Imagine you had a friend, Bill. While you enjoyed his company at first, he now follows you around all day, talking to you nonstop. You wake up in the morning, and Bill is right there yammering away. You commute to work, and there Bill is again. When you go to bed at night, Bill just keeps babbling on. Sometimes his voice is loud. Sometimes it’s a whisper. Sometimes Bill’s words make sense. Sometimes they are garbled nonsense.
So how long do you think you could stand hearing Bill’s voice 24/7? One hour? A day? A week? If you’re like me, just the thought of having to put up with someone like Bill is cringe worthy.
But what if I told you most of us have a version of Bill (or Jill) in our lives? Bill or Jill is the voice inside us that judges all day. While the variations on what your version of Bill or Jill says are countless, they can be summed up with two words: Good and bad.
A thought will arise that will feel good. Maybe you’re thinking about someone you love, a vacation destination, or something you really want to buy.
The good thoughts, we want more of. The bad thoughts we push away. In either case, the constant mind chatter wears us down and stresses us out.
The steady stream of negative thoughts is unhealthy for us for reasons you probably know already. But even the positive thoughts have a negative side as well. While they may seem harmless, the truth is they cause us suffering too.
When Good Thoughts Are Bad
Whether we have something we’ve aspired to or we’re still working toward it, such as a relationship, a job, or a purchase, right around the corner of this aspiration is fear: Fear of losing something we have, or fear of not getting what we want.
For example, we may fear losing a loved one. Or now that we have our dream job, we may now be afraid of getting laid off. Or we may have arrived at our amazing vacation destination, only to dread it coming to an end.
So if bad thoughts are bad for us, and even good thoughts are bad for us, what options do we have?
Gaining Mastery Over Your Mental Commentary
We can begin working toward having a thought free life, one without constant mental commentary. Does a thought-free life mean you stop thinking? No. You can’t go through life without thinking. In fact, our ability to think is one of the greatest evolutionary feats of our species.
The problem is our thoughts have become our master. Think of our brains as super computers capable of doing extraordinary things, but most of the time, they’re working on useless tasks that only consume energy and wear us down. Sadly, most of the mental commentary that takes place all day, everyday keeps us from experiencing the present moment.
In order for us to master our thoughts, rather than the other way around, we must first become aware they’re there. Meditation is one of the most effective ways to do this. By sitting quietly, we bring awareness to the mental processes usually taking place in the background all day—ones we don’t even realize are there.
Meditation is simple, life changing, and best of all, free. If you’ve never meditated before, you can start with five minutes a day, preferably in the morning after you wake up, or before you go to bed, or both.
Simply sit in comfortable upright position (this could even be sitting up in your bed), close your eyes, and follow your breath. Within a few seconds, a thought will arise (good or bad). When this happens, simply observe it, and then return to your breath. While it may be challenging at first because the thoughts may seem endless, with dedication to your meditation practice, the power these thoughts have will eventually dissipate.
Over time, meditation will help you gain mastery over your thoughts. As a result, your stress will decrease, and you’ll experience peace of mind and a joy that comes from being freed from the chains of mental commentary.