As a lifelong comic fan, I’m intrigued by the similarity of thought bubbles in cartoons to clouds.
Speech balloons in cartoons have a long history going back to the 1st century, and became a universal graphic convention in the 20th century with the growth of the comic strip. But it’s not clear when thought balloons or thought bubbles as they’re commonly known (another familiar metaphor in mindfulness) started being used.
Cartoonists used to show a speech bubble with the word ‘thinks’ or ‘thought’ as the first word. (To eavesdrop on comics enthusiasts discussing when and where speech and thought bubbles started, see this forum). Some comic writers overuse them, cluttering the panels with monologues; some refuse to use them altogether, relying on actions and speech that take place in the ‘real’ world.
‘Thought bubble’ is so apt for the experience of thoughts. They drift across our mind. We tend to give them our attention, but in meditation we can give our attention instead to the blue sky behind them. We can direct our attention to our attention itself. This quickly becomes another thought when we congratulate ourselves on doing it, or berate ourselves for not managing it, but then we can step back again and see that as another thought bubble drifting across the sky.
Thought bubbles are a good way to ‘picture’ our thoughts so we don’t get so caught up in them, and realise we have a choice whether to follow them or not.