I lived in New Jersey for several years and worked in New York City. A lot of times I would take the bus into Manhattan and get dropped off at Port Authority Bus Terminal. The sight of dozens of buses lined up to get into (and out of) the city was always amazing to me.
Those buses are a good analogy for thoughts: there is an endless line of them running through our heads at any given moment, coming and going.
More often than not, we hop on one and travel wherever it takes us. Maybe to the past to dwell on things we have or haven't done. Maybe to the future to experience stress and anxiety over what may - or may not - happen. Or, maybe to a fantasy world to escape our present reality.
Our tendency to get lost in thought is akin to jumping from bus to bus to bus - we ultimately find ourselves at a destination so far removed from "here and now" that it's almost comical.
The first bus may be a thought about something you need to do at work, or an argument you had with your partner, or something you regret doing (or not doing). Before you know it, you've jumped off that bus onto another, and from that one onto another, and you end up on a bus that's a thought about something that happened when you were a child. Or a bus that's a thought about how meaningless your life is, and how you've made nothing of yourself when compared to Bob or Mary or Joe.
This is the nature of our compulsive minds. They constantly pull us away from the present moment, and bury us in a landslide of mental activity. Practicing mindfulness, however, teaches you that you don't have to board those passing buses. You can watch as they come and go, and let them travel to their destination without you as a passenger.
You either hop on the bus or you let it pass. Once you decide to let it pass, you realize you can do it again and again. With consistency, you'll be able to reverse the conditioned behavior that results from following your mind wherever it leads.
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