I remember being very shy, on a date with a guy who — at the time — seemed to have an impressive life. We were driving in his truck, and I was just “enjoying” the ride, looking out the window and not saying much.
“What’re you thinkin’ about?” He asked. “You’re so quiet.”
I was immediately angered, because I had no answer.
Or because I realized I knew the answer.
What I was thinking was that my life was so boring and uninteresting compared to his. That I had nothing to offer. That he would judge me if I told him about my life. That he could see right through my cool nonchalance to the nervous young woman who was really out of her comfort zone in this ultra-airconditioned little cabin of spearmint breath and stale smoke.
And most of all, I was kicking myself for being so bad with disguising my insecurities that he had to pop the dreaded question stereotypically reserved by girlfriends for catatonic dudes.
“Just chillin'” I said casually, hoping I wasn’t seeping any anger.
Anger at whom? Him? Myself?
Suddenly I realized I was angry because of my thoughts. We were hanging out on a car ride. He was just trying to make conversation and may secretly be feeling just as awkward as I was. Nothing was terrible except for what was going on in my head.
Reality was slowly coming back into my perception. This was just some guy I was getting to know. I didn’t have to impress him. I didn’t have to try so hard. I could actually truly be “just chillin'” if I decided to get go of those thoughts.
Suddenly I realized wasn’t angry anymore. I was no longer trying to hide it, it had just vanished. I felt much more present and much less judgemental of him and myself.
While I didn’t turn into the charismatic cool chick of my dreams, I wasn’t ruining my time with my own thoughts, and I was squarely back in sanity.
Ever since then I’ve used that question as my own reality-check.
I often catch myself being wrapped up in bouts of unnecessary upset.
I could appear to be quietly having some tea, while on the inside having the most aggressive downward spiral in my head.
Or I would be irritated while getting ready to go to a party. Or I’d be distracted while doing something I’m supposed to be interested in.
“What are you thinking?!”I’d ask myself with varying degrees of intensity depending on the situation.
I find that I’m usually immersed in imaginary scenarios that aren’t happening (and usually never do). Or I’m dropping all my judgements onto someone else, of which is ultimately none of my business. Or I’m thinking pitiful things about myself that I would never think to say to a friend or loved one.
I look at all these thoughts and then say, “Well, there you go. That is why you’re feeling this.” In reality I’m just having tea or getting dressed.
So in the moments of self-disrupted peace: what are you thinking about?
Facing what’s going on beneath the surface changes the whole experience. Once you know what your thinking looks like, you then have a choice if you want to keep thinking that, or focus on something else, or just let it go and be.