Thoughts are interesting creatures. They are simultaneously, paradoxically, industrious head-down background workers and… ‘fun-employed’-vain-main-character types. They scurry around constantly, across the cold wooden floors of our minds, arriving just as quickly as they leave. Some of them return from time to time; some lurk, stagnant, in shadowy mental corners; some manage to find the exit, squirming away from our memories and choosing never to return. In our minds, thoughts perpetually emerge – blossom, or burn – and then they wither, or are extinguished; some stay for a second, some for a day or two, and some forever.
We all occasionally have thoughts pertaining to distant memories that leave us wondering why we had even thought to retain them in the first place; thoughts about what to eat for dinner, based on experiential thoughts about things we have previously eaten; optimistic thoughts; cynical thoughts; sunny thoughts; dark and disturbing thoughts; thoughts about the future and the type of thoughts we wish to have when we arrive there; thoughts about which thoughts to filter out and which to cling to and embellish when speaking to others; thoughts about what others might be thinking of us, while we, too, judge them.Thoughts are truly mysterious and fascinating entities – they are so elusive and incomprehensible, and yet so ridiculously powerful.
Each of our thoughts is shaped by our own individual experiences (our memories are simply erstwhile thoughts that we have retained, and which we fortify by dwelling on, whether consciously or not) and, on a wider level, by our overall dispositions (whether we are generally optimistic, pessimistic, or comfortably neutral). Our thoughts shape us and how we behave; they are our processing tools, unceasingly interpreting events, and giving rise to judgements and emotions, and functioning as the building blocks of ‘who we are’ at large, and how we are perceived and processed by others.
The entirety of our beings – whether we are shy or confident, naturally likeable or somewhat ‘difficult’, good at cooking or hopelessly terrible at it, whether we approve of ourselves or not (and by extension, the degree to which we actively seek validation from others) – are all fictions that we give strength to as a result of the intrinsic human affinity for stories and story-telling. The fictions of our identities and dispositions (however authentic, solid and unyielding they may seem) rest atop the constantly fleeting, inherently alterable and unstable flow of our thoughts. And where there is such an immensely great amount of uncertainty, there is an insanely high degree of possibility. The mantra that relatively fulfilled optimists and highly successful CEOs appear to share is that we can all have anything we have ever wanted in life – including that great collective human desire for an enduring sense of contentment – if we train ourselves to take control over (one might even use the term hijack) some of our current thoughts and established ways of thinking – a feat that in my view, can be referred to as the process of becoming a thought ninja.
A good question to ask oneself when assessing the nature of our general thoughts is as follows: when basking in utter silence – something the majority of us are understandably too afraid to ever truly do – what do your thoughts say to you? Are they mostly kind to you, or do they criticise your every action? Are they mistrusting of the good and readily accepting of the bad? Do they mostly soothe you or unsettle you? Ultimately, the majority of our inner monologues (otherwise known as ‘self-talk’) are nothing but the internalised forms of the language choices directed towards us by our primary caregivers in childhood. Think, for a second, about the way you think about yourself and of the world around you; it is likely that this inner voice strongly resembles those of your parents, the very people who introduced you to the complex sensory stimuli of your surroundings through verbal means. All thoughts are little monuments to the language we have internalised, from the time we learnt our first word, to this moment now. We have consolidated these internalised ideas via self-talk and the selective embracing of comments (both compliments and criticisms) made about us, as well as the actions directed towards us by others.
It is also important to pay attention to the fact that our thoughts – the foundational ingredients of our existences as sentient, intelligent beings – are the shapers of our subjective realities. There are roughly 7.5 billion people in the world today, and each of us possesses his or her own mind, complete with his or her own entirely unique and subjective thoughts. Thus, there are roughly 7.5 billion differing (human) realities in the world, each highly fragile and susceptible to constant change via exposure to different ideas, experiences, and, indeed, to others’ thoughts (which can be carried across, to some degree, through the currency of language, in the form of conversations, books, film, and other media).
Your mind is your thoughts’ ever-expansive habitat, and the interface between you, and the material world around you. Your mind is at once your primary home and the centremost part of you. Close your eyes. Is your mind (I am trying to resist the urge to be all Sherlock-ian by speaking of a ‘mind palace’) well-lit, airy, and liberating? Or is it dark, dingy, and unpleasant? Do you envision the mould and rust of pessimism and hopelessness, stemming from trauma, heartbreak and disappointment, climbing up its walls?
It is crucial to remember that all that is real is simply all that you allow yourself to think.For many, resisting onslaughts of toxic, anxiety-inducing thoughts is difficult (given that our knowledge of the world stems from experience, and it is difficult to undo the emotional imprints, however irrational they may be, of such memories). But actively re-training – in many cases, re-parenting – our minds is a more-than worthy investment to make. For the sake of you, the reality you will spend the rest of your time on this earth venturing through, the mind (palace!) you will spend every second of your being lounging around in, and for the you-shaping thoughts that inhabit it, it is worth working towards de-cluttering and reframing, giving its walls a fresh lick of paint, and perhaps removing the mould and rust of days gone – a past you will never have to see again. Although it is hard for us to rid ourselves of entrenched ways of thinking (it is hard for us to challenge or work towards undoing the realities we have concocted for ourselves) and of the stories we have repeatedly told ourselves, the fact of the matter is that we do have a great deal of autonomy over our realities and the thoughts that shape who we are and how we fit into the world.
To unleash the extraordinary power of our thoughts, we must first allow ourselves to think the instigating thought that is: anything I want to do or be or allow myself to feel or forget or heal, I most certainly can do so. So here is to the unsettling yet comforting concept of Theseus’ Ship that I so love – to the endless opportunities to create new memories, inspire new thoughts, cover our mind’s walls with yellow wallpaper. Here’s to the possibility that it is possible to train and reframe our minds to wake up each morning with a sense of child-like bliss, and to go to sleep nurtured by a sense of fulfilment.
And the unwanted aforementioned mould and rust from our minds can then be used to kindle in them a lovely little fire: a blazing apparition of love (for ourselves, our lives, and others) and a healthy dose of crazy (crazily in-spite-of-) and blind, hope for the future.
And around these fires, we can bring ourselves comfort through a sense of inner warmth, telling ourselves a set of new, more enriching tales that will eventually replace any former ones, forming our newer, more desirable internal realities.
Sadia Ahmed, 2019