Here’s a handy little image to help you deal with thoughts and the emotions that are wrapped up in them: Treat them like leaves floating along a gentle brook. You may watch them pass, and on occasion, lift one out of the flowing stream and examine it intently. But always put it back again. This little practice puts the you who thinks the thoughts and feels the feelings, back in charge.
You may be driving your car, and you notice you’re driving faster than you should. You’re in a hurry for some reason. Or maybe you’ve been so wrapped in your thoughts for the past ten minutes that you hardly know how you’ve gotten where you are. Your emotions and thoughts have gotten the best of you.
Don’t criticize yourself. Criticizing or judging yourself for being captive to your thoughts and emotions only leads to more thoughts and emotions that aren’t helpful. Instead, congratulate yourself on waking up to the fact that you’ve fallen into the river instead of sitting on its banks and have been floating along, going who-knows-where. Simply take charge of yourself, climb back onto the bank, sit down, and watch the stream of thoughts and emotions pass by. Identify one thought or feeling that stands out to you—the argument you had with your spouse, or the project your boss just asked you to do—and study it for a bit. Then set it back down again in the stream again and let it go until it’s appropriate to pick it up again and give it the focused attention it requires.
Soon, you’ll find yourself dripping wet again, sloshing around in the river, overwhelmed by a flood of thoughts and emotions. When you do, smile at yourself and pull yourself back up on the bank and start watching all over again.
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