Imagine you’re standing on the side of a highway watching the heavy flow of cars driving by. There is a non-stop flood of cars flying by every second, very fast. You are standing on the side of the highway, completely out of harms way, just observing the heavy flow of cars whipping by. But suddenly, you feel a bit anxious looking at the passing cars and decide to run into traffic and try to stop the cars. Insane right? Those cars are going to hit you and fuck you up.
Thoughts are nothing more then passing cars on a highway. Left alone and standing out of the way, they are harmless to you, but get in the middle of them and you’re likely to get hurt, very hurt, or even hurt someone else.
I shouldn’t have to tell you not to play if traffic in the literal sense, but in this figurative sense, I could tell you 100x and you’d still find yourself standing in the middle of a busy highway. But before I can get you off the highway full of cars that are your thoughts and mind, there’s a lot you need to understand about thoughts and mind.
Power Of Thoughts
Thoughts are the most powerful things in our existence. Everything we as humans have ever done, do, and will do originates from a single thought and grows from there. Everything we’ve ever created, destroyed, helped, killed, loved, hated came from a thought that formed that we decided to take action on.
What’s interesting is how little we actually pay attention to our thoughts. Thoughts have, are, and always will be our most powerful tool, and yet, we pay almost no attention to what thoughts are actually occurring. Because of that, this tool is usually used as a weapon against ourselves and others. Thoughts are firing away 24/7, almost completely unregulated. For anyone who has meditated, this is why it is seems seemingly impossible to clear your mind when you start meditating. There’s a constant stream of thoughts occurring.
What’s more, have you ever noticed how seemingly negative, limiting, dangerous, destructive, random and just sometimes fucking weird our thoughts can be? Before we can separate our negative thoughts from our selves it’s important to understand where these negative thoughts come from and why.
The Illuminating Brain
Our brain constantly spits out crap 24/7.
The past, missed opportunities, mistakes, behaviors, regrets, things you could have done, but didn’t. It’s our biggest critic of the past and loves to remind us of it.
Then it looks at the future, what might happen, might go wrong, potential problems coming, all building unnecessary anxieties.
Then it looks at current negatives, comparing you to other people, judging yourself, judging others and situations. It’s usually a constant shit storm of past, present, and future. Then it tries to escape the shit storm it has created, by fantasizing or day dreaming. We often walk around fantasizing or day dreaming about an entirely different world or different self that doesn’t exist.
We create a shit storm of negative thoughts and problems in our mind and then create a fictional paradise to escape the very shit storm we created in the first place. It doesn’t make any fucking sense. And yet, I hate to be the one to tell you, it’s how our brain is typically wired to operate.
But before you freak out that your brain is an endless cesspool of non-stop raining shit. (nice image right?), there is a silver lining to all this.
Is this better?
Before we get to that silver lining (I promise we’ll get there), there actually is a bit of a method to the madness of our mind. It starts back, wayyyyyy back in time. It’s going to be a bit nerdy here, but bare with me, we’ll get through this and you’ll have a more calming mind because of it.
Our Evolutionary Brain
The illuminating brain that is responsible for the endless shit storm of constant thoughts, that I so nicely imagined up for you, stems from our evolutionarily wired and designed brain.
In an early age where survival was a daily struggle with limitless threats, our brain was always on the look-out for threats, in order to help us as a species survive. It’s always scanning for anything dangerous, bad, or harmful. That worked great when we were knuckle dragging cavemen where survival was a daily ordeal, but now that’s not so much an issue.
When’s the last time you started your day and had to think about survival (and no not “omg, it’s Monday, I’m so tired, I hate this, how will I ever survive?!” I mean that the day was a struggle of actual life and death. Never).
What am I getting at here? Glad you asked.
Unfortunately, our brains are still wired this way. Our brains are wired to constantly look for the negatives in life, anything, anyone, or any situation that could potentially hurt us. And not just physical harm, but also emotional harm, psychological, and social harm.
Yes, even social skills were a means to our survival in early days. Ever wonder why we have so much social anxieties and seek approval from others? Well you can thank our evolutionary brain because in our early days, you’d likely die without the social skills to be a part of group.
Your evolutionary brain thinks it’s protecting you, but 99% of the time, it’s just unnecessary, completely illogical anxieties the brain comes up with it.
And here’s the crazy part.
Our brain is TERRIBLE at knowing the difference between a real threat that may actually harm us and some fictional threat our mind just created with a negative thought. This is exactly why you can be sitting comfortably in your house and have a full blown panic attack. Consciously you know there is nothing to fear or threatening you, but your brain built up some threatening thoughts in your head and now has put itself in full blown “fight or flight mode”
But here’s the real reason why you get fucked up by all these thoughts. You BELIEVE these thoughts to be true, to be you. We unconsciously identify with all the dark negative thoughts that come from our illuminating brain. We think that if a thought pops up in our head it must be true. Even if it seems extreme, untrue, or just plain illogical, we believe that deep down that must be true, since we thought it. And if it’s bad, which it often is, we think we are fucked up and have problems. We think “I have the most insane thoughts in my head, something is wrong with me”
But here’s the silver lining in all this. (finally right?)
