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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Second Thoughts and First Actions

Yesterday it snowed here in Osaka.  Not much and it didn't stick, but I could hardly believe my eyes as I stood on my 14th floor balcony and stared out over the city.  Little flakes that whirled and twirled and melted the moment they hit the rooftops.

If you think of Japan as a hot and humid country, you are partly correct.  Late summer is like that.  Winter, however, is cold, windy and it does snow sometimes.  When I go out these days I wear a hat and gloves and a warm coat.

Yesterday I also heard something that is staying with me because I found it such an odd idea.  A new way of looking at things and it goes like this:  "We are accountable for the second thought and the first action."  What does that mean?

My interpretation goes like this:  Our thoughts come and go all day long and we have to be careful about the first one that pops into our head because it all too often comes in the form of a judgement or negative thinking.  Things like "Japan is this or that" or "The Japanese are [insert adjective here]" or "I'm not going to be happy here..."  These examples are from my current experience as a newly arrived expat/trailing spouse.  These are the snap judgements or thoughts based on feelings.  They are a reaction to encounters or the lack thereof - isolation being the breeding ground for all sorts of strange thoughts that tend to linger and poison everything if they are allowed to spin in one's head too long.

So far my experience as an expat wife has been about fighting First Thoughts and isolation.  This time around I don't have a job to go to and I miss that.  Even more insidious is this very comfortable apartment which is warm and cozy and has a great view.  With the weather being so bad, it's easy to just stay put, make another cup of tea, and surf the Internet.

Are we accountable for these First Thoughts?  I'm opening to the idea that, no, we are not and that maybe fighting them so strenuously is a lot like being in a net where the mesh gets tighter the more one struggles..  Thoughts come and go and stopping them from popping up is not possible, particularly when strong emotions are involved.  But we do struggle to control them because many First Thoughts are probably not ones we would like to see on the front page of The New York Times or Le Monde. We are ashamed of them - all the more if we are vaguely aware that we are making terrible politically incorrect judgements about others or ourselves based on insufficient experience in response to feelings that are not facts.

The saying implies that we are not responsible for these thoughts that simply arrive in our consciousness and we can no more control them than we can hold back the tide. It's the Second Thought that matters.  Or, to put it another way, it's where we go with the First Thought that counts.

We could, for example, use the First Thought to spin ourselves into a mighty fine depression.  A particularly awful Second Thought would be to beat ourselves up by agreeing with the First Thought and then telling ourselves  that it's because we are inadequate/old/not smart enough/too sick/too tired/too different/no fun and so on and so forth.  Sound familiar?  I know that I do it all the time and I sure didn't have to move to another country to feed those First Thought storylines.

Or we could do something different.  A Second Thought could just be an admission that we don't really know - it's just random thinking - and we could let it go. This is the way I feel/think right now but I won't judge the thought. Instead I'll drop it for today and check back in tomorrow.

 A Second Thought could also be an awakening where we could choose to honor the thought/feeling and ourselves by acknowledging it and considering what we could do about it.  "I'm hungry, lonely, angry, tired, thirsty, lost" and that's OK.  It happens. But instead of dropping it, we could think about a positive First Action.

I'm hungry.  Eat something.
I'm lonely.  Call someone or send an email.
I'm depressed.  Walk to the subway station and back.  Feel better?  Yes.  Walk two subway stations away and back.
I despair of ever learning to read Japanese.  Learn two Kanji.  Just two.  (I chose bowl and plate.)

There are negative First Actions, too:  being lonely and choosing to stay in splendid isolation savouring those terrible feelings, nurturing the negative thinking, for example.

I'm finding a lot of solace (and practical help) in this simple idea:  We are accountable for Second Thoughts and First Actions only.  I'll keep working on it and see how it goes.

Your thoughts?


Ellen Lebelle said...

My first thought was that this is hard to follow. So I finished my tea and read it again. I may want to come back to it a third time, but I think I get it.
Btw, we had snow flurries around Paris last week.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Ellen, Had some trouble wrapping my head around it as well. Maybe as I try to practice it, it will become clearer to me and I can then explain it more clearly in the post.

Hope the snow was lovely...

Sauve said...

I learned this lesson a couple of decades past. A long time ago, when I was 28, my younger sister committed suicide. I was a busy mother of a 7 year old girl a 20 month old and a new born as my marriage continued to shatter like ice on a river. I had very limited time to come to terms with her death. The following year my father had two heart attacks but refused to go to the doctor. The next year saw him in a surgery that nobody thought he would survive. In the meantime, my handicapped mom had become addicted to both pain pills and traquilizers, my marriage was over, I was working 2 full time jobs and, as the only child, trying to hold our family together. By the time the baby turned 15 my clock ran out. I was ready for suicide. The court sent me to a doctor. Part of my introduction to him was describing my beliefs, values, and ethics to him. I proclaimed to be a believer/follower of Taoism. It is odd to me now to remember back that it took 5 visits with him to learn I didn't so much as follow Tao philosophy as admire it. Then I understood.

One cannot refuse to grieve what is lost and to come to terms with it. We cannot. Western civilization, even Christian religion, understands that each individual's experiences are unique to the person. That each person must understand their experiences to understand their life lived and to empower them to live their life as they choose. That is Tao.

Just as Jesus taught nonviolence and acceptance, so does Tao. Both understand that acceptance of what has happened or is happening is the beginning of understanding how it came about to the point of where it becomes the experience the person notices. If we are quiet, we learn, forgive, and finally accept the changes we have created or others created around us, what we can change as well as how we can change it without affecting others or at least without affecting very much.

So the first thought, as you have said Victoria, is made because our brains are creative and unruly. It is Matthew 5:39-42. We own our lives only when we don't react thoughtlessly.

It is good to be alive and living on my own terms.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I am not in a new country where I can't read the writing. I am in a new part of life after having lost a parent. Your words gave me hope and an action plan. Thank you.

Unknown said...

You write -- "(First thoughts) are a reaction to encounters or the lack thereof - isolation being the breeding ground for all sorts of strange thoughts that tend to linger and poison everything if they are allowed to spin in one's head too long." Social isolation is a constant threat in the expat wife's life. While her husband has connections and continuity through his work, she is cut off from her own job or volunteer work, from family and friends, all in an unfamiliar and least partly meaningless environment. Isolation is terrible; it is a prison system's ultimate, worst punishment. It can drive the prisoner crazy. So -- the expat wife needs to take action and connect in a positive way with her environment, even though it is not always easy or convenient to do. You are doing that. And doing it in creative ways.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Sauve, Thank you for sharing that. Yes, our brains are "creative and unruly" and we have far less control over the places our brains take us than we know. Just as we have no control over the situations that you talked about. Life is in session, they say. How we react, where we let our thoughts take us are choices we can make.

@Iris, You've been there and written about it beautifully. Yes, finding purpose in an unfamiliar environment. I knew I was in trouble when I stopped writing on a regular basis. Being here with so few obligations is also an opportunity - to write, to learn another language, to meet new people, to learn. So this morning I made myself write and now I am going to go for a walk. Tomorrow I am going to Kyoto with someone who has kindly offered to show me around the city. Small steps. First actions.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@anonymous, I am so sorry to hear that you lost a parent. That is very hard and my thoughts are with you.

Julia Gandrud (aka JuliaLikesFrogs) said...

Thank you. This was a very heartfelt post.

Off topic - have some okonamiyaki and ichigo daifuku (when it's in season) for my vicarious goinfrerie... I miss the food so much!