The past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling really out of sorts and frustrated. Things that hadn’t even registered on my “you’re messing with my wah” scale were suddenly as irritating as a mosquito buzzing around my ear. There was a lot of external finger pointing: “My friend doesn’t listen to me enough.” “My business isn’t growing quickly enough.” “My doctor is taking too long to call me back.” And just as much, if not more, was the internal finger pointing: “I should be thinner.” “I should be more active.” “I should be able to manage my illness better.”
These thoughts take on a life of their own if I let them. And I sometimes do. Despite knowing that whenever I believe something “should” be different than it “is”; whenever I try to force or bully or challenge what “is” – that’s when I feel emotional and spiritual pain. That’s when I struggle. It’s not what my external reality is causing me to feel, but what I believe about the world around me.
When I find myself filled with thoughts of blame, shame and angst, I tell myself they’re the reason I’m “suffering.” But that isn’t it at all. A thought in and of itself is harmless. It only becomes harmful when we believe it; when we become attached to it, and when we have a thought we’ve held on to for a really long time – sometimes for years – that thought becomes a belief.
Ask yourself how often throughout the course of the day these kinds of thoughts enter your mind. Maybe not the ones I quoted above, but your own variations of thoughts that are meant to cause you suffering in some way. Thoughts that include the dreaded “should” word regarding your career, your appearance, your abilities as a parent or boss. I bet the answer is that they happen all the time!
“Should” is my nemesis. I’d like to purge this word, this purveyor of guilt from our vocabulary. “Should” is ripe with judgment. It has nothing to do with what’s real and what isn’t; with what’s true and what isn’t. “Should” demands that we change the world, change our surroundings, change others and ourselves in order to be happy. This never works. It never works because: 1) the thought we’ve attached ourselves to is a misperception, or 2) the thought (without the judgment attached) is true.
Huh? How can that be when these are two totally opposite reasons? Here’s how: Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s actually true. A thought like “I should be thinner” on someone who is 5’5″ and weighs 120 pounds is not a rational thought. It’s based on a misperception – whether that misperception stems from messages conveyed over and over again when we were young; whether it’s because it was true once, but no longer (perhaps someone used to be truly overweight, is now thin, but still feels heavy).
On the other hand, that same thought might very well be true. It’s a point of fact that 180 pounds on that same 5’5″ frame is considered overweight. Without the judgment, the statement itself is true. See what I mean? One thought can have two possible origins, but in either case, it’s the word “should” that creates the quandary. So it’s necessary to question every thought with the word “should” in it.
Ask yourself: “Is it true?” “Do I really know this to be true?” And if it isn’t, allow that thought to float out of your mind without attaching any importance to it. In and out. No emotional or spiritual pain. If it is true, the next step is not to rail against what “is”; not to be depressed or full of shame, but to accept what “is” at this moment and decide what you want to do about it. This keeps you from becoming the victim. It keeps you from directing your energy towards something that you can’t – in this particular moment – change. As Byron Katie once wrote in her book Loving What Is: “If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, ‘Meow.'”
People have told me I’m inspiring because I remain so positive in the face of a very difficult and painful disease, but that’s not it at all. I’ve found that when I have thoughts like “Why did this happen to me?” or “This is so unfair!” I become upset, depressed and unhappy. Thinking these things doesn’t change the fact that I have this illness.
But when I accept the facts of my illness as they truly are I feel a sense of peace. I have a choice in every moment to remain in reality and still choose to be happy; to be at peace; to make decisions and actions that don’t struggle against what “is,” but that lift me up and allow me to focus on what I can control, what I can change.
Thoughts are like the tide. You can’t hold them back. You can’t stop them from coming. But as long as you don’t attach yourself to a particular thought, it won’t hurt you. Allow them to go in and out. Allow them to wash over you. Fix what you can fix, and let the rest just float away.
I’d love to know your feelings on this (notice I didn’t write “thoughts?”). Do you feel that accepting what “is” is disempowering, or do you feel like I do that it’s empowering to accept reality, and then decide what you’re going to do to effect change from that space? And how about the word “should”? Ready to purge that word from your dictionary? Leave your comments here on my blog.