This is a blog in a series of blogs about entitled: “What I have Learned About Power”
1. Know your mind
Getting to know my mind has been the most terrifying, intriguing, rewarding, mystifying, overwhelmingly endless task I have ever sat myself upon. it is essential to evolving, to having power, and to liberating ourselves from the suffering that is inherent in human systems.
My perspective at this rip age of 51 is that there is some wisdom be found in all religion, in science, in psychology. That there is some good to be found in most all of these forms of explaining life. Unfortunately as with all things of the human mind as much beauty and constructive wealth is to be found, there is an equal amount of destructiveness. People use these forms of explaining life to harm each other, to separate each other, to put each other in a lesser than or greater than place.
Frankly my mind has always worked to different. It has been rare that I have accepted what someone said at face value. My inner barometer questioned, probed, “needed to know” more. I cannot say that this is fantastic or horrible. Because it has been both. At times I was quite an irritant, especially to the nuns. I was told that I should have more faith. Interestingly, I have always had a burning faith in what I call God, but the explanations did not just quite fit right for me.
One of the first things I questioned was the prejudice that I was taught.
IE: only Catholics could actually go to heaven. I remember I was in middle school when I asked “are we really supposed to believe that all of the children in Africa are forsaken by God because they are not Catholic?”
Of course the response was: “that is why we should all become missionaries”. It went against my deep inner feeling that if God made everyone why would some people be better than or saved and others not? What I come to understand is that the destructive part of the ego separates itself and elevates itself above other people as a coping mechanism or a survival mechanism. It is nothing more than an attempt to make ourselves better than the other so we are somehow more valuable and our survival is more assured.
Prejudice is one of those examples that is so clear because children initially do not have prejudice some prejudices naturally develop but most prejudices are taught. For example I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. I was born in 1964 so as some of you might remember or can imagine racial tensions were rather hot. I do not remember being prejudice until my parents started talking about being prejudice. I remember telling them that their prejudices were wrong but that is not what God wanted us to think. I remember the confusion that prejudice started causing in my thoughts, why would people hate each other about something that they could not choose in the first place.
Later, I recall as a young adult walking down the streets having prejudiced thoughts. These thoughts did not reflect how I felt they reflect what I heard. They were very disturbing and unsettling to me inside. I feel very fortunate to be able to distinguish that those thoughts were nothing more than an echo of my father’s voice. Because if I had believed the thought in my head and develop the correlating sympathetic emotion I would have very easily become prejudice.
I bring you these examples because questioning my thoughts, questioning the thoughts that my community and my family put in my head, has been liberating. The questioning created a space in which I could recognize the origin and desirability of the thought.
Some thoughts are nothing more than stray electrical impulses in our mind. Repeating without cause. Some taught, some imposed. Thoughts are not always due to the process of thinking or consciousness. A dog “thinks” to chase his tail, just as we “think” to be prejudge. It is not powerful, purposeful or well considered, it is following an impulse.
The problem arises when we believe our thoughts. We start to believe our thoughts when they are repeated, we especially believe our thoughts when they create an emotional reaction or are imparted to us in relation to an emotional reaction.
For me, as for the vast majority of women especially in my generation, (I say that as I hope subsequent generations of women are increasingly liberated from this phenomenon) I believed that my value was based in my attractiveness. My father was a depressed and cruel man with rarely a kind word, my mother had a very harsh tongue. My mother did not like the way I looked. It was the bane of her existence that I was not thin, pretty and willowy. With comments from her like well of course you have pretty skin, fat girls always do and it is a good thing you are smart because you will have to support yourself because the pretty girls get the good husbands. These were not a childs ideas, neither where the cruel comments that kids throw around at school.
But they carried strong emotional reactions with them. So they stuck and repeated themselves to the point that I repeated contemplated killing myself so the ugliness would go away and the pain would stop.
Notice how we lose our power to the thoughts and emotional reactions that we perpetuate without questioning them. Fighting the ideas and thoughts only makes them stronger. It is questioning and contemplating the ideas and thoughts that breaks the powerful spell they have over us.
Question your thoughts and ideas!
Since they change often, how do I know which ones to build on?
Which ones have lies and which ones are true?
Is this a constructive idea? A destructive idea? Is this an idea that helps me cope in life? Or an idea that diminishes me?
If I hear this idea in my head and feel the emotion that correlates to it is this idea me? Or is this idea mine? And if this idea is mine, why would I think of thought that harmed myself or someone else?
Learning to see our thoughts for what they are returns our power to us. Learning to question and decide which ideas we choose to build on gives us back our dignity, returns to us the essential power of our humanity.
Knowing your mind breaks the spell of unconsciousness that is the foundation for pain. It is step that changes everything.