Thoughts on Thinking

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

-William Shakespeare

I think a lot. I am a human, after all. And thinking is what has enabled our species to reach the great heights it has. No other species can think, analyze, and evaluate to the degree that humans can. But thinking is a double-edged sword. Especially when our thoughts aren’t always even true. Heck, sometimes, our thoughts aren’t even entirely in our control. I read something Byron Katie once said along the lines of “we don’t think, we’re thought,” which I think nails it. It’s like our brains control us much of the time rather than the other way around.  That’s one reason I like meditation so much, because I feel like it helps me to get a better handle on my thoughts and not be such a slave to them. Because dammit if those little buggers aren’t trouble makers.

If you think about it, (ironic, I know) thinking is what perpetuates a lot of our discomfort. When you’re stressed out, anxious, upset — it’s your thoughts that are causing that. You’re telling yourself some kind of story about what has happened, or what you think might happen, and it’s upsetting. But what if you stopped the waterfall of thoughts? Either cut them off outright or paused and questioned them. I was listening to a Tara Brach talk the other day in which she encouraged us to “not believe the thoughts; just feel the feelings” and it’s really stuck with me. I’ve tried it out a few times since and it’s been immensely helpful. It’s incredible the space that opens up when you let your thoughts go and just sit with what’s left. It turns out that what’s left isn’t nearly as bad as your thoughts might have you believe. In fact, there’s evidence that emotions don’t last any longer than 90 seconds. The only reason we remain angry or upset for longer than that is likely because we’re feeding our emotions with our thoughts. Just fanning the flames. So next time you find yourself spinning off into dangerous thinking territory, try to stop yourself. Some thoughts are like animals in a zoo. It’s not good to feed them 😉

 

 

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Meditation vs. Medication

So which is it? Sitting and observing your breath for 30 minutes every day or sitting and gulping down a couple of pills every morning? Remembering to stay present and be mindful throughout the day or remembering to take the little blue tablet with dinner every night? Is one better than the other? If you listen to some people, you might think the answer is yes. With all the attention meditation and mindfulness have been getting lately, you might think, like I once did, that you should be able to solve all of your problems simply by committing to a regular practice. Some studies even seem to support this fact, indicating that meditation could be just as powerful or perhaps even more powerful than medication. Still others might argue that such research is misleading and that meditation is just a new age obsession. Which side are you on?

Personally, being the lover that I am, I’m not inclined to take sides. In fact, I’d take out that “vs” altogether. Why must we always pit one method against another? If one works for you and the other doesn’t, fine. If a Prozac a day is all you need to carry on with your life and not spend all your time wallowing in bed, good for you. If you’re able to drop the meds and replace them with 30 minutes a day of meditation, power to you. If you don’t need either, well, isn’t that just swell.

In my own case, I’ve found that meditation PLUS medication is the perfect formula. Meditating has helped me to ground myself and become more aware of myself, my feelings and my triggers in a way that I never was before. I’m more patient, less reactive and more present. But before I started taking medication, meditation only went so far. I was still incredibly anxious, especially around food and social situations, and my obsessions/ruminations were pretty out of control. My therapist encouraged me to try medication for at least a year before I finally accepted the fact that I couldn’t really “do it on my own.” In the past, I’ve been really resistant to taking medication. Along with the conviction that I should be able to power through my issues on my own strength — that I didn’t need a ‘crutch’ — I was also a little afraid of being turned into someone or something I’m not. I was afraid a pill might mask who I really am. Now, I believe the pills I take enable me to be who I really am.

However, I realize I’m lucky. For many people, it can be difficult if not downright impossible to find an effective medication without a host of unwanted side effects. I mean, have you ever listened to those TV commercials for psychotropic medicines? They’re pretty disturbing if you actually pay attention: “Ask your doctor if astroprozanilol is right for you. Taking astroprozanilol may cause severe bloating, heart attack, frothing at the mouth, turning into a werewolf every full moon, hallucinations, uncontrollable urges to gyrate like Miley Cyrus and the very symptom you started taking it for…”  For such people, maybe meditation alone is the better option. It’s certainly worked wonders for me. But for other people meditation may not even be an option until they get some medication in their system to make it so their brain settles down enough for them to be able to meditate. I guess what I’m saying is, everyone’s different. Don’t compare yourself to someone else and don’t compare your situation to someone else’s. Don’t write off meditation as hocus pocus until you’ve really tried it, and don’t write off medication unless you have a legitimate reason to. And if you’re worried about potential side effects, do yourself a favor and don’t read the entire pamphlet that comes with your first dose. And DO NOT get on the internet to search for more information. If you’re anything like me, this will FREAK YOU OUT and you will be convinced that you are dying before you’ve even swallowed a pill.

It’s also important to remember that NOT taking medication may have severe side effects too. In fact, there are a few things I’ll never be able to reverse because of my long term illness. But that’s not something I care to dwell on. Right now, all I care about is that for the first time in a long time, I feel awesome. After speaking with my doctor a second time (after the initial discussion about a potential incorrect diagnosis I mentioned before), he prescribed something to amp up the medication I was already taking. Until I started taking it, I didn’t really even realize what was missing. Or that anything WAS missing. But now that I’ve been on it a little while, I feel as though someone has taken a blindfold off and now I’m finally able to see. I’ve been walking around with a huge weight on my shoulders and this tiny pill is helping me to shrug it off. I feel like MYSELF. And it feels damn good.