Back in 2005, I had just come back home from university in Pretoria, South Africa. I hadn’t spent more than 5 months in my home, Kenya , for the 10 year period that I had been in South Africa, so needless to say, I went through major culture shock on my return.
Coming back, I was completely unprepared for Kenya. I was not ready for the pressure of getting a job, but that’s what I was bombarded with. I could not stand the idea of working, actually. During the times I’d see my employed friends or family members during the week, I’d observe the misery on their faces, elegantly dressed, but looking like they had just come out of an 8-hour session of having pieces of their souls extracted in a slow, long and torturous process.
Knowing all this, I still wanted to fit in, so I got a job within the second month of my settling in. A few short months later, I was fired! Traumatizing for many, but I felt a warm flow of relief after my ex-boss slammed the phone for me to hear, and for the next week, I felt totally free… but the pressure set in again.
I tried lots of tactics to avoid this anxiety I was feeling. I would spend lots of time away from home, especially over the weekends, at my cousin’s house where I could lounge all day, pigging out on TV and food and NO pressure whatsoever! I dreaded coming back home because I knew that the anxiety, worry and fear I felt was waiting for me, exactly as I had left the little demons a few days before.
During one of those days that I was hanging out at home, I came across a book sitting on the kitchen table. I assumed it was my father’s because at the time, he was the only one actively buying and reading books. I picked it up, and its title “The Power Of Now” peaked my curiosity. I read the author’s name, Eckhart Tolle, and immediately I tried to picture his face. I envisioned a young man with long hair and a beard. Then I realized that I was envisioning this guy as Jesus, so instantly stopped and re-focused my thoughts on the first chapter of the book. I immediately opened the first page and dug right into it. I believe I spent the rest of that day thumbing through the chapters, learning topics and concepts that were completely new to me.
One particular chapter talked about self-observation. I am paraphrasing when I say this, but Eckhart suggested that the best way to overcome pain is by observation of one’s thoughts, without judgement. And that’s when I loudly closed the book, drew the conclusion that the whole thing was nonsensical psychobabble and returned the book where I found it. I still don’t know why I reacted so strongly towards that particular suggestion! Perhaps my mind knew I was on to its sneaky ways.
It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was recovering from my depression and suicidal thinking that I considered Eckhart Tolle’s words again.
“Observe your thoughts, without judgement.”
And I did. Since I started, I have been doing it for the past 6 years, and I owe my mental and emotional metamorphosis to this single teaching.
Now, about why I chose the above title for this article; have you ever walked into your kitchen to get a late night snack and hit the light switch? If you have a little rodent problem, usually cockroaches, you’ll notice them right away as they scramble at lightning speed for dark crevices and corners, away from any imminent danger. Negative thoughts work exactly the same. When you choose to “shed light” on them by deciding to be actively conscious of your thought process, you expose them. You reveal their manipulative and downright abusive nature, and you finally start to realize why sometimes you spend your days with a permanent scowl across your face.
Destructive thoughts lay dormant in our minds. Contrary to popular belief, one cannot eliminate negative thoughts. They wait patiently for an external influence to affect our mental and emotional state, then they instantly activate themselves. I have caught myself playing the most vicious thoughts in my mind, over and over again, feeding off them like an addict to a drug.
It is only recently, through reading up about habit and behavioural change that I came to understand that when the body has been overly used to feeding its cells hormones like cortisol, that is what the body craves for, and so we put ourselves in stressful and anxiety prone situations so that our body produces more of these chemicals into our bloodstream than we need, because we have not only become accustomed to this feeling, we crave it. But this isn’t a biology lesson.
Self-observation has the potential to completely overhaul your way of thinking. If you were to ask my mother, the person who saw me at my absolute worst, the difference between who I was years ago and the person I am now, she will tell you about the changes she has seen in me.
Observing one’s thoughts is a lifelong process, because I explained, thoughts never get eliminated. Negative thoughts crop up no matter how much you evolve as a human being. It takes years to get used to, because what you are essentially doing is interrupting your brain’s habitual thinking process for years, and most times, for decades. It means rewiring neural pathways that have been firing the same messages into your nerves and cells for years and years… and years.(There I go with the biology again!) It is sometimes physically exhausting, and it can be a very easy process to give up because of how uncomfortable it is. But I have found that with research, support and persistence, it is the one thing that can change your life in ways you have never considered.
The following are the things that start to happen as you continually observe your own negative thinking process:-
- You start to question the validity of the subsequent beliefs of your negative thoughts
- You start to notice the physical discomfort the thoughts bring (e.g. tense arms, increased heart rate, tight chest, etc)
- You start to consider alternatives to how you react to negative triggers. This can take time especially with very deep seated wounds.
- You start to accept and embrace who you are more and more, especially the flaws that you used to despise about yourself.
Self-observation starts with feeling. If you know you have fluctuating moods, it would be good to monitor your thinking and finally determine the mental culprit that keeps coming up to steal your joy.
So if you want to take up this new journey of your mind, do know that it is a practice like anything that requires time and patience to get used to, and it is a lot like training. But do not under-estimate its power. It will change your life. It has mine. Thank you, Eckhart Tolle.
I’d love to read your thoughts and opinions about negative thinking and how you deal with them. Do share your comments below this article and educate us on new ideas and concepts!