Don’t Bump Into the Furniture (#816)

The Oscar winning actor Spencer Tracy was once asked the secret of great film acting. His response? “Know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.”

While that may well have been completely tongue in cheek, it actually points to the secret of both success and happiness in life. In order to make sense of why that is, I’d like you to do a little exercise:

Think of at least three times where you were completely lost in thought and it had real-world consequences.

For example, many of us get lost in thought while driving, or on a bus or train. We daydream about the future, replay conversations in our head, and generally allow our brains to take us anywhere but where we are. Most of the time we get away with it, and the disappearance of the bus, train, or motorway from our consciousness has no real world impact. But have you ever missed your stop, or your exit, or lost sight of the bumper of the car in front of you?

Or perhaps you were at a party or business meeting and were so caught up in your thinking that when introductions were made, you totally missed everyone’s name and had to dance around it for the rest of the evening in hopes that the names would spontaneously come up again in conversation.

My own most embarrassing thought-full moment was years ago when I auditioned for a play in London. The scene called for a proposal of marriage, and I took off my wedding ring to use it as a prop. I was halfway back to the train station, running through everything that had been said at the audition to see if I could figure out how well or poorly I had done, when I realized I didn’t have my ring.

I rushed back to the theater, interrupting the next actor’s audition, and everyone from the director to the cleaner set about looking for my ring. Until the actress who I had “proposed” to said “what’s that on your hand?” To my horror, my wedding ring was right where it should have been – on the ring finger of my left hand. (Suffice it to say, I didn’t get the part, but I have always taken some small comfort in the fact that the actor whose audition I interrupted got cast in my stead.)

What are some of yours? Have you gone looking for your glasses only to find them perched on the top of your head? Or gone in to work or school only to find it was a Saturday? Ever tried to get in to the wrong car, or fix a broken piece of electronics only to find it wasn’t actually switched on or plugged in?

The reason everyone has at least a few of these stories in their arsenal is that we all spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about stuff. We think about what we had for dinner last night and what we’re going to have for lunch today. We think about what our partner really meant when they said “I love you” in a slightly distracted manner, and we think about whether we really meant it the last time we said it.

In fact, it’s become so normal to always have something (or even lots of things) on our mind that we’ve stopped noticing how unnatural it is. After all, we weren’t born with very much on our minds.  And it’s not coincidental that babies hardly ever need psychotherapy. But somewhere along the way, we learned to live a second life in our heads. And in so doing, we began to miss out on the incredible joy, insight, richness of experience and depth of feeling available to us in the first one.

That’s not to say that thinking is bad. The capacity for critical thinking plays an important role in the evolution of our society and the development of science, mathematics, philosophy, language, and more. But if you find yourself bumping into the furniture or getting upset about the way someone you will never meet has parked their car in a public car park, chances are your critical thinking has run amok.

In other words, thinking makes a great servant but a terrible master. And learning to master your thinking is as simple as understanding how the mind works at a deeper level.

Imagine the mind like a pipeline for fresh thought, flowing straight from the deeper intelligence behind life into our consciousness where we experience it as our personal reality. When the pipeline is open and things are flowing freely through it, our experience of life is fed by a gentle stream of new thoughts, insights, and creative ideas. When the pipeline is closed or clogged up with our own regurgitated thinking, we experience an endless rehash of what is already stuck inside it.

At first, new ideas and experiences will still get through. After all, the river of insights flows powerfully from its source. But before we know it, our experience of life will become an endless rehash of our own regurgitated thinking, and we will start to experience boredom, irritation, and a sense of futility and emptiness.

If we don’t understand that all that is happening is we’ve gotten lost in a world of our own thinking, the temptation is strong to “fix” our experience by going out and creating our own best imitations of love and happiness and fulfillment. If we do understand, then we know that within moments of allowing our minds to empty and our thoughts to settle, we will once again feel the flow of the deeper river of life.

So why is “know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture” such great advice for life?

Because when we “know our lines” – that is, we understand that our connection to the deeper intelligence behind the mind is continually authoring the best possible script for our lives – we relax into the moment and never have to worry about what we will do or say next.  And the less we have on our minds, the less likely we are to absent-mindedly bump into the furniture of our circumstances and the more successful we will be.

Consider taking the rest of today off from your own thinking. Let go of all your concerns and cares for a few hours and see what comes in to fill the empty space. Worst case, you’ll have a pleasant day with less background noise than you are used to. Best case, you’ll get an insight into the kind of a life we were all designed to live.

Have fun, learn heaps, and enjoy

With all my love,

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