I Am Not The Kettle, You Are Not The Kettle

When I was a little boy, there was a popular TV show that aired on a Saturday evening called The Generation Game. Some of you may remember it.

Contestants from the general public competed with each other in a series of games. The iconic finale was a memory test game.

In this game, the contestant would sit in front of a conveyor belt as prizes traveled past. They would win whatever prizes they remembered seeing.

I loved this part of the show. The host would switch on the conveyor belt. The prizes moved past as the contestant looked on. Kettle. Sandwich maker. Cuddly toy.

The contestant was not the kettle, or the sandwich maker, or the cuddly toy. The contestant was observing the kettle. Kettle and contestant were separate things – which seems an odd thing to say!

Yet our thoughts happen in a similar way. We wake up, and it is as if the host switches on our conveyor belt. Thought after thought pass across the conveyor belt of the mind.

Like the contestant, I can watch those thoughts go past. In the same way that I notice the kettle or the cuddly toy, I can notice a thought that is happening in my mind.

I am not the thought, just as I was not the kettle. I am observing the thought as I observed the kettle. How can I be something that I am observing? As the kettle and I are separate, so my thoughts and I are separate.

Thoughts happen to us. Controlling thoughts is near impossible. If you attempt to spend the next hour not thinking of a hippopotamus, you’ll see what I mean.



Yet we can lose ourselves in our thoughts. We can react to them without pause. We are no longer watching them. We are wrapped up in them. I notice that I have been doing this a lot lately, especially in response to news events.

When I am lost in my own reactivity, I don’t enjoy it. So I have started an experiment.

That experiment is to learn, through practice, how to be a better noticer. By this I mean to observe the world and myself, without leaping to judgments.

Jiddu Krishnamurti said that to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.

But surely to observe without judgment is a useless pursuit, akin to staring at a fish tank? Isn’t this a mindless activity?

I see it as mindful, not mindless. It allows me to consider more possibilities, rather than rule them out by quick judgment.

Let’s imagine that your friend is half an hour late for an appointment with you. Noticing this, perhaps you judge that she is disrespectful of your time, and of you as a person. You feel angry and hurt.

Your observation and evaluation have occurred in the same moment. You now have a set view of the situation. All other potential explanations are off the table.

Yet to notice without judgment works differently.

You would still notice that your friend is late. You would also notice that you were imagining that she was disrespecting you. You would notice too that this interpretation stimulated feelings of hurt and anger.

This time, you are aware that your interpretation is just that – an interpretation. You are now one step away from it. You are the game show contestant watching the kettle and the cuddly toy. You are the observer of those imaginings. You are no longer lost in them. You are no longer assuming that your guesses are fact.

You are alive to the thoughts and feelings within yourself. Yet you are inviting other possible explanations in.

We are observing our imaginings rather than investing in them. This allows us to let go of these evaluations more easily.

If invested in our judgment, we may shout at our friend and discharge our hurt feelings.

If we notice the imagining, we just share what we are noticing.

Here’s the difference.

“You’re late! I’ve been stood here for half an hour. You don’t respect my time and you don’t respect me. You’re a bad friend.”

Or

“When you were later than we agreed, I imagined that you didn’t value me as a friend. I noticed that I felt hurt by that.”

The first usually results in defensiveness, as your friend is under attack. Perhaps a row follows.

The second is an intimate sharing with your friend. It is more likely to provoke caring than defensiveness.

We can learn to see our thoughts for what they are – imaginings and interpretations.

When I feel angry or agitated or upset, I notice that I am often driven by my imaginings and interpretations.

When I see anger in others, I notice that they seem driven by imaginings and interpretations too.

We assign motivations to people. We time travel into the future and predict what will happen.

We can’t ever know what is in the minds of others. We can’t ever know what the future will hold. Both are guesses.

I want to learn to better notice the guesses that are my internal chatter.

I seek to invite more possible explanations into my perspective of the world. I hope to be less attached to belief. I want to be more open to alternative stories.

I notice the misery we bring when we attach to our beliefs. Belief can override life itself. There are many who are willing to kill and die for their beliefs, for their narrative. There are many conflicts and hatreds that are driven by competing imaginings.

In my experiment, I will try to focus on my noticings.

Evaluations, thoughts and feelings won’t stop. But I will try to notice them rather than become drowned in them.

I will watch what is alive in me as it passes by on the conveyor belt. I will be the one watching the kettle. For I am not the kettle itself.

Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice


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