3 Opportunities to Act Our Way Into Right Thinking
Growing up in Wisconsin, there was snow on the ground for half of the year, and many of my earliest memories revolve around winter activities, such as ice skating and sledding. We would flock to Iverson Park in particular after the first “sticky” snowfall in October with our sleds. When the season started, the fresh cover of snow was pristine and level, a uniform dusting over the hills for our sleds to track down. However, as the season wore on, the snow continued to fall, and we continued to trek up and down those hills, carving patterns into the deepening snow. By March, our sledding paths were so deeply sculpted with banks of ice built up around them that it would have been nearly impossible to try to steer our sled down a fresh trail. The paths were well worn and defined with very little room for deviation. This is what I think of when I consider the way that karma works. Our habits of mind are the deeply worn sledding slopes. It takes intention and effort to change our course. Of course there is always potential to change our course. It might take a number of tries before we gain any traction down those less well-worn pathways.
When we meditate we’re actively learning to rest with what is arising without jumping to do something with it. Sometimes the most skillful action we can take is not taking any action until we’re able to hold our seats.
When we’re hit with an impulse or emotional feeling that we know is especially charged, we can pause for a beat, or for a few moments, to let the impulse land and then choose how we want to respond from a more conscious and deliberate place. In the bigger context of our lives, this “gap” might look like contemplation, deliberation, rolling a thing around in our mind and examining all of its angles and possibilities. It’s extraordinarily helpful (not to mention wise) to know what we’re getting ourselves into so that we feel as solid and prepared as possible. With both short-term impulses and long-term pursuits, creating space between impulse and action can give us room to reckon with any demon material that might be present and allow unseen choices to emerge.
However, when it comes to leaning into the unknown and taking action with something big, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that too much space and contemplation can act like quicksand. There’s something sticky and cozy about “thinking things through”; thinking can mimic the feeling of doing something, of taking action. But to be clear, we’re not. We’re just thinking. Ideas are just concepts, and concepts are only question marks until they’ve made contact with the world. Right thinking, or understanding, evolves from having gathered new information — perhaps more information than we currently have. We need to know when it’s time to leave the deliberation room, and it’s often sooner than we’d like to.
Here are three examples of when it’s time to act your way into right thinking:
When your concept involves other people. Do not presume to know what your lover is thinking, what your clients are challenged by, what your friends are feeling, or what your customers want from you. Don’t let your confirmation bias convince you that you “know.” Assumptions are deadly in relationships, because you’re not relating to real-time feedback. Go ask them.
When you notice that your thinking is repetitive. Backtracking? Thinking in circles? You’re covering the same territory again and again with no new insights. Chances are this holding pattern serves a great function — taking action is scary because visibility makes us vulnerable. I get it. So if you just keep thinking about something instead . . . trust me, this is the best way to suffocate your ideas, or, as Henry Miller said, “slaughter our finest impulses.” There are no windows in the deliberation room. Put your ideas into action and let them breathe, socialize, and flourish
When you know the next best step. Not the big picture, not the full plan mapped out in bullet points. That neatly mapped five-year plan is bound to change the minute you take action and the world gives you feedback, anyway. We only have a limited amount of information — that we’ve collected from previous experiences or research. How do we get more information? What needs to be acted on in order to be better understood? What’s the most skillful action to take right at this moment? When you know the next best infinitesimal step, go. Do.
ADREANNA LIMBACH is a personal coach and a lead meditation instructor at MNDFL, NYC’s premier drop-in meditation studio. Her teachings have been featured in the New York Times, Women’s Health, and Refinery29. She is the author of the new book, TEA AND CAKE WITH DEMONS: A Buddhist Guide to Feeling Worthy (Sounds True, July 2019). She lives in New York City. For more, visit adreannalimbach.com.
This excerpt was featured in the July 28th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.