What You Think is Normal May Not Be
As crazy as it sounds, imagine for a moment asking a fish, “How is the water you are swimming in?” If the fish could reply, it would more likely than not ask, “What is water?!” Water is all the fish knows. It does not know anything different and, therefore, cannot even imagine life without water. Water is pervasive for the fish and it is impossible for the fish to know that different environments exist.
The same holds true for us human species. We are products of our environments and we take it for granted. When we have lived most or all of our lives under certain conditions, it makes it extremely difficult for us to ‘think outside the box’ and be objective about it. We become so used to our environment that we think it is normal and the only alternative. Imagine asking a secluded tribe in the Amazon that has never met an outsider about the Italian or Japanese language. Tribe members have no idea that any language other than their own even exists and will most likely give you a blank stare.
The same holds true for those of us who have lived our lives a certain way for eons. We believe that our way of life is normal and that there is no other alternative. Because we are like fish living in water, it is extremely difficult to be objective about our environment and way of life. For many people, it is extremely difficult to imagine any other way of living because it is all they know. How does all this pertain to our daily lives? Most people are so used to thinking and living a certain way that they do not realize that they have other options that might serve them better. Believe it or not, we do have alternative choices that often seem obscure.
For example, someone is unnecessarily rude to you and you feel slighted. You feel the need to reciprocate and give that person a piece of your mind to teach him or her a lesson. In doing so, it raises the level of antagonism and adrenaline for both parties. It might even make you feel that your entire day is ruined. In today’s ‘it’s all about me’ world, this seems normal, appropriate and justified. But what if you were to think differently? What if, instead of getting agitated by the other party’s insolence, you stop for a moment and realize that he or she may be suffering because of the death of a close family member? Wouldn’t that entice you to react differently with more empathy, patience and passiveness? After all, we may very well act in a similar way and lash out at the world if we were to experience the same fate.
Let’s look at another example. You get fired from your job and now worry about how you are going to pay your bills. You feel unjustifiably victimized and are stressed even though you hated your job to begin with. You feel like nothing ever goes right in your life. But what if you were to think differently and look at the situation as a blessing in disguise? Instead of stressing out and feeling like a victim of unjust treatment, what if you seized this opportunity to start the new career (or business) that you have contemplated for a long time? Wouldn’t everything, including your whole mood, change in an instant?
Let’s say that you are overweight, have a difficult time sleeping at night, or generally have no energy throughout the day. You feel like you are constantly in this fog of unhealthiness and you hate it and complain about it to anyone within earshot. Perhaps, you think, you were born this way and meant to live such a life. After all, your parents suffered the same afflictions, so why shouldn’t you? What if, instead of resigning yourself to thinking that this is normal, you start to think differently and change your lifestyle? What if you realized that your way of thinking is to blame and you decided to think differently. You become aware that the association you make between food and comfort is really not self-serving. Instead, you think about how good you will feel when you lose weight, have the ability to fall asleep easily, and have great energy to expend throughout the day. What if you became aware of the unhealthy food you automatically buy at the grocery store out of perpetual habit? What if you stopped being ‘unconscious’ and thought about the triggers that cause you to drink alcohol or eat junk food? What if you started to research healthier diets and decide to become more active? You could decide not to watch TV for a whole month and become more active instead. What if you took charge and decided to eradicate alcohol and desserts from your diet? How would you feel if you chose to read a great book in bed instead of staying out late at a bar and eating fried chicken wings while at it?
Now imagine yourself in line at the bank during lunch time. It is the only time you could visit the bank because of work obligations. However, there is an extremely long line in front of the teller and you feel agitated. After all, this is your lunch time and you are starving. You are unhappy that all these people are in front of you and you can think of a hundred other places you would rather be in. Instead of thinking this way, what if you decided to cherish this quiet time waiting in line and meditate? Or what if you decided to take out your headphones and enjoy that audiobook or music you have on your phone? Or perhaps you could use your phone to locate the closest restaurant to the bank so that you could grab something delicious to eat afterwards? Wouldn’t that make you feel better in an instant? And it is only because you chose to think differently.
Having a different mindset is difficult when you are so used to thinking in a certain way. It is an automatic response that you choose subconsciously. To make matters worse, many other people think this way so it only seems normal. But realize that you do have a choice in every situation, no matter how dire or stressful. How you think determines how you feel. Think about it, you only feel sad, angry, depressed, or regretful after a thought. And it is not the thought itself that causes your feelings, it is you identifying with that thought and believing that it expresses reality. Thoughts come and go because all of us have restless minds. But realize that not all of our thoughts are based on truth. Our minds are like a wild crazy horse, constantly bucking and running aimlessly. It is our choice whether to identify with our thoughts and jump on that horse, or to take a step back and watch it from afar. This takes consciousness. It is the key. It provides the space and time necessary to think differently than you normally do. And it is extremely powerful.
Think about this:
- If we do not know peace, we think that anxiety and stress are normal
- If we do not know happiness, we think that sadness and regret are normal
- If we do not know good health, we think that illness and being unhealthy are normal
- If we do not know living in the present, we think that living in the past or the future is normal
- If we do not know love, we think that fear and hate are normal
- If we do not know nutritious food, we think that unhealthy food is normal
- If we do not know clarity, we think that obscurity and uncertainty are normal
- If we do not know focus and monotasking, we think that multitasking is normal
- If we do not know silence, we think that noise and distractions are normal
- If we do not know listening, we think that inattentiveness and indifference are normal
- If we do not know success, we think that failure is normal
- If we do not know passion, we think that indifference and apathy are normal
- If we do not know contentment, we think that dissatisfaction and disappointment are normal
- If we do not know acceptance, we think that rejection is normal
- If we do not know belief, we think that disbelief and doubt are normal
- If we do not know trust, we think that mistrust and suspicion are normal
- If we do not know equanimity, we think that agitation and frustration are normal
- If we do not know hope, we think that hopelessness and despair are normal
- If we do not know giving, we think that selfishness and taking are normal
- If we do not know kindness, we think that meanness and cruelty are normal
- If we do not know forgiveness, we think that blame and revenge are normal
- If we do not know ‘we’, we think that ‘I’ is normal
- If we do not know patience, we think that impatience is normal
Our thoughts are just that: thoughts. They do not always represent reality. Depending on how we think, our thoughts can be our biggest burdens or our greatest sources of joy and peace. The greatest gifts we can give to ourselves are learning to watch our thoughts and choosing how we think.