Overwhelmed with Overthinking

1364 Relax and Succeed - We can learn to passively witness our thoughts

At their healthiest, second thoughts are like quality control. It is wise for us to question what preconceptions or mistakes might make our plans impossible before we even start. But like anything in life, a good idea taken too far is a bad idea.

Doing pro and con lists, running things by friends or giving an evening or two to really consider a big decision is reasonable and healthy. That is using our mind as a tool. It is our servant. But today many people are driven to bouts of extreme anxiety from their habit of over-analyzing their decisions. That is making our mind our master.

Anxiety is hard on the body. That’s a lot of cortisol we request when stress over decisions. Half the time the ‘bad’ decisions might end up costing us less than the worrying over which ones are the ‘good’ ones.

Billions of details come to us all day long. There is no way of seeing all of the angles all of the time, that’s like having God-consciousness. That is not something our little minds could even hope to comprehend because even ‘God’ would need the entire universe to do it.

There are simply things we cannot know, and life will include us making choices we may later think to regret. There is nothing wrong with learning from a mistake, but we need not ruminate obsessively on it.

Our egos are like bad bosses. They make demands that exist outside of the bounds of our personal reality, as though that doesn’t matter. The boss –our ego– shoots criticism at us when we feel overwhelmed, and yet the criticism itself is half of what’s overwhelming us.

Doing that is like an ego stirring itself into a frenzy. We’ve must slow that brain-whirl down. That’s most of what I do with students. Their wisdom exists –they just can’t reach it for all the swirling thinking.

Many people are familiar with the scene made famous by the brilliant comedienne Lucille Ball, wherein she attempts to keep up her role as a wrapper at a candy company. As you can see, the hilarity comes from watching her and Vivian being tortured by the fact that the assembly line is just too fast.

Our thoughts are like Lucy’s candies, and our egos are like her boss. If we don’t manage the expectations of our egos we will logically be overwhelmed. That state of mind isn’t a failure, it’s a product of our previous choices. If we try to deal with everything our ego says we will be overwhelmed. It’s the request that’s sick, not us.

As with our thoughts, in life we just need to let some chocolates fly on by. It takes some time before the ‘bossy one’ figures out there’s not much point in sending more, but that doesn’t matter if we know how to watch the others go by and only grab only the ones that nourish our lives.

peace. s

Devices of Judgment

1359 Relax and Succeed - Thoughts are a good servant but a bad master

Our world was shaped by thoughts. Those thoughts get codified into social codes or guides or laws or through things like school grades, or peer pressure built around the concepts of popularity or acceptability.

Some of these devices are tangible things like step counters or gym weights or weigh scales. The pressure we feel in life is us trying to fit our natural shape into the predetermined forms these tools or ideas create.

The outcomes are somewhat predictable. Every code gets applied to every person equally, even though some people may never be athletic no matter how hard they try, and others may struggle academically in ways that do not reduce their value as a human being at all. But all of us will be judged by many people –most notable ourselves– for not being many things, as though we were supposed to have been them all.

The only way to escape is to be so far removed from those ‘tests’ that we get a free sympathy pass from society because we have one huge natural judgement running against us, like childhood cancer or deformities or severe mental challenges.

Some are seen to be so obviously struggling with what is obviously a heavier load that it’s a more definitive signal that knocks us out of our personal thinking. That jolt to our awareness ignites our compassion by so strongly exposing our good fortune.

That is a beautiful thing to do for others, and that is why people in those situations should be seen more like spiritual teachers in society. They elicit an essentially universal reaction that does expose our natural tendency as humans, which is decency, while also making us grateful, which is spiritually healthy. They’re monks in wheelchairs and in canes.

Where we can benefit from increased awareness is to realize that while some people have their suffering jammed into a generally narrower set of experiences, (like those of a severe autistic, or someone who is born without any limbs), others are also suffering badly, but with more general things like their weight, or their income, or the acceptability of their personality.

Because those feel like the problems of more common, so-called ‘normal’ people, we often don’t realize that those issues and people would also benefit from our awareness and decency. Smaller issues –even presumed– can pile up to the point where they can cripple our lives.

1359 Relax and Succeed - This scale does not

If we count steps or weigh ourselves for our health, it’s not to hit some numerical target. The point is to feel good and have a doctor feel that the weight –whatever it is– is in a range that respects our unique bodies. A healthy heart should be about getting more time with loved ones, not meeting the doctor’s target. We must love ourselves, not try to be someone for others.

Too many times something like a calorie app or a weigh scale are not simply weighing things in the physical world. Instead, they are drawing some abstract chalk outline onto the world and then asking us to fill it. It’s crazy. We weren’t supposed to become what an app said because the person who wrote it never met us. Nor the person who built the weight scale, and just because a hairstyle is popular does not mean it looks or feels good on us.

We suffer when others have generalized the individual us. And when we do that to ourselves as well, all we’re doing is using an abstract cultural whip to beat ourselves. It’s the opposite of spiritual awareness.

Can we really imagine someone going to the Buddha, or Moses or Jesus or Mohammad and having them tell the person their soul will find nirvana when they lose some weight? Or get a better haircut? Or a job that’s more respectable? Would Jesus tell us that we can give up now, because we were born gay, or in the wrong country, so nothing we could ever do could make us worthwhile?

