Previous Next

  Check out "Bad Habits of Mind"




Integral with a person's leadership of himself or herself is the use of words. Anyone, whether he or she be a military leader, a political leader, or the self, is at a loss without the use of words. Words are the medium for conveying a message, whether it be to troops, to political allies, or to a part of the mind. When a part of the mind pesters a person with negative thoughts, the medium of communication in response is words.

It is within the power of every person to try out new thoughts in his or her mind. When you are under attack by negative thoughts, you do not need to wait passively for some good idea to occur to yourself. Rather, you can deliberately say to yourself something such as, "That thought is unfriendly. I need a friendly, kind, supportive subconscious" or "Who are you, and what is your purpose?" By doing so, you can experiment with new possibilities. By thinking the opposing words or thoughts, you can entertain or allow the possibility of thinking differently, of being different.

A word has the wonderful property of stimulating all kinds of associations with that word, associations that are swept into consciousness when the word is named. When you "think" a word, your mind becomes active elaborating that word. It is the same power a person uses when solving a crossword puzzle. You "think" the clue, and your mind searches for the answer among a multitude of possibilities.

A person's view of himself or herself works the same way. If you have a concept of yourself as smart, for example, your mind interprets your flow of experiences by giving yourself instances of your being smart, and you think, "The way I talked was smart. The way I handled that situation was smart." Similarly, if your view of yourself is of weakness, failure, or unattractiveness, you interpret your experiences in accordance with this concept or word, and you continually criticize yourself. In that case, the word sweeps into consciousness instances of weakness, failure, or unattractiveness.

You can deliberately take a stand in opposition to the meanness of the self-shamer and self-blamer. Instead of retreating, you can face up to the judge in your mind. Instead of suffering in silence, you can talk back. It is an amazing and fortunate feature of the judge that, once it is faced, its weakness is unmasked, like the Wizard's in The Wizard of Oz. It can be taught to take its rightful place. Its power is a delusion. In general, when you expose your bad feeling, such as self-criticism, by paying attention to it, without aversion, then the bad feeling diminishes, and what is left is the truth.

Taking an opposing position is taking one's own side. Instead of abandoning your side in favor of the authorities, you can face that you are abandoning yourself and can give consideration to the possibility that your side can be defended. You can repudiate self-abandonment and consequently develop your own justification. You are a wonderful creation of Nature/life and have rights as such equal to everyone else. Your first responsibility is to yourself, and you can develop your side accordingly. You can get off justifying others and get on to justifying yourself.

Turning away from the pestering sometimes requires the use of words, such as, "That thought is unfriendly. I need a friendly, kind, supportive subconscious" or "There you go again. I don't want this kind of pestering. I need to go to a friendlier place" or "Please! Go back where you came from. I move on" or "I entertain the possibility that I can reform my pool of originations" or "Stop! Enough! [Instead of continuing to suffer] I smell the air" or "Happy . . . happy . . . happy . . . (etc.)" to set up a distinction between your bad habit of mind and what it should be. Look at the Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic TV Channel for a demonstration of calm-assertiveness. When Cesar Millan is dealing with misbehaving dogs, he is a no-nonsense person. We need to be the same way when dealing with our misbehaving minds.

This power to assume leadership of oneself has immediate benefits in small ways as well as large. For example, a line from a song was going over and over in my mind, annoying me. I'd start to do something and there it would be again - "You can bring Pearl, she's a real nice girl, but don't bring Lulu." It was as if my mind was afraid it would forget it: "You'd better remember this. Don't forget it now. Here it is again so you won't forget." This didn't go on for just a few minutes, it went on for an hour, and then in the middle of the night there it was again: "You can bring Pearl, she's a real nice girl, but don't bring Lulu." Finally, I said to myself, I'm going to make an assertion to stop this song, and I said in my mind, "I stop playing this song in my mind. I stop listening to it." As if brought up short, the song went away. Then, about an hour later, it came back, so I repeated to myself, "I stop playing the song in my mind. I stop listening to it," and the song disappeared again. I've had to assert the command several times since then, but for the most part my mind has obeyed me and I haven't been annoyed further.

Dealing every day with a crowd of negative thoughts is a struggle. Awful thoughts spring unwanted into consciousness. You might conclude that who you are is defined by fear, shame, hostility, and guiltiness - "You are a fearful, shameful, hostile, and guilty person." Struggling with oneself is, in effect, trying to hold one's image together - "I should have behaved differently, I should be a different person" repeats itself over and over again, in a loop. Emerson's dictum to "trust thyself" is far, far away.

Even in such a state of trying to hold one's image together, feeling self-conscious, you can open yourself to change: "You are agonizing, you are agonizing, you are agonizing, . . . You are feeling self-conscious, you are feeling self-conscious, you are feeling self-conscious, . . ." can be repeated again and again. In so speaking to yourself, you can take a stand different from the stand where the hurtful words exist. You are no longer "inside" your problems. You place yourself in a mood receptive to change.

Movements inside the mind are very swift. Hundreds of times a day the mind is reminded of something in the past: when you see a child, you think of your own child; when you see a dog, you think of your own dog; when you see a mother, you think of your own mother; etc. Often, these associations are unpleasant - you are reminded of something that you wish that you could forget. When this happens, you can resist being sucked inside the bad feelings that the recollection engenders. You can remind yourself that the mind seems naturally to want to re-do the past to make everything right and also to make the person right. It doesn't seem to have figured out the fact that the past is unchangeable. Again and again it brings up the same unwanted material, always trying to re-do it to make it right.

This repetiveness is aggravated by our desire to feel that we are - and that we were - in the right. We want to have a good image of ourselves. However, in everyone's past there is plentiful evidence of wrongdoing, and in the present we make mistakes all the time. If we recognize our own defensiveness, we can comfortably say to ourselves, "I was guilty. I am guilty. I was ashamed of myself. I am ashamed of myself" or "guilty, guilty, guilty," acknowledging without self-justification the wrongs that we have committed. Everybody is a stupid jerk and a damn fool from time to time.

Facing the consequences is taking a position of leadership. It is taking a position in the present, where you create your life from what you have been given. Moment by moment you create your life as you live it. By facing, considering, and, finally, acting in the present, you can maintain leadership of this organism that is you and not be swamped by the imperiousness of inappropriate thoughts. You can say to yourself, "This feeling is precisely normal. It is inevitable, given your constitution, circumstances, and history. Your nature is in Nature."

When you recognize your place in Nature, you are compassionate and tolerant toward yourself and toward other people. Compassionate, you recognize that not only are you totally created by Nature/life, but others are, as well. We all share the inevitability of being who we are.

Who we are is full of trouble, both from inside us and from outside. The Christians call this trouble Original Sin. The Buddhists and Hindus call it Karma. It is the shame and guiltiness of everyday living. It springs from the terrible imperfection that characterizes us. Compassion and forgiveness are its antidotes.


Home Page - Commonplace, Ordinary, Everyday Life