One of the strangest things to really discover is that our thoughts are not real. It’s so bizarre to fully get that the voice inside your head is nothing more than that – it’s just a constant stream of chatter. Our minds are continuously evaluating, judging, deciding, interpreting, imagining, predicting and hypothesizing. I feel exhausted just writing it all out.
Once we start to explore our thoughts, we notice our inner observer – there is a part of us that can actually listen the voice in our heads. By bringing awareness to our thoughts we can then examine how they impact our emotions, our bodies, our actions, our words and our attitudes. Holy smokes! Check it out! Our thoughts are truly one of the most powerful things in our lives It’s not surprising then that whole theories of psychology and counseling have developed around what we do with our thoughts and how to better manage them. Cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology are a few of the more recent and popular ones. Additionally, meditation and mindfulness have become increasingly popular. People begin to experience the positive effect of developing the ability to witness our thoughts through both a formal, intentional practice as well as through the day-to-day, ordinary moments of our lives. By creating greater consciousness, we then have a whole new world of choice – rather than going with our automatic reactions to ourselves, other people and various happenings in our lives, we can step back and listen to the story our thoughts are telling us. In that moment we gain power – we gain freedom – we get to choose what we will do with that thought(s)!
Even though I’ve known these things for a long time, and have developed daily practices to become even more awake and curious about my thoughts, they can still take me out of the game at different points. Over the last two weeks I had the opportunity to live into my mindfulness practice in an even deeper way. I had a big reaction to a particular occurrence that took place with my partner– in trying to work it out in conversation with him, I had an even bigger reaction to the discussion we had. The degree to which my mind ran me ragged with stories, worries, projections, hypotheses is difficult to describe. The emotions that followed were sadness, loneliness, anxiety and hopelessness. The actions that trailed those emotions resulted in withdraw and isolation.
As it was all happening, there was a small part of me that wondered, “hey, maybe this is a complicated situation, but how have you magnified it by believing the ‘story’ you’ve told yourself about it? Is it possible that perhaps you misinterpreted or misheard some elements of what transpired?” After giving myself a few days to dissect the layered experience I was having through jounaling, talking, meditating and resting, I was ready to reengage the dialogue. The voice inside my head was finally tamed – the emotional charge I carried had found a place of ease. And sure enough, so much of my “story” was just that – it wasn’t reality – it wasn’t exactly the way things were or will be.
So thank heaven for practices, for people, for grace. No matter what kind of person you are, you deal with your thoughts. In the 12 steps I’ve heard people describe their minds as “a dangerous neighborhood they dare not enter alone.” So let us have gentleness with ourselves. This could also be a moment to reflect on the practices or tools you use to maintain awareness of the “stories” you create in each and every moment of your life. We really are powerful beings, and although we may not have control over the constant churning of the mind, we do have the ability to choose what we will do with those thoughts – how we will respond to them.