Welcome back to another edition of Mindful Metaphors. This month I am going over an important aspect of mindfulness that is sometimes overlooked. Often when we practice mindfulness techniques or sit in meditation, we are simply engaging in the act of noticing. Our ability to self-reflect and be aware of our thoughts is a unique human ability that has profound effects. In some respects, our self-reflection can be damaging if, for example, we are judgmental with ourselves. However, with mindfulness we can go beyond self-reflection. We can notice that we are noticing. We can notice that we are being judgmental with ourselves. This ability to step outside of ourselves and just observe is powerful and healing.
Think about when you are watching a movie, for example. You may get emotional and caught up in the plot, but at the end of the day, most of us do not take what happens in a movie personally. What if we could see all of our experience like this? Like we were just watching it play out on a screen and we were the audience. In fact, we can. This is the “observing self” piece of mindfulness. It is pure awareness. We step into a space where we just observe. This is part of many mindfulness exercises, but it is often not explicitly stated. We have a part of ourselves that can just observe and notice. And this is great news.
So how does this work and why is it helpful to just observe? Well, it works because when you observe something, you actually begin to change it. Just the act of noticing and observing starts to change it. When you step out into the observer stance you give up struggling with and identifying with your mind. And this is a huge change by itself. By being good observers of our experience, we actually start to change our experience itself.
For this month’s metaphor, I want you to visualize all your internal experiences. Your thoughts, emotions, sensations, past experiences, everything. Sometimes our thoughts and emotions are at war with each other, sometimes, other thoughts are in agreement and are on the same side. For this metaphor we are going to think of all our inner experiences like chess pieces on a chessboard:
Imagine all your internal experiences, your thoughts, emotions, feelings, and experiences, are chess pieces on a chessboard. Perhaps all the positive feelings and thoughts are on one side of the board and the negative on the other. Maybe, for example, the thoughts “I am a good person” and “I am a bad person” are facing off against each other in your internal world. Happiness and sadness battle for positon on the board. Memories of success battle against memories of failure. It can be quite a war!
Now, take a moment to notice it all. The good, the bad, the conflict… Often we get caught up in it all and think that we ARE the chess pieces themselves. That’s OK and normal. After all, we want the good pieces to beat the bad pieces and “then our problems will be solved.” Unfortunately, it is not so easy. As previous posts have pointed out, the more you struggle and fight, the more the other side fights back. So here’s what you can do. Be the board. Yes, just be the chessboard itself. You are not the pieces but rather the observer of them. You are still in contact with them and can still feel them. But they are not you and do not define you. You are bigger than them and you can just notice them. And as you take this stance of just being the board and noticing, you are letting go of struggling with them. So just notice and be the observer of it all. Of your internal wars, of your life unfolding, and see that by doing so, it can change everything.
Great. Thanks for reading and stopping by the blog. I appreciate the time and I hope this was a helpful metaphor on your journey. Until next time.
Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.
Therapy for Anxiety and Mindfulness Training in Oakland, CA.
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