After a week or so of a much welcomed quieter brain, followed by an absolute racket and the attention span of a gnat, I’ve been contemplating what the ‘mind’ actually is. How much can it fit in or is there no limit?
If it doesn’t exist in physical form, surely it’s contents can be endless. Or does it work like a conveyor belt? Out with the old and in with the new. To stop something from dropping off the end and disappearing forever, you have to pick it up and put it back to the front.
Perhaps it’s like a pot of water under a tap. If you leave the tap on and fill it up too much, it overflows and causes destruction and messiness to everything that surrounds it.
Maybe some parts of the mind are so damaged from old content, that it doesn’t allow that same content back in. If this content creeps through the barrier, it becomes distorted and dark, sat at the front of the mind, touching everything that enters it.
So if we don’t even really know what it is, how can we control it? How can we screen what comes into it and control what goes out? How can there be a nice, harmonious balance of happy, comforting thoughts with just enough tension to ensure motivation and efficiency?
Philosophers, religious figures and motivational speakers have spent centuries offering words of wisdom, making no secret of how to be a better person and how to ‘live your best life’. Stoic phrases and passages fly around for all the world to see and apply to their own lives. You can get them printed on a t-shirt, buy them as a fridge magnet and save them as your phone’s screensaver.
So being as this solid, sought after advice is out there to see, hear and read everywhere we turn, surely life can be so much easier. Surely we can take ownership of what goes in and out of our minds, making every potentially difficult situation seem like a breeze.
If only it was that simple…
To start with, how do you even fit in and hold on to the fundamentals of every day life? Every where we look and every move we make, there is something to notice, acknowledge, act upon and hardest of all- remember! I’d like to think that I am not the only person to have felt the repercussions of these memory fails:
- Spending so long staring into space whilst trying to remember what day/month/millennium it is and miss a whole conversation.
- Looking all over for your keys only to find you’ve left them in the fridge (the result of “oh hang on, before I go, I’ll just grab a snack”)
- Shuddering inside when signing up to something new online and your old faithful password is ‘too weak’. You need an upper case letter, a lower case letter, a number, a ridiculous punctuation mark, another ridiculous punctuation mark but NOT next to the original ridiculous punctuation mark, a hand drawn sketch of Zippy from Rainbow and the song lyrics to American Pie. Then, knowing there is no chance of remembering your new obscure password, you write it down. Usually on a highly visible post-it note or on your arm in permanent marker.
- Losing your pen, then finding it in your ponytail hours later.
- Forgetting someone’s name mid conversation and immediately hitting sheer panic. Oh Hi Meg… I mean Maggie… sorry Molly… erm Macarena.. Madonna… MARMITE…
It was Michael.
And those are only minor inconveniences (unless Michael is actually a psychopath about to snap). What about when you forget your own age? Not for a few seconds but for about 5 minutes. I once had a “am I 33 or 34” moment that disturbed me, as I actually didn’t know and had to work it out. A double blow- I was 35.
Or you’re driving along happily to somewhere you have been to a hundred times… and you suddenly have no idea how to get there. Is it a shrinking brain or too many distractions around us? Will I even care what the reason is when I come back to earth from behind the wheel and realise I’m on a ferry to Calais. Sometimes there is so much to do and think about, that you feel like your mind is like one of those buzz wire games. Lose your cool and concentration for a split second and everything snaps still with a loud (and likely irritating) blast (can tell you by now that I love a metaphor?).
How can we stretch and/or clear that space in our heads…
Getting My Zen On
You may find this hard to believe, but that’s not me.
Yoga and meditation has been knocking about for ages and seems to be a pretty trendy thing to do nowadays and, in my opinion, not without good reason. It is renowned for helping to boost mental stability and wellbeing.
We seem to underestimate the benefits of deep breathing and its benefits for the mind and body. Tony Robbins said in his book ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ that if you take only one thing away from the book, let it be the breathing techniques.
Mindfulness is promoted everywhere to encourage being present and practicing gratitude. When I went to my first yoga class, I thought I would walk out chilled, super wise and as flexible as Mrs Incredible. I thought I’d be able to walk around in the crab position (if it took my fancy) and meditate up a tree. As much as I love yoga, I must reflect on when I first started and compare the expectations I had with how it actually went, Liz style…
I walk into the yoga room only to be hit with an instant surge of calm, whilst I ensure that I am oozing the ‘I’m a pro yogi’ vibe. I gracefully unroll my yoga mat and place it on an open space on the floor, collect all necessary props and lie down calmly preparing, mentally and physically, for the session.