There’s two major things to know. And they are huge pieces of good news.
1. You are NOT your thoughts.
Plain and simple. They are not you, who you are, or even what you believe.
It’s just our illuminating brain doing its job, firing off crappy thoughts, so we know not to take it seriously. It’s our evolutionary brain trying to protect us, but we know we’re not in danger. All it’s doing is sending messages, it’s up to you whether you want to accept those messages.
It’s like spam in your e-mail, there’s tons of it, it’s usually ugly, pointless, stupid, and often has nothing to do with you. So we filter out and delete the spam. And that’s what we can do with our brain’s spam. That’s right, you can examine and chose what thoughts to accept and reject, and filter it out, which I’ll get to shortly.
No matter what our thoughts are, logical, emotional, scary, happy, positive, negative, or down right bat shit crazy, one thing remains constant. They are just thoughts. Nothing more, that is unless we make them into something more.
In the beginning I said how powerful thoughts can be, but it’s not the thoughts alone that are powerful, in fact, left alone thoughts carry zero power and influence. It’s only when we choose to identify and attach ourselves to those thoughts that the have any power.
Thoughts alone can never hurt someone, only someone accepting those thoughts as truth can they be harmful. A gun alone carries zero power, but attached to a person, the power and damage it can have to others and the person holding it can be massive.
2. Your brain is a liar.
That’s right. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Your brain exaggerates, manipulates, dramatizes and flat out makes shit up! Our brain is like that friend you had in high school who’d continually make up stories about getting laid all the time, when everyone knew he’d probably never even kissed a girl.
Shut the fuck up Dimitri, you’re not fooling anyone
Now you be thinking “Chris, but thoughts always occur for a reason.” Not true. A lot of thoughts are completely random because of the illuminating brain. Most thoughts have almost no point, rhyme or reason. And that’s very important to understand. Just because you think something does not mean that you are that or believe that.
So now that we’ve understood that our brain is constantly churning crappy, irrelevant, pointless thoughts and lies that often have nothing to do with us, the final and most difficult thing to tackle is how do we actually separate ourselves from our thoughts.
The gap between thoughts and self.
Most people don’t know this, but there is actually a separation between thought and self. And this is VERY good news. However, most of us are so consumed by our constant stream of thoughts, that we believe thoughts and self are one in the same. We unconsciously create and accept thoughts without even realizing the two are in fact separate until we unconsciously allow the two to connect.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just understand this separation. Filtering thoughts from self is a skill. And like all skills it takes practice. And we practice by starting to observe our thoughts. Here’s how…
Imagine your mind is a giant factory that has a long conveyor belt. Thoughts are built and assembled in one area, put on the conveyor belt to be examined and taken the consumer (you). Your job is simple. Watch the conveyor belt for any thoughts as they come by that could be dangerous or harmful. As each thought approaches, you take a quick look it, if it’s dangerous or harmful you throw it away, if it looks good you package it up. You decide want you want to keep and want you want to throw away.
This is how we can begin to observe our thoughts. Sounds pretty simple right?
Here’s why this can and will be difficult. Although this sounds like an easy job, observing thoughts, it takes a lot of practice. Why? A few reasons.
- Your entire life you’ve been asleep on this job, so it’s going to take a lot of getting used to and practice.
- You’re going to really start seeing just how negative and dark a lot of your thoughts are, and it can be a bit scary at first, your instinct is going to be judge, repress, and control that negative thought BUT, and this is crucial, you need to learn to just observe the thought as it is, no judgements, no label, no bad feelings about it, just simply shine a light on it, and then let it pass. Let it pass by like the cars on the highway, no need to jump into traffic and hurt yourself.
- The time it takes for a thought to form and you to unconsciously accept it as self, is very short. Going back to the conveyor belt analogy, at first the conveyor belt will be going far faster then the time it takes you to properly observe all the thoughts being produce and coming through. So a lot of shit is going to get by you at first. But as you practice more, pay attention and observe your thoughts more, you will start getting better at noticing, observing, and filtering out negative thoughts from your self.
Practice Observing your mind:
Start practicing this whenever you can. When you wake up, getting dressed, commuting to work, at work, in the shower, hanging out with friends, or just sitting around. Whenever, wherever. Observe thoughts as they pop up. Remember no judgements, this will hard at first, but always remember they’re just thoughts, nothing more. The moment you judge a thought, is the moment you unconsciously attach yourself to it.
Some thoughts will seem pleasant, others may seem negative, dark or even upsetting, but remember that’s not you, so why get upset? As an observer on the side of the highway you wouldn’t get mad about a dirty car driving by would you? That seemingly negative thought is just your illuminating, evolutionary wired brain spitting out lies and pointless bullshit.
Don’t resist, judge or reject it, just smile because you caught it, caught it trying to lie, look at that thought, shine a light in the dark, and let it go.
After a bit you’ll be amazed just how much your brain is firing crap about the past, present, and future. As you continue this process you will witness as thoughts slowly lose power over you, lowering your anxieties and allowing you to take control of your life and what you truly want to choose to believe. Because no one consciously chooses to be miserable, it’s always unconscious.
So, what are your thoughts?