Thinking about your thoughts

sunset plane.jpg

Have you ever thought about your thoughts? Do you ever wonder where they come from? We talk about our inner voice yet where does this inner voice reside?

I don’t presuppose to have the answer. All I know is that there IS this voice. In fact there might even at times seem like more than one.   Inside of our head the thoughts spiral around from deep and reflective to mundane. They can be distracting and helpful. 

Yet when we think about our thoughts something happens. We give attention to them. When we give attention then they become more formidable, real and accessible.

So then it seems to me it is important that we CHOOSE the thoughts we think about, right?  For if we let our thoughts spiral out of control, or we let the ones that do not support us take over, well then that is not much fun. Well at least I don’t think so.

I could throw in a whole heap of psychology and such but that is not my point here. There are books, psychologists, and experts who will tell you all the same as I just said and add some nice jargon and research to back up their points. I highly regard their input. For purposes of this writing I am simply making an observation.

So what are the options of thinking about our thoughts?  We can do all kinds of things with them.  This is assuming you want to think about anything at all. You may wish to not think and that might even be the best choice at the moment.   For those of you who are experienced in meditation you will know what it is like to reach that place where no thought exists. Well actually it is not necessarily no thought, it is more a focused attention that helps you clear, not notice, the thoughts that do come.

The thoughts are there as a by-product of you being human. So lets make them work for you.

Let’s play

First what are you thinking right now?

Now register that thought and ask what do you think about that thought you just had.

Notice the difference. The first thought organically emerged in your consciousness. It came up for some reason. Some part of you wants that thought to have attention.  Then the thought you had about that thought is your evaluation, critique, judgement about the thought. One precedes the other and the other does not exist without the first.

Here’s my example.

I walked outside and looked at the sunset over the bridge near my house. I thought to myself “What a pretty sunset”.  Then as soon as that thought came in my head my next thought was “I really like this sunset.  I wonder if I could take a picture of it or if the light is too low for my camera.”  This then lead me down the path of pulling out the camera, realising yes the light was too low unless I got my tripod out. I decided not a good enough sunset for the tripod effort. So on I went.

Both thoughts are now gone. They do not even register other than the fact that I am retelling this to you.

Up another level

Now lets go to another level with this thought. What if I had a different dialogue?

The first thought in my head still is “What a pretty sunset”.  The second more conscious intervening thought is “So I wonder why I am noticing this sunset right now? What could this moment be for me?”  Now as I immediately follow through on this internal conversation I get a different experience. Instead I am taken more within to a deeper more reflective thought. For this moment I am drawn to pause. I need to consider the moment not rush out and do something external to me.

As I stop, pause and reflect what comes up now is not a need to take a photo but instead a fuller experience (not that taking a photo is not a full experience, they are for me too). I not only think about the sunset I am seeing but I am also feeling it. I notice the emotions that are present. I notice my body physically. I notice overall a feeling of contentment and happiness as I appreciate and witness a fleeting yet powerfully beautiful moment in nature and time. 

Now as I go on what is also interesting is that whilst the thought ‘What a pretty sunset’ does not really linger, the feeling, the after effect and the joy from witnessing and reflecting about it do.

Overall observation

In each case the amount of time I took for these two experiences was the same. The first was externally driven and the second was internally driven.

What I gather from the above comparison is this:

  • Thoughts come and go irrespective of what we are doing.
  • The quality of our experience can be shifted consciously based on the way we think about our thoughts.
  • Our thoughts are an invitation to gain more insight.  They are also an opportunity to focus on an experience.
  • There are short and long term outcomes of our thought processes.

Ultimately I think it is interesting to observe what thoughts come up. Play with what happens when you introduce conscious thoughts.  Following the simplified cause and effect relationships above seem easy when it’s a neutral example. 

Meaning makes the difference

But what happens if we layered more meaning on it?

So here’s the thought…’What a nice sunset’.  Then I pause and say to myself “What does this sunset mean for me?” or even bigger ask “So what do sunsets mean for me or remind me of in my life?”  The first could lead to an interpretative response like ‘Sunsets are signal the end of a day and I feel good as I know that the hustle and bustle of the day has ended. I am shifting into family time.’  Nice and meaningful. 

Then the next level if I allow it could be even deeper. “Sunsets remind me of the time I was flying in a plane, watching the sun set while trying to get to my mom’s hospital before she died.”  Yes this really did happen. And yes I was too late.  As I sit I can take myself back exactly to that moment.  I can actually remember sitting in my seat, looking out the window over the broad stretch of clouds, and remember the thought ‘What a nice sunset.’  Actually I remember thinking ‘what an amazing...oh my god this is such a beautiful sunset.’  

Then I went to this place inside of me that revealed a deeper thought. The thought came to me that this is also the sunset of my mother’s life (yes I can have such statements in my head). It is for me to see the beauty of a life in it not the sadness of the end. And for that moment, fleeting as it was, I was able to sit with that thought and the emotions it triggered. 

Association hangs in for the long haul

For a long time every sunset felt like an invitation back to that moment.  I had created an association.  Testament to the power of a thought is how the attention we give it leads to other experiences.  When we add a layer of meaning to it then there is more embedded. I noticed that in the early stages of grieving, witnessing a sunset would trigger the thoughts and would send me into a fountain of tears.  Over time as I healed I instead now can have a more nostalgic loving memory of a part of my life and the next stage that emerged. The sunset instead now reminds me of cycles in life, endings leading to new beginnings.  What I did was add a layer of meaning and interpretation to my thought. I personalised an objective, impartial recurring experience in nature and linked it forever in me to an event.  I also evolved the association with my subsequent thoughts.

Powerful resource to use wisely and well

The power of our thought is pretty amazing, isn’t it!

I share all this deeper more real information with you not to trigger any reaction. What I want to do is show the full gamut of the power of our thoughts. They are not just trivial. In fact more likely you have meaningful thoughts.  What is powerful is what you choose to do with your thoughts.

Within each of us is the ability to pay attention to thoughts at different levels, invite experiences, create associations. We are also equally powerful in our ability to change what these thoughts represent. I know underneath are beliefs, values and attitudes - a whole separate conversation.  What our thoughts do for us though is provide a window, an access point to shift. When we pay attention and consciously engage with real reflection then we give our selves the opportunity to move towards more self supporting thoughts, with less judgement, more acceptance and ultimately greater good for ourselves and others.

I am still working with how to harness this part of me that knows. It excites me knowing that every moment I have the opportunity to learn and I am my own teacher. 

You also have this opportunity. You are also your own teacher.

So what thought comes up for you now?

What do you think about this thought?