A thought is harmless unless we believe it.
A belief is simply a thought that we’ve been attached to, often for years.
It is not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering.
Our stress is not due to the world around us, but what we believe about the world around us. When we believe negative thoughts – we suffer, and when we don’t believe those same thoughts – we don’t suffer.
If something is “just a thought” then how much power does it actually have on its own? The amount of belief that we choose to endow upon a thought is what gives it its power! If we can strip a thought of its power, then it loses its meaning. And a meaningless thought cannot cause stress.
We are often encouraged to “let go of our thoughts” (especially if they are upsetting or negative.) But what if we challenged their truthfulness? What if we decided to call their bluff? What if we didn’t let go of our thoughts but questioned their validity?
The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with “what is” (reality).
The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with “what is” (reality). It is futile to want reality to be different than it is. And yet, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that you believe thoughts like this dozens of times a day. “People should be kinder.” “Children should be well-behaved.” “My husband (or wife) should agree with me.” “I should be thinner (or prettier or more successful).” These thoughts are ways of wanting reality to be different than it is. If you think that this sounds depressing, you’re right. All the stress that we feel is caused by arguing with “what is”.
No one wants their children to get sick, no one wants to be in a car accident, no one wants to be weary of their friends and despairing of the world around them. But when these things inevitably happen, how can it be helpful to mentally argue with them and chastise ourselves for lacking strength to overcome our thoughts? Yet we do it, because we don’t know how to stop.
We can’t help thinking, just as we can’t help breathing. We know that we aren’t breathing consciously but what happens if we realise that our thinking, like our breathing, is part of a bigger picture too? Thoughts just appear. They come and go, like clouds moving across the sky. They cause us no harm until we attach an unquestioned story to them as if they were true. Then further noticing reveals that thought and our thinking isn’t personal – it “just is” … and it’s universal.
We have the ability, if we choose, to question the validity of our thoughts and in so doing lessen their burden. Who knows, in so doing we may even change the world – or certainly our understanding of it!
If your beliefs are stressful and you question them, you come to see that they aren’t true – whereas prior to questioning, you absolutely believe them. How can you live in joy when you’re believing thoughts that bring on sadness, frustration, anger, alienation, and loneliness? ~ Byron Katie
There is a simple and powerful process of inquiry, developed by Byron Katie, which is a effective way to question our thoughts and beliefs in order to become free of them. “The Work” consists of 4 questions that can be asked every time we become aware of a thought that argues with reality e.g. “My partner should care more about his/her health”. The key is to take time with each question and notice the feelings that come up. If is often better to write the thought and the answers down.
1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to question 3.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
This is followed by a “turnaround” where the thought is reversed e.g. “I should care more about my health”.
There is more detail about and help for doing “The Work” on the website: Do The Work. It’s all you need and is free. Downloadable tools for The Work can be found at: Tools for The Work. There is even a mobile phone app which can be used to inquire into any thought that we notice. A really good article which gives the background and steps us through “The Work” is The Little Book.