The TV of the Mind

Who is running the show of your life? It need not be your mind.

On a recent trip to New Jersey, the flight was delayed significantly. We departed on time, but our plane hovered for a couple of hours over Virginia, waiting for the storm over Newark to pass. 

One of the passengers beside me, a man from Florida sighed loudly. “I’ve been up since 4 in the morning. I am exhausted.” It was the third time he announced this since our plane first took off. Now there was an edge to his voice.

The pilot announced we were now flying into Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to refuel and “wait for further instructions.”

“Man, I’m hungry. And tired. I’ve been going since 4 this morning.”

The woman between us nodded her head. “Oh, wow.”

“Yeah, I’m in construction. I need to help with the remodeling from Ida in New Jersey.”

“Oh, what kind of construction do you do?” the woman asked.

An hour later, the pilot announced that we would be idling on the plane “just a bit longer.”

If the man and woman’s dialogue could be heard as music, the man’s words sounded painful, whiny, out of tune; the woman’s speech was soothing and buoyant. 

Hours passed. I listened to the growing tense “music” of the passengers around me: some were downright heartbreaking (a baby’s cries) while others were pleasant (a couple’s laughter).

The music shifted between the man and woman beside me: the man’s complaints morphed into humor (“Mother Nature’s gotta’ do what she does”) and then finally curiosity.

“Where are you heading?” he asked.

“Bombay.”

“Oh wow, did you miss your flight?”

“Yes, I think so.” Despite her mask, I could feel her smiling.

“What will you do?”

“I will get the next one.”

“Man, how long is that flight?”

“Sixteen-hours.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It is nice. I enjoy it.”

The normally 3.5-hour trip lasted 10 hours before we landed in Newark. By the time we deplaned, the “I’ve-been-up-since-‘4am” man was jovial; the woman from Bombay, appearing as content as she was from the start of our journey.

I wondered: what makes people experience the same event so differently? It was also not lost on me that the woman bound for Bombay influenced—for the better—our Floridian companion.

If we think of the mind as a TV, we can objectify the mind. We can watch the thoughts, but we don’t need to act on those thoughts. We can observe the facts as the peaceful woman on our plane did:

The plane is delayed.

We do not know where or when the plane will land.

We can choose to be aware of the facts of a situation—however unpleasant if not downright painful at times, without reacting to them.

In Martha Beck’s book, The Way of Integrity, the life coach writes candidly about her past struggles with anxiety. Her way out was through: through observing without judgment, through allowing without reacting:

“Clearly, my thoughts caused suffering. So, I didn’t obey them. Instead, I watched and questioned them until they dissolved.”

We possess this ability. We can choose to react or to grow still. We are not our mind, and our mind is not in control. We are the observer of the mind, the observer of life.

When we watch a dramatic movie, we can lose ourselves in the scenes and characters. We can literally forget that we are watching a movie, so drawn in we can become to the setting and actions of the story on the screen. But at any moment, we can become aware that we are merely the observer of the action on the colorful monitor.

When life feels unpleasant or downright painful, we can grow still and observe. We can watch without becoming the negativity or suffering.

Nostalgia, Not Regression

There is a subtle yet distinct difference between appreciating the past and regressing back into who we were then.

The colleagues I worked with for the past several years are back at school, preparing their respective classrooms for that timeless yet momentous occasion (that somehow always goes by in a dizzying blur): the first day of school.

For years, I loved working with students but also felt a yearning to work with students in a different capacity. When the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed my personal career brass ring and started working for a non-profit literacy agency. To say that my experience is both enjoyable and rewarding is an understatement. Each morning, I feel like I’m waking up to some career fairytale, singing like one of the 7 Dwarfs “Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to work we go…”

And yet, I miss my colleagues and friends at school. I miss seeing their smiling faces as we share the unspoken adrenaline of preparing for another school year. I miss the smell of books, the various personalities that make their way through our classroom doors, the camaraderie of teachers.

