What matters is what I am thinking, not what others are thinking. That’s really what it all comes down to. I can’t change what is happening, necessarily, but I can change what I think about what is happening. I make the choice, every moment.
∞ ∞ ∞
Verily, from one perspective it is bullshit for me to say it matters not what others think. Especially coming from myself, who has been the most flagrant simpering sycophant in her time, gasping for approval as if it would keep me alive for a moment and then a moment longer.
I make fun of myself, but I’m serious. Everything is better when I’m getting along with people. This goes for my mate, my kids, yes of course…my coworkers, people I am regularly in close contact with. But also my next-door neighbor–who is probably the best neighbor I’ve ever had: she’s down to earth, friendly, not uptight, and mostly leaves me alone, as I do for her. Because home is a refuge from having to make small talk. I like to see her though and have our friendly exchanges; I like knowing she’s doing well. I also feel better when I have a friendly exchange with the grocery cashier or the convenience store clerk instead of an impersonal or uncomfortable one. I feel better when I have a commute where everyone seems to be cooperating instead of herding you or driving 60 in the fast lane or weaving onto the rumble strip while texting….
People are integral to my existence, and whether I get along with them or not affects my well-being in deep, deep ways.
Truly, I’ve been saved in both small and large ways by people who have (knowingly/purposefully or not) given me their positive attention, made me feel seen and recognized. Made me feel that it was worth continuing through the muck of my psyche because something is there that should come into the light. I still remember walking on the bleak east side of Binghamton twenty years ago, coming round a corner on a sunny, cold day and passing a stranger–we looked right into each others’ eyes and exchanged love and a smile, then passed by. It’s still there, and it still gives me chills.
I remember once, too, back in dark times when I felt poisonous and unredeemable, pushing my grocery cart through a crowded produce section and seeing a mother be thoughtlessly mean to her child sitting up in the basket. I was passing at just the right moment. The boy and I looked into each others’ eyes–his bewildered and mine suddenly full of compassion, wisdom, and humor. I reached out my hand and gently poked his knee to say, “Everything is alright. You are alright.” And I knew he got it. And I passed on by, his mother completely oblivious. Still there. Still gives me chills.
We humans give to each other all the time. A lot of the time we give each other shit–deserved or not is not the point, but probably usually this shit is undeserved and mostly the product of our own convolutions. Our meditations on what “is”: the facts as we see ’em. Or maybe simply passing the shit along that was given to you earlier–in the day or in your life.
And this brings me to my point. Our thoughts. Matter. They matter more than anything else to the person who is thinking them, because they are the basis, the foundation, of how we interpret, and thereby experience, the world.
Three things happened to me in quick succession this past Saturday morning that illustrate this point. First, I was getting dressed in the dim morning light for a ramble in the woods. I reached for my jeans–slung over a chair back from the night before–and I noticed a spot on them, so I reached out to take whatever it was off…and it moved in my fingers! And I immediately knew it was a tick! AAAAAH! Flung it back onto my pants (still hanging on the chair) and ran to get a tissue, all the time saying, out loud, “Ugh! Ugh! A tick! Ugh!” Then grabbing it with the tissue and squeezing it up tight in a ball, saying out loud, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry but I have to!” while running downstairs to flush it down the toilet. Then shuddering back upstairs, still apologizing to the tick, still saying “Ugh!” out loud. Now, I really am not a squeamish person, and I actually think bugs are cool, but ticks–something about them affects me viscerally and if I encounter them without any warning–especially touching me, I lose control. I mean, I allow spiders to flourish in our house–they inhabit the bathroom mostly, and I regularly save them from drowning in the shower. But ticks? Ugh. I shudder. But if I have a little lead time to gather my wits, I can deal without freaking out. I still will flush it down the toilet, but at least I won’t go running through the house in my underwear talking out loud to myself. Point: I have a bias against ticks. I know this, and even though I haven’t overcome it I can control it if I have time to put myself in the right frame of mind.
