If You Could Choose Your Thoughts, What Would You Choose?
My mind is so full of everything lately that I feel like I’m scattered to the breeze like a dandelion puff. No matter how hard I try to grab every one of those little cotton-y pieces, some will always slip away.
I was having a hard time coming up with a topic to write about. I thought I might write about positive thinking, (okay, truthfully my lack of), and how I believe always thinking positive isn't helpful.
But then I felt that overwhelming anxiety crawl over me, the one where I feel a little lost and full of disconnected thoughts that end in Danger!
Closed roads and broken bridges.
I wondered if my cluttered mind was to blame. For, as in real life, when I can’t seem to relax or work in a room or house that is disorganized or dirty, I am beginning to feel like I can’t work within my disarrayed brain.
Maybe I needed a little guidance on clearing out my mind, and then I would be able to write something that made actual sense.
And I found this: a post written by Farnoosh Brock for the blog Becoming Minimalist, called Declutter Your Mind.
A few points in the article hit close to home for me, but one in particular hooked me. It’s something you hear and realize you’ve always known but didn’t really know: No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. And, if you follow this logic further, no two opposing thoughts, one positive and one negative, can occupy your brain at the same moment.
You HAVE to choose one thought or the other to devote yourself to.
That’s right: choice. Suddenly my two coinciding thoughts, one about positive or negative thinking and the other about my cluttered mind, fused together and I found myself with something to say. Something to write.
I Don't Want to Be Pollyanna
I’ve been really thinking about all that negative thinking lately. How often I use it, what it does or doesn’t do for me, the stress, anxiety and worry I allow myself to feel because of negative thoughts, and even the relentless messages we seem to get from media and social media about positive thinking.
Everything wants to convince us that positive thinking is the solution to every problem.
The underlying message is that each of us is somehow to blame for the consequences that befall us because of our negative thinking. (So, now I can add guilt to the mix, too? Thank you, society!)
To be honest, I got kind of pissed about this.
What if I don’t want to be relentlessly positive all the time? What if I see myself more as a realist?
I know we are told to make the best of a bad situation, and try to look for the positives in everything and everyone, but c’mon. That leaves out some of real life, doesn’t it?
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, for without the rain, the rainbow wouldn’t even exist.
In all of the ongoing thinking I’m doing lately about thinking (hmm, that must be Meta…), something in the Declutter Your Mind article spoke to me. The author gently pointed out that the positive and the negative exist there in that brain of ours, shaped by our lives and our beliefs and our relationships and our upbringing.
We store all of it in our mind, whether it serves us well or doesn’t.
But just like that storage unit you pay for by the month that you wouldn’t need to waste money on if you just got rid of some crap, your brain may be able to lighten the load if you got rid of some of the useless crap in it.
The author asks you to imagine you have to leave your very large, very familiar, very comfortable "castle in your brain" because it has become so overstuffed with thoughts, fears, worries, memories, etc., that it’s time to move to a new space.
One that is wonderful, but tiny.
Of course, as with any move, you’ll have to dispose of a lot of shit.
What would you take with you? What would you leave behind? What do you think would be most useful to you from here on out? Where would you go?
I liked this idea. A lot. My brain is already busy sorting things into boxes marked Yard Sale, and I only read this article this morning!
My Castle Was a Prison
The castle in my brain was built many years ago by a little girl who needed a protective fortress, but over the years that protection became a prison. High up in that one tower where she spent a great deal of her time, she could only see the things she chose to see.
Or was told to see.
She didn’t have much interest in things that were uncomfortable, scary, or unfamiliar.
As with all “safe” things, her castle tower became stagnant and restrictive, but she felt stuck there. For a while now, she has known she doesn’t even want to be in a castle.
I’m no longer that little kid, and I don’t want or need a protective fortress. I learned that the dragon I was so afraid of wasn’t out there, waiting to get me.
My dragon lived right in my castle, never very far away.
It was always letting me know when I wandered too far from where I was “supposed” to be.
Now that I know better, I would choose to get rid of the stifling cocoon of my castle, and end up in a place where I can find peace and the ability to grow into who I’ve wanted to be for years, but thought I couldn’t.
Imagine a New Way, Because That’s What Brains Do!
I want to trade my castle for a cottage on the ocean.
Not the tropical beach. Maybe somewhere on the Atlantic seaboard, but without the nasty gray winters.
My cottage would be small and weathered, but very sturdy, with large windows that faced the beach and ocean. I would be able to sit inside and watch storms roll in, or watch the sun over the water.
There would be seagulls, but not the annoying kind. A nice stretch of beachy sand for making castles, but also some rocks with tide pools, filled with starfish, crabs and mussels.
You can smell a hint of salty air and damp sand. Every so often drifts the scent of fried dough or cotton candy from carnivals, or meat grilling on backyard barbecue grills.
