So, a New Year has started and it’s time for a little reflection and looking ahead. We all do it at this time of year. We ask ourselves questions, don’t we?.
Mine looked like this. What has changed for me? Have those changes been voluntary? Have I been passive or reactive? Have I been master of my own destiny or a slave to it?
For me, one major event dominated the year.
My Mom passed away 12 months ago.
It was sudden and unexpected. And it precipitated a sequence of change that brought me from living aboard a boat in Spain to living in a caravan in the UK.
In June I was sailing the Mediterranean looking forward to months of adventure, I had no thought to change a thing. By November, all that was a distant memory as I sat in the cold pissing rain wondering what the hell had gone wrong. It probably didn’t help that I’d just broken my heel and was looking at two months on crutches.
Only one thing seemed certain. A chapter of my life was most certainly coming to a close.
It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself. Truth be told I did. But I knew the danger in that. Feeling sorry for yourself is the first step on a path to depression and worse. I wasn’t going that way again. It was time to step back and get my bearings.
Obviously, I’d had no control over the instigating event. Shit happens, it’s a fact of life.
But I knew something else.
Many folks will tell you that ‘you can’t polish a turd’. In other words, you can’t change something fundamentally bad into something great, no matter how hard you try.
But does that mean we should do nothing? Does that mean we should just accept things as they are, accept that we are powerless?
I don’t think so.
I think all it takes is looking at things from a different angle.
Sure, polishing a turd is never going to work. But why not try something else? Here’s one seasonal idea; roll it in glitter. Quick, easy and guaranteed to make it look better!
OK, enough with the toilet based analogies.
My point is this.
We’re never completely powerless. We always have choices.
In the words of the Greek philosopher Epictetus;
“ It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it – That’s what matters.
It’s all about managing thoughts. Notice I said managing, not controlling. That’s key to what comes next.
At some point, we’ve all been told to think positive. We all know that when life kicks you to the floor, it’s impossible.
But we can always manage. We can understand that whatever thoughts come into our heads, we always have a choice. We can always choose how we treat those thoughts.
I knew this already, but I’d kind of forgotten. For a long time, I’d been lucky. I’d been in a place where my thoughts were generally good and the choices easy.
But in the weeks and months following Moms passing, a flood of bad thoughts swept through. I started to sink. I was drowning and I’d forgotten how to swim.
Luckily memory returned before I went under for good.
I remembered how simple it was to get back into shallow water.
Thoughts and feelings tend to come along in tandem. Bad thoughts, bad feelings. Good thoughts, good feelings. Problem is these thoughts come through constantly and unpredictably. We have no control over them, no matter how hard we try. There’s nothing we can do about that.
But here’s where things get interesting.
We know when we’re having a thought, right? We think something, and we know we’ve thought something. So I have a question for you.
Who is it that knows those things?
If we’re the observer, then by definition that makes us separate from the thing being observed. It’s an undeniable truth that proves we are not our thoughts.
Because if the thought is ‘us’ then who’s doing the looking?
This is key because once we understand that separation, we’re free. We’re free to do something. We’re free to choose which thoughts we hang out with. And that choice should be easy to make shouldn’t it?
Do we choose to hang out with the healthy happy thoughts and the good feelings that come from them? Or do we choose the bad depressing sort and feel like shit?
These choices are the most important we can make in our lives. Choosing and paying attention gives power to thoughts. They take root, they grow, they take over.
We all get it wrong sometimes. We all make bad choices. We go on thinking about some crappy thought for hours, days, even months. Is it any surprise we end up feeling like shit.
But know this. No matter how many bad thoughts you’ve hung onto, no matter how long they’ve been growing, you can always decide you’ve had enough. And the minute you stop paying attention to them, they’ll be gone.
All we have to do is remember to choose.
So here’s a suggestion. Write the word ‘CHOOSE!’ in big bold letters on a piece of card. Put it someplace you’ll see it as you go about your day. Catch yourself in the act, pause. Does that thought you’re holding onto look good? No? Then let it go. There’ll be a better one along anytime soon. You can hang onto that for as long as you like.
What’s to lose? Why not make 2019 a year of good choices?
Happy New Year.