Just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Just because you feel it doesn’t mean you have to act on it.
Somewhere along the way we learned to bow down to every thought and feeling that crosses into consciousness. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that we never learned along the way how to navigate the sometimes tricky road of thoughts and feelings, meaning how to cultivate the muscle of discernment that allows us determine which thoughts are true and which are false; which feelings are originating from health and which are rooted in fear.
Unless you learn the skill of discernment, you will become a complete victim to your thoughts and feelings. A thought enters your mind like “I don’t love my partner enough” or “I have cancer” and you immediately latch onto it as the truth. The next thing you know you’re spinning into a tizzy of anxiety, caught up in the magnetic energy of that thought which you have believed as truth. Or you feel resistance when your wife comes over to you for a hug and a kiss, and you fall prey to the power of the fear/resistance, which causes you to constrict and turn away from her ever so subtly.
Until you develop a strong, wise presence inside of you that can make choices based on clear intellect and values rather than fleeting thoughts and feelings you will be buffeted around by the fleeting thoughts and feelings that fluctuate like hormones inside your mind and body. If you’re navigating your life by the compass of thoughts and feelings you will live on a stormy sea, indeed. It would be like allowing your three-year old to run your household instead of recognizing that every house – just like every psyche – needs a solid and loving adult at the helm.
What are the alternatives? When you have access to the choice-point – meaning a pause between a thought or feeling and believing it or acting on it – you win back all the power. It’s in that small yet decisive moment between thought and action that you can say, “Do I want to latch onto this thought?” or “Do I want to act on this feeling?” Let’s take the example above with the man who hooks into the resistance and pushes away his wife. The man could think, “This resistance means I don’t really love her”, thereby perpetuating the feeling, which is quite likely originating from a fear-based place inside of him. If he gives into the feeling and acts from that place, his fear-wall will become fortified. If, on the other hand, he recognizes his habit of resistance and withdrawal and acts against it by moving toward her despite the feeling, he will likely feel the resistance for a few moments and then it will loosen and soften into receptivity.
I can hear the anxious questions piping up in the galley right about now: “But how do I know which thoughts are true and which feelings to act on? How do I develop this loving, clear presence inside of me?” This is one of the many gifts of anxiety: the pain is so great that we’re inspired to learn skills and grow parts of ourselves that we never needed to grow otherwise. You learn to listen to the wise part of you by taking actions that require that you turn inward. The only way to know your inner world is to spend time with yourself in silence and solitude. There are many ways to do this – journaling, meditation, prayer, dreamwork, to name a few – but one or more must be engaged if you’re going to connect with your own wisdom and learn to navigate your life guided by your inner compass instead of by your thoughts and feelings.
I would like to be able to break it down for you into a succinct and simple “how to”, but the truth is that there is no formula. The guidance on which way to turn and how to act must be accessed on a case-by-case, moment-by-moment experience. Part of the anxiety comes from the belief that there’s one “correct” answer for every life situation. This is the belief of the ego-mind that needs to split the world into duality (right/wrong; good/bad; black/white). When we allow ourselves to be guided by the multi-dimensional realm of the unconscious – which makes itself known in healthy ways through dreams, prayer, meditation, journaling and in more disturbing ways through anxiety, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, and other neuroses – we grow our tolerance for ambiguity, which then allows us to flow more fluidly with life’s changing terrain.
However, a basic guiding principle is to know that clear, loving decisions are made from our values and commitments. As one of the men I interviewed for my e-course said so clearly about his wife, “The thoughts and the feelings don’t define whether or not I love her. What defines it is the actions.” This is a man who struggled profoundly with relationship anxiety, specifically with the thought, “I’ve fallen out of love.” It was when he understood that love is action and isn’t defined by whether or not we feel attracted or “in love” in a particular moment that he was able to break free from the stronghold of his fluctuating thoughts and feelings. This awareness came from months of reading, journaling, dialoguing, and meditating. His dark night of the soul initiated by relationship anxiety propelled him to commit to a path of inner work like nothing he had known before. Through this commitment and practice he developed a strong and loving witness self, and from that place he was able to assimilate the knowledge that thoughts and feelings aren’t reliable barometers of truth.
In a nutshell, thoughts and feelings can originate from fear or from love, from habit or from truth. If we act on every thought or feeling that darts through mind or heart we will be as untamed as a toddler. By contrast, when we learn to train the mind and discipline the heart, we learn to act from our values and commitments. We act because we value love and so we move toward love. We move toward the places that scare us and act from courage because we value growth. Even if everything inside of me wants to turn away from the one I love, I acknowledge the strength of the feelings but choose to open anyway. I do this because I value love over fear. I do this because I choose to be a love-warrior.
Recommended Reading: The Untethered Soul