Maurine Proctor’s column appears Tuesday’s on Meridian.
To subscribe to Meridian’s free emails click here
We have a lake near our home where we love to walk in the mornings. One day I was headed out the door alone to go the lake when my daughter asked, “Who will you talk to while you walk? Won’t you be lonely?” “Oh, no,” I answered, “I’ll just talk to myself.”
The truth is I couldn’t help but talk to myself. You talk to yourself all day long, an endless monologue, a jabbering that doesn’t stop. You open your eyes in the morning and the talk begins. You brush your teeth, you eat breakfast—the complete routine of the day—is all accompanied by this voice in your head.
If someone were to ask you, what mortal has had the greatest influence on your life, you would have to honestly answer that you have, by what you’ve told yourself all day, every day. You have been your teacher, your mentor.
You have been the one who cast judgments on all that you’ve seen. You have interpreted what reality is. You have written the story of your life in this personal soliloquy. You have built an entire sense of what the world is like.
The critical question for you is this: Have you been a good teacher? Have you seen clearly?
You would never want to sit in the classroom of a teacher, even if he were very noted at a prestigious university, if he taught you inaccuracies, if the window he shone upon the world were skewed or distorted. Under his influence, you would not want to learn to look through a glass darkly.
The truth is you trust the monologue in your head even more than the noted professor. Most of us are quite certain that the way we perceive things is the way they truly are. You’ve reinforced your view of reality not once, but over and over, until you are convinced that your interpretation of things is right. You are the trusted lens on yourself and on your life. Your attitudes and outlook are the rightful consequence of having seen things clearly.
Or so you think. But is it?
Stephen R. Covey uses the analogy of a map of reality to answer that question. Since your first breath, you have been creating a map of reality and your response to it. With limited perception and understanding, however, you—and all of us—got some things somewhat right and some things wrong. You have been using that map for years to maintain perspective and a sense of direction. You have expanded it over time and altered some parts when they have been found to be wanting. Some whole regions of the map may have come to seem completely inadequate.
However if reality, as God sees it, is, for example, a map of Chicago, and you are trying to find your way with a map of Denver, you will continually run into dead ends and blind alleys. Something just doesn’t match up. This map of Denver, which you hold such faith in, seems to lead you into continual frustration.
In those areas where you hold incorrect ideas, false paradigms, or misunderstandings and carry them through life, you will be about as effective as if you were carrying the wrong map of a city. Frustration and pain is inevitable. As fervently as you believe in your map, as desperately as you cling to it and try until you are breathless to get to where you want to go, you will only end up bitterly disappointed.
Call a taxi. Rent a different car. Spin your wheels faster—your destination will still not be reached, because it was never just about how hard you tried, but about the nature of your inner map.
It is so easy to see false ideas at work in others. A friend of mine believes that she can’t succeed at some things that are important to her. She has mounds of evidence to prove it. Since she left the confines of the crib, she has been hard at work interpreting her experience to demonstrate that she is a failure who can’t accomplish what she hopes. Because she is so convinced of this, each experience adds to her story. “See, I couldn’t do that either.” “I knew this wouldn’t work out.” “It’s just like I thought, I blew it again.”
As you repeat certain ideas to yourself, you inject them into your experience. In fact, quietly, but surely, you shape our own experience to reflect what you believe. It is the picture you are painting of the world stroke by stroke. It is your life’s history you are writing, line by line. Given a chance for success, my friend sabotages herself, though quite unaware she is doing it, but the filter through which she sees the world is so strong that she shapes each experience to further solidify it. She is talented and able and the last to see it.
She may start a new project, but somewhere inside she is convinced that she will fall short, that she will trip before the finish line, that things will not come together for her. What she does not see, is that she has been the author of this idea, has created her experience to be a self-fulfilling prophecy of a false belief.
Sadly, her viewpoint on her worth and abilities becomes more solidified over time. She has created more evidence for it, every time she steps back from success, convinced she is unable and unworthy. Her evidence of her inability to find a sense of potency and happiness is not just a hill, but a Himalayan mountain, impossible in her mind to scale, and she does not know that she made that mountain herself.
The false ideas of others, especially the others we are close to, become evident to us, because we see how they trip on them. We watch them falter and we want to leap in and say, “If you could just abandon this idea, this pocked and distorted glass through which you view the world, everything would change.” We want to say, “You are hurting yourself by the things you believe that are false. Your lens on the world and on yourself is skewed; it is hurting you.” It is clear that ideas are powerful; they are the invisible but sculpting tools of our souls and our life’s experience.
We can see those around us who have interpreted life resentfully, those who have had false expectations about what they thought they deserved. We grieve for those who have talked themselves out of a relationship with a loving God by the distortion of their thoughts. We can tell that the perpetually unhappy are caught in a web of misperceptions, that what they say when they talk to themselves is much of the problem.
