I came across this quote recently and it totally blew me away:
“The only thing that makes it a part of your life is that you keep thinking about it”
It’s not that it’s such a new idea, but for some reason the simplicity of the wording really stood out to me. So much of what we hear today is aimed at the power of our thoughts – manifestation of our dreams, creating our own stories, changing our perceptions, choosing our reaction to external input. All of these come down to one simple idea: the only thing that makes something a part of our life is that we keep thinking about it.
Say you have an ex who really hurt you. You don’t live in the same city, you’ve deleted them from all social media and you haven’t seen this person in months. And yet, odds are you still think about them, maybe every day, maybe every now and then, and maybe you even get upset every time they pop up in your brain. It’s amazing the capacity that past events and people have to continue causing us pain and suffering long after they are gone, even when there is no physical trace remaining in our lives.
Or rather, it’s amazing the capacity WE have to continue causing OURSELVES pain and suffering. Because of our amazingly complex and sometimes ridiculous human brains, we have a tendency to cause ourselves to continue suffering long after the initial wound was inflicted. We do ourselves harm when we choose to keep reliving the shitty thing that happened over and over again.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons someone may have a hard time letting go of a painful memory, like PTSD or depression, and I’m not suggesting that those people should just stop making themselves sad! But a large majority of the time, we simply don’t pay enough attention to even notice that our brains are ruminating over something hurtful because we are so used to doing it! We allow it to happen automatically and get fired up all over again, often feeling emotions nearly as powerfully as when it happened in real life.
The truth is, we can’t control our thoughts. In fact, the more we try not to think about something, the more it continues to barge its way in to our consciousness. What we CAN control, however, is the reaction we have to said thoughts.
When a certain unwanted thought or memory pops into our heads, we have options as to how we respond. We can freak out and say “Go away! Bad thought! I don’t want you here!” but odds are that won’t work for very long and may only intensify the issue.
Another option is to just notice the painful memory and to have some sympathy for yourself and the experience. See what emotions arise and allow them to just sit there, noticing where you feel them in your body. Once you have given that memory some space in your mind, gently move on, knowing that it is likely to resurface again in the future and that is ok.
The idea here is to not allow the thought or the memory to drag you down into its emotional spiral. It is perfectly natural to relive moments from our lives, whether positive or negative, and there is no point in trying to cut that out of your brain all together – it just won’t work! Allowing such experiences to occur without judgement and without trying to alter them helps us cultivate acceptance, not only for the memory, but for the experience itself. We can’t change what has happened in the past, so why allow it to continue causing us pain in the present?
Meditation is a great tool for cultivating this skill of non-reaction. I wrote even more in-depth on this in a post on Pratyahara, the yogic limb focused on gaining mastery over external influences.
To practice the art of non-reaction, take five minutes some time today to sit and meditate. Find a comfortable seated position and a place of stillness. Bring your attention to your breath and for the next five minutes, take care to notice all the physical sensations in your body without reacting to any of them. If you feel an itch, notice it, be curious about it, but so not scratch. If your foot starts to fall asleep, be aware of the sensation, but do not shift your body.
This is both a physical and mental practice. As you learn to notice the physical sensations in your body without moving or making adjustments, you will also be training your brain to notice emotional sensations without reacting.
This doesn’t mean we are working to clear the mind of any emotions at all, but we are learning not to allow emotions to take over every time a painful thought arises. Reacting strongly and allowing pain and sadness to dominate every time a certain memory appears will only increase the hurt over time rather than diminishing it.
Another strategy I like to use when thinking of someone who I feel hurt by is to send them love and light each time they pop up in my mind and then move on. Rather than focusing on all the mean things they did to me and making myself upset, I take a moment to notice that they have appeared in my thoughts, I send them love and light, and then I move on to the next thought. If they show up in my thoughts again five minutes later, I repeat the process again and again, as many times as I have to.
At first it may feel uncomfortable or wrong to send positive vibes to someone you feel was hurtful, but eventually it becomes automatic and it saves you from wasting your time on someone who certainly doesn’t deserve it. Remember, getting angry at them in your mind doesn’t harm them or bring you justice, it only hurts you and wastes time and energy you could be putting towards crafting handmade greeting cards, or eating delicious spring rolls!
Create your own truth
To be honest, I feel like “The Secret”, a well-known book about the law of attraction, is super cheesy, but I do agree with the idea that we get back the energy we put out into the universe. When we are constantly focusing our energy on certain thoughts, we are going to create that reality for ourselves, whether we intend to or not.
If you think everyone hates you and everything you do is wrong, and you continue telling yourself that over and over, then of course it’s going to become true! Because your truth is simply the way in which you perceive the world. We can convince ourselves that anything is true and we are great at finding evidence that backs us up.
Of course, this can be a dangerous skill, especially when we live in a world where actual scientific evidence seems to mean very little and so many people use their own version of the “truth” to manipulate and gain money and power. Like all powers, they can be used for good or evil, so use your truth powers for good, ok??
Use the powers of your mind to create a super awesome reality for yourself and in doing so, make life even better for those lucky enough to be around you! The goal is not to live in denial or avoid responsibility for our actions, but to choose to see things from a positive and constructive viewpoint rather than assuming that everything is terrible and there is nothing you can do about it.
Sometimes life sucks, sometimes shitty things happen, and we can’t control that! But we can control our reactions, our attitudes, and our actions moving forward. We can have an overall positive attitude without allowing others to step all over us. We can apologize when we mess up, hold others accountable for their actions, forgive people who have wronged us, and see the world as a beautiful place, all at the same time.
When we are authentic and honest, when we put positive energy out into the world and interact with others in a kind and thoughtful way, when we choose to focus on the good in the world, we create for ourselves a life worth living. When we stop wasting our time and energy on thoughts that only bring us down, we can use that time and energy to focus on what actually matters, to work on bettering ourselves, to be of service to those who really need it.