Thoughts are the vehicles of emotion. If we're experiencing a positive or a negative emotion, there tends to be a thought that that emotion is attached to. And while we talk of having self-control over how our feelings are expressed, the way thoughts arise in our consciousness make this challenging.
Thoughts are like the weather of the mind, says Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Some days are sunny while others are rainy, and there's just not much we can do to change that. According to Kabat-Zinn, too many people understand meditation as a way to banish worldly thoughts, but your thoughts will never go away. You've got to observe them like a scientist.
A distinction of fundamental importance is the difference between having thoughts and having awareness, as the two are often conflated. While it sounds plausible that thinking about something necessarily means being aware of it, we are not as in control of our thoughts as, well, we think. Awareness means something different; it means an examination of thoughts as the ephemeral vehicles for emotion that we know them to be.
Thoughts are bubbles, says Kabat-Zinn, that are waiting to be popped by awareness. And once they're popped, the negative emotion often associated with our thoughts will similarly disappear into the thinness of the air.