A friend of mine recently visited her mother in a nursing home. But her mother didn’t recognize her. Her mother’s mind had lost the capacity to recognize someone she had known all her life. Actually we have a similar experience every day when it comes to our thoughts. Our thoughts arise, thousands of times a day, but we don’t recognize them. We notice them, we react to them, but we don’t recognize them as thoughts. This is truly unfortunate.
It’s unfortunate because thoughts can mislead us. They can confuse us. And they can distract us. Thoughts are simply thoughts, yet they have this amazing power to obscure reality.
The other morning I looked out the living room window and noticed a layer of frost covering the entire backyard. And I had the thought, “Wow! It’s really frosty out there this morning.” That thought is a pretty accurate reflection of reality. You really can’t go wrong with that kind of thought.
But most of my thoughts aren’t like that at all. I may start with,
“Wow! It’s really frosty out there this morning.”
But look at what follows . . .
“I hope the daffodils will be OK. They probably can’t handle a frost like this, particularly if they’ve already blossomed. And what about the apple trees? Uh-oh! They’re very susceptible to frost at this time of year. We’ve had such a cold spring. By now you’d think it would have warmed up. Maybe it will be warmer in Chicago when I’m there next week to visit my parents. I know this is going to be a difficult visit with my Dad. He’s not going to want to talk about some issues, but he needs to – it’s no longer an option to avoid them. Of course, he’ll just say . . . .”
I’ve already got a dialogue going with my father – and it’s not going well. So I’m starting to get agitated. And frustrated. Is it my Dad who’s frustrating me? Of course not – he’s 800 miles away! It’s my thoughts that are creating the agitation, because I don’t recognize them. I don’t realize that they’re simply thoughts. If I recognized that these are just thoughts, they wouldn’t have much influence. I could just smile and sip on my nice, hot cup of coffee. Or I could go outside and walk barefoot in the frosty grass. Or feed the birds. All kinds of possibilities open up once I recognize that thoughts are simply thoughts.
Once you recognize your thoughts, you really don’t have to do anything about them. They’re simply visiting. You don’t have to substitute positive thoughts for negative thoughts. You don’t have to fight with them, or tell them to stop doing what they’re doing. I mean, they’re thoughts – this is what they’re supposed to be doing.
All you have to do is shift your attention back to reality – to sipping your drink, or watching the chickadees at the birdfeeder, or noticing how your daughter is eating her breakfast cereal. Now you’ve reconnected with reality. Just take a breath. That can be a very sweet reunion with reality.
We spend much too much time attending to our thoughts instead of engaging with the world. So we end up living in our mind, instead of reality. When your thoughts come to visit, just greet them and recognize them for what they are. Don’t let them take you on a trip. Don’t assume what they tell you is wise or true. And don’t mistake them for someone else. That would be impolite.
If you do have a chance to visit your mother and she recognizes you, give her a really nice hug. Just because she recognized you. It’s nice to be recognized. That’s worth a hug, isn’t it?
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......