What to do when you can’t stop thinking about that thing you just said

(Photo above by Ott Maidre / Pexels)

“Did I really just say that?”

You feel your heart start to race, and you’re plunged into a loop of negative thoughts.

“Did that make me look stupid?”

“Was that feedback too harsh?”

“They’re never going to ask me out on another date.”

When we feel embarrassed or misunderstood, it can be easy to slip into a cycle of self-criticism. Buddhism teaches us, however, that we have the ability to overcome this cycle when we see ourselves clearly as Buddhas.

Research has found that this repetitive thought cycle can perpetuate negative moods and in more serious cases has been linked to some forms of depression. When we get stuck in a vicious cycle of self-criticism, we are essentially viewing ourselves through a distorted lens. The 13th-century Buddhist reformer, Nichiren Daishonin, uses the analogy of a tarnished mirror:

A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality.

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 4

Just like we need a mirror to see if we have food in our teeth, we need a tool to see the inner workings of our lives. Buddhism teaches us that by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we can polish the mirror of our internal life. As we chant and see ourselves more clearly, we not only see that we have Buddhahood within but also can find it in others. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda describes this further:

Originally, every person’s life is a brilliantly shining mirror. Differences arise depending on whether one polishes this mirror. A polished mirror is the Buddha’s life, whereas a tarnished mirror is that of a common mortal. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is what polishes our life. Not only do we undertake this practice ourselves, we also endeavor to teach others about the Mystic Law so that the mirror of their lives shines brightly, too

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 1, p. 75

As we chant and see ourselves more clearly, we not only see that we have Buddhahood within but also can find it in others.

The more we continuously polish our lives, the more we can see ourselves through a bright shining mirror.

Dr. Amelia Aldao, Ph.D., says the key to breaking free from rumination is to get some distance and question our thoughts. They recommend asking yourself: “Is this the kind of thinking that is promoting taking action, or is it the kind of thinking that is making me feel worse about myself and questioning my ability to bring about change?”

With a clear mirror, you might actually believe it when your friend says: “No one thought what you said was stupid! We all love you!” Or maybe you see how beating yourself up about your harsh tone prevents you from gaining the courage to apologize. No matter the circumstance, a clear mirror helps us see and believe in the innate value of our life—our Buddhability.

Daisaku Ikeda encourages us:

Nothing is irredeemable in youth. Rather, the worst mistake you can make when young is to give up and not challenge yourselves for fear of failure. The past is the past and the future is the future. Keep moving forward with a steady eye on the future, telling yourselves: “I’ll start from today!” “I’ll start fresh from now, from this moment!” This is the essence of Nichiren Buddhism, the Buddhism of true cause, the spirit to start from the present moment. This is the heart of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Discussions on Youth, p. 26

So, if you can’t stop thinking of that thing you said, take a moment to polish your mirror by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Remember that mistakes happen and what’s most important is how you move forward.

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