Our emotions are typically elicited by our thoughts. Situations, in a sense, are neither bad nor good…they just are. It is our thoughts about the situations that give rise to corresponding feelings. Often these thoughts are “automatic” and just below our conscious awareness. If we learn to become aware of them, we can learn to change them or, better yet, just refocus on the present moment. When we are connected to the present moment, by definition, our thoughts are not on spin cycle about various things that can upset us (e.g., “I’m such a failure,” “He hates me,” “I’m worthless”).
Often our thoughts are on autopilot and not technically reactions to perceived events. We can get ourselves worked up without any external stimuli at all.
Here’s a personal example that just happened to me the other night. I’ve been going on my “meditative dog walks” nightly now for several weeks. I used to just walk the dogs because “I had to.” Now, I try to take these opportunities to get connected to the present moment…look at the stars, listen to the songs of the crickets, notice the different trees and so on. It’s very powerful when I do it, but I’m sure you’ve found when you try to stay conscious in the present moment, it’s not easy! I find that my mind easily drifts off, and my consciousness takes a back seat for a while until I somehow realize I’ve drifted off and my consciousness can pop back in.
On this particular night, my thoughts drifted to some other times in which I was walking the dogs and some unleashed dogs ran up to mine and a short skirmish ensued. Then I thought of how sometimes I’m walking my two young boys in a jogging stroller along with my dogs. Then I thought, “It would be horrible if I was walking my dogs and some unleashed dogs ran up and starting attacking my dogs…and then started attacking my boys! What would I do?” Well, then I imagined going into a berserk rage to defend my boys…in full technicolor glory. At that moment, my consciousness made it’s reappearance. I think I was able to do this because I noticed the visceral response to my imagined encounter. I felt the beginnings of rage! My jaw was clenched. My muscles were tense and ready for a physical defense. My heart was racing and my face felt flush.
I was quite surprised how quickly this all transpired…on my meditative dog walk of all things! My body was going into fight/flight response mode (well, just the fight mode in this instance) just because of these thoughts. Importantly, as soon as my awareness returned to the present, these feelings quickly dissipated.
These things happen to us all too often. It just illustrates how our thoughts…even in the absence of a clear external stimulus…can result in strong emotional and physiological reactions. Also, had I been able to stay in the present moment better, my peace of mind would never have been disturbed in the first place. Still, entering the present moment has the power to dispel the effects of our negative thoughts because, by definition, if we are connected to the present moment, those unconscious thoughts are not happening.