Last weekend I experienced a stream of irritating thoughts. It was Sunday and my wife and I were getting ready to go Nordic skiing. First, I was irritated at my wife because I couldn’t find my base-layer, poly shirt. I could have experienced gratitude that she takes care of the laundry. Decades ago, as a bachelor in my first apartment, I was lazy enough to take my clean underwear directly out of the dryer rather than fold it and put it away. Why did thoughts of irritation arise instead of thoughts of gratitude?
When we got to the Nordic ski center, I was irritated by the sections of trail where the snow cover was thin. Where were the feelings of gratitude for those who expertly maintain the trails that would allow us to ski about 15 kilometers for a very modest fee?
After skiing we stopped for lunch. I felt irritated that unhealthy processed vegetable oils were almost certainly used in preparing my food. No feelings of gratitude arose for those who were cooking for me on a Sunday. Once again, why did thoughts of irritation arise?
I don’t mean to exaggerate my irritation. I much enjoyed my Sunday ski outing with my wife. The feelings of irritation arose and passed quickly. Yet, there is a lesson to learn from what seems trivial.
A Course in Miracles observes, “The degree of the emotion you experience does not matter. You will become increasingly aware that a slight twinge of annoyance is nothing but a veil drawn over intense fury.”
How can it be that a couple of incidents of mild irritation are a veil masking intense fury? All of our thinking stems from one of two places: Love or fear. Love is what we experience when we are aware of our connection with God, our connection with the place where we are all one.
Fear, on the other hand, arises from the place where we experience ourselves as separate from all else. Believing we are separate, we blame others and our circumstances for what we are feeling. A Course in Miracles adds that our thoughts of blame are meaningless: “Remember that you do not really recognize what arouses anger in you, and nothing that you believe in this connection means anything.”
When we make the decision to blame others and circumstances for what we are feeling, fear intensifies. How could it be otherwise? We don’t want to take any responsibility for what we are feeling. We seem to be victims of a merciless world where people don’t behave, or life doesn’t behave, the way we have decided that it should.
As thoughts of irritation arose I must have believed that contentment would come to me if the circumstances of the day were completely arranged to my ego’s satisfaction. The truth reveals that having chosen fear instead of Love, I would have found something else to be irritated about even if my shirt was in the “right” place, the trail were “snow packed,” and the restaurant had used “proper” ingredients.
The thought worlds of Love and fear are maximal. By that I mean we can only be in one thought world at a time. If we are experiencing irritation, we are feeling the thought world of fear. Our irritation, although more socially polite than a full blown anger attack, is coming from the place of fear where irritation, fury, and hatred arise—their source is the same.
We allow Love, but we create fear via our thinking. In his book The Missing Link, Syd Banks wrote, “The ego and the intellect are functions of our personal minds whereas wisdom is a function of the spirit.”
So, back to my question. Why did irritation rather than gratitude arise? We can understand that our thinking is generating our upsetting feelings. Next we can understand that our ego often speaks first from the thought world of fear. As long as we see the world through an existentially invalid lens, upsetting thoughts will arise. As long as we are choosing to see the world from what Dr. Thomas Hora called humanity’s collective Sea of Mental Garbage, we will keep generating upsetting thinking. This explains why it seems at times that upsetting thoughts are hard to drop. As long as we believe our upsetting thoughts are telling us valuable information about ourselves and others, those thoughts will stick to us like glue.
There are those who believe that they can get to the bottom of their anger by analyzing it; others believe expressing their anger will help to release it. The more we live in the thought world of fear, the more irritation we experience. It is a bottomless well of despair and darkness.
Does a sunny day create dust in our homes or simply expose the dust that was already there?
Do other people create our upset feelings or do they simply expose what was lurking in our minds already?
Our thoughts of irritation keep our ego alive. With problems, our ego justifies its feelings of victimization. When we choose to identify with our ego we receive the “gifts” of the ego.
It is never a good idea to fight with our thinking and feelings, but it is always good to understand where our feelings are coming from. In my experience we need to understand that our feelings are generated by our thinking. But we also need to understand that the choice for Love or fear is generating what thoughts arise.
Can I stop my thoughts of irritation from arising? The answer is no. They will arise as long as I chose fear. “Trying to remove your own shortcomings is like trying to lift yourself off the ground by pulling on your own bootstraps while standing in your boots,” writes Wayne Liquorman.
To the case in point, the more I understand that my thinking is generating my feelings and the more I understand that identifying with fear instead of Love will generate pain, the fewer thoughts of irritation arise. When I choose Love, instead of fear, I experience peace and gratitude.
Life is kind. In my experience, if I keep improving my understanding of spiritual Reality then grace will do the heavy lifting as I get myself out of the way. Where there was fear, Love will return. Love never leaves us; it is just momentarily hidden by clouds of thought.