It's time for a parade!!!
Hello and welcome back!!! My name is Kimberley Quinlan and this is Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, speaking about anything and everything related to anxiety and mindfulness. Today, in the spirit of the upcoming 4th of July, I wanted to talk about parades!! You know???? Floats and crowds and cheers and lollipops and picnic chairs. For some, these are some of our greatest memories.
I often use a parade as a metaphor for our thoughts. In fact, I have heard several different clinicians or teachers of eastern philosophy use a parade metaphor to discuss the experience of anxiety, pain, sadness or life, in general.
As I said, for the purpose of this podcast, I am going to use the metaphor in relation to our thoughts. Lets get straight to it, shall we????
First, I would like you to slowly take a deep breath. If you would like, you can close your eyes, but it is not entirely necessary for this activity. Again, I would like you to take a breath and imagine yourself at the sidewalk of a street, waiting for a parade to begin. You are sitting or standing behind the yellow ribbon and you have your family and friends with you. You also have your favorite flavored lollipop in your hand. The morning sun is gently shining of you and the crowd is excited. This is a great day!
You hear the music start and slowly, you to see the first float approach the crowd lined street. It slowly approaches you and your friends are waiting patiently to see what it is about and who is on it. As it gets closer and closer, you experience a sensation of satisfaction. This float it is very appealing and has all of your favorites colors and favorite flowers. It is simply beautiful! You wave at the children and adults on the float and they smile back at you as they wave.
Up next is a float made out of a trailer bed, with a racecar on it. This float is all about shine and muscle. The surface of the car is so shiny, you could almost see your reflection in it. Even the trailer bed is sparkling and has sponsorship stickers all over it. The drivers wave as they rev the car. It is invigorating, but a little loud. Still, you are having a great time. You wave to the two men and one woman on the float who are dressed in their racing outfits and then you slowly turn your head to see what is next.
Coming up next is a very scary looking float. On it, is lots of people and they are yelling at all the spectators. Some a yelling very scary things and others are yelling very mean things. The float is covered in grey and black streamers and there is a cloud of smoke coming from the front of the float. You are surprised to see this float in the parade and wonder, “what is going on?” This float was significantly unpleasant and you angrily consider writing a letter to the parade committee to inquire about the purpose of this float at such a celebratory event. The float comes and then moves down the street, scaring the people as it passes.
You have a hard time directing your attention away from the scary, grey and morbid float, but you bring your attention to the approaching city’s marching band that is playing the most festive music as they slowly follow the scary float.
OK guys, let’s stop there! What a parade so far, right? There has been beauty, and music, and loud revving car and a float that was quite scary. It is very similar to our thoughts, am I right? I am sure we can agree that we are sometimes passed by thoughts that bring us much joy. And, in a similar fashion, sometimes our thoughts are down right demoralizing and scary. This imaginary parade is very similar to the way our brain operates. Happy thoughts, scary thoughts, interesting thoughts, maybe thoughts we don’t even notice.
When we experience thoughts that we enjoy, we often bask in the beauty and festivity of them. The use the metaphor, when looking at the pleasant float, we don’t question why they chose those particular beautiful flowers or what was the purpose of that float. We watch and enjoy and then we excitedly search for the next float to arrive.
However, when we observe a grey and scary float, we are completely alarmed, we become angry and try to discover who would create such a float. We might even respond my yelling back, thinking that might stop them from shouting OR prevent them from showing up to next years 4th of July parade. We might also close our eyes and try to pretend the float is not there, or try to think of a previous float that we enjoyed. Simply put, we are being highly reactionary to thoughts that scare us.
This is a particularly troublesome practice. If we were to experience each of our thoughts as if we were watching floats in a parade, we could see that our experience of the parade is levied on our emotional reaction to each float. We are completely at the mercy of which float is next. This can create quite a predicament. Because we cannot control which float comes out next OR the theme of the float, we are left feeling out of control and anxious about our experience.
This is true of our thoughts also. We are constantly spectators to a whole range of thoughts that come and go, like floats in a parade. Going back to the parade metaphor, when being passed by the scary float, you might find yourself trying to get it to pass you quickly. You might even find yourself whispering (or yelling) ”Get outta here! You have NO place here, in this parade!” This type of behavior does not make the float pass the crowds faster. It just makes us more frustrated and ruins our 4th of July parade experience. Now, going back to our thoughts, we are going to have a very difficult time if we are fighting what thoughts come and go.
The trick is to create a non-judgmental and accepting attitude towards each and every float. If a float (or a thought) arises that makes us uncomfortable, just notice your experience, similarly to how you did when a pleasant float passed. For the pleasant float, you noticed satisfaction and the people on the float and how the flowers and colors brought up sensations in your body.
When scary or more difficult thoughts arise, your job is to observe and wave, knowing that that float (or thought) will pass in time also. Sometime we have to acknowledge that just because the float looks scary, doesn’t mean there is actually real danger. For example, Lots of people LOVE scary movies and will even PAY to go an get scared in a movie theatre, but they can separate their experience of fear and become observers instead of reacting to their fear.
I invite you to move into your day, allowing your mind to be like a parade with many types of floats, meaning, allow all of your thoughts. I don’t expect you to be fantastic at this. It is like a muscle that must be strengthened. Just practice noticing the temporary fashion of each thought and do not fight them when they are passing you by. It is the fight that will create your dismay.
Last of all, don’t be afraid to bring your camera to this metaphorical parade!!! Use your zoom to zoom on and out while capturing the ENTIRE scene. Don’t get too focused on just the floats. The floats alone do not make up the entirety of a parade. The parade also consists of the crowds and their cheers and the streets and most importantly, the lollipops!!
I hope you have enjoyed this episode of My Anxiety Toolkit. My name is Kimberley Quinlan. If you have any thoughts or comments, please feel free to comment in the comment section of my blog.
This podcast is not intended to replace correct professional mental health care. Please speak to a trained mental health professional if you feel you need it.
Have a wonderful day