Not many people go to the public library anymore. Coffee shops are the spot where people now do library like things. Maybe it’s because coffee shops have beverages and a livelier atmosphere. In county libraries, the government sanctioned carpet isn’t as inspirational as local art in a modern cafe.
In my town, the library just so happens be the chosen spot for homeless people. It’s warm, has seating, bathrooms, and most importantly, they can’t kick you out for just sitting there. It’s ideal if you want to get out of cold weather or just need to take a seat.
One day I noticed a homeless guy sitting at a table across mine. He was gesturing at the empty space in front of him. He went from looking confused, to pleased, to disgusted. It was as if he was talking then joking then arguing with someone who wasn’t there. Sometimes he would stop, calm down, and seem just as cognizant as anyone else.
I use to be put off by things like this. My mom always advised me to stay away from the homeless, especially if they’re the “talking to themselves” type. Not the most empathetic view, but it was a mom just keeping her kid safe. But over the past few years I had been growing more understanding of their situation. And as I watched this man, I realized something very alarming.
I do exactly what he does.
I also have conversations, arguments, and fun with people who aren’t there. Sometimes I might be rehearsing what I would say in an argument that in weird way, I want to happen. Sometimes I play out possible future situations, as a way to prepare.
So what’s the difference between me and that homeless man? Why is he crazy and I normal?
Well, I’m just a lot better at hiding it. You probably won’t ever find me waving my arms or randomly laughing. This is mostly due to the fact that I’m really good at looking normal. And I can guess that anyone reading this is too.
We all have scenes playing in our mind. You get in an argument with someone at 5:27pm on Monday and you find yourself revisiting it with the proper comebacks at 9:32am on Wednesday.
The key here is to understand that this is normal. You do it, I do it, the president does it. If I constantly beat myself up about it, I’m not doing anything to solve the issue. Once I realize I’ve been replaying that argument, I realize it and say “Wow I’ve been thinking a lot about when Steve criticized my work. I must have been really affected by it. Is it because I care a lot about what he thinks? Or maybe I’m not so confident in my abilities?”
Ru Paul’s method when he finds himself grappling with thought is to say to himself “Thank you for sharing.” This attitude toward thoughts creates a relationship that isn’t adversarial. It’s not me vs. my thoughts. Thoughts are mere suggestions. If I were to get emotional about them, I may be overvaluing them.
Once I use this view of my thoughts, I begin to rapidly improve my relationship with them. It easy to believe that the best way to get rid of something is to use anger and scare it away. I’ve realized that the point isn’t to completely get rid of thoughts, that’s impossible. The purpose is to change our relationship to them. Once we do this, all of us, homeless or otherwise, can spend a little less time having arguments with ourselves.
Photo by neurotic_buddha