You are in charge of your life. You only get the one, and it’s wild and devastating in its brevity, and in its expansiveness. You were gifted with consciousness, the ability to view the world utterly uniquely, through the lens of your particular experience. No one has ever been, nor will ever be, like you.
It seems a little absurd to spend so much time caring about what other people think that we rarely check in with ourselves and wonder what we think – about ourselves, others, the nature of love and the universe, what cats are thinking, what would happen if gravity released its weak but vital hold… Now, I’m well aware we spend an awful lot of time ruminating, equivocating, condemning. Our brains are judgement machines, and they make connections to keep us safe.
Someone with this stranger’s demeanour hurt us once? We decide they are unsafe and invent stories to support our decision to shut them out. Someone says something offensive or unkind? We worry about what they’ll think of us if we call them out. Why do we care what an unkind person thinks of us? Why don’t we care that our brains are running amuck with judgements and barriers, maintaining fear-mode and keeping us from experiencing new, albeit frightening things?
Not everything you think is true. Your thoughts are an amalgam of wise teachings, parables, media propaganda, out-of-date concepts, indoctrination, and lessons from experiences (yours and others, as told to you or viewed by you). Can you tell which thought is imbued with the gentle teachings of trusted people, and which is a message received by an abusive person at a young age, intended to maintain control over you? Every thought has an origin story. You invent nothing. The way you assemble thoughts may be unique, but their humble beginnings were given to you.
As a woman, I learned to be interrupted. I learned that the beginnings of my sentences were jumping off points for men to conclude – often in a completely different direction than I intended. This lesson was so strong and so persistent that eventually I stopped offering beginnings at all, yielding the floor. During this stretch of silence, because I was bored and introspective, I learned to catch my thoughts as they fluttered behind my eyes like the little floaties you see when you stare at a blue sky. I’d grab hold and clutch the thought in my brutal first, shaking it about. I wanted the truth. Where did you come from? I’d scream at the thought. You don’t belong to me! Those thoughts telling me I’m worthless, nothing I say matters, no one wants my input. Keep peace, my thoughts insisted. Don’t start something.
But when I tracked that little amoeba-thought to its singularity, I realized I’m not the one who started something. I didn’t fashion this world we all live in. If I had, I’d’ve made sure there was equal distribution of all things, wealth and resources, all with respect to the earth and her clearly defined limitations. I wouldn’t have created this hierarchical, oppressive, exploitative system. The thoughts I think are all filtered through this system. They are not pure. I work at uncovering the thoughts laden with other people’s fears and stories; I winnow out the thoughts that I only keep because they don’t challenge my worldview. I strive for consciousness. Curiosity.
My thoughts are sometimes so ridiculous that I have to laugh at them. If I let them flow freely without calling them in for examination, I’ll realize I’m thinking someone else’s thoughts altogether. I recognize my mom’s thoughts, my co-workers’ thoughts, my ex’s thoughts. I even recognize thoughts that ‘old me’ embraced, creeping back from time to time when my guard is down or when I’ve been dealt a blow. Patriarchy’s thoughts: you’re not good enough, look at the weight you’ve put on, you’re screeching again. Capitalism’s thoughts: did you check the price for that on Amazon? This year’s model has some pretty neat upgrades, time to trade in. Colonialism’s thoughts: I wish I had a plot of land for myself, mine, mine, mine.
And that’s just the people, just the systems. What about the emotions? Fear? Anxiety? Anger? Jealousy? They all have their cavalry of thoughts that accompany them, actually wielding the power to alter my body’s functions, triggering the sympathetic nervous system’s responses. If we don’t shine the light on these thoughts, examine them, and release them, they have the capacity to completely overtake us. We can begin to run on fear-thoughts, on obsessive-thoughts. We begin to function more animalistically, behaving as though our very survival is at stake if we react with good faith and kindness instead of suspicion, if we behave as though everyone has good intentions rather than mal-intent. What if we presumed the best? Could we maybe create it? Become it?
I read somewhere that if the world doesn’t make sense, if we don’t seem to fit into it, it’s because we’re here to build a new one. I had to learn that meant starting with my own mentality.
Thoughts can change the world.
What do you think?
Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.