Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Little Guys

One of the premises of the Science of Mind spiritual teachings can be summarized as follows: change your thinking, change your life.

Sound familiar? The premise has a lot in common with the positive thinking movement, cognitive psychology, self-help literature, Buddhism, transcendentalism, and other major philosophies and religions. It's been called the "golden thread" that unites most major thought traditions.

It can also be oversimplified and made trite. As in, "Just look on the sunny side of things, and you'll be fine." Or, "You can positive-think your way out of that dilemma." There's lots more subtlety to the premise than this, I think, and much is lost by oversimplifying and then dismissing it.

And at the same time, the funny thing is that it is simple. I think we expect things to be hard in life. I know that was a mantra in my family for most of my childhood: "Life's tough." "Things are really hard right now, and there's nobody who said life would be fair." "Nobody said things would be easy." That sort of stuff. I mean, cynicism, sarcasm, and expecting the worst were practically in my DNA for most of my life. They still appear now and then, without my permission.

All this is chatter by way of saying that as I think more about my thoughts, and observe them through meditation and just trying to be a little more conscious, I've noticed two patterns:

1) Throughout the day, a running stream of apocalyptic scenarios run into my head. They appear unbidden, are usually completely outrageous, and I tend to dwell on them. For example: I was out running in the rain the other day, and into my mind popped the notion that I could be struck by lightning. Totally unlikely in that moment, but a friend had recently told us the story of how he had been struck by lightning, and so there the thought was in my mind. And I began to worry about it. All of a sudden, the world seemed unsafe.

2) Throughout the day, a running stream of imaginary conflicts run through my head. They appear unbidden, are usually completley outrageous, and I tend to dwell on them. For example: I have an argument in my head with Eric about how loud the vacuum cleaner is and why we need a new one. In the argument, he's obstinate and won't listen to my reasons. The argument ends dark and stormy, with each of us wondering why we married the other. All of a sudden, the world seemed to be a little less loving, and I a little more alone.

Catastrophic thinking, in both cases. And totally imaginary.

The thing is, I can't really control whether or not these things pop into my head. They appear automatically, and it would be exhausting to police them all day long.

What I can control is whether or not I dwell on them. But just telling myself not to dwell on them wasn't working. So here are my tricks:

When the first kind of thinking appears (the lightning-strike scenario), I imagine a tiny little winged pig sitting on my right shoulder. As soon as the apocalyptic thought enters my consciousness, the little pig slowly, elegantly takes flight. I get an inward grin from this. Getting struck by lightning? When pigs fly. You get the idea.

When the second kind of thinking appears, I imagine one of those toy clattering-teeth thingies on my left shoulder. As soon as I start the imaginary dialogue, off go the teeth. Yadda-yadda, they say. Conversation not really happening.

The funny thing is, as I've imagined these little guys, the thoughts have become less frequent. Funny how that works.

So. This is probably much more than you wanted to know about my inner life. I realize I sound a bit nutty. I've just gotten some nice inner peace, and inner giggles, from my two new shoulder-friends. If you see me talking to them some time, you'll know what's going on.

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