These are thoughts on Randy Gibbs’ book, You Get to Stay
For decades I’ve been trying to sort out the chattering monkeys in my mind. It seems important to figure out what thoughts are mine, which are temptations of the adversary, which are promptings from the Spirit. But not until I read Randy Gibbs’ book, You Get to Say, did I recognize a fourth definite “category” of thoughts.
He calls it the “voice in your head” that is as automatic and involuntary as breathing or digestion; He says it occurs without any effort or awareness on our parts. I’ve concluded it is part of the legacy of the Fall, the most striking evidence of the “natural man” part of us. Awareness of that voice apart from our spirit selves can give us the ability to challenge it: to discern between truth and error, light and darkness.
The author says,
“Making sense of life’s trials and tribulations and the stressful emotions they produce requires an increased understanding of this internal voice. . . Part of the mind’s job is to make sense of what happens to us. Thus the voices in our head [attempt to] explain and interpret events. . . These thoughts arise out of nowhere and are not statements of truth that we must automatically accept and be afflicted by. They are simply thoughts . . 1
The author makes the point that “you are not your thoughts” and says, “There is a vast difference between your authentic eternal self and the chaotic, often stressful stream of thoughts running constantly through your head.” 2
Brother Gibbs, a family therapist, life coach and fitness consultant, speaks more therapeutically than scripturally, but the automatic “voice in your head” he refers to throughout his book is the “natural man” mind. He makes the connection near the end, but I’m going to give you a heads up so you can begin this excellent book with this concept clearly in mind. Here’s part of his explanation:
“When Adam and Eve fell, they experienced a change in their way of thinking. Prior to the Fall, their desires were simple and pure, like a child’s. But after the Fall, their fallen minds and their compulsive habits of thoughts led them, and the rest of us, to think in highly self-defeating and counterproductive ways. Hence we are commanded to put off the natural man, for this kind of thinking and reasoning makes us an enemy to God 3
“The [natural man] mind’s tendency to judge is one of its most predictable reactions . . . When we judge our present experiences, we think things should be different from how they really are. . . we resist and resent the present reality. This will always generate within us negative and stressful feelings. . . . Negative feelings of any kind affirm that we are judging something or someone, wanting reality to be different from how it actually is.4
He explains that this “natural mind” leads us to think, feel, and behave in ways that separate us from spiritual things and the peace that comes from the presence of the Spirit. “Lack of awareness [of our thoughts] always creates suffering of some kind, because the mind’s natural and most automatic state is “carnal, sensual, and devilish” (Moses 5:13) 5 The natural man mind seems to be our “default” setting. But we can challenge and change it, and reprogram! There is hope!
The central point of You Get To Say, is well summarized in the following quote: “Stressful thoughts, spun by the natural mind, only have power over us when we are unaware, when we lack mindfulness.”6 This means, as the title of this book says, we get to say what thoughts to believe and act on! And, as the title of this article implies, through mindfulness, we can choose to transcend the natural man mind.
What is Mindfulness and Why Is It Important?
Brother Gibbs explains, “Mindfulness is actually nothing more than paying attention, on purpose.7 Mindfulness is important because it is the way to “put off the natural man.”
To clarify, he says:
“I was recently asked to reduce everything in this book down to one idea that would enable people to make real changes in their lives. “Learning to be more mindful is the key,” I said with no hesitation. “All of the difficulties discussed in this volume arise because we are not mindful, lack awareness, and are cut off from sources of truth and wisdom. This happens because we are completely caught up in the frenzied, chaotic content of our minds.” . . .
We’re not naturally mindful. It takes conscious effort and deliberate attention to step back from the current of constant thought and simply be aware, notice, and pay attention to what the mind is doing. 8. . think of the great difference between noticing that you are stressed out and anxious and learning to be mindful of how you interpret your experiences.
. . . Mindfulness involves stepping back from this rushing river of thought and simply observing it, noticing, and watching it as a curious bystander.9 As you shine the light of awareness on what normally consumes you, it loses its hold on you. Those typically ignored thoughts shrink back in the presence of your awareness. . . . This recognition that you are not that voice and that therefore you are not inextricably bound up in its content is true liberation.”10
Brother Gibbs gives vivid examples of this liberation from real life, such as a man who was flattened by the break-up of a relationship because he was accepting as truth all his negative interpretations of what it meant. When he changed his thinking, he changed his life.
He says, “The circumstance has no real power. It’s simply an event that really means nothing until we make it mean something.11 He explains that when trials, setbacks and negative surprises occur, our mind springs into action. We have a desperate need to make sense of our challenges and to explain them to ourselves and others. The real question is, do we explain them in productive or counter-productive and stressful ways? We get to say; we alone decide what an experience means. A difficult experience means whatever we think it means, no more, no less. Only by becoming mindful can we nip problems of negative interpretations in the bud.
He suggests that since it is our story about the circumstance that has the power and gives it meaning, why not make it mean something positive, uplifting, and motivating? He illustrates by telling about three men who all lost their jobs about the same time, but told themselves totally different stories about what that loss meant, and experienced widely varied consequences because of their thoughts. The one who chose to make it mean an opportunity, soared!
How Can We Become Mindful?
Brother Gibbs suggests a three-step writing therapy that I have found extremely helpful to increase awareness and challenge thoughts.12 Here’s a quick summary: you first get your tangled-up thoughts out of your head and down on paper so you can examine then. Next ask of each thing you’ve written, “Is this really true? Am I sure? Can I be positive it is?” Third, explore other ways of looking at it.
Ask yourself if a reverse statement could also be as true or valid as your thought.
For instance, when the jilted man concluded, “I’ve lost the perfect woman,” Randy told him to counter with, “I haven’t lost the perfect woman at all.” He realized that the second statement was much more likely to be true than the first.
That “mindful” recognition completely changed the man’s feelings about his situation. Why? Because “Negative feelings essentially indicate that we are embracing and believing negative thoughts . . . Catch this cycle early, and you can avoid unnecessary emotional suffering.13 The man’s suffering ended as soon as he quit believing negative thoughts that were not true.
Brother Gibbs said, “The more aware we are, the fewer problems we experience, since after all, problems occur in our heads, not in the world. Those who are mindful can stand apart from the natural, stressful reactions and respond with wisdom and choice, not act our of old automatic patterns. Mindfulness allows us to feel peace amid great trial and afflictions. We set ourselves apart from our circumstances and rise above them through our awareness of a broader purpose and through deeper realizations of who we really are.”14
Here’s my conclusion: the defining factor that can help us see the difference between thoughts that come from our deep spirit self and the ones that just roll on from our natural man mind is that we choose them! We don’t have to make any choice to think negative, self-defeating thoughts. They just appear. But we have to choose to think uplifting spiritual thoughts. We have to choose to tune into the Spirit and fill our minds with light and truth.
The primary issue is agency. By titling his book You Get to Say, Brother Gibbs is saying that even though we can’t control the fact that troubling thoughts appear unbidden, we CAN do something about them once they are there–whether they come from the natural man tendency to “react,” from negative programming in our early years, or from the adversary himself. The source is irrelevant; what we do with the thought is what counts. Our last bastion of agency is our minds; when all other freedoms are taken from us, we can still choose which thoughts to own and believe and act on, and consequently what to feel and who to be.