Friday, August 22, 2008

Thoughts on Thoughts

Some people are shocked when I ask them this question: "Do you control your mind, or does your mind control you?"

Sure, one can argue that, truthfully, there are many times when thoughts just "pop" into our conscious minds for who-knows-what reason. Welcome to being human!

And some of these thoughts can be upsetting, disturbing, or otherwise challenging to our personal code of ethics. But there is great news!

The great news is that we have the power to change our thoughts! Easier said than done, particularly when a certain life event has our life turned upside down. Losing a job, a death in the family, a new diagnosis, a fire, discovery that a spouse has been cheating...all these things create huge waves of emotion. Try as we might, negative thoughts in these situations continue to pop into our thoughts, time after time. And nothing seems to help.

"Time heals all," or so the saying goes.

But of course time heals nothing! It's what we do with time that is the healing! My point: let's reduce the amount of time of suffering by focusing on what we need to. This is not to suggest that grieving is not appropriate; indeed, one can't truly appreciate the heights of happiness without having sampled the depths of difficulties and sorrow. So we all need a certain amount of time to process major life events; more often than not, talking things out is very, very helpful. Another very helpful adjunct is to write out our thoughts and feelings.

Talking and writing, on one level, accomplish the same thing. And it is not just the idea about venting. Talking and writing also share the important characteristic of necessarily having the speaker/writer systematically organize his or her thoughts. Such organization leads to greater ability to be logical.

And logical is good. Logical is what gets us from point A to point B.

For the record, Emotional is good too. Even better, in fact. Because what we feel we feel on an emotional level. But emotions tend to make poor arbiters of choice. More on this soon.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Misty water coloured memories...

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to see when you've got Niagara Falls in your eyes?  

I remember as a kid being on Maid of the Mist. Ok, all I really remember is getting sloppy wet and having a blast doing it. Thinking back, it really was the ultimate form of jumping in a puddle! Then there's the shared experience that comes only with certain situations. Ever imagine what the first fella of capitalism was thinkin?  "Let's get a butt-ugly tug boat, cram it full of thrill-seeking tourists, and drive the sucker up to the bottom of the Niagara Falls!"

Then there's the whole Clifton Hill experience, what with the wax museums and scary monster chiller horror houses of horror!

Let's not even talk about roller coasters!

Seems like we humans are perfectly willing to part with our hard-earned dollars to introduce specific emotions-- like stain-your-underpants horror! --often exactly the kinds of emotions we spend the better part of our days otherwise avoiding!  Sheesh! What are we thinking!

It all just gets me thinking: Epictetus really was right! It isn't so much what has happened to us, rather more how we interpret what's happened to us. So as we're approaching the bottom of the falls, as we're racing on a roller coaster... we're really very aware that this is a time-limited exposure to something we otherwise wouldn't want to be experiencing, say, in our cars...

Learning that we have the power to control our emotions is the serious message in all this. Part of the "trick", if you will, is to be able to tell ourselves that, in fact, these emotions - no matter how bad they feel right now - they too will come to an end at some point... just like the roller coaster.

How wonderful to be able to control our emotions in this kind of way. More on this in the future.

For now, just a final thought. There are only two good reasons to look back in life: one is to relish the memories (... to smile, to laugh, to induce that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with cherished pictures, for instance) and the second is to learn from the past. That's it. Every other reason isn't likely a good one.

Happy memories to you all!