Getting Off the Train of Thought

If I could share 500 words to inspire, this is the important wisdom I'd want to pass along to others...

  • “All aboard! The train of thought is leaving the station! All aboard!”
    “Where is the train of thought going?” asks a would be passenger standing on the platform.
    “I don’t know,” the conductor responds.
    “When will the train return to this station?” another curious person asks, but jumps on the train before
    hearing the answer.
    The conductor shrugs his shoulders and states, “Too hard to tell.”
    “Does the train of thought make any stops? What if I want to get off?” another possible passenger
    nervously inquires, but joins her fellow traveler in boarding without waiting for the information.
    The conductor coyly smiles and answers, “Sure. But when and where the train stops, well, that is up to you.”
    What are thoughts? Where do they come from? How do I clear my thoughts and become more focused?
    Finally, how can I be the passenger and the conductor of the train of thought, thereby intentionally
    creating and enjoying my thought experience instead of getting lost in it?
    “What a thought is remains a mystery from a neuroscientific perspective,” according to Ezequiel
    Morsella, Ph.D., an associate professor of Neuroscience at San Francisco State University. “Thoughts
    are certainly caused by brain function, but we do not yet have a solid idea regarding what it is about
    brain function that gives rise to them.”
    As mysterious as thoughts are to the best minds of our time, who spend their days thinking about
    thinking, we have developed tools to manage them. Thoughts are abstract, which is
    why it seems like a challenge to know what we are thinking at this very moment. By practicing
    thought recognition, we can help get off the train at the station we choose. Here is how.
    Recognize when you are lost in thought:
    Have you driven to work safely but can’t remember the drive? Have you read a chapter in a book but
    can’t remember what you read? Do you lose minutes and hours staring at a lit screen? All of these things are common signs that you have been lost in your thoughts, and not living in present moment awareness.
    Let your body help you get out of your head
    Another way to recognize being lost in thought is through physical sensations. Intentionally
    recall a memory that will elicit a familiar, palpable emotion. Notice where strong thoughts are
    manifesting in your body. For example, a meditation student of mine reported a queasiness in her stomach. I asked her “What were you thinking the moment the queasiness arose?”
    She reported that she had a very busy week ahead with a lot of responsibilities.
    “Immediately thoughts of rushing from appointment to appointment flooded my mind, with increasing
    queasiness in my belly as thoughts turned to worry that I would miss something important,” the student
    said. Noticing a physical sensation, like nausea, can be your internal alarm to ask yourself, “What am I thinking of right now? What is my mind state?”
    Getting off the train of thought
    Imagine watching a tv while viewing a movie while listening to the radio while checking your email. This is what our mind feels like when we are lost in thought. It becomes a challenge to quantify a single thought with this circus of images, sounds, and colors. Once you realize your mind is lost in thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, or you become aware that your mind is telling stories both fiction and non fiction, we can help to manage these abstract
    thoughts. Simplify thoughts by making a sentence out of the last thought you grasped.
    For example, let’s examine the student’s articulated thought stated above. “Immediately thoughts of
    rushing from appointment to appointment flooded my mind.”

    Now we can make a concrete sentence of that articulated thought with “I have appointments Saturday. Period.” Say the punctuation at the end of the sentence in your mind each time you become aware that you are lost in your thinking. Period.
    When you say period, you are pulling the emergency break on the train of thought. To disembark, breathe. You are going about your day and you notice a physical sensation, a rapid heartbeat in your chest perhaps. You ask yourself, “What am I thinking of at this moment? Ahhhh, the project at work not being good enough for my boss.” Make a concrete sentence out of an abstract thought, “When I think about the project at work I notice a rapid heartbeat. Period.” Take a breath in through your nose, and breathe out through your mouth, noticing the quality of air as it enters your nose and exits your mouth.

    Notice the texture, temperature, and taste of the oxygen as you inhale and exhale. Repeat this five to ten times, remembering you always have five to ten seconds to center yourself, no matter how busy we all think we are. To bring awareness to the part of your body experiencing the strong physical sensation, hold that area, for example, place your hand on your chest. Then repeat breathing in, and breathing out. You have just disembarked the train of thought.
    “All aboard!” Next stop….take a breath, and you choose your own destination.

