Have you ever been spending time with God and instead of being able to focus on him, you find your mind wandering to other things. Often they are menial thoughts such as "What is for dinner?" or "when was the last time I did the washing?" Other times the thoughts can be more powerful and, on occasions, distressing - such as thinking about a past fight that you had with someone you love, or some form of conflict at work. In any case, instead of focusing on God, instead of being present with him we are distracted by other thoughts - our inner or thinking voice which appears more dominant and powerful. And the hardest thing about this voice is that it is honestly, impossible to turn off.
"No doubt about it! God is good - good to good people, good to the good-hearted. But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way, looking up to the people at the top, envying the wicked who have it made, who have nothing to worry about, not a care in the whole wide world." [Psalm 73:1-5, MSG]
The Bible indicates that this difficulty in focusing on God is not something that we alone experience. Asaph, who either wrote these Psalms or transcribed them from King David, clearly writes above of being distracted to such an extent that he missed God's goodness, love and power.
Over the next four weeks, using the Psalms, we are going to explore this concept of the "thinking self" and how it can impact our ability to connect with God. We are going to discuss the idea of the "observing self" - a part of ourselves that can help us to focus on hearing God's voice rather than getting stuck in unhelpful streams of consciousness - and explore some strategies that can be used to help us do this.
But to begin with, I want to demonstrate the power of the "Thinking Self" using a very simple exercise. Start by grabbing a stop watch and setting it for a minute. For the next minute, I want you to imagine a white elephant. I want you to imagine what it looks like - focus on it legs, ears and trunk. I want you to think about where you would see one, either in the wild or at a zoo. Consider what it would be fed and maybe reflect on what it would be like to ride one. Spend a minute focusing on the white elephant.
Ready? Set? Go!
Done? I would imagine that it was pretty easy to think about the white elephant. It's an unusual thing to think about - probably not something you consider on a daily basis (I know I don't).
Ok, now I want you to reset your timer for another minute. For the next minute I want you to think about anything BUT a white elephant. I don't mind what it is, but do not let the thought, idea or words "white elephant" into your mind.
Ready? Set? Go!
How was that? Much harder right? Most people find that they cannot stop the thought of a white elephant from coming through - even if that thought is "Don't think about the white elephant".
Sometimes in life we feel like we are in battle with our own mind, trying to prevent a thought coming through. But just like with this "white elephant" exercise, we find ourselves battling and resisting thoughts that simply keep intruding into our consciousness. It can be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.
Which is why we aren't going to keep fighting with our own mind!
Instead, next week we will start learning to distance ourselves from our thoughts and begin recognizing when we are being distracted by our thinking self.
- Written by Ashleigh Crosilla