Winner: 2013’s Blog of the Year #7
The journey through our lives is comprised of individual steps. These individual moments are each distinct and unique aspects of the universe. But it’s important to note that we use our consciousness to string those individual steps together into what we call the journey of our life.
It’s important for us to remember that, like a record needle, we may hear a whole song, but we’re always only hearing the present moment of its expression. It’s also bit like the way we our brain lets us feel like we can see a whole dog, even when it’s running behind a picket fence and we know for a fact we can’t see it all at once. Our history leads our mind to fill in blanks and smooth off edges.
Likewise, what we call a ‘day’ is really a lot of time spend narrating to ourselves about a world we’re barely noticing because we’re so busy talking to ourselves. When we describe an issue in our life as being ‘big,’ or a historical impact as ‘having impact,’ what we really mean is that we think about those things more than any other issue.
By thinking ‘about’ it, that doesn’t just mean direct thoughts. The effects created by our thinking means the gravitational pull of strong belief can influence our thoughts about other things, like the way the look of a past bad date can spoil our open mind about a new date with someone who looks very similar. This is how old thoughts can travel with us and hue the future in unflattering and productive ways.
For example, to use a metaphor, the act not forgiving someone is like walking with a pebble in our shoe. Each step of our journey we re-remind ourselves that we have been hurt and that we are in pain, and we tend to blame who we really feel is at fault.
We attach the pain from the pebble to this other person without realizing it is us thinking those painful thoughts, not the other person. We control those thoughts. So why hurt ourselves?
These thoughts do damage in straightforward ways: painful thinking can lead to angry thoughts that can lead us to have a shorter temper with people in the present when it might be better for us to nurture their support rather than risk their ire.
But what do many of us do for long periods? Rather than stopping and removing a pebble from the shoe of our consciousness, we tend to continue on with self-supporting thoughts that justify us holding this other person or these other people responsible.
They may in fact be responsible, but our thoughts are irrelevant to that. We’re talking about our moment to moment experience of reality, not some proclamation for history about that reality.
With each step we take with the same unforgiving thought in our head, that pebble of thought digs in more and more, and we grow angrier and angrier at a person we may not even have seen for a decade. We’re emotionally hallucinating. That’s what we’re feeling. That’s the reality that counts.
So it also goes with love as well. If we look for our former lover’s face in every passing stranger, then that is the pebble in our shoe. If we constantly think about how we were wronged in the past by someone or some institution, then that is the pebble in our shoe.
On a grander, less personal scale, if we watch the world for the next impending disaster, then that is the pebble in our shoe. If we hate someone for teasing or abusing us, then that is the pebble in our shoe. If we focus on our spouse’s key faults rather than their key strengths, then those faults will be pebbles in our shoe.
We shouldn’t be upset by the pebbles themselves. They will have gotten into our shoes by nature. There’s no way to avoid them. Just the act of moving through life means we kick some of these up and every now and then one will make it inside the shoe of our conscious identity and eventually it will find its way to somewhere painful. It getting there is inevitable. But us continuing to walk on it once we’re aware, is a choice
When dealing with these pebbles, people will be self-critical and they’ll blame their pain on who they have become in life —on what shoes they chose to wear. Ad yet everyone walking the Earth will necessarily have shoes on, and there’s no way getting around the fact that sandals and dance shoes alike all kick up pebbles to be walked on. Solving these little ‘problems’ is what we do to live life.
It’s not like the pebble was looking for a foot to irritate. It was just laying there on our path of life and, due to all sorts of subtle aspects of our direction and speed and where we stepped, each pebble happened to be one of the ones that ended up in our shoe.
This unites us all. If it wasn’t the pebbles we have, it would be other pebbles instead. There’s no way to avoid that. So the real question is, what do we do when we become aware we have one?
That’s where the advantage of the pain comes in. The whole reason it hurts is because that is the universe communicating to us that we have a pebble of thought in the shoe of our identity. And that thought is rubbing our identity the wrong way.
As we grow wiser, that notification via pain will be used as an opportunity for us to stop what you’re doing, pause, and then consciously choose to look inside our shoe to see what is there. We need to take off our shoe and dump out the pebble. We must let go. That is the purpose of the pain. It’s a notification system regarding which thoughts are better left unproduced in future moments.
We need some acceptance. We all had to pick a personality; a style of shoe. Maybe we’re aggressive like an athletic shoe. Or maybe we’re open and free like a sandal. Maybe we’re pointed and sharp, like a business shoe. Or maybe we’re a casual shoe —something we can’t run in, but at least they’re easy and comfortable.
No matter what shoe-identity we’ve found ourselves in, they’re all susceptible to different kinds of pebbles. So we should not be surprised when a pebble ends up back in our shoe in the same painful place as before. Every foot and every shoe has places that these tend to collect.
No matter how many times they show up or when, the process for forgiving is always the same. We simply notice the pain, we stop walking, and we remove the pebble. Again, we need to notice our emotional pain, stop thinking about that subject, and replace those painful thoughts with something nicer. It’s that easy.
Once we get good at removing pebbles we start to see some patterns and principles around how they get in there. Eventually we learn to walk in ways that discourage a few of larger pebbles from getting into our lives. But we never stop them all, so we should not lament their existence.
These pebbles a better removed, but their existence is an integral part of the path we each walk on. It is these pebbles that actually comprise the terrain –the surface of the path of our life. Most times they carry our weight. But when they do get under your foot and generate an irritation —we should not start thinking that we’re on the wrong path. The wise person doesn’t change paths. A wise person just gets really good at pausing and removing pebbles.
We should not complain about our emotional pain. We should recognize its source as our own thinking and we should use its signals to help us to get conscious and be intentional about how we’re seeing the world. One thing is for sure, if we get good at letting thoughts go, then we will have minimized the amount of suffering we will do on our journey. And that makes for a beautiful walk through life.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.