20 Aug Who’s that monster in your head?
Get ready for one of those platitudes you’ll probably hate:
WE ARE WHAT WE THINK ABOUT.
Annoying, right? It’s one of those Buddhist-y, Oprah-esque sayings spouted by people with hot tubs and enough time to sit around contemplating abstractions. You know, privileged people like me.
Most platitudes—i.e., every cloud has a silver lining, life is what you make it, forgive and forget—can feel like battering rams. If I’m not forgiving and forgetting I must be doing something wrong. They come with this idea that if I were a better, different, more evolved, more self-disciplined person then my life would be all bliss and sunshine.
This is, of course, not true. We are cultural creatures, influenced by our surroundings. If you are transgender in the deep south or a black woman on Wall Street or poor and uneducated anywhere, your circumstances matter. Prejudice, inequities and political mayhem are everywhere and their tentacles sting.
Last weekend, the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched in Charlottesville. The fury on their faces—captured in the glow of those horrible torches—was sickening. I watched that car careen into that crowd, propelling bodies through the air like rag dolls. And, there was Mr. Trump passing himself off as a reasonable guy as he shoveled salt into wounds he won’t even admit were there.
It was another bad week and I did what I tend to do—kept my eyes fixed on the carnage. Our brains are wired to watch for the monster in the bushes so, I watched MSNBC at every opportunity, listened to NPR in the car, figured out how to live stream CNN when I was stuck behind my computer working. I even filled my precious 50 minutes in therapy with Mr. Trump and his followers.
Then, I got conscious. I remembered what I know. I remembered the platitude and realized that, while annoying, it is also true. THE LIFE WE LIVE IS THE LIFE WE THINK ABOUT.
My brain is prime real estate and I allowed the media fury, the fear, the sadness—and yes, Mr. Gold Plated Real Estate Himself—to move in and put their feet up on my coffee table.
It’s time for eviction. Time for someone—something—kinder, gentler and more helpful to move in.
The hard (and wonderful) thing about life is that two, contradictory things can be true (and happening) at the same time. The storm of racism, anti-Semitism and white-supremacy is alive and well AND so is love, justice, kindness, understanding, compassion, gratitude, oneness…
The question is, where do I choose to focus my mind? Because wherever it goes, I follow.
What happens inside my head is mine to manage. In fact, what occupies my mind is the only thing I can control.
So, I write, filling myself with what I believe is helpful.
I hope I’m right. As I watch marchers in the streets, brave enough to face down ugly mobs, I worry that sitting at a computer, sipping Earl Grey tea, isn’t enough. Am I abdicating my responsibility? But then I think that that thinking may just be another monster in the bushes.
So, I turn away and back to what I know. Writing. It’s what I do. Today, anyway.
A scholarly look at mindfulness
If you’re interested in the idea of mindfulness—not wrapped up in pop-culture spirituality but viewed through the lens of hardcore cognitive psychology—check out this interview Krista Tippett conducted with Ellen Langer.
Ellen Langer is a social psychologist from Harvard who has been studying mindfulness—and mindlessness—since before it was hip. Krista Tippett has a wonderful podcast called “On Being”. Next time you notice that the marauding armies of politics and global mayhem are invading your brain, turn away and listen to “On Being”. It’s medicine that heals.