The first step to overcome debilitating emotions or agitating thoughts is cultivating the Inner Witness.
When we want to create positive change in our lives – and especially in our emotions – it’s important to recognize that thoughts exacerbate those emotions. Often, when we believe we’re feeling an emotion, we’re actually thinking the emotion. We’re repeating thoughts over and over again that feed into the worry, anger, sadness, or overwhelm.
One helpful practice is developing the Inner Witness. We all have it – it’s the part of ourselves that can observe the thoughts, emotions, or sensations we have, but doesn’t become them. You really can cultivate this part of yourself!
Practice with simple things, like noticing the thoughts you have reading your grocery list, or doing the dishes. You have the thoughts, and then you have the observer. Use the Inner Witness to become aware of your sensations, too. Many of you are probably familiar with this, as the Inner Witness is cultivated in meditation and mindfulness practices.
When you’re witnessing your experience, be neutral. Don’t allow your inner judge to take the reins! You can decide that you’re just going to watch, not compare, evaluate, analyze, or judge what you’re noticing. Whatever thoughts you’re having, get a little distance from them. Have a sense of humor, even. They’re just thoughts – they aren’t WHO you are. And once you get skilled at neutral witnessing, you can develop the power to change them.
Have you ever watched a sports game? Maybe a team, like basketball or soccer? There’s a lot of activity on the court or field. People running everywhere, kicking or passing, maybe even shouting things. But you know you aren’t the players, the ball, or the field. You’re watching it.
Pretend that your thoughts are your inner soccer field. They sure are being kicked around a lot, aren’t they? And they might just bounce off your head, too, like a player trying to score a goal. You may have thoughts that are awfully dramatic, like a player flopping, pretending to be hurt so that the other team gets a foul. Those thoughts are trying to rial you up! But be the cool referee, your Inner Witness, watching the game but not playing it, and calling out those fake flops of thought. They aren’t real, they’re just the game your mind plays.
Blow the Whistle!
The ref has to be neutral – he or she can’t get caught up in bias towards a team, or a player’s drama. Try to look at your thinking that way. Are my thoughts dramatizing my experience, causing me to feel upset, sad, angry, or fearful? Blow the whistle and use your discernment to sort out what’s actually real. Much of the time, our thoughts are like that hot air that the players are blowing at each other!
Be patient with yourself as you learn to use your Inner Witness. It can take some time to learn how to step back from your thoughts. It’s just the first step towards changing your thoughts, and therefore your emotions. But if you keep practicing, you’ll get the hang of it, and be able to watch without getting too involved. You may even find it amusing what your mind comes up with.
What thoughts are you noticing today? I won’t judge – I’m witnessing you. 🙂
The Inner Witness is one of many practices in my book, Awakening from Anxiety, that help release challenging thoughts and emotions. Get your copy here!
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