It's so talked about in meditation and New Age circles, among others, that it's practically common knowledge these days: It's only our thoughts that cause us to feel unhappy and to suffer.
Imagine a scenario with me. You're feeling very grounded and present after a particularly great yoga class. As you step out the door to walk to your car, you recognize the car of a friend who was also in your class slowly driving towards you, and she rolls down her window. Instead of the greeting you expected, she says, "Stop hitting on my boyfriend," in a cold tone and drives off.
Strange, you think. Her boyfriend engaged me in conversation for a minute before class started. All I did was respond to his questions.
Normally you would have found this fly-by accusation that you were flirting with your friend's boyfriend upsetting, but you're feeling very centered and you manage to shrug off the whole scene. She must be having an off day, you decide.
You're even surprised at how well you took the whole thing, because you know you'd normally be a lot more shaken.
An hour later, you're less present and you start to replay the incident in your mind. You're feeling baffled and confused about what happened.
The more you think about it, the more baffled and confused you become. The more baffled and confused you become, the more you start to feel hurt by your friend's harsh words and actions. Thoughts about the scene start stampeding through your mind.
How dare she accuse me of hitting on her boyfriend when all I did was exchange a few sentences with him? How dare she accuse me of doing the "flirting," when he was the conversation starter in the first place? How dare she blurt out her accusation without allowing me any time to respond?
Soon, you've worked yourself into an angry frenzy about the whole thing. Before you know it, you're livid.
How were you able to stay so cool, calm and collected initially, only to end up furious an hour later?
It's because initially, your mind wasn't active, wasn't thinking, so you didn't perceive what happened as a problem. But then at a later point your mind kicked in and suddenly... Grrr... how dare she accuse me of that?!...
And before you know it, you're upset and unhappy because of an incident that, initially, you were willing to shrug off as your friend having a bad day. That's just a minor example of how our thoughts are the actual cause of our unhappiness and discontent.
Our thoughts literally sabotage our peace of mind in two ways:
1) By feeding us "shoulds" about what's happening, has happened or will happen or
2) By feeding us "should nots" about what's happening, has happened or will happen.
For example, "My partner, the weather, my health, my bank account, should be like so. But they're not, so woe is me." Or, "My boss, car, job, child shouldn't be like so. But they are. Woe is me."
It's easy to see how this works on an intellectual, conceptual level. The question is, if we see it, why do we keep repeatedly going to our thoughts and choosing to suffer?
If you see that your thoughts are causing you to suffer and yet you continue to live in your thought world, ask yourself why you choose to keep doing this. But rather than thinking about it, feel what's true for you. Why do you continue to choose struggle and suffering over freedom and contentment?
For some, it is fear of the unknown. Mind and the thought world are, at least, known, whereas living without thoughts is a leap into the unknown. Scary.
For others, it's a fear of letting the story that defines them and their life go, because that means they have to let go of the person they've always identified with. Scary.
Whether your answer is one of these or something else entirely, the next question to ask yourself is: Do I value my illusory sense of safety, my false sense of self or my own unique reason for staying in mind so much that it's worth staying miserable for?
Or, would I like to fly free, for a change?
We can all imagine how the scenario with your friend might play out if you choose to pick up the phone and call your friend in your moment of greatest rage. (In a nutshell, not well for either one of you.)
How might things play out if you choose to continue disregarding your negative thoughts about what happened until you feel capable of calling your friend from a place of presence to gently express your hurt and confusion over what happened?
After you have expressed your truth in the latter scenario, your friend is much more likely to respond apologetically than if you come at her from your angry mind place.
But even if your friend continues to accuse you, even if she hurls more insults at you, you can still take whatever action is necessary -- such as ending the friendship if that feels like a healthy boundary -- while staying out of your mind and thoughts.
Yes, it might be an uncomfortable and awkward experience. But you don't have to get sucked into your thoughts about that, either. Sure, you don't get the satisfaction of "hating" your friend for treating you the way she did. But how satisfying is it, really, to hate someone, anyway? How does hate make you feel?
When you're not replaying thoughts and indulging in them, you'll find that you can be dealing with even negative emotions while staying clear headed and present.
There's far less drama and vindication in this than in going with your mind. But there's also more peace and contentment. Would you rather be "right" and angry or surrendered and free?
For No Particular Reason
Whoever or whatever the moment
brings, free yourself of unnecessary
misery by not judging it...
be it an unpleasant situation,
person, feeling, thought or
You can decide to be content for no
and why not give yourself
Poem from Notes to Self: Meditations on Being
Just a gal experimenting with what it means to live outside of mind.
Read more about Notes to Self, the "manual" on living beyond mind.