One of the keys to becoming less ruled by what your mind tells you is to learn the skill of watching your mind.
You can do it, but it takes time and practice. Your mind didn’t start throwing evaluations at you overnight. It’s been going on for a long lifetime.
The skill of watching your mind will take practice and commitment, but it’s a powerful tool for changing your experience of anger.
To get started, try completing the exercises as described below.
Each exercise will help you detach from the compulsion to evaluate and believe those evaluations. Do one exercise at a time to see which ones work best for you.
It’s important to give yourself enough time with each exercise. These exercises are not magic bullets. They require practice.
A good starting point is to set aside at least ten to fifteen minutes each day to practice an exercise. Give each of them a few days of practice before moving on to the next.
Exercise: Mind Watching
Mind watching requires you to be a true observer of your consciousness. Here’s how you do it:
- Start by taking a series of slow, deep breaths. Keep this up through the entire exercise.
- Imagine that your mind is a medium-sized white room with two doors.
- Thoughts come in through the front door and leave out the back door. Pay close attention to each thought as it enters. Now label the thought as either judging or nonjudging.
- Watch the thought until it leaves. Don’t try to analyze or hold onto it. Don’t believe or disbelieve it. Just acknowledge having the thought.
- It’s just a moment in your mind, a brief visitor to the white room. If you find yourself judging yourself for having the thought, notice that.
- Do not argue with your mind’s judgment. Just notice it for what it is and label it “judging—there is judging.”
- The key to this exercise is to notice the judgmental thoughts rather than getting caught up in them. You’ll know if you’re getting caught up in them by your emotional reactions and by how long you keep the thoughts in the room. [Anger and Emotions]
- Keep breathing; keep watching; keep labeling. A thought is just a thought. And you are much more than that thought.
- Each thought doesn’t require you to react; it doesn’t make you do anything; it doesn’t mean you are less of a person.
- As an observer of your thoughts as they pass in and out of the white room, let them have their brief life. They are fine the way they are, including the judging thoughts.
- The important thing is to let them leave when they are ready to go and then greet and label the next thought—and the next.
- Continue this exercise until you feel a real emotional distance from your thoughts. Wait until even the judgments are just a moment in the room—no longer important, no longer requiring action.
Exercise: Separating Thoughts From Angry Feelings
This exercise will help you learn to detach your thoughts from angry feelings.
- Start by recalling a recent situation where you felt angry. Try to visualize what happened, what was said.
- Take some time to carefully build a picture of the event. Now remember some of the thoughts you had during the episode.
- As you recall what you were thinking, notice if the actual feeling of anger is starting to return. If it is, that’s good. Let it happen.
- Keep focusing on the judgmental or blaming thoughts connected to the incident. Really get into them. And if your anger feels a little sharper, a little stronger, that’s fine, too.
- Now go back to the white room. Imagine that your anger is hurling those judgmental and blaming thoughts through the front door.
- Take a deep breath. Inhale slowly, and then let your whole body relax as you release the breath.
- Keep this up while you start watching your mind. Observe and label the thoughts.
- Watch each thought from a distance—without believing or getting entangled in it.
- Don’t make the thought bigger or smaller, don’t agree or disagree. Just watch and breathe, noticing that the thought eventually leaves and a new one takes its place.
- Keep this up until you feel a growing distance from the thoughts—and perhaps from the anger itself.
Exercise: Riding The Wave Of Anger
You now have a chance to learn to ride the wave of your anger rather than be tumbled about by it.
- Think of a recent situation where you felt mistreated and upset. Visualize the scene; try to recall any irritating things that were done or said.
- Notice your judging or blaming thoughts. Keep focusing on the upsetting scene, as well as on the judgments you made about it.
- Let your anger rise till it’s a four or five on a scale of one to ten.
- Now go back to the white room mentioned previously. Observe your thoughts. Label the judgments.
- The thoughts aren’t right or wrong, true or false. Acknowledge their presence without trying to control or change them, without trying to push them away. Breathe deeply; keep watching your mind.
- At the same time, notice the emotional wave in the room with you. Be aware of the point where your anger stops climbing.
- Feel it leveling off and starting to diminish. Experience the slow ride down the back of the wave.
- Accept wherever you are on the wave. Don’t hasten to get past it. It moves at its own speed—all you can do is let go and let it carry you.
- Just watch your thoughts entering and leaving the white room, and notice the progress of the wave, nothing more. Keep watching until the anger has completely passed.
Exercise: Finding Compassion In The Dark
Imagine that it’s night. You are in a field with hundreds of unseen people. On one edge of the field is a cliff—it would be an extraordinary and terrifying fall.
The cliff is really everyone’s worst fear—death, shame, failure, aloneness, loss, helplessness. No one can see it. No one knows where it is.
Now imagine that you and all the other people in the field will live your lives there. You must find food, love, and companionship in the darkness. You must keep moving yet somehow avoid the cliff.
You’re always a little afraid, always uncertain, because the darkness never lifts. And you must find all that you need to live without falling into the abyss.
This is our human condition. People cope in different ways. Some race headlong; some hesitate to make the smallest step. Some cling; some push others away for fear of being dragged past the edge.
Some give up; some seek to understand, forever trying to pierce the darkness. Some demand help; some comfort themselves by trying to help others.
Close your eyes and be in the field. Feel how we all struggle there. Feel how we try to move, to take care of ourselves, while always sensing the presence of the cliff. Everyone walks that dark field; everyone is scared; everyone is doing the best they can.
Now think of someone you care for (such as your partner, your child, or your best friend). Keep observing your thoughts and feelings while imagining that person walking around in the dark field. They are hoping not to fall, just like you.
Be aware of their fear and struggle. As you do so, the wish may arise in you to help them, to be by their side, and perhaps to comfort them. That is all fine. Keep holding the same image while watching each thought and feeling come and go.
Now think of someone who makes you angry; watch the judgmental thoughts that start to form. Keep observing your thoughts and feelings while imagining that person navigating the dark field.
They are hoping not to fall, just like you and the person you care for. Be aware of their fear and struggle. Is it different from yours?
Keep holding the image of their fear and struggle while watching each arriving thought and feelings. This may be more difficult to do, because you don’t like that person very much and you may keep getting caught up in judgmental thoughts.
Still, keep holding the image of their fear and struggle while watching each arriving thought and feeling.
Notice that your task in this exercise is not to stop your anger or your judgmental thoughts. There’s no reason to change what you experience. Your experience is what it is, and it does not harm you.
But what you are doing here is something extraordinary that you may have never done before: you are adding compassionate awareness to your experience, so that your anger is balanced with full appreciation of the challenge of being human.