Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why we can't trust our thoughts

I just want to qualify this by saying that I realize writing about the nature of thoughts and how they do or don't describe reality and truth is not everyone's cup of tea. So it's okay - just skip it. I'm more likely to write about different topics. However....

There was a book in France in the 60's that depicted - in short - it started off with one scene, fairly intense, a bit complicated and completely full of drama witnessed by 5 different people. The rest of the book was a description of how each of the 5 witnesses experienced the very same event, in a totally different way. One scene- one event- 5 versions. If each of them told you how they saw it, you would say did we see the same thing? How can this be? 1 truth and 5 different versions or is it 5 truths? How do we know that what we are seeing is truth, is reality?

When my boys, born 13 months a part, were young, they would fight a lot of time. When they both came to me, they each had a different story of what had transpired. In my mind I'm thinking "well he either hit him first or not" - "one of them must be lying"!
I used to get angry thinking that one of them seemed to me was necessarily lying. I don't any more. I see it as both of them had a different version of what happened through their eyes, their perception, their lens.

From here we can see that it might be challenging to completely rely and trust all the time on our own perceptions that they do indeed reflect truth and reality. For this reason Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Perachya says in Ethics of our Fathers "Make for yourself a Rabbi, acquire yourself a friend and judge to the side of merit". This is not only because others know different things than you and their knowledge can complimentary to what you don't know but people think and experience the world differently. Interesting to note that Rabbi Yehoshua is exhorting us and giving us direction as if we would have a tendency not to seek a Rabbi or a friend to flesh things, bounce things off of and get a different perspective. I can see this particularly in situations where you feel that absolutely sure and resolute. Why in the world would want or need a Rabbi or a friend. Note-it doesn't "when in doubt -you are not sure, go speak it out with a Rabbi or a friend". I am certainly not saying there is not a place or a way to be sure of yourself, trust yourself and rely on yourself. It seems to me that the Torah is challenging you to consider that a lot more often than you think, it is very important to have others in your life and get their perspective. We don't think the same, our thoughts vary no matter of we are both sitting there and seeing the same thing at the same time.

If so, what influences our thoughts that they should come to be our thoughts? What is it about ourselves that influences how we see things?

All though it appears that our thoughts are driven a %100 from external events (something that is going on outside of ourselves) they don't. And we have reason to believe that they do. It definitely appears that when my wife or husband speaks to me in that tone, I get upset and angry. It definitely appears that when my kids just won't get into bed, I get upset and angry and it definitely appears that when people are parking on my lawn, the dog topples over our garbage cans looking for food, my judgmental boss who is looking over my should waiting to catch a mistake that I necessarily get upset and angry. Oh it does appear that this is true but it's really not. There are times in each of these cases where I an certain that you and I didn't get upset and angry. Sometimes it bothers me when I saying words of Torah over at our Shabbos table and my family is talking and not paying attention and ......sometimes not. Okay for all of these I might be more likely to get upset and angry but in truth not necessarily. Why would that be unless there are other factors at play aside from the external event that shapes my thoughts. And what if I could understand that a little better so i might know really what is bothering me the external event or something inside of me. I will say it appears it's the spouse, the kid, the neighbor, boss etc but just as likely if not more it's me.

Let me illustrate -Ellie my 4 year old woke up early,came into the kitchen and saw a box of glazed donuts just sitting there out in the open. Ellie immediately was glued to staring at the box and became very determined to make her breakfast glazed donuts -many. Ali versus Frazier ensued. "I want the donuts" - "Ellie you can't have the donuts for breakfast, maybe later" - "I want the donuts noooooowwww" - Okay back and forth neither party giving in. All I could think about was how irresponsible the teenager in my home was who left it out on the counter. How could they? I mean it is simple math right? the eyes see the heart soon as it was in her sight what else would any normal 4 year old do? demand the donuts. To me that added up to blaming my teenager for the knock-down -drag out fight that took up 25 exhausting, debilitating minutes. All I could think about was how I was going to give it to my teenager- it was their fault this happened right? And I did find out who left it there and I did give them a peice of my mind and yes Ellie got to eat the donuts for breakfast.

The next morning, I am in the kitchen having coffee (we use a French press by the way -why anyone would make coffee a different way is beyond me) I see Ellie coming towards the kitchen. I am traumatized from the morning before, i quickly scan around the room and lo and behold- there are those freak- in donuts right there again. my blood boils - I get angry from 0-10 all the way to a 10. I am going to throttle that teenager who didn't move the donuts like I asked them -Whoa - a heavy duty thought attack occurs all at once in the few moments as Ellie is sauntering down the hallway. I go from thought to thought as to how my teenagers don't listen to me, they don't respect me, what the heck are they learning in that school anyway, it's so expensive they don't even teach basic good character traits of being sensitive, thoughtful and responsible. Just a few moments-bad place. Ellie is coming closer and closer to the kitchen, I am just not going to be able to lunge at the donuts and destroy them , hide them ---- I am in big trouble. She whisks past me, says Boker tov, and ..... oh no she is turning towards the donuts... here it comes..... sees the box of donuts, walks right past and fills up a washing cup to wash her hand and ask for breakfast. My head just drops, swivels around my head....I think to myself... she saw the donuts, she definitely did .... then why... . why..... why.... didn't she have a whole tantrum like yesterday?

It's not the donuts stupid! (talking to myself) It's not the fault and blame of the teenager stupid! The one you yelled at yesterday and just had a whole thought attack about these past few minutes. I am not saying that it absolutely doesn't matter whether or not you leave the donuts out or not, I would say the likelihood is the 1st scenario but not necessarily. There is more than meets the eye. So for ourselves although it appears that the outside external event is the cause of how I feel I have got to understand more about my thoughts as to not whether I can implicitly trust them, I can't but how to begin to decipher the code to better understand the accuracy of my thoughts. After all life is not about seeing what you want to see but seeing what there is to see.

Fairly soon I will tr to follow this up with some thoughts as to what influences on our thoughts as to how we experience our thoughts as well some thoughts as to how and when we can better trust our thoughts than other times.


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