A counselor I enjoy and respect told me the other day that the thoughts that wander endlessly though one’s mind are only words, not reality. He said that when one is attacked by a thought that brings negative feelings, about oneself, about one’s life, about one’s decisions, one should not shove it down inside somewhere and try to forget it. Instead, one should defuse the sadness, pain, anger that thought produced by acknowledging the existence of the thought while understanding that it is just words and may not be telling the truth.
“There goes that same thought,” he suggests as an example to me, “I had yesterday about not being a good mother.” After this acknowledgement, he says one can stand back, clear the way to find the truth of those words. I try it. “My children think I’m pretty good at this job, except the time I hit one of them in the face with as frozen fish, which he will never let me forget. We still laugh about it.” With this truth, the swirl of pain that had come unbidden to me by some triggered roll of my Rolodex of memories calms.
This management of random negative thoughts takes practice. I’m not very good at it yet, but as I try to put into words what this defusion of negativity is all about, I realize that if indeed I have one more book in me, the old woman I’m writing about will learn how to do it. She will open her life to new people, experiences, herself.
As a writer telling stories about real people, I know that each of my novels is also telling a story about me. Graffiti Grandma is about an old lady who isolates herself from those around her until she meets an unlikely teenager who has done the same. I know about pulling away from those around me. As a writer, I isolate myself for weeks, months, as I enter another world. In Uprush, I spent many disconcerting hours recalling pieces of my past years and wondering what is next, just as my characters do. I was so inside Edith as I imagined her life, that I found myself swearing more, thinking about daughters-in-laws, and looking at husbands, black men and women in a way I had never done before.
In this next book, my character will change from a very self-centered, crabby old lady
whose every thought is negative and painful to some degree to a woman who knows that thoughts are just words, not truth. I’m anxious to find out how her (and my own) life will change.
If you are interested in more details of this approach to thinking about thoughts, you will want to look at The Happiness Trap, How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris.
And, yes, for those of you who read last month’s blog, I am working on defusing my negative thoughts about social media.