The Fight We Don’t Need to Win
A frequent plea I hear from clients is some version of this: “Why can’t I fight off these thoughts? I don’t want this stuff on my mind. I try and try, but I can’t drive the thoughts away! It’s exhausting.”
The underlying difficulty for these clients is that they are shadow-boxing an illusion. But since it is their own illusion, it appears real to them. The harder they fight it, the more vivid it appears. In absolute innocence, they are holding thoughts in place that would have simply passed through their minds if they had not given them a second thought.
Just as surely as we can bring any thought to mind intentionally, we can experience random thoughts that seem to pop into our minds. A fear awakened. A memory triggered. A previous situation revisited. Such thoughts jolt us. When we form a thought, an image on the screen of our mind, our sensory system creates the feeling/experience of that thought. If the feeling/experience is unwanted, unpleasant, unnerving, we are upset and we want to “do” something to clear it away. But as long as we are focused on the effort to get rid of it, we are still creating it and it still looks real. You have to remain aware of something to fight it.
The idea that we have to manage or monitor the content of our thinking and handle distressing thoughts before they “get” us is a misunderstanding of the nature of thought, and of our true power as human beings. Our “superpower” is the power to think, and continually think again, and to know that the power never fails. The content of thoughts is ever-changing and transitory. The ability to think is a constant spiritual power, inherent to our life. Feelings are the shadows of our thoughts, the feedback loop that lets us know the quality of our thinking. Winning a fight against our thoughts is impossible; thoughts are insubstantial.
If we focus on fighting the content of unpleasant thoughts we have created, we put ourselves into an endless loop. We have to keep thinking the content we don’t like in order to keep trying to fight it. We either keep creating the thoughts or we allow them to dissolve into the ether as new thoughts come come to mind. If we ignore the thoughts and recognize the feeling of unpleasantness as a signal to quiet down and know all our thoughts will pass, other thoughts will come to mind. We are inclined to quietude when we hold all our thought content lightly. After all, it’s our imagination at work, good or bad, and there’s always a lot more where it came from.
The first time I ever heard anyone say that feelings are the navigational guides that help us through life, maybe 30 years ago, I rejected the idea entirely. I counted on my intellect for the medical practice management business I was in; I earned my living examining the content of my and others’ thought. I got paid for developing good ideas. It didn’t matter how I felt, for heaven’s sake. Weak people paid attention to their feelings. In my world, at that time. when the going got tough, the tough got going.
But a strange thing happened. I started to notice my clients’ moods. I realized that when they were upset, meetings went badly, they were argumentative, they weren’t able to listen, they paid no attention to new ideas. That explained a lot of the “difficulty” of my work. Then I noticed how personally I took the things upset clients said to me — as if they made sense. My own moods started to be visible to me. I saw that I spent most of my time in extreme levels of stress and distress, and my whole life was a struggle to get my bearings. My mind was going a million miles an hour. It never “stood out” to me because, in my business, everyone was like that. Enduring enormous stress with determination to forge ahead was the hallmark of success.
I couldn’t help but notice that all the people I was meeting who were working in Innate Health were happy, relaxed, at ease with themselves and others, open-minded, fun to work with, AND smart and successful. I started to wonder why I couldn’t live like that. I started to appreciate what I could gain from listening to these people explain to me the true source of peace of mind, creativity, wisdom, insight, productivity, joy: a quiet mind in a positive feeling state. It occurred to me it was contrary to human nature to run a low-mood business. I felt sad that I never had peace of mind. I wished I wasn’t so stressed and upset.
I made it hard for myself early on trying to figure it out. Over time, in the presence of understanding people who believed in my — everyone’s — resilience and innate well-being, I got quieter and quieter. Then the insights came. I started to see for myself that life was really simple. I’m making it up, thought by thought. Thoughts generate a state of mind, a feeling state. If I don’t like my feeling state, I can ignore it and new thoughts will come to mind, just like that. I’m always one thought away from an entirely fresh experience.
I was creating all my stress and distress. Wow! If I was creating it, I could ignore it. I could leave it alone. I could create anew.
Everything changed for me. When I look around the world today, I see my “old” self everywhere, and my heart goes out to agitated, insecure people. I know how real their problems look to them. But I am filled with love and hope for them because the answer to all human suffering is only one thought away. No exceptions. Beneath all the thought-created turmoil across the globe, everyone on the planet is one simple insight away from peace of mind. If it could happen to me, a person who wore my stress like the red badge of courage, it could happen to anyone who simply wondered, “Could I be at peace?” and looked to quiet for an answer.