When was the last time you took a close look at your mind?
It can be quite a tricky thing to ‘see’ – elusive, maybe even evasive sometimes – for we’re used to seeing with it, rather than looking at it. But there are ways you can catch it in action and get to know it better.
And, if the latest neuroscience is right, it’s well worth doing.
For not only is the mind “what the brain does” (Hanson 2009), the mind actually shapes what the brain becomes, on a physical, synaptic level. So ultimately it shapes who you become. It’s all pretty interconnected…
So how can you get to know this intricate system of you a little better? And how might you help nurture it towards a richer sense of mental health and aliveness?
Dr Daniel Siegel talks about a thing called “mindsight” (2010). Basically, it’s a way “to see and shape [our] inner world with clarity, depth and power” (ibid, p.xxi). Mindsight lets us “…move our lives toward well-being and health” (ibid).
And it does all of this in three simple steps: Openness, Objectivity and Observation.
Let’s take a closer look…
Recognize what’s in the photo?
“Brown paper packages tied up with string
These are a few of my favorite things”…
Oprah Winfrey’s a woman who knows a thing or two about favorite things. And over the last 25 years of her inspiring career, she’s shared hundreds of them with us.
“I know you shouldn’t love things, but…” is pretty much how Oprah began her final Ultimate Favorite Things show.
And she’s right. Maybe there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with things – or with appreciating them. Maybe it’s ok to ‘love’ them or enjoy them. (Especially if it’s done knowing that everything’s only on loan to us anyway, seeing how we’ll one day be going where they can’t follow…).
But what flew into my mind when Oprah said that, was the memory of a little handwritten note on my aunt’s refrigerator:
“The best things in life
And so it might be worth taking a moment to ask yourself: how do you value those?
What are you like with endings?
Just cast your eye over your shoulder for a moment and have a look back at some:
Are there any similarities to be found here – any patterns you can detect in the way you handled these times?
For instance, do you tend to anticipate endings long before they actually happen, and spend time building up to them (perhaps silently noting a stream of ‘lasts’)?
Or maybe you get caught up in the lure of the new and gloss over the ending altogether.
Or perhaps you wish it didn’t have to be this way, and do all you can to ignore the warning signs, either reviving or re-living what you secretly know is lost.
Whatever your style of coping with loss, it can be important to get to know it better – because it could be an insight into how you are with your life. A doorway into what it means to be you.
So let’s peer through that keyhole for a moment…
What about the ‘white’ sheep?
What about those of us who wrestle with a role that seems to almost shine or shimmer in the light (a bit mirage-like)? Who might feel the pressures to keep surpassing family expectations. Or the need to be the constant peacemakers, the bridge-builders, the hatchet-buriers.
The ‘good girl.’
The ‘golden boy.’
The ‘chosen child.’
Can you relate to this sort of stuff?
Did you fall into the habit of fulfilling this family myth when you were growing up?
(And does it follow you around, now, in your adult relationships? In your work? In your life? In your loves?)
If you’ve ever been the ‘white sheep’ in your family, chances are, it’s also impacted how you are with other people in your life.
And Bowen Family Systems Theory might have some interesting clues about what it all means for you, and how you can re-define this role for yourself, if you’d like to.
They sound like pretty dull words.
And it seems we know best what they mean when things go wrong with them. We hear general statements about what mental health ‘should’ (or ‘shouldn’t’) look like for everyone. So it often seems like a kind of one-size-fits-all expression.
But if you dig a little deeper beneath their surface, buried within these two words lie all manner of riches. And there’s meaning to be found here that’s for you alone.
So grab your shovel and come dig with me for a moment.
I was sipping tea at a café, when this rusted, busted air vent on the wall across the street caught my eye. Or rather, its shadow did. Somehow, with the sun at that angle, it was like the brokenness had wings.
“Divinity is in everything,” my companion said.
The hard places and the soft.
The small things in life that hold the bigness of it all…
Yet how easy it is to gloss over them and simply not see. To turn away. To try ‘not to sweat the small stuff’ and so to miss it altogether. And what are you missing when you do that?
A lot, if Dr Martin Seligman and his positive psychology are right.
There’s a well-known existential exercise that’s supposed to really ‘bring death home’ to you. And in so doing, really bring life home…
You might already know it. Basically, you take a moment to imagine your own headstone in a cemetery. And then you write what it would say about you. How it would capture a snapshot of your life as it is (which can sometimes highlight the gap between there and where you might yearn for it to be).
Or maybe you’ve heard of the other idea of writing your own eulogy?
Or perhaps you’ve felt moved by the Canadian blogger Derek Miller’s last blog post, which he wrote to be published after his death (of colon cancer, last week).
But have you ever done these sorts of things?
Personally, I’ve only ever thought about them (which is so different than actually putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keys, and making it all more ‘real’). They always seemed too ‘big’ somehow – too involved or something.
Until the other day…
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul.
That’s a long way to see in…
But the thing about windows is that they work both ways. So they’re not just about seeing into; they’re also about seeing out of. (Or not).
And that’s sort of what happens with another kind of window – your “worldview”. It’s also like a window, but one that frames what you see in the world, and how you see it. It influences what you imagine exists. What meaning you make of it all.
So it can also shape how you react to that world.
And who you become.
It can feel so ‘normal’ to just look at the view from our window, that we forget to see the window, itself. Forget to wonder if it’s framing things as clearly or supportively (or perhaps even ‘objectively’) as it might. Forget to question if it’s in the right place, or if it could use a bit of renovating. Forget to notice what our window’s actually like, or whether, like the closed window in the photo above, we might sometimes open the curtains a bit more often to expand our understanding of the world.
So how long is it since you’ve checked out your window to the world?
How long since you’ve even noticed your worldview?
And how might it unwittingly be shaping who you are?
If you believed all the red and pink gift cards in the shops, you’d think Mother’s Day was (only and always) a day of joy and gratitude. Of celebration. Of unrelenting happiness.
And maybe for some, it is.
But for many of us, there’s also other undercurrents to a day like this…
If your mother has died (as this heartfelt blogger shares).
Or if you’re yearning to become a mother, yourself, but haven’t been able to.
Or if you’ve lost a child, through death or disappearance or distance.
Or if your relationship with your mother hurts just to think about.
How do you get through a day like this?