“Why did you cut up my old madras shirt and boil it with my porridge?” I asked my wife accusingly.
My wife, now equally irate, told me in no uncertain terms me that she always added old shirts to the porridge–so what was I complaining about?
Of course, this never happened in “real life,” but it was part of a dream I had a few weeks ago.
The dream stayed with me as I woke because my crazy thoughts had generated real feelings of upset.
My dream was telling me more about my state of mind than the behavior of my wife.
I began to reflect about my real life grievances. Were the events I mentally complained about real or imaginary?
As I looked deeper, I saw that I was almost always more upset by my interpretations of events than the events themselves. Many of the events that I was upset about were actually quite insignificant; my interpretations were completely in my mind.
When I have an early morning flight to catch, my ego places a lot of significance on going to bed early. Just days after my shirt-in-the-porridge dream, on a evening before an early morning light, my wife was unexpectedly delayed getting home.
“Why didn’t you get home on time? You knew I had to be in bed early tonight,” I thought accusingly. She was guilty of being late like she was guilty of putting shirts in my porridge; clearly, I wanted to blame and be miserable. I was making the choice to be “right” rather than to be happy.
Even as I sulked, I knew I was off. I saw a pattern here: “Why didn’t you?” “Why did you?” I was a terrible judge–in my dreams and in real life.
In his book The Way of Liberation, Adyashanti writes:
Imagine that you’re now walking down the sidewalk listening to the neighbors talking to each other, when it occurs to you that they are making it all up. All the stories, all the little judgments, all the firmly held opinions, all the “he should haves,” and “she should haves,” and “what I think is . . .” are all made up, but taken to be real. It’s like they’re playing make-believe but forgetting that it’s all imagination, or getting lost in last night’s dream.
Guilty as charged! My interpretations, my judgements are all made up. And when I forget that I’m playing “make-believe” I am miserable–but in those moments, I believe someone else is to blame for my misery.
Often when I present my understanding of how our thinking is linked to our experience of reality, someone in the audience will hear the message and conclude that they need to change their thinking.
Not true. Trying to change our thinking is no more possible than trying to control our dreams. Yes, we can monitor our thoughts and dreams; but only with great effort.
There is a better way: Look quietly without judgment or preoccupation at each thought of “why did you” and “why didn’t you.” Gentle awareness of our antics will often cause laughter or chagrin, but with that awareness comes the ability to let go of our thinking.