What Do I Do if my Problem is Real?

A couple of week’s back, I shared a passage from The Space Within about a client I had worked with who was obsessed with death. In response to that blog, I got this email from a reader:


Michael,

Thanks so much for sharing the excerpt…  What a story, it gave me goosebumps it was so good.  The story works well since he is having fearful thoughts that are not based in reality.  I would think that it would be harder and in some ways easier to apply when you’ve got real reason to think you’re dying.

My wife is diagnosed with a rare cancer that, if untreated, gives her months to live. She is a long time meditator, and has been sitting for hours a day in light of the recent news. Is it your opinion that the advice below holds in her case?  To answer my own question, the point of resonance for your message is that it’s ‘truth’ – cutting through the illusion and stories that we’ve told ourselves. So, it may not make it easier for her, but it surely gives a different, and deeper, perspective. For me, I find peace in that.

Do you have thoughts on this?


Here is an excerpt from my reply:

There’s nothing I can say that I suspect would be more useful than a big hug to you both, but yes, seeing through to the truth is the ultimate path to peace, regardless of circumstances. No thought is really based in reality; reality is based in thought.

He was appreciative of my response and asked if I could say more about that final sentence:

No thought is really based in reality; reality is based in thought.

To better explain what I mean, here’s a passage from chapter two of the book, entitled “Thought is not What You Think”:

What throws us – and it happens again and again and again – is that we think only some of our experience is made of Thought while the rest of our experience is ‘real.’

Let’s say I worry about my health:

Health_Thought

I’m aware that all those little t’ s are made of thought, and they drive me crazy. They keep me awake at night. So I try to fix that thinking, and be more positive, and stop myself from worrying. Or I try and think less about it, or not to think about it at all. But what gets missed in all of that activity is that the thing itself – my ‘health’ – is made of Thought too.

Imagine an iceberg. It doesn’t look as though it could possibly be made of the same stuff as the water it’s rising out of, but it is. And the sky that surrounds it certainly doesn’t look as though it’s made up of the same stuff as the iceberg and the water, but fundamentally it is.

So even though our reality, which is to say our moment by moment experience of life, is made of Thought, controlling our thinking isn’t really a viable way of addressing it. Which begs the question of what to do when our thoughts look like reality and ‘reality’ is looking pretty damn bleak.  We can address the physical form of our illness (or work situation or bank balance) with physical action, but what about the stress and anxiety we often feel alongside it?

Here’s how I address the question over the rest of that chapter:

When people begin to see that but for their thinking, they would never experience pressure or stress and would consistently experience themselves as perfect and whole, it’s not uncommon for them to get annoyed by the fact that they think. They start to think of Thought as the enemy, and, like swatting mosquitos on a hot summer’s day, use distraction and/or meditation to gain relief from the universal affliction of ‘too much noise in the head.’

But while a quiet mind is certainly a worthy goal, trying to eliminate thinking is a pretty terrible strategy for achieving it. The more we try not to think, the more persistent and powerful our thoughts appear to be. Before long we’re booking on the ‘advanced meditation program’ and/or ordering the family-size glass of wine. The harder we work to get rid of our thinking, the more thinking there is to get rid of. Even if we’re successful from time to time, the energy of Thought keeps generating new thinking, and at some point we realize we’re fighting a losing battle.

If instead of trying to stop our thinking we sit back, relax, and really reflect on the transient nature of Thought, we begin to see the infinite forms it can take and the constant Mind inside which the game of life plays itself out. Our thinking begins to appear no more (or less) than a series of fluctuations in energy and form, like clouds in the sky, particles in a physics lab, or shadows in a playground. And because we recognize that every shadow is just a side effect of light, we are extremely unlikely to spend much time studying their patterns, reading meaning into their presence or absence, or trying to avoid the ‘bad’ shadows or create more ‘good’ ones.

In fact, when our thoughts appear to us as ephemeral as the clouds in the sky, we can appreciate their beauty without worrying about what form they happen to be taking. In the same way that a cloud shaped like a lion is no more dangerous to us than a cloud shaped like a teddy bear, a thought about all the terrible things that might happen has no more power in and of itself than a thought about who’s going to win the lottery or how many jelly beans are in the jar at the fair.

Of course, from time to time a particularly horrific-looking cloud might catch our eye and we’ll get lost in our fear of the storm we’re sure it will unleash. But the moment we remember that we are not our thinking, we are the space where thoughts arise, we can experience the storm with the awe of an arctic explorer seeing the aurora borealis, with the delight of a sailor watching the liquid dance of St. Elmo’s fire, or with the impartiality of the sky. When the storm has run its course, we’ll continue on our way, unaffected by the content of our thinking but deeply touched by the gift of Thought, the Consciousness that allows us to experience it, and the ever-present Mind inside which life continues to unfold.

If this all feels like too much to think about, consider this:

 

  • You are already perfect, whole, and mentally healthy exactly as you are.
  • You are always capable of convincing yourself otherwise.

We need not be crushed by life’s travails; they are a part of what bonds us together in the family of man. “Life”, as the writer Syd Banks was fond of saying, “is a contact sport.” So while I am hopeful that this loving couple are able to find some comfort in my words, I’m equally hopeful that they’ll find something beautiful that is already there within themselves. Underneath the noise of our always thinking is the ever-present quiet of the deeper Mind.

As it said in my favorite fortune cookie ever:

There is chaos under the heavens
and the situation is excellent.

With all my love,
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