I had an interesting conversation with a client recently – I’ll call him ‘Joe’. He is a really bright, accomplished man who has everything in the world going for him, except…
Like the rest of us, Joe has his spots that are sticky for him – covered with Velcro – you know, those places where everything sticks and hangs us up? Joe’s Velcro pretty much carpets the area of romantic relationships in his life. He can get very stuck in his thoughts about what a current partner thinks or doesn’t think about him as well as what that person’s actions might mean about him. The last few times I’d seen Joe, he felt upset and was suffering over a relationship. Joe was caught up in a lot of thinking about the relationship: Was it really good for him? Did the other person feel the same about him as he did about her? Why did he continue to put up with the inconsiderate behavior of the other person? Was he addicted to relationships? Was he codependent? How was this related to his unfulfilling relationship with his father? Should he hang around and see if the relationship would work or should he call it quits? Was he doomed to these kinds of mistimed relationships for the rest of his life? Was he the problem?
While the variables might differ (it might not be relationships for you but maybe it’s money or kids or work or sex or meaning or in-laws or, or, or…you get the idea) we can certainly recognize ourselves in the way Joe’s mind continues to spin and bubble. In telling the story of the relationship, Joe was attempting to find an answer. Trying to find an answer to a problem in our usual, habitual thinking is like trying to find your socks in the refrigerator. No matter how hard you look or how many containers you move, it isn’t very likely you’ll find them there.
The reality is that our thinking is usually a mess (more about this in another article!). Imagine that each thought is a tree in a forest. As we walk through the forest looking for the right trail, we keep bumping into more and more trees – after a while, they all begin to look the same. That is equally true for our own thinking. To paraphrase Einstein (badly), looking for a new understanding to an old problem amongst all of our old, habitual thinking – the very thinking that ‘produced’ the ‘problem’ in the first place – is almost always a losing proposition. That is exactly what Joe was doing. And, not only was Joe looking for a new tree amongst all of the ‘old growth’ he was also planting MORE trees and then wondering why he kept running into trees!
A thought occurred to me as I listened. I asked Joe what would happen if I stopped him in the middle of his work (it is very complex, exacting, and detailed) to ask him about this issue? He stopped for a moment and reflected and then said, “I would need to reboot. None of that thinking would be in my awareness at all and I wouldn’t be feeling upset. But, I know that once I started thinking about it, I would have to find where I left off in the story and then reboot and I would start feeling miserable again…Oh my God, this is all a story I’m telling myself and I’m suffering as a result of my own story!? I’m creating my own suffering with all of this!?” To say the light went on is an understatement. Joe had been feeling a good deal of anxiety and suddenly said, “It’s like the movie just ended and the lights have come on. I don’t feel any anxiety right now. It feels like it all just drained out of me!”
What is happening in us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year from cradle to grave is exactly what Joe realized in that moment. The principle of Thought comes to life via the principle of Consciousness. We mix the two and create our moment-to-moment experience of life. It’s what we’re all always doing – playing a movie in our mind and seeing it as real – that is the nature of the interplay of Thought and Consciousness. Seeing this can save us from a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Does this mean that Joe will never get caught up in his movie about relationships again? Not at all. We all get caught up at times. However, once we have realized it in real time, our natural wisdom takes over. We end up on a learning curve that takes us deeper and deeper into really seeing how our moment-to-moment experience is constructed, and though we might get hoodwinked by the movie now and then, we won’t stay fooled forever.