“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” –Mark Twain, US humorist, novelist, short story author, & wit (1835 – 1910)
It’s been estimated by psychologists that during the course of a normal day the human brain will produce around 60,000 thoughts.
And for some reason that the scientists do not clearly understand, a lot of these thoughts will be negative.
The quote above by Mark Twain is a humorous recognition of this human inclination.
The quote is funny, but at the same time imparts to us an incredible wisdom: Don’t believe your own thoughts.
When I first moved to New York City in 1998, I met a very elderly Buddhist monk. He told me something that I have never forgotten. He said that your thoughts and emotions were like a heard of wild animals. You can’t really control them.
And Thomas Wolfe put it very beautifully and poetically this way:
“Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away.
Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul – but so have we. You found the earth too great for your one life, you found your brain and sinew smaller than the hunger and desire that fed on them – but it has been this way with all men.
You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth.
And now, because you have known madness and despair, and because you will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us – we call upon you to take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.” ― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again
So if you can’t really control your thoughts (and emotions), and if most of them are negative, then where does that leave us?
Of course, I am not a psychologist or an expert in the field of mental health and its issues. And so you can take all of my advice with a grain of salt. But I have learned a few things about this that I wanted to share with you.
One thing that I think is important to mention is that thoughts are, well, just thoughts. You don’t have to treat them as if they are very important at all. And you certainly don’t have to believe them. Of course, you can simply dismiss your negative thoughts.
If you happen to have a negative thought about something, just say to yourself, “Oh, there’s another one of those ridiculous negative thoughts.” And then just let it go. This helps to keep your thoughts from snowballing into a panic attack, or worse.
Mark Twain’s Wisdom for Artists
So if you are an artist, how does Mark Twain and his musings apply to you? As artists, we are often surrounded by negative thinking that can destroy our creativity and make us lose our way.
Here are some negative thoughts you might have had surrounding your artistic career:
- My art will never be good enough to show in a New York City gallery
- My paintings are not worth very much and so I will ask only very low prices for them
- I live too far away from a major art market like Paris or London, and so my work will never be seen there
- Being a full-time, professional artist is not a realistic option for me
- I have too many responsibilities and obligations to find time to make my art
- Artists just don’t make much money
It’s important to realize when you are having negative thoughts and to try and catch them early and dismiss them. Otherwise, they can escalate and began to have an influence on your behavior. You might actually start believing them.
So, just remember the funny line by Mark Twain. That’s what I do, and I get a good laugh as well. Just remember: Don’t believe your own thoughts.