I think a lot.
It’s usually what I do first when I’m in difficulty, frightened, or unsure.
Think think think think think.
But I’m discovering that so much of my thinking isn’t really thinking at all. At least, not the kind of thinking that can be trusted for its accuracy, or its insightfulness.
Here’s how it goes:
First, a feeling – often fear, perhaps shame.
Next, a thought. A whole stream of thoughts. And I’m testing each one, checking it out. Does it reduce or remove the feeling? Explain it away?
If it does, I can stop thinking for a while. I can rest. If not, I’ll need to carry on thinking, producing new explanations in the hope that something will help.
Thought after thought after thought.
Pretty quickly, the thoughts come to resemble one another. The list of thoughts that would save me becomes more like a chaotic cycle, repeating and repeating, round and around. Each one being tested not for its accuracy, or its explanatory power, but for its ability to settle what I’m feeling.
And even if I do settle on a thought that lessens the discomfort, pretty soon I’ve thought of a reason why that thought is incomplete and the feeling is back.
Round and around, turning and turning.
I can spend hours this way. And even minutes spent like this take me away from what’s happening right here – in my own body, in the world around me, in my relationship with others.
This is thinking as a spectacularly effective defence.
And a way of escaping the world.
My mistake is not just that I trust this chaotic thinking, but that I assume thinking will always save me. I’m misusing a familiar strength of mine in a way that’s inadequate for the difficulties I’m trying to address.
Round and around.
So what else to do?
I’m discovering that allowing myself to feel is a much more powerful way to go – turning towards exactly that which my thinking is trying to avoid. Trusting that feelings are meant to be felt, that they have something important to do, something important to say. Coming back to the bodily sensation of fear, or panic, or shame, or confusion and allowing it to do its thing.
Pretty soon, if I let myself fully feel what I’m feeling in this way, the feeling moves, becoming something.
And often I’m left changed, with the taste of a deeper insight or understanding than my wild turbulent rumination is ever likely to produce.
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