One of the first things you are instructed to do while meditating is label your thoughts. If, as you are watching your breath, a story/idea/memory intrudes, you are to label it as ‘a thought’ – to distance yourself from its contents. This is also true for emotions: rather than getting swept away by sadness or anger or irritation, you simply identify the emotion. I have certainly tried to do so, but I’ll admit it has not been easy.
In his essay, “Detours from Reality” Ezra Bayda takes the concept of ‘thought’ and breaks it down into three habitual grooves: analyzing, blaming and fixing. He argues that most of our mental energy is spent in these three activities, and that labeling not just the thoughts, but the direction of those thoughts can help us quiet the mind. It is such a relief to be able to spot these mental grooves; to be able to move beyond “I have to worry about this because I truly screwed up/need extra help/must examine this” to realizing “This is a waste of my energy and I don’t have to pursue this line of thought.”
Analyzing difficult situations makes us feel like we can have control over them, if only we can understand them better:
We think that through analysis we can uncover why we think the way we do, why others are doing what they’re doing, or why something happened the way it did. We think this mental understanding is necessary for our comfort.
But in the end, Bayda rightly points out, these questions usually lead us in circles, pulling us back into emotional states that only lead to more suffering.