“Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.” – Alan Watts
As I was leaving the condo this morning, I poked my head into my room as Ginger-the-wonder-cat lounged in the sunny spot at the foot of my bed, calmly watching the hubbub happening just outside the window. The roofers were there today, reshingling the complex with much hammering, thumping, and rattling of the walls inside and out. I wondered if this commotion would rattle her animal nervous system into an over alert panic, as some things on the outside world can often do.
While her napping continuity may have been disrupted by bumps and thuds from the outside world, her body was devoid of tension. Nonplussed and unbothered, she noticed this new commotion, not hooked or unhinged by it, nor toying with it in the theater of her mind. The scene felt like a brilliant image for what’s possible for us humans when we’re able to separate our thoughts from our belief in them, and how that drastically affects our ability to have a sense of spaciousness within ourselves and simply notice the world happening on the outside.
One of the greatest things about being human is the ability to change our mind. We can change what we think, and therefore affect how we feel, which in turn may affect our choices and actions. Choices and actions are the two things in life that humans can control. That’s it. Over time and with practice I’ve learned that working with your inner dialogue is part of Controlology 101. The more I can recognize my thoughts as thoughts like weather patterns, notice them and not be caught up by them, I am able to see how my thoughts about the outside world lead to storymaking that makes my inside world feel feels I’d rather not feel.
The power to change your inner dialogue is a bit of magic that we all have. It sidles up right next to mindfulness as you become aware of your thought clouds and their weather patterns. Jerry often refers to the capacity for the mind to become “The Great Myth Maker,” spinning up all kinds of storylines – good, bad, worse and terrible. Mind you, these are storylines that you can choose to believe, or not.
Do you ever notice how when you believe certain thoughts or listen to the myth maker’s latest storylines, what happens to your feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, joy, or serenity? Depending on what’s reeling through my mind, I can feel any of these things. If I follow my thoughts into their weather patterns, it can sometimes feel like I stepped into a tornado of my own making (though I don’t always realize it was of my own making). Pretty soon, if I don’t come to my own rescue, I can be all lathered in mild terror and convinced that my partner is leaving me, I’m not good enough, no one loves me and the world is ending. Sometimes that’s all from interpreting something as provocative as a long time-lapse in texting or what someone meant by replying “ok.”
Our podcast guest, Congressman Tim Ryan, shares a story of the 5-day meditation retreat he did in which there were no cell phones, no journaling, and no talking. He sat there and watched his mind go from questioning why he was sitting there, to feeling his back hurt, to thinking “this is a waste of time. I am going to lose votes because I am doing this.” As he was watching his mind’s Land of Make Believe, he wondered if that was the reason he was so exhausted at the end of every day.
What conversations are you having with yourself?
When you realize you are not your thoughts, that they are things that float in and out of your mind and awareness, you can keep them from taking over your present moment. When I’m really spinning, especially with my significant other or my business partners, I’ve learned that revealing the content of my myth maker helps discharge my mental frenetics, which may be affecting my way of relating to others in my life. I’ll identify where I’m at and announce: “I’m having the thought that [ insert myth maker storylines here ].” Sometimes, it’s a relief just to name it. This a.) allows me to separate from crazy making thoughts and b.) gives me the space and perspective to really see what’s really happening for me and untangle the storylines so I can be here, now, in real time. This simple tool can keep you out of the past, and keep the past in the past, so you can be present.
Tending to this field of thoughts is big magic. Herein lies your suffering or your freedom. The conversations you have with yourself directly affect your outlook, your mood and how you live your life. If you find yourself emotionally distraught or mind-bottled by the myth maker, remember this: you’re not thinking big enough.
If we choose to believe some of the less than generative things spinning in our minds, we not only limit our experience, but we limit our imagination, our sense of what’s possible and we forget who we are. For example, if you believe a terrible thought as true, there are likely a thousand ways in which it is not true. (I love The Work of Byron Katie for working through this.) Touching on the neurology for a moment, there are parts of our brain that don’t know the difference between imagination and reality, nor does it have a sense of time. In other words, the past is now and the future is now. Therefore, if you imagine something terrible or wonderful, or revisit a memory, you can feel physiological shifts in your body as it watches that scene in the theater of your mind as if it’s happening right now. Depending on what programs you have running, and what meaning you’re making about what thoughts you’re believing, you can make yourself feel better or worse. Most of us are making shit up all the time. Many times about ourselves. And, 99.99% of it isn’t true. That is a violence to ourselves. In that headspace, we’re cut off from something life-giving, like the juicy imperative of our inherent goodness.
One of the many gifts of mindfulness is that it sits us down in front of this choice, and gives us space to tend to what we’re creating our lives. What do you pay attention to? As William James notes, “Millions of items are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Each of us literally chooses by our way of attending to things, what sort of universe we shall appear to ourselves to inhabit.”
What sort of universe are you in, right now?
The sacred pause is internalizing your creative agency and taking responsibility for what you’re creating in your life. This is the important work. Your practice for how you hold and direct that most important conversation with yourself is what tends to the process of your own becoming in your lifetime. You can lessen the violence to yourself and others by working with your thoughts mindfully. The practice – the pause – reestablishes a reconnection to self and flows into every interaction so that you create from a full hearted place of love, not from a contracted headspace of fear.
I used to hike the Triple Tree trail in Bozeman MT every day to sit on the bench up top and look down at the Gallatin Valley. I would go at dawn or dusk when the sky became imbued with pastels hues. I’d often hit the trail mulling over every thought, problem, and issue I had on me, with my feet matching my pacing thoughts. By the time I arrived at the top, heart thumping and breathing heavily, I’d look out at the view perched from a new perspective. From up there, I could think big enough to see what was really true. I’d wonder about all those problems I thought I had. And, my body softened, like Ginger was as she noticed the commotion outside the window.