The human brain is a fascinating thing. It can create vivid landscapes no man has ever perceived, and send signals to our hands to bring what was imagination to full life. It regulates your body while you sleep at night, while still making you dream about having that important meeting tomorrow only in your underwear (It's not even the flattering underwear. It's the boxers you've had since middle school with the Power Rangers on the butt.). It stores vast memories of random childhood experiences while simultaneously making you forget where you put your keys. But what we tend to use it for the most is holding on to stress...holding on to anxiety and worry...holding on to that deep-seeded hate you planted ages ago and can't even remember where it initially stemmed from.
What kind of things go on in your mind that no one else can see? What do you think about when you first wakeup? Really, think about it. Now think about the thoughts that follow you for the rest of the day. What are you meditating on and revisiting? What moments are you painfully reliving over and over again? Take some time and hold on to your answers.
I'm not sure if I've written about this, but I'm too lazy to go back and check, so if you've read about this story already you're going to have to suck it up and take one for the newbies. I lost my mother about 6-7 years ago. I didn't think that had any emotional or psychological effects, but sure enough, as time strolled by I became bitter and cynical. All of the childlike hope I had lived in daily had become this weathered old man, watching others dance in the sun while all I could do was think about how much skin cancer they're collecting. For years I would wake up to thoughts of dread for whatever the day wanted to pour out on me. I was living out perpetual thoughts of, "Great, what else is going to go wrong today?" Even if anything good happened, anything that would make any normal person smile, I would immediately think of how fleeting the moment would be, and wonder how long it would be until "the other shoe drops." What the worst part was, was that I knew I had become a slave to that mindset. Regularly in church services we would have people speaking on "renewing your mind," and "fighting on the battlefield of your thoughts," but I was too tired to fight, too tired to care. I had laid down and thrown up my hands in defeat. So, what changed?
Honestly, I can sit here today and tell you that I'm much happier. I do fight that fight and wrangle my thoughts. I reach for the first positive thing that I can in any dire situation, and walk daily in a new hope that tomorrow could only have better and brighter things for me. Yet, there is still the sting and scars of the past, still floating around my mind. There are just some things that I'll never forget, but that is no cause for defeat, if anything it's a reason to stand and march towards hope. Now this paragraph is certainly even too sugary for my own good, and to be fair there are still very dark thoughts that drift in unchecked. I haven't perfectly solved the fight, but I have built a good amount of momentum to keep my gloves up, and I want to share with you how that happened.
I'm about to hit you with some imagery that is some of my favorite. Imagine a row of lights, lets say ten. Every single one of those lights are a bright, intimidating red, all of them, except for number seven, which is a warm green. Each light is a thought paired with a moment. So let's say you just thought about how that one ex who cheated on you; let's follow that thought line.
RED - "I can't believe they did that, how could they after all of those loving years together?!?"
RED - "How could someone do that to me? Why would anyone be willing to hurt anyone else so willingly?"
RED - "I hate them so much and I hope their life falls apart."
RED - "I hope they see how much their life will suck without me."
RED - "I'm so lonely still, and scared."
RED - "Can I ever trust someone else like this ever again?"
GREEN - "No, I'm worth someone who won't treat me like that. My heart is valuable, and just because that happened doesn't mean it will again."
RED - "What am I doing with my life?"
RED - "What's even the point of trying to find someone anymore?"
Did you see that? That one green light amidst all of the red? That is the one, tiny, sparse, minuscule thought that once in a dark cloud marches through our minds. It's the yes to life in a sea of no's. Understand that it's ok to hurt, and it's ok to feel what you feel, but realize that those small, positive thoughts can and will swing back around to you like a helicopter trying to pull a drowning victim out of the water in the middle of an ocean. If you miss the ladder it will come back and try again.
Now, a great follow up question to that would be, "But what if that thought seems so far out of reach that I can't link on to it?" That's when you need to choose to be grateful for what positive things are going on in your life. Man that sounds incredibly cliche', but it's totally true. Try daily to make a list of things that you are thankful for now, and things that you are going to be thankful for in the future. Heck, start small if you need to. "I'm thankful that I can breathe today.", "I'm thankful that I woke up this morning.", "I'm thankful that I had a full night's sleep.". Write some simple ones out daily and start to get creative with them... "I'm thankful that I will find that love I've been looking for.", "I'm thankful that I will have a job that makes me happy.", "I'm thankful that I will be in a better life situation in the future." This may sound crazy to many of you, but really, give it a try. As you grow more and more thankful, that ladder of positive thought that felt too high will become easier to grasp; then those nine red lights turn to seven, which then become 5, then all of a sudden you only have about two or three to have to deal with because you rode out that one green light.
Now, in light of that, think of those thoughts that I told you to hold on to earlier. Know that the darkest parts of you are ok to feel, but they don't define who you are. They don't need to define what you act on either. Start covering those thoughts with ones of thankfulness. If you can't find any, then ask a friend or loved one to suggest some things they see in your life that you can hold on to.
Philippians 4:6 says - "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
If you're reading this and you're not a Christian then that's ok. I promise you that walking out thankfulness honestly does begin to change the landscape of your mind. But if you are one I will tell you that the scriptures are pumped full of verses speaking on this idea. Also, if you are struggling with depression or anything of the sort that requires medication, please do not stop taking those meds because of what I've said. Walk out what you need to, but still try this method while you stay your course.
Today, right now, choose to hold on to that one positive thought. Know that if your thinking doesn't fully change right now, tomorrow, this year, or even in the next couple then that's ok. You're not alone in feeling this way. But take a stand for yourself. Be willing to fight for that better day. Be willing to start small and walk the thin road to a broader, brighter existence. Today is when you start to take back your identity. Today is when you join countless others in choosing to live a life full of hope that is worth living. I know it may seem too difficult, but I also know that you are fully capable. Change your thoughts so you can help change the world.