There’s an old Martin Mull comedy song I’ve always loved called They Never Met, which tells the story of a couple who would have been perfect for each other but for the fact that, as the title says, they never met – not even briefly, because she worked the day shift and he worked the night.
A couple of things didn’t happen last week which made me think of that song and its implications for what I sometimes call “invisible impact”. The first was an encounter I had while waiting in line for a bulletproof coffee at my local Whole Foods. They’re notoriously slow, and I arrived heartened to see only one person in line ahead of me. About three minutes in to my wait, a large man I hadn’t noticed standing behind me said quite forcefully, “I’m in line!”
I turned to ask him if he’d been there before me, and he growled that he had. While I certainly hadn’t seen him when I arrived, for whatever reason I didn’t think anything of it and continued waiting, scrolling through my phone without giving up my place in line.
Five minutes later I was finally called forward but turned instead to the man behind me and invited him to take my place. He looked genuinely surprised, as though he had been rehearsing what to do about my predicted breach in coffee queue etiquette and none of his imaginary scenarios had included me offering up my place. He shook his head, smiled, and said “That’s OK – you go ahead.”
A few days later I drove into the back of a pickup truck at about 2 miles an hour during rush hour in stop and go traffic near our house. I couldn’t see any damage, but he put his blinkers on and pulled into a nearby parking lot so I followed him in and parked next to him. He came out of his truck, rolling up his sleeves as though preparing for a fight, but for whatever reason I didn’t have a reaction other than to say that his car looked OK to me but he should have a look for himself.
As with the man in line for coffee, he seemed surprised by my non-reaction and then looked at his car, which was completely untouched. His face then turned to one of concern and he asked “Is your car ok?”, insisting that we go round and check out my front grill. He pointed out a tiny scratch and said with genuine sympathy “Wow, that sucks.” I assured him it was fine and he thanked me, waving as he climbed back into his truck and drove off.
There were two things that struck me about both of those “non-incidents”. The first was that I hadn’t deliberately chosen not to react to their anger in either case. No reactive thoughts came up and got traction in my brain, so I didn’t react emotionally or physically. If they had, I’m sure I would have.The second thing I began to wonder about was how much of my life might be filled with unnoticed examples of the invisible impact of a deeper understanding of the nature of thought.
Thought is the fabric out of which our experience of life is woven. As the enlightened Scottish mystic Syd Banks wrote, “Thought is not reality; yet It is through Thought that our realities are created.”
To the extent that I notice the link between thought and my personal experience, I cease to be a victim of my own whims and moods. In the same way that a mirror doesn’t worry about what it’s reflecting in any given moment, the thoughts and feelings that pass through my mind and body are not something I need to worry about. They will come and go of their own accord if I let them.
Yet because thought is mostly invisible to us, we don’t notice it creating our reality before it starts thinking about our very real seeming problems. As the physicist David Bohm once said:
Thought creates our world and then says ‘I didn’t do it!’
It’s easy to see the impact of this understanding when we find ourselves experiencing more positive feelings and experiences as a result of our insights. But I suspect the vast majority of the impact of this seeing is as invisible to us as thought itself.
Here’s how I wrote about it in The Inside-Out Revolution:
This was by no means the first time I’d seen someone’s world shift in a single session. When it first started happening, I went to my coach at the time, Sandy Krot, and asked her if she could explain how problems that seemed ingrained and intractable could resolve themselves in a matter of minutes.
She simply said, ‘Because they were never really there in the first place.’
She went on to share a story about a client of George Pransky’s who got upset with him for implying that his problems weren’t real.
‘Are you trying to tell me,’ the client said, ‘that none of what I’m feeling is real?’
‘The feelings are real,’ George responded, ‘but the way you’re seeing your life isn’t. It’s just a trick of the mind, like a mirage.’
‘So you’re saying,’ the client continued, ‘that I’m feeling all of this stress and pressure because of a mirage?’
George reflected for a moment.
‘Well,’ he replied, ‘it’s a real mirage.’
How many marriages have not ended because at some level one or both partners recognized that at some level, they were living in the feeling of their thinking and not the feeling of their marriage – that despite how real it all felt in the moment, this too would pass?
How many jobs have not been left and noses not been punched? How many bad decisions not been made?
While it’s impossible to calculate, it’s fun to contemplate. And in that contemplation, you might find yourself in awe at both the invisible power of thought and the invisible impact of seeing even a tiny glimpse of it from time to time.
With all my love,