‘Western’ school of thought: “Panic! Panic! Panic! Everything is out of control!”
‘Eastern’ school of thought: “Relax… Everything is out of control.”
How is it that there can be two, such different reactions to the same circumstances?
We first need to come to grips with how our minds work:
1. Something happens (i.e., circumstances)
2. Our minds generate a thought (or a thousand…)
3. We make meaning out of that thought (because we are the animal who ‘knows’ we know – homo SAPIENS sapiens)
So what in there is actually under our control?
The circumstances? Good luck with that! Despite our best intentions and efforts, things tend to happen in their own sweet time, regardless of how hard we work to influence some control over almost any situation [pause for moment of reflection]. In the end and in the face of our frustrations, we succumb to the mantra, ‘shit happens’.
The ‘creative writing department’ between our ears (i.e., our thoughts)? Believe it or not, the advent of the fMRI machine shows us that we have 30-70 THOUSAND unique thoughts each and every day (no wonder we struggle…). Fortunately, most thoughts we don’t even notice. Yet, there are some we can’t get out of our heads. Think of the last time you didn’t meet your own expectations … how’d that conversation with yourself go? Did it last for a few hours or a few days? How many thoughts went through your head then? So, how much control do you really have over the thoughts generated in your head? Try as we might, the pink elephant remains…
How about the meaning we make of the thoughts? Now we’re onto something! You see, we may not have any control of our circumstances or the thoughts our brain kicks out about those circumstances, but we can decide how seriously to take those thoughts. We even have this phenomenal somatic sensory system built in that generates a visceral feeling associated with certain thoughts. When I get really stressed out, my heart tightens, my head gets hot and my body tingles. I’ve learned that when I feel these sensations, I know my mind has grabbed onto something fierce and my body sounded the alarm. So, I welcome that feeling in to see what I can learn from it (queue Rumi’s ‘The Tavern’).
PRO TIP: This awareness, alone, tends to stop the thought storm in its tracks.
You see, we can’t actually change our thoughts (they just come along too quickly), but we do have the ability to let them go by and wait for the next one. When we understand that life, thought and our related experiences are fluid (don’t get me started on quantum wave theory…), we know that another thought will soon follow and then we can decide, through consciousness, what to do about that one … or the next one, or the next. I’ve found that in conversation, when my mind gets sped up and I’m anxious to add my $0.02, I see that ‘thought’ for what it is and can decide to let it go. When I do chose to let it go, my mind gets clearer, I get more into the conversation (in other words, I listen more deeply) and when the silence hits (like the other person actually finishes their thought), an appropriate insight seems to flow right out of me (usually in the form of a question, which I always find interesting … a quiet mind is where curiosity lives). When our minds are ‘busy’, there is no room for true insight. It’s like a snow globe that’s cloudy when shaken but clears when set down.
There is tremendous freedom (joy, contentment, etc.) in understanding that we have no control over our circumstances or our thoughts (advantage, Buddha) – especially in times of crisis. Think about it: why is it that when under duress, so many lose their minds while some remain calm?
Which do you want to be?
If you’re not the one YOU want to be, let me help you. This is what I do. Give me a call at (415) 298-9139, message me or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!