Today we hear a lot about buying organic food – eggs from free-range chickens, milk from grass-fed cows, and produce without all those nasty chemicals sprayed on them. There’s a lot of talk out there about what we feed our children and what we use to clean our homes, trying to limit the number of toxins our children ingest and are around.
That got me thinking about other kinds of “toxins” we may be “ingesting”…. What kinds of toxic words pollute our minds? You know, those so-unhelpful-tearing-you-down kinds of thoughts about ourselves, others, our life…How many do we feed on in a day? An hour? A minute? And what thoughts are like cages containing our truest selves?
I spent a morning watching my thoughts – being mindful of them as I went through my normal, everyday life. I’ve done this before on retreat sitting on a meditation cushion, awhile back while actively in therapy, and really every day I try to bring mindfulness of my words, my actions, my experiences. I coach clients in doing this for their anxiety and depression. But it’s been awhile since I did this little mindfulness practice of focusing on my thoughts – bringing a sense of healthy curiosity and compassionate awareness to the thoughts happening in my mind over the course of a set period of time.
This is what I discovered: all sorts of low-flying toxic thoughts riiiiight beneath the surface of my conscious awareness. Toxic thoughts that limit possibilities and dreams, like “Ohhh, that’s never going to happen” and “That’s not possible.” Other ones that keep me playing the victim, like “Oh look what I have to deal with!” and “Oh why me?” And still others that compare myself to others, like “So and so doesn’t have it this way” and “I’ll bet so and so never gets all down like I do.”
I watched the chain reaction these thoughts set off – how I had that toxic thought, then I was frowing, eyes downcast, heart kind of limping along. I felt disconnected from others, alone. Then I watched as I brought some compassion and spaciousness to those thoughts – just gently holding them in kind curiousity and awareness, “Ohhhh, hello thought, hello frown, hello feeling of being alone.” I watched as that spaciousness, awareness, and allowing (cage-free!) then began to shift the experience – I let go of the tight grip I had around some of these toxic thoughts. New ways of thinking emerged organically on their own – thoughts like “Oh, maybe such and such IS possible!” I watched how practicing Metta Meditation (loving-kindness) connected me to my own self and to others who may be feeling the same way I do began to soften my heart.
Just the simple, simple phrases (or prayer) of:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
And then may so-and-so be….
And other like me be…
I began to notice how my brow softened, my heart widened, and my breath slowed down and lengthened – just from noticing the toxic thoughts, giving them space, and holding them compassionately. I felt more grounded in my true self and power and connected to others. Instead of sulking as the victim, I felt a bit more empowered. My experience/my reality did not change! The only thing that shifted were my thoughts! Yet I was more content.
Thoughts can set off a whole chain reaction in us – impacting whether we feel threatened, at peace, anxious, nervous, sad, happy; whether we hold ourselves with dignity or insecurity; whether our nervous systems are calm and relaxed or agitated and anxious; and whether our actions draw us closer to others or create more distance. The most dangerous, most toxic ones are those that we have but are baaarely conscious of.
Thich Nhat Hanh talks about how the minute we become aware of something such as a toxic thought, it instantly begins to lose some of its grip on us. If we can hold our thoughts in spacious awareness, we see that thoughts just pass. They shift. They do not have to be our reality. We can notice the toxic ones and see them dissipate right before us as we practice a bit of loving-kindness. New possibilities organically emerge in a cage-free mind!
I now have post-its up in my house reminding me “It’s possible.”