Dealing with Thoughts
Jaime V. Pitner, MICP, RHCThe most troublesome of all stressors in life are the ones that we create for ourselves. Our quality of life is not so much dependent on how much money we make, or even how much leisure time we have, but on how much we enjoy and appreciate what we have, right here and now. Our appreciation, or appraisal, is based on how we think and feel about things. Our thoughts can evoke strong emotions, having a great impact on our well-being. Even on long vacations with plenty of shopping cash, we can never escape the confines of our own mind. We can never avoid the often harassing nature of our own thoughts.
When do we ever not think? And, since we have accepted the belief that thinking is solely a function of using words, what words do we typically use, and how do these words effect us. Can we think without words, what thoughts do infants have before they learn to use words. When do we ever not have inner conversations? Some have described this as the "addiction " to thought, and like any addiction , we seem limited in our ability to control our habit. We feel an intense responsibility for the thoughts we have, and we feel an obligation to think them through to the bitter end. Where do our thoughts come from anyway? Well, aren't they from us? Don't we make them? Aren't we to blame for the thoughts we have? The answer to this last question is no! We are not to blame for the thoughts we have, but we are responsible for what we do with them, once they appear in our conscious mind.
We have the right and the ability to choose to relate to our thoughts, or not! Just because a thought pops into our mind, we don't have to spend time on it, we are not obligated to think about it. We can't always prevent it from making an appearance, but we can make a simple acknowledgment of it, then let it go on it's way. Don't fight with the thought or worry, just LET IT GO, by not spending time on it, or judging it.
But first, we must have an understanding of what creates our thoughts, where do they come from? Thoughts can come from almost anywhere, the conscious or the unconscious mind. Consciously we may be exposed to an external stimulus, in a conversation with someone, reading, TV, or consciously reviewing things in our mind. Once the initial thought presents itself in our conscious mind, our unconscious mind (always doing what it thinks we want to do) tries to help us by presenting additional related thoughts, memories, and feelings.
An example I often use in my stress management program, is a personal experience from my work as a paramedic. I describe driving in my car with my wife and 3 year old daughter, when suddenly we pass a certain intersection that I haven't been by in about 10 years. A thought suddenly appears in my mind of the last time I was at that intersection. I had responded to a motor vehicle accident there, involving a young mother as the driver and her two 3 and 4 year old boys. The boys were unrestrained in the car, and were propelled through the windshield. As I spent time on this thought, in the form of memory, I felt my hands become a little sweaty and a knot form in my stomach. My wife was speaking to me , but I didn't really hear what she was saying. I began to think about other bad motor vehicle calls, and particularly about ones involving children. Then, I started to wonder, what if our car was involved in an accident? What if around the corner this happened to us? What would I do, would I be able to help my wife and daughter, what if I was knocked unconscious? Then suddenly I returned to the present with may wife saying, what's wrong? You haven't hear a word I've said!
This all happens because of the basic function of the unconscious mind, and its desire to help us do what it thinks we want. When I spent time remembering this terrible accident, my unconscious mind "helped me" by
bringing up more details, and all the associated emotions. Not only did it pop these thoughts into my conscious mind from the storehouse of my memory, but it stimulated imagined scenarios, of related future possibilities of such tragic accidents. As Albert Einstein put it; "imagination is more important than knowledge".
My imagination stimulated a real physiological stress response, making my body sweat, muscles tense, and a knot in my stomach. The reality, or knowledge, of driving safely on a beautiful day with those most dear to me, was over-powered by my unconscious imagination and memories.
There is a Zen saying that " it is fortunate that we have bodies, because they keep us anchored in the here and now". Our thoughts on the other hand, like to transport us to the unreal realms of the past and the future. We can remain in the present by focusing on our bodies our physical senses, through the use of breathing, muscle relaxation, and awareness of the reality of where we are at the moment. This is how we develop presence of mind.
Remaining in the present moment, therefore, is very important to our well-being . It is here, the present, that we have all the power, control, and serenity to direct our lives and our thoughts. Just as I experienced during my drive in the car, my thoughts transported me to past events, and then into the future, where my thoughts considered things that might happen. The problem is that most of these thoughts are of a negative, distressing nature. Negative thoughts come to us with added speed because of their association with negative emotions. These strong emotions make our memories more vivid, and our worries of the future even more frightful. Our unconscious mind keeps "helping" us think about the thoughts which are currently dominating our conscious mind. Being non-judgmental, the unconscious mind actively supplies us with the kind of thoughts that it thinks we want.
This is where our opportunity lies, if our unconscious mind can be directed by negative thoughts and emotions, then we can certainly direct it with positive thoughts and emotions. "Change the in-put, and change the out-put". We have the ability to select our thoughts as we desire, rather than have them chosen for us by the indiscriminate associations of the unconscious. When we choose a positive or comforting thought, it begets more positive, comforting thoughts and feelings, by the same basic process of the unconscious mind. Our unconscious helps us do what it thinks we want. All we need to do, is help it do its work, by giving it the right message.
It is important to always be aware of what our messages are to ourselves, what words we use, and how they affect our current dominant thinking. We then have the opportunity to choose whether we want them, or not, basing our choice simply on what we feel - does it give us comfort or discomfort.
We must tell our unconscious mind what we want, and it will do its work behind the scenes. Our choice is not based on an internal intellectual discussion, but by listening to the communication that our bodies send to us, in the form of intuitive gut feelings. Like a radiation meter and a compass, our intuitive feelings of comfort and discomfort will keep us pointed in the right direction, and warn us of areas of danger along the way.
Jaime V. Pitner, MICP, RHC