Have you noticed that we love nature analogies for our mindfulness practice? For example, the mind is like the clear blue sky and thoughts are like clouds or the RAIN acronym.
Here is another one for you: The Waterfall.
Have you ever felt like you were being attacked by thoughts?
As if a torrent of harsh or anxious or even panicky thoughts pours down on you like a relentless waterfall. When this happens, we can feel shaken or even tossed around by the impact of these violent thoughts.
I’ve been there for sure. It’s painful and can make us feel utterly helpless.
Instinctively we want to get away as far as we possibly can.
But help is closer than we may think. What we are looking for is a refuge or a shelter.
Here is how waterfalls work:
From nationalgeographic.org: “…A stream’s velocity increases as it nears a waterfall, increasing the amount of erosion taking place…The resulting erosion at the base of a waterfall can be very dramatic, and cause the waterfall to “recede.” The area behind the waterfall is worn away, creating a hollow, cave-like structure called a rock shelter.”
What we are looking for is the rock shelter of our experience. Where is that to be found? It’s right behind us. We take a step back. Just one step.
Sounds simple but it’s not easy. But this actually lies at the core of our mindfulness practice. We bring simple, kind awareness to the core of our present moment experience. Or even just awareness, as at times kindness is nowhere to be found. And by the miracle of just becoming aware we have already taken the step back.
Because awareness of rushing thoughts is not the same as being rushing thoughts.
We are still very close to the experience, we probably still get soaking wet and feel the mad rush of the falling water—but we don’t get tossed around anymore. When practicing mindfulness with a challenging story or emotion you will still get “wet.”
This last point can’t be overemphasized. When we first start our mindfulness practice we have this idea that mindfulness and the whole idea of “detaching” and “disengaging” from our experience creates a big distance between us and what we feel and think. You might have heard the phrase “Practicing mindfulness is like watching a washing machine—compared to being in it.” I wish!
But interestingly enough, being right there, in the rock shelter of thinking, one step behind the torrent, we can gain a strange sense of spaciousness, steadiness—and agency.
Don’t believe me? Please try it out and let me know what you find.