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Mindfulness of Thoughts - Zooming Out

September 20, 2017

Brooklyn Bridge - image via



A recent hobby of mine of photography. I am so curious to learn about how settings, lens, and perspectives can entirely change how I see a photo's subject. Perhaps the most simple way to shift the perspective of a subject is through the zoom feature. It is so interesting to see how simply zooming in and out allows us to see the same thing quite differently. 


Brooklyn Bridge. Image via


 Brooklyn Bridge. Image via nydailynews


The three images above are the same subject, viewed with different perspectives. While it is apparent that the Brooklyn Bridge is beautiful no matter the angle, I find it particularly awe inspiring zoomed out. 


In my previous post, I wrote about practicing mindfulness in our external world. I advise to begin practicing with our external world, as the subjects are often not things that keep us up at night. It is simple to practice studying a leaf as it has very little bearing over the rest of my life. Our thoughts, however can be very difficult for us to practice being mindful of as they can feel both very personal and also painful at times. 


A tip to practice this concept, would be to proceed under the premise that just because we think something, does not mean that it is true.  I realize that for many, this can be a difficult thing to believe, but this is something we can debate another time. Our goal here is to de-personalize and defuse our thoughts. If we can operate under the assumption that a thought is no more than a thought, we have a greater likelihood of successfully observing them "zoomed out." A favorite illustration of this concept is the Sanskrit word for thought "vritti" which has been translated as "a fluctuation of the mind."  I like to think of my thoughts as small waves or fluctuations in my mind. The process of doing so has the ability to change my perspective, especially about the challenging thoughts.


To practice mindfulness of thoughts, it is as simple as watching them as a curious observer. To be clear, this is simple not easy.  It begins with noticing our thoughts as they come into our mind. For example, say the first thought that comes into my mind after I spill my coffee is "I am a mess." This thought can easily lead into many more thoughts, including but not limited too,  why I am mess, why this will ruin my day, why I always do this, etc, etc. It is easy to predict how spilling your coffee can lead to the thought "I am a mess" which can lead to more unhelpful thoughts, unwanted emotions and a bad mood. 


The thought "I am a mess" implies that past, present and future, you = mess. Instead, practicing mindfulness of thoughts looks like "I noticed a thought that I am a mess." The process of acknowledging that you noticed the thought helps to acknowledge the temporary nature of the thought (and the situation.) I am much more likely to rebound if I can acknowledge that my thoughts are only temporary and do not have great meaning. 


The process of doing this is very similar to playing with the zoom feature in photography.  The picture at the top of this post is of the same subject as the ones below, yet they look very different. The process of zooming out on our thoughts is helpful at separating the meaning we assign to them, instead seeing them as only a brief fluctuation. We can notice these fluctuations as simply a thought without meaning anything about ourself.


The phrase "simple not easy," that Jonathon Kabat Zinn uses to describe mindfulness fits nicely with this subject. The phrase "I noticed a though that....." is not a profoundly complex technique, but the result of depersonalizing our thoughts can be quite profound.  



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