One small shift altered the course of my life forever: I made a choice to always be aware of what’s on my mind. Before this shift in consciousness, I hadn’t really considered where my thoughts were coming from. Myself? My parents? Society? My friends? My colleagues? My teammates? My boss? Nor had I considered how those thoughts were affecting me, my body, my world, and, ultimately; the world. To make matters even more complicated, a predator lived within my mind, lurking in the dark corners of my psyche ready to pounce on any opportunity to wreak havoc.
I’d look in the mirror and my Mean Mind would lunge: “You’re fat.”
Late to a meeting, Mean Mind would opine: “You’re an idiot, can’t you learn to anticipate traffic better?”
I’d say something awkward at a party: “You’re pathetic!” Mean Mind would scold.
Living life through the eyes of Mean Mind was like living in a video game where every situation, encounter and interaction was weighed, sorted and filed accordingly. Always divisive, polarizing and extreme: right or wrong and good or bad.
Trouble was, Mean Mind had been part of my life for so long that I didn’t even realize it was having such a negative impact on my life. I thought it was normal to talk to myself like that. I thought I was protecting myself somehow. I viewed the constant self-criticism as simply ‘notes’ from a stronger part of myself that would somehow toughen me up and make me more able to navigate the world. It toughened me up all right: I was stiff and brittle of body, inflexible and rigid of mind. Most days I was terrified, stagnant, paralyzed.
I know now that those berating thoughts weren’t emanating from a stronger part of my psyche but instead from a weaker one; from a part of me who couldn’t take responsibility for her own life, a part of me who gave over her power to others, a part of me who valued everyone’s voice and perspective over my own. I didn’t understand it then, but as I allowed Mean Mind to run my life, I was holding myself hostage in the private sub-basement of my own body.
As I wandered the world with Mean Mind at the helm, the battle field extended beyond thoughts. Raged within me: chronic sinus infections, a recurring bad knee, allergies of all kinds, an ulcer, insomnia and two broken toes in six months.
Late one night, doing laundry, totally disconnected from my profoundly exhausted body, I moved like an automaton with Mean Mind at the helm shouting insults as always:
“You’re worthless…doing chores all alone at home at 11pm. Just look how pathetic you are!”
When suddenly, bending down in the closet, in which I had bent down a thousand times before, I smashed open my brow on the doorjamb. Harder than seemed possible from a fixed standing position, I split open my forehead and my blood gushed urgently forth as if I had been punched. It was literally as if I had been punched in the face. I had been hit hard like a boxer hits another, on the brow. Boom. TKO.
I slid to the ground of my apartment’s hallway, foggily grasping for sense, Who hit me? Blood blurring my vision, I tried to take a full breath and then I saw her:
She was inside my body, but all around me too, enveloping me, petal pink, a gossamer energy. She had always been there but I just hadn’t noticed her before. All this time she had been crouching in a corner of my mind-body, huddled like a small child, waiting to be picked up, comforted, uncoiled.
Sensitive as she was, made of breath and light, her punch was more powerful than any punch Mean Me could possibly ever throw. Armed with every loving thought that had ever been thought, filled to the brim with every compassion that had ever been extended, she rose up in me that night and changed the course of my life forever.
Inside me it was suddenly very warm, she unfurled like steam, she lifted me. In that instant my self-love awoke from its long slumber and took back the wheel of my life. Mean Mind likes a cold climate it turns out.
I can’t, in the space of this essay, tell you of all the thousands small negative thoughts, nagging notices, endless cavalcades of scab picking and years of tacit, private, hidden self-loathing that had brought me to that moment. But I can tell you that they nearly killed me. Ravaging my body, weakening me, they sucked the joy out life, made meaningful experiences minefields, and turned each adventure into a horror movie in the making.
While I began my journey of self-healing over a decade ago, and have had many wonderful victories since, it was in that moment that I finally understood something of utmost importance: attempting to change the world outside myself is a losing battle; butting up against what is in the material realm will only lead me to broken bones.
The brow-bashing incident led me to my one main truth:
When my mind is my ally, I am invincible.
When I change my mind, change follows. My many aches and ills are largely gone, the pains have evaporated, and when occasionally they do come, I notice them before they turn toxic. I see them as messengers from my subconscious, here to tell me what knots need unknotting, what thoughts need unthinking. I still send empathy each day to Mean Me. In challenging times, she still tries to usurp control, but I soothe her. I have found that she rolls on her back easily, like cat in the sunshine, when my thoughts are clement and bright.
I am here to tell you that my mind is no longer my enemy and I hope that you will make yours no longer your enemy too. I consider myself each day with compassion and because you are my mirror, I consider you each day with compassion too.
Marvelous Mind. Marvelous Me. Marvelous You.
Melissa Unger is a writer, consultant and the Founder & Creative Director of Seymour Projects.