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Although it’s beyond my purposes or ability to delve into the complexities of mental illness, living in the city has allowed me the occasional opportunity to observe homeless people who suffer from its effects.
I’ve found that those most challenged speak their thoughts aloud continuously as if on some sort of involuntary loop tape, seemingly incapable of concealing their inner psychic dramas.
It offers a peek into what’s typically reserved for our own personal inner domains— as if witnessing an outward manifestation of an invisible reality that goes on within & around us every day.
In case you haven't noticed, we human beings have a ceaseless internal conversation going on inside our heads. Personally, I have a lot of brazen thoughts that often SHOUT for my attention.
Sometimes my mind feels like a frenemy. One minute I’m minding my own business when a situation arises that triggers a negative thought process creating an inner melodrama. And suddenly my noggin is like a dark alley you would not want to travel down alone at night.
It’s no wonder this human phenomenon is referred to as a train of thought. Studies say that the average person has approximately 70 thoughts per minute, and two-thirds of them are negative.
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If we want to tip that balance back in our favor then that train needs to be directed where we want to travel instead of us just going for a ride.
“The mind is its own place, & in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
We tend to identify with the voices in our heads. Yet, despite the overwhelming sense that The Voice feels so much like us, it’s a relief to recognize that thoughts are not facts & thoughts are not us. We know this because we can stand back & objectively observe them.
You know, like, Robert De Niro’s character in the movie Casino: “Hey, you talking to me? You talking to me? There’s nobody else here so you must be talking to me.”
And choose to do the work to change them if we desire.
Making Uncertainty an Ally
The key is to recognize our power to take charge of our thinking and, when we’re not being helped by it, be willing to change it.
Untrue beliefs & chronic negative emotions are stealthy saboteurs of energy & send our bodies into adrenalized stress modes, setting off a contraction-pain-fatigue cycle. I would know.
Years ago, after experiencing a series of traumatic, life-altering events my adrenal glands went on the fritz. The fatigue, pain & isolation of the experience acted as my own personal guru.
I learned that, if repeated over time, wrong beliefs & negative emotions initiate a chain of physiological events ranging from an increased likelihood of addictive behavior to chronic inflammation & disease.
So I started changing my tactics. Instead of giving into a "protective" instinct to push negative thoughts away, I began welcoming them (usually, or at least eventually) more like friends than enemies. I’ve found that until I do, they just keep pestering me like small children do as soon as their mothers pick up the phone.
Seems counterintuitive at first — the exact opposite course from the one which we would naturally be inclined to adopt. Yet in my experience, it also has an exact opposite effect to the one usually secured.
Haven’t you ever noticed that thoughts & feelings don’t go away when denied or ignored (la la la la la)?
They just work harder to get our attention, gnawing at our psyche. At times it seems the more forcibly we try to eject a thought from our minds, the more troubling it becomes.
Case in point: DO NOT think of the color of your car. See what I mean?
Or thoughts retreat temporarily only to emotionally hijack us at a later, more vulnerable date (like say when we’re tired, hungry or hormonal) —tempting us to future-trip in fear or hold onto the past in regret.
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.”
(Jesus spoke extensively of this idea of nonresistance: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two…” )
Instead why not accept ourselves for thinking & feeling exactly the way we do? *Deep sigh.* Thoughts are not us, remember?
As we practice this, we can be more open & curious to observe our thoughts with non-judgmental detachment rather than agitation or fear.
Try watching as your mind creates its own melodrama — as if standing behind a waterfall where you can still see & hear the water, but are out of the torrent — without trying to stop it. Relax, release & let it go. (Challenging at first, but it becomes second nature after a while.)
That way in place of engaging in a constant battle to suppress persistent, obsessive thoughts & feelings fruitlessly, we can use that freed-up energy to decode their hidden messages—to search for cues pointing the way to the faulty, subconscious beliefs that support & sustain them.
Without a doubt, what is subconscious—that which operates outside our field of awareness—is the most insidious.
Throughout the years, I’ve experienced especially painful times that begged the question, what aspect of my psyche is so uncomfortable to look at that it took this situation to force it into my awareness?
This is how persistent stressful thoughts & feelings can act as personal revelations for healing. Their purpose is to inform us we have work to do, providing an opportunity to ask:
• What belief do I hold that this thought is touching upon?
• What do I want to replace that old belief with?
• What new belief would serve me better?
Reminds me of the story of an elderly monk whose order had been hand-copying ancient texts for centuries. One day he decided to examine some of the monastery’s original documents. Hours later, the other monks found him, weeping over a crumbling manuscript & moaning, “It says ‘celebrate,’ not ‘celibate!’”
Until brought to light where thoughts offer up invaluable insight, there’s no way for us to change them. But once negative, limiting, sorrowful or self-defeating thoughts are investigated down to where they’re energized & truth is applied, they let go of us all on their own.
"Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
Paul, in a letter to the Romans
And the struggle ends. Those tedious, unhelpful, self-obsessing spirals are officially released of their duties. In this way, what we thought was working against us is really working for us.
Though The Voice may fabricate, falsify, seduce & bully, we need not succumb to its trickery. There is no harm in a thought until we attach to it as true.
TRUTH: We don’t have to believe what we think.
Though our thoughts may try to speak to our superiority one moment & our inferiority the next, as a way of keeping us off balance, we’re onto them. (Try replacing THAT with THIS: “I am not better than or less than anyone else” & give yourself some peace.)
TRUTH: We don’t have to be at the mercy of thoughts that bring us pain.
Changing sabotaging beliefs can sometimes happen instantly through a stroke of insight (love when that happens).
But when we’re dealing with the only way we’ve ever known—the only way we’ve ever been—the process of changing our code—our programing—& anchoring new beliefs in our subconscious often takes some doing.
Dismantling what seems like unshakable realities may feel foreign at first—for days, weeks, sometimes months—but after a while of exercising acute attention, it becomes second nature. And before long you’ll have tipped the scale in favor of empowering thoughts that align with who-you-really-are.
By freeing ourselves from old, false narratives as they arise, we free up the energy they once consumed to establish new grooves—neural pathways in our brains—to “retell” the real story of our lives as we are meant to live them.
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