We think too much

The average North American is as addicted as any junkie shooting up in a back alley. And, unlike the junkie, we lie about our dependence.

We live in an obsessive, addictive society, probably because we have more money and time than older societies. When the prime concern is surviving, no one worries about keeping up with the neighbours.

While we don’t lurk in shadows furtively exchanging dollars for dope, we’re just as addicted to food that isn’t good for us, to television, video games, the Internet, status, possessions, comfort, to our neuroses. We can’t get through the day without our coffee, tea or pop, and often, legal drugs.

We’re addicted to our wounds, which, next to the weather, is a favourite topic of conversation, as if our scars link us with the other walking wounded. If we don’t see the addictive patterns in ourselves, we can figure it out by listening to other people talk about their illnesses, frustration, fears and anxieties. That’s what we do, even if we don’t realize it.

We feign interest if people talk about their accomplishments and how great their kids are, but we perk up when they tell us how miserable they are and how poorly behaved their kids are. Then, we feel comfortable, then we relate.

We’re hooked on working, neglecting spouses and children, arguing that we missed a birthday or a football game because we were working so we could pay the mortgage, buy gifts for the birthday and pay for the football equipment.

But our worst addictions are our negative thoughts and behaviours as if we simply can’t see a world where what we truly want can manifest into form. If we’re afraid of flying, we worry that the plane will crash, if our child is late getting back with the car, we have visions of carnage on the highway. We obsess about the things we don’t want, instead of what we do want. 

We believe we are flawed, that we are weak, that we are unworthy, that we are the victim of the thoughts that run though our mind, that we are our mind.

Thinking is a wonderful tool, a program to plan and figure things out, but we never stop using it even when we don’t need to. If we use a pickax to dig a hole, we don’t carry it with us when the work is done.

Our compulsive thoughts are like a river in spring flood. Occasionally — when the cat throws up on the new carpet or our child overheats the credit card— we obsess about one particular topic, but the thoughts are still raging — mental reruns we’ve seen a thousand times.

We talk to ourselves constantly, yet feel superior, or maybe just grateful, when we see people — in the street, in old folks homes, in the hospital — mumbling and muttering to themselves or talking to people we can’t see.

We do the same thing for almost every moment of our waking day; but we do it silently. We explain, justify, complain, sometimes without even listening to ourselves, like a television playing when there’s no one home.

Compulsive thinking is an addiction because we can’t turn it off, even if we wanted to; it’s too strong or too seductive, too comfortable. We’ve been addicted our whole life — and often don’t realize it.

We’re like Job, who said, “that which I feared has come upon me.” But his problems were visited upon him by heaven while we create our own mental pestilence. No one is doing this to us. We create the pain; the panic; and the paucity. We go down every mental rabbit hole we see, chasing every thought, like Alice on speed.

 “Thinking has become a disease. Disease happens when things get out of balance,” Eckhart Tolle writes In The Power of Now. “The compulsive thinker, which means almost everyone, lives in a state of apparent separateness, in an insanely complex world of continuous problems and conflict, a world that reflects the ever-increasing fragmentation of the mind.”

Our behaviour is just as addictive, which is not surprising since action follows thought. We seek approval; we gossip, manipulate, react, and rush about mindlessly, like Don Quixote galloping off in all directions at once, when the knots in our stomach and the screams in our mind compel us to do something, anything.

We’re addicted when the substance or method makes us feel good, secure, even though it might make us feel guilty later. If we try to stop, we can’t, but we always have an excuse why we don’t.

If we weren’t addicted, we could stop everything that is not necessary to living harmoniously, that is destructive. We would eat only when the body needs it and not because it’s coffee-and-muffin time, or because we’re angry or stressed and we need the comfort that carbohydrates bring. We wouldn’t react mindlessly when someone bashes in our front fender while cutting in front of us on the bridge.

