Awaken Interview with Ora Nadrich Part 1 - Present Without Thoughts
We think up to 40 to 70 thousand thoughts a day. We’re not conscious of all of our thoughts. We are aware of the thoughts that get our attention. And often the thoughts that get our attention are negative or fearful thoughts.
Donna Quesada: Hi Ora. Ora Nadrich: Hi Donna.
DONNA: So nice to meet you.
ORA: So nice to meet you, too.
DONNA: Thank you for giving us this hour. I’m so happy to introduce your work to the Awaken listeners. You already have a page, so I’m sure they are already familiar with your work. This will be nice for them to get to know you better.
ORA: Great, I look forward to it.
DONNA: I was looking at some of your work in preparation for this interview and I see that you have a new book out, so…congratulation on that! It’s called, Says who?
ORA: Yes, Says Who? How One Simple Question Can Change the Way You Think Forever.
DONNA: And that’s the question, I presume! “Says Who?”
ORA: That is the question. That is the ongoing question. Yes, it is. It’s the never-ending question.
DONNA: Well, I love it. It’s intriguing. It makes me want to know more. If we could just maybe even dig right in. I know that you work with…you do workshops and you do coaching and you’re helping people overcome difficult emotions. And it’s so intriguing because it’s a way of working with our mind. And, working with the different emotions that stem from our mind by kind of tricking the mind. It’s a little bit like a Zen koan...getting the mind to go, hey, wait a minute.I was wondering if you could talk about that.
ORA: I kind of want to invert that. I don’t think we are tricking the mind. I think the mind is constantly trying to trick us.
DONNA: Explain that a little bit. A little bit of how that works, with the tricking.
ORA: We think up to 40 to 70 thousand thoughts a day. We’re not conscious of all of our thoughts. We are aware of the thoughts that get our attention. And often the thoughts that get our attention are negative or fearful thoughts. They are the thoughts to which we react. And often those thoughts are the ones we have the most energy around. Says Who? is basically the first question of the Says Who? method which is, who is saying this thought in my mind? If we don’t question our thoughts, then we just accept them readily. And often we accept the thoughts that are really quite deceiving…misleading. And we separate ourselves from the thinker. We are the thinker, therefore, we ask ourselves these questions and also are often accepting the thoughts our mind is telling us. Sometimes people separate themselves from their mind and the activity of the mind and they don’t realize that they are thinking this stuff up constantly. Now, there are thoughts that are going to come up…as I said, we think thousands and thousands of thoughts a day and many of them need to be questioned. So Says Who? is the first question of the Says Who? method. Who is saying this thought in my mind? You begin the inquiry of the thought that needs to be looked at further.
DONNA: Ok. So, is it an extension of being mindful? Because I know that you do work with helping people to be mindful and is it an extension of that…just become present with the thoughts? As to non-plus them or diminish their power?
ORA: I do integrate. I do say mindfulness is an important part of this process, in that we need to be present without thoughts to be able to question them, you know? And when we are in a present state of awareness, then we are aware of the thoughts that come into our mind or occupy our mind, we can then question them and not just accept them so readily. With the lack of awareness of the thinking mind and the thoughts that occupy the mind…we don’t question those thoughts. Yes, it really ismindfulness, the understanding of being present. Present moment awareness. So, one can be aware of their thinking mind and the activity of the thinking mind.
DONNA: You know this is such an ongoing area of interest for me. I spent some time in the Zen tradition and you mentioned this word presence, and we’re constantly hearing about the importance of being present…is there a time when distraction will actually serve us? Could you speak to that?
ORA: Well, I think you have to define distraction‘cause if you look at distraction as a way to take a respite from the thinking activity of the mind. Is that, in fact, a distraction? You know, you could view that as a distraction. I don’t think I would put that word to it. But Somebody else might say that sometimes they need a distraction so I can give my mind a rest. Is meditation a distraction? I think that some of the things one chooses to do can give the mind a rest, like meditation. For someone else it could be the movies. For some people, it could be taking a walk, or reading a book, or dancing. So, I don’t think of that in the sense of distraction. You know, can a sunset distract me? But that’s a lovely distraction. An enhanced distraction, if you will. It gives me the opportunity to let my mind go elsewhere, if it’s engaged with thinking.
DONNA: Or maybe we could say, “what are we present with?”
ORA: Exactly. And those are choices. Those are constant choices for us to decide what we want to occupy our mind with or allow our mind to be occupied with. These are choices that we make.
DONNA: What about…in your coaching experience…I’m sure you work with people that have real, traumatic things to deal with. Whether it’s childhood trauma or something on-going…phobias, or deep anxiety, or depression. Is this enough to deal with something that gripping and that deeply effective, emotionally?
ORA: I think that is a very personal decision for one who finds themselves dealing with trauma or processing trauma or reliving trauma…or recounting trauma. I do believe…in my work, I’ve worked with many people whose past traumas have affected the way they think. And I referred a lot to that. What shapes our minds in adulthood is sometimes what we experienced in childhood, be it trauma or whatever experiences we have that help shape the thinking mind and help shape our perceptions. I’ve found that this work has been extremely helpful for some of the people I have worked with who have had trauma. And looking at trauma, not diminishing it or denying it, but putting it into a present awareness of how they are in relationship with that trauma today, in the present. And maybe not having the same thoughts around the trauma that they had when they experienced it…or also, being able to question the thoughts that have become some of their core beliefs that they have formed around that trauma that doesn’t serve their wellbeing today, in the present.
DONNA: Would you be willing to share any stories with us?