It’s hard to imagine the Buddha saying, “Sara, you will find enlightenment but you must get your Thursday Tinder date to like you or your life will be an unhappy disappointment.”

Deep down you already know this is true. The people that love us don’t need us to be any particular way. Not a shape, or age, and they love the person that lived our experiences, even if they don’t always like some aspects of the personality that grew out of those experiences. They love the soul at our center –the being living all of that life. We should all love that person too.

What others think are merely individual experiences they are having inside their own heads. Those judgments don’t impact us at all if we don’t start thinking them in our heads.

If we saw a loved one beating themselves up terribly over their weight it would be heartbreaking because we would all know they are so much more than that dumb number. And that impulse is beautiful and natural. But enlightenment really comes when we learn to direct that compassion toward ourselves. Because only then will we free ourselves from the suffering we generate when we use our devices of judgment.

peace. s

The Lesson in Envy

1358 Relax and Succeed - The most outrageous act is still

Envy. We can use that. It just goes to show that –if viewed in a productive way– anything in life can be helpful.

In life it does us little good to forget about the value of the tribe we all need around us, but at the same time we must be somewhat selfish about wanting a full and interesting life for ourselves. We just can’t expect that life to exist without prices being involved.

That choice to take a productive (read: healthily selfish) perspective is the key. And a healthy balance must be perpetually sought. This is why psycho-spiritual work is an ongoing practice and not simply an achievement.

We can start by remembering that everyone’s genetics and life experiences leads them to be a unique human being with all kinds of different skills or abilities or lacks thereof. But because there are only so many kinds of feelings we can have through our life  experiences, human beings end up falling into broad groups that people have tried to approximate by creating things like the enneagram, or the Myers–Briggs test.

We’re all largely aware of all of these categories just be living life, but just knowing those doesn’t make us healthy. But we can learn a great deal by paying enough daily, very present attention as to how the category we are in shapes the decisions we make and the subsequent challenges we face.

For example, in school, the subdued, innocuous ‘average’ students are saved from from both the pressure of top grades and the sort of popularity than can make a bad hair day legendary. At the same time, without a strong and obvious natural drive in any particular direction, they can often live more desperately and with less focus. This leaves them often envying other’s dreams, hard work or talent.

The average kids will still have actual talents, but if they’re not as cool or as good as those of the most excellent kids, then the average kids are less likely to have the bold confidence to still feel their skills are meaningful. If someone asks them to play their guitar, they’ll say they “…don’t really play.”

Meanwhile, the excellent or popular kids are envious of the average kids who must only bear average expectations, which are often much more generalized. Get along, work hard, do your best. Those things are all wonderfully non-specific, where as “be at the top of the class,” or “make the team,” instantly becomes an intense competition with however many classmates got told the very same thing.

Within each group there are meek and often uncertain and apologetic personalities, as well as those that naturally possess a bold sort of confidence that doesn’t cripple itself with too much over-thinking. But because of that same confident quality, they are also the ones most likely to overstep.

Regardless of whether it’s an overstep or not, if a bold person’s actions feel just justified to those watching, more timid kids will admire and envy it when they see someone stick up for themselves. They will rarely meaningfully note the price that other person will pay for that confidence.

1358 Relax and Succeed - The Velveteen Rabbit

Envy goes every direction. As the bold kids know, the nail that stands out gets pounded down. The grass only looks greener on the various sides of the fence. Everyone pays a price.

This means the bold kids often wish they were simple followers who can either live in the bliss of ignorance or simply not care. Otherwise their fate is to be in conflict a lot more than they’d like. At the same time those iconoclastic kids can often resent those who fail to stand up for important causes, and envy can lead them to sometimes mistreat really happy, positive people who genuinely seem to love life.

We can presume that being happy and loving life is the peaceful zenith of this heap of personalities but it’s not. Even too much chocolate cake starts to get unhealthy after a while.

The problem with being seen as positive is that people start to rely on us to be their source of positivity and they can unwittingly get weirdly demanding about it. Then, when it’s the happy life-loving people that are down, others are often left in uncomfortable territory, uncertain of what to do. This can leave the happy person worse off in crisis than those we perceive as less resilient.

There are countless more examples featuring any type we can think of, but can we see how this flows around? How everyone has their own weight to carry? What we as egos all share is that we want what we don’t have because we all notice the gains others make with those qualities. We don’t look for people making gains with personalities like ours. Everyone thinks they have the wrong personality.

How we get healthy is by feeling fine as we are. From there the natural compulsions that are ours to experience make themselves known and our lives unfold accordingly. The other us is just a narrative, which is why no matter what kind of problem I’m working on with someone, I’m always focusing on showing them how to put their thinking into the proper context.

If we give up all of our thinking about what ‘bike we’d rather have,’ we can just start riding the us that we are. We can go all still go wonderful places on our bicycles of personality. We can use them to sight-see, or to stay in shape, or for joy with others, or even to race it, risk it, or even to make money with it. Each bike has its own paths to ride.

No one should be ashamed of their personality. We all benefit when anyone realizes and activates more of who they are. So rather than wish we had a different bicycle, we should quietly get on board and ride our bike to somewhere meaningful to us –because that is the freedom of self-respect and we all deserve to feel that.

peace. s