“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” ~Eckhart Tolle
I recently discovered just how powerful our thoughts can be. I learned that it doesn’t take time for us to accept our current situation; it simply takes a shift in our perceptions and a change in the stories we tell ourselves.
The catalyst for this realization was sent to me, in a small envelope placed under the windscreen wipers of my car. Yes, it came in the form of a parking ticket.
At first I was shocked and quite disappointed in myself for getting a parking ticket.
As I drove home, I found myself building a story in my head: It’s so unfair. I didn’t realize it was rear-to-curb parking only. Other people were parked the same way and they didn’t have tickets. Why me?
I saw the parking ticket as an attack against me personally, as an indicator that I wasn’t good enough. I was beating myself up and couldn’t understand why I had been fined.
But then I stopped. I dug a little deeper and tried to unravel why I was feeling so upset. I realized I was making something insignificant into a really big deal.
I was building a story that did not serve me at all. I was too attached to the current situation.
The parking attendant didn’t know me personally; he was just doing his job. There was no one else that I could blame for the ticket; I had parked incorrectly and it was only fair that I received a ticket for doing so.
Once I realized this, I was able to take a step back, and I thought to myself, You know what? It doesn’t matter what story I create. I’m still going to have to pay this fine. I may as well accept it and move on.
There was no need for me to be so upset, and the only way to move past how unhappy I felt was to change my thoughts.
In the last few years, as I’ve delved into self-study and spiritual enquiry, I’ve read a lot about the power of non-attachment and our ability to create our reality through our thoughts.
Hundreds of articles, books, presentations, and videos all encouraged me to become aware of my thoughts, and to watch whether the stories in my mind serve me or take me further away from where I want to be.
But I had never really put it into practice. At least not until the day I received my first parking ticket.
As I drove home, I paid very little attention to the road in front of me because I was so caught up in my story about how unfair the whole situation was. Then suddenly a switch flicked inside my mind.
It was probably the first time that I have truly been aware of my thoughts. I felt like an observer, watching my mind race and witnessing the birth of a new story.
This sense of awareness made me realize how frequently I create stories in my head and how often I take something insignificant and turn it into something huge. I’ve learned how frequently I create drama and complications in my life.
It’s certainly true that we can’t always control the situations we find ourselves in and we definitely can’t always control what happens to us. But it’s also true that we can control how we react.
When I realized just how petty my reaction was, I was able to shift my train of thought completely.
I learned that we don’t have to waste twenty minutes or a whole day (or longer) creating stories that get us nowhere. We don’t have to turn a minor annoyance into a huge drama.
Things can be so much simpler. We can accept what happens, even if we don’t like it.
We can just watch as something happens, without making it into a personal problem that needs to be solved.
We can be humbled by our errors rather than trying to shift the blame and pass off any consequences.
We can accept, surrender, and move on. We don’t have to attach our happiness or sense of self to everything that happens in our lives.
The next time (and I know there will be a next time) something I don’t like happens, I will do my best to not take it personally.
I will bring awareness to my thoughts and I will stop myself from creating a useless and unhelpful story. I will accept the situation, as it is, and I will try to keep my reaction cool, calm, and collected.
I will react in a way that doesn’t cause undue stress or unhappiness.
You too have the power to control how you react to the situations that unfold around you. You can bring awareness to your thoughts and to the stories your mind creates. And you can uncover a new sense of awareness and non-attachment without first needing to pay a fine.
Man in lotus position image via Shutterstock