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Sounds and thoughts meditation: Moving beyond the rumour mill

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Hi, and welcome to the fourth week of the Mindfulness Program!

We’re halfway through the program already.

A word of encouragement: you may feel “behind” when you read these articles. “I haven’t done last week’s meditations” you may think to yourself, and then you start beating yourself up. Just know that this is common. But is it useful? If you feel that you’re “behind”, don’t fret.

(Spoiler: You can’t “fall behind” with your meditation practice.)

Instead, see if there is a meditation or habit releaser that you want to try for this coming week. Let your curiosity and interest guide you.

Please note that all exercises and meditations are from the book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by professor Mark Williams and journalist Danny Penman.

Let’s dive in.

Overview: Week 4 Mindfulness

Week Four introduces a Sounds and Thoughts meditation that reveals how you can be sucked unwittingly into overthinking.

You learn to see your thoughts as mental events that come and go just like sounds. By meditating on the sounds around you, you’ll come to learn that the mind is to thought what the ear is to sound. This helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and feelings.

Main idea: Moving beyond the rumour mill

Our thoughts are like rumours in the mind. They might be true, but then again, they might not be.

Mark Williams

Instead of confronting the mind’s rumour mill with logic and “positive thinking”, it makes far more sense to step outside the endless cycle and just watch the thoughts unfold.

But this can be difficult.

If you look closely at the “rumours” that start washing around the mind when you feel stressed, you’ll see how much a part of you they appear to be. They carry quite a punch and may be central to what you believe about yourself and the situation you find yourself in.

Have a look at the following list of common thoughts that pop up in people’s heads when they feel frantic, stressed, unhappy or exhausted:

  • I can’t enjoy myself without thinking about what needs to be done.
  • I must never fail.
  • Why can’t I relax?
  • I must never let people down.
  • It’s up to me.
  • I must be strong.
  • Everyone relies on me.
  • I’m the only one who can do this.
  • I can’t stand this anymore.
  • I mustn’t waste a minute.
  • I wish I were somewhere else.
  • Why don’t they just do it?
  • Why am I not enjoying this anymore?
  • What’s the matter with me?
  • I can’t give up.
  • Something has to change.
  • There must be something wrong with me.
  • Everything will fall apart without me.
  • Why can’t I switch off?

When we feel stressed, thoughts like these often feel like the absolute truth about us and the world. But they are, in fact, symptoms of stress, just as a high temperature is a symptom of flu.

Becoming aware that these thoughts are symptoms of stress, rather than facts that must be true, allows you to step back from them. And this grants you the space to decide whether to take them seriously or not.

In time, through mindfulness practice, you can learn to notice them, acknowledge their presence and let them go. Week Four of the Mindfulness program will show you how to do this.

Week 4: Sounds and Thoughts Meditation​

We are immersed in a soundscape of enormous depth and variety. Just take a moment to listen. What can you hear?

Even when you’re in a quiet room, you can still pick up muffled sounds. It might be your breath as it moves through your nostrils, or the cracking of the floor or a heating system. Even silence contains sounds.

This constantly fluxing soundscape is just like your thought stream.

The Sounds and Thoughts meditation gradually reveals the similarities between sounds and thoughts. Both are enormously potent and carry immense momentum. They trigger powerful emotions that can easily run away with us.

We might start to feel angry, sad, anxious, stressed or bitter – just because a thought triggered an avalanche of associations. The Sounds and Thoughts meditation helps you to discover this for yourself.

Habit releaser: A visit to the movies

Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the movies, but this time, with a difference. Go at a set time (say 7 PM) and choose whatever film takes your fancy only when you get there.

Often, what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected: the chance encounter or the unpredicted event. Movies are great for all these.

Practices for Week Four

  • An eight-minute Breath and Body meditation, leading to
  • … an eight-minute Sounds and Thoughts meditation; Mark Williams suggests that you practice this sequence twice a day.
  • A Three Minute Breathing Space meditation that you do twice a day and also whenever you need it at any other time.

Over to you

What’s going on in your world? Has any of these meditations helped you?

Just reply to any of my emails or leave a comment on this article below. Please keep me updated.

Thanks for reading.

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