As mentioned in my previous post, “Holding Thoughts Lightly,” is a way of reminding ourselves that thoughts may or may not reflect reality. One simply has to notice the many differing interpretations of a given event held by people observing it. Given that we all have different histories, i.e., different Moms, Dads, sisters, brothers, homes, hurts, experiences…we may or may not interpret events in the same way.
Part of the problem is that we don’t even realize that we are interpreting what goes on around us all the time! Have you noticed recently how often the word “narrative,” as in “getting ahold of the narrative,” and “changing the narrative,” etc. comes up on the news? In this post-modern age, we are increasingly aware that whoever “owns the narrative” owns how reality gets interpreted. We’ve become increasingly savvy in this age of “fake news,” that every story isn’t necessarily true! It’s not a new revelation, however, just one that has become more prominent in the current political climate.
There is something very important to take away from this discussion of what “truth” is. What are the “truths” that you hold to be inviolable? In my last post, I focused on how the stories we have in our heads about who we are, how we are and our place in the world can afffect our daily lives. The best way I have found to handle this is to help people notice their thoughts without necessarily identifying or buying into what that thought is saying to you. Our thoughts are so powerful they can actually change what we see, and so this vitally important fact can work for us if we learn to not immediately accept what our minds are telling us. I am suggesting that, instead, you suspend judgment about the truth or validity of what your thought just told you.
Notice that I speak of thoughts that as separate from who you essentially are, despite the dictum that “you become what you think about all day long.”
In a sense, that’s true! It is less true if you learn to observe your thoughts and not get into a battle over whether they are true or not. That particular fight takes place in the precious now that requires our full attention, our full “noticing,” if you will.
Another way of saying this is that you are not your thoughts; you are a person who has thoughts but they can be considered as something you have, you generate, that the “you” is the owner, creator and repository of all your thoughts. We are great big though generating machines! In terms of evolution, this has been enormously helpful in our survival as a species. Sometimes, however, those who have perhaps had more frights or are simply less equipped to be as emotionally resilient as others have minds that are over active and biased on the overly cautious end of the spectrum.
For such people, anxiety is a very real problem. Anxiety begins in the head, in the mind, which is trying to protect the person from real or imagined danger. From an evolutionary perspective, this is easy to understand. It’s useful to recall that a lion lives in a certain cave. In fact, one’s life probably depended on remembering such facts. What happens, though, if because a lion lived in one cave, one started fearing all caves? Okay, that may work as it is not uncommon for a lion to live in a cave (I don’t know this from experience, mind you, but just go along with me a bit, okay?”)
Imagine a cave man who refused to go in any cave because a lion might be there? Perhaps there are mushrooms that grow in those caves, too, and that they are a vital food source or favorite snack? Or, the use of caves as shelter from inclement weather are now gone as an option? There is an opportunity cost (if I choose to do or have this, I can’t do or have that) that could have real life repercussions for that caveman and his family.
A better strategy might be to hold the thought that every cave may have a lion lightly. One needn’t discount it, but notice that your mind is trying to protect you from danger. One can go forward cautiously, keeping that lightly held thought in mind, but go forward with extreme attention to the environment, letting it inform your next actions.
A thought is not always an exact replication of reality; it’s often your mind trying to keep you out of danger. We need to thank our minds for taking such good care of us…and notice that’s what our mind is trying to do. Then, from that part of you that is much more than your thoughts, much more than your history, go forward knowing that what your mind said may or may not be true!
If this is a really scary thought, just remember all the times you expected something really bad would happen and then ... it didn’t! How many times have you immediately believed what your mind told you and not risked moving forward? Do you have one of those minds that is sees lions and tigers and bears behind every tree? If so, it’s wise to just notice that and hold those thoughts lightly as you choose to move toward things you really care about in your life.