Imagine you're sitting at a sushi bar. One of those circular ones where the patrons get to watch admiringly as the chef creates his sushi magic in the middle.
As he completes one masterpiece after another, he pops them into little transparent containers. From there they find their way onto the "sushi-train" (aka conveyer belt) and begin their arduous journey around the bar.
You, as the patron, experience a constant flow of tantalizing little sushi options trudging past you. Some look appetizing. Some don't.
If you're like me, you'll be picturing yourself with a glass of wine in your hand as you lazily notice these tubs amble by.
Maybe you'll be casually chatting to a friend. Or enjoying the ambience of the experience. Occasionally sipping your vino.
And still, those little tubs of sushi keep marching right on by.
At some point, you're inspired to reach over and lay claim to what looks like a tasty offering. And if it's delicious, you'll polish it off.
Now you're inspired to have more.
So you level your attention to the conveyor. Full focus. Each sushi offering is scrutinized. Until you see one that's appealing. Then that's devoured too. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Until you bite into what looks tantalizingly fabulous BUT turns out to be awful!
"This fish is OFF!" you declare. And you demand to see the manager. The chef shrieks in horror and indignation! The manager denies your accusation and blames the chef. And turmoil ensues.
Now, you could throw more fuel on this fire and demand compensation. Or you could just let it be. Opt out.
You could then refocus on the conveyor belt in search of another delectable sushi creation.
Because that conveyor belt is still moving. And those tubs of sushi keep on coming.
What WE decide is whether we PAY ATTENTION to them or not.
Just like our thoughts.
Like the sushi conveyor belt, there's a constant stream of thoughts moving through our minds. All the time.
And they generally match the mood we're in.
If I'm feeling low I have access to a flood of low-energy thoughts. Like self-pity, or resentment.
But the reverse is true too. Good thoughts, like humour or affection, are aplenty when my spirits are high.
The truly liberating thing about this understanding is that we CHOOSE which thoughts we want to engage with.
Yup, our thinking is NOT who we are. Our thoughts are separate from our conscious selves. That's how we know we're thinking.
Now I know, when we're in the middle of a thought-storm, it FEELS real. Very real. But often, with hindsight, it's possible to see our thinking objectively. Separate from us. Like a storm passing through.
One of my ex's recently made contact with me out of the blue. Just to say hi. Our relationship had been tumultuous. We bumped heads often back then. So reacquainting myself with him threatened to reignite many feelings of resentment. And bitterness.
Those thoughts all diligently lined up on the conveyor belt of my mind. Ready for attention.
I could choose to engage and embellish them. Or not.
Option one would result in unhappy and uncomfortable emotions. Which are essentially pointless. The past is the past. No amount of pondering and rehashing will change that.
Option two would bypass that. Which would result in ease. Calm. Contentment. And it involved just letting those thoughts pass on by.
New contact with my ex could be pleasant if I stayed in the present, or I could delve into the past and feel miserable. Depending on which thoughts I opted to engage.
Let's recap. Here's what we DO know about our thoughts:
Our thoughts are SEPARATE from us.
Thoughts are a form of energy. They exist outside of us and flow through us. Constantly.
The type of thoughts we attract depend entirely on how we're feeling.
So, if we're really happy, more of the same will show up. And vice versa.
We FEEL our thinking.
Thinking good things will make us FEEL good. Like thoughts of a loved one. Your pet. Or your favourite food.
The opposite applies too. Thinking resentful thoughts about a colleague feels uncomfortable. And angry thoughts about yesterday's argument with your partner will create feelings of unhappiness today.
WE CHOOSE what thoughts we engage.
Just like the sushi analogy above, so we can choose which thoughts to interact with. Or not.
The trick is to recognise the approaching thought-storm and then deliberately shift your thoughts in a different direction. Much like walking down a path and then changing direction.
You could call it a distraction. Or a shift towards neutral ground.
It's choosing thoughts/actions that elicit very little emotion.
Like petting your animals. Or washing your dishes.
Thoughts aren't real.
Our thinking feels real. Very real.
But in truth, our thoughts are memories of the past or projections of the future.
Which aren't real.
It's only the present which exists. This moment. Right now.
Which is why we feel contentment and ease when we practice mindfulness.
From that place, the future and the past don't exist. They're not real.
Essentially, thinking is a tool in our toolkit of life.
It's an appliance in our proverbial kitchen.
Something we can use if and when we choose.
And as such, it can enhance our experience. Or not.