I plod into the room, still generally pissed off from the manic day and the person in the car who robbed the last parking space, leaving me to park in the scabby old car park round the corner. I look round the room and wonder where to place my mat…
Do I go by the wall so I’ve only got one person next to me?
No go to the back of the room where I can hide.
No but then I won’t be able to see what the teacher is doing.
Go by the wall… urgh someone else has just grabbed that spot.
DON’T go to the front next to that beautiful, slender girl. You’ll look like a boiled potato next to her.
Just go in the middle.
I settle on the middle, then realising that I’m in full view of everyone behind me and also everyone in front of me when they’re in their downward dog looking through their legs. I should have gone by the wall.
I unroll my mat. Well I attempt to but it’s been sat in the corner of my living room for so long that it refuses to unroll the whole way and practically propels a tornado of dust into the incense filled air.
What props do I need? A rope type thing, a spongy house brick or a big pillow?! Just grab them all. I’m now sat in the middle of my yoga prop fort, covered in dust, on my lumpy mat. I sit scowling at the floor.
Expectation– the session starts and I close my eyes, take a deep inhale and clear my mind. I sit up straight and my body instantly softens. With each inhale, my mind de-clutters and a gently smile appears on my relaxed face.
Reality– I close my eyes, then open them again. Is everyone else closing their eyes? Am I supposed to be watching anything? Someone’s looking at me! Oh no they’re not.
Right keep them closed. I take a deep inhale… and cough on the dust hurricane. Its ok I’ve got a bottle of water. Oh crap I’ve spilt some. Open your eyes to have a drink Liz! You’re not actually blind.
I’m sat crossed legged with a straight back and head tilted… my back hurts. My legs are uncomfortable. I shuffle into a comfortable position. 3 seconds later I’m uncomfortable again. I’m just sitting, why do I feel like I have a bag of rocks is on my back?! Ok, sit with my legs out straight. Nope that’s worse. Oh god, the pain is simply unbearable.
Just breathe and clear your mind Liz, then the gut wrenching agony will disappear. Deep breath in and relax…
Have I brought my keys? Did I leave the fridge door open? Can’t believe that douchebag stole my parking space. My top is ruffled and I have a wedgie. I need a wee. I’m hungry, what shall I have for tea later? DID I LEAVE THE FRIDGE DOOR OPEN??! I certainly am not smiling.
Expectation– the yoga movements start. I flow gracefully from one pose to the next. My downward dog is flawless and I look like a small upside down V.
I balance perfectly during the warrior 3 pose. Graceful and strong. I feel the blood running through my veins and my breath flowing right down to my toes. I finish the session in Shavasana (dead man’s pose) and fall into a deep state of relaxation. I awaken to the gentle sound of the gong and the instructor rubbing lavender oil on my temples. I feel reborn.
Reality– you can probably imagine how this goes. I tumble around like a tortoise on it’s back. My downward dog is more like a distressed chimp. My arms are shaking and hands slipping on the mat as I desperately wait for the instructor to tell us to relax back to the floor before a fart slips out.
Nope don’t relax yet, we’ve got to raise one leg. I take mine about an inch off the ground and practically feel my spleen split in two.
In Warrior 3, I fight with every fibre of my being to avoid face planting the mat and breaking my nose. I feel the blood running to my head and my breath hitting as far as my throat as my respiratory rate hits about 50 breaths per minute. Thank God it’s over!
My Shavasana is full of anxiety and shame… and then I fall to sleep. I am awoken by an ear piercing gong and the instructor kindly rubbing lavender oil… and a little bit of drool across my face.
Yet again, I may be slightly exaggerating.
In all seriousness, yoga is a wonderful practice. It helps me to improve my mind-muscle connection, conscious breathing and stillness. It is so hard to just be still. I am as flexible as a dry twig but even this has improved.
Even though I feel physically more revived after yoga, I still yearn to be able to have my mind feel the same, so that it has the same effect on my mental wellbeing.
Meditation is a practice which derives from Buddhism. It is practiced with a view to calm and enlighten the mind, resulting in positivity and freedom from negative emotions. During meditation, you can familiarise your thoughts with beneficial states and carry them through into every day life.
