We can’t help the past popping into our minds. It is impossible to know what might awaken a memory— someone who looks like your grade school bully, a sentimental song on the radio, a pattern of light and shade, a faded photograph, a sudden loud sound, a gory TV scene, a patterned dishtowel. When our mind wanders towards anything, we might immediately bring up a momentary memory.
A lot of people who struggle with past abuse, or traumatic events, or remorse over something, or anger at someone, or sadness from a loss will say their memories are not momentary. They will lament that they “just can’t get them out of their mind.” They will say they keep coming to mind, no matter how hard they’re trying to fight them off. The harder they fight their memories, the bigger they seem to get.
There’s a reason for that, in the logic by which the mind works.
Those people are right about one thing: As hard as we might fight, we never win at shadowboxing with our own thoughts. Things will just appear in our minds and we have to hold them there to fight them.
But those people are missing something important. We do have the spiritual power to transcend those thoughts. We don’t have to have second thoughts about them. We don’t have to fight them. We can allow them to pass as we go about our lives in the present. Think of memories as a program on a television you’re not watching while you’re doing something else, although you notice images flickering on the screen from time to time. You can choose at any moment to “grab” an image and drop what you’re doing now to focus on the program. But the only thing that can make you do that is you — you have a second thought about what just passed across the screen and you decide to spend more time with it. As fast as you turned toward it, you could turn away.
The fearful thoughts, the struggle thoughts, the “Oh, no!” thoughts, the angry thoughts, and the grieving thoughts — all those negative second thoughts — precipitate pain and hopelessness and elicit the desire to fight. We get frightened by them and we want to drive them away. We don’t recognize that if we notice images passing but don’t give them a second thought, they’re gone. They scarcely have a fleeting impact on our experience or feelings. They pass like a bird flitting past the window.
How do we find the “strength” to ignore upsetting thoughts? How do we avoid those second thoughts? That’s where our spiritual power comes into play. Over the years, people have always given others the advice to just drop things, or ignore them, or let them go. And those who receive the advice have too often exhausted themselves trying really hard to follow that advice. What has been missing is a deeper understanding of the nature of thought, and the nature of the innate gifts we have to create and respond to it. We don’t need to try. It is natural for thoughts, unattended, to pass. Our strength is the birthright of humanity. We are the thinkers continually creating our own life experience, in every moment. We have the power to hang onto thoughts and fight them, or the power to set them loose and see them naturally dissipate, like patterns in a jostled Kaleidoscope.
Thoughts are part of the whole, universal, dynamic creative flow of life. They come and go, unless we capture and hold them and turn them over and over in our mind trying to do something with them. The nature of thought brings to mind my summer nights in Connecticut as a child, catching fireflies. They were so interesting, blinking and fading in the darkness. When I went to grab a jar and scoop them up and finally caught some, everything changed. They were hard to enjoy. Their natural blinking and fading turned frantic; and stopped, and then I was stuck with dead and dying insects, feeling horrible that I could not safely manage them and knowing I could not return them to the state in which I had found them, happily blinking and fading and moving on through the darkness. I had to deal with them in that unnatural state.
So it is with thoughts. When we grab them and then try to manage them, we end up frustrated and upset. In a sense, we have innocently disturbed their natural movement. As soon as we come to the realization that if we just leave them alone, they will blink and fade and disappear, we are free. Thoughts flicker through our minds and, in the moment, we are always at choice whether to hold them or how to use them. That is our power as the thinkers, shaping the flow of energy that we call life into images that generate the experience of our own moments. If we do not like the the experience the images project through our consciousness, they will fade and evaporate when we turn away and new images come to mind and into expression.
We come into life with that incredible power to direct the experience of our own life through the way we hold and use our thoughts. We can see that our sensory experience, our feeling state, is created in the moment by our thoughts, and is a reliable guide to how we’re doing as thinkers. If we see thoughts for what they are, illusory images, flickering like fireflies, and recognize that the content of thinking is fleeting, we can leave them alone, and turn towards the thoughts that bring lighter, calmer feelings and turn away from capturing and working with the thoughts that create tense, negative feelings. Our feelings naturally change in a blink of the mind’s eye.