Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Earlier today I was told by a friend that he listens to music to quieten his otherwise hectic mind. The external offering of music can do wonders for a busy mind. We can become immersed in the music and lose our self in its beats, melody and lyrics. It offers a temporary escape from the perpetually created world of our thoughts. We all have this problem from time to time, and really it amazes me that this disabling symptom of the modern day is not more widely acknowledged. The constant narrative of a chattering mind can be deafening at times. From the sublime to the mundane. Our internal commentary can both help and hinder us. At this point I'd like to clarify, I am not talking about our commonly diagnosed mental health problems. This isn't what 'other' people suffer from. From what I understand, it is the fluctuating narrative that we all carry. Some days it may go completely unnoticed. Others, it offers a cheerful narrative to accompany our interactions with the world around us “I’m walking down the road...isn’t it sunny today...I feel good...etc". Sadly though, this narrative has a darker side. Sometimes, the talk can be so dense that it can almost severs our connection to the rest of our body. The heaviness and intensity of these thoughts can leave us so tense and cut off that the world around us becomes a nightmarish caricature of itself.
From a personal perspective, I know that whatever story is being woven can be extremely compelling. Whether it's offering a epic tale full of adventure with enemies at each corner, or a suffocating scene of social dynamics to comment on. It can feel like it’s the only thing that really matters in that moment. However, what can frequently be overlooked is that this story is limiting my experience from its full potential. No matter how compelling, the chances are that this interpretation is limiting me from responding optimally to my surroundings. Plainly said. When my personal thoughts are loud, I don't hear others in the same way. I don't see the world in the same way. And I don’t see opportunity. In these times I would like to be a fly on the wall, observing how my insecurity seeps into every interaction. In modern day computer speak. My connection is down. I'm working offline. There is a vast space between me and the world and quite frankly it's impeding my ability to be the kind, compassionate human being that I know I really am. On many levels, when the narrative is loud, life can be hard to navigate. But, more so, if you are unaware that it’s the narrative that got loud, then life can be incomprehensibly harsh.
Which leads me back to a conversation I had last night. What is it I care about? I am involved in the Three Principles, in Community Development in the form of capacity building, community organising and supporting access to health promotion and well-being awareness. The root of all this, is I want to help people make healthy decisions. This isn't prescriptive. It's about raising awareness of the fact that we all live in fluctuating and dynamic environments. We are permanently caught in a web of complex social and physical influencers. The right solution for now, wont necessarily be the right answer in half an hour. We cling to formulas, education and research as if they offer us the key to happy unconscious living. The result is that we tend to sleep walk through our days making more and more decisions based on old habits of thoughts, fear responses or what worked for us last time. In the midst of such a busy mind, decisions become even more difficult. The funny thing is that often, when we are in the grips of this over productive thinking mind, we are not always aware that that is what is happening. Hence the sleep walking. The harshness of our thinking can manifest unhelpful interpretations of the outside world. Our low quality thoughts can lead to a limited potential to find a creative solution or making a healthy choice.
This is a human experience. For some perhaps, it is more frequent than others. Where I sit on that continuum I am not sure. But as the pendulum of my thinking mind swings I can take some comfort in my understanding of what is happening behind the scenes. Without trying to understand why, I can instead understand that this is a temporary ‘human experience’. By having an awareness of how my body feels. For instance tense or heavy, I can be with my body as well as my thoughts. The narrative can't take over completely, and in the meantime, while my body feels heavy, I know I don't have to take my thinking too seriously. I can be aware and listen for that moment when my thoughts, feelings and actions are light and flowing again. I feel very strongly that we are all able to be that kind, compassionate and connected human being that we know we are. From that space, I also believe that we can all make healthy choices in each given moment. For anyone who knows me, they'll be aware of my recent obsession with a book written by Iain McGilchrist, a British Psychiatrist, which is called 'The Divided Brain: The Master and the Emissary'. Among the many important aspects of this book, which I will likely to wax lyrical about in another blog, I have always been touched by this quote when he talks about our interaction with modern Art. He says something like 'These days we mistake our lonely monologue for dialog'. I believe this is the case for so many of us in our modern world. Whether that lonely monologue is full of cheer or misery, it so frequently stands between us and our full potential for a two-way connection to the real world around us.
Sometimes, the narrative of our thoughts can be so loud that we may not notice their bulldozing impact on the world around us. We may not even realise quite how suffocating and limiting this narrative is, until it begins to pass, or a tiny hole gets punctured in the validity of its story. From that point, we can at least entertain the idea that there might be a bigger picture than we are able to see at this point. The simplicity of the Three Principles, is that in union, they offer an anchor to cling on to when the seas get rough. Thought: When my thoughts are heavy and domineering, I know that they are coming to me on a moment to moment basis. The experience is temporary. Mind: my connection to something profoundly more creative and wise is still there. I am still the kind, compassionate human being that I 'know' myself to be. I’m just feeling a little bit lost. Consciousness: I know that in any given moment, my consciousness may raise. My thinking may become more useful, or my connection to Mind may offer me insight. This potential for new thought gives me strength to stay calm and as still as possible until it arrives.
So in hindsight, my response about my friend listening to music to quieten his mind was rather dismissive. I said 'I sometimes feel like listening to music is just masking the symptoms of our crazy world, instead of dealing with the root cause of our uncomfortable busy minds’. In hindsight, this response was very much coming from my own 'heavy thinking' of that moment. Because, now as I sit here writing this and listening to music. My toes are tapping, my body is swaying and I'm becoming more aware of the rest of my body. My tension is easing and I feel more creative. So here I am reminded of the importance of art, of music and connected conversation. For each of these, in their own unique way offer us a fleeting reminder of our natural state of mind. With that reminder we have a contrasting feeling so that we know when our chattering narrative is stealing the show. With that kind of gauge we can become better decision makers. Ideally, by knowing when we are in a state of mind that fosters clarity, creativity and ultimately supports us to make those healthy decisions. Or in contrast, when we know that we should perhaps throw down the anchor and instead of making any big decisions, indulge in some art and enjoy the drift.