It sounds wonderful and the more I read about Meditation, the more I feel like I’m missing out on something life changing, something that could transform my whole outlook on the world and on my life. I could almost heal my mind and free myself from all of the negative thoughts, feelings and resentments that hold me in their grasp. I could think in ways I have never thought before and rather than feeling trapped in my own negativity, I could experience powerful states of bliss that I could never imagine even exist.
It pains me to admit that I have never struggled with anything, which has guidance and even instruction, so much in my whole life.
If I wrote about the times I have tried to meditate, the things I have read to help me achieve it and the states I have ended up in after trying to meditate and failing, I’d probably erode my keyboard.
Writing this makes it clear to me that my approach is likely too stressful with too much pressure, ironically.
So for now, I’ll keep practicing and any tips/experiences would be greatly appreciated…
The Art of Gratitude
Here’s another one for a positivity boost. The concept of focusing on the good in your life and the good in others and being truly grateful for what you have. The concept of putting out positive thoughts, actions and displaying gratitude into the Universe, then good things will come back to you.
That’s not easy for us cautious humans. We tend to get annoyed about what hasn’t happened or what we haven’t got, yet want.
“Why haven’t I won the lottery?” “Why don’t I look like her?” “Why is it raining in July?”
Instead of, “I have a place to live and money for food”. “I like this part of my body/face”. “Oh its raining, I’ll go to the cinema instead of the beer garden and see that film that I really want to see”.
Since reading about these ways and practices, I have tried to make more of an effort to do this. Don’t get me wrong I can still be a miserable cow and put myself in a bad mood as soon as I wake up. I can certainly focus on what is making me feel unhappy rather than all the good I have in my life. But it’s about practice and changing habits.
For example I was very grateful today when I managed to retrieve this blog post after losing the whole lot (developing a nervous twitch just thinking about it).
I was very grateful after walking into work feeling down with low energy, only to be greeted with smiles and “Good mornings” from my fellow nurses. They seemed pleased to see me, so I focused on feeling valued.
When I’m trying to adopt this attitude. I imagine, for example, what it would be like to wake up… and not be able to see. My sight just gone forever. Not seeing my family’s faces or watching my Granny try to work the multiple amounts of remote controls she has. No sunset views at the end of a sunny day or silly pictures that my friends take. NO MEMES!
Or I imagine waking up unable to walk. Not being able to nip down the stairs or do a silly dance when I’m excited. Not being able to run across the beach to catch that frisbee or run open armed towards a friend I haven’t seen for years.
It sounds deep but imagine what that would be like! We would constantly be wishing we were the way we were yesterday. Remembering how we were and how much we wished we had appreciated it.
Remember a time when something happened that was really bad and that initial feeling of wishing so intensely that it hadn’t happened. That you could go back 5 minutes and make a small alteration to stop it happening. We escape that all of the time without knowing. I hypothetically could have left the house 30 seconds later today and been the victim of a fatal accident. People would say “if only she had left the house 30 seconds earlier”. But instead I’m here listening to my chilled music, in a warm flat and a nice window view, writing about it instead. Appreciating that it never happened.
Think of what you love to do, what you love to feel and who you have. You have them and can do those things! You haven’t lost them and they’re yours to enjoy. Maybe drop those loved ones a little text to tell them.
That’s what I reckon anyway.
I read a book a few months ago and there was a part where everyone in the room stood up around a dinner table, at Thanksgiving and each said what they were thankful for. It was detailed and inspiring. So before I turned out the light to sleep that night, I did the same. I mean really thanked for my family, friends, kind people who have really been good to me this year, my job, my improvements at the gym, fundamental things (that I usually take for granted), the strength I’ve gained alone, even this blog.
I wondered who I was thanking. Who was I talking to? Who is it that I am begging for help from when I’m lying awake at night.
Is it thin air? Is it the God who I can’t quite make my mind up on? Is it myself?All I know is, I slept well that night.
So I suppose for now, my mind is a wild force which needs to be tamed. I read recently that Ancient Yogic scriptures said that it can seem more difficult to control the mind than it is to control the wind. But as long as the intention is there, it can only get easier with time.
A note to finish on- Be kind!
Just be kind to people. It’s a simple, yet wonderful way to be and doesn’t take much to do. How can you go wrong?
Now that one I will wear on a t-shirt.