Questioning your thoughts is a basic building block of spiritual growth.
If this is a new idea to you, I would not expect it to make much sense. The very notion that your thoughts are up for debate is hard to wrap your head around (or more accurately, “unwrap). The reality is that what you are thinking could be contrary to your inner truth, or worse, working against you.
This is the part of your consciousness that feels separate. That wants to be special. That feels proud or afraid. Tolle calls it the Ego. Other’s talk about the “Monkey Mind.”
The challenge is that, until we start to question our thoughts, we cannot conceive of this voice as anything outside of our true self.
I remember traveling through Turkey while in college. I tried to explain my major, Psychology, to new friends one day in a tea house. “You know how sometimes when you do something, you are actually motivated by something deeper that you are not aware of?” They stared quizzically. Culturally, they had no concept of a subconscious so we found it impossible to find common ground on the topic.
If you don’t know it exists, you have little control over how it affects you.
Have you every been depressed? Where you start to say things like, “I never do anything right. I’m going to be alone forever. I always mess things up.”
In a more sane moment, you can see that those statements are gross exaggerations at best. But there is a voice inside that loves to define the world and ourselves in massively pessimistic terms.
For me, a huge turning point in my battles with depression was opening up to the idea that this negative voice could be something other than the real me.
It took medication and therapy for me to even fathom the idea. Because when I am thinking those thoughts it feels like absolute truth.
At some point I made a rule for myself, “If you can sense yourself in a funk, STOP. Do NOT start re-evaluating the world. The world is not this way. This is just the way that you are seeing it RIGHT NOW.”
This was immensely helpful in getting me to stop the downward spiral that negative, depression thoughts would put me in.
I should note that arguing WITH the voice worked terribly for me. People would often try to make me feel better and say, “But you are so good at _____! And you have so much going for you… and….blah blah blah.”
All that did for me was drive me to defend my depression. That irrational negative voice would dig in and find examples and proof to defend my feelings of self-loathing.
The only way I found to stop the spiral was to remind myself, “This isn’t entirely real.”
Even though everything looks shitty and I feel like a loser to the core, I knew from experience that this would not last forever.
Almost like a sober voice talking myself down from a bad acid trip.
“You are depressed. It will pass. Time is your friend. Your perception of the world is tainted temporarily.”
I’m excited to share that this week I experienced a new level of thought questioning.
After listing off several reasons why I couldn’t do something, I was introduced to a new voice inside my head.
My life coach called him, “The Saboteur.”
The Saboteur actually has several different voices for me.
One is the inner voice that continually tells me I am under-qualified and undeserving.
But the one I “met” this week was more of a “The Discourager.”
It was amazing how much my thinking shifted once I started seeing this perspective as something separate from “Me.”
At last week’s HugNation, I talked about wanting to get out more and participate in more real world social activities.
Less than 24 hours later I was invited to a Philosophy Meetup happening that night in my neighborhood.
How perfect, I thought!
But as the day progressed, I started to have second thoughts. “Maybe I won’t like the people there. I’ll probably feel uncomfortable. The event is full, anyway. Where will I park?”
Even though I had plenty of time to get ready, i procrastinated. ” Now I’ll never make it on time. Might as well skip it.”
But for the first time, I heard this voice as the “The Discourager” instead of my own line of reasoning.
“Shut up! There is still plenty of time and you JUST SAID that you wanted to do things like this!”
So I got in the car and headed towards the Meetup. The Discourager kicked in to overdrive. I could practically hear the argument as if it was coming from outside of me. “You are going to be uncomfortable. There are better things for you to do tonight. Let’s turn around and try again next month…”
I made it to the location. It was 1 minute before the start time and I couldn’t find a place to park.
“SEE? There is nowhere to park. Let’s turn around. We tried, right?”
The Discourager’s voice became almost comical to me. Like a weak scared bully who I finally saw for who he really was: All bark and no bite.
I parked, went inside, and had a marvelous time.
I left The Discourager in the car (and didn’t even crack the window.)
The whole experience was huge for me.
Giving the voice a name and seeing it as something separate allowed me to have a dialogue with it. And once there was dialogue, I could see right thought the “truth” that I used to believe were my own thoughts.
My battle with The Discourager is not over. On the contrary, I’m sure it will be a lifelong struggle. But I feel like this was a massive shift.
How many other beliefs and thoughts are running my life because I do not question them? I suppose that is what this path is all about finding out.