Home » Valerie Mason-John: We Are What We Think at TEDxRenfrewCollingwood (Transcript)

Valerie Mason-John: We Are What We Think at TEDxRenfrewCollingwood (Transcript)

We cannot control another person’s actions but we can control our own. We’re powerless over the force that enters our heads, but we are responsible for what we do with them. For example, we get that evaluation of our work performance and we receive 20 excellent glowing remarks but there’s one tiny comment that says there’s room for improvement in a particular skill. Exactly, ouch! We get that horrid feeling in our gut and we move into aversion and we start bullying ourselves with our: no good, my boss is picking on me, everybody’s talking about me, nobody likes me, people are blaming me, stop, stop thinking over poop. Your stinking thinking will get in the way of your happiness.

Whenever we bully ourselves we will bully everybody around us, projecting all the things we don’t like about ourselves on to others. So what can we do? I can only answer this question by pitch sharing my personal recovery.

When I fell down on the journey I had to stop beating myself up into the gutter. I had to pick myself up and literally give myself a hug and tell myself it’s OK, this is a new moment, let go and move on. I spent many nights laying in my bed waiting to be rescued, waiting for that magic pill to cure me. The cure was staring me in my face, it was my pillow. I needed rest so I could change. I needed to stop trying to take care of my stinking thinking by stuffing it down with drugs, food, alcohol or sex. I had to learn to sit with the pain of my thoughts. It was during one of these moments I had an epiphany.

15 years ago, I had been terrified. I was about to walk into a three-week rehearsal for my one-woman show. And I was sick with my bulimia and my throat was hoarse and the publicity had already gone out. And I lay in bed hating myself, berating myself with the voice, ‘You idiot! You can never go ahead with that show’ and a whisper said, ‘Yes, you can.’ And I said, ‘How?’ And a whisper said, ‘Just let go of your stinking thinking’, and in that moment I could see clearly for the first time that I had a choice. I fell asleep, exhausted from my tease but I woke up the next morning knowing that there was something that I wanted more than my stinking thinking, I wanted to do that show and I wanted my recovery. But I had to admit that every time I relapsed, every time I had a slip, I was choosing my addiction over my recovery. It was a hard fact to swallow.

But yes, of course, that had helped. That help was the practice of loving-kindness — loving kindness with the self that healed my heart. I had to learn to love myself by paying attention to my stinking thinking. I had to learn to give myself affection by looking in the mirror with warm, kind, loving eyes. I had to find things to appreciate myself for but the hardest thing though was learning to set myself, letting go of my self-hatred that was stuck in the past and in the future and seeing clearly that self love and acceptance was in this present moment now.

I stopped waiting for people in my life to give me that attention, affection, appreciation and acceptance that I hungered for, because my stinking thinking would make sure it was never enough. But when I learned to give myself loving kindness, it gave me the strength and courage to have my voice to speak out against bullying. I don’t care, even if it’s somebody in authority who’s bullying you, you have to speak out until somebody hears you. It’s a myth to say that when we speak out against bullying, it will make it worse. Research proves that when we name it, it will decline. If we don’t speak out about bullying we will continue to bully ourselves with all our self-harming behaviors.

When I first learned to speak out about my abusive path, just the one other person, it was enough for me to begin to stop listening to that negative chatter. I heard a whisper that told me, ‘I love you, I am beautiful, I am unique, I am good enough’. I made it a habit to tell myself daily until it became like brushing my teeth. Whenever that toxic voice arises today, I don’t listen to it and I don’t believe it. I just tell myself it’s my alarm bell warning me that I’m feeling vulnerable and I need to take care of myself right now.

The ‘how’ was in the pause, I would literally stop and take a deep breath. The breath was the handbrake on my stinking thinking. It gave me the pause to see that my thoughts are not facts, that my thinking is based on stories of judgments and anger and resentment. When I stopped listening to this negative chatter in my head, I thought my life was going to become boring, because a part of me enjoyed my stinking thinking.

But instead I discovered a new happiness and freedom. Loving kindness saved my life. Loving kindness can save yours. Many years ago, I hated the color of my skin. As a child, I tried bleaching my skin. In my early teens, I internalized all the negative views on the black community who told me the darker I was, the uglier I was. In my early twenties, I wrote a poem called The Color of My Skin which toured all the major galleries in the United Kingdom as part of a self-portrait exhibition. Only a few years ago I had the courage to commit this poem to memory. I offer you this poem to remind you to stop bullying yourself with all those self-harming behaviors.

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