Weathering Our Mental Storms
When’s the last time you were caught in the rain?
I expect it hasn’t been that long. It happens to all of us at one time or another; the weatherman says one thing; nature has other plans.
What does your mind tell you about your internal weather? Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad?
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking. It happens to the best of us. Even me (who is not the best of us), who knows better. The thing is that our minds have grown up with us. The mind is that shadowy little figure that seems like it lives between the folds in our brain and barks orders like a drill sergeant – or like a seductress. And oddly, its voice sounds eerily familiar.
Adversity gets the mind moving at full force. And it’s not always on our side.
It has trained us all that what we think is always very important, and when we think certain things it’s good, other things not so good. We put a lot of stock in the short neuronal spurts that happen moment to moment.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought [or a feeling] without necessarily accepting it. ~ Aristotle
Living a resilient life sometimes means being more discerning when we hear that little voice in our heads.
I sometimes ask clients what thoughts that they were attending to a year ago. They will come up with some cockamamie story about how they remember exactly what they were thinking. Then I may ask them what they had for breakfast two days ago and a blank look overtakes their face. It’s common. If I weren’t a creature of habit, I’d be hard pressed to tell you what I had for breakfast today. If you were to ask what I had for supper two days ago, that would seem like a past life issue to me.
Our thinking, and our feelings for that matter, are like the weather. Like storm clouds or sunshine, they seem really important at the time of their occurrence. Even when disaster strikes and we live in times of adversity, the thoughts and feelings pass, as does even the most inclement or incredible weather.
A popular saying here in Minnesota is that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.
Even in tough times, our success is more dependent than we would like to believe on the ability Aristotle mentions above, like NOT buying into the ongoing process of thinking and holding on to what we do believe very lightly.
Here are some ways that our mental and emotional lives are like the weather, and how we can enjoy more psychological flexibility and resilience if we see them that way.
- Thoughts and feelings come and go as do strong winds and rainy weather. It may be stormy one day and sunny another; our thoughts and feelings are sometimes pleasant, other times not. Psychological flexibility includes both ends of the spectrum.
- Thoughts appear as clouds in the sky. They are here and then they are gone.
- Some days – even some hours or moments – thoughts dress up in their storm suits and make a lot of racket. Best then to acknowledge them and let them pass.
- At times thoughts can make themselves look sunny and bright. These are the good times, more successfully appreciated and not chased.
- Occasionally there are tsunamis of thoughts and feelings, repetitive, sometimes frightening, and very annoying. Take these thoughts and feelings for what they are – simple thoughts and feelings – not what they say they are.
- Thoughts can form a gray drizzle for days on end. Trying to get rid of them or control them is like trying to control the weather. A better thing to do, to live a more resilient life, is to sit back, get mindful, and let them take their course.
- Sometimes a cyclone of thoughts will swirl themselves into a story. Although it could be any story, the ones we usually hear about are the doom and gloom stories.
- A little off track, yet still important - at times our physical health, our brain fitness, and our moods can affect our thinking. Physical pain, for example, is less than likely to cheer up our thinking. No matter, our thoughts are still the same thing, our brains firing neurons (a good thing, as when it stops so do we), and our minds using words that tell us they are important.
- Thoughts are often like thunder and lightning – what is it Shakespeare said? “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Well at least no more than anything else in our lives.
- Finally, thoughts, like weather, are constantly changing, challenging, threatening, comforting, scaring, and inviting us to fear, good cheer, depression, excitement, even anger. At these times you might consider the old-time saying about the mail. I will bastardize it here -
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays us from doing what must be done according to the values we stand for.
Psychological flexibility is a skill that can be learned and is a key to living a life of resilience.