Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Just the Facts.... or Your Thoughts Create Your Reality

September 2008

Quote of the month:
The only thing we are ever dealing with is a thought
and a thought can be changed.

- Louise L. Hay

"Just the facts, ma'am! Just the facts!" the line Sgt. Joe Friday is quoted as using on Dragnet. That could be an another accurate title for this month's blog.

When looking at any particular issue in our lives, we tend to somewhat unconsciously make judgments about those issues. For example if you get a raise at work you may unconsciously say, "I got a raise at work (comma) and that is a good thing." You may start to think about what you will do with the money and what you want to buy with it. This may make you feel happy!

On the other hand, if you get a flat tire, you may unconsciously say, "I got a flat tire, (comma) and that is a bad thing." You may start to get anxious about how you will change the tire or angry and tell yourself stories about how unfair it is and how these things always seem to happen at the worst possible time (did I mention you were on your way to an important meeting?) Then you start to think about how upset the person you are meeting with will be when you are late and that you probably won't get the account.....etc., etc., etc.

I also call this "making up stories". I am intentionally using very obvious examples to make a point. In both cases, there was a FACT. The thoughts that create the actual feeling came after that fact. The fact was going to remain the same NO MATTER what you choose to tell yourself about it or how you chose to feel about it. It is important to recognize that it is a choice AND separate from the actual fact!

Most people probably would agree in both cases that the raise is "good" and the flat tire is "bad". I am simply suggesting that it is not necessary to judge and label everything in our lives on a constant basis....especially when what we are telling ourselves is making us feel a way that we do not want to feel. Simply choosing NOT to make up any stories about the flat tire allows you to deal with changing it more efficiently. You don't first have to deal with all the negative emotions on top of having to still change the tire!

Let me give you another example.... Living in an area where it frequently snows.....we have had to learn to deal with shoveling and driving in the snow [and this was especially challenging when coming from a warm climate where it doesn't snow.......or am I just making up a story? ;) ] When a snow storm is coming, we may be tempted to say, "It's going to snow, (comma) and that is a very bad thing!" My boys, on the other hand, who love playing in the snow might say, "It's going to snow, (comma) and that is a very good thing!" The facts of the matter remain the same - it is going to snow. Inserting the comma and any judgment after that is purely is the resulting feeling about the snow.

We all do this every day in many little ways.....and it does become more challenging to recognize we are doing this when the things we are judging are not so obvious. Try to be aware of what you are telling yourself at least some the time. This goes back to what I wrote about last month...... recognizing that tape or CD that constantly plays in our head ....and learning to pause it long enough to recognize that you are making a judgment. [**It has been brought to my attention, that if I really want to be up to date, I need to further update my analogy! I now need to call it an I-pod!] This month we are not only talking about pausing the I-pod, CD or tape but then becoming aware of the content!

Here are some very simple exercises I would like to suggest for this month…
  • When you are able to pause the "I-pod" in your head.....try to notice if you are making some sort of judgment......if you can, think about how that thought might be making you feel. Some good times to try this might be when you are waiting in a long line, stuck in traffic or notice that it is raining (or snowing!) You may even want to try it if you receive some good news.
  • Another more challenging time to try it is if someone is saying something that you don't agree with. What are you telling yourself about what they are saying? Or what are you telling yourself about the person? Initially, it might be better to try this when you are watching TV, listening to the news or talk radio....when the person is not right in front of you.....again just to keep it simple at first!
  • Another exercise would be to think to yourself as you slowly read the following list of words....what feelings the word generates...then try to pause the I-pod and become aware of the thought that caused that feeling..... you don't have to share your results with anyone unless you want be honest with yourself.
New York City..... Key West.....
Work...... Vacation......
Labor Day….. New Year‘s Day…...
Rainy...... Windy….. Cloudy..... Snowing.... (that one is for me!!!)
Rush Hour

How about Spiders....…? Or Snakes? (I am sorry to the people who will KNOW these last 2 were especially for them!)

Remember, if you felt something when you thought of the word, then you are making up some sort of story about that particular word! The idea this month is just to notice and become aware that we doing it.

Most judgments happen so quickly that we don't even realize that we are making them....we are unaware that we are doing it. Many such judgments happen repetitively, to the point that we believe them as fact. Many are dictated to us by society, the media, the advertising business, our cultural background, our families....or any other group with which we associate ourselves…..and quite often we can find a large group of people who would agree with our version of the story.

Just like I made up driving in snow is "bad"… turns out..... it can actually be kind of FUN with the 4 wheel drive!!!!! So....until next month..... Just the facts, sir and ma'am!!!! Just the facts!

