Thinking about the Weather

photo by Greg

They say in Missouri that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change. I’m pretty sure they say this in a lot of places. Right now, it’s pouring down rain. My dogs are mad that their bathroom is wet 🙂 I’m waiting for a webinar to begin of Dr. Kristen Neff teaching about self-compassion. She’s speaking from California live, and I’ll bet the weather is warm and sunny there.

In the meditation practice I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been working with thoughts. We all have a stream of automatic thoughts running through our minds. These thoughts are often undetectable, yet powerful nonetheless.  It’s like having background music playing while you work. Most of the time you don’t even notice it’s on — you simply go about what you’re doing. But have you ever felt that different music affects your mood or even your energy level? Perhaps also your ability to concentrate?

In my book Painfully Shy, I offered this tip on dealing with automatic thoughts: Call a spade a spade.  I wrote: “The first thing you must do to deal with automatic thoughts is identify and label them appropriately. Recognize your socially anxious thoughts for what they are — misleading and maladaptive. Thoughts running through your mind such as, “Everyone is staring at me” or “I’m such a loser,” are simply not true — they’re manifestations of social anxiety. It can be an enormous help to relabel these thoughts and realize you don’t have to pay attention to them.”

I went on: “This technique of ‘relabeling’ your thoughts is used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder in which people are plagued with obsessive thoughts (e.g., I will be contaminated by germs) and compulsions (e.g., I must wash my hands over and over). In his book Brain Lock, UCLA School of Medicine psychiatrist Jeffrey M. Schwartz describes OCD’s intrusive thoughts as the brain misfiring. He instructs people to tell themselves, ‘It’s not me — it’s my OCD.’

In my experience, the thoughts of social anxiety sufferers are equally intrusive and unpleasant. No one wakes up one morning and says, ‘I’d like to worry all day long about what other people think of me.’ And although it’s probably not as simple as the brain misfiring, relabeling anxious thoughts as being at least partly biological can be quite helpful. Telling yourself, ‘It’s not me — it’s my anxiety,’ relieves you of some of the guilt and shame you may feel about having the thoughts in the first place.”

In Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness, and in many of her meditation CDs, she also talks about thoughts not being facts, or acts. They’re just thoughts. She writes: “Thoughts moving through your mind are like clouds moving across the sky. They are not the sky, and the sky remains unchanged by them.”

And to end with a touch of humor on this rainy day, a quote from George Carlin:

“Weather forecast for tonight: dark.”