Second re-discovery: ‘There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so’


Today was a very different day from yesterday, when I started writing this blog, all joyful and inspired. I sit here with tears just dried on my face. Don’t worry, dear readers, nothing tragic happened. I just became overwhelmed by work. And I’m not even at work. I came back from holiday and checked my emails, and wrote emails, and became stressed. It seems ridiculous now, that I somehow ended up in tears. But that is the ego and the mind, creating repeated thoughts and stories that create emotions. Emotions that we think are real, emotions that we think somehow reflect the true nature of a situation. But there is no true nature of a situation, only how we interpret it.

So how did I end up here? In many ways this day was just like any other. I had truly joyful moments laughing with Monkey and Mr Bread. But I was also exhausted. I had just travelled 4 hours in a car with Monkey who wouldn’t sleep, requiring constant effort to entertain him and keep him from screaming. Look isn’t this bottle fascinating, what about my keys, they are cool! Here is my iPhone and some pictures of you. What about some milk, or some water, or some food? Chicken McNuggets – do they count as food? How many animals can you think of for ‘Old MacDonad had a farm’ – does a tiger count as a farm animal? Well, we are in Asia.

So perhaps I was just exhausted, that’s what made me upset. There are lots of possible reasons, but mostly I know it was not the situation but the thoughts in my head that led to my unhappiness. Shakespeare, that crazy cat, said it very well, ‘There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ Or the eternal wisdom of my Buddha iPad app says, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

So it wasn’t the emails that made me unhappy exactly. It was my thoughts as they pertain to emails – ‘What a disaster’, ‘I don’t know how to fix this situation’, ‘I shouldn’t have said that’, ‘I hate emails’, ‘blah, blah, blah…’ Actually if I take it back one step further, it is probably related to the state of mind I was in when I sent the emails. You know that feeling when you are typing really fast because you think you have something really important to say, or you think you are right and someone else is wrong, and you need to say it now, now now! Well as sure as Monkey likes peek-a-boo, that is the ego. ‘Ja-eeey[1], hello ego. When my emails are not written from a place of peace, just like anything else in life, the response unsurprisingly come from a similar place. Cause and affect.

So now what? I will swear off all emails forever more! Maybe that’s not practical. Ok, just for this week while I’m on holiday. That sounds more realistic – I will not check my work emails at all this week. Well, you might say that’s not really addressing your ego-driven thoughts, that’s just ignoring emails. In one sense you’re right. But the truth is that I have lost all perspective lately when it comes to emails. I think we all have. At work there seems to be some ridiculous expectation that all emails are responded to within minutes and if not it is some universal disaster. According to Pico Iyer the average office worker today enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption. Not only does this create insane pressure and an inability to turn off at the end of the day but I think it saps all creativity and inspiration from our work.

ImageI know that when I wrote my PhD, a time when I had to think deeply and come up with something truly original (no pressure!), I understood the need to be off-line. I refused to join Facebook, I did not logon to email, and I was not connected to the Internet. Instead I read, and thought and sat, and pondered and paced, and discussed, and wrote, and rewrote and rewrote. And the truth is I really enjoyed it, because I felt inspired and creative and present. Now I feel uninspired, like the consistency of my brain matches the consistency of Monkey’s food, and that I couldn’t come up with something original if my sleep-deprived life depended on it. And I know this is not just me. Pico Iyer, in an opinion piece called ‘The Joy of Quiet’ (definitely worth reading), noted that Intel experimented in 2007 with giving four uninterrupted hours of quiet time every Tuesday morning to 300 engineers and managers. During this time “they were not allowed to use the phone or send e-mail, but simply had the chance to clear their heads and to hear themselves think.” We are so ‘connected’ that we have lost the connection to ourselves, to intuition, to creativity, to inspiration. These things come from within not from emails, or Facebook, or Twitter, or Skype.

My priorities have become skewed – and so I feel like I need to disengage with emails to get a better perspective on life and regain some control over my thoughts. The thing with thoughts is, you can force them to change or stop. You can’t shoo them away like some mangy soi dog, that just makes them more persistent, following you down the street[2]. We must simply observe them without judgement – nod calmly or tip your hat to that soi dog as you go on your way, and they will pass. Once you recognise them for what they are, just thoughts, not you, not reality, then they lose their power. Easier said than done I know, but when you feel yourself get caught up in thoughts I find it helps to bring your attention to something else; your breath, your body, sights, smell, this moment. Often I try to think about my feet, well not really ‘think’ because that’s more thought, but ‘feel’ my feet. Do you know what I mean? Probably not, I realise now that it sounds kind of weird. But perhaps because my feet are the part of my body furthest from where I imagine my mind to be it seems to work (for me, anyway).

So instead of emails this week I will meditate, spend time with my family, get my nails done, read, be still.  Be fricking still! That doesn’t sound very Zen, but seriously when did we lose the ability to be still? When did I lose the ability? I have a very strong feeling at the moment that I am embarking on a new phase in my life, or that I am changing direction. But I need stillness to figure out what that direction is. So priority number one is stillness. I honestly believe that there is no other way to find the right direction for oneself. There are no shortcuts. You can’t buy it, you just have to do the hard yards. Sit there. Be quiet. Until the incessant chatter dies down, hopefully to a dull roar.


[1] Thai word for peek-a-boo

[2] Read this great article which says I don’t need to explain my similes to a non-Thai audience. But because this is all about love and happiness and I don’t want anyone to be confused, they are the stray dogs that live on the small streets (sois) in Bangkok.


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