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What would happen if I relaxed the filter on my thoughts?

by Andy Puddicombe

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Hi Andy — I’m on day six of Take10 and I found today that during the section where you let your mind be free, I had some flashes of images that I found quite disturbing and unpleasant. I suffer from anxiety and I’m not really sure how to cope with that. I was really angry with myself and I felt that it spoiled this morning’s meditation. Also, I’m not exactly sure what you mean by the “rising and falling sensation”. Could send me a little guidance?

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Hi, thanks for getting in touch. Of course, I’d be very happy to share a few thoughts.

Let’s start with the breath. So, as the body breathes it creates a rising and falling sensation. By this, I mean the movement of the body. An easy way to discover this movement is to place your hand on your stomach, diaphragm or chest and observe the movement as the body inhales and exhales. Sometimes the movement is very strong, at other times it is a little more subtle, but it is always there.

The next thing is the sense of anger you experienced. This is very natural, but it’s worth considering how much you entertain the idea afterward. Sure, we may not like the fact that we get anxious once in a while, but by adding anger and frustration into the mix, we are really just pouring petrol on the fire. Mindfulness is about observing thoughts and feelings without judgment or criticism. Instead, simply acknowledging the feeling, recognizing it is part of being human and understanding that all human beings experience something similar—even if it sometimes feels we are the only one.

Finally, coming back to your very first question, this is nothing to worry about at all. In fact I would even say it is something good, something positive. Generally speaking, as humans, we tend to filter most of our thoughts. This is why the dream world (where are thoughts generally go unfiltered) often appears so bizarre when we awake in the morning. So, in that part of the exercise, when we let go completely, we are essentially dropping the filter, maybe for the very first time. At first, this can sound quite scary, but it actually the beginning of something very special—sometimes referred to as freedom of mind.

Imagine no longer being afraid of thought, no longer being resistant to certain emotions, instead just experiencing the mind, exactly as it is, no matter what thoughts arise (and yes, disturbing ones are not at all uncommon). That’s partly why that part of the exercise is so short to begin with, it’s like dipping our toes in the water. Over time everything settles down and we can simply relax as we let go. But give it time and be kind to your mind in the meantime.

Warm wishes,

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Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.