everything you think!
“Fish swim in water naturally. They don’t ‘know’ they are under water, they just swim. Thinking is like this for human beings. Thoughts are our water. We are so immersed in them that we are hardly aware they are there. Swimming in our thoughts is our natural state. You can’t take a fish out of the water and expect it to live as a fish. But what would happen if the fish became aware of the water?” Hayes & Smith.
When I share this quote with people, I get a variety of reactions. Most people have never even thought about their thoughts. They have been so busy “swimming” in them, the idea they could be aware of them is foreign to them. Some think this is a wonderful and confounding idea. Others are scared by this idea.
Awareness can be frightening, especially when we are having depression, anxiety, pain, or other negative experiences. We are convinced that the way to cope is to avoid these feelings. We believe that if we allow ourselves to actually feel those emotions, we will be overwhelmed, overcome, undone. But the truth is these are just the thoughts we have about the feelings. Thoughts are less real than the emotions themselves, but we act as if thoughts are real.
For years, I believed that if I started to cry, I would not be able to stop. I had been trying to control my feelings by avoiding them. The “story” my thoughts told me was that I would be overwhelmed. I believed (because I had the thought) if I allowed myself to really cry, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I would be completely out of control. I was so afraid to give into my emotions, that I actually thought I might die from crying.
Thankfully, with the help of my therapist, I started to question my thoughts. Realistically, I couldn’t find any evidence of someone actually dying from crying. So once I questioned that belief, I had to start to question the rest of my thoughts. I bravely allowed myself to cry. Once I allowed myself to really cry, I discovered that it lasted about 45 – 60 seconds. I actually stopped crying before I was ready to! (But that is a story for a different post.)
Once you start becoming aware of the fact that thoughts are merely thoughts, you can be freed from their tyranny. Awareness exercises such as meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga, ecstatic dance, and even some techniques used in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be a great first step to become aware of your thoughts. Thoughts can be a huge source of suffering in our lives. But once you are aware that they are just thoughts, you can decide whether or not to believe them.
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” Eckhart Tolle .