Pick up a pencil

There is … a peculiar modern phenomenon that might best be described as a culture of competitive trauma. In recent times, the touching human longing for sympathy, that impulse to have our suffering recognized and validated, has grown distorted by a troubling compulsion for broadcast-suffering and comparative validity. Personhoods are staked on the cards dealt and not the hands played, as if we evolved the opposable thumbs of our agency for nothing.
Maria Popova

We can be pushed around by our unhelpful thoughts and feelings, believing the only thing left to us is to distract ourselves in some way.

Of course, these thoughts and feelings are our own lives trying too protect us, but in a really unhelpful way.

We end up a victim forgetting our opposable thumbness, our imaginations often being the first victim of anxiety and stress.

Here’s one way to become an agent rather than victim:

Write the thought down in a succinct way

Sit with this thought a moment and feel the discomfort or pain it brings.

Write it out again, with the words “I am having the thought that … ” in front of it; pause and notice any difference.

Then write the second sentence again, perhaps in a coloured pencil, with the words “I am noticing that … ” in front of it; pause and notice any difference.

If this has been helpful, what will have happened is that you will have unhooked somewhat from the thought, which is helpful because a thought isn’t how things are, but simply a thought.

If you would like to take this further, try some mindful doodling.

One way is to turn the unhelpful thought into its positive and helpful opposite. This will become the text for your doodle.

Doodling because we can all do it and the idea is that it only has to take a few minutes.

And it’s still your thought, which is why this is a valid thing to try.

Write this out where you want it to sit on your sheet of paper. Perhaps along the top or bottom, top left, bottom right in a box?

I pencil a lot of my doodles out first of all, just to play with the basic idea.

You can also work with the original thought in an ironic or satirical way, which also allows you to be the agent rather than victim.

Have some fun along the way.

*From Maria Popova’s The Marginalian: The Good Luck of Your Bad Luck: Marcus Aurelius on the Stoic Strategy for Weathering Life’s Waves and Turning Suffering into Strength.

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