All of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time consumed by my thoughts. I spent hours reflecting on and replaying conversations with people, trying to take a second, third, fourth look at the way things were said and considering if I was misunderstood, or if I misunderstood them. Did they mean something different by their words? Did they understand what I meant? Are they mad or angry?
Sometimes my thoughts are about not what’s happened, but what’s to come. How will this conversation go? Rehearsing what I want to say or do, how I will act or express myself. Considering how I might want to look. Sometimes it’s not about self-protecting, it’s about eager anticipation of something that will be fun or happy.
As an enneagram 7, I’m prone to cutting through the doldrums of my own headspace, daydreaming about the exciting thing coming down the road. However, in doing that, I often over-anticipate what will come and set myself up for disappointment or heartbreak with too high of expectations.
We all have thoughts we’re proud of, and thoughts we’re ashamed of. Thoughts that mortify and embarrass us. Thoughts that delight and inspire us. Thoughts that come and go, that we hyperfixate on and thoughts we can’t quite put our finger on once they’ve passed. Yet, for most of my life, I’ve wrongly believed that my thoughts were who I am, the full experience of my consciousness.
Our identities, however, are not the sum of our thoughts or actions. Our souls exist separately from our minds. Just because we have a thought, it does not mean it’s true, that it is a reality we have to participate in, or that our thought is a reflection of our true selves.
As I’m learning this truth, I’m learning to observe my thoughts with perspective and curiosity, rather than being consumed by their reality.
The difference between “then” and “now” is like this: I have a 32-inch computer monitor. Living the way I always have until recently, it’s as if everything was set to a full screen view. Every window, a thought that was all consuming. But in my mind, it’s as if someone has recently showed me how to exit full screen, gaining perspective that I have much more control over what windows I’m keeping my attention on, and which spammy pop ups I’m going to immediately dismiss.
In becoming a curious observer of my thoughts, the emotional triggers that come along with the most unwanted thoughts no longer hold the power they once did. Just a quick “X” and it’s gone, dismissed. The anxiety produced by those emotional triggers produced by those unwanted thoughts has effectively disappeared.
What’s more, I’m not spending my time mentally in the past or in the future, but here in the present.
Richard Rohr calls that experience of the present the “divine flow,” the idea of staying fully present and finding life and delight as the universe expands and unfolds before our very eyes. I’m noticing beauty everywhere, in the light, in the trees, in my children, in my husband and in myself.
As I release my clenched fist, clinging to what’s past or what’s to come, I’m staying open to the uncertain future that is rich with limitless possibility. Will today be the day a conversation sparks a deep and meaningful friendship? Will the ending of one relationship give way to something new? Will this pain I’m feeling teach me something I’ve desperately needed to learn? Anything is possible.