Adrienne: Two weeks ago, in an effort to help some of our listeners manage their mental health during the pandemic, our Wellness Columnist, Scott McPherson, did a quick lesson on “Intentional Attention.” That got a lot of interest, and the need still seems to be there, so today– he’s back with a new lesson. This one is about escaping our more anxious moments. Hi Scott.
Scott: Hello Adrienne.
Adrienne: Okay. So, the last time you were with us we talked about getting more intentional about where we were placing our attention. What are we discussing today?
Scott: This is another metaphor. It relates to that previous one in that it’s also about choice. But this one has more to do with how we manage the past and the future. When we’re anxious, that’s where we’re spending the most time. So a lot of people tend to find this piece of a larger metaphor is really useful for when they get hit with stress or anxiety.
Adrienne: Okay, where do we start?
Scott: First thing is: let’s picture the inside of a movie theatre. We have an unlimited budget, so we can imagine a really nice one. We just need the auditorium and the projection booth. Let’s start up in the booth. It’s dark now. But inside is what I’ll loosely call an ‘old fashioned’ movie projector, like from way back in the 90’s. The Projector represents our mind. When The Projectionist shows up and turns on the electricity, that lights up the bulb of our consciousness. That enables us to experience our thoughts, which are represented by the films themselves.
Adrienne: Who is the Projectionist?
Scott: For a spiritual person that’s their soul. And atheists can think of The Projectionist as the thinker of their thoughts. Either way, when the Projectionist arrives and turns on the power, that’s like being born. And we could say that the entire space –the auditorium and the booth– would represent ‘all that a person is.’
Adrienne: What happens when we start showing movies?
Scott: When the screen lights up, we wake up our ego. It’s sitting down in the auditorium. It was actually born there. It doesn’t know there’s an outside world. It doesn’t even know there’s a booth or a projector. When the ego looks at the screen, it assumes it’s seeing reality.
Adrienne: So– that “reality” includes the Projector, the Projectionist, the Power, the Light, and the thoughts, and the screen? And our ego experiences all of that as one, assembled reality?
Scott: Yes. Exactly.
Adrienne: So… what’s on the screen? Does our ego have a Netflix subscription?
Scott: No. But close. It has an app on its phone that it can use to order movies from one of three genres. We have documentaries from our past. We have dramatic period pieces. And we have flights of science fiction. So our ego can experience our past, an imagined past, or an imagined future. It just can’t get into the booth. And it only has those three categories to choose from. But in each of those categories, our ego can still order comedies or horrors or tear-jerkers. It all depends on what our ego wants.
Adrienne: But if we’re feeling anxious, isn’t this metaphor saying we’re feeling that way because we want to? That we used the app to order the scary movie?
Scott: Yes, and that’s actually the crux of it. That’s where most people make their mistake. And it’s why the theatre metaphor works so well. It helps them to recognize the power they have.
Adrienne: Which is?
Scott: They start off thinking they are their ego, down in the theatre, ordering and watching movies from one of the three categories. But they forget the entire theatre is what they really are. So they forget about the booth, and The Projectionist. If The Projectionist is asleep, they’ll play whatever thought the ego asks for. That’s what it is to live unconsciously. And that’s why people are often so repetitive in their thinking. But, if we become more conscious, we can spend more time in the booth and less in the theatre. We can still experience the movies from the booth. But up there we’re constantly reminded that it’s all just thoughts, spinning through the projector, being beamed by our consciousness, onto the screen of our ego’s reality. It creates some detachment. But if we’re down in the theatre, and our ego requests sad thoughts about some painful event in our past, then our unconscious self will load the film and we will re-live the pain of that past experience. We can even do some editing and we can make our histories even worse. The people who regularly feel anxious guilt and regret are watching movies from their past. And worried and fearful people make themselves anxious with sci-fi fantasies about their future. Fortunately, we can use those reactions to help tune our responses.
Adrienne: So you’re saying, if we can take responsibility for loading that painful film in the first place, then we’re sort of, reminding ourselves that we have the ability to change to something better?
Scott: Yes. Exactly. We have to recognize that The Projector is like our brain. Without the electricity that creates life, it can’t become our Mind. If we have that electricity, our Mind can illuminate the light of our Consciousness. And what that light shows is our thoughts –the films. So if we chose a story-line that is making us anxious, we just have to remember that we chose it. And that we can choose something different. If we feel powerless to our thoughts, it’s like being on the receiving end, down in the theatre. But the theatre metaphor helps to remind people to keep in touch with their ability to choose.
Adrienne: So in the Theatre of our Mind, our mental health has a lot to do with what sort of movies we habitually replay or imagine?
Scott: If we watch horrors, we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up scared. Sad films will make us cry. And if we watch films that fill us with a sense of injustice and a desire for vengeance, then we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up as an angry person. We’re all going to spend time in the past or future. But we don’t have to use that time to only think about upsetting things. We also have nice memories. And we can also imagine good things. So, when we’re caught up in something, we just need to remind ourselves to change to a different reel of film. And once we get good at that —which makes a huge difference– there’s a whole other part of the metaphor about how we can even change the role of The Projectionist. But for now hopefully folks find this helpful and we can save that for a future column.
Adrienne: All right then. Thanks very much for that Scott.
Scott: You’re very welcome.
Adrienne: Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness in Edmonton. Find him at relaxandsucceed.com, and Twitter and Facebook.
For those who may be unaware of it, I regularly have the pleasure of discussing mindfulness practices with Adrienne Pan, the co-host of Radio Active on CBC Radio One.
You can listen via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca.
We’re normally on Tuesdays, at 5:20pm, although you can watch the Twitter feed for updates on any last minute changes. I’ll also update the time on facebook if there are any changes.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to this post, after its airing.
Due to ongoing reports of people struggling, and the strong response to the last column, this week Adrienne and I will discuss another strategy that can help us escape a spin of negative, anxious thinking.
Consider checking us out. If you’ve never heard the CBC Radio Active show before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. They have a great team.
Take care everyone.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.