For most of us, it’s extremely difficult to separate our selves from our thoughts and our feelings. We are conditioned to believe that our thoughts and feelings are reality, and that when we don’t act on them, we are somehow being untrue to our “selves.”
But what we don’t realize is that it’s the mind’s job to churn out thought after thought — sometimes random, sometimes disturbing, sometimes completely nonconstructive. The best way to honor your self is to ask: “Is it true? Can I absolutely know that it is true?”
I’ve come to realize that all of my disturbing or upsetting thoughts fall into one of two categories: rehashing or rehearsing. It’s that simple. So when I find myself feeling anxious, stressed, or upset, I backtrack to identify the source of that unpleasant emotion. Then I can say, “Oh, there I am, rehashing what happened yesterday with my son,” or, “There I am, rehearsing what might go wrong at this week’s teleclass,” and let those thoughts go. They are just thoughts. The mind produces thoughts, without invitation. That’s what it does.
By stepping away and inserting some space there, I am able to stay in touch with the fact that my thoughts are, as it turns out, just thoughts. They are not inherently the “truth.” It’s just my mind doing its thing, and there’s no mandate for me to participate by engaging in the next step: having unpleasant emotions. I can’t feel upset about something without first having an upsetting thought as a catalyst.
At the moment, on account of my daily meditation practice and doing “The Work” of Byron Katie (thanks to Ellen Olson-Brown and Pamela Jarboe), I am in a space where I am having a lot of fun allowing thoughts to rise and pass away.
The more I practice this, the easier it becomes, to the point that I can actually laugh at the absurdity of getting upset about someone jumping the queue at the post office or stewing over what so-and-so might or might not have meant by her ambiguous comment yesterday or what I’ll do if the conference table I ordered doesn’t arrive in time. What’s the worst that will happen? I’ll figure out a Plan B when I need to. How much of what I worry about is actually a matter of life and death? And even if it is, then what? It is what it is. I can only control myself, which starts by deciding not to be a reactive puppet to a mind that doesn’t necessarily serve my greater good — or anyone else’s.
By choosing not to let my mind get into the driver’s seat, I’m better able to avoid driving against the traffic on a mental four-lane highway. I am able to save far more bandwidth for my family, my creative work and the other things that matter most deeply to me. Why fritter away my energies chasing imaginary wrongs and “problems”? There’s no point in messing up today by rehashing and rehearsing.
“Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it.”
What works for you?
This piece was reprinted from the last issue of the Creative Times, our monthly newsletter.
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