- What if I don’t love my partner enough?
- What if I’m a different sexual orientation than I thought I was?
- What if I’m trapped here forever?
- What if the world ends?
- What if I don’t love my baby?
- What if I hurt a child?
… and the most common first response is to attach onto it as a singular, all-encompassing truth. Why would we respond in any other way when we’ve never been taught that just because you have a thought that doesn’t mean it’s true and that thoughts arrive as messengers, metaphors, and protectors?
There is another way to respond, but it requires practice. The other way is to call out the intrusive thought or panic attack – “this is an intrusive thought” or “these are symptoms of a panic attack” – and once you’ve reduced the intensity of that first moment, to set your sights on becoming intensely curious about what is embedded inside the thought or panic.
This is the process of separating the wheat from the chaff. The chaff is the husk, the way a thought or panic first arrives, and the wheat is the golden, sustaining substance that lives inside.
How do we do this?
By stripping away the first-layer projection – the chaff – over and over again, which means saying…
- “This isn’t about my relationship”
- “This isn’t about my sexual orientation.”
- “This isn’t about this panic trigger [ie: elevator, driving, flying, etc].”
- “This isn’t about the global crisis.”
- “This isn’t about my baby.”
- “This isn’t about hurting a child.”
…and being curious about the underlayers until the wheat starts to reveal itself.
Curiosity looks like:
- Noticing the moments of YES and following them. This could mean reading an article that resonates as true, then committing to reading more of that person’s work or perspective.
- Committing to at least one of the following practices that help you turn inward and listen to your inner guidance: daily journaling, meditation, prayer practice, expressive dance, song/chant. Intrusive thoughts and panic attacks, like dreams, are often portals to the spiritual realm, and when we commit to these practices we carve out time and a container for spirit to enter in meaningful ways.
- Being willing to feel the grief, heartbreak, fear, and loneliness that live inside intrusive thoughts and panic attacks.
Discovering the wheat inside the chaff also requires discipline. You’re not going to get very far if you’re expecting someone else to figure this out for you, or if you’re spending a lot of time distracting and ruminating with Google, scrolling, and social media. Cutting out the chaff means cutting out the noise of the world, for it’s impossible to hear your inner guidance when you’re listening to everyone else’s voice.
This is not obvious or easy work. We have not been trained in the language of metaphor, in the subtle ways that the unconscious extracts its demands. As I’ve written many times, we are a literal, rational, scientific culture, which means we’re conditioned to take everything at face value.
We’ve forgotten how to listen to the subtle layers.
We’ve forgotten how to dwell in the mysteries.
We’ve forgotten how to become curious about process instead of single-mindedly focused on outcome, and that through the journeying into multivalent and multidimensional places of psyche, we find runes, inner riches, gold.
This is the true meaning of the hero’s journey.
And I don’t mean to glorify or it or imply that it’s always a fun walk in the park. It is not that. We could say that being dragged into the darker regions of psyche, the long-forgotten places that are crying out for our attention. is the opposite of fun. It can be scary. It can feel disorienting. Fear-mind will almost always enter and say, “This will never end.”
But it’s essential to remind yourself that the first-stage terror of it all does end, and it ends more quickly when we remember that the thoughts are not what they seem, and that our task is, over and over again, to separate the wheat from the chaff.
What is your latest intrusive thought or source of panic and, most importantly, how are you responding to it?