One of the big things I learned last year…or started to grasp, rather…was that I am not my mind. This had, and has been tripping me up for..ever? I have identified with and happily relied on my brain my whole life. I took pride in being a ‘thinker’, and using my mind to consider situations from many different perspectives, to argue various sides of a position, to rationalize my poor decisions, etc. So you could say I trusted it. This was the first mistake.
BC likes to play Grand Theft Auto and sometimes, when out on a joyride, likes to stop in the middle of an intersection to spin his tires. He simultaneously holds down the “forward” and “reverse” buttons and the car revs, only to move very slowly in a circle. I can relate to that car; full of fuel and power, getting nowhere. Who would have thought that my mind, the very thing I relied on to read a room in order to figure out how I should act, was to blame? That this whole time, has been the voice of sabotage?
Brooks can tell you better than anyone how many times I’ve fallen for the same trap. I’d start getting mixed messages in my head that would lead to a frustrated boiling over. “How do I know if this is something I need to pay attention to or just games to keep me in my comfort zone?” Time and time I would fall into my mind’s worry traps, focusing on the content of the worry too closely to see the bigger picture, the bigger pattern: that the voice, in so many different words and ways, is always saying one of two things: ‘you’re wrong’ or ‘that’s not enough’.
I can give a number of examples, ranging from complex, psychological mindfucks to simple, but significant tricks. I’ll use a simple one for this:
Last night Brooks and I went out to dinner, and at one point I was alone at the table. I could tell I was sort of in my mind, so I decided to use the minute to just sit and focus on my breath and the current moment. To notice the pattern on the upholstery, the slight air on my neck from a nearby vent, the volume of the music, when my mind stepped in. “You probably look pretty weird to other people right now. Like crazy maybe. Just staring straight ahead. Maybe they think you’re talking to yourself. At least you aren’t one of those people with your face in your phone.” Judgement, judgement, judgement, self-righteousness. This is a trick I luckily know well, so I can tell you that if instead, I had decided to get my phone out while Brooks was gone, the voice would have sounded something like this, “The older people in this restaurant are really disappointed to see just another young person on their phone. Can’t you stand your own thoughts? Don’t you have the attention span to be able to sit at the table for five minutes? They would look on you with respect if you put your phone away.”
Do you see? Does this sound familiar? This is the microcosm happening all over the place. That one is in more of the “you’re wrong, you can’t win” camp, I’ll give you a good example of the dreaded “that’s not enough.”
Like plenty of other people, Brooks and I are trying hard to get articifical ingredients, dyes, and chemicals out of our food. We’re also trying to generally make it a habit to consume healthy foods. One morning I was getting breakfast together (toast) when I asked myself how I could easily up the health level while still looking forward to eating it, “add some fruit!” my brain said. A great suggestion, I love fruit and they offer healthy carbs. Sure. “why not some peanut butter for some protein?” Sure, that sounds awesome. So I move forward with my little breakfast when the voice starts (btw I named it Paula..) “you know, bread isn’t very good for you, maybe you should try oatmeal, and actually, make it steel cut oats. You shouldn’t use that peanut butter though, because there are others out there that have less sugar in it and….” she goes on. But what she’s saying the whole time is “it’s nice you’re eating strawberries, but that’s not enough.” By the end of the whole thing, I feel psyched out and no longer feel my breakfast is healthy, and if it isn’t healthy I may as well just eat cereal or a big bagel or nothing at all. Sabotage.
I’m going to stop here on this one. I think there’s a lot more to it, but what’s above holds the most important pieces. When I started to listen to that voice and consider that it could be sabotage, things started to change, and I’ve been able to start hearing my own voice amongst Paula’s. Living with this voice of sabotage is tricky, it’s like someone repeating themselves over and over that you can’t leave the room because the door’s shut. “The door is shut. How can you go through it if it’s shut?” If you trust that voice then you stay in the room, if you don’t trust the voice, maybe you clear your mind long enough to realize that you can twist the knob and open it yourself.
Until next time
(P.S. I welcome (nice, kind, sweet, gentle, funny) punctuation advice)