39 Lessons - Lesson 13 - Thoughts about thoughts

39 Lessons - Lesson 13 - Thoughts about thoughts

How I learned to live with myself...

As someone who lives alone, it is important that I am able to live with myself. One of the biggest lessons I have had on this journey was how to do just that.

A big part of writing for me is sorting through the thoughts in my head. The jury is still out on whether it is a good idea to spend too much time in one’s own head (especially mine! There is some weird stuff in there…) However, it is not always possible to talk it out with someone, and so I started to write, and sometimes I would even put it out there for others to read. And once I did that, I realized that my thoughts were not so weird at all. In fact this was a very valuable lesson for me, and one that helped me as I accepted that my thoughts are valid. And I feel as though this bears repeating. My thoughts are valid.

This was huge for me. I feel as if I spent a huge amount of time judging my thoughts and then comparing them to the thoughts that I thought other people were thinking. Do you even hear how ridiculous that sounds? But sometimes I think that we all do it. In fact many of us live our lives based on what we think other people are thinking. At times it even influences decisions we make about where to live, what to drive or eat, whether or not to go to the gym. I know this is true for me. In fact a great deal of my fear of judgement from others stemmed from the judgement that I had of my own thoughts. I would have entire conversations in my head - both sides of the conversation mind you - in which I would assume I knew what the other person was thinking and was going to say. It is true that sometimes people said things to me that indicated that they are thinking what I thought they were thinking. But far more often - it was all in my mind; and the truth is – I can only know my own mind.

One of the most fascinating concepts I came across in the last few years, was that we can choose our thoughts, and this can lead to choices in the actions that we take. It  was a hard thing for me to accept – I was quite convinced that the thoughts came to my mind unbidden, followed by a rush of uncontrollable emotion (and possibly an accompanying action). This was normally followed by a wave of guilt, with me wishing that I would not think or feel that way, or act that way. I am definitely simplifying the concept here, but for me, learning this was the beginning of working out how to live with myself. Once I took ownership of my thoughts, I could then scrutinize them further, to see what might be lying behind them. I was able to identify the things that triggered certain emotions. I was able to speak up more, and better represent my own needs. I was able to decide if I was going to dwell on them, to react to them, or if to change them completely. And I was better able to choose what actions I took if any.

Alternatively, I could simply choose to accept these thoughts. Yes – I am upset when someone lets me down, after they promised something. That is ok. Yes, I am nostalgic for the life I had with my friends before husbands and family came along. That is ok. Yes, I am still sad about people that I lost months ago. Years ago. Decades ago. That is ok. Yes, I am angry when I see someone being mistreated. That is ok. I do not need to Zen away these thoughts. I do not need to choose different thoughts. I do not need to justify them. My thoughts are valid. I can continue to have them. I can choose if I act on them, and if I do – how I act. I can even write about these thoughts. My thoughts are valid.

Once I accepted this, I felt able to open up to other people about my thoughts. Instead of figuring that I knew what they were thinking, I could simply say – this is where I am and where are you? This was another epiphany. Much of the time – people were not thinking what I thought they were thinking. A lot of the time they were not even thinking about me. And in addition, there were so many people out there with the same concerns as me, the same insecurities as me, the same passions as me. It changed the way I saw the world, and it changed the way I saw myself. Additionally – once I was able to accept those thoughts that I had, even the ones that I had previously felt guilty about – and have some self-compassion, it was easier to live with those thoughts, or to channel them in to positive behaviours and to positive change. To set better boundaries for myself. To choose who I trust. To ask people to spend time with me. To reach out in compassion to others. To remember and talk about those who were gone. And to feel closer to those around me who felt the same – to see our similarities rather than our differences.

In doing these things I became an easier person to live with – and I should know – I have been doing it for the last 39 years and counting!

And with these thoughts, I send you big love from a small island.

Ps - I took the above photo at one of my favourite thinking spots - Hackleton's Cliff - its a great view to watch while thinking...