Midweek Faith Lift
The Art of Thinking-How to Think Artfully
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Oct. 24, 2018
How to think artfully? What a powerful question! It gives us a lot to unpack, a lot to think about! When we were children in school, ideally, we learned to think logically, to reason our way to a conclusion based on facts or evidence, at least that is the ideal. We often also think emotionally, driven by our emotional reactions to events and situations when the amygdala in our brain hijacks us! We are seeing more of that in race consciousness right now. And in Unity with metaphysics, we can get lost in the weeds with magical thinking which is for sure a dead end. And something Butterworth does not endorse, thank goodness!
What does it mean to think artfully? We are engaged with metaphysics and a different kind of thinking, metaphysical thinking. The first key point is that metaphysics does not deal with changing the world. Metaphysics does not deal with changing the world. That is truly a key starting point. Metaphysics is not about setting things right or changing what is “out there” to make it right. It is about seeing things rightly. I am going to say that again: It is about seeing things rightly. What does it mean to “see things rightly?” That is the crux of artful thinking and what I would also call skillful thinking.
To see things rightly requires that we become as aware as possible of the distortions in our vision, in how we now see what is there. To think artfully is to begin to see things “rightly.” Metaphysics is a technique to see things as Emmerson said, “From the highest point of view.” We are thinking creatures.
Our minds are always active, but we are creatures of habit and frankly we are NOT aware of what our minds are doing, how and what they are thinking. Just sit in meditation for 10 minutes and see what parade of thoughts passes by on the highways of your mind! And then try not to follow one stream of chatter down the rabbit hole, especially if you are upset about it. How easy is that? Not so much, right?
Now let’s notice this experience: not doing, just being, sitting in silence and not talking, sitting in meditation does not cause us to not think any more than doing and acting causes us to think. Sitting in meditation does not cause us to not think any more than doing and acting causes us to think. Noticing this helped me understand another seemingly radical statement that Butterworth makes: that “experiences do not cause thoughts.” We may perceive them as causing our thoughts, and they may happen together, but just like during meditation, which does not cause us not to think, what we are experiencing does not cause our thoughts. That is a radical notion for most of us who are chronic over-thinkers! Our experiences do not cause our thoughts. Okay, then! So now what???
Experiences can and do trigger our emotional, mental and physical reactions. But when we stop and artfully think about it, we can discern that our experiences are not the cause of our thoughts. We can recognize that we “over-reacted” to what was said or done, and that our feelings and thoughts about something drove that “over-reaction.” If you have never, ever, over-reacted to anything, see me after the service and we’ll dig a little deeper!
That does not mean that we don’t have reactions to people, events and situations in our lives. We do. We get angry, just as Jesus got angry and upset.
And then add emotional stress, tiredness, disappointment, hunger and off we go…into familiar, habitual reactive patterns and behaviors that we “think” are effective. But when we begin to think artfully, skillfully, our eyes are opened and we begin to see things rightly. We become aware of the truth of the statement, to take one example, that holding a grudge and refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. It just doesn’t work like that.
The practice of metaphysical thinking is a discipline. It requires us first of all to track our thoughts. It requires us to then make a choice about what we are thinking and then choose what we think or what we no longer think. It requires us to align our thinking with the higher perspective of Divine Mind, and to remember that we are human and it is not a sin to be human and have our human thought process. It is to remember that we always have a choice in how we think about something, how we regard it and we can make a more artful, more skillful, more thoughtful choice, one that is in alignment with Divine Mind.
Butterworth gives the example of the two hotel clerks who each note that the hotel is fully booked due to a conference. One of them says “Wow, I sure have a lot of problems tonight.” Another clerk responded to the same situation by saying, “Wow, people sure have a lot of problems tonight.” Butterworth notes:
Both of them were dealing with the same experience but having different reactions. People may have problems, but I have problems because of the way I am reacting to people’s problems. If I keep myself in perfect peace, then I’m simply concerned that people have problems. They’re on the outside and I can handle them. Practical Metaphysics, p.60.
When we gain self-mastery of our thoughts, we can make the choice that does not hurt us. That is not always easy to do. It requires mindfulness and discipline. It requires self-monitoring and self-awareness. When my sense of myself gets tangled up in the problem and I begin to identify with it, then I have made a choice that hurts me. But I have the ability to notice that I have done this and then I correct it. That is thinking artfully. That is remembering that everyone has within them the same Divine Intelligence that I do and the ability to correct their own thinking, to think more skillfully or artfully as they solve their own problems.
When I sit in meditation, and the chatter begins, it requires discipline to notice that my thoughts have taken over and to redirect my attention to my breath. I do this again and again and again and again. Some days it is easier than others. Some days my mind feels like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, and it just won’t settle down. It is a process of training, discipline, paying attention and gently bringing my mind back to my breath and the present moment. It is a practice. Sometimes I need to explore the feelings that are hijacking my peaceful mind space.
The same is true when I am in the world, engaged with others and the habitual thinking tape starts to play. For me it about self-judgment, weight and comparing myself to others, to strangers, women I don’t even know. I never do this with people I know, only strangers. One thought runs to “Well at least I am not as fat as she is…and the other thought runs to “OMG, I will never be that thin, this is hopeless.” It was a powerful moment when I realized that I was creating that thought pattern, not the women I saw at in the store or at yoga! They were completely unaware of my thoughts! But I wasn’t, and either direction, thank God I am not that heavy, and OMG, I will never be that thin were both excuses to over eat, to over-react!
My thoughts were untrained, unskilled and creating a pattern of reactive eating.
When I became aware of this pattern and then aware of when I was engaging in it, I could tell myself, “Stop it!” I could begin to re-direct where my thoughts go when I am self-conscious about my weight. I could begin to just be with the thoughts and feelings and notice them but not identify with them. That is the key to a how higher consciousness functions: it is able to just notice what is there and then detach from the emotional charge and just be present with love and acceptance.
My thoughts then switch to, “Oh honey, you just want to make this a great big old problem, but remember, God does not see you, your body or your weight as a problem. You are deserving of love and acceptance no matter what; NO MATTER WHAT! It is not a sin to be human! That is artful thinking; that is the higher perspective, the mountaintop view.
It is critical to note that it is not a process of saying over and over to myself some affirmative statement that I am thin, I am thin, I am thin. I love that Butterworth says that these repeated statements are not really affirmations and that they have no real effect. That has been my experience: these are empty affirmations with no impact whatsoever and part of the magical thinking that is such a dead end. Jesus did not recommend that we repeat statements again and again hoping they would become true. We do not blow these statements into the balloon of our consciousness hoping to thereby reshape our consciousness.
Rather, we work from the inside out. Jesus modeled for us what to do when our old thought patterns want to be in charge and it is reflected in the stories about his time in the desert, when he was tempted by “Satan.” Satan, metaphysically is always a symbol of humankind’s limited consciousness. It is just like my limited consciousness that can take every opportunity to harshly judge and condemn my weight. Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread because he was so hungry, and to set himself up as a king to exert earthly power to spread his message. These were some of the temptations, or negative thoughts that Jesus’ mind had when he was fasting and praying in the desert.
His response, “Do not tempt the Lord, your God. Get thee behind me, Get thee hence.” Matthew 4:1-11 And that is our response too, that we practice again and again whenever we are tempted to go down the rabbit hole of our limited human perceptions and thoughts….get thee behind me, get thee hence! Lift my thoughts to a higher perspective and help me see this from the highest point of view! Jesus was successful the first time; for us it is a practice, but with practice comes progress in thinking artfully, skillfully and in alignment with the higher perspective of Spirit, the perspective of love.
Blessings on the Path,