When My Thoughts Are Filled With Love

[Originally posted to my family blog, but I used up all my free space there, so here we are.]

She called the expression on my face “I’m Smelling Dog Poop” after the remarks of a childhood friend of hers. According to my then co-worker Michelle G., that was the face I made all through morning sickness. 

That my first pregnancy brought about that face made it all the more appropriate as I have continued to wear the ISDP Face whenever I enter kid territory. Since I have spent nearly twelve years in such a state, its defining creases rival even my worry lines now. 

I learned a couple years ago what my ISDP Face looks like. How many of us enjoy this level of self-knowledge?

The ISDP (I’m Smelling Dog Poop) Face. My then 3-year-old also caught my usual posture.

What even fewer of us know about ourselves is the moment when the ISDP Face took hold. And to revisit that scene with me, you get to do a little wandering in my brain first. This blog [my family blog] fell along the wayside, so you have no idea that I have been on a journey within and without for the past 19 months. 

To put it simply, I cleared up part of my mental confusion in May 2017 and pursued a dream my family and I had been working toward since our first child was a baby. For some reason, imagining a certain home on a plot of wild land eased the lines in my face and smoothed some of the tension from my clenched teeth for ten years. Now that journey without (the outward developments in my life) has set all my facial tendencies into a permanent state.

But no matter; that is what my journey within is about, which is less simple. If you follow this blog but not “the well-rested mother,” where I discuss weightier matters, then you have not heard of the Life Coach Jody Moore. So you also won’t know that when I tell you about the model for how to get the results you want in life, I learned it all from her.

Here is The Model:

C-Circumstance: something provable, objective, and completely neutral, which leads to a…
T-Thought: what happens in my brain in response to the circumstance, or my belief(s) about it
F-Feeling: the emotion I experience when I deem a thought “true”
A-Action: how I act given the thoughts and feelings I have in relation to the circumstance
R-Result: what my life looks like in the realm of that particular circumstance (think money, kids, cleaning, annoying people, politics–you name it, the model works)

[I know it seems like Elissa has steered off course, which is why I am speaking in the third person. I want to assure you that like the parabolic path a spinning Frisbee might take, she will reach her zenith and return to where she started. It’s sort of a trick throw* to warm up her wrists as she types thoughts onto a screen and waits for an unseen audience to catch up.]

Most people believe that circumstances cause their feelings–the amount of money in their bank account, whether a loved one is still around, or whether others are gossiping about them, for example. But none of that causes any feelings until thoughts arise. 

Self-awareness teachings have helped me figure out that rigid thoughts, or core beliefs, have led to nearly automatic emotional responses for me when certain events arise. You may have heard of being “triggered.” Our brains get very efficient at skipping from event to emotion to action because it thinks it is saving us from extinction. But efficiency is useful only in the face of a tangible threat to life, limb, or loved one. It doesn’t really help when we’re scared of something abstract.

Because the chain of events happens in a blink, most of us believe we live at the mercy of circumstances. So we try to control them and orchestrate our lives in such a way that we never encounter any of these “triggers.” 

That is where mindfulness comes in. This practice of being present is so much more than a buzzword. Remember that scene in Star Trek: Insurrection when Jean-Luc’s love interest slows the waterfall and the beating wings of a hummingbird? You might not need to travel to a distant planet to experience that level of serenity. (But I might try it if I could hold hands with Patrick Stewart…)

Have you heard of mindfulness? Mindfulness helps us to see our feelings as a manifestation of our thoughts. Thoughts that did not arise simply from a button being pushed by our outside world, these thought patterns were created over a lifetime of practicing them; like game trails along a hillside. They may also have been created in an instant that seared a visceral response into a neural pathway because it jarred us so much from our usual course (for more on mindfulness, I recommend The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion). 

But that thought pattern and the feeling it evokes is just one of many options. Learning to slow down and see our options is like picking one grain of pollen from another. Or perhaps like numbering the sands of the sea (see Moses 1:28). Further still, you might begin to fit a thousand years into one day if you mastered this skill, as our Master has.

Elissa has gone as “far out” with her Frisbee as she is going to go and is about to reel it back in. But if you want to explore meditation where it intersects with my faith, I am exploring the work and journey of Thomas McConkie, which you might consider more “out there” than even time travel.

So given that I have been slowly and painstakingly and clumsily transforming my life from a circumstance-driven to a thought-driven one, I feel concerned when I encounter some cultural relic in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which has thee most amazing theology to ever grace the earth, might I add) if it promotes a false relationship between our circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions, and the results we get. 

Here is a song I have sung wrong for a number of years because I do not believe we can cause other people to love us. Yech! Controlling people. Definitely not what the Plan of Salvation teaches.

Original Words:

Jesus said love ev’ryone;
Treat them kindly too.
When your heart is filled with love,
Others will love you.

Or maybe they won’t love you. Maybe they’ll despise and mock you. Or even crucify you. We don’t get to make others’ choices for them.

So we don’t love in order to manipulate others into loving us. We love because we want our actions to align with our thoughts and feelings.That is what a person of integrity does. 

I hear this kind of integrity called “being authentic.” Authentic people do tend to attract other authentic people, so you will probably get the result–of being loved–that you desire, but not because you tricked them into it.