We could turn off the mind chatter, if only for a few minutes — when we’re brushing our teeth, getting dressed, stopped at a red light. We wouldn’t need our thinking fix.

The first big step is recognizing we are addicted, that we need the rush, comfort or security that comes from the addictive behaviour.

“We have a choice to either jump into the abyss of illusion and ignorance or soar into the experience of reality and enlightenment,” Deepak Chopra writes in Everyday Immortality.

Rumi, the Sufi mystic, put it more poetically: “Why do you stay in prison when the door is open wide?” 


Power of the equation

The equation that shook the foundations of science and changed the world 112 years ago can be a platform on which to build a philosophy of life today.

Albert Einstein peeled away the layers of the universe in 1905 and peered into the nature or reality with the Special Theory of Relativity and summed it up in E=MC squared.

The equation shows that energy and mass are one. We don’t see it because there are so many variations. We need a conversion factor, a shift in perspective to see one buried in the other.

The Internet can show how to convert Imperial into metric and Fahrenheit into Celsius, but not how to use Einstein’s equation to turn our excess poundage into power for the TV, or our negative thoughts into positive ones.

Multiplying mass – whether it’s a rock, a mountain or a plant ­— by the square of the speed of light shows how much energy has been frozen into matter, into us. (Light, in a vacuum, hums along at 670 million miles an hour, which, when squared, is 448,900 quadrillion miles an hour.)

It took a lot of time, money, manpower and brainpower to build that first atomic bomb, to turn that little bit of uranium into raw, explosive energy that destroyed a city and killed thousands of people.

We convert mass into energy every day. That steak and potatoes, fish and chips, soup and salad, bran flakes, and chocolate sundae fuel the muscles and the brain that can send a man to the store or to the moon.

Fortunately, life takes care of those details; our sub-conscious runs the little things we might forget to do ­such as breathe and beat our heart. But we can also use the equation consciously.

How we use our energy matters — as those of us who have spoken when we should have remained silent know. We can put it into what really matters, into the positive instead of the negative, into building up people — especially ourselves — instead of putting them down.

We must each decide what really matters, whether it’s who won the last election, who won Survivor or The Amazing Race, or how we run our own race.

That decision — like fission inside an atomic bomb — can build to a critical mass and release constructive power: we can re-invent ourselves, change our own view, find what we’re searching for, achieve our potential.

To do that, we need to change our thinking. Einstein said a problem can’t be solved with the same thinking that created it. We have to change how we see ourselves and reclaim time we spend in our daydreams — and nightmares.

We know this moment is the only one we have. Yet, we spend it thinking about moments that have happened or dreaming about ones we hope will happen.

We’ve all had those sublime moments when we were totally connected to the present, the creative cradle in which great athletes, great dancers, great composers, great artists and great scientists produce great works of art.

We’ve been in that flow, that zone, that now, that place where mass and energy flow together. But then “our reality” snaps back into place and the light of understanding is again filtered through the prism of our mind and we see the constituent colours rather than the wholeness.

E=MC squared is the ticket back there. Eternity and this moment are the same thing, but we need the power of comprehension squared to live that fact. Knowledge is power when it’s fuelled by action.

“Our true home is the present moment,” Thich Nhat Hahn writes in Touching Peace. “To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.”

No matter where we go, Aristotle said, there we are. Life is here now, not in a Mexican vacation, not when the kids leave home, not when the mortgage is paid or when we retire.

It’s when the car won’t start, the water tank bursts, it’s the bills, the kids, the parents and the in-laws, the spouse and the noisy neighbour. It's accepting reality as it is.

But with that equation, with observation, attention, discipline and a commitment to live here now, we can control our attitude but not be controlled by our thoughts.

Aristotle also said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an action, but a habit.”

So is mediocrity when we are fuelled by frozen patterns of thoughts, when we re-act instead of observing, when we argue the same point instead of evaluating, when we allow our life situations to take over our life.

