Sometimes in the morning, when I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, as I’m listening to music, watching the birds at the feeder through the window, having my way with words, drinking a cup of coffee, I suddenly feel warm and fuzzy all over. I’m enveloped in a glow of satisfaction and completion. And I realize I’m feeling about as good as I can feel in a day, without introducing sex, drugs, and rock and roll (or chocolate) to artificially boost or even induce the sensation. In other words, for a moment, I’m happy.
But other times I feel downright irritable, with my wife, with my work, with my stressed-out body, with how hard it is to write. It’s then that I catch myself at my worst, when the monkeys in my mind are making havoc with my mental tranquility, not to mention with my work and relationships. I’m having dangerous thoughts. No, not thoughts as fatal as committing suicide or turning to serious drinking or running away for good (and at such a late date!)—but dangerous thoughts. I’m beating myself up with synaptic kicks and punches—and any one else in there who gets in my mind’s way. And I realize that I have these dangerous thoughts more often than just during these isolated funks. I have them more often than I like to think I have them.
Here they come! They come like demons out of hell. I’m afraid I don’t have anything meaningful or interesting to share. I’m afraid no one wants to read my writing. Do I think I’m some sort of authority? Who the hell do I think I am anyway, thinking I can be a writer—let alone a successful one? I may not be guilty of having actual violent thoughts, nor even hateful thoughts, since hate is so imbued in violence anyway, but judgmental thoughts, yes, and perhaps even cruel or malicious thoughts. Am I splitting hairs here? While I may not allow myself to indulge freely in self-loathing, I certainly work hard (yet fail) to suppress self-doubt. And while I brag that I’m not superstitious, I catch myself at “creeping superstition,” the sensation that, maybe, just maybe, the circumstances are lining up in my favor, that someone out there is looking upon me favorably when in fact there’s no evidence to support such a thought. Wishful thinking turns to hope which becomes a real possibility for a moment, when in fact I haven’t even lifted a finger or clicked a key. Creeping superstition. Dangerous thoughts.
Then there’s the arrogance, the secret vanities, those feelings of superiority I swing about me like a cudgel in my mind—that my philosophy is the ultimate view, the answer to the world’s problems—that I’m the enlightened one. If only they’d just look they’d finally see themselves for what they are and clean up their act—then they’d thank me for my wisdom! I even have a vanity about not being vain!
But aren’t I baring my soft underbelly here, lowering my neck for the sword’s blow, making a show of weakness? Won’t these self-admissions gain me doubt, disrespect, even derision? Good question! But I keep on trudging down the shadowy path where, nevertheless, I continue to catch glimpses of light. I believe in truth. I believe in courage.
So I catch myself at these dangerous thoughts. I suddenly hear the monkeys rough-housing in my cranium. I feel them tumbling and thumping against the inner walls of my skull. Now what? After all, what will I have left to think about if not these holier-than-thou, self-fulfillingly prophetic negative thoughts? Won’t an unbearably weighty silence suddenly fall like a clap of thunder on the vast cavern of my mind? And, hey, what does a peaceful, kind, loving, generous, positive, productive, considerate, thoughtful thought look like, anyway?
In yoga, the sanskrit word ahimsa, meaning “non-violence,” refers not only to one’s deeds and words but also to one’s thoughts. The dangerous thoughts I list above are no less mental acts of violence than greed, envy, and covetousness are mental acts of violence. But I’m not sharing these seedy secrets in order to bring world peace; I’m sharing them to bring peace—and freedom—to myself. That’s where it starts—with the self. I try to open spaces of time to observe my thoughts, especially those naughty, incorrigible monkeys rattling the bars of my tight little cage, and simply watch them till they settle down and go to sleep. To self-doubt I reply that while I can’t prove I can write successfully, neither can I prove I can’t. The self-doubt monkey yawns, lies down, and falls asleep. To arrogance, I ask myself how I like living in an ivory tower. Lonely up here? Monkey Superior stretches, lies down, and takes a long nap.
I am not my thoughts. I may have my thoughts—my thoughts may be mine when I have them—but they’re really just little word noises that blow like autumn leaves through the small dark vacuum of an otherwise vast and well-lit self. In mind, I can remain silent; silence is healthier than we think. Or in thought, I can be creative. I can look at the possibilities. I can solve problems. I can appreciate. I can analyze (if for the right reasons—that is, not to compare, but to understand). Or I can observe my thoughts and put the monkeys to bed so I wake up in the morning already glowing with happiness.