On my third try to travel to India from the US, I finally made it. In order to save money to get there & to stay there for 6 months, though, I decided to sublet my NYC apartment. I then moved all my things into storage except what I needed to return to Ithaca, where I’d gone to university at Cornell & where I still had friends living & working. I rented a room from them & they paid my wages at their hotel research business where I spent the days calling hotel & motel owners across the US & asking them a few quick questions to create a database that could be sold back to the hotel industry in some way. That’s where I learned that most motel owners hail from the Patels of the Punjab.
One night as I left work, & just as I’d crossed the carpark & hit the sidewalk, a man nearly collided with me. But he wouldn’t have dared to collide because he was very deliberate. His trousers were pulled up to his natural waist, which is a place men last wore their trousers in the 1940’s, but not much since then — oh maybe that awful period in the 80’s when men wore their acid-washed jeans too high. He looked like he had stepped out of the 1960’s, this man. He even had the black horn-rimmed glasses & a classic-looking briefcase.
He stopped. He looked. He breathed. And then he said, with a lisp, “The powah of pothitive thinking.”
Now I’ve, perhaps, spent more time around those with altered mental states than the average bear, so I didn’t skip a beat at this out-of-the-blue pronouncement from a stranger. I said right back to him, “It IS pretty powerful isn’t it?” I don’t recall if we talked for much longer after that. My sense is that he simply turned & carried on as though it had never happened. Yet, for me, it was burned into my mind, like a message from an unassuming angel:
The power of positive thinking.
I used to marvel at my step-grandmother’s smile. I was constantly trying to discern where the sincere smile ended & where the muscle memory of keeping the mouth in a smile began. It was like she’d forgetten she was smiling, until she went to say something & found her face was still where she’d left it. It irked me. It stood out, highlighted in my mind. It felt like it must be fake.
I’ve come to realize over the years that often the behaviors or incidents that disturbed me the most were quite influential & even prophetic. Many times now I’ve seen myself become the person on the other side of the argument, on the other side of my judgment. Seems I’ve been learning my whole life how to smile.
Yet these days I find myself more & more aware of an even subtler level — my thoughts. How simultaneously powerful & also evanescent, even sneaky, my thoughts & my thinking can be. First challenge is to even see them — to get enough distance to actually focus in on the form of the thought. Next challenge is to discern whether it’s a positive thought or a negative one. Or another approach is simply to say, ‘It’s a thought’. And let it pass on.
But in this game I’m playing, I’m looking to do a turnaround with the thoughts that aren’t true/create pain. What I find fascinating about this is that my most immediate objection is that it won’t make any difference. Why bother? My mind is trying to convince me that it’s a waste of time to play this game. So I’ve been turning that around. What if it will make a difference? Might as well try, gather my own data & then go from there. That’s what I’ve been doing.
“Happiness is when what we think, what we say, & what we do are in harmony.” –Gandhi
For at least a year or more, I’ve had this quote in my mind. It’s been a guide light — something to move with as well as towards. My intention behind the game has been to experience happiness & harmony by harmonizing my thoughts, words & actions. Seems simple, yet it does require some vigilance since I’ve been in this life for a few decades now & I’ve certainly established some habit patterns in all 3 arenas of actions, words & thinking. In fact, I feel like this practice of values-setting would have been really helpful much earlier on in my life. But maybe that’s the point of life — to spiral from wherever you begin, wherever you step in, to wherever it is you “get to” while you’re here.
Then in the past week alone I’ve come across a whole slew of quotes giving me more views on the same topic (a number of which were in Womankind magazine, which is quite a treasure I must say):
“You have power over your mind–not over outside events. Realize this, & you will find strength.” –Marcus Aurelius
At a time when I’ve found myself super-sensitized to the insane levels of brutality, I have a much better sense of what Marcus Aurelius means here. By steering my thinking, by shapeshifting it from destructive to supportive, I find, at last, a safe resting place. And how I’ve been finding this harmony more & more is musically. Not only am I singing & drumming more, I’m also gaining greater awareness of the subtle dance that is the dynamic between the breath & the brain.
The moments of grace I find in life arise from listening for the music I can make with what-is.
I’ve been really intrigued lately by just how perfectly proportioned our elements are. If we were any more dense we would lack movement. If we were any more airy we would lack form, and, in particular, percussion. It’s our ability to make sound through collision that enables communication, music, noise, ecstasy, torture. It’s the intention behind the percussion that makes all the difference in the world. The difference between pleasure & pain itself.
“The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts.” –Charles Darwin
I get a glimpse of what Darwin means here about it being the highest stage, because thoughts are slippery, especially if we believe that no one can possibly know them so we can feel safe to think whatever we want as long as no one finds out. One way I’ve played with this delusion in myself is to imagine that whoever I’m with can read my thoughts. There was a story in 5th grade — I think it was about a planet where ESP was the accepted mode of communication. Spoken word was unnecessary. I feel like it didn’t end well — no one had any place to hide their judgments.
In playing with the premise that others might know my thoughts, I then find I can at least see my own thoughts more clearly because I’m imagining those around me can also see them. And this growing awareness of my mind’s rambling monologues enables me to examine a thought long enough to also notice the feeling related to it within me — does it make me feel elated or muddied? From there, with enough endurance of mind, I can also manage to turn it around. How could changing this thought move me from muddy to light? And furthermore, how does that affect everyone else? Can I bring more light into this room? Can my collision with another be more musical, more harmonious?
“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought. They can be a powerful influence for good when they’re on the positive side, and they can and do make you physically ill when they’re on the negative side. I don’t eat junk foods and I don’t think junk thoughts! Let me tell you, junk thoughts can destroy you even more quickly than junk food. Junk thoughts are something to be wary of.”—Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Works In Her Own Words