Einstein was using E=MC squared to peer into nature, to discover the secrets of the “Old One,” the creative process behind the universe. We can use it to peer into our own nature and unveil the secrets we keep from ourselves.

We can endeavour to make every act conscious, to use reminders – such as passing through a doorway or stopping at a red light – to ask ourselves where our mind is, to pull ourselves back from whatever illusion, delusion or drama we’re exploring.

“We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life; not in avoiding pain, but in being pain when it is necessary to do so,” Joko Beck wrote in Everyday Zen.

Act like the cat

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” said Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cheshire Cat.
“I don't much care where…”  said Alice.
“Then it doesn't matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Some people have a roadmap for life. They know where they’re going and how long it will take to get there.

Most of us are, however, like Alice In Wonderland; we have no idea where we’re going and are surprised when we get to wherever we end up.

When we take the time to listen, to ignore the persistent chatter in our heads and the busyness of our lives, we remember who we are. If we don’t, or would like to change, we can decide who we want to be. Every moment we’re at a crossroads.

Every moment is the first moment of the rest of our life. If we go sideways at 10 a.m., we don’t have to wait until tomorrow to get back on track. We can do it this very moment.

It helps, however, to have a constant reminder of who we are because it’s easy to forget.

Near the end of the last millennium, corporate mission statements were the rage and every company with more than 1.5 employees had one mounted on the office wall, although it was often trite, ambiguous and didn’t reflect reality.

But a good mission statement can keep a company on track, if it’s realistic and has employee buy-in, and so can a personal one.

A mission statement can be our guiding star, our Polaris that can tell us, when we have been battered by the storms of life, where we are. Life, or life circumstances, will blow us off course, but if we remember where we’re going, it’ll be easier to get there.

Stephen Covey, a former university professor who leapt to fame with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is a prophet for personal mission statements.

“The power of the transcendent vision is greater than the power of the scripting inside the human personality and it subordinates it, submerges it, until the whole personality is reorganized in the accomplishment of that vision,” he wrote in First Things First.

A well-crafted mission statement that sums up the essence of who we are can and has changed lives; it can re-program the tapes in our head and rewire our neural net.

Thinking destructive negative thoughts is a habit, a bad habit, one we can change. It takes about 30-40 days of constant vigilance to re-configure the net that produces the negative chatter in our heads – I’m not good enough, I’m fat, I’m ugly, I’m stupid.

If telling ourselves we are perfect, we are wonderful, we are worthwhile sounds empty and trite at the beginning, we’ll just have to fake it till we make it. The 100 billion or so neurons in our brain process information and help us remember to drop off the kids and pick up milk or think self-destructive thoughts – or find a cure for the all too common cold.

Thinking the same thoughts creates a web that re-inforces the power of a thought. If we think it enough times, the thought become stronger and we think it more often with more intensity.

An example of a one-sentence mission statement could be: “to live life completely, honestly, and compassionately.”

When we aren’t living that way, we’ll know it.

Bob Boxall, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, credits a mission statement with changing his thinking patterns – and his life. Like the rest of us, he thought he had plenty of reasons to doubt himself and his worth, but after a lifetime of beating himself up, he knew there had to be a better way.

The mission statement was it.

“I realized that 98 per cent of the people in the world don’t have a mission in life and they’re willing to go through hell to get to where they’re going, but they don’t know where they’re going.”

When he has fearful or anxious thought, he imagines it’s a phone call. As he receives each thought, he says, “thank you, I’m going to put you on hold” and then repeats his mission statement.

“I use those thoughts as messengers not as the message. When that stuff comes into my brain, the message is, ‘Get back on mission, get back to the true you.’ I lived a life following my doubts, fears and anxieties and all that stuff fed to me by external sources for too many years and I was lost as a chameleon. Now, I know who I am and I remind myself of that every day.

“Over that initial 30-day period after I wrote my mission statement, I could see myself changing. I was a different person at the end of it. It was such an a-ha moment.”

