When I was in my thirties, I loved what I did for a living. I used to get excited to go to work. The position gave me a flexibility I appreciated, because as long as I was doing the work, I could start and end my days when I liked.
However, I remember one particular project I worked on that didn’t go according to plan. And the voices in my head took over.
It started with a customer who wasn’t at all happy. I can’t share the details here, but because of this, I found many “worry” thoughts going through my head, and dominating my day. Isn’t it amazing how quickly things can change?
Suddenly, I wasn’t so excited about going to work anymore.
-Did I make a mistake?
-Was I not clear in how I described our services?
After kicking myself, my monster mind looked for someone else to blame – the company, my boss, my trainer.
– They did just throw me in at the deep end, which was exciting when it worked out but not very professional.
– If only they had given me the tools I needed.
Do you recognize any of those little voices?
Wow, I could really set my mind spinning off into how someone else had screwed up!
Of course, the real issue was that I didn’t want to get into trouble. And I was afraid I would lose my job.
And other secret thoughts included worrying that the customer hated me and that I was a loser. I sure felt like a loser!
Then, I started having sleepless nights, and was snapping at my partner. Plus, he was getting angry at me because I was withdrawing.
What eventually helped me was a conversation I had with my dharma teachers, Doug Sensei and Cata Sensei. Sensei means teacher in Japanese. These dharma teachers are a combination of counsellors, guides, and wisdom holders.
Reality check – what are the thoughts in my head, compared to what’s really going on in the world around me?
I find it scary to say what’s going on for me. And yet without this opening up, we’re at the mercy of our own little voices and monsters, and we’re believing all our own stories. What eventually helped me was a conversation I had with my counsellor.
This was the first time I learned that habitual thinking can be a trap that’s hard to get out of. And I found that there are concrete steps we can take to help us be less trapped by our habitual patterns of thinking:
- Practise changing your mind and opinion, just for the fun of it. Take a position you don’t believe, and argue for it. The point of this exercise is to increase our ability to be flexible in our thoughts, and see that thoughts and views are often arbitrary and unfounded.
- If it’s a work issue, discuss with a boss what you are worrying about, in terms of how it could affect the business. Don’t just hold it in and suffer.
- Talk to your spouse, or a confidante, and be vulnerable. Find a convenient time and ask them to just listen. Tell them how worried you are, even though it feels silly to be so worried. Let them know that, yes, you know it’s not that big a deal, but you are worried about it nevertheless.
- Talk to other people who are involved and listen to their perspectives. Let them know you feel badly even if you are not at fault. There may be nothing concrete you can change, and yet you may shift your thinking (and suffering) by seeking out a variety of perspectives.
Over this incident, I realized and came to terms with the idea that there might not be anything I can “do” to change what has happened. And I came up with some ideas and a plan of how to change the stuck thinking that felt so heavy.
I now have strategies about what to do differently. I can talk much more openly and as needed in the moment. Yet, honestly, talking can still be a terrifying experience for me.
Currently, some years after the event, I realize that it’s getting easier to recognize and then shift old habitual thinking patterns. I continue to learn, believing it is a lifelong process. After years of studying with my teachers here at Clear Sky, I know for sure that building this habit of effective communication is a sure fire win-win for everyone.
Communication is one of Clear Sky’s principles for creating a strong container for your spiritual practice.