It can be difficult to stay mindful of our thoughts. When we try to pay attention to our thoughts, our thoughts often carry our minds away. And this is the opposite of mindfulness. The Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts exercise mentioned in the previous video is a guided meditation that leads us through a few ways we can practice being mindful of our thoughts.
In the Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts meditation, we begin with a period of mindful hearing, and then we turn our attention to our thinking, relating to our thoughts the same way we did to sound. Rather than paying attention to the content of our thoughts and what they mean, we simply notice thoughts arising, and sustaining, and passing through the thoughtscape of our minds, watching them coming and going like clouds passing through the sky.
In this meditation, after mindfully following sounds for a while, we then turn our attention to our thoughts and practice relating to them in a similar fashion. Rather than engaging with the thoughts we’re having and getting caught up in them or thinking about them, we simply notice what thoughts are present, and just treat them as mental events moving through our field of awareness.
Mindfulness of Thoughts
One metaphor we can use to describe what it’s like to follow our thoughts mindfully is to observe our thoughts as if they were clouds passing through the sky, simply coming into our field of awareness, sticking around for a while, and then passing out of our field of awareness.
Another metaphor, suggested by meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein and related in The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Social Anxiety and Shyness, by Jan Fleming and Nancy Kocovski, is to watch our thoughts as if they were being projected on a screen in front of us:
Imagine that you are sitting in a movie theater in front of a large blank screen. As thoughts, memories, and mental images appear in your mind, seeing them projected onto the screen, watching each thought for as long as it remains on the screen.
Thoughts may move slowly or quickly across the screen, some dominating the screen more than others. At times, the screen may go blank; at other times it may be completely filled with thoughts. Whatever is on the screen, remaining curious about the process of thinking itself, noticing your ability to be an impartial observer.
At times you may lose touch with your awareness of thinking, fusing with your thoughts, getting caught up in one of the stories unfolding on the screen. When that happens, returning to the feeling of the breath, not as a way to get away from thoughts or make the mind blank, but as a way to anchor yourself in the present moment, as you escort your mind back to its seat, returning to watching your thoughts coming and going.
Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts Guided Meditation
Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts (Extended Version)
If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness, please check out my Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness Meditation courses. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.