Don't Follow Your Hairy Thoughts
Google defines a “hairy situation” as one that is “stressful or unnerving.” A hairy thought is a similar kind of thing. It is a thought, or sequence of thoughts, that puts your mind in a stressful or unnerving state.
What’s an example of a hairy thought? Prime examples are thoughts that involve or presage what Buddhists call afflictions: jealousy, anger, lust, greed, pride, or confusion. These primary afflictions are often accompanied by related mind-states, such as distrust, doubt, suspicion, envy, bitterness, vengefulness, contempt, disgust, cynicism, etc. All too common are thoughts that lead to “mildly” afflicted states, like worry and anxiety. While hairy thoughts inevitably arise—we’re human after all—the all-pertinent point is that you don’t have to follow them. As one meditation teacher pithily puts it: It’s okay to have thoughts; it’s not okay for thoughts to have you.
When we activate the Witness mind—and this is one of the most important gifts of yoga—we learn to let go of hairy thoughts more and more easily. One I Ching line reads: “Return after a short distance.” As you witness a hairy though start to bud, nip it as soon as possible. (Or sit with it and watch it if it’s not easy to nip.) If you don’t nip such a thought but let it unfurl, that thought will soon commandeer your biochemistry. Once your body gets on board with the hairy thought, the activated biochemical cocktail will further feed the thought, which in turn will further fuel the corresponding biochemistry. This is known as “positive feedback,” but there are no good connotations to the word “positive” here. Because that kind of feedback loop will hold you captive, and get you stuck in a body-mind afflicted state for hours, days, weeks, or, God forbid, longer.
Another example of a hairy thought is trying to second-guess what another person is thinking or feeling; or attributing ulterior motives to their words or actions. That kind of hairy thought will imprison you in the labyrinth of projection. It’s a terrible place to live—and there’s no way out except noticing that your hairy thoughts rule the roost.
There may be examples of hairy thoughts that are yours and yours alone. Examine the question and discern whether you have chronic hairy thoughts you need to let go of.
On the path of yoga we learn to watch our thoughts—or more precisely, we are keenly aware of them as they arise. As so many yoga teachers have said before, not every thought we have is worthy of our attention. Nor is every thought we have true. Otherwise put, false thoughts sometimes arise in our mind, which, without the protection of the Witness, we might be in danger of believing.
When we start to learn to separate the chaff from the wheat of the thinking-mind, a peace of mind gradually dawns. As Krishna Das has stated before, we always underestimate the great value of peace of mind. But when peace of mind dawns, we never make that mistake again. Peace of mind is a plateau from where to reach for our dreams.