What is much harder is to see the lies and falseness in our own thinking because we are under the illusion that what we see is the truth. We see what is. We, in fact, share a viewpoint with God. His may be much more expanded, but at least for what we see, we got it right.
In scripture we are taught that the “truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
What we also know, however is that its reverse is also true. A lie, a misperception, a false assumption that leads to a faulty outlook shall bind us. In the area of our understanding where the falseness operates, it may be an utter and complete bondage that keeps us feeling stuck for reasons we do not see.
When we are taught that the “truth shall make you free,” we may believe that this refers to gospel truths only, however, since truth is “things as they really are, and…things as they really will be”, it is evident that our ability to be free—that is empowered with joy, light, love and intelligence in every area, including our relationship with ourselves and others—depends on our being loosed from the bondage of bad ideas. This includes our assumptions that are silent and therefore invisible to us (Jacob 4:13).
We believe all sorts of things, take them as underlying foundation stones to our outlook that we don’t even know we’ve embraced. How do we come to know what our silent assumptions are? Events may open our eyes to our underlying assumptions. Our differences with others sometimes make them clearer.
Life is designed to reveal ourselves to ourselves. What happens to us in this mortal journey shows us where in our thinking and understanding we have it wrong.
It is one of the Lord’s kindest gifts to us. We do not want to be hampered in our journeying, dragging heavy baggage and burdens that are frustrating and painful because we couldn’t see where to put them down.
How do you recognize where your own ideas are faulty? How do you come to see where you have misunderstood the nature of reality? How do your own mental distortions or misunderstandings become clear to you?
Here is a key. If it is the truth that makes you free, then you can tell where you are in bondage to lies, to the wrong coloring of reality, to emphasizing one thing to the detriment of others that are more important, because in those areas you feel less free. You can tell if you have perceived yourself unfairly or unwisely or in a diminished and contracted way because you feel imprisoned.
Bondage signifies itself in your soul as unhappiness or frustration or a sense of being stuck. Something isn’t working, no matter how hard you try. If in any area of your life you are in a box, and can’t find your way out, it is because you are hemmed in by a faulty thought pattern.
Misery is an invitation to step back consciously and examine your own thought patterns—both what you say when you talk to yourself and the underlying worldview you have created from which they spring. Misery or dejection or even a slight sense of dimness suggests that you have to pay attention to the way you look at things. Certainly a ruptured relationship offers the same invitation.
My husband, Scot, and I have developed a technique between us for helping the other when either of us is dispirited. One of us says to the other who is in the slumps or is anxious or fearful, “What are you believing right now that isn’t true? What thought pattern have you followed that has got you so stuck?”
The answer to that question is not always clear immediately. Finding our faulty thinking may take discussion or journal writing. I have written pages some times asking what I am thinking that isn’t true, isn’t an actual reflection of the way things really are. On paper I have asked myself: What do I believe in some particular area? Why do I think that? What evidence have I mounted to think that? Is there something skewed or inaccurate in that pattern of thinking? Where does that thinking lead me? Does it bring me joy? Does it empower me? If the truth makes me free, does this thought pattern make me feel spiritually enlightened or dimmed? Is there a truer way to understand this?
Am I in a box in my thinking? Have I created of my mind a terrarium with its own atmosphere that doesn’t acknowledge its limitations?
Rooting out the muddles in our thinking foremost requires prayer, for ultimately, it is our loving Lord, from whom all light springs. He sees things as they really are. That light that springs forth from his bosom which fills the immensity of space is truth. He invites us with open arms into his embrace to see better and ultimately to see wholly.
He has told us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8,9).
The spiritual life is a progressive journey to have His Spirit expand and correct our very thoughts, not only about the grand things of eternity but about how we perceive the smallest details, which are in themselves tell-tale to how we’ve told our story to ourselves.
Joseph Smith said “that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views”[i] Of course, then, that it should be no surprise that our life’s experience would reveal our flawed thinking in ways we would surely notice.
During Christ’s ministry, in many instances he healed the blind. In one instance described by John, he saw a man at the temple who somewhat like the rest of us “was blind from his birth”. Ours is a blindness in our thinking, his was physical. After Christ healed him and he was hauled before the Pharisees who wanted an explanation, he answered simply, “Whereas I was blind, now I see.”
When we are stuck or miserable or nothing works, we might first take note of what we are saying to ourselves in the incessant monologue in our heads and whether it is the light of truth or laced with little lies, even lies we have not yet caught on to. God always invites us to see better and to show us the way to do just that.
[i] Joseph Smith as Scientist (Salt Lake City: Eborn Books 1990) p. 55