Man Thoughts (and other preoccupations)

A 30-something athlete-client of mine was talking about an unrequited relationship (great chemistry, shared values, he didn’t want long distance) and how deeply disappointed she felt afterward. Her disappointment was followed by preoccupation with thoughts about him, which was followed by judgment of herself for caring about men too much. At this point I said:

Me: ‘Oh I know that one…man thoughts.’

Client: ‘man thoughts?’

Me: Yeah, that’s how I label it, ‘man thoughts.’ When my mind wants SOMETHING to fret about there are usually a few regular themes that are sort of place holders for that energy to express itself. Man thoughts is in the category of relationships.

Client: ‘Hmmm, never heard of ‘man thoughts’ but I like that it’s something that happens to you too.’

Me: I’m no different from anyone else. We all can get preoccupied. It could be with relationship (past, present or future), could be with making money, could be with a substance, could be with that leather jacket you saw online, could be with running a faster race, could be with getting a promotion, could be wanting a new job, could be saving the world…

Client: ‘YES!!! that’s right! I remember times when I didn’t think about men at all but was preoccupied with running and getting ahead in my job!

Me: For the mind it’s always something. I have studied mine and found I have three big themes: spiritual desires (the Absolute); relationship desire (family, friends, partners) and life/ambition desires.

Client: There are themes?

Me: Yes, but in fact, we could just label it all ‘fret thoughts, or worry thoughts’ and not give so much attention to the particular objects of our preoccupation. The content has value for understanding yourself and changing habits but on another level it doesn’t matter what the content is.

Client: Why not?

Me: Because it’s always some version of ‘I don’t like the way things are now’. We either want more of something or less of something. More love, more money, more objects, less pain, less sadness, less anxiety, etc.

Client: Isn’t that normal to avoid pain?

Me: If it is practical and possible to avoid pain then do so. But inevitably life will bring both: pleasure and pain, life and death, both love and loss, sadness and joy, expansion and contraction, etc. They arise as a two sides of a coin and we can’t choose just one without the other.

Our culture neither expects nor teaches us how to make practical choices and take necessary actions and then let go of the outcome and be content with whatever is showing up now.

Rather, modern culture teaches that if we do things just right we can have only pleasure and no pain. Preoccupation is the mind’s flailing refusal to accept Now just as it is. Acceptance is more the domain of religious and contemplative traditions.

Client: So what do I do now?

Me: Gently hold the preoccupation in awareness without push or pull. Just hold it, know it, see what it has to teach you plus whatever else Now is offering you. Be curious about both pleasure and pain and everything in-between.

Client: Anything else?

Me: The next step is “Ask yourself, ‘Who is worrying?’” and see what happens. See you next time!