Don’t you get tired of it? That constant blah blah blah about whatever it was? You know what I mean. That conversation you have. The one you have over and over and over and over and over. Maybe yours is about someone who betrayed you and what you would say to them if you could. Or maybe yours is you telling someone about the pain you felt regarding something they didn’t do. Or maybe yours is what you would say in court, or to the other person’s friends, or to your children, or parents. Or worse, maybe it’s what you wish you would or wouldn’t have said or done yourself.
It doesn’t matter what it’s about or who you plan to say it to, if it’s a conversation in your head it is your ego at work. Your spirit doesn’t need words. Only your ego needs to communicate by talking. Once you understand that fact you no longer use your words like legs to voluntarily walk to somewhere unpleasant. Just knowing you can walk is all you need. From there you naturally choose nicer environments.
Why is this important? Because you become your thoughts. So if you keep dwelling on negativity it will eat you from the inside. The Buddha said it twice: Anger is like throwing a hot stone. It is you who gets burned, and; Resentment is like drinking poison and thinking your enemy will die. If you engage in ugly thinking you will become an ugly person.
A woman contacted me about working together. She insisted it be by telephone because of what it regarded. She had done the worst thing in her life and the victim was someone she cared about deeply. She was so ashamed, so guilty, so confused by her actions that she was suicidal. I told her I had a lot of students who worked with me over the phone so that wasn’t a problem. We started her first session immediately and it was clear she was deeply distraught.
Imagine the middle-aged woman most women dream of being physically, intellectually and financially. She appears to have everything. Yet one of the most painful aspects of her life is that people respect and praise her constantly. She has enormous numbers of things to be very proud of but she feels thoroughly undeserving. She hates it when people call her lucky because she’s wealthy and has the attention of many handsome, wealthy men. She is lonely and she would trade her life in a moment. And now it had reached a new low.
She was sitting in a chair. A chair that had become a habit. Her success at work came at a price: she lost her husband to someone who actively cared for him. She didn’t mean to leave him out in the cold. She hadn’t even really noticed, even though in hindsight he had pretty much said as much on several occasions. She loved him, was hurt by his leaving and she could not believe how blind she had been. As he went on to be happier and happier, she attributed that to the fact that she had held him back. The problem was who she was. She couldn’t keep a good man. She remembered every criticism her mother had ever given her. And as she looked in the mirror at an aging reflection she told herself she would never get any man ever again. And these conversations cycled and combined and built into a torturous habit, along with that chair and a couple glasses of scotch. Then it got really bad.
One day she was doing what she’d done a hundred other nights, but the narratives were building upon one another. As she sat there with her beloved cat of 12 years on her lap, her internal conversation got so ugly, it was so mean and cruel and vicious that she sincerely believed no one would ever love her ever again. She felt a million miles away from anything. And that’s when the cat wanted down. But she was so lost. She just wanted it to sit there a bit longer. It tried to get off again. But she needed it. It was like the cat was the only thing holding her to her sanity. But the more she wanted it there, the more it wanted to go until finally the cat—who’d been with her for 12 years and had never, ever clawed her owner before—took a good swipe.
When she grabbed it and began to strangle it she wasn’t the least bit bothered by the cuts on her hand. She didn’t even notice they were there until much later. It wasn’t the cat’s defensive attack that bothered her. As she choked it she just kept crying and muttering, “why can’t you just love me?!” When it got to the point where the cat was in obvious visible distress, that fact stuck a stick in the spokes of her thoughts. Everything suddenly changed as she came to her senses and released the cat, which I’m happy to report is completely fine and still in love with its owner.
This is obviously a horrible story and it’s easy to see why she would feel suicidal. It would be easy to question your sanity if you hurt a helpless animal you had loved for years. But what proved her sanity was fine was that she called me the very next day because she was so upset. We can hardly say someone’s a bad person when they feel so terrible about their actions that feel they should die for them.
The simple fact is, it was a horrible act carried out by a desperate person. There’s nothing wrong with the person, but all of that cyclical negative thinking took her brain chemistry to a very dark, agonized and ultimately dangerous place. Do not practice going to dark places so much that you end up changing your entire personality. Because your personality is made of the thoughts you think most often.
I’m glad the woman didn’t kill herself. I’m glad her cat still loves and trusts her. And I love that she now knows that anyone is capable of horrible things if they think horrible thoughts. After what happened she now has the perfect motivation to think almost exclusively happy, grateful and generous thoughts. She never wants to go there again. And there is the value in the experience.
Just as her life got worse, yours can get better. You can make yourself ugly enough to hurt those you love dearly or you can make yourself so beautiful that you can impact everyone you meet in no time at all. The only question is, which person’s thoughts will you think?
Following a childhood accident should have left him dead, Scott McPherson spent his life meditating on thought, consciousness, reality and the self. Seeing the emotional damage done by ego-based overthinking he began dedicating a part of his life to guiding students toward more peaceful and rewarding lives. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, Canada.