My husband and I were at a rest stop while driving to his family’s early Christmas celebration in December and as we were walking into the building a man was pulling open the door to leave. You know how that can be awkward – you’re trying to figure out if they’re holding the door for you, or if you should grab it from them. A little door holding dance. Well, this guy ended up going around me, but held the door open for so long to make sure I was thru that my husband said something about how I almost ended up limbo-ing under the guy’s arm he was so determined to hold the door.
I’d noticed it too, and the man smiled nicely as he was doing it. (And it wasn’t like he was trying to hit on me – he was older, with a wife, and my husband was right behind me.) Right then I started putting together in my head the amount of random niceness I’d seen lately. It’s actually a lot. Have any of you noticed it? I feel like more people are saying “thank you.” More people are smiling at me randomly in lines at the grocery store. I’ve had just random people walking down the street in the city smile and nod. That NEVER used to happen to me.
At the same time this is going on, the amount of vitriol, hate and judgement that we see on TV and hear about behind closed doors is skyrocketing. The comments on any internet news article are filled with racist, prejudiced words. Our politicians get nastier and more hateful as the months go on. Jackasses almost clip you on the road as you’re crossing in a crosswalk, and don’t even look at you as you raise your hands in disbelief. People on their cell phones ignore the fact that there is anyone around them and talk and talk with no regard to the fact that you are two inches away from them on the T. What is happening?
I personally believe that we have come to a sort of societal crossroads. We are watching what is presented to us in the media and we are doing one of two things: we are either unconsciously allowing the values that we are bombarded with on TV and advertising take hold of us and guide us on a path that gets more and more selfish, more and more judgemental, more and more shallow, and more and more destructive; or, we have recognized this and are in various stages of resisting this and trying to figure out what to do about it. The polarity of the current times is becoming more and more obvious. (Isn’t it strange that at the same time income inequality is also getting more and more pronounced?)
One thing that is personally helping me as I try to fill the world with more love than shit is this: neutral thinking. I’ve explained this concept to a couple of my friends and both of their reactions were “Oh I can’t do that. I’m so not there.” Well, I think we can all get there eventually. It just takes practice.
I learned what neutral thinking was a few months ago when I was reading about meditation and trying to see if it was something I could start doing. When a person meditates, they most likely try to focus on something like their breathing, or a mantra. And then they are told to watch their thoughts as they drift into their heads, but don’t pay them much mind. The point is to realize you are much much more than the thoughts you think and these thoughts do not control you. If you feel the impulse to call your ex the minute you break up with your current flame, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to. It just means it’s a thought you had.
Neutral thinking is very similar to meditating. You basically attempt to hold the thought in your head of neutrality and not let good or bad thoughts effect the way you live your life. You hold the thought in your head that whatever you are experiencing, whatever someone does to you, whatever someone says to you, you are NOT programmed to act in any certain way (either because of your genes, how you were raised, who your friends are, etc). If your spouse comes home and is in a shit mood and says something rude to you, instead of replying back with the first nasty think you can think of, STOP, breathe, realize that in this moment you are mad, but that doesn’t mean you will feel like this forever. If your friend doesn’t call you back when she said she would, DON’T freak out and think she is ignoring you and text her nonstop demanding to know what is going on. STOP and think about the possibilities of why she might not be able to and don’t act on the first think you think.
Neutral thinking is also a great way to deal with stress about upcoming events or things you are worried about. If you have a presentation coming up, practice and do all that good stuff to prepare. But, in the hours you are not preparing, try not to sit and think things like “oh my god I’m going to do so bad…oh man, what if this sounds dumb…what if I start sweating….what if I look like a kissass….what if no one responds.” All this does is raise the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body and contribute to umpteen million health problems associated with stress. And you will find it very hard to be happy.
These are thoughts I used to be riddled with, especially in terms of social interactions. Worry worry worry, wringing of the hands, laying awake at night, wondering whether I should open my mouth at all. See, I’ve tended to sort of say things without thinking throughout my life. It’s like my filter isn’t there. Once, when I was at the end of a first interview for a job, I reached out and shook my interviewer’s hand and said “thanks, great meeting you,” leaned down to get my bag and followed that up with “well, this went well.” Out loud. Like WHAAAT? Who does that??? She just sort of kept smiling and said “yes…” I ended up getting the job, but I felt like such a tool, and I was sure I had blown it.
I also went through a much more dramatic event when I was 11 that involved my entire class turning on me and making “I hate Kim” bracelets that everyone wore for a couple weeks (these were made of the finest paperclips in the classroom). This was a direct result of me feeling the need to always remind people I was smart and “popular.” I was your typical mean girl. I thought I was smarter than everyone and cooler than everyone and I had no filter to tell me to stop telling people I thought I was really awesome. And I got a big dose of medicine in two weeks of being ostracized. And after the dust cleared and I grew up a little bit, I realized that was one of the best and most humbling things that could have happened to me. At the same time, though, it did feed into me being afraid to say what was on my mind for fear of sounding snotty or annoying. One problem conquered (big ego), another rears its head (social anxiety).
Neutral thinking has really helped me deal with a lot of this social anxiety. I now realize that if my intentions are good, but I say something sort of weird or inappropriate, it’s OKAY. I will live to see another day. And I will be fine. Everything will be just fine. And if I screw up and hurt somebody’s feelings, I will apologize for my mistake, learn from it and (hopefully) not make the same mistake again.
These sort of negative or hyper-excited thoughts consume many of us. (Hyper excited thoughts can be just as damaging as negative ones, especially if they are like “eggs all in one basket” sort of thoughts). When these thoughts come, instead try to focus on keeping your mind neutral. That’s it – don’t beat yourself up for thinking them, don’t try to distract yourself with something else. Just try to be neutral. And when you are being neutral, you will have a much easier time figuring out the right course of action. I guess it’s another way of talking about living in the moment. Stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. And just be.
The best thing it’s done for me is now if someone says something that angers me, I just stare at them. That’s it. I stare and try to concentrate on the staring and keeping my mind neutral. It calms me down and helps me formulate a much more useful response, and sometimes my anger will actually dissipate as I’m staring. (And that is huge for me, cuz I kind of have a teeny bit of a temper.)
Honestly, it’s the most liberating thing in the world. Give it a try. You won’t be sorry.
P.S. Neutral thinking also helps when I start thinking I haven’t been posting enough here (or doing enough art or fill it whatever it is you do). When I have that thought, I try instead to think, neutrally, that I know I will post when I am inspired to, because I always do. And that stops me from beating myself up. Ahhhh. It’s niiieecce!
P.P.S. Another great thing about neutral thinking that I should have included – it really helps judgementalness. I used to judge all the time. What someone was wearing, why they were talking a certain way, why they were doing what ever it is they were doing. Gah, it’s so unhealthy. When those thoughts start to form in my head I just think “neutral neutral neutral.” And I try to just think “this is a person doing whatever they do for many reasons I can’t fathom. That’s it.” And if I have to get a judgey fix in, I’ll look at Fashion Police on Eonline or something and see how tragic Fergie’s last outfit was.