It still happens to me. Even though I have been practicing mindfulness for the past decade and a half, I notice it still happening. I assume it happens to everyone, but most people just think of it as “the way it is.” They take various medications, drugs and find other distractions to deal with the fact that they are doing it ALL THE TIME without knowing they are even doing it. The next person you see is most likely doing it. The majority of people driving their cars or walking down the street, are doing it. You might be doing it right now.
I was at the car wash, drying the water off my car with old t-shirts that I no longer wear. As I wiped away the water from the body of my car, I noticed a few things. First I noticed that I was sweating profusely. I also noticed that I was out of breath. And then I noticed that my mind was racing. I mean really racing. It was popping off thoughts like fireworks on the 4th of July! When this started or how it began I do not know.
I noticed all kinds of thoughts. A plethora of thoughts! There were thoughts filled with fear. There were worried thoughts. Thoughts about the future and thoughts about the past. There were even thoughts that I have been thinking in one form or another since I was a teenager! I was drowning in thought, so much so that I was depriving myself of air. Pools of sweat collected on the ground beneath my feet.
“What are you doing?” I said to myself. I said it out loud, so as to really make it real. “Knock it off!” I said as if I was talking to my out of control German Shepherd. The older lady drying off her car in the next spot over from mine smiled apprehensively at me. I smiled back (I can only imagine what she must of been thinking). By suddenly becoming aware that I was lost in such a deluge of over-thinking, I was able to snap out of it. I returned my focus to my breathing and noticed my feet on the ground. I told myself that I was just drying off my car at a do-it-yourself car wash on a Monday afternoon. Everything was fine. There was no need to be doing what I was doing in my mind. “Just dry off your car,” I said to myself as I returned my focus towards what I was doing in that moment. As a result I was able to catch my breath, my sanity and slow way down.
When I realize that most individuals are continually caught up in this deluge of over-thinking, every day/all day, it allows me to have more empathy and compassion for other people’s suffering. I am able to understand where it comes from and why it happens. It also allows me to identify the source of my own personal challenges. If we are not able to become aware that we are caught up in crazy-making, irrational thinking and then bring ourselves out of it by returning our focus to where we are actually at in the present moment- our bodies, our minds, our relationships and our world are in serious trouble.
There really is no other way around this. Sure, we can take psychiatric drugs or use other substances and distractions to try and remedy the intensity and destructiveness of our negative thinking habits. Sometimes it works but it is almost always short term gain for long term pain. What I believe is a much more effective (and harmless) remedy for our suffering is simply to be willing to become aware when we are lost in crazy-making, over-thinking and then to say to ourselves, “What are you doing?” As a result of doing this simple mindfulness awareness practice (again and again throughout the day), we will be able to “snap out of it” and return our focus to what we are actually doing in the present moment. Our sanity will return, our self-control will grow stronger, our lives will hurt less, our relationships will improve and maybe for the first time all day or all week, we will be able to catch our breath.