“Defining yourself through thoughts is limiting yourself.”
~ Ekhart Tolle
This quote refers to the truth that you are not your thoughts. You can perform a simple test of the premise that you are separate from your thoughts. Close your eyes and observe your thought processes. When you notice your thoughts, stop and recognize that something inside you noticed your thoughts. Who noticed them? If you were your thoughts, you would not be able to notice them.
In the book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra uses the terms observer and observed to define these two parts of ourselves. We can call the observer, the ‘authentic self.’ This separation is one of the keys to finding inner peace and ridding yourself of anxiety.
One big difference between humans and animals is that people can think about their thinking. Animals, as smart as they might be, cannot do this. They are instinctive creatures that respond in a reactive way to stimulus. Everything for them is about survival. It is a sad fact that people are the only creatures on the planet who kill themselves. This goes dramatically against the survival instincts we also have. Why is this? I believe it is related to our inability to see that we are separate from our thoughts. When people become so caught up in thoughts of self-destruction, they are are unable to separate their thoughts from who they are. If they think they are their thoughts, then they might think they have to do what their thoughts tell them, which often ends in disaster.
What are your thoughts?
Thoughts are a process that happens in the mind. This process is neither the mind itself nor who a person is. Carl Jung recognized this when he developed the four quadrants of human existence that define wholeness and completeness. On the horizontal axis are two sides. One is the cognitive side — or thinking. The other is the emotional side — or feelings. They are opposites: one rational and logical, the other irrational or illogical.
Then on an intersecting vertical axis is the spiritual or intuitive side in opposition to the physical or material world. This is the finer, unseen part of our existence balanced by the grosser, physical side. The center point represents a perfect balance between all four quadrants.
No one really achieves a perfect balance, but we can all reach toward it. However, the interesting part of this diagram is that thinking is, at best, only 25% of who we are. Our society has learned to rely too heavily on thinking as the way to govern ourselves. Thus, we have created a misperception that our thoughts are who we are.
Thoughts are certainly useful. They have helped to develop technology and create the marvels of science and industry we enjoy, but they can also be our worst enemies. Try an experiment to see a thought for what it really is. Sit back, relax, and notice your thinking. The problem with trying to stop your thoughts is that when you do, the mind tends to think even more. Don’t try to stop your thoughts; just accept and notice them. Do not reject them or say, “I shouldn’t be thinking this.” Simply see the thoughts as thoughts.
Observe them as if you were watching a movie or seeing something for the first time that is truly separate from yourself. You become the observer. The thoughts are the observed. This duality is inherent in all of us. We are literally capable of separating our thoughts from who we are. We can feel something (the authentic self) at a deeper level than when we merely let our thoughts run us on a superficial level.
(See the Floating Leaf Guided Imagery in Empowered Life Solutions premium content)
The implications of the above exercise are extreme. We now have the ability to exercise choice. We don’t have to REPRESS our thoughts. Instead, we accept them for what they are — THOUGHTS. When we recognize them as just thoughts, we are empowered to exercise choice.
Which thoughts are we going to follow? We don’t have to act on a thought that is not in our best interest. We do not need to act on thoughts that are not in the best interest of those around us. We can use our values to govern ourselves instead of the robotic thought processes that are, at times, generated out of fear or anger. (See Healthy Living – Value Based Choice) You have a choice. (See Healthy Living – You Have a Choice)
“The key to reducing anxiety is to remember that you have a choice.”
~ Cindy Lee, Empowered Life Solutions
Anxiety and Thought
Anxiety is a process of the mind created by thinking. Anxiety is always fear-based, and it will often go something like this:
- what if…
- I hope they don’t…
- I should have…
- I’m afraid that…
These are examples of fear-based thinking that seems to have no other root than fear, threat, or anxiety related to future events. (See Anxiety – Living in the Present).
If I see a charging rhinoceros in the wild, it is a legitimate threat; and it would be best to run for cover. Anxiety is based on thinking with very little evidence to confirm the threat. No
matter how many questions you ask about the future or how much you worry about the past, you will never be able to out-think what is either going to happen or has already happened. Because of this, anxiety ridden thinking that is generated from fear will not create peace or solve the problems we worry about.
Worrying about worrying only creates more worry. This is the vicious cycle of anxiety. The key to reducing anxiety is to remember that you have a choice. Observe your thoughts. Have a conversation with yourself if needed. Talk to your thoughts. They are not bigger than you are. They are just thoughts, not you.
Jeff was a client who constantly worried about many things, including running over people who were walking by the road even when they were nowhere near his car. This started to debilitate him. He was even afraid to come to therapy because of the fear that he would hit someone. I suggested that he entertain a conversation with his thoughts and introduce reason to this scenario. I had to remind him I wasn’t suggesting that he quit thinking the anxiety producing thoughts.
I reminded him that he was just introducing another way, a more productive and value-laden way, of thinking. Over time, Jeff was able to see that his thoughts were not in control, but he had a choice about what he thought. The conversation he created helped him to remember he could be the observer and the observed. This helped him understand he could choose his thoughts instead of his thoughts controlling him.
Separating from our thoughts can be scary. The ego (or inner part of us that manages day to day living and protects us from potential harm) is mostly thought based. There is such a thing as a healthy ego. A healthy ego recognizes there is more to you than just your thoughts. It allows for the observer and the observed to coexist.
You can live in harmony with all the aspects of yourself. You can be healthy physically, spiritually, emotionally, and cognitively. This is wholeness, this is completeness, and this is balance. Anxiety is something that has run wild in our society. Its impact can be devastating when it keeps you from living the life you know you were meant to live. Empowered Life Solutions can help you live free of anxiety as you come to understand you and your thoughts are separate.
“In today’s rush we think too much, seek too much, want to much and forget about the joy of just Being.”
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle