emotions. But we experience them as an observer – rather than being washed away by the never-ending torrent of cognitions and feelings that flood our minds.
By becoming moment-to-moment observers of our thought process, we learn to just watch the deluge without getting carried away in the current.
Part of this process is understanding how autopilot thinking plays a role in thoughts that linger. Autopilot is the scripts that play in our heads. It is always thinking about the past or future, hanging on to and magnifying unpleasant thoughts.
The solution to autopilot is to move into a state of mindful awareness by focusing on the present moment.
This allows us to get some distance from unpleasant, autopilot-driven thoughts. And it keeps us from attaching to thoughts that linger.
Through mindfulness, we can clearly see that frustrating thoughts are just that-thoughts, not facts. And that they too will eventually fade away.
We can practice this concept through mindfulness meditation. This allows us to be present with unpleasant thoughts in a safe environment.
Following is a meditation adapted from my book.
I invite you to try this meditation for five minutes each day to better understand just how this concept works.
1. Set a timer for seven minutes so that you won’t be preoccupied with a clock.
Take a minute to breathe and get centered. Count your breaths to bring the attention to the present moment. Inhale….1, Exhale….2, Inhale…3….and so on. Count to ten.
2. Now bring the anxiety-provoking situation into your awareness.
Imagine an open space in your awareness where the situation can be present. Start by just holding it there in your awareness. Keep some of your attention on your breath to stay anchored in the present moment. Aim to stay here for about five minutes.
3. End the meditation by focusing all of your attention on the breath for a minute or two.
The important part of this meditation is what is what happens while you are holding the anxiety-invoking situation in your awareness.
Try to notice everything that happens in your mind and in your body. Pay close attention to your thoughts while you are focusing on the anxiety-causing situation.
First, notice what the situation looks like in your mind’s eye. Is there an image? Is it a series of thoughts?
What happens over time? Does the situation stay sharp in your awareness? Or does it get fuzzy and indistinct? Is it hard to keep it in your awareness? What thoughts arise in response to the situation?
Notice if habitual autopilot thinking patterns arise. And most importantly, please see that you can just let your thoughts be. You don’t have to do anything with them.
Know that it’s likely that you will get carried away with autopilot from time to time. That’s OK. It happens to all of us during meditation practice. When you notice that this has happened, just gently escort your attention back to the breath and the present moment.
The more you get to practice this meditation, the easier it will become.
Take a few minutes after finishing the meditation to think about what you learned. How did anxiety manifest in your mind and body?
Now congratulate yourself on a job well done. You deserve it.
To your mindfulness,