When someone ruminates, they turn something over and over in their mind. They examine it and pick it apart and even obsess a bit about it. They keep thinking about something, coming back to it, getting preoccupied by it long after the conversation or event or mistake has occurred.

I catch myself ruminating over such seemingly small things sometimes. I will be driving my car and realize that I don’t even know what the last song that played was because I was so busy wandering around inside my head. While wandering, I might be rehashing a conversation that I had (hmmm, I wonder what she really meant by that or I wonder if that offended so and so) or beating myself up about a mistake (does so and so think I’m a bad person/mother/friend/coworker now?!). The list could go on.

This past weekend, a loved one brought up something, just jokingly, that happened many months ago, that I have returned to many times on my own and feel powerless to change. I found myself coming back to it hours and even days later. Feeling frustrated to be thinking about it again. Feeling helpless about changing it.

And that really is the crux of it- feeling helpless. When in the throes of rumination, we are so focused on the problem and the many facets and potential effects of our preoccupation that we cannot see out of the fog of negativity that we create. And if we cannot see through the fog, we feel helpless about making change. We are focused on the problem itself rather than problem solving.

So, what do we do to get out of that fog? A potential solution dawned on me this morning, while reading Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. She talks about kleshas, which are basically poisonous mental states that cloud the mind. She describes these kleshas in some detail and then discusses how we deal with them, either by acting out- with a physical or mental attack- or by repressing. She encourages us to find a middle ground between acting out and repressing where we are conscious of our negative thought process and allow ourselves to really feel what lies beneath that negative thought.

This is what I am going to try as a solution. Instead of rehashing the details of a situation and spinning around and around focusing on all of the things I cannot change, I am going to choose to turn that focus to the emotion underneath. I am going to choose to put my energy into understanding why I am so stuck on the thing I’m ruminating over; letting myself feel so that I can see what step to take next more clearly.

If you would like to read Pema Chodron’s beautiful book, you can get it here:


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