The thought birds

Sometimes we get our knickers in a knot about our thoughts. They seem to fly round and around. We are told to control them by the self help movement. They’re only thoughts, so stop thinking them.

But what if you can’t?

Because what if YOU are not thinking them?

What if they are not YOUR thoughts?

Listening to Byron Katie’s Loving What Is (of which I have mixed opinions), and she says. You can’t stop thinking your thoughts… they come to you, you do not create them, nor can you stop thinking. Your choice is not to attach to them.

Buddhist thinkers including Thich Nhat Hanh talk of thoughts as like clouds, floating over the clear sky of the mind. We need to not focus on them, or attach to them, simply observe as they float by.

But like much in Buddhist thought I find this too bland and beautiful an image for my jingly, jangly, chattering mind.

And then it came to me.


They are not clouds, calm and serene. They are birds. The thought birds. Flying over, squawking and chattering to each other. Migrating to warmer climes. There, on the chimney of my mind, they alight to refuel from my brain juice.  The collective unconscious becoming manifest within the consciousness of an individual. And so I feed them with my own life force. They are wild things and soon ready to fly on, sustained for their journey to another soul. But I, being human, seek to hold on to them, imprisoning them in my head.  I put them in cages in the zoo of my mind. See, people, these are MY thoughts, look at them all here on display. And so they sit and pine, their heads droop, and so does mine as the task for caring them all overwhelms me. I am tired and sad from being their keeper. Their colours fade. They begin to bang their heads on the walls of my mind. Let me out, let me out! The noise of the rattling cages is overwhelming. I become angry, depressed.

But wait. The answer is simple. Open the doors of the cages and let them fly free. The thought birds are wild creatures. They are not my burden. Let them fly free. To visit another soul with their messages, to sing in another ear. Let them fly free. Welcome them to stop by for a moment, then watch them fly free.

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  1. Loran

    As a Buddhist, I doth protest! Buddhism isn’t bland. There are references to monkey mind which work for me, but I do love the caged bird thought imagery as well. The task is most definitely to set them free however we may visualize them.

  2. Dreamingaloudnet

    Ah Loran, sorry! I did have in a ref to monkey mind which I took out, as it seemed to be mixing metaphors!

  3. Rose

    I like your analogy. I’m currently studying mindfulness and the buddhist context of clouds or passing train carriages you don’t have to jump in. This is helping me as my internal chatter started driving me insane, but your analogy is prettier. I’m learning to notice my thoughts, not to follow them down their dramatic paths and to kindly bring myself back to the present – I’m learning I don’t have to stop thinking, just stop reacting. Thank you for your poignant words. X

  4. Loran

    Cloud monkeys? hehe

    I think the birds are prettier too. Mostly it’s about whatever analogy works.

  5. Jo

    I’m so used to referring to my thoughts as monkey mind but I think thought birds is an even more lovely analogy. I think my birds are no doubts crows who spawk in warning at every distraction and like to mess with me when I’ve got things to do!

  6. Marla @ Your Full Plate
    Marla @ Your Full Plate10-28-2011

    Absolutely love this analogy!!! I can have a pretty sturdy cage for my birds at times, but I love the vision of me flinging open the cage door to let ’em out!

  7. Sara

    EXCELLENT metaphor. Have you ever had a thought that drifted past kind of quiet-like, but when you noticed it, your heart stopped? You hadn’t latched onto it, not sure what it was, so you stop everything and sit and try to find it again, and then you get “stuck” on it, examining it from all sides and BELIEVING IT to belong to you? Oh yeah. I will try to remember next time that it’s just passing through, whistling its tune.