Let’s be honest…you probably don’t consider yourself a conspiracy theorist. You probably even look down on the folks that think 9/11 was an inside job, or that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that vaccines are some sort of mind control.
But what about the story you created about the person who didn’t respond to your email? Or the person who cut you off in traffic? How about the person who got the last can of tomatoes off the shelf when you were obviously about to reach for it?
These are conspiracy theories too. They aren’t based on fact or true knowing of the situation. They are fabricated based on personal bias and assumption.
Conspiracy theories can be tricky beasts to spot in the wild. You’ll often see them dressed up as assuredness, healthy concern, rational planning. They seem reasonable. But you know it’s a conspiracy theory because it creates separateness, judgment, resentment, or attachment. These emotional responses show that the stories we’re creating are a cheap version of the truth.
Here’s an example of a conspiracy theory dressed up as healthy concern. A client said to me the other week “If my brother had a better job, he would be happier and have more self-esteem.” Sounds like it could be true, and maybe it is! But we came to realize that this conspiracy theory was based on her beliefs on work and self-esteem. She felt that a good job was a key to self-esteem, but through our conversation we realized it wasn’t the only way that her brother could achieve this state. She had a conspiracy theory that was creating judgment in how she approached her brother.
The stories we tell ourselves feel a lot different when we call them conspiracy theories. They go from being a part of the automatic way we operate in the world to an anomaly we don’t want to promote. This topic reminds me of a story that Eckhart Tolle tells in “The Power of Now”. One day, he was taking the subway to the university where he was a student. There was a woman on the subway talking to herself. He was mildly bothered by this obviously crazy woman, and his anger began to grow when they got off at the same metro and walked down the same streets. There she was, talking talking talking to herself. But then he experienced the greatest shock of all – she walked into the same university building where he was going to study! In that moment, he saw himself in that woman. He saw that the way he was thinking to himself constantly was the same as her talking to herself constantly.
Patanjali said “Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah” in the Yoga Sutras. “Yoga is the cessation of the turnings of the mind.” Conspiracy theories – the turnings of the mind – are a constant for most of us. But rather than allowing them to be the norm, we need to recognize that these thoughts aren’t innocuous. These theories color our view, like putting on sunglasses, and are a major inhibitor to connection.
Our yoga practices, whether it’s physical asana, meditation, chanting/mantra, or breath work, are designed to help us slow the constant flow of conspiracy theories, so we can see them for what they really are. Giving yourself space between the stories allows you to see their insanity.
Here’s how to start to loosen the grip of conspiracy theories on your mind and body:
First, I invite you to call these thoughts what they are: conspiracy theories. That term alone can help wake you up to the realization that the stories in your head are not normal.
Then, see what practices you have in your day that help you slow thoughts. Perhaps it’s a physical practice like yoga asana or walking. Maybe it’s quiet time looking out the window. You might focus on your breathing, or repeat a phrase/mantra that keeps you present like “thank you” or “peace”. This is your training camp to learn how to slow the turnings of the mind, so you have a chance of recognizing your conspiracy theory in the wild. If you don’t have any of these moments in your day, see if you can commit 5 minutes to one of these practices on a daily basis.
Lastly, when you notice a thought or story that might be a conspiracy theory, ask yourself:
- Is this true? Can I absolutely know for a fact that it’s true?
- Does this story open or close my heart to others?
- What emotions does belief in this story create in me?
If you don’t know for a fact that it’s true. If it closes your heart. If it creates judgment, separateness, fear, anger, despair…it’s a conspiracy theory. Recognize and see it as such.
With that awareness, there’s an opportunity. See the other options that are possible. Recognize that you can never know 100% for a fact what is happening in someone else’s mind. Decide that you want to be more open to love rather than closed off (this one takes a lot of courage/vulnerability – see Brene Brown’s fabulous work for more).
When we recognize the stories that are playing automatically, we have a choice. And when we have choice, we have freedom.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,