We humans seem to be quite good at living our lives. Unfortunately, We’re less good at “thinking” our lives.
When we’re living our lives, we’re fully engaged in what we’re doing, whatever that may be. Maybe we’re engaged in our work: moving forward on a big project or participating in that conference we’ve been planning for months. Maybe we’re taking care of a loved one who’s sick, injured or aging. Maybe we’re living with an unthinkable loss, going about our day and doing the best we can to carry on. Maybe we’re simply snuggled up on the couch with our spouse or kids enjoying some shared time watching a Netflix show, or taking a walk in the sunshine with an old friend. Whatever it is we’re doing, we’re often quite good at it when we’re simply in it, simply doing what it is we do, fully engrossed in whaterver it is that right in front of us.
Then there’s the thinking about it. That, I’m afraid, we’re not so good at. If we’re thinking about that big conference before it’s happening (rather than simply engaged in the planning) we might get nervous, insecure or just plain terrified. All that insecure, nervous thinking might even lead down darker “thought holes,” to those thoughts about whether we even want to be doing this damn job at all. Then there’s the thought storms that might come after the conference: that miserable maelstrom of thoughts about whether we did well enough, whether we offended so and so, whether that one grumpy attendee didn’t like the event. And on and on until we’re positively in anguish, even though we did just fine (or better!) when we were actually doing it.
If we’re thinking about the hard work of caring for our loved one who may be ill or seriously injured, we might get caught up in all the “what ifs” regarding the future. We might get swept up in the thoughts that look something like “I just can’t do this,” “I just can’t take any more”, “I just can’t see them suffer for another day.” The future might look really bleak and suck us into depression about what, when and how this might resolve, or dark thoughts about what life is going to be like if the injury or condition is more permanent.
If we’re living with a great loss, we undoubtedly carry an enormous sadness, even when we’re carrying on with our day. But it’s when we stop to think, that sadness becomes overwhelming, morphs into something monstrous that can make life feel unbearable. It’s when we think rather than simply feel that all the weight of the past and the injustice of a future without our loved one takes on a whole new quality. One that feels like it’s just too much to bear.
And then there’s our relationships. While we’re quite good at connecting and feeling warmly towards our favorite humans, we’re often quite terrible at thinking about them and all their flaws and imperfections. If we let ourselves fall into that dreaded thought hole, next thing you know we’re thinking about all those annoying habits: the dishes the kids always leave piled up in the sink, or how our husband is always on his/her phone, or that annoying way our friend has of always commenting on our appearance. It’s funny how we frequently use the word “always” when we’re caught up in these kinds of annoyed thoughts. And that’s just the little stuff. When our thinking gets really revved up, we then turn to what we think is the “big” stuff in our relationships and we really get up a head of steam and head straight for some really, really big messes.
So there it is: we’re good at living, not so good at thinking about living.
But the beautiful thing is that all we need to do is simply be aware that that’s how it works. For all of us. When we know how it works, we see ourselves start thinking instead of living and we either stop and get back to living, or we just watch our thoughts like movie on a screen, feel the emotions the movie brings up then walk out of the theater and get back to real life. Either way, the good news is that when we get back into what we’re good at and just relax into the living, we do pretty darn well, even in the most challenging of circumstances.