When the world feels chaotic to me, it helps me to focus on the base of my pyramid, the most simple, fundamental pieces of knowledge. I call this ancient knowledge because there are laws that apply to any human, ever, throughout time, and have always worked the same way.
Sometimes, I’ll be so caught up in social media and politics that there’ll be a rampage of intrusive thoughts and emotions gnawing at me, and that’s when I have to say, enough. It is a sign to me when I want to change someone’s mind, or their differing opinion really fires me up, and I feel triggered, affronted, angry.
I give myself some grace here, as the world is a real place we live in, and to not feel outrage at the injustices on our fellow man and the planet we live would be to deny my own interconnectedness, and I do feel a mystification at those who seem to tune it out, as it can feel like a lack of compassion on a grand scale, but here is the essence of what I’m getting at, they are opinions.
When I am aghast at someone’s violation of what feels like absolute truth to me, I take a look back at some basic knowledge to give myself perspective.
We never argue about what we know for sure, we have no visceral reaction to disagreement when it’s a fact or a law. This is because we know, at least unconsciously, that there is a difference between a fact, a law, a theory, a hypothesis, and an opinion. Opinions are based on hypothesis, and just say what someone currently thinks about something. That’s all. In my own practice, I often use an apple tree on the bank of a flowing river as a grounding visualization. I picture my thoughts as the leaves on my apple tree. They are always lush, green, beautiful, and the tree releases them with ease. They float to the river- abiding by the law of gravity, then drift away, back into the eternal cycle. The tree does not change. All the leaves could fall off, and they’d grow back. They are not what makes the tree the tree. In my visualization, the tree releases one leaf, and another beautiful, lush, verdant tender curl is already beginning. In due course, it too will be released. When my thoughts are intrusive, or are disguising themselves as any other reality than what they are- nothing, this is a visualization that works well for me.
It reminds me that all the thoughts I encounter are all just that, thoughts. Opinions, voiced, written on media, or even just suspected as I anxiously search, for what?
I remember I don’t need a reflection of myself from someone else’s opinion, and that this is just an old, insidious habit. I look for approval because in the memories that drive me, I used to need approval to know I was okay. I needed reassurance from outside that the world was safe, because of the betrayal of my own intuition that began from the very first time I was told to believe something was okay when it was not. I was, like most of us, indoctrinated early into thinking I wasn’t to be trusted, I couldn’t believe my own senses, because I’m too sensitive, being a baby, not cooperating, hurting someones feelings, not making myself a priority because lazy parents or partners (I am also guilty of being both) are willing to trade their comfort for silence. I had to go to sleep when I was scared, I had to suck in my tummy even though it was not what felt best, for years I thought my face was too ugly to be seen without makeup, and I called it a public service to cover myself. We want to make our parents proud, we want to have approval and the benefits of forcing ourselves into other people’s comfort zones, even when it takes us so far out of our own that we have suffered terrible anxiety and emotional wounds from it. So it’s not a big wonder that sometimes, without noticing, we get caught up in the pain of disapproval, and forget that we are not our own leaves, and we sure as hell aren’t someone else’s!
Ghandi said it as, “I refuse to let someone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
I do not get to chose facts, or laws, or even many scientific theories. I remember that a fact is a provable certainly, a law is a statement about the relationship about more than one fact. A theory just describes why that may be, and a hypothesis just describes what someone is observing.
If I focus on facts, I can leave my violent and unhelpful urges to change someone else’s mind where they belong, adrift with all the other leaves, no longer attached to my tree. Because, the fact is, facts don’t care if I believe in them or not, and I always know this on some level. Laws will interact between facts regardless of the part I chose to play, the leaves I do or don’t contribute. I can’t stop gravity, but I can work with the laws to let it help me, or I can futilely fight them. I can ignore gravity, but the apple will still fall on my head. When I find myself stuck, it is usually because I am defending my opinion as if it were a fact, and, just looking at that statement, it’s easy to see why. First of all, no one is calm when they’re on trial. I am not on trial, what have I to defend, after all, ideas are not attached to me, even if I attach myself to them. Second, even my most deeply help, fundamental beliefs are just my opinions. They are thoughts, built of memories, that are either helping or hindering me, but, if observed, can certainly be adjusted.
