In meditation, and often in day to day life, we are told to “let go” of the thoughts, to release the thinking mind. And whilst it’s great advice, I think we can all agree that it’s a lot easier said than done. So today I want to share with you a simple technique known as “labelling” that, with practice, will allow you to disentangle from the web of thoughts in your mind.
Most human suffering stems from our tendency to identify and attach with our thinking. So in learning to detach from our thoughts and our cluttered minds, we can reduce our emotional (and physical) pain.
On an average day we have around 80,000-90,000 thoughts – mind blowing! And of course, many of these thoughts are helpful and constructive, they keep us safe. The traffic light is red, so I’ll stop. Then there are the thoughts that pop into the mind so quick, out of nowhere, and all of a sudden then they’re gone: I wonder what a leopard would look like dressed in a pink leotard. Or the wistful daydreaming. Sadly, for many of us though, most of the thoughts (up to 90%) are cruel, unkind, critical and judgemental: I’m a hopeless, failing, loser. And we have this ingrained belief that because we think something it must therefore be true.
But the truth is, just because we think something, does not mean that it is true. Most of the negative thoughts we have are distorted in some way. Perhaps it’s a case of black and white thinking, or disqualifying the positives.
Take this as an example:
You wake up one morning and look outside your window to see it’s raining. It’s June. One of the many thoughts that pops into your mind at that moment is; “oh, what a dreadful day”. But is it really a dreadful day? No, it’s simply raining and your thought is distorted. If you fuse or attach onto that thought, if you take it for granted as truth, then most likely your day is going to unfold in that vein. As your thoughts inspire your behaviours, most likely your interactions will be dreadful and your performance poor, resulting in a low mood. If, on the other hand, this thought pops into your mind but you choose to not take it so seriously, then that thought generates no negativity and has no effect on the rest of your day.
Recognising that our thoughts are not truth, they do not define us, nor are they reality is incredibly important in learning how to tame the monkey chatter of the mind. It’s also profoundly liberating. And this is where the practice of mindful meditation is so great. Mindfulness encourages you to be the observer of the experience, to witness the thinking mind and choose how much to let each thought influence you. It empowers you to be the chooser of your own thoughts, listening to the ones that serve you and letting the rest go. So instead of desperately trying to get rid of your thoughts you recognise that thoughts are part of the present moment experience, and consciously choose to observe them, rather than engaging in them as we typically do. Trying to stop yourself from thinking, is like being asked to not think about the pink elephant in the room.
At its most simplest, mindful meditation is creating a sense of present moment awareness through observations of things like the breath, the physical body or the thinking mind. As with learning any other skill, it takes patience, practice and perseverance to master. Although it may be difficult at first, the process becomes easier and more automatic. Even the most experienced of meditators, someone who has been practicing for 50 years say, still has days where they find their practice a little more challenging. But extensive research has shown the incredible effect that just one sitting can have and how in time it creates a lasting sense of inner peace and clarity. And the best thing about this practice, is you don’t need a fancy studio or expensive equipment, simply your presence.
The mindfulness techniques known as labelling is an effective way to create distance and separation from the constant stream of thoughts, judgements, criticisms and worries. By observing our thoughts as thoughts rather than truths or realities, we gain new perspective and find alternative solutions to our problems. The practice also allows for you to become aware of your thinking patterns which is so important if you are consciously trying to change the way you think or become more positive. Plus it is super simple, and something that you can easily begin to incorporate in to your everyday life when the mind gets a bit cluttered or you find yourself sinking into a cycle of rumination. The basic premise is that every time you have a thought, acknowledge it by labelling it as “thought” and let it go, coming back to the present moment. You can use the physical body or the breath to anchor you in the presence but try to avoid letting it turn into a breath awareness meditation.
- Come to a comfortable position, preferably seated with a long spine
- Close your eyes of soften your gaze
- Become aware of your bodily sensations on the chair, cushion, floor beneath you
- Notice how you are feeling physically, emotionally, mentally, energetically
- Observe the breath flowing through the body for a few moments
- Thoughts will naturally come into your mind; useful thoughts, random thoughts, exciting thoughts, difficult thoughts. Let them come without engaging in them; instead label them as “thought” and let them go
- You may find it helpful labelling the different types of thought. You can be fairly creative here but keep it simple and non judgemental: past/ future/ worry/ fear/ judgement/ planning etc. This allows you to learn your thinking habit
- In time you will find that the gap between the thoughts lengthen and you can rest into that stillness
- Continue for set amount of time (5mins for beginners)
- Bring awareness back to the physical sensations in the body, sounds around you or any smells
- Take a few deep breaths and open your eyes whenever you are ready
I hope that you find labelling your thoughts gives you the sense of peace it gives me! Remember you are not your thoughts, they come and go, but you forever remain your essential self.
If you’d like to join me for a meditation you can find where and when I teach here, otherwise book in for a private session or group with your friends 🙂
Much love as ever
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