Intrusive thoughts and feelings are repetitive, often also, intensely disturbing and unpleasant. Worst of all, they are usually objectively irrelevant and can be horribly distracting.
These thoughts are usually related to fears, worries, resentments, obsessions, fantasies, self-criticism, anxieties and catastrophising.
I am sure that you, like me, have experienced these compulsive intrusive thoughts and feelings (for example, at 4 in the morning). You know intellectually that it’s doing you no good; you want them to stop, but it seems that your mind simply ignores you. You quickly find yourself in a loop; thoughts which create strong emotions which in turn create more thoughts and even stronger emotions. The more you try to resist, the stronger it gets. This pattern of thinking can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and other health problems. This is the suffering of too much thinking. So what can we do?
Our default position is mindless, that is to say we are lost in our thoughts without awareness of the fact. In these moments we confuse who we are with our thoughts. Mindful awareness reduces our identification with these thoughts (the clouds) as we observe from the infinite clear space of consciousness (the infinite blue sky). The clear blue sky is the space of the observing mind. When we observe from this vantage point we see our thoughts for what they are: just like clouds, temporary events; they arise, they exist and then fade away. The nature of the sky is constant, always spacious, always infinite.
We talk of “our thoughts” but we do not choose most of our thoughts; they arise out of nothing. They are temporary, random and ephemeral.
With this attitude we question our habitual attitude that thoughts and feelings are all important; we understand that they do not necessarily reflect reality and that we are not obliged to react.
Mindfulness of the body
You are your attention. These intrusive thoughts and feelings cannot exist without your attention. When these thoughts arise, do not fight, reject or try to escape them; instead, simply bring your attention to the body − your senses for example: the feeling of air on your face; the sounds falling upon your ears; the steady rhythm of your breathing; your posture, the weight of your arms, your breathing. In this way you rest in the infinite space of awareness and create a space to choose your response instead of reacting unconsciously creating even greater suffering.
Being with the intrusion
Imagine that you are meditating and an intrusive thought arises about some harm someone has done to you; you might start to feel angry, anxious. Through simply mindful observing you notice the knot in your gut and the tightness in your shoulders; you notice that you are already angrily rehearsing what you are going to say when you next see that person, how you are going to “put them in their place”. You keep observing when you notice that you now have a tune you heard on the radio this morning running repeatedly through your mind. That disappears and you notice now how the tall grass is trembling in the light breeze, the vivid joyful intense greeness. You experience a sense of spacious stillness, a sense of wonder, of connection. In this way, you experience that as real and as intense as your anger seemed; it evaporated, it wasn’t as important as it seemed at the time. A short while later, the beauty of the trembling grass, the wind caressing your face is just as absorbing and just as fascinating. When we experience this repeatedly through meditation, then thoughts and feelings begin to lose their power. It becomes difficult even comical the idea of taking these things seriously.
Reprogramming your brain in this way is much more effective than fighting with yourself.
I could go on for much longer about how Buddhist teachings and practices can be applied to this and similar situation. Essentially through practice we learn to not identify with the constantly changing ephemeral mental events (the clouds), but rather with the unchanging constant field of consciousness (the infinite blue sky) in which these events occur.
“You are the infinite blue sky, everything else is just weather”.