A handful of my therapist colleagues have this bumper sticker on their cars:
I Love this. In the spirit of the phrase “S*^@ Happens”, this phrase captures a delightfully cavalier attitude towards the problem that our thoughts can be to us. Stephen Hayes says this: “It’s not the irrational thoughts which harm you. It’s your entanglement with irrational thoughts which harm you.”
Treating Anxiety and OCD has been an education for me in the creativity of the human brain. Our brains will throw all kinds of thoughts at us; both irrational and wise, self-critical and self-affirming, true and untrue. But whatever category of thought, the problem with having them is not the fact of having them. Rather it is what we do with them once we have them. Not every thought we have should be honored with our time and attention. And yet our brains can be like a demanding adolescent, “oh yeah, if you won’t pay attention to THIS, I’ll give you THAT!”
Most of us can connect to the experience of anxious thoughts or a screaming inner critic distracting us from our experience in the flesh. And when we become more deeply troubled by our thoughts, we can be tempted to believe that the thoughts in and of themselves are our problem. Rather, the problem is when an unhelpful thought captures and holds our attention and keeps us from experiencing our current life and reality to the fullest. We live our lives distracted with the stream of thoughts of the day rather than being fully present and awake to whatever or whoever is right in front of us. Stephen Hayes wrote a book with a wonderful title, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. How would it change your life if you were less in your mind and more in your life?
–would a work meeting be a time of learning and contributing rather than a time of focusing on whether others in the room value you?
–would a hike be an experience of nature rather than a time to worry about work?
–would a board game be a time of wonder at your children rather than a time to fretting over the family budget?
–would a worship service be a time of opening to God rather than a time of critical review of the skill of the pastor?
–would sex be an experience of intimacy and pleasure rather than an inner evaluation of yours or your partner’s performance?
I believe that all of us can stand to consider how to me more present, aware, connected, and alive. And learning new ways to respond to our thoughts is key in getting there.