The Octopus And The Bubble: A Beautiful Visualisation For Handling Intrusive Thoughts

want to take you on an adventure, an adventure deep, deep inside the ocean. Deep, deep into your mind. Will you come with me?

Come on! Let’s go!

As we swim deeper and deeper, past the rocks and through the reefs, it gets darker and darker. Don’t worry, you’re safe with me. I’ll protect you.

Deep on the ocean floor we meet an octopus. He’s a big, red, angry looking octopus and his tentacles are thrashing wildly. Each time a fish swims past, he lashes out a tentacle, he grabs the fish and takes it in, digesting it slowly. While he feasts, the octopus does nothing else, he is preoccupied with his meal. You want to swim away, but you can’t – after all, you might not remember your way back to the surface. All you can do is stay here with me, here with this octopus.

For you, this octopus may sound like your mind. In fact, he’s like my mind, too, but I’m so used to him that he no longer really scares me. Your mind behaves in a similar way to this very hungry octopus, grabbing each negative thought and digesting and analysing it in great detail. They could be thoughts of harming someone, yourself or behaving inappropriately in some way, they might be a criticism of yourself or a bad belief about yourself. Whatever they are, they’re there, your brain likes to analyse them and that hurts you.

Quite often, these thoughts mean nothing. They are nothing, brain farts, mind chatter, call them whatever you will. Sometimes these deep, dark and scary thoughts are nothing but pops of creativity, produced purely from the same material that gave us that ingenious storage hack last week. Yep, that same creativity.

I want you to imagine that these thoughts are like the fish from now on, idly swimming by and minding their own business. Each time a a fish swims by, the very hungry octopus grabs it and digests it. Isn’t your mind doing the same?

It’s these negative, nonsensical thoughts that can lead us deeper and deeper into anxiety and depression. I know! I have been there. I wouldn’t be writing for you with such passion and gusto if I hadn’t been where you are now. You’re lost and alone, frightened and confused by what it all means. If only there was a way to stop this pesky, hungry octopus, you’d be happy.

One of the best ways, I found, was through visualisation.

One of the ways I was taught was to imagine your thoughts like leaves running down a stream or like passengers on a bus on which you’re the diver. Right now, I want you to imagine a bubble.

I want you to take this bubble and I want you to imagine that you place the bubble over the very hungry octopus – nothing can get out, nothing can get in. The fish can swim at the octopus, and the octopus can lash out at the fish, but the bubble is there, wobbling, and resilient beneath the weight of the sea. Regardless of what the fish do and what the octopus does, order is restored, there is no longer a bloodbath in the sea. 

How does it feel?

Stay with that thought for as long as you need. Close your eyes and imagine it more intensely. Let your breathing fall soft and your body relax and you fall deeper and deeper into the visualisation. Realise that no matter where you are and no matter what these thoughts may be, you are the bubble, you can resist letting your brain digest them.

Practice these visualisations as often and for as long as you need. Over time, you will find it is easier to regain some control. The occasional fish will get in and the octopus will feast again, but with practice, you can make your ocean a much calmer, happier place to be.

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