A reoccurring theme during our latest boys program was learning the ability to control our thoughts and feelings. As difficult or simple as it may seem, it first requires a great sense of awareness of ourselves, and secondly the belief that we as human beings are able to choose and therefore to control our thoughts and feelings throughout our day-to-day lives.
This concept in words and on paper is relatively new to me, however is consistent with mindfulness theories and ‘live in the moment’ ways of life. It also reiterates many key aspects of the late David Foster Wallace’s speech ‘This is Water’ – which has an underlying theme of becoming self-aware and more obviously using choice to decide what to make of our surrounding circumstances.
"There are two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “morning boys, how’s the water?”And the two young fish swim on for a bit and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about”
I don’t believe this comes naturally, however I do believe we can learn -by constantly allowing ourselves ‘room to breathe’, to reflect on what is happening, both external to our bodies; that is, our environment and internally; emotionally and physically. Subsequent to this, we can perhaps enable ourselves to be aware of thought patterns that are often the beginning of the creation of emotions that in turn affect our behaviour, and how we think and feel about both ourselves, and the world around us.
If we can disrupt negative thought patterns (but first become aware of them) we can begin to become self aware and simply ‘let go’ of unimportant, miniscule characteristics that tend to make up the daily grind.
Relating this back to our latest boys program, we noticed that often when hiking in silence or when left alone, the boys can become angry, or subdued. On approach, one boy exclaimed very simply, that everyone was ‘pissing him off’. With curiosity, we asked him who he was referring to. The boy spoke about lots of people in his life back at home and all of the injustices he’s endured. There’s no denying he’s been subjected to traumatic experiences and his story is quite tremendous. And whilst alone and with his own thoughts, they manifested into a downward spiral to the point where he became angry or upset, which then affected his sense of self, and attitude and behaviour.
As social workers and therapists we are trained to talk to people in a way that allows them to bring their mind back to the present. We had a conversation with this young boy and after self regulating himself back to a state of relative calmness, we chatted about the importance of catching our thoughts as they spiral and affect our emotions. We spoke about how this can make us feel physically, and how these thoughts can affect our behaviour. From that time on this boy showed us all the different ways he can control any negative thoughts, through distraction, through communication and through physical activity.
Trip Leader with True North Expeditions
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.