True Thought

Chapter 4, Part 2

“True Thought” is my own term for this powerful technique to transform your life; an idea often expressed by the Dalai Lama and others much wiser than myself. Just turn on your own “editing function.” Delete thoughts you don’t want and don’t need, thoughts that make you miserable. Embrace thinking that’s good, true, and brave. True thought focuses new eyes.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

Not to edit our thoughts means always operating in the shadow of the ego. Carl Jung called such an ego-driven state an “inflated consciousness,” which “is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead.”

Believing the false logic of the ego, as Thoreau complained, makes you live “as if there were safety in stupidity alone.” The antidote for the “safety in stupidity” school of logic is editing your thoughts.

In case a little voice is whispering in your head right now that editing your thoughts is both drudgery and donkeywork, never fear! You’ve done it before, and probably quite effortlessly.

Most of us have an editing function that stops us from blurting out every silly notion that comes to mind. Those who don’t are easy to spot. Their every thought bounces on the springboard of the tongue, about to triple summersault into a belly-whopper. For old-timers like myself, Yogi Berra would be the prototype. He’s the most unconscious character ever to let a Freudian slip. Take these examples:

  • Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.
  • You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.
  • The future ain’t what it used to be.
  • I want to thank you for making this day [Yogi Berra Appreciation Day] necessary.
  • If the fans don’t wanna come out to the ballpark, no one can stop ’em.
  • If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
  • You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.
Yogi Berra

Yogi: if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there

Obviously, he’s a walking, talking Zen koan. They don’t call him Yogi for nothing.

Whether you realize it or not, you practice a form of True Thought and have done so for many years. When you were young, you learned the hard way that saying whatever was on the tip of your tongue could be embarrassing or downright calamitous. You found out that, if you said whatever was floating around the surface of your mind as jetsam and flotsam, you would hurt people’s feelings, shame yourself, look stupid, or make yourself sound like a total Yogi. We all have our most embarrassing moments to prove it.

Mine happened when I was 12. There was a boy in my class who had been born without a hand, or perhaps he lost it when he was younger. His own intense self-consciousness about his missing hand showed by how he routinely kept his stump pocketed. I felt for him.

Then, one afternoon after school, I ran into the boy in my neighborhood. First thing he did was hold out his arm, quite proudly, to show off his brand new plastic hand, an immovable prosthesis designed for form without function.

“Look at this!” he said.

Now, frankly, I was confused by what he was showing me. I didn’t realize at first he was displaying an artificial hand. To me, it looked to be a real hand, which was swollen and paralyzed. He must have sprained it, I guessed. All these false impressions, of course, took only a nano-second to think, which is also precisely how long it took me to spit out the first idiotic thought bouncing around my skull.

“Gol-lee!” I chirped in my thick Texas drawl. “What the heck happened to it?”

The boy, of course, was crestfallen. So was I, especially when I realized a split-second later the horrible faux pas I’d just made. I had obviously crushed his sense of pride about the new hand, while making myself feel like a real jerk. My face lit up like a panic button. Even worse, I didn’t have the social grace to explain what had just happened and tell him what I’d actually meant to say. It was a horrifying event for both of us.

So much so that I never forgot. From that moment on, I began closely monitoring what I was about to say and editing out anything that would get me in trouble. Most of us have done exactly the same thing. We already have an editing function in our brains with many years of use. What I am suggesting here is that you simply employ your editing software in a different way. Instead of merely striking out anything embarrassing, strike out anything that will make you unhappy. Same process, different emphasis.

In my own case, I think of this life-changing practice as “Deconstructing Charlie.” I’m attempting to intercept all my thoughts in transit, examine them for positive or negative spin, encourage what’s constructive, and dump what’s left in the junkyard of useless ideas. Amazingly enough, all this takes only a split-second.

Similar to Thoreau and his garden beside Walden Pond, I’m learning to yank out all the weeds and cultivate all the nourishing food for thought. My brain, I’m finding, is as easy to work as Thoreau’s bean patch.

What kind of thoughts do I review with this sort of instant replay? Peruse the next section of Back to Walden to find out.