How to Manage Unwanted Thoughts
Some people complain about having too many thoughts, and find that having a racing mind is a big hurdle both in life and in practising meditation. Meditators aim for a quiet space during meditation where they are aware of silence and space.
Racing thoughts are fast-moving and often repetitive thought patterns that can be overpowering. They may focus on a single issue or different lines of thought.
The intensity of suffering relates to a great extent to how we interpret thoughts, events or experiences and respond to them. When we face a difficult situation, we need all our energy to deal with it. If in addition to the difficult situation, we have to deal with unwanted thoughts and emotions, we run the risk of increasing our suffering.
Awareness or mindfulness is different from thinking. Awareness allows us to observe our thoughts unemotionally in order to find out what kind of negative thinking patterns are at the root of our problem and how to release them.
Meditating on our thoughts allows us to face a difficult situation with the appropriate degree of calmness. A regular meditation practice improves our awareness. This enables us to distance ourselves from our thoughts in order to assess them and take the best course of action. It allows us to become aware of THE thought that generated additional thoughts that are bothering us.
It is possible to get out of the habit of fixating on unwanted thoughts. Thoughts change over time even when we think they have not. By observing them, we lessen their hold on us and we take back our power. We can step back from our thoughts, observe them, label them (fear, anxiety, anger, rage, doubt, etc.), and realize that many of them exist in our head, and have no real basis or power to influence our behavior. When for example we choose to keep our attention on our breath during meditation, this stepping away from our thoughts strengthens our ability to keep our attention where we want it to be.
When we start noticing how we jump to conclusions or fear the worst, we could question the soundness of these assumptions by asking ourselves, How true is this? Am I amplifying? Can I let it go and accept the fact that it happened and I cannot do anything about it? Do I really need to know the reason for a particular behaviour?
We intensify thoughts by fighting them. When we reject unwanted thoughts or refuse to accept that we have them, we do ourselves a disservice by not taking the time to realize that the problem is not the thought itself but our attitude to the thought.
If we go through a period where it is really difficult to meditate because of racing thoughts, we could calm our mind by using cognitive distancing (when we worry about things we are convinced are true but are actually imaginary most of the time), focusing on the present, focusing on the breath, doing yoga, and/or writing things down in a personal journal. This will give us the much needed space to change the way we relate to our thoughts and start replacing them with more desirable ones.