He recently celebrated 9 years of sobriety and I had an in-depth conversation with him at the Cornhusker Roundup about being a single guy a sobriety.
That situation itself has proved interesting to say the least because I don’t have the total lack of concern (or, at least, perceived lack of concern) about whether I attract a young lady’s amorous advances or not which, at least in my youth, was precisely what women were looking for. I do not understand why total indifference to women is what often attracts them most, but there it is. And also I don’t possess that drunken boyish charm that served me well for many years. I’m kind of an attractive guy, but apparently was much more attractive to the opposite sex when I was much fatter and much more aloof about, well, everything. Now I have the dangerously-close-to-middle-aged, borderline burn-out gravity to partner an utter lack of social sense in women that goes with being single, never married, and with no children, all under the umbrella of being brain-damaged and extraordinarily self-conscious about the fact that nobody is going to buy any of it. You see my problem.
Anyway back to Mitch. Me and Mitch revealed ourselves to each other in much greater detail after Robin Williams suicide. He even responded very cordially when I shared a story about seeing his wife at a meeting and thinking she was gorgeous before I met him and we became friends. He took it as a compliment, the noble lad.
Before I started working Tuesday nights, I used to go to a casual meeting at his apartment where he would discuss the Big Book and other literary works with Mitch, Mitch, Mitch and Mitch (yes, that Mitch).
I have had my own journeys through literature pertaining to recovery. I read Zen and Recovery at the recommendation of one of the Mitches. And since that book further buttressed my belief that, for me at least, Buddhism definitely has a major place in my recovery, I moved on to The Big Questions. A great book written by a sage Buddhist author, The Big Questions posits the question of whether we own our possessions or if our possessions own us. This same sentiment is mirrored in Fight Club when Tyler Durden asserts the exact same sentiment. For me at least, when your new spiritual journey mirrors Tyler, you are definitely on the right path.
Back to Mitch. During one of these scholarly discussions, Mitch recounted a tactic he uses regularly as a sort of mini-meditation. When he sensed his anger, frustration, maybe exasperation riling up inside, he pauses and asks himself:
What is my next thought going to be?
I had occasion to use this tactic recently at work. My boss was exhibiting a behavior that, to me, is less than patient and far from thoroughly thought out. In short, it really pissed me off. It bears mentioning that said behavior also came on a Friday afternoon about mid-day. At that time, every week, my tolerance is razor-thin for every single thing. I am exhausted because I’m on the last hours of my 6-day work week and it would do me well to remember that the most profitable time in the day has not come yet and I need to be exponentially more patient until the day is done. Today, all these facts were trumped by exhaustion.
But stopping long enough to ask myself “What’s my next thought going to be?” is a supremely effective way to stop myself from negative thoughts and emotions of all kinds. Now, this tactic doesn’t work nearly as well if you are already an asshole and are hell-bent on actually being an asshole. If you find thoughts of hostility and judgment and despair somehow comforting to you, this will not work. But if you are like me and want to eradicate those things from your thinking entirely, the “What’s my next thought going to be?” tactic can be supremely liberating. You are effectively stopping yourself mid-thought to ask a couple simple questions:
- How important is it that this minor (in some cases, infinitely minor) annoyance just happened?
- How much am I going to let it affect my mood, my outlook and my opinion on the United Nations?
Because if you want it to, the inconvenience or annoyance can affect your mood for hours, even days. But if you have different designs on how this thing is going to or not going to affect your disposition and you decide you want to remain on the Good Side of the Force, then “What’s my next thought going to be?” can be the essential tactic in overhauling your thinking entirely and trying to make yourself into an ever-growing positive person.
And that’s really freakin’ hard to do. Being a positive person, thinking positive, feeling positive, is really hard. It’s work. I don’t possess enough knowledge about the human condition to comment on why, for a vast amount of people, it’s so much easier and so much more appealing and somehow satisfying to be negative and vindictive and mean even to (and sometimes especially to) total strangers, but it is. I think it somehow affords small-minded people an opportunity to validate themselves, but what possible good is it doing other than causing other’s suffering? Again, one of the suggestions the author of The Big Questions puts forth is this:
Especially, allow things to happen that we don’t like because they are going to continue happening. For the rest of our lives. So why not get used to them and figure out ways to deal with them? Just … allow.
What’s my next thought gonna be? Is it going to good or bad? Positive or negative? Feeding the aggression or quelling the anger? Cultivating the despair or trying, sometimes desperately, to seek the brighter side of life? If you stop long enough to ask yourself this question and really make the effort to make that next thought more Yoda and less Darth Vader, it will, slowly but surely, begin to work its magic.
Hey, it worked for Monty Python. I suggest giving it a whirl.