My friend Tobi made this for me when I came up with new lyrics (and as a bytheway, the Church did call for suggestions and comments on all of their music, so I made sure to lodge this concern, along with many others, with the proper channels).

Cultural relics can be cleaned up, so I shared the following story (in fewer words) with my 7- to 10-year-old girls’ group from church last week. And now you get to revisit the scene with me in which my ISDPF became associated with cleaning up after kids.

Cleaning up at a friend’s house drew me in as a child much faster than the thought of cleaning in my own home did. I suppose the setting gave me a chance to show off a little with my mad cleaning skills and then skip the part where the clean space all went to rot again. So when our friend Brittany had us over one Saturday and her mom said, “Get the basement cleaned up, and come tell me when you’re done,” my twin sister and I dived right in. 

Brittany had a dog, a silver-grey schnauzer with the unfortunate name of Butkus, after some football player. He was mostly barkless, shedless, chewless, and except for the landmines he kept in one section of the backyard, poopless as well. My kind of dog. And one more reason to visit my friend as often as possible. I loved dogs, in theory.

Butkus sometimes came into the house. He possessed the finest of manners, and he only did his business outside. So when, in the course of our human events we found a little pile of dog poop near the stereo, our shock momentarily overcame our reasoning abilities.

Instead of wondering why the dog had suddenly turned feral, we recoiled in disgust. We reflexively gagged at the smell of it and felt sick to our stomachs just thinking of having to somehow scoop it up and get it out of there. We still had a basement to clean, so we worked around the fetid “accident” until we could alert Brittany’s mom, JoAnn. We knew and trusted her because she was also our school librarian. Somehow, we would figure out a way to pass this overdue deposit on to her.

When we had rid the basement of all things messy–except the dog poop–we invited JoAnn down. With noses pinched, we walked toward the offensive discovery so that she could see what we had endured. To our utter horror, when she saw the poop, she laughed and picked it up. We almost puked. But she kept laughing. In fact, she was laughing so hard that she almost couldn’t speak. We began to feel a little worried about the fate of librarian mothers.

At last she exclaimed, “How in the world does this even stink to you? It’s plastic!” 

What?!

I am telling you that the moment my brain told me it saw dog poop, I also began to smell dog poop because my brain expected stink to accompany this poopsie whoopsie. 

I decided to find out for myself whether my brain had tricked me. I reached out and poked at the shiny brown pile. I heard only the tapping of a fingernail on plastic. Remarkable. I no longer smelled dog poop. I no longer felt like gagging.

Just a gag gift from a white elephant party, I learned, as Brittany’s mom continued to chuckle and wipe away tears of hysterics as she ascended the stairs.

So let’s apply the model:
Circumstance of cleaning up after kids–> Belief that I will find something disgusting–> Feelings of trepidation and disgust–> Action of contorting my face into one of repulsion–> Result of having wrinkles I never intended to have

How do I change the wrinkle patterns? By never cleaning up kid messes again? Nope. By examining the thoughts I’m having and trying on some new ones? Ding ding ding.

For example, when cleaning up kid messes, I could remember that odd smells are just another form of information. No need to contort my face with disgust over a bit of stinky news. This thought is one of many I can try on.

Can you try on thoughts the way you try on clothes? You sure can. Give them a whirl before making them yours.

Here is a fun way to “try on thoughts.”

The girls I work with did a little exercise I call “Thought Bouncing.” They took turns jumping on the mini-tramp and I would toss them an unhelpful thought that they then changed into a helpful thought (I adapted this activity idea to fit the house we live in).

And do you know what I learned about helpful thoughts? They determine whether you have a soft heart or a hard heart. If you study the Come, Follow Me lessons, I got a week ahead by an accident I will call divine intervention and saw in the story of Nephi’s broken bow the perfect example of how helpful thoughts lead to a soft heart. I then saw how a soft heart leads to obtaining help, healing, and creative solutions, to perseverance, and so on. Whereas, unhelpful thoughts, the kind we indulge in when we allow self-pity to steer us, lead to bitterness, anger, turning away from help, staying stuck, and ultimately, our own destruction.

So I am here to say that if you want to feel God’s love in your life (I’m talking to you, Elissa), if you want to have divine help and peace that surpasses all understanding, if you want to find solutions to the troubles weighing you down, then prepare your heart for a change by making it soft.

Make it soft by choosing useful thoughts. Use mindfulness practices like prayer and meditation (ha! just wrote medication, which also helps!**) or even just getting grounded in the present. These skills help you to identify your current thoughts and your other options. And then if you really want to and need to, you can change your circumstances from a place of acceptance instead of resistance. 

If a situation stinks, remember that your brain is listening and will make sure that you are right. It’s only trying to keep you safe from danger, after all. It would rather be wrong than dead. The real danger is in the thoughts you have become so good at holding onto that you believe they are true, whether the poop is plastic or not.

[slightly edited for clarity on 29 March 2020]

* This video is sexist and insulting, but the visual display was better than the graphs and equations in the scholarly articles on the physics of this throw.
** I take Buspirone for my cascading thought-emotion-reaction troubles, and it has made a positive difference.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s