When I was a child, raised in a family with three Methodist ministers, dutifully attending church twice a week and saying my prayers before bedtime, I was taught that thoughts and feelings can be sinful.
I wasn’t supposed to think about how I wanted that cute drummer to put his hand up my shirt. Such thoughts would surely buy me a one-way ticket straight to hell.
I also wasn’t supposed to feel angry at my mother for enforcing an early curfew on prom night when I was a straight A, teetotaling, drug-abstaining, rule-following virgin at 18. Anger=bad=sinful feeling.
And the fact that I got so frustrated with my little brother sometimes that I wanted to kick him in the crotch - I mean hard, with stiletto boots - unthinkable.
Now, as the mother of a six year old, I think teaching children that thoughts and feelings are wrong is a load of crap that lands many of us in therapy. How can thoughts and feelings ever be wrong? Why do we judge ourselves and others because of thoughts and feelings?
Our minds wander aimlessly. Anyone who has ever tried to meditate (raising my hand here) knows that we have no control over our thoughts. They prattle on endlessly even when we’re trying to breathe, stay in the present moment, and live in wordlessness for a few moments.
We also can’t control how we feel. Emotions pass through us - excitement, sadness, lust, frustration, joy, love, anger, jealousy, longing… they float through us like the scent of jasmine on a breeze, ephemeral and fleeting and impossible to contain or capture with butterfly nets.
Assuming few of us are Buddhist monks who have mastered mindfulness so we can suppress the monkey mind and move through our emotions at lightning speed as we fast forward to nirvana, let’s assume your thoughts and feelings just happen. And our minds and hearts can dole out some doozies.
I sure would like to cut her off after what she did to me.
If I have to read another children’s story, I’m going to blow my brains out.
If he defies me after all I’ve done for him, I’m gonna disown that ungrateful bastard.
I’m hopelessly in love with a woman who’s not my wife.
After what he did, I’d like to slice off his balls and serve them to him for breakfast.
I’m so sad because she walked out on me when I was such a good child that I’ll never stop crying.
Damn, that guy’s hot. I sure would like to sleep with him.
Why is her business more successful than mine when I’m so awesome and she’s not?
I’m a worthless piece of crap who doesn’t deserve to be alive.
I’d love to go to that rave and get totally loaded.
There’s nothing wrong with having a thought or noticing a feeling. Thoughts and feelings can’t ever be wrong, so there’s no reason to judge yourself or someone else for something you haven’t done wrong.
Yet so often, we do! We make ourselves and others wrong because we don’t like what we’re thinking or we’re put off by what someone else is feeling.
Think about how unfair that is!
What matters is how we choose to act on our thoughts and feelings. If you want to cut off someone’s balls, you might want to find a healthy way to express your anger before you go and pull a Lorena Bobbit. If you’re so jealous of someone’s success that you’re tempted to sabotage her, you might want to check in with your Inner Pilot Light, get back in touch with your own sense of value, and check your actions. If you fall in love with someone else when you’re in a current relationship, you might want to have a heart-to-heart with yourself and your partner before you do something you might regret. If you’re thinking about blowing your brains out because you’re so bored with your life you can’t take it anymore, get thee to a therapist and steer clear of the gun shop.
Remember - you don’t ever have to act on your thoughts or feelings. You don’t even have to share them with anyone! If you choose to share them, be mindful of who you share them with, making sure you disclose your thoughts and feelings only with those you trust, who you know, without a doubt, want only the best for you. Otherwise, other people’s insecurities and projections can get in the way.
There’s no need to shame yourself for having thoughts or feelings you might consider “wrong.” Give yourself a break. Forgive yourself for being human. Don’t let what they taught you in church get between you and your sense of self worth. Adding shame, blame, or guilt to the mix only intensifies the downward spiral.
It’s also not fair to shame someone else for thoughts or feelings they can’t control. Don’t get pissed at your boyfriend if he thinks some random woman is sexy. If his actions are in line with his integrity, appreciate that he’s sharing what is true for him without making him wrong for it. If a friend shares with you that she’s feeling jealous of you but doesn’t want to feel that way, thank her for being honest and invite her to talk about how she feels without getting defensive. If your best girlfriend comes out of the closet and confesses that she’s madly in love with you when you only love her as a friend, overflow with compassion for her as you let her down with love. Falling in or out of love isn’t something you can choose.
The heart is fickle and prone to fits of whimsy. The shadow sides of us can be stormy and violent and downright nasty.
And that’s okay. What matters is tapping into the truth of your Inner Pilot Light, acting in alignment with your truth, and fearlessly charting the course of your life as only you can.
Free yourself. Forgive yourself. Try not to judge others.
Dream. Vision. Imagine. Create. Expand. Laugh. Defy. Align. Leap. Release. Breathe. Open. Surrender. Love. Find your bliss.
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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