Conversation 2: Action & Experience versus Thought & Emotion

Thoughts On The Highway

Listen to this section as audio, or read below.

Thoughts on the Highway – a recording of Julian McNally (8:43 min)

Person meditating
Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

(“Thoughts on the Highway” by RMIT Counselling and Psychological Services, Six ACT* Conversations, RMIT University is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This exercise takes about ten minutes and is best done with your eyes closed and in a peaceful place – so you may wish to locate yourself somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted.

Exercise 3: Thoughts On The Highway

Take a deep slow breath. If you’re reading along, you won’t be able to close your eyes, so instead relax your gaze as much as you can without impairing your ability to read the instructions.

You might notice as you sit there that you are aware of the sounds around you.

Take another deep slow breath.

In a moment I’m going to ask you to pay attention to something that is there all the time, and that normally you might not have noticed.

I’m going to stop giving instructions in a moment, and I’d like you to notice that when I’m silent, your mind isn’t – there are thoughts there.

[PAUSE – 30 seconds]

There are thoughts there like “Yeah, he’s right. There are thoughts there.” or “Yeah, I know about that. My mind is always thinking something“, or “What’s he talking about? I’m not having any thoughts.

Those are your thoughts.

Maybe the thoughts you had were more visual like an image, or it may have been more of a feeling that drew your attention. Those are your thoughts too.

Now what I’d like you to do is imagine that you’re standing at the side of a big eight-lane freeway.

You’re off to the side, safe behind a barrier, and there’s a few vehicles driving past you on the freeway – cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles.

And with the next thought that you have – whether it’s a word, image or feeling – I’d like you to place it on the next vehicle that comes along.

And then watch that thought go onto that vehicle and disappear off into the distance.

[PAUSE – 10 seconds]

And no doubt you’re having another thought or thoughts. So take that next thought and place it on the next vehicle that comes by. And watch that disappear off into the distance

[PAUSE – 5 seconds]

And you can do this with the next thought that comes along. So just place it on the next vehicle that comes past.

[PAUSE – 5 seconds]

And as many thoughts as you have, you can place them on the next vehicle that comes by. Just watch them slide off into the distance.

You might even see some of the thoughts that you’ve seen before reappearing. That’s okay. You can place each one on one of these vehicles and watch it disappear.

And some of the thoughts could be trivial or important, predictable or unexpected. It doesn’t matter. With everyone there’s a vehicle that can take them away from you.

Now, try this with an emotion. It could be something you’re feeling right now, something you felt in the last few days or perhaps some time ago. It doesn’t have to be an intense feeling as long as you can be aware of that feeling right now. And place that emotion on the next vehicle that comes past. You’re not losing it forever – it can always come back – but you’re just letting it go for now.

[7 seconds]

And try it with another one. There may be some emotion you’ve been struggling with for a while. Something that confuses you or something that you don’t enjoy having. Just let that feeling be placed on the next vehicle that comes past, and watch it drive off into the distance.

[PAUSE – 7 seconds]

And you can do this any number of times – for any thoughts and feelings.

You might even get to the point at some stage where you’re not even aware of having any thoughts and feelings.

[PAUSE – 10 seconds]

If you do, that doesn’t mean anything – and if there are more thoughts and feelings, just place them on the vehicles as they’re coming past.

Now as you’re standing there on the side of the freeway, you might begin to be curious about a question about “who is that is there on the side of the freeway, if your feelings and thoughts can be taken away so easily?” If you can let go of those thoughts and feelings, who is there watching that happen?

So, you’re obviously not those thoughts and feelings – they seem to come and go. Perhaps are you that person on the side of the freeway watching that? Or are you the person listening to my voice now and following my instructions? And if any of this is confusing or boring or upsetting, that’s another feeling or thought that you can place on a vehicle and let it slide off into the distance.

[PAUSE – 10 seconds]

So you might begin to notice that there’s you that’s been there throughout your whole life, observing any of the feelings and any of the thoughts that you’ve had. You actually weren’t those thoughts and feelings… or they’d still be here, but they seem to disappear into your experience and into history. So who’s always there? It’s the ‘you‘ that’s always observing this experience of yours, and isn’t actually attached or fixed to any of these thoughts or feelings. So it has them, but it can let them go.

[PAUSE – 7 seconds]

And you might want to decide, as you listen to this right now, that you’ll try this exercise at another time.

There might be a useful time when this exercise could be of lasting value to you.

Or maybe you’ll just enjoy the experience you’re having right now as you have it.

[PAUSE – 10 seconds]

So now I’d like you to take a deep slow breath, and whenever you’re ready you can continue with the part of this conversation.

[PAUSE – 10 seconds]



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