A while ago, I met a young man who experienced intrusive thoughts. All he wanted in life was to get rid of those tormenting thoughts once and for all. One day, after coming back from an adventure camping trip he said, “I was so busy the whole time. It was fun mainly because I didn’t have time to analyze my thoughts. I was able to be in the present moment. If I could only do that every day!”
He had noticed the difference it made when he was focused on the present moment without constantly evaluating his thoughts. His thoughts had still been there, but he didn’t engage them that weekend. Before this experience, he had neglected practicing mindfulness. He realized that by practicing every day he could learn to be in the present moment without having to go on adventure camping trips every weekend.
His OCD symptoms had begun when he was twelve-years old. He had created thinking patterns that weren’t helpful. He realized that fighting his internal experiences was not the right option. Thus, he began to practice mindfulness and became more aware of his feelings, thoughts, and sensations. He learned how to allow their presence without putting up a fight.
What about you? Do you understand the benefits of mindfulness and how it can enhance your awareness? Do you know mindfulness can help you accept your internal experiences?
Here is a mindfulness exercise that may help you start accepting your thoughts instead of pushing them away.
*Attending to the Thinking Process:
This mindfulness exercise is to help you become more aware of your thoughts as they occur in the moment without making judgments.
Sit comfortably on a chair or couch and close your eyes. Then say to yourself: “I wonder what my next thought is going to be.” Acknowledge the thought as it comes in by saying, “That was my next thought.” Then repeat the question, “I wonder what my next thought is going to be.” Allow the thought and acknowledge it again with the same phrase, “That was my next thought.” Then ask the question and acknowledge it again as indicated above. Practice this exercise for 3 minutes every day.
The goal of this exercise is to let your mind go wherever it wants. You can wait for the thought just like Tom (from Tom and Jerry) does as he waits for Jerry to come out of the mouse hole. Except, instead of chasing or grabbing the thought, you just acknowledge it and wait for the next thought to show up. Sometimes the thought may come up as you are asking the question. That’s fine. Acknowledge it, and say the question again. Sometimes the next thought may be related to the previous thought. That’s okay, acknowledge it, let it be there, and ask the question again. If you happen to wander away with a thought, that’s fine. When you realize this is happening, gently acknowledge that this happened, and bring your attention back to the question, “I wonder what my next thought is going to be.” Repeat the process until your timer goes off.
As you practice this mindfulness exercise, you will start becoming more aware of your thoughts. This will enable you to understand that all thoughts are just that –thoughts. Allow them to hang out if they want, and gently move back to the question again.
You don’t have to go camping to learn to accept your thoughts and be in the moment!
*Adapted from Hooker, K. & Fodor, I. (2008). Teaching Mindfulness to Children. Gestalt Review, 12(1):75-91.