Thoughts That Don’t Stick
This happened on Friday 5 July 2019. The date and the time are very clear to me, because the thoughts were so big and so vivid that I felt sure it would be one of those unforgettable moments in my life.
So much certainty, in that moment. These were big thoughts.
For context, I am someone who has spent most of my adult life really committed to my thoughts and swimming around in my head-soup on a daily basis. I love to think. I can easily overthink. I can dedicate huge lengths of time to thinking (and less time to acting on them) and I can entertain some fairly fantastical ideas and concepts up in my clever head.
More recently I have become curious about where our thoughts come from, what’s behind them and how we might re-frame thinking as an entirely less symbolic endeavour. It’s really taken the ‘fun’ out of overthinking (which is a bit of a loss some days) and helped me feel a lot calmer in my head-soup. It’s also led to far greater clarity and pragmatism in my life. Since early 2018, I’ve been a curious student of the Three Principles of mind, thought and consciousness and I’ve used my own learnings and experiences with coaching clients ever since.
So when I had the 5am thoughts on 5 July I was a struck by their vivid nature and how they had woken me from my sleep. This seemed to be a ‘sign’. This definitely happens less than it used to – so I paid attention! I took these thoughts and I looked at them with curiosity.
‘Where on Earth did you come from?’
‘Why did you appear in my head today?’
‘What do you want me to do with you now?’
The thoughts were bold and provocative and they were suggesting a radically different professional path for the rest of 2019. I had the thought that maybe I should run as a candidate in the local body elections and try to get elected as a Hamilton City Councillor. For those that know me, it will be clear that this thought arrested my attention quite sharply as I have openly stated that I am not ‘up for’ a political role. I’m not up for it, and yet, I’m also a botherer and it’s not too far-fetched to imagine it on my CV…
I took my thought seedling and I shared it with some trusted friends. They seemed to like my little seedling, they encouraged me. My seedling grew in my head. Within 12 hours I had a campaign plan pretty well-formed in my head and my head-soup was busily imagining the future – the highs and lows of life in public office and how I would manage this new reality (which was not reality at all).
The thinking slowed down over the weekend and I let it sit.
The thinking didn’t go away, but I quietened down. The boldness was fading.
Monday rolled around and I shared my thought seedling with one more friend and I could hear the change in my voice. I researched and read up on the parameters of this wild idea. I found a detail that needed investigation and I made a phone call to find out more from the Electoral Officer. The thought remained and it still looked pretty vivid and bold. I was taking tiny actions based on this thought. I wondered when I would go out there with this thought and tell more of the world. I was terrified in a heady and electric way.
Three days after the 5am big thoughts the world shifted in a profound way and I was jolted from my delicious, indulgent head-soup into the role of supporter and listener for someone in immediate need. My husband came home on Monday afternoon having had an exceptionally difficult day of work as a firefighter. We talked until late, he had so much to sift through and process. My thought seedling was a mirage, not really there at all. As I came fully into the present moment and sat with him and held his emotions gently, that thought seedling disappeared like smoke. It was never really there at all, I realised. I sure had nurtured that thought, I’d poured love and belief on it. That thought got a lot of my attention and it began to take on a form that sure looked real to me. But it wasn’t really there at all – in a new moment, it just disappeared.
I woke up today, four days after such vivid thoughts, and I realised that I now have a second thought that completely contradicts the first one. No campaign on the horizon, a complete 180 on the confidence I had felt about running for Council. Those 5am thoughts have run out of puff and I am left with smoke and dust.
I texted the friends who had met my seedling. I let them know it had disappeared and that I’d had a new insight about family, who I need to be and where I can make a difference. Am I frustrated, annoyed or embarrassed by the thought u-turn? No.
Here’s what happened. I had a thought on 5 July. It was vivid and it looked so real. I made it more real and I let that thought set roots in my head-garden. I had an absence of thought on 8 July and I sat with my husband as he let his own thoughts slosh around and spill all over the table. I had a new thought on 9 July and it pointed to something simple and obvious.
Thoughts are not made of anything real and I do not need to act on them.
Thoughts are made of smoke and dust. Sometimes they look very real and sometimes they provide amazing insights and clarity. If I choose, I can take my thoughts and head off into action land. If I wait just a little bit and slow down, I might see that these thoughts are not asking me to do anything at all. I return to centre and I am free to choose. I am reminded that I am something else behind those smoky thoughts, something that is whole and safe and always OK.
Incidentally, this understanding of thought would be a wonderful gift to take into the cut and thrust of public life. So maybe one day I will run for Council. But not right now.
If you would like to read more about thoughts and why you shouldn’t be scared of them, I recommend this blog. Sometimes we have big thoughts that can seem overwhelming, dark or worrying. Sometimes we can take on the thoughts we think other people are having about us. Recently a friend of mine was working her way through some friendship issues. She and I were exchanging a few messages where I was gently pointing to her resilience and her ‘OK-ness’. She came back a while later and said that she was thinking about it in a new way. She said, ‘I am a non-stick frypan and I imagine all the thoughts sliding off me.’ which is a nice way to see it. We are the thing beyond our thoughts, we are something that ‘stuff’ can’t stick to.
Thoughts glide over the surface of who we really are. There’s nothing sticky about thoughts. But they can be quite fun at 5am, even if they don’t last…