*Or, why you are not your thoughts.
“You are not your thoughts, my dear,” I said. “You are so much bigger than your thoughts.”
She looked at me with bewilderment. “I don’t understand what that means. I’m the one thinking. How could that not be me?”
One of my favorite — albeit colorful and slightly disgusting — metaphors to help people understand this principle is of a monkey throwing its own feces at the wall of its cage. Monkeys in cages throw poo; it’s what they do. Minds imprisoned by beliefs throw thoughts; it’s what they do.
Have you ever noticed that thoughts just seem to happen? That you don’t have much (read: any) control over them? Think about the last time you had to write a paper for school. Either the thoughts come or they don’t. You can’t will yourself to have the brilliant thoughts needed to write the perfect essay any more than you can will yourself not to have disturbing or hateful or self-aggressive thoughts.
So why am I celebrating this and not cowering in the corner of my poo-covered pen? The quandary of the monkey mind lies not in the thoughts, or even in the Thought Maker, but in whether or not we choose to believe the thoughts. Rather than identifying with the monkey (the thought-making poo slinger), or with the thoughts (the poo), we can imagine ourselves as the space in which the thoughts are thrown, as the one who watches the whole spectacle from a place of detached bemusement, because honestly, it’s all a little funny.
Accepting that we don’t control our thoughts doesn’t mean that we let the monkey run wild. If we are wise (or at least tired of the pain caused by our thoughts, which is its own wisdom), we learn to train the monkey (through mindfulness, cognitive practices, self-kindness . . . ). We learn to question our habitual thoughts (“Is that true . . ?) and identify the core beliefs — held in our bodies — that are generating insufferable conditions of imprisonment. With time and practice, the monkey learns to settle and may even start sowing flowers in all that compost. Eventually, we may come to realize that the cage itself doesn’t exist and that our very nature is freedom. So no, you are not your thoughts, my dear. You are so much bigger than your thoughts.
♥ ♥ ♥
Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.