Talking the Walk

We can all relate to having a hard day. There are things either swirling around or laying heavy somewhere deep inside. Sometimes we can’t even identify what is going on, but even if we know, we don’t always know what to do about it all.

Sometimes it helps to talk about it all. I think we can also relate to sitting with someone and sharing all the feelings. In that sharing, we usually don’t want solutions or advice. We certainly do not want to be fixed. We just want to be heard. Maybe we want a hug.

I was in counseling for a season to work through some trauma that I had been through. My therapist was my safe space to process all the emotions I had been going through. One day she commented that I didn’t seem to be embracing anything she was offering.

It confused me as well until I realized it wasn’t advice I wanted. What I really needed was space to process my thoughts and feelings out loud, without any fear of pushback for having those feelings. Maybe like many others, I had never really been able to do that. 

When we’re younger and face problems raising kids, or working through marriage difficulties, or career challenges, there are zillion books waiting to offer advice. When we’re older, the books are fewer. And we’re not always looking for advice because we understand that some things don’t have answers. They have pathways of acceptance. 

So we need an ear. It’s hard to process out loud when we’re alone. But a friend, or counselor, who will be an ear for our processing is invaluable. When we talk things out, we are sometimes surprised by what we say. Oh, I guess I’m feeling insecure, or fearful, or envious, or manipulated. Maybe we’re just sad and not in control of anything. Whatever the feeling, it might take a minute to figure out.

Knowing that we can all benefit from people who will do that for us, it would be good to remember we can do it for others as well. We can be the kind of friend (partner, co-worker, parent, child) who will just offer space for someone to process. Can we practice all the self control we can muster to not offer advice, or opinions, or fixes?

Unless someone begins the conversation with “I need some advice,” we should assume that we are simply a a safe space. We should stop and recognize the honor that comes with someone trusting us. And we should never violate that trust by coming in hard with opinions or advice. 

I don’t know if there’s a greater gift we can give to another than space for processing. When we don’t listen with the intent to reply, we can truly hear, helping the other push forward with their own thoughts. Gaps of silence don’t get filled with our own ideas because we are waiting for them to figure out theirs. It helps them feel loved, cared for, and worthy of our attention. 

Listening is the loud silence which communicates we are present, soft, and open. It helps the other step into feeling valued, heard, and seen. Mostly it helps them figure out what they are really going through. Talking helps with walking. A little steadier, a little more confident, and a little more loved. 

Drainage Ditches

Every day, we navigate between things that drain us and things that replenish us. Our health–both spiritual and physical–is contingent upon how much time we spend in each of those areas.

The big drainers are obvious: stress, sickness, sleepless nights, finances. We are usually aware when we are dealing with the big things. But, it’s those “daily concerns” that can get us. If we aren’t careful of how we manage those, we wind up drained, weary, and discouraged. If only those things came with a warning sign.

Well, actually, maybe they do. If we can get quiet, and focus on the present moment, our conscience will likely be warning us. Keep out of this ditch, it will whisper. We may be involved with talking negatively, thinking judgmentally, meditating on tomorrow’s problems, contemplating the “what ifs” of today, embracing the lies that parade as truth, self-focus, unforgiveness, excessive social media.

The bad and ugly come to drain us every day. But there are ways to stay out of drainage ditches. Mindfulness is one of the best ways to do this because it can open us up to our thoughts. 

I am learning to be still inside that I might observe my thoughts and, without judgment, gently replace them. I wish I could say I do this quickly every single time, but I am practicing and getting a little better at it.

We get more of what we focus on, so we want our thoughts focused on things that are good and beautiful and authentic. Those kinds of thoughts aren’t our go-to’s. Although we usually can’t control our circumstances, we can always choose our response.

It is in stillness that we will hear the words, “Keep Out. Drainage Ditch.” Kinda like a sign.

Positive Thoughts Only?

Life can be super sniper sneaky. 

Sometimes the pace of events runs faster than we can process it all. One thing hits us without warning; another follows closely behind. They don’t have to be big events. It’s usually just regular old routine life happening faster than we can keep up.

Maybe we got some unsettling news, or we saw a picture-perfect post on a less than picture-perfect day. Maybe our radically changed life has left us feeling empty. Someone may have let us down. Maybe Jupiter aligned with Mars: we have no clue why we’re struggling. But it’s still real.

Here’s the “no choice” fact: our thoughts will affect us today. It helps if we can identify our thoughts and unhook them from past regrets, future fears, or present day tentativeness. But, just echoing the “Positive thoughts only” mantra is not always helpful. Sometimes it’s a little—well—mean.

