Where Are You Headed?

As a continuation of the last post (The Clutter in Your Head), I sat down to write a list of tips to clear your mind. For simplicity, I place these tips in the category of mindfulness/acceptance/presence. But then I got to thinking that it may be more helpful to first explore what happens when we do the opposite: when we avoid, resist, or become entangled with our thoughts. If, like most people, the problems in your life don't seem to go away or the same problems keep coming up, you may be approaching the problems in the same unhelpful way over and over.

To illustrate this pattern, I am adapting a metaphor found in the book, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven Hayes. I am switching metaphors on you (clutter to passengers on a bus), but hang in there with me.

Here it is:

Imagine that your life is a bus and you are the driver.  You travel through your life picking up passengers along the way.

Some of these passengers you like: They are beautiful, smiling, cheerful, well dressed. Some passengers you don't like: They slink on, wearing threatening looks on their faces, flashing gangs signals.

You probably judge the quality of your bus by the passengers on it. You've probably spent a good deal of time trying to get the undesirable passengers to change. You may have argued with them, flipped them off, adjusted the rear view mirror so at least you could not see them. Perhaps you even tried to get them off the bus.

But do you know what happened? You gave all of your attention and energy to the unwanted passengers. They became central to your life. Those passengers brought on some back-up and added to themselves.  You may have even stopped the bus (put your life on hold) to deal with them.

As a last resort, you sipped from your flask or reached into the Doritos bag (perhaps adding more problems to your bus) to avoid noticing what was going on. Then you asked your yucky thoughts & feelings ("I am not good enough," fear, sadness, loss, anger...) to please go to the back, change their clothes, or, for crying out loud, just duck down so you could pretend they were not there.

And guess what? The thoughts & feelings agree to hide, but only if you do one thing: drive where they want to go.

The "I am not good enough" thought agreed to keep quiet only if you promised never to take a risk. Sadness & loss won't rear their ugly heads as long as you avoid close relationships. If anger is more acceptable to you than guilt, then you agreed to let anger sit in front as long as it hid guilt from view.

Now you are no longer driving the bus and you are no longer headed toward what matters most to you.

The biggest problem is not that you have these thoughts and feelings. The real problem is that you are no longer going in the direction of what makes your life meaningful.

In the next post, I'll get back to tips on clearing your mind. These tips will help you meet your passengers with acceptance and non-judgmental presence. You can say to them, "Ok, I know you're there. If going where I choose means taking you with me, then I accept that.  But I am going to keep driving in the direction of my dreams." Then you can give more attention to those beautiful, helpful passengers. Perhaps they will invite their friends on the bus. And who knows, maybe those really dirty passengers who tell lies will fall asleep or even fall off the bus.

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Thanks for reading.