When we live via our thoughts, we twist reality according to those thoughts. We don’t merely perceive; we reinterpret what we perceive according to pre-existing thoughts/beliefs. Our state of being thus depends more on what is happening within us than outside of us. There are external situations, but how we think about them makes a huge difference in how we are affected.
Consider toddlers. They have no or very few thoughts, and so can experience things as they truly are, at face value. They can dance and skip and roll in leaves, and they have no worries about money or their physical appearance. This is why we enjoy seeing them play and experience wonder – they are acting as their true selves, and we long for the time when we were so unencumbered.
As we grow up we are taught that we must do/say or not do/say certain things because other people won’t accept us as we are. That is, acceptance is dependent upon putting on an act, not our true selves. What a horrible world to be stuck in! We are “unacceptable” by default! Some religions reinforce this negative concept by telling us that we are inherently “sinful” and that we must please some all-powerful deity in order to escape eternal punishment.
Year by year, piece by piece, we build and add to a system of thought whose premise is that we are inherently worthless and that we must put up a façade in order to have any value at all. No longer can we dance or skip or roll in leaves, because that would be “childish”. We now have an internal critic that judges everything we do and berates us for not acting or appearing within certain standards. “You haven’t accomplished anything lately.” “You’re overweight.” “You don’t make/have enough money.” “You’re socially awkward.” “You’re ugly.” “You’re unlovable.” Our reaction might be depression, anger, or fear. Or we might put up an ego defense by striving to appear “better” than others by bringing ourselves “up” (via accomplishment) or others “down” (via criticism).
If we let these thoughts rule our lives, they will torture us even when nothing bad is happening. For example, when we awaken from sleep and we are enjoying being relaxed and the comfort of our bed, thoughts will creep in. “You need to do that chore.” “So-and-so is a jerk.” “That was a stupid mistake you made the other day.”
Our thought system is very good at making mountains out of molehills. It creates feelings of fear, powerlessness and worthlessness, and uses them as triggers to turn a small occurrence into something dramatic. For example, being criticized or rejected triggers a painful reaction of feeling hurt or offended. The criticism/rejection itself can’t hurt us; we hurt ourselves with our reaction to it. If criticism/rejection were the culprit, then everyone who got criticized/rejected would have the same negative reaction. But they don’t. Some people have no reaction at all. Why? Because they either don’t feel inherently powerless or worthless, or simply choose not to react. If you feel emotional pain when someone criticizes or rejects you, it is because that pain was already within you; it was simply triggered.
We don’t have to remain victims. We can cease this destructive thought system. When judgmental thoughts come, stop. Don’t let them run their course. Realize that they are just repetitions of previous errors. When you simply experience life without thinking about it, you will return to the wonderful feeling of freedom that you once knew.