There is a line in one of Shakespeare’s plays that says: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
Over the last year and a half, we were all challenged on many levels – emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. The pandemic and its after-effects have turned our lives upside down and nothing seems the same anymore.
If you look at all of this from a different angle, you will notice that a challenging situation such as this can invite you to learn a very important lesson; to become aware of the difference between the situation that you find yourself in and what your mind says about the situation. This is particularly visible when you are in a challenging situation. That is why some people who are in the same situation can experience it in a totally different way.
Even though most restrictions of the pandemic have been lifted and we are all still adapting to live with it, one of the side effects from this whole “rollercoaster” is that we experienced a much higher level of stressful emotions, such as fear, fear of dying, of losing loved ones, fear of losing income, fear that our life as we know it is falling apart. Basically, fear as a survival mechanism has been ruling – and might still be ruling – our lives for an extended time.
Most of us may have been confined to a small space, have been experiencing lack of physical freedom and social interactions with loved ones, hobbies or work, and now is the time to learn about the emotional and mental impact it has had on us.
Can you agree with me that all of these things that we have been experiencing would conventionally have been called “bad”? At a certain level, they are not pleasant. So, what does it mean when we say “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”?
The spiritual lesson here is being able to differentiate between a situation that you are experiencing and the story you tell yourself about this situation.
The story is the mental commentary you have about the situation that you are experiencing, the thoughts that you have about this situation.
For most people, there is no gap between whatever they experience. This and the mental comments on the experiences are a singular phenomenon that cannot be separated. These two aspects merge together as one experience.
Let’s say you are cooped up in a small space for months and cannot take it anymore. The self-talk is telling you how awful, depressing and unacceptable this situation is. Self-talk may generate self-pity, anger, sadness, resentment or fear. Actually, a lot of self-talk is about how bad it is now, how unfair this situation is and how scary the future might be.
Did you know that 99.99% of self-talk is actually negative? When the mind is saying that it will get worse, basically you already believe this. Even though, technically speaking, the fear is about the future and the future does not exist yet. The effect of this kind of self-talk is that you add fear or anxiety to your present moment, to the situation you are in right now.
Break the pattern, find a new way
To break the pattern of unconscious commenting and find some space to look at a situation from a place of awareness, I suggest experimenting a bit. Tap into situations that make you uncomfortable, situations where you feel you are suffering and you can’t take it anymore. It can be a situation from the past or any situation that you currently find yourself in.
Listen to the mental commentary about this situation
Without judging, truly take time to listen to whatever self-talk is going on within you.
Some examples are: “I’m not happy”, “I can’t take it anymore”, “there is no way out”, “everyone has to shut up”, and so on.
When listening to your self-talk, it’s important not to judge but to simply hold the space to become aware of it. Listen to all the concerns you have about yourself, others, the world, the past or the future. You may find that, in many occasions, this added interpretation is negative and not helping you. Isn’t that interesting?
As an experiment, I would suggest you ask yourself: how would I experience this situation if I would not add any comments? How would I experience this moment if I would not add any unnecessary thoughts to it? How would this situation that I find myself in be without the interpretation of the mind? Am I experiencing the situation through the narrative of my mind? How would I experience this situation without the addition of thought?
How would I experience this moment if I refrained from labeling it, calling it good or bad?
All the questions above do not necessarily have to be answered. It is their purpose to direct your attention to the present moment.
What are you left with without a narrative about the situation?
Maybe it’s something like this: I’m sitting on the terrace, watching the light shining through the trees, listening to the noises, I hear a dog bark, I feel the warmth of the sun on my body, I can feel my hands, my feet, the aliveness in my body.
When you drop the narrative
Now that you have dropped the narrative, all you’re left with is the bare “isness” of this moment. You may suddenly feel a kind of weight lifting off your shoulders, a weight that you have been carrying for a while now, without realising it. It is a weight of unconscious thinking, the mind creating unhappy narratives. And finally, now your body can stop reflecting on those unhappy narratives that were expressed in pains in your body or the experiencing of heavy emotions.
This is the other way
It is the way of awareness and presence. To be able to separate the narrative from the situation. And if possible, let go of the narrative and just be present with this moment as it is. Your entire life can now unfold from this new, bare present moment, instead of from the negative narrative you had added.
There is an enormous power hiding in the now, which means hiding in you. The deep sense of aliveness and “beingness” allows an attitude of acceptance to arise in you. Acceptance of whatever it is that life is currently offering you.
Sometimes you need to be challenged by life to find it
This is what is happening now to all of us, both individually and collectively. We need to wake up out of unconscious thinking, out of complete identification with the thinking mind, which is conditioned by the past. And we need to realise that there is, within us, another dimension of consciousness that has always been there but habitually overlooked. And that is awareness, which is consciousness without thought. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.
By Ria van Doorn
Ria van Doorn is a life coach for internationals living abroad and founder of the Expat Centre Portugal.