Change Your Thoughts without Surrendering Your Uniqueness
Meditation and mindfulness
This is always recommended by therapists. I’ve meditated on and off for many years. I’ve never reached Nirvana or even close to it, but after half an hour of sitting meditation at the Buddhist Centre in Nollamara, Western Australia, I get a sense of calm and peace that wasn’t there before. The brain is somewhat less active and inflamed. Sitting still and being quiet has its own rewards.
I also find it hard to practice mindfulness. The most common mindfulness scenario involves watching leaves floating past on a river’s current without judging them as good or bad. But one of my leaves always gets caught in a mind trap and before I know it, I am impotently ruminating yet again. As well, leaves floating down the river always conjures up for me that moment in War of the Worlds, when Dakota Fanning goes for a wee at the river’s edge. She’s watching leaves float past until dead bodies, killed by the aliens, come wafting into view, and she starts screaming, and Dakota’s screams are loud and piercing. It’s quite a mindfulness buzzkill.
Lowering the level of the voices
There is no on/off button for our thoughts (although I wish there was) but there are ways to help turn the volume down and keep it down. One of the ways is to reduce attention to these thoughts. When I’m driving, I can drift off into imagined scenarios, arguing with people I’ve never met, over issues that haven’t happened. When I catch my angry thoughts I do the Five Senses Grounding Exercise where you think of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and then something nice you are planning to do today. I reduce the attention to my negative thoughts and effectively cut off the fuel supply and this reduces the intensity of my internally generated hypothetical indignation.
This means accepting what has happened, all the way, complete and total in your mind, heart and soul. This doesn’t mean approving of it, having love and compassion for it, or trying to change it. It’s letting go of hatred and bitterness because reality is/was not how you want it. It’s knowing that life can be worth living even with numerous unresolved issues that have no closure. No closure is a form of closure within itself. Facts cannot be changed by thinking different thoughts. Change requires accepting reality - radically.
I went to a David Cassidy concert in 2002. I was in the front row and he swept his hand along the stage for us to touch. Apparently, I grabbed hold of his hand and held it tight till I heard him scream “Let Go!” I was horrified. It was at a much later date I was able to turn that mortifying memory into a hilarious self-deprecating dinner party story. The serious lesson learned here is to let stuff go. There is a picture on facebook of a butterfly with a rope around its neck, hauling a huge millstone up a great flight of stairs. The caption reads “Note to Self: Let Stuff Go,” Evoking this image, never fails for me to remove the emotional millstone hanging around my own neck this is slowly but surely suffocating me.
Integration is the place where ruminating thoughts go to die. Integrating our thoughts happen when we are able to sufficiently process them, understand why things happened and make sense and meaning before radically accepting that we cannot change them. Only then can we file them away in our brain, allowing us to put them away, lock them up and archive them. To give you an example, I can now focus on David’s music without dredging up the accompanying excruciatingly painful memories of rejection and abandonment. I have processed and integrated my part in this and made personal sense and meaning from it. So, turning it on its head, I can now thank David for his portentous personal message to me.
Therapy won’t stop the thoughts, but it will weaken their connection. Part of this involves examining the evidence for and against. Where is the evidence that this is true? What are the facts? Having a gut feeling is not evidence, it can be misleading due to high anxiety. Sometimes we have predictive thought processes and think we know the outcome of an event even though it hasn’t occurred. Or thinking that we know what other people are thinking. Or having tunnel vision and only seeing the negative parts without the positive ones, and catastrophising to the point where it becomes ridiculous, even to us. Changing your thoughts can change your relationship to the problem. You can change the way you think about a problem and perhaps suddenly realise that you actually might have dodged a bullet.
Picture credit courtesy of: https://www.rickhanson.net/how-the-mind-changes-the-brain/