For the second example, a bit of back story is necessary. When our beloved dog died five years ago I could not stand the pain of it and rather recklessly went out and adopted a two-year-old Labrador retriever just a few months after. We brought her home, she immediately gave chase to our cat, and hasn’t stopped since. After five years we still have to go through this whole thing of keeping the dog and cat apart–they take shifts being downstairs with us. Saturday (and Sunday) morning is cat time to be queen of the house for an extended period, because dog and I go to the woods instead of Bob and I piling into the car for work. But Queen Eleanor the Fuzz Face just went back upstairs to lay on our bed after I’d cleared the way for her, and I felt consternation and bewilderment. It was her time to be free–why was she giving it up? Behind this, too, is always guilt at being the one who introduced the black terror dog (we love Lucy, we do–goofy dog) into her peaceful life. Bob walks in at this point in my mental machinations and asks where Eleanor is, and I look at him with this consternation and bewilderment still in my eyes and face, and I say rather forcefully, “She went upstairs!” and I see it hit him–that force–before he shrugs it off and goes on out the door to have a smoke. Then I’m thinking he might have thought I was pissed off at him or something, so I follow him out to clarify why I may have seemed a bit intense–and he totally got it, said he understood exactly the emotion that was coming from me and why. This is one of the most wonderful side effects of being with someone for almost thirty years: you get stuff intuitively, no words necessary. But we’ve had some rocky times, and that’s why I went out to clarify: because moments like that, interpreted wrong, can build up and become the basis for bigger, broader interpretations that can lead to bigger, broader chasms. So, moment by moment, you clean the connection.
The third thing that happened was a conversation with my nineteen-year-old son about breakfast cereal. (It takes me a long time to get out of the house on Saturday mornings.) Aaron’s getting cereal but we’re almost out, so we start talking about what to buy. Something not too sugary but not too healthy, he says, and we somehow get on the subject of Sugar Corn Pops and Rice Krispies. He says Rice Krispies might be good. And I start wondering how they get the kernels of corn and pieces of rice to do that–puff up like that–and he says, totally cool and unperturbed, “Oh they make them just like anything else. Just like this” (showing me his bowl of Life). I’m like, “No, they are puffed-up rice and corn.” And then it dawns on me that what I am saying is really silly–of course they are made of some batter or something pressed through a mold and cooked. And I’m just blown away by the fact that I believed these things were really kernels of corn and rice. Aaron said, “It’s a belief from when you were five or something.” Bammo. That was totally it. I had formed a belief about Sugar Corn Pops and Rice Krispies (which by the way were not a regular occurrence in my childhood household) when I was very young, and that belief had never been challenged until now, so it remained a belief–a belief upon which I built my worldview about breakfast cereal.
And it’s really this last example that blows my mind. Because our lives are filled with beliefs like that–formed when we had very little information to go on about the world, and about ourselves. It is scary to think that upon this flimsy foundation we live our lives as though we know, and that determines to a large extent what we actually see. All experience is run through a filter of our thought habits, our beliefs, so in a very real, literal sense we experience what we think. Until something happens to call our beliefs into question, and we have a chance to change our minds, and our lives become larger.
It doesn’t have to be big, like having a kid or getting into a car accident–it can come daily, moment by moment, by paying attention to your life, what you are thinking and what is happening. And hallelujah if you were raised in a stifling environment and survived, if you are in a stifling environment and want to survive, if you are unhappy with your habitual thoughts you can still your mind in meditation, get to the woods, or you can meditate on good books, stories, or poetry; listen to good music; watch good movies–feed yourself new experiences and thoughts, and thereby change your mind. You can feed your mind more shit, too, and see how that works out.
The point is, it is not primarily what others think about us, or what the majority seems to think about the world, that controls what we experience. At the last it comes down to what we think, about everything, every moment, that determines our experience of the world.
∞ ∞ ∞
How I thought Rice Krispies were made:
How Rice Krispies are actually made: “Rice Krispies are made of crisped rice (rice and sugar paste that is formed into rice shapes or “berries”, cooked, dried and toasted)” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_Krispies