If we want to avoid deeper processing, then lingering in observation mode is just the ticket. While we observe, we are not actively inhibiting thoughts and feelings, we are just watching them to do their thing. After a while the act of observation interferes with directional or associative elaboration of thoughts and feelings. It prevents them from going further. It prevents them from branching out. Without letting ourselves get “caught up” in them, thoughts and feelings peter out. They may be initially intense but the process of just watching eventually takes the wind out of their sails. It might be a wild ride for awhile but observation eventually stops the spreading activation of associated thoughts, feelings and memories. This is all well and good if we want to pay attention to the outside world, avoid unhelpful or counterproductive thinking, like rumination, or when we recognize a line of thinking/feeling isn’t going to do us any good so might as well watch and surf it for a while until it sinks under the weight of observation.

The challenge of surfing is to move with the wave while keeping one’s balance and not falling into the water. Sounds good – and often is good. There’s still something to be said about deep sea diving and becoming immersed in the water. There’s a whole world there you never see riding on the surface. Yep – can be scary, not always pleasant, possibly stressful – but so what? Distance and control collapse and you encounter strange-looking creatures.

Keeping one’s equilibrium isn’t everything. Of course, one can’t remain in the depths. Sinking alternates with surfacing. Thus is our mental life.