Thoughts come and go in the mind. It's normal to have all kinds of thoughts. There's nothing wrong with them.
That's how we work, we see things, and we think something about them, we judge them, we name them, we label them. It's how the human brain works--it's how we try to make sense of the world.
So it's supposed to be a useful process, like most things our bodies do. But like most things, we can turn it against ourselves.
When we grab onto these thoughts, take them too seriously, and refuse to let them go, we make something out of them that they were never supposed to be. We turn an opinion into a fact. A judgement into truth. A thought into reality.
We use this process everywhere. When we see someone on the street and form an opinion about them without knowing anything about them. When we think we know what other people think about us. When something happens and we think it's the worst thing in the world. When we have an uncomfortable feeling inside of us and we cannot resist the urge to identify it, because without a name, it scares us.
We are afraid of everything that doesn't have a name. So we give names to everything, even if they don't fit.
These thoughts provide us comfort. They make us feel better by allowing us to feel like we actually know things. But do we, really?
I've had my struggles with anxiety. And I always look back at the thoughts I once used to believe. The thoughts that scared me so much. The thoughts that seemed so real that I was scared to let them go. But those thoughts I so desperately held onto never had anything to do with reality. No matter how much I felt they did.
We worry because we feel we need to. We are afraid because we feel it will keep us safe. But thoughts cannot keep us safe. Because they were never real. And they never will be.
Just because we think someone is evil doesn't mean they actually are. Just because we have a strange feeling in our stomach which we cannot identify doesn't mean it's cancer. Just because we think someone hates us, doesn't mean they do.
It's one of the most useful skills we can develop--a kind of skepticism toward our own thoughts.
I imagine thoughts as falling stars in the night sky. They were never meant to be stopped or grabbed onto. They were meant to fly across the sky and then disappear.
The good news is that we can always practice by keeping our mind open. The most common form of Meditation is to focus on our breathing. Since the mind always wants to grab onto something, it's easier to grab onto the breath. But there's a type of meditation where you don't focus on anything. You just keep your mind open. Letting thoughts move like Falling Stars, without grabbing onto them or anything else.
It's not only during meditation when we can Practice Keeping the mind open. During our everyday lives, we can always practice seeing our thoughts and letting them move on, knowing that thoughts are not reality.
Bringing a thought like this into life is like raising the dead--it's not supposed to happen. And like the living dead, thoughts that are brought into reality can be scary kind of monsters.
So instead of creating monsters, let's practice keeping our minds open, and let the falling stars of our thoughts fly by.
A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” - Pema Chödrön