In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
Recently, as I opened up an attachment to an e-mail, my heart began to race. As I quickly scanned the contents, my head filled with thoughts of anxious anticipation over having to attend another meeting via a conference call: I’m not as effective when I am on the phone, while others sit together in a conference room. I don’t know everybody who is going to be attending; this may be a rough one.
In a matter of seconds I realized that what I anticipated to be a notice of a new meeting was instead the minutes of a former meeting I had attended via a conference call. That first meeting had gone very well, and I had enjoyed my participation. I laughed at the power of my mind to create a bogeyman when none was there.
Consider this recent event. Occasionally we invite people to join us who are new to hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We usually begin with a relatively easy trail even when the new hikers are in good physical condition. Why? Hiking in the White Mountains involve psychological conditioning, too. Sometimes a hiker’s head is filled with seemingly compelling thoughts: “This is too tough. I can’t go any farther.”
My niece and her friend were recently visiting, and we got them out on an easy trail. “I can’t go any farther,” my niece’s friend began to say. In my estimation, she was in psychological distress rather than physical distress. Each time the friend stopped, my niece ignored her friend’s pleadings. “There is no hurry,” I’d say. “You are doing fine.” I don’t know what was best: ignoring her distress call or my gentle words of encouragement. Nevertheless, despite being caught in a downpour and considering turning back, we completed the hike. Despite her struggles, the friend of my niece was elated at her accomplishment.
Her elation was interesting. Because of the rain and a heavy cloud cover, there was no view at the top to reward our effort. She was soaked to the bones. I would like to think that her elation was because she was able to move past her thinking and complete a task that she thought was beyond her. How liberating to move past limiting thinking and cut “mind-forg’d manacles.”
Notice how in both these scenarios there was never anything to move past other than thoughts. Both the friend of my niece and I were frightened by something in our minds, not something in the world. I was more than capable of having a successful meeting; she was more than capable of finishing the hike.
I was seeing something that was not there—a scary meeting. She was seeing something that was not there—a scary trail. The fear we experienced was brought to us via our thinking—even though we thought our feelings were coming from circumstances.
At times it may seem to all of us that our thoughts have a life of their own. In other words, it seems as though we are dealing with something real and tangible. It would be foolish to not consider our thoughts if they were instructing us about something important that needed to be dealt with.
For example, return to the case of the feared meeting: If in fact I was ineffective via conference calls, perhaps I need more practice. Perhaps I need to role play. Perhaps I need to get to the root cause of my ineffectiveness. All of this would involve more mental processing and more thinking.
If I took the path to more processing, I would do so in all innocence. I might observe that I have fearful thoughts every time I participate in a meeting via conference call; those thoughts would understandably seem relevant. My ego would reason that since I have those thoughts every time, there must a real issue to address. My ego might be very logical, and I might be convinced; fortunately, there is a way out.
What if, despite its airtight logic, I began question the logic my ego was feeding me? What if, no matter how many times the same thoughts occurred, those thoughts had nothing to do with external circumstances? What if my thoughts about ineffectiveness did not surface until I looked in their direction and, importantly, began to process them? What if I was not dealing with an objective external reality but, instead, with thoughts that would vanish the moment that I stopped holding on to them?
If I go back to processing the same thoughts, I will recreate the same experience, and I will strengthen the belief that I am dealing with a real issue. All of this is simply a delusion of consciousness—like grinding a piece of cut glass in your hand and failing to recognize the source of the bleeding.
You might be asking, Why would we scare ourselves with limiting thoughts about anything? The answer is clear: our ego scares us because it depends on limiting thoughts for its survival. Our ego is built on thoughts of separation, lack, and limitation. Our ego chooses to be separated from the undifferentiated Wholeness which is reality. Lack and limitation is necessary to keep the ego’s game going.
You might be thinking that I make it sound easy to disengage from the ego’s limiting thoughts. Of course, doing so is not easy—as long as we believe that the issue our ego has created is really outside of us. The minute that we question the seeming reality of our ego’s thinking and thus of the feelings we experience, we have found the exit door.
To be sure, no guidance for how to behave follows from understanding that we—and not our circumstances—give relevance to our thinking. We must choose how to behave, but we can make our decisions with more freedom.
For me, the anxious, fearful thoughts that arise most often are mind-forged; that understanding has made all the difference.
Part two of this post may be read here.