I’ve been trying to think of thought as clouds. My husband heard something about that one day at work; someone who owned the most successful car dealership in America came in and did a talk about how he kept his employees happy, truly happy it seemed, and this was the key to his success.
“He talked to us about being mindful,” said my husband. “That was the key- mindfulness.” Except he couldn’t explain to me exactly what that meant. “Something about separating yourself from your thoughts,” was as close as he could come.
But even this simple statement was enough to pique my interest. The idea that there could exist some wall, some filament even- just something separating me from my thoughts, so that not every one delivered such a tremendous blow to my emotional state and the course of my every day- was an incredibly tempting concept. It sounded, for lack of a better word, like a gentler way to exist.
For the last thirty years, I’ve lived squarely within the grasp of a complex and anxiety-prone imagination, a relentless inner dialog that does slow down when I lay down at night, not when I do yoga or run or any of the things that are supposed to calm the mind. Books help, but it has to be a really captivating book.
This is not necessarily a bad way to go about life. I provide myself with excellent company, and I can sometimes evoke feelings of great joy and optimism and sweetness, and I run around my new town, fueled by the cleanest and most pure source of energy in the world, getting one hundred things done or just walking the dog to the grocery store, filled with an expansive feeling of okay-ness.
But then something will bring my crashing down, so quickly I can hear the needle scratching as it goes skidding off the record: a headline about climate change, a bank statement, someone pushing past me on the sidewalk. Even things that are completely innocuous can start the spiral- the old adage of the butterfly beating his wings, it adds a pulse to the air that reminds me of something, which gets me thinking of something else, and suddenly the fear is there again, dark thoughts. When I was little I once told my dad, “My thoughts are so bloody sometimes!”
At the end of the day, what purpose did it serve? Things keep on ticking in the same direction, regardless of which way you were spinning in your head. I need my imagination, and all the richness and texture it’s brought into my life, I just don’t want to be so completely at its mercy all the time.
I was thinking about mindfulness, or at least my husband’s version of the successful car dealer’s version of mindfulness, while I was out in town the other day, this town that I almost love. It was a windy day, and the world kept shifting from dark to light and clouds blew across the sun.
I don’t think I’m ever going to have less going on in my head, I thought, looking up at the sky. But what if I pictured my thoughts as clouds? They’re just floating through, fluid across the horizon, constantly moving. Nobody sees a cloud cover up the sun and feels agony that the sun will never be seen again!! They just wait for the clouds to pass. You can observe the clouds, be aware of them, but not feel locked into having any intense reaction to them.
This one tiny idea, this first small step, could be the jumping off point for me. I’ve read articles-mostly while waiting in doctor’s offices- about people who claim to be so perfectly removed from their own thoughts that they can choose which ones they’d like to engage in, and let the rest of them roll on by, creating an environment of such inner peace and well being that I’d always end up tossing the magazine aside with a potent mixture of annoyance, admiration, and jealousy.
Mindfulness. It always felt so completely unattainable. And maybe it is, but this ought to make for a good try, either way. My imagination loves a visual, loves having a task to complete. Think whatever you want, I tell my brain. I’m not stopping you. It’s all just clouds, and I’m just lying here on my back, watching them pass. Or at least, that’s what I’m shooting for.
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