Starving Labels


Sometimes it is worth considering how we label our sensations and what type of situation this creates in our thoughts. The labels are creations of our own thoughts, and they tend to carry implications for our further thoughts.

For example, bad and unbearable can be much different from unpleasant and unwanted, which can be much different from interesting and natural, yet they might be referring to the same situations and/or sensations, such as a racing heartbeat and butterflies in the stomach.

The other day I got a message that my daughter was sick and needed to be picked up from school. She was sick. I phoned the doctor’s office right away and made an appointment. I took her straight to the doc’s office from school.

She presented with congestion, fever, chills, aches. The nurse and I were thinking on similar diagnostic tracks: Flu. So she was tested.

As we sat waiting for the flu test results, my daughter curled up under my arm and breathed….heavily…..spewing what I was certain were flu germs into the air. My thought system was revved up and creating situations at breakneck pace.

Kid has the freaking flu….wife is recovering from surgery…..have to quarantine….how much is Tamiflu…..damn this is two years in a row with the flu after flu shots…… wife is going to flip if she gets sick right now… she already infected?……would you quit breathing on me, kid, now I’m certain to catch it too….wow, that’s really awful you jerk, your sick child needs to lean on her dad right now……back to the quarantine logistics…..

After about ten minutes that seemed like 30, the doc showed up. No flu. He calmly ticked off the symptoms.

She’s got congestion, fever, chills, aches….not the flu….it’s another virus. We are seeing a ton of it. Fever should break by Saturday. If it remains Monday, call us. Give OTC multisymptom cold meds.

To me, the same symptoms that seemed to be signaling impending doom a moment ago were just diagnostic information to the physician. As I woke up to this reality, I was able to see that my thoughts were creating a certain picture of reality that didn’t exist anywhere else but my own thoughts.

With that realization, a clearer picture of reality set in. This was a virus. It’s a normal part of living. My daughter’s healthy immune system will have no problem restoring her to health, and if a bacterial infection sets in, modern medicine can help with that too. Even if I had to help quarantine my girls, it wasn’t an insurmountable problem, and truth be told, we could deal with it just fine.

My thought is this: How often do we interpret normal situations and responses in some version of good or bad? Now, taking this further, it’s not that it’s good/bad or normal/abnormal to interpret responses or situations in this way, but it has implications. Especially in the case of stress or anxiety, if we interpret sensations as bad, abnormal, or under the control of an outside force, we tend to limit possibility, and we tend to react according to our beliefs about being under outside control. This limited possibility almost universally feels uncomfortable in some way. It is certainly normal and expected, but it probably creates more suffering than is necessary.

The solution is pretty simple. Just as my daughter’s immune system has her back on track to perfect health, calmness and good feelings are typically restored quickly when we simply understand the nature and origin of both our sensations and situations.

Sometimes a consultation helps. For example, consulting a doctor on a fever can be important at times. Other times, we simply need to understand that the situation is just a revved up creation of our thoughts, and it will disappear naturally if we just starve the situation of the labels we use for it, especially in the case of what seems to be negative. Starve the labels. Don’t feed them.

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