I had been talking with a therapist about a number of things I was working through. She knew how much I valued positive thinking. One day I told her that I was just out of the blue sad. 

After I shared, she started talking about keeping my thoughts positive. I wanted to cry. Yes, I know. Yes, I tried. Like, every time we don’t have a positive thought, we did something wrong. I was pretty quiet after that. Every once in a while, our struggle with a thought seems bigger than normal, and we just can’t shake it. 

I have discovered that sometimes it might be best to acknowledge that our sadness (fear, anxiety, hopelessness, whatever) wants to hang out with us for a bit.  “Ok, you can stay. For a day. I will sit with you and hear you out. I won’t try to replace you with another thought. You want to be seen and heard. And I acknowledge that.”

If we’ve been practicing keeping our thoughts positive, we can trust ourselves with this process. Maybe we need to write about how we feel; maybe we need to share our thoughts with someone who will listen. I have found that when I give a thought permission to hang for a bit, I learn something from it. And within a very short period of time, it agrees to leave.

For the most part, fixing our thoughts on the positive is our protection against this sniper sneaky life. It’s critical we don’t let negative thoughts just keep rolling in. 

But if we get hit out of the blue with a thought that just won’t leave, maybe it needs some space to work things out. Tomorrow is a new day and we can trust that our thoughts will be new as well. Reminding myself and all who need it: Good vibes and positive thoughts. But also, life happens and sometimes we need a day to get there. 

It’s ok. 

The Question We Have to Ask


All of us on Facebook see that question multiple times a day. We pay little attention to what it’s really asking us. Because the answer to that question isn’t as simple as it might seem. The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging estimates we think about 70,000 thoughts a day.  “What’s on my mind?” Apparently so many things!

We live in an age where most of our stress comes from our thoughts, and chronic stress wreaks havoc on our cellular well-being. I have found this out the hard way! The bottom line is that our thoughts matter.

We have all had days where our thoughts have been off. Like, “killing-me-softly-John Wayne-slow death” off. One thought leads to another and we find ourselves in a place we don’t even recognize. “How was your day, babe?” Oh dear.

Most of us get tripped up when we are unaware what we are thinking and how we have been influenced. I was recently talking with friends about how social media affects our thinking. One admitted she complained to her husband that they were the only family she knew that had never gone hiking.  “You’ve been on Facebook, haven’t you?” he asked. Others joined in with similar stories. All of us can fall prey to comparison, from content to dissatisfied in a heartbeat. And we often don’t even recognize what happened.

But aren’t we smarter than making conclusions based on status updates and one-off pictures? Research suggests that we are born with a desire to evaluate ourselves, and we don’t get test grades on how we are doing with relationships, work, parenting, and other responsibilities. So we find other ways.

In You are the Placebo, author Joe Dispenza argues that competition is among our basic survival emotions. Survival emotions are selfish; their primary concern is safety. As we scroll the highlight reel of Facebook, they let us know where we may not be “winning.” Haven’t we all experienced a time where we were left with a sense of not measuring up after being on social media? It’s just our internal grading system wanting us to know that the competition may be out in front.

A couple practices can help us through the potential minefield of negative and comparative thoughts that become part of the 70,000 that flood us on a daily basis–thoughts that contribute to stress and, ultimately, lack of wholeness and well-being.

  1. We can recognize that our ego is always protecting us. As those who want to champion, support, and encourage others, we need to periodically check for thoughts that can make us competitive. Our ego isn’t concerned about logic; it’s concerned about survival.
  1. We can spend time each morning meditating on ideas that cause us to think positively. New brain cells are generated while we sleep. They don’t need yesterday’s thoughts giving them wings. Being aware of thoughts first thing gives us a better chance of thinking about things that are inspiring, positive, and beautiful.
  1. We can create habits that help us think differently. If something has been occupying all our attention, maybe a wide-angle perspective would be helpful. There is always way more happening around us than what we see in that one frame. We might just need to take 10 minutes and switch out our lens.
  1. We can breathe fresh thoughts into our being. When my thoughts become negative or overwhelming, I am learning to stop and breathe thoughts that help me shift. “I have more than enough for this moment.” “There is beauty all around me.” As I breathe in, I allow the positive thoughts to displace the others. I exhale all that is not helpful, trusting that those thoughts are physically leaving my body.

I have to set my mind on the good, the beautiful, the positive–even before I get out of bed. That gives opportunity for thoughts that include gratitude, kindness, compassion, and patience. They are always a good idea. Positive thoughts not only influence our well-being, they influence the well-being of those we touch. Every single day.

“What’s on your mind?” A question we need to ask all day long.