Watching the Mind
The ‘watching the mind’ exercise is a simple exercise of observing, or noticing. It takes about a minute to do it, and yet practicing the exercise has the potential to reveal calmness, and give us some peace each time we do it.
Before we start, here’s a little overview of how the exercise is structured. All we need to do is gently sit back in a comfortable chair, and close our eyes, and watch, and then count the thoughts that we observe. Whenever we notice a thought, we number each one in numerical order.
All you will be doing is watching and noticing and observing, and then counting. Throughout the exercise imagine you’re sitting outside in the most comfortable chair on a still summer’s evening, with nothing to do but gently watch the night sky with an element of fascination.
We’ll do this exercise with our eyes closed for about a minute – it doesn’t have to be exactly one minute – roughly a minute is perfectly fine.
So, if you’d like to get comfortable in a chair, then gently close your eyes and imagine you’re watching the night sky. Begin observing and noticing, and watching. Then start counting the thoughts as you become aware of them.
And that which was observing is actually who we are. We’re not our thoughts. Thoughts have a beginning and an end, and they move. They keep passing through. Whereas, that which was observing is immovable and endless. You were able to observe the thoughts from that grounded still space.
Our mind has a tendency to identify with thoughts, and become engaged in internal chatter or monologue that is associated with the content of those thoughts. Sometimes we can be overpowered with the thinking that is associated with the content of those thoughts. But by assigning a number to each thought as you’ve done in this exercise we diminish the intensity of the energy associated with those thoughts. By numbering a thought, we have de-personalised it. This de-personalisation renders the content of the thought powerless over us. It becomes meaningless.
Moving forward from here, if you find that things are speeding up for you in your daily activities, or you are caught up in some frustration, create the opportunity to sit down, just for a minute or so, close your eyes and watch and notice, and count the thoughts. You may find that by doing this exercise you will create space for yourself, and you will naturally slow down. This exercise can provide an opportunity to refine our focus, and have more clarity.
There’ s benefit in getting into a routine of doing this exercise. For example, before you leave home for work, sit down for a minute or so, close your eyes and count your thoughts. Have a go at establishing a routine and see what happens to your experience of life.
‘Watching the Mind Part 2’ is a further explanation to ‘Watching the Mind Part 1’.
By doing this exercise, for as little as one minute a day, we start to change our relationship with thoughts. We start to see that we can make different choices. Like any exercise, there is benefit in establishing a routine. We can also do it throughout the day whenever we find things are speeding up, or we’re getting a bit stressed.
Secondly, it doesn’t matter how many thoughts we count. Some days over a one-minute period we may count 2 or 3 thoughts, other days 20. The reason there’s a change in the number of thoughts is a function of the state of our body or nervous system whenever we close our eyes to observe. Our body and nervous system is continually changing - so it doesn’t matter how many thoughts we count.
Thirdly, the content of the thoughts is irrelevant. Sometimes the content appears to be extremely relevant and important, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Many of us have a tendency to identify with thoughts that have a familiar content – a content that can induce frustration, or sadness, or anxiety. That content, or story as we like to refer to it, can have a tendency to take a hold over us and dominate our life. By observing and counting, we create space between us and the thoughts, and within that dispassionate activity, we find that we have no interest in engaging with the content of the thoughts. In that observation and counting, we aren’t identifying with the content of the thoughts, and by doing so we allow those thoughts to move. Peace is revealed.
By doing this exercise, for as little as one minute a day, we start to change our relationship with thoughts. And we start to see that we can make different choices. Like any exercise, there is benefit in establishing a routine. We can also do it throughout the day whenever we find things are speeding up or we’re getting a bit stressed.
So re-capping: the number of thoughts we count is irrelevant; the content of the thoughts is irrelevant; also having no expectation of what happens when we close our eyes is absolutely the perfect approach - we can’t do it wrong.
We’ll leave you with an invitation to do the exercise now. Sit back somewhere comfortably, close your eyes and watch and notice and observe, and start counting the thoughts for a minute or so, and see what happens to your experience throughout the day.
We invite you get in to a routine of doing the Watching the Mind exercise. Don’t hesitate to give us feedback on how it’s going for you.
In this video we are leading a small group of people through stage one of the ‘Watching the mind’ exercise that was described in Parts 1 and 2, then we’ll lead the group into stage two. We invite you to join in.
If you have already read or watched the ‘Watching the mind – Part 1’ and ‘Watching the mind – Part 2’ exercise that is fantastic. If you haven’t you really need to do that before you practice Part 3 of the exercise.
In this video we are leading a small group of people through stage one of the ‘watching the mind’ exercise that was described in Parts 1 and 2, then we’ll lead the group into the next stage - stage two. As we lead the participants through stage one of the exercise they will close their eyes, watch and count the thoughts. We will check in with them, see what they experienced, and then we’ll lead them into this new stage of the exercise.
So, we invite you to join in. Sit back and close your eyes for a minute or so, and gently observe and count the thoughts that you become aware of.
The second stage of the exercise involves closing our eyes and very gently observing. This time we won’t count the thoughts, but instead we will gently close our eyes and watch, and be fascinated with what we notice. All we need to do is be very gentle in our approach to observing and being aware. We don’t need to count this time.
So rest back, there is nothing to do but very gently observe, and watch, and notice for about a minute.
Did you notice lots of thoughts or just a few? Did you notice that by observing and allowing what was unfolding, regardless of whether there were lots of thoughts or not, that you experienced peace and calm?
This simple two-step exercise can lead us from the busyness of the day where we can become caught up in intense thinking, to an opportunity to create peace – all by resting back and observing. We can be aware of the sounds around us, or the thoughts moving, but we can be unaffected by them. We can observe and watch as it all unfolds. A couple of minutes of this two-step approach can change our whole approach to the day and it can change our mood. It is important to start the exercise by watching and counting – this phase allows us to de-personalise the thoughts and effortlessly interrupt the tendency of our mind to identify with the content of the thoughts. It creates space to allow us to continue to observe without counting.
We get to see that the content of a thought is completely irrelevant. With practice we also see that the number of thoughts is irrelevant – they have no ability to interrupt our peace if we are just allowing them to float by. We also have a chance to become aware of the Stillness that underlies us, or is within us all the time.
Re-capping - all we need to do is sit back, gently observe and count for a period of about a minute. Once a minute has passed, we cease counting but we continue to observe and watch.