Reading the blog yesterday of a childhood friend who grew up to be a rabbi, I came across a phrase I’ve heard before but had forgotten for a long time.
I love this phrase.
In two words, it implies all that I believe about thinking.
That thoughts are ever-changeable.
That we can manipulate our own thoughts or the way others think about us.
That we have power over our thinking.
That we can be playful with our thoughts.
Make fun of them.
Laugh at them.
Shoo them away when they’re getting in the way.
Caress and nurture the ones that stir our hearts and bellies.
Abandon the ones that have stopped serving us.
Experiment with our thinking. Approach our thinking like we would scientific research — as an experience or an equation that is observable, malleable.
I believe in this method, and yet I often have a hard time employing it.
Like many scientists, I am a firm believer in what I know to be true.
In the facts of my life.
“He is …”
“I will always be…”
“It’s like this…”
Those facts serve me. They allow me to be right about the world I live in. They allow me to make difficult decisions based on previously established and agreed upon evidence. They allow me to feel safe and secure in an existence that is often tenuous and unsure.
Therefore, it’s not so easy to approach those facts (my thoughts) as an experiment.
It means I have to give up being right: About the world, about people who’ve hurt me, or about situations I’ve long ago thought I forgot.
Not to mention — thought experiments are rarely controlled experiments. You’re not alone in a cozy lab coat in a quiet room with no other people, no additional stimulation. During your average thought experiment, it’s NOT just you, just your thoughts, just listening carefully and watching and taking notes.
Yup. You are right there in the middle of it. All the time.
Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.
And there’s noise. And hunger. And resentment. And perceived requests, demands, insults.
All that thinking and feeling leaves little room to experiment.
And, if you’re like me, you’re not just thinking, thinking, thinking. Feeling, feeling, feeling.
You’re thinking about the thinking. And judging the feeling.
Not very playful. Not very fun.
Not very experimental.
This is why — and I’m having a light bulb experience myself RIGHT NOW as I write this — I meditate. And this is why I sing. And why I pray my version of prayer; keep my version of Shabbat. And why, on occasion, I seek 20 minutes alone in the bathroom pretending to poop.
So I can have my very own thought experiment.
So I can allow myself the opportunity to observe, explore, and possibly, change my thinking.
Do you do this too?
Do you give yourself an opportunity to thought experiment?
And does it work?