“Be What I think? But I think of Being so many Things!”

My last post about thoughts being less important than we think triggered an interesting conversation between my very good friend Vera and me. A well articulated exchange of opinions that led to a beautiful reference of a poem by Fernando Pessoa, The Tabacco Shop. Today, I would like to share with you this conversation. Join us, if you like. I started with saying that ‘we are not our thoughts’. Do you agree? 

VERA: Since you ask for our opinion, here it goes 🙂 We are also our thoughts, babe. They are a reflection and a building block of who we are. We are not JUST our thoughts, that seems more correct to me.

To say that we are not our thoughts seems to me also an excuse to not analyze them, to discard them when they are not in tune with our self-image. Someone who was taking a mindfulness class a couple of years ago said the same thing to me and it helped me, it made sense indeed. She told me to sit back and watch our thoughts pass by, be conscious of them, not giving them less credit but observing them as a separate entity. I encountered the same philosophy in a post-colonial article, about noticing how racist, classist and sexist our own thoughts can be (we that think we are so immune to these plagues, because we do our best to fight them). I started doing so and was very surprised by what I found. I have thoughts I didn’t know I had (and yet they are mine – strange that I was not aware before, right?). My point being: let’s do that, but not to give them less credit, to give them the due attention and work on them instead.

About the taking action part, I’ve been meaning to call you and tell you but then life gets in the way: I miss and love you (there, action taken!)

ME: As always you brought the conversation to a much higher and interesting level, my dear. 🙂 My post was much black and white, indeed. However, I do believe that our thoughts are not necessarily who we are. I think that we have more thoughts than we can account for. I often find myself thinking of one thing and its contrary and yet somehow I decide to give more attention to one rather than the other. In therapy, for example, you can learn how to direct this attention, how to step out from bad thoughts loop. And I wonder why this is not thought to us from the start? Perhaps we cannot spend our all life trying to redirect our thoughts, but what if we could make it into a routine exercise?

VERA: Ok, now I finally have time to sit down and write to you. You bring up a very interesting point. I think (and some literature backs me up) we are not taught from the start to deal with our “bad” (and very human/cultural) thoughts and feelings because as a society we are afraid of them and quite hypocritical. When children express a thought or feeling we are not proud of, let’s say, we rush them through it; instead of acknowledging it and letting them work through it, we are automatically impelled to “teach” them the correct thought “Don’t be selfish, share”, and solve it for them “Don’t cry, don’t scream, get over it (fast, if possible)”,”there, mommy/daddy will make it all better”. As a result, we become dependent on outside help to figure things out, we are actually taught to repress all of those thoughts and feelings and later on we need to go to therapy or take mindfulness classes just to get in touch with ourselves and realize what is going on inside us. Something children can do instinctively. So in reality, we don’t need to be taught to be in tune with our thoughts and feelings, we need to stop teaching children to tune out. [very simplistically put].

ME: I do agree with you. We should be taught to express our thoughts and our feelings, or better to talk about them. There is a difference. We cannot always simply express something that is in our mind regardless of other people feelings. However, we can always talk about it. I feel this… I thought that… . As you may know, I understood this quiet late and I’m working on it.

At the same time, I believe that these thoughts and feelings do not have to define who we are. I can feel them, they can cross our mind, we should talk about them but they do not have to rule who I decide to be. 

Now here the problem at its core. Who am I? In what percentage am I predetermined, how much influence has my upbringing, and how much I can do to change myself? Those are questions that, for what I know, cannot be yet answered with certainty.

I like to believe that everyone deserves a second chance and that anyone can improve oneself. In order to believe this, I need to think that we can choose to be a better version of ourselves. Obviously, it is not an easy achievable choice, and its degree of difficult is not the same for everyone, but I do think is possible.

Hence, my support in believing that we are not our thoughts, and that we have greater influence on thoughts than we think.

VERA: Yes, being conscious of our thoughts would be a first step to that improvement. I believe not only that we are capable of change but that we change every day. And in general, I see the people around me growing into better versions of themselves as years go by.

And you reminded me of Pessoa: “Que sei eu do que serei, eu que não sei o que sou?Ser o que penso? Mas penso tanta coisa!”

[…]

“How should I know what I’ll be, I who don’t know what I am?

Be what I think? But I think of being so many things!

And there are so many who think of being the same thing that we can’t all be it!

Genius? At this moment

A hundred thousand brains are dreaming they’re geniuses like me,

And it may be that history won’t remember even one,

All of their imagined conquests amounting to so much dung.

No, I don’t believe in me.

Insane asylums are full of lunatics with certainties!”

Portuguese; trans. Richard Zenith


Featured image: Costa Pinheiro, Fernando Pessoa – Heterónimo, 1978, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm.

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