Any time we stop at a red light, wait in a line, walk down the sidewalk, exercise, we can use that time to reflect on who we are and turn our mission statement into a jingle we can repeat a thousand plus times a day. If we’re patient and persistent, that neural net will change.

That might seem like a lot of trouble, but we think anyway. We have a choice: we can think our negative thoughts or we can re-engineer our life.


You have a right to be here

Even though we know better, we re-inforce and re-affirm what we don’t want.

The more we repeatedly think and act in a particular way, the more we become unconscious of how we behave.

If we’re in a hurry, we hunch ourselves up, fold over our own heart, clench our teeth and the steering wheel while muttering we won’t make it. And if our worst fears are realized, we take perverse delight in claiming we knew it would happen like this.

Our thoughts are repetitive and negative; what ifs taken to absurd conclusions, thoughts that zero in on what we can’t do, about lack, fear and resentment, habitual responses that happen if we’re unaware or unwilling to negate the negativity.

Whenever we’re depressed, we project that feeling into the future, believing it will cloud our lives like the dismal February sky. We must enjoy the despair or we wouldn’t choose it so often.

Thoughts do leap, often unbidden, from the unconscious, but we have the power to choose another thought.

Yet, when we’re as expansive as a sunny, July day when life is humming along like our favourite song, we fear it won’t last, and cling to the pleasure like an over-protective mother with a wayward child. Both are destructive and push away what is held dear.

 “But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings; Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here,” Max Ehrmann wrote in Desiderata.

Indeed we do. We have our beliefs about why we’re here, some consider it a blessing, others a curse and some scamper between the two like a bipolar hamster. But we were invited here by the Universe and nothing was preordained.

Life is not something that happens to us, we create it with our thoughts, with the way we think. If we persist in thinking negative, dark thoughts, life mirrors those thoughts.

If we are adamant that good things only happen to other people, but never to us, guess what happens? And if the Universe should shower us with blessings, we soon fritter then away because we don’t believe it will last — and, consequently, they don’t.

“We control the frequency of our energy through our thoughts, feelings and beliefs,” it says on The Secret calendar. “If we are predominantly positive and feeling good, we are attracting like positive energy in every area of our lives. If we are in fear, powerless ness, blame, or any negative emotion, we are attracting like negative energy into our lives.

“As every single thing is energy, positive energy draws positive people circumstances, and events into our lives. Negative energy attracts negative energy, which we will experience through negative people, circumstances, and events.”

Our refusal to dance with life, our desire to ignore its music, create tension, which we don’t notice because it is so much a part of us. But it does make us anxious about life: about what we get, what we don’t and whether we’ll lose what we have. It shows up as a pain in the head, an ache in the stomach, or something much worse.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus put it this way:

“Therefore, I say to you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by anxious care can add one cubit to his stature? And why are ye anxious for raiment?

“Consider the lilies of the field how they grow? They toil not, neither do they spin? And yet I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clotheth the grass of the field, which to-day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”

Until we shed light on the cause of our fear, anxiety, and anger, we deal only with the symptoms. We don’t acknowledge the emotional stress, or if we do, blame someone or something for our perceived problems. We push it away, resist it, pretend we’re not feeling it.

We get pulled into a whirlpool of dark thoughts like the event horizon of a dark hole; if we’re not careful, gravity will suck us in.

 “If we are confused, it’s absurd to deal with the confusion; we have to decipher what is causing the confusion?” said Jiddu Krishnamurti, one of the spiritual greats of the last century.

A wise teacher does not tell us how to live, but asks the right questions so we can illuminate our own path. We are our own best teachers; we all have the answers to our questions. We can each be the high priest(ess) of our own truth, our own resolve, our own good intentions.

And the more we look into ourselves, the luckier we become, understanding at last what the Roman philosopher Seneca meant when he said luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment,” Eckhart Tolle, one of the spiritual greats of this century, writes in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.

More Transitions articles

About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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