The liberating art of witnessing your thoughts
It’s one of those days when hundreds of thoughts course through my mind. Among them self-doubt, worries, past follies, perniciously seek out my mental energy. Feeding on each other and fueling emotions at large, these thoughts spiral on in my mind mostly painting a dark and bleak future.
Then again, in the ever-changing landscape of my mental canvas, I become aware that the thoughts I give attention to are the ones that take on an intensity of brightness. Thus I seek to bring in occasional surges of competing positive thoughts that color in hope and enthusiasm into the medley. But like every other mental endeavor, these last — only momentarily. Then they too fall away, just like their predecessors.
In wanting to deal with the disturbance caused by thoughts of every kind, I take on the traditional approach of quieting the mind through breath control and meditation. A few long deep breath helps bring in the grosser form of air to manipulate the subtle form of thoughts and emotions. But through experience, I know that the hideous thoughts are merely waiting to pounce again.
So through meditation, I decide to go down into the ocean, where the strong waves of thoughts can no longer reach me. There I experience a depth of peace and momentary freedom of the silent mind. However, I find it hard to stay down the ocean and am soon pushed back to the surface. But now, the turbulences of the mind are somewhat manageable and move in slower motion. Yet the waves of thoughts lay simmering and waiting to gather mass and momentum again….
Amid this temporary silence, I become aware of the backdrop of my mental screen against which the movie of my mind is getting projected. By itself, this screen remains blank and thus any attempts to place attention on it for long fails, for there is nothing tangible to focus on.
But the insight into the backdrop screen motivates me to probe further and this time, I seek to understand the nature of the mind that is doing what it does best — thinking, perceiving, feeling, etc.
So instead of going deep into the ocean, I step out of the ocean and watch the waves of thoughts. Riding high and low, these waves of thoughts lash onto the shores of my mind, where I remain a detached observer of them all. The pervasive thoughts amongst these reach out to the shores and attempt to pull me back into the ocean. But with the strength of my inquiring mind, I continue to remain as a silent witness!
Each thought is then, like a wave, reaching out into the shores and receding back into the ocean, harmlessly and impersonally.
Once we become aware of a thought, then it just becomes an object of our attention. Knowing that I am feeling sad is an indicator that “I” am not really sad but that I am merely aware of the feeling of sadness passing through the mind! In other words, being aware of our thoughts and feelings helps us to recognize that, that what we are experiencing is not us. It also helps us to understand that not everything that we experience, needs to be acted upon!
By learning to watch thoughts, we become patient with ourselves and our transient mental states. We no longer react on an auto-pilot mode to every thought. We become receptive to discover our basic essence of happiness and goodness which prevails amid the variety of thoughts.
As we become comfortable with our thoughts moving in and out of our mind, just like the waves on the shores, we find that these thoughts that we give so much importance to, are mostly repetitive and redundant in nature. In unmasking this entire thought processes, we are then competent to turn on and off the screen of our mind — as and when we need it.
This liberating art of watching the thoughts takes much practice. But it is a transformative practice, worth cultivating.