A friend said to me the other night, ‘I heard a theory that our thoughts aren’t ours, they are just out there in the universe, and they sort of pass through us, we have them – but they’re not ours’, and I said it reminded me of Neil Young who said while chatting between songs on an album that when he writes a song it’s like he is a radio, that the songs just come to him, the radio that picks them up, and he writes them down.
Here we are, catching things from out there – thoughts, songs, poems, this blog post…
I wondered later, if I’m having thoughts from out there in the universe, why do I often have unpleasant thoughts? Worries, fears, negative judgements and so on.
And I remembered my favourite Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn telling us we can ‘change the TV channel’ or ‘change the CD’ in our minds if we are having unpleasant thoughts, to a channel that is happier, more positive. Instead of listening to ‘Radio Negative’, we can move the dial over to ‘Radio Happiness’.
How do we do that? What are pleasant thoughts like? Instead of fears and judgements, I suppose that Radio Happiness is made up of thoughts concerning reasons to be happy, gratitude, simple appreciation of beauty in nature, music, art, other people – our good enough lives.
It might be hard to make the channel change, I think it has to be cultivated with lots of practice. Maybe catching the unpleasant thoughts quickly when they come, smiling at them, and deliberately swapping them for a few happy ones. I’m committed to this, to moving the dial, changing channel to Radio Happiness.
As well as changing to a happier channel, there’s the option of turning the radio off entirely, which is where mindfulness and meditation come in. Then I suppose we are just present observers – we aren’t a radio anymore, but part of the thoughtless here and now. I am not a regular ‘formal’ meditator at all, but I can most easily turn off the radio when I’m out in nature, just walking in the woods looking at the wild flowers, plants and trees. And I always come home happier after turning the radio off for a while.
But you know what? If the thoughts really are just out there, and we catch them or have them, then perhaps instead of trying to control it all, the best thing is just to listen in to the radio in our minds as it chatters away, and decide whether we want to pay attention to it or not (whilst helping to create space for it to be silent, ‘off-air’). Perhaps it’s as simple as that – listen in, tune in, tune out. It’s an ongoing investigation for me, something I’ve read about in countless books, but it’s time to work it out for myself!