ORA: Yes, the reason Says Who? really came to life…there are many factors on how this came to be, but one in particular, before I wrote the book…she was a client, a coaching client, and she came to me wanting to talk about a new business that she was interested in doing. And during our session she said, “You know Ora, I have this thought that comes up for me and it’s very frightening. It just really scares me. It’s unpredictable and I don’t know why I have it. I don’t know when it’s going to come up. But when it comes, it really shakes me to my core. And I’ve had it for a very, very long time.” And I said, “Would you like to share that thought with me?” And she said, “Ok.” And her thought was, “I’m afraid I’m going to be homeless and penniless.” And I listened to what she said and I looked at it and I said to myself, Well, that’s interesting…she’s about to start a new business. So suddenly, I thought…I was in the presence of somebody with two minds. Someone who had this proactive intention to start a business and was being fueled by creativity…and then, there is this thought that has come up, randomly—and at times when she was not at all pre-meditating it. Which I considered as a fear thought…and it tells her she is going to be homeless and penniless. For me, I was able to identify that as a fear basis, though. And I had a reference point. I had an incident happen to me when I was not quite 15. My sister had a nervous breakdown. She was gripped with mental illness. And it was highly traumatic for me. And I didn’t have any skill sets at the time to understand the thinking mind or the thoughts that are produced in our mind. And I went into fight or flight. And I told myself out of fear that I was going to go crazy like my sister. And so, I filed that thought away into my subconscious. And I started to have what they call side-effects from a thought you are not aware of.
So, when she said that to me…and I’ll go more into that when I finish the story…but, when she had said that thought to me, I knew that it was a fear-based thought. And I said, “I know that, I’ve had that. I’ve had a thought that has gripped me to my core…that scared me.” And I’m recognizing that this person also had her own fear-based thought. A bogyman thought that is taking over. And she is at the effect of it. So, I immediately had some reference point to understanding what a fear-based thought is and how it can take you over. So, I had this thought myself, that came out of intuition, and I had this feeling that she had heard that somewhere before. It was strictly intuitive. I had no basis to assume that. I didn’t want to be presumptuous but I also felt a very resounding, Says Who?when she said she was going to be homeless and penniless. I took a chance with her and I went out on a limb and I said, “Says who? Who said you were going to be homeless and penniless?” And it actually stopped her in her tracks. And her eyes widened like saucers. She was like a deer in a head light. No one had ever asked her that before. She had never asked herself that before. She had a thought that would come up in her mind and grip her and frighten her and she therefore would come under the effect of the thought, but never did she stop to question it. And so, when I questioned it, “Says who?” She said, “What do you mean?…Oh, I don’t know what you mean.” And then just intuitively, I said that she had possibly heard that from someone else. And I again went out on a limb and I said, “Let me ask you, have you ever heard someone say that thought before?” And that really produced a change, right there in front of me. Her face changed and she actually went into sadness.
ORA: And I said, “Do you want to talk about that?” And she said, “I’ve never thought this before…I’ve never ever connected the dots before.” She said, “My father used to say that a lot when I was growing up. He would be in and out of jobs and sometimes money would be really scarce. And he would get very angry and say ‘we are going to be out on the street…we’re going to be homeless.’” The little girl in her frightened her terribly. So, it was a big ahamoment for her and myself, in that we were finally able to connect that thought to something very important. And she suddenly had a reference point for that thought that she hadn’t had before. And this is the information we need, so we can shine a light on these thoughts that might stem from trauma.
So, to go back to your original question…that was traumatic for her, just like what I had gone through was traumatic for me. Her trauma was living in fear with a father who would rage about not having money and being out on the streets and being homeless. That traumatized her.
DONNA: She internalized it.
ORA: Right. Exactly right. So, this is an example of how helpful it has been for many people that I’ve worked with. For them to realize that so much of the thinking they have…the thoughts that have been formed…thoughts that have become part of their core beliefs…really originated at a time when they maybe experienced something that was very frightening to them and or traumatic.
DONNA: And a book was born. A book title!
ORA: A book was born from that because I really knew…it really was a great culmination, a great gestalt for me. Because I also had my own history with that incident, that I shared with you, that I didn’t really connect in that way…although I did a lot of work with it. I went into Jungian analysis, which helped me with my own process. But really, at that moment that I said, “Says who?”…this is questioning the thoughts we have that turn into our beliefs—a tangible, concrete, questioning method that you could really hold your thoughts accountable for. And I had not thought of that prior.
DONNA: It’s amazing how many of us have those irrational fears that become phobias. And we don’t really understand where they came from because they were tucked away so long ago and yet now it’s become something alive.
ORA: That’s exactly right. It really can, I believe, dissipate the entire story or narrative. If anything, it gives you a different perspective. Even if that thought has becomes such a strong belief that it’s become a habit, a way of thinking that you know no other way…or no other thought to substitute, which is what I also introduce in my book, which is called “the release and replace technique,” which is being able to release a thought that does not serve your wellbeing…and to understand that…and to produce a new thought…it’s positive counterpart that does support you.
DONNA: That’s a good point. There’s something in yoga where it says, you can’t be really successful in changing a thought unless you replace it with something more positive or something that serves you. So many people forget that aspect of it when they are trying to work on themselves.
ORA: I call it connecting the dots. If you really can…in the way that I helped her is that you really can connect the dots and understand this thought which perhaps didn’t originate with you. And then realizing that you have been at the effect of this thought and that there is the possibility of changing that. Even if it’s for the first time. That’s quite illuminating for a lot of people because it gives them hope that they can find something that can actually be better for them and not cause suffering.