The other day, as I was walking through the park, I decided to practice mindfulness, to deliberately pay attention to my thoughts and see what they were telling me in the moment.
What I discovered was that my mind was generating a whole campaign that explained why my husband was wrong in a recent argument, and of course, why I was right. My thoughts were very clear and concise, quite convincing in their case for my rightness and my version of the truth.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re in a conflict with someone, you spend a lot of time defending your side of the story in your mind, making your case for why you’re right? We go over and over why the other person is to blame, and what the truth is. We present our case to an imaginary jury, in an imaginary court.
So, what’s the point of all that effort? What are we hoping will happen if our imaginary jury deems our version of the truth to be correct? We actually do all of that “proving” to and for ourselves. We use the narration of our rightness, the internal defense of our truth, as a way to stay away from what we actually feel.
As I walked through the park that day, I looked beyond the thoughts and past my case for the truth, to see what they were distracting me from feeling. I looked to see what I was avoiding—what was underneath the anxious fervor to prove my case of what really happened. I was then in touch with my profound powerlessness, anger, and hurt. When I stopped constructing an explanation of guilt and innocence, I uncovered my true feelings.
Our thoughts, particularly our thoughts about why we’re right, cause us not to feel our true feelings.
But when we stop engaging in our self-defense, something interesting and wonderful happens: We can enter the present moment. When I stopped paying rapt attention to my inner narrative, I was again suddenly noticing the wind, the trees, the dogs, and the sky. I was back in the park; I was back in my life.
When I came home that night, having chosen not to spend the day strengthening my mind’s case for my rightness and my husband’s wrongness, I could then meet my husband in that new moment. I could hit the reset button. Because I had chosen not to cling to an old story, something new and unexpected happened: I could feel differently, and he could feel differently—we could be different. Without a prewritten truth, life could change and evolve.
I recommend trying this approach for a day: Refrain from feeding your mind’s case for your rightness and others’ wrongness; turn away from the thoughts that try to defend your version of the truth. As you do, notice if something in you or your identity itself feels threatened when you drop your case.
Then, instead of diving into your mind’s defensive narrative, use your awareness to inquire into your experience—how you really feel and how you’re coping with those feelings. Simultaneously, see if, without your narrative, the situation and people in it have more space to shift and evolve. And observe if you are also, in the moment, more present, more open, and more aware. Most importantly, when you stop telling yourself what’s true, notice if a new truth can actually emerge.
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, author, public speaker, workshop leader, and author of several books on mindfulness and personal growth. Colier is available for individual psychotherapy, mindfulness training, spiritual counseling, public speaking, and workshops, and also works with clients via Skype around the world. For more information, visit NancyColier.com