    Angie Harris

    Angie Harris is a mother to two brilliant boys and aunt to eight beautiful nieces and nephews. As a teenager Angie suffered the sudden loss of her beloved mother, Rosemarie. It was then she was introduced to contemplative practices such as yoga and meditation. She quickly realized the more she practiced, the more comfort she felt, even while grieving such a tragic loss. A decade later, Angie's sister Stephy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Stephy fought bravely, but lost her battle in 2014. It was during this time that Angie's meditation practice turned outward, toward teaching. She wanted to share meditation with her young nieces and nephews, who are grieving the loss of their mother, as she was once taught to do. To learn how to deliver lessons to children, Angie attended the Mindful Schools meditation teacher training in 2012. Since completing the program she has been welcomed into public and private schools to teach mindfulness meditation to both students and teachers. Teaching mindfulness has led to her first professional writing project. Her children's meditation teachings have come to life in Angie's first book, Mad to Glad, A Mindfulness Lesson on Emotion, available for sale wherever books are sold. She is honored to share meditation with adults and children in schools, corporations, and community centers. Angie is currently attending the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teaching program through UMASS Medical School in Shrewsbury Massachusetts.

    For more information, please visit mindfularomatherapy.blogspot.com.

    View all posts by Angie Harris.

    1. Melissa
      Melissa says:

      After taking one of your classes it really opened my mind & soul up to bigger & greater things…. Thank you!!

      Reply
    2. Michael A. Stilinovich
      Michael A. Stilinovich says:

      Hi Angie, lately I have committed myself to meditating on a regular basis. When I first started I would even have negative thoughts that I can’t do this and so I turned that around and envisioned myself meditating peacefully. I even found that there are times when there is a lot of distractions, i.e. noise, so then I find myself recognizing they are there but keep my focus on one thing whatever it may be for the day that all outside distractions seem to literally disappear and I am really growing from this. Also your tips sure seem plausible to me as another avenue to travel on our path.
      Thank you for everything and have a blessed day,
      Michael

      Reply
      • Angie Harris
        Angie Harris says:

        Hi Michael!
        Thank you for your feedback, and for your commitment to the practice. What you have encountered is so familiar to me. I have often reminded myself that some days my practice is easy, and some days it is hard…it is just as simple as that. On the more distracted days I tell myself that this is just what my practice looks like today, distracted or confused, it is still my practice in that moment. Those words, “This is what my practice looks like today” then a return to the breath has helped me stay in the present tremendously…as you and I both know the distracted mind can quickly become lost. I look forward to hearing from you again!
        With gratitude, Angie

        Reply
      • Angie Harris
        Angie Harris says:

        Hi Kate!
        Thank You for your comments. We all need to remind ourselves to return to the breath, all throughout our lives. That is why we call it a meditation “practice” 🙂
        Be Well,
        Angie

        Reply
    3. Biliana
      Biliana says:

      Your work is invaluable Angela. Many people are benefiting from your words daily, including myself and my family. Thank you <3

      Reply
    4. Owen Kaminoff
      Owen Kaminoff says:

      Very fine food for thought (to be served in the dining car on the train of thought). I think metaphors are so valuable and helpful I now refer to them as MEDaphors.

      Reply
    5. Cynthia
      Cynthia says:

      New meaning to “stop and smell the roses”. We don’t realize how much time goes by daily that we are just that – lost. It’s amazing what even a few deep breaths will do and how much better you feel. Since your class, I have done that multiple times a day and I’m even able to take a full 10 minutes some days to meditate. Absolute game changer. Thank you for everything!!

      Reply
    6. Kathleen Ellis
      Kathleen Ellis says:

      Thank you so much for your ongoing work with me and for this written inspiration! Learning how to mindfully meditate has cured my racing thoughts and insomnia after years and years (and years) of trying ineffective treatments. Just yesterday I used mindfulness meditation to solve another problem I had. After a wonderful but hectic day going to a museum in NYC, I noticed that my heart was pounding hard. Instead of panicking, my usual response, I went “back to the breath” and was able to get calm on the train ride home. Now after reading this piece, I realize that I can do something when I forget what I have just done–instead of worrying that I am losing my mind. You are truly an amazing person!! I am so grateful that you came into my life!!!

      Reply
    7. Toby
      Toby says:

      In my line of business I speak with many people and try to ‘sell’ them our product with a scripted list of pros, what our company can do better than the current company they work with, why they should choose us. Where I find myself being able to use your valuable writings and tips is when the person veers off the path that we are on as ‘seller’ and ‘buyer’. Using these methods to take a breath and center my thoughts before answering a tough question will be very valuable in taking the business to the next level. Thank you for your inspiration!

      Reply

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