They start the moment we wake up every morning ( what time is it, it's hot/cold, what can I wear, what's today's program, how will I get everything done..), they accompany every waking moment during the day (need petrol, mustn’t be late, where's the umbrella, who will be there, what will I say if they ask me..) and they are the main culprits that keep us awake at night (I wish I hadn't said ...if I'd only...what will I do if ..)
Thoughts rarely stay on one track for long but jump around in a jumble of ideas, opinions, beliefs, plans, wishes and judgments. Buddhists call it the monkey mind. Vietnamese poet Thich Nhat Hanh calls it our Frog Nature in his poem Froglessness - you get the drift.
The funny thing about thoughts is that they are so constant and pervasive that we mostly don't even notice them. They are the wallpaper of our lives. Yet they are all-powerful in determining our feelings and moods - the quality of our lives.
Apparently the average person has about seventy thousand thoughts a day. That's about forty eight per minute. No wonder we often feel confused, overwhelmed and exhausted. No wonder we open a drawer and forget what we’re looking for or struggle to remember a word we want to use. It’s very crowded airspace!
Thoughts take different forms and some, such as worries, fears, doubts, regrets and guilt (and any thought with 'should' in it) cause huge amounts of stress on top of the general mayhem.
So it makes good sense to learn to be thoughtless, at least for some time each day, if only to give ourselves a break! Of course I don't mean thoughtless in the traditional sense of being inconsiderate or showing lack of respect. I mean learning to stop thinking, to silence that relentless muddle of thoughts for short periods of time. It's called meditation.
I've returned to daily meditation practice this year after a long break and I have instantly felt the benefits again of thoughtlessness. Instead of judging, worrying, anticipating the worst (or the best) and planning different scenarios as soon as I get up in the morning, I head straight for a quiet place to sit and I silence my thoughts instead.
In this space of thoughtlessness, it becomes clear that each day is a blank canvas upon which I can paint anything I like. Yes, thoughts come and go and that's the point: they go without hooking me into their dramas of self-pity, worry or fear. By simply noticing thoughts and allowing them to pass, like clouds in a gentle breeze, I can return to that infinite empty space beyond the clouds. By coming back to thoughtlessness, I can enjoy the relief of knowing that it's always a choice to focus on whatever thoughts I want and let the rest pass.
There are many different ways to learn to meditate and the health and well-being benefits are well-documented. Daily practice is the key to strengthening your ability to be thoughtless and find a peaceful stillness. Then you can create your own wallpaper each day, rather than be at the mercy of that pesky monkey mind.
The pay-offs are all the things we most want in life – a steady, calm approach to whatever life offers, an acceptance of what is, rather than disappointment and upset when things don’t go the way we want, and loving, forgiving relationships. Above all, thoughtlessness provides a glimpse into a whole new perspective which allows wiser responses in everything we are called upon to do.
Meditating daily is easily the best thing I’ve done in 2014 so far and it’s not just paying dividends for me. My husband is a major beneficiary of my regained serenity, along with the dog, my clients and, in fact, everyone I have contact with.
It’s well worth getting up 20 minutes earlier each morning to be able to offer that gift to the world!