I would love to hear your feedback as well as any questions you may have or topics you may be interested in for the future. You may send them to me at or comment at the bottom of the blog. All posts will be archived on my blog along with other useful information at:
Simply Spirituality or
to continue reading the next post, click the following link...
The Whole Elephant

Until next month....
Keep it Simple!

Picture of the month
Snow, MN, March 2008


Anonymous said...

Very much enjoyed reading this as I did your first issue. Your writing is beautifully simplistic and positive, and your original photography is a perfect attribute to the column. I really enjoy your quotes, particularly Frankl. Keep up the good work!

Penelope said...

Thank you for the wonderfully, positive comments!

I appreciate it!

Gabriel said...

Hey Peni!

Wonderful blog! I want to marvel at the coincidence of the topics of your posts compared to my current situation, but having been studying spirituality for a few years now, I can't marvel. It makes sense. We have similar beliefs and thought patterns, so why not have some deeper connection that manifests through a shared understanding of spiritual truths (as well as timely posts!)

Last year at the start of the school year I grew quickly frustrated because my students weren't behaving properly, because I thought I was ineffective, etc. All of these thoughts manifested in a school year filled with ups and downs, and more stress than I care to acknowledge I felt. What happened? I panicked. Like you said in your post, I added the little story to the end of such statements as "I did not control my students today..." or "The lesson took longer than I had planned..." In fact, there may even be some judgement in those initial statements!

This year, however, I can honestly say that my students make last year's look like golden angels. Their situation coming into this school year was dire- to be brief: a 6th grade filled with as many core teachers as they should have had in two years (including subs and many people who quit); a lack of mixing with the other former sixth graders; shoddy school leadership and more to boot. These cold truths are just the facts.

But here's where I'm proud of myself: I have kept my cool and decided to focus on "just the facts". Sure I worry a bit at times, but I've found myself thinking "Ok, my management strategy is not working" or "That lesson was mishandled" and then thinking about the answers, without judgement, without emotion. It's only the end of the second week, but the approach has helped me keep my cool AND keep my thoughts focused on the task at hand. This is true clarity; and instead of finding myself in a desperate situation, I feel motivated and driven to improve.

And it works in traffic, in watching a politician speak, in observing a parent during a parent/ teacher conference, in short- everywhere.

Your wording delivers this message with clarity and your exercises are helpful for all, from those just getting in touch with their spirituality to those who have been delving deeper and deeper for years.
Keep the great posts coming!

(Oh, and is the picture Epcot? Quick guess)

Penelope said...

Hi Gabriel,

I really appreciate your comments! It is very rewarding to get comments like yours and know that the blog is being not just read, but understood....and potentially useful too!

Once again, I am blown away by the wisdom and insight of the next generation!

The facts are -

-->you are in your second year of teaching, first year in this city, beginning of a new year.

-->you are teaching children at an age (middle school) where school is not on top of their priority list.

-->the school system you walked into sounds like it is in disarray.

One could make up a whole story around ANY one of those things!!!!!

By not getting caught up in a made up story, it sounds like you were capable of looking at the situation differently than last year, and you changed your state of mind to a much more positive/effective way of looking at it! It is like the tire example in the post, does one first want to throw a fit and then still have to change the tire? (and some might...and that is ok too!) Or just change the tire? If you can make the shift, (and I am not saying it is easy...which is why I suggest practicing on simple things first) it allows you to be present in the moment and more efficiently change the tire.....or in your case, teach the students! (Without getting too many months ahead of myself - feeling badly about how something went keeps you in the past and worry puts you in the future...but the tire and the students are in the present in front of you!)

You were able to look at the situation from a different perspective (like the analogy of looking at the Epcot Ball from the perspective of underneath, rather than the postcard shot we are all familiar with!) and that changed everything! I am proud of you too...and thank you also for nicely setting up next month's topic! ; )

Debbie said...

agree completely with the last anonymous comment- your writing is really beautifully simplistic and the timing amazing.

Your catchy phrase to use "Just the fact's ma'am! Just the facts!" was great! It is forever = in my mind your thoughts create your reality!

Also as Gabriel commented, your writing reinforces that it is so important to cultivate perspective. We all get caught up in reacting to our thoughts and you remind me that it is the approach to our thoughts that determine whether we get tangled up or not.
"Be aware of what you are telling yourself at least some the time" is a great simple instrument/exercise to get that perspective and to be aware of the repeative judgements that happen to the point that we believe them as fact.
I love the quotes, and especially your original ones!