There is much talk of decluttering our houses but what about our minds?
We all have times when we experience a constant stream of thoughts of all sorts. The thoughts might cover any of these categories: worries or concerns, ruminations or wonderings, and judgments. Whatever the mix they add up to a cluttered mind, sapping our energies and running us ragged.
Here are practices that can help us manage our anxious or repeat thoughts. The practices are noticing, labelling or grouping, identifying if useful or not useful, noticing our breath and – perhaps to our own surprise – seeking divine intervention.
- Noticing our thoughts, rather than what can be our more natural tendency which is to push them away. Difficult thoughts tend to be stick. Try and push them away and the more they grip!
- Deciding if a thought is useful or not. Thoughts can be useful, or put another way constructive: these are often prompts or reminders to do something. A practical example would be thinking ‘I haven’t replied to that important email’. Thoughts can lead to action. I also use wise words from Scripture to decide if a thought is useful. Is the thought true? And going deeper, is it honourable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable? These are the thoughts to dwell on! Other thoughts can be destructive. This might be because they are about things beyond our control or things that are or might be – when we actually look at them – false.
- Labelling or grouping our thoughts. I tend to use a piece of paper for this. Write down things you are thinking about and see if you can group them together with labels. For example I might be having repeat thoughts about Christmas: what will I be ‘allowed’ to do, how will I get presents to those I will not now see, what will the post be like, how big a turkey will we need, etc.! I can label – or group – all these thoughts as about ‘Christmas 2020’. Labelling helps us to notice our thoughts in more detail, increasing our own understanding as well as reducing the range of thoughts we are seeking to manage to a few key themes rather than hundreds of individual thoughts. The process of labelling also helps us to understand our thoughts but not become immersed or lost in them.
- Noticing our breath. When our thoughts make us fearful or anxious, our fight-or-fight mechanism is engaged. We are ready to right: adrenaline is pumping. While a useful response say for running away from a wild animal or fire, this physical response doesn’t help us manage our thoughts better. Instead we can practice noticing our breath (without seeking to change it), coming to a stiller, more comfortable place
- Seeking divine intervention. The author C S Lewis said, ‘I pray because I cannot help myself.’ Sometimes to our own surprise, we reach out to God. In the process we may experience a peace which is beyond our understanding but welcome all the same!
This is Mindful Monday on 26 October 2020. Join us for an evening of mindful practice tonight at 7 pm – on this very topic of managing our thoughts better. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.