So how can I miss something that I yearned to leave?

According to life coach and author, Martha Beck (THE WAY OF INTEGRITY), sensing or experiencing an “impending transformation brings on a spasm of nostalgia for the life…known so far.”

There’s a reason we call it growing pains! The prefix TRANS (transition) literally means across or beyond. To go beyond something can shake us up, ejecting us from our comfort zones. It’s why the smoker who finds the willpower to give up cigarettes, while proud of their success, can also experience sadness, knowing they can’t share a smoke with their friends anymore. It’s why the victim of abuse who leaves their abuser is finally free but craves the familiar cycle of violence.

It’s why I can revel in pursuing my career but still wax nostalgic and sad about missing the first day of school.

“If you start honoring your true nature and find yourself missing your old culture, don’t panic. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time and space…” (Martha Beck)

I haven’t outgrown the classroom, but I did outgrow my role as public school teacher. I can appreciate the nostalgia that comes with time away from the classroom, but I don’t want to return there just because it’s familiar.

When we embrace our transitions, honoring how we feel along the way, a world of possibility arrives. And that’s where the real magic happens.

Feeling Torn?

Are you living a life to please others or yourself?

Remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz? That poor girl daydreamed about going on adventures “somewhere over the rainbow,” only to discover a world where scarecrows and tinmen could talk beside flying monkeys and—oh yeah, that she’d inadvertently murdered a witch!

Dorothy comes to adore her unusual friends. Their common quest to meet “The Great Oz” brings them closer, further bonding them as they sing arm in arm down that famous yellow brick road.

And yet, Dorothy is torn. She wants nothing more than to go home to her Auntie Em. Yet she doesn’t want to leave her friends. She wants to go home, but home is her friends AND Kansas. So where IS home? Where will Dorothy go??

What to do? We can feel Dorothy’s angst because we can relate. It is part of our human journey to experience confusion, a sense of longing for two things at once, a feeling of not knowing what step to take next.

Fortunately (you may recall), the ethereal Glinda the Good Witch shows up at this rife-with-tension juncture. She speaks the famous words to our young protagonist that hits me in the solar plexus each time:

“Home is a place we must all find, child. It’s not just a place where you eat or sleep. Home is knowing. Knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we’re always home, anywhere.”

While our modern-day world is not filled with singing Lollipop Guilds or cackling green witches who melt from water, we are regularly bombarded by flashing social media posts depicting every opinion under the figurative rainbow. And as social creatures, we tend to shape ourselves based on our culture, not our nature. 

Author and life coach, Martha Beck highlights our proclivity for adhering to cultural desires over our natural ones:

“For women in traditional China, climbing the social ladder required having teeny-tiny feet. Generations of girls and women had their feet bound and crushed, crippling them to make them better. In Victorian England, women wore fabrics dyed with arsenic that caused skin ulcers…a small price to pay for looking better than their fashion rivals! In our society, people will virtually kills themselves trying to better by decorating the fanciest cake, or breeding the most standard of all poodles, or clubbing a tiny little ball into a tiny little hole.” (The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self).

There is nothing wrong with a desire to socialize or even embrace one’s culture. The caveat arrives when we tend to measure our well-being externally, relegating our inner needs and knowing to the equivalent of a second-class citizen. When we get caught up in how many Instagram followers someone has, or how much bigger or more expensive someone else’s house is, we are measuring our lives with the invisible yardstick, not tuning into how we feel. Like Dorothy, we can easily forget that we are always home, able to “close our eyes” and find the answers and guidance we need.

We may not have a manifested Glinda at our beck and call. Yet we do have an inner voice, guiding us home whenever we are willing to listen. 

So, the next time you are feeling torn, ask yourself the following: 

Is there another way to look at this?

What does my culture (i.e. friends, family, religion) want/like for me?

What do I (my nature) want/like for me?

There’s a good chance your answers to the 2nd and 3rd questions are different. Only you know which one to follow.