In the words of Einstein, “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility,” and this is the essence of all of it. My brain is not a mystery, it is a machine that follows systems predictably, and the hardware is the same in all of us. The software is what varies, and that consists of memories, perceptions, thoughts, ideas, culture, and all the stimuli we imbibe and encounter. The basic human emotions though, are the same among everyone, always, on a grand spectrum. It’s the same emotion that tells me that I am threatened by an ice bear that surges in my body when I am angry at someone’s words, thoughts, opinions. It doesn’t even have to be directed at me for me to take it personally, I can be mad just that someone’s thinking it at all, which really means it’s none of my business. We are beings with a limited amount of basic emotions that drive every single moment of our lives, we all have the same basic senses, but when met with an incalculable amount of variables in the environment in which we display them, it can be hard to untangle them, sort them out, see them for what they are: fear, usually.
I am not tied to my beliefs because they are facts, laws. I am tied to them because letting go of them threatens something in me. Sometimes, it’s a threat to a fact: I am scared of violence because it hurts. If it does not feel good, it must be the wrong thing for our body to experience, is how it seems to generally work, which has led to both our survival, and some pretty odd habits.
Sometimes, though, what threatens me is not direct, and I have to search for the ice bear, figure out where the contrast is inside of me, what is driving the emotions? Sometimes it is because I am hurt. People do not always conform to the stories I have about them, sometimes in ways that cause me happiness, but other times fear.
Sometimes the threat is inside me- cognitive dissonance is a powerful source or denial, and it can be brutal to accept that what the current event is telling is not about whoever I’m reacting to, but rather, it might mean that I never knew them at all. And if that’s true, if I can be so, so wrong about someone, I can be wrong about anyone.
If I’m fighting to protect my ego, to deny my fallibility, my perception of my own memories, I am letting my deep fears cloud my lens, and giving myself a false perception of what is now.
I am choosing to give myself the gift of freedom. I am not attached to my opinions if I let go of the need to be right. I do this by reminding myself that I am not right. Or, if I happen to be, there is no way to know that, unless I am arguing a fact, and I never, ever, get caught up in arguing facts, and neither do other non-delusional people.
If I need reminding of this, I can go aggressively assert that the world is flat, or that I don’t believe in the tides or gravity. I can yell it, scream it from the mountain tops, and I’ll get crickets. No one cares what I think about this, and, there is no force on earth that can get me to argue with someone who is denying these basic tenets. These are facts.
The same goes with laws. I do love to discuss and study the laws, because it is fascinating to theorize and appreciate the sheer comprehensibility of how things do, indeed, predictably work with one another. It’s interesting and maybe even sacred to wonder, and it is this wonder that has led to the discovery of laws, which are always, utterly, indisputably, at work both before and after the discovery. There are laws and facts to explain, comprehensibly, every single phenomenon possible, I believe, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of discovering them, or, perhaps, rediscovering them, and in that, we can work magic. Real, practical, inexplicable magic that exists whether or not we know why or how. Love is one example. It’s one of the basic, shared emotions, and it’s power is undeniable, but although we see the consequences, no one understands all the rules that loves applies to.
Lucky for me, love is working even when I am not, and keeps on nudging me to grow everything good that I can in this life, and I have been shown tools for how to better work my mind. It is the one place that I do have utter control over, and, by reaching back, back, behind the complicated, to the simpler, to the most simple, the basic, the fact, I have proof that it feels better to approach ideas and thoughts with the fascination I could reserve also for snowflakes- unique, beautiful, but not something that can or should be held onto. Only when the snowflakes build up do they slow up down, and if we let snowdrifts build with no intention, we will have the proof of that in where we are unable to go without hindrance. If I spend time in tiny rituals, practice with the tools I’ve acquired to build mindfulness, like meditation, and do the simplest things, like drink enough water, put my hands in the dirt, I find I have less need to control my emotions, I can just let them guide me.