Thanks for the life lessons, Uncle Grant
My earliest solid memory is Uncle Grant telling me the story of how our minds work. I was about six years old.
Sitting at my gran’s house, probably in summer, as I remember dappled sun on the walls and warmth on my back through the window, he stopped playing guitar and said that I should listen closely.
“Your thoughts, Schnabble, are not you and you should watch them, because they are very busy,” he said.
I loved it when he called me Schnabble, which he did until the day he died two years ago.
“Your thoughts are like many different movies playing in your head and sometimes, you feel that you are in the movie, but really, you are not.
“And that is the trick, to remember you are not in the movie, and that you are just watching it, but are not part of it.”
I couldn’t comprehend the meaning behind the wisdom then, but the fact that this conversation has stayed, is significant. Because now I understand what he meant.
“You start by just watching the thought come in. You see the thought: ‘I want some cake’. Watch it come and then watch it go. Don’t act on it or think about it, pretend that the thought is a movie, and the movie is about someone wanting cake. “As soon as you start seeing the movies in your mind, they’ll come flying in faster and there’ll be so many ‘thought movies’, that it feels very busy in your head. But that’s okay; just watch each one come and go, like a television show.” Eventually, he said, if I did this regularly, the thoughts would slow down – and I would have the power to slow them down, to calm myself, and to feel peaceful, because I had refused to become the thoughts that were in my head.
Uncle Grant was a master, not only in terms of his physical life skills (music and accounting), but beyond that – into the less-definable realm of the spiritual and mystical.
A couple of years ago, I discovered philosophers and writers who subscribed to this thought theory.
Eckhart Tolle is one, and there are others, including Sarah Chauncey, who explains it simply: “Thoughts, like breathing, can either be deliberate or automatic”.
Just as we can “breathe deliberately”, she says, so we can “choose to think about a certain problem or situation.
This is one of the gifts of being human. But when the mind isn’t focused, thoughts come up anyway. This is one of the challenges of being human.”
It may be just enough to begin by observing your thoughts. I’ve done this– and written about it before – but the practice never ends.
“One of the foundations of inner peace for me is realising that I am not my thoughts,” explains Chauncey.
“I had to learn to observe my thoughts, to recognise that the thoughts exist on their own plane and that thoughts weren’t the same as me.”
It took me more than 30 years to understand why thoughts are so potentially destructive and infinitely dangerous when they’re in the wrong hands – mine.
It will take even longer to fully appreciate the wise observation: you may have a thought – but don’t dare think it.