A Meditation for Working with Intrusive Thoughts
This year has certainly been one of many unpredictable and challenging experiences. We've been introduced to a pandemic, an upheaval of societal norms, social justice movements, and an upcoming election. For many of us, the foundations and lives that we knew were rocked - begging us to ask questions of who we are, what we're doing, and why on earth are we here? It has been easy to take on more stress and let go of self-care practices. It has been easy to internalize pain, shame, and judgment. And, if you're like me, you've been reintroduced to a slew of intrusive, negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself. These days, I am thankful for my meditation and yoga practices, my community, and my faith in love. I've been able to move with these intrusive thoughts with more grace and ease (I assure you, it's not effortless - yet). In my practice, I have developed a meditation ritual of sorts to work with the thoughts. It was inspired by one of my favorite sages, Jelaluddin Rumi (enclosed here and below).
First, it is important to know that you are not your thoughts. Rather, you are the observer or the one who experiences your thoughts. Deattaching your identity from your thoughts allows you to remember your Higher Self. When an intrusive thought arrives (self-limiting, disruptive, negative), begin by 'noting' it. This can be done by simply recognizing it or naming it as an intrusive thought (e.g., "Oh, this is an intrusive thought'). Thoughts, sensations, and feelings like to be acknowledged and identified.
Once you acknowledge the thought, imagine that you are sitting in a cozy room. Make yourself as comfortable as you can -- this is your space, the thought is a visitor. Envision the thought as a visitor or a guest -- use your imagination. If it resonates with you, tell your thought that you know it has arrived. Accept that the thought is present in your space, but do not engage with it. You may even tell your thought that you are not going to engage with it ("I know you are here. Thank you for coming. I am not engaging with you."). There is no need to ask it why it's here, no need to judge it (or yourself for having it), and there is certainly no need to offer it a seat or a cold drink of water.
Continue to imagine yourself being comfortable and content. Drop into your breath: match the length of your inhales to the length of your exhales. Allow the thought to stay for as long as it needs. It's important that you don't try to show the thought to the door or rush it out. If you do, a lot of the time, the thought will come back again - often more disruptive or more frequently. As it feels natural, return to whatever it was that you were doing before the thought arrived. You don't need to 'check' on the thought to see if it's still there in your space. It will move out as naturally as it arrived.
Do this as often as you need. Try your best not to place judgement on the thought (as good or bad) or on yourself (adding it to your self-narrative as a good or bad person). Remember, this is a practice. Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself as you would a good friend.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.