Monday, October 19, 2009

Prison Bars

I saw a cartoon recently that provides a powerful metaphor for how a person can be trapped by his or her own thinking-- and if you don’t know by now, your thoughts determine what your life is like. Period.

It is a picture of 2 guys facing each other wearing defeated expressions on their faces. They are standing in a wide open-almost desert-like environment and are both peering through prison bars they are clinging to. The thing is, the bars are free floating, unattached to any walls or structures. The two men have placed themselves behind these bars, oblivious to the freedom surrounding them.

If you become even a little mindful of this concept as you go through your day, you may be amazed at the thoughts you are telling yourself; the elaborate twists and turns and scenarios your mind will take. If these thoughts keep you rooted in fear, anxiety or pain, these are the prison bars you are holding up for yourself.

Some of the Prison Bar Talk I hear at my day job:
“I’m too busy to go to meetings—really!”
“I relapsed because I got so stressed out about my boy (or girl) friend.”
“I eat fast food because I don’t have time to cook.”
“I drank because it was my birthday—what’s wrong with that?”
“My husband doesn’t understand what it’s like to have a drinking problem.”

The thing is, there will always be circumstances we can’t change, but what’s important is to question your thoughts. Stand back and observe your thoughts as if they were projected on a screen. One way to question your thoughts is to use Byron Katie’s Inquiry Work:

Question 1: Is the thought true?
Question 2: Can you absolutely know it is 100% true?
Question 3: How do I react when I attach to this thought?
Question 4: Who would I be without this thought?

Intervening at the thought level allows you to drop the prison bars by creating alternative thoughts. Our emotions flow directly from our thoughts; our actions from our emotions, and our accumulated actions culminate in Our Life Story.

It is much like the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference.

Some of the ‘things’ we can indeed change are our thoughts.

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