It was on this same trip to work the other day, walking a different way, seeing different things, that I spotted this sign: "FEED YOUR MIND." And it led me to wondering... What are you feeding your mind? Are you nourishing it? Or mindlessly stuffing some junk in for a quick bit of rush? What are you putting in there? (And what are you hoping to get back out of it?) In his book, "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life," world renown Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes about mindful consumption. Not just of food. But of everything you ingest: television, conversations, images, thoughts. So, if you were to look at the typical "diet" you feed your mind, what might you find?
I took a different route to work yesterday. And I saw different things. Suddenly, in a gap between buildings, I spied this view in the photo, above: stairs and a distant clock face above them. A thought struck immediately: "Take the steps to make the time..." And then, a heartbeat later: "... time for the things that matter." I had to stop for a second, to drink it in and let all the bustling commuters around me blur on by. So what are those things for you? The things that matter? Life can change at a moment's notice - we all know this. Profound, unexpected change where the things we previously took for granted become the things we miss, for we can no longer experience them in quite the same way again. At least for now... At the moment, I'm getting lots of reminders of this. Lots of losses, big and small, in my own life, and in the lives of those close to me. I guess it comes back to our fragility. Our mortality. Our passage through the (limited) time we have. And our ability to recognise what really matters to us, so we can live it, love it, while it's here in our hands.
Grief. It comes to fill our hollows of loss. To accompany our loneliness. To be with our pain. So when you've lost someone important in your life, by death or distance; or if you've lost a certain hope for the future; you may find a sense of grief. Or maybe it finds you... It's all a bit of an enigma sometimes. For grief is a something in the middle of a new nothing. A heaviness in the emptiness. And, often, with grief can come tears. Even if you don't always let yourself cry them... At this time of year, with all the special occasions and anniversaries and expectations, all those un-cried tears - both old and new - can make themselves felt all the more. So where do you keep yours? Where do you actually carry them, your un-cried tears*?
So much is unknown about this mystery we like to call “life.” We have our theories and ideas about it, our values and beliefs that may help guide us through it, but watertight certainty about any of it is hard to find. Except for one thing: This is probably the only time your life will be lived. Just think about that for a moment... This is the only time when your unique talents and abilities and yearnings and experiences and even your pain can mix together in quite this way. It’s more than just the chance of a lifetime… So it’s also probably the only time your dreams have a chance to be lived out in quite the way that you – and only you – could live them. So will you let them live?
Yep, it’s that time of year already – again. Welcome to the season that packs so much into itself: The “silly season” The season of goodwill Of giving and receiving Of remembering or maybe even trying to forget… Of balancing extra pressure and expectations Of anniversaries and reflections; joy and pain. It’s a complicated time of year… So as you prepare yourself for whatever shades of the seasonal spectrum that you will face this time, maybe it’s work asking: What will you give yourself this year? (And you know I’m not talking about the material stuff here). Or perhaps it’s easier to think about what you might like to receive from yourself?
Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like an outsider. Like you don’t quite fit in. Maybe you’re carrying a certain sadness that sets you apart from the places that other people seem to inhabit right now. Or maybe you doubt your worth or your ability to contribute sometimes. Maybe you just feel “different.” Or even “weird.” Or that your values or the way you want to live your life aren’t quite what society currently sees as “normal.” Feeling a bit out of step with the people around you – your family or work colleagues or friends – is often tough. One theory suggests there are two opposing "life forces" we balance inside ourselves: the “force of individuality” and the “force of togetherness.” Individuality is about our uniqueness, while togetherness is thought to heighten our sense of safety and survival in a group. So it can be tempting trade self for safety sometimes. To hide your points of difference and gloss over them. To keep the surface calm so that no-one else’s boat is rocked. To muffle the parts of you that would sing a different tune. To shrink yourself to make the anxiety smaller, too. (All of which usually just means that you get to keep all the dissonance inside you, instead of sharing it around). What if there was another way?
Have you ever tried to make up your mind about something and then found yourself lost in a never-ending argument of pros and cons? Looking for "the right" answer… Where you catch yourself thinking: "On this hand…" and "On the other hand…" until it's all completely out of hand? And now you're feeling even more lost than when you started. Swamped. Confused. I know I have. Yet maybe there's another way through all of this. For if world class thinking theorist Edward de Bono is right, the way you explore an issue is key. In fact, he thinks that: "If you explore well, a decision makes itself." . (And how handy would that be?) So what's he actually on about? And how might you be able to try some of it out?
I have a love-hate relationship with one of the major therapies endorsed by psychology today: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Both as a therapist, and as a client, I know it can work. It can bring fast relief in acute times. So it's a good thing to have in your inner toolbox when you're working with the challenges life can throw you. In a (very small) nutshell, CBT asks you to question your thoughts, and the beliefs that underpin them. It asks you to have another look at the way you've got things set up in your mind. To see if the conclusions that it's so easy to jump to in the heat of the moment are actually even real or right. To renovate the interior of