Winning Against Intrusive Thoughts - Practicing Non-Resistance
It’s not about getting control of your thoughts, it’s about letting them be.
I’ve been in this place of struggle for quite awhile, and it finally makes sense to me. Anxiety and depression are where toxic thoughts live. It’s that coffee cup that we with anxiety and depression walk around with.
If you missed the coffee cup metaphor, you can find it here.
I’m no longer worried about the anxiety or depressive thoughts spilling out onto everyone. Instead, those thoughts have become specimens to be examined. To be curious about. When I can do that regularly, I know I’ve moved on from being stuck in the “Land of Intrusive Thoughts”. Here’s how it works.
An anxious thought pops into my head, and instead of me fighting it and getting mad at it, I get curious about it. I separate myself from the thought, and recognize that I’m not the THINKER of the thought. I didn’t create it. That thought is a specimen that has shown up.
To help overcome intrusive thought specimens, I don’t fight the thoughts.
If an interesting stone showed up in your hand, you’d probably turn it around and wonder, “how did this get here?” Think of intrusive thoughts the exact same way. The thought shows up and as soon as it does, express gentle surprise. As if it were a new type of bird you had never seen before that showed up on your shoulder. If a bird showed up on your shoulder, well I guess some of you would totally freak out because, well, birds and anxiety and stuff. Make the thing that shows up something safe for you and stick with me here.
The thought shows up. You notice it. Say to that thought, “huh, how did you get here?” Whatever you do, don’t fight it.
Do you know what fighting a thought does? It makes the thought fight back. It gives the thought roots that can become stuck in your head. Intrusive thoughts LOVE a good fight. Fighting an intrusive thought will almost never have you win. But looking at it like a specimen and observing it with curiosity will eventually have that thought leave you. Because that thought will get bored. An intrusive thought can’t survive boredom.
When you show up to thoughts with non-resistance, you’re telling that thought, “Ok, you showed up. I see you, I feel you, and I won’t fight you.” Fighting a thought is engagement with it. Gentle curiosity about a thought is becoming an observer of it. It’s separating the thought from you. When you fight it or engage with it, you’re giving the thought refuge. You’re giving it life. You’re feeding it. When you become curious about it, you’re holding your hand open, letting the thought show up, and then the thought is like a free bird, and it can fly away.
Sometimes thoughts are like little Tasmanian Devils. They show up and they punch you right in the face. Perhaps they even wrap their little Tasmanian Devil arms around you and hold on tight. (Do Tasmanian Devils have long arms? I’ll have to Google that later.)
You know how toddlers can somehow magically get you to drop them? They lift their arms up and somehow become floppy little fish that are hard to hold onto? When you have a thought that comes and wraps itself around you, imagine yourself like a floppy fish or a toddler with magical dropping skills. Just DON’T FIGHT THE THOUGHT.
If you have intrusive thoughts showing up regularly, just start to practice non-resistance of that thought. Practice it for a week and see what happens. I think you’ll be surprised to notice that one day, that intrusive thought won’t show up. Or perhaps it shows up still, but it doesn’t stay for as long. Depending on how long you’ve been fighting with this thought, it might have a lot of reserve built up, so it may take a little while for it to decide to leave. Give it time.
I keep hearing the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic in my head.
“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”