I am so intrigued by the concept of watching your thoughts because I truly believe it is the path to peace. I always find this difficult to describe in words, but it’s the process of stepping back outside of yourself and looking down onto your mind. You watch your thoughts go by without getting attached to them. You stop becoming so reactive to your fears (one of my favorite definitions for the word being: false expectations appearing real) and stop reacting so forcefully during those moments when you replay or process someone else’s words or actions as being disrespectful (especially if you feel that immediate increase in your heart rate!)…and you stop believing everything you think.
When you watch your thoughts, you don’t judge or attach yourself to those worries, angers, or desires that keep coming up. You simply watch and, in doing so, take away the mind’s control over all of your feelings and emotions. You operate from a stronger place…from your true Self…your center…and you stop the constant waves of emotion and turmoil that you often allow your mind to create. Because your thoughts trigger your emotions which often manifest physically, when you cut off your thoughts from the start, you interrupt the entire ripple effect.
We don’t even realize how similar we can be to that person that seems “crazy” walking down the street talking to themselves about a bunch of random topics that don’t seem to make any sense. From the news, to the baseball game, to their sibling, to the weather, to dinner, to their job, to a financial fear, to a material desire, and on and on. Often, we are doing the same thing, only it happens in our minds and we are just not saying every unconnected thought out loud. What I’m talking about here is stopping that unproductive chatter by paying less attention to everything you’re thinking.
When you watch your thoughts, you remove the focus on each individual thought that comes up in your mind. You allow your mind to become unfocused and blurry…you know that you’re thinking things but you can’t seem to focus on any one thing. It takes time and practice, but eventually you reach a place of silence. It is a pretty amazing thing because you can literally take control of yourself by simply watching your thoughts…by not attaching yourself or your energy to any single thought. It is a way of being in flow and realizing that things come to us when we do what is natural…our thoughts about a thing really didn’t create it. It was only through action..or really non-action (doing things so naturally as if we really did not do anything…like breathing!)…that everything came to pass. There was never anything to worry about or fear…and any time or energy spent with those negative emotions was wasted. So we find peace by training ourselves to take our thoughts less seriously.
In matters of the mind, I always love to reference Osho. He explains it this way:
Watch your thoughts and don’t get identified with them. Just remain a watcher, utterly indifferent, neither for nor against. Don’t judge, because every judgment brings identification. Don’t say, “These thoughts are wrong,” and don’t say, “These thoughts are good.” Don’t comment on the thoughts. Just let them pass as if it is just traffic passing by, and you are standing by the side of the road unconcerned, looking at the traffic.
It does not matter what is passing by — a bus, a truck, a bicycle. If you can watch the thought process of your mind with such unconcern, with such detachment, that moment is not very far away when one day the whole traffic disappears…because the traffic can exist only if you go on giving energy to it. If you stop giving energy to it…. And that’s what watching is: stopping giving energy to it, stopping energy moving into the traffic. It is your energy that makes those thoughts move. When your energy is not coming they start falling; they cannot stand on their own.
One day it happens that your witness has become so perfect that the screen remains empty, nothing passes — no thought, no desire. That day you have attained to the first state of samadhi, the first satori. And the first satori is the beginning; it triggers many satoris in you, culminating ultimately into samadhi, into nirvana.
When the mind becomes just a pure mechanism… when you want to use it, you use it, when you don’t want to use it, it remains silent.
If you want to give this a try, I suggest that you approach it as a meditative practice. Become relaxed, close your eyes, and allow your mind to become unfocused. You don’t have to actively try to stop your thoughts, instead you just visualize your spirit above your head and simply watch all of the thoughts go by. This is also a great practice if you start feeling any unwanted emotions, because you will realize that they are being generated by your mind, not your spirit. By taking a few moments to gain a perspective and look at your mind separately, you can realize this and choose to become unattached to those feelings.
Photo source: once removed (Norway)