When Unwanted Thoughts and Feelings Just Won’t Go Away
Last night, my 9-year old daughter was SO excited that she couldn’t sleep. Her mind kept filling with thoughts about all the wonderful things she might see the next day at her first trip to the Royal Show.
“Mum, I just want to take all these thoughts out of my mind so I can sleep!”
How often is it in life that we want to get rid of thoughts or feelings from our bodies? If only we could surgically remove unwanted memories. Throw our fears about the future into the fire and burn them up. Dig a hole and bury all those troublesome feelings and never have to feel them again.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally tried just about every possible way to get rid of painful thoughts and feelings. And it seems that the harder I try to push them away, the harder they push back. The louder they yell for my attention.
It’s like that exercise where you’re told not to think about a pink elephant riding a skateboard in a tutu. What’s the first thing your mind does? Of course, it does exactly what you ask it not to do!
Our minds can be very disobedient at times!
A whole body of rigorous research shows us the HUGE benefits of enhancing positivity and experiencing positive emotions. There are so many amazing tools to help us to get more happiness out of life.
But when we use these techniques to “block out”, “push away” or in any other way “deny” our thoughts and feelings, the result can be very disappointing.
Imagine you’re sitting on a hill looking over a little town. It has a beautiful stream running through the centre, quaint little houses and an abundance of greenery and sweet-smelling flowers. On the other side of the town is a big grey factory – a complete eyesore.
You want to take a photo of the town, but you just don’t like the look of this factory. No matter which angle you take, you just can’t get rid of it from the picture.
What will you do?
You could decide not to take a photo at all. The factory is still there and you miss out on capturing the (mostly) beautiful town.
You could take a photo that’s focussed in on the factory, so that every time you look at the picture, you remember this monstrosity with disgust.
Or you could focus in on the beautiful aspects on the town, accepting that the factory is still there, hanging around in the background.
Here’s the thing.
If we have a thought or feeling, memory or fear that just doesn’t want to go away, we can’t make it. We can try pushing it away, fighting it, booting it aside, or just plain putting up with it, but it’ll still come back if that’s what it wants to do.
So what else can we do about it?
We make peace with it.
“What!” I hear you say. “But I don’t like it! I don’t want it! I want to get rid of it!”
Of course you do! I don’t blame you! I don’t know of anybody who enjoys experiencing unpleasant thoughts and feelings.
Making peace doesn’t mean learning to like it. It means accepting it’s there. It means loosening our grip and allowing it space to breathe.
When we learn to open up to painful thoughts and feelings, they no longer have such a strong hold on us. We become freer to engage in life more fully. Freer to experience the whole range of human emotions.
Freer to take positive action to live a rich, full and meaningful life.
The ability to step back and observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, rather than being all tangled up in them, improves our experience of life. It allows us to more easily appreciate the streams, trees and flowers of life, whilst accepting that there are also going to be grey factories.
We might call this state of non-judgemental observation “mindfulness”, “awareness”, “centredness” or “being present”.
There are so many ways to develop mindfulness skills, including all sorts of formal meditation practices, prayer, yoga and mindful eating, walking or sitting.
Practicing mindfulness teaches the mind to pay attention, non-judgementally, to the present moment.
And the benefits?
Research has shown that regular mindfulness practice has enormous benefits immediately, not only for mental health, but also physical health, education and learning, quality relationships, decision making and much, much more.
A bit of commitment and discipline leads to big gains.
There are many free groups that teach mindfulness skills in a group setting. Lots of practitioners also work one-on-one to make sure you find a technique that works for you.
If you’d like any further information or support, click on the “Contact Us” icon below and I’ll happily help in any way I can.
As for my daughter, after a few relaxation exercises (and lots of tossing and turning!) she finally fell asleep.
She is one step closer to learning an important life lesson about those aspects of life that we cannot change:
It’s not through fight and force that we experience a fulfilling life, but through acceptance, loosening our grip and allowing what is.