One of my favorite vacations was a camping trip in Taiwan where I got to go River Trekking. This is hiking upstream in a river. It’s very intense and calls for you to climb over boulders, swim through deep spots in the river, push against the current, and generally have a great time playing in the water. At the end of our trek, a small 10 foot waterfall fell into a deep pool. My friends and I swam over to the waterfall and spent a few minutes playing in and around it. I’ll never forget the feeling of the water pounding down on my head, the power of the waterfall, and how it blocked out all other sensations.
Our thoughts are like a waterfall. Sometimes they trickle and sometimes they pound down, but our thoughts never really stop. The commentary running in our heads is relentless. When we focus on it, our thoughts have the power to completely absorb our reality.
You are not your thoughts.
That voice in your head, the constantly running commentary with the force of a waterfall, is not who you are. It seems amazing that I made it into my late 30s before I learned this simple fact. Just because my thoughts are in my head doesn’t mean that my thoughts are who I am.
One of the keys to mindfulness is learning to observe and be aware of your thoughts. Just because there is a waterfall of thoughts running through your head, it doesn’t mean you must stand beneath it and be pummeled. It’s possible to observe and be aware of your thoughts without getting caught up in them. It’s like watching a waterfall from the shore rather than standing beneath it.
This is incredibly liberating, though of course it’s easier said than done. Being aware of your thoughts means you observe the things running through your mind without interacting with them. Since you are not your thoughts, there is no reason to judge yourself based solely on your thoughts. Watch them as they float by, be aware of them. As you do this you’ll be struck by how varied, strange, and absurd your mind can be.
This shouldn’t really be a surprise when you think about the wild and outlandish world of your dreams. We’ve all had dreams that make us shake our head in amazement when thinking back on them, right? It shouldn’t be a shock then that our conscious thoughts can wander into strange places too.
Training our mind to be aware of and observe our thoughts is just as important as training our body through exercise. Take time each day to practice mindfulness, whether through meditation, solitude, or any other way that works for you. Enjoy the waterfall of your thoughts from the shore instead of from under the waterfall.
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