I am participating in the #iamsubject project led by Diane DeBella author of I Am Subject: Telling Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves. Here is my #iamsubject story:
I am not my thinking
by Tess Bartlett
My mind is a whirlwind, forever tripping and sliding. Spinning and confused I tumble and fall and fight my way through the spiraling and billowing dust. Questions, and answers, and questions. This constant barrage of unanswerable questions, only finds me lost in the grey and blurry abyss.
As a child I found the world and its inhabitants strangely perplexing and as a means of escape, I discovered the art of daydreaming. It swept me into its depths, taking me on adventures that were exciting and new. I would happily sit for hours on end gazing at nothing, until my eyes glazed over and my mind reached that far off pinnacle of “anywhere but here” and I was free.
Occasionally, I would wake in the early hours of the morning and snuggle down under my duvet with my soft toys and my thoughts. I would doze, and think, for hours. It was comforting to be lost in those thoughts, going over past events and imagining future scenarios. This was a pleasant experience and my thoughts were like a pal who was happy to be along for the ride. Oh how the tides have turned.
All this thinking practice over the years has turned me into an adult proficient in the ‘what ifs.’ The Dalai Lama (VIX) said the following about worry: “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” While I know this to be true, it seems that my thinking does not. Of its own volition it works through each of my created ‘problems’ – planning, commenting, judging, imagining and reliving – and the whirlwind just grows, gathering leaves and dust and becoming heavier and heavier with each waking moment.
The insanity of it all becomes undeniably clear when I notice I have advanced from worrying about myself and my own life to worrying about other people and how they are living theirs. Picture this: You place your head softly on your feather pillow and pull the covers up around your chin as your loved one nestles in beside you. There is not a sound to be heard. Nothing, that is, apart from the damn committee that has taken up residence and is merrily yabbering away despite your best efforts. You start off thinking about yourself (I mean, who doesn’t?) and because night time seems the only acceptable time to conjure up all the meaningless thoughts you never bothered to have during the day you begin to play these out as if they are the most important events OF ALL TIME. From there you begin to worry about the people around you. You start thinking about their lives, their jobs and health, what they eat for breakfast, whether they sleep at night and you begin to think that there is something deeply disturbing happening out there in the cosmos and it is you that must solve it. You have taken it upon yourself to worry about absolutely everything, in the vain hope that if you could just manipulate their thought patterns and solve their problems (which they are potentially not even aware of) you will be in a position to save each and every being in existence from life as we know it. Or is it death as we know it? This, is insanity.
Yet this is where my thinking had taken me and so out of sheer desperation I took on the suggestions of others and started practicing mindfulness meditation. On a small island off the south coast of Thailand, armed with a ten minute guided meditation I had downloaded by an inspirational mindfulness teacher Tara Brach, I began to sit, and to be still. Her gentle way of approaching meditation and stillness was exactly what I needed, as initially I found sitting, even for just two minutes, to be torture. When your mind goes so fast that you find yourself running around like a headless chook just to keep up, sitting in one position with only you and your thinking is somewhat confronting. It is also incredibly brave as in my case it meant sitting with those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts I have been running from my whole life. A yogi I met in Thailand told me that if I quieten the body, the mind will follow. This was a revelation and something which I have held onto ever since. I have a mind that likes to tick tock tick tock even when I’m sleeping so anything that is going to bring me relief from that is a good thing.
It wasn’t until working in a busy café about a year later that I noticed something different. As I stood there amidst the noise and chaos I became acutely aware that brimming away below the surface was a feeling of intense and utter rage. It was such a foreign feeling that at first I wasn’t even sure it was there. What was different about this scenario was that I noticed the feeling as a feeling and not as my thoughts. I became aware of the rage boiling inside me and equally aware of my thoughts spinning round in my head. The stories, that involved expletives I don’t intend to share, were egging on the rage and the rage was egging on the stories. In the midst of all this was me! Present and aware of both of these things co-occurring. It was a light bulb moment. It was the first time I had become aware of feelings as being separate from me and my true self. Given I have spent my whole life in a state of anxiety, without even knowing it, this was quite the revelation. This awareness was the beginning of separating me from my thinking and is something that has ultimately changed my life. It was like a switch had been flicked that allowed me to separate myself – the true part of me that was associated with identity, love, connection and presence – from my thinking and feeling. Slowly I began to notice how influential my thinking had been my entire life in how I reacted in any given situation,
The beauty of mindfulness practice means that even if my thinking is, on the whole, geared towards doom and gloom I am now more aware of these thoughts. I also don’t have to associate how I’m feeling with the committee upstairs and for someone so accustomed to giving way too much power to that committee, this is no short of a miracle. I still daydream. Nowadays, however, my dreaming tends to take on a different form with aspirations and goals. I can still find myself drifting off into pixie land pretty regularly, but I know that right here, when I am not lost in mindless negative thinking, I am safe. Simply by pausing, and being still, I get freedom.
The #iamsubject project is a project to raise awareness of the need for girls and women to be subject of our own lives. It is led by US Author Diane DeBella during her sponsorship with Women Writers, Women Books April – May 2014. Please share this with a friend. Read I Am Subject.