There’s a soundtrack of shushing waves on the shore, pleasant and calming. Sometimes when the ocean is angry, the waves crash and roar, and I enjoy that, too, like nature’s version of my favorite rock song turned all the way up.
I don’t know if you’re an ocean person, but for the last ten years I’ve lived right in the middle of the country with no ocean in sight, and this new castle-turned-cottage sounds like Heaven.
It may seem silly, if you think about it, to imagine setting up a place for your brain to live, but also in a weird way it makes sense.
Why banish your mind to places that are cold and dreary and scary?
Why live in the house of cards built by a little kid, long ago?
Why not give your thoughts a place to rest that feels . . . homey?
You spend all day, every day with your mind, so what’s the harm in creating a place for it that makes it happy?
Now, as with every move, there’s the big decisions about what to bring with you and what to leave behind. What can I get rid of that has been hurting me, causing me to make poor choices, or holding me back? I think I have a moving truck’s worth of those things.
More importantly, what do I want to have with me for the rest of my days? What memories and beliefs would I use to decorate the walls of my cottage, to furnish the rooms, to make the light slant in through the blinds just right as the sun rises?
I can tell you a few.
The Things I Can Hold On To
Memories, beliefs, feelings.
- There’s me in the west corner of my yard as a kid, right where our yard met our neighbor’s yard, where for a short time each spring, hundreds of tiny purplish-white flowers would blanket the ground, and I would lay in the middle and stare at the blue summer sky with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
- I will take my belief that a person works for what they want, and that it’s okay to start small, and that being able to support yourself without having to rely on other people gives you a lot of power and pride.
- I will also hang on to the feeling I’ve had my whole life that I was meant for things that are bigger than I could imagine. I don’t know why I’ve had this feeling, or why it’s taken me so long to believe maybe it can be true, but it keeps me going.
- The moment when I was first allowed to hold my daughter in the hospital bed after she was checked by the nurses and I was stitched up by the doctor would be my over-the-mantle memory. We were brought back to the hospital room and she stared up at me and I stared down at her and that was that. I don’t know if most people are fine with their babies hanging out in the little newborn bed beside them, but I refused to let go of her. She laid on me that whole first night, except for a brief time when a nurse named Stephanie, who I recognized from my high school and never realized was a complete angel, convinced me to let her take Sophie down the hall to the nurses’ station so I could sleep while they spent several hours holding her and loving on her, putting my frantic new mom mind completely at ease.
All my favorite things would live in the rooms of my mind:
- The smell of coffee and of baked desserts. The taste of homemade apple pie.
- Looking outside the front door at night and seeing the first snowflakes of the year drifting to the ground, when the world is so quiet it feels like you’re in a snow globe.
- A brilliant blue fall sky above leaves of brown and red and yellow, where you stand outside and there’s a slight chill in the air and the leaves are crunching under your feet, and for one brief moment, you feel so amazed and happy to be alive and existing that you almost can’t breathe.
- Christmas, with the old movies, and the sugar cookies, and decorations, and the smell of a real tree, and keeping the dream of Santa alive for one more year.
- Opening a book and reading the first few chapters and then ceasing to exist in your life until the book is complete.
- Looking at your children and feeling as though you would never have to be given anything else in this life because they exist and what more could someone ask for?
- Realizing that someone loves you for what you are and what you aren’t, the achievements you’re proud of and the thighs you hate, and that you don’t have to do anything other than exist for them to feel that way about you.
- A note from your best friend who you’ve known since high school letting you know she misses you and couldn’t imagine going through life without you in it.
- Things that make you laugh so hard your sides hurt and it’s hard to catch your breath.
All of these amazing things and more would live in me so I can appreciate every day what makes my life mine.
I would take my knowledge, and my curiosity, my doggedness when it comes to finding out information, facts, the truth. My want to improve and get better every day. A little bit of my naïve belief in the goodness in most things and people, but not enough for me to be taken advantage of. My fascination with weird and creepy things that is something I can’t explain but don’t want to let go of. My abilities: that I’m physically able, can quickly learn new things, can draw, paint, write and read. The way I soldier through even when I don’t want to. Even though I may leave the negative effects of some of my darker moments in that Leave-Behind box, I will take all of the lessons learned from those trying times because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to come as far as I have.
This is just the start of what I would take with me to my mind’s cottage by the sea. Just as in real life, this process is probably an ongoing one, for how do you take a lifetime of accumulated stuff and decide what stays and what goes? You do it piece by piece, of course. And if there is a habit, thought, belief, or emotion that is not serving you but you can’t seem to let go of yet, you can even give yourself permission to keep it, for now. Maybe set it up in the new space and see if it fits.
Maybe whatever negative thing it was seemed right for an imposing, drafty, elaborate castle. But in my seaside cottage, I might find I am finally able to let go, for good, because it just doesn’t belong anymore.
And that’s a choice I can make.
What would you choose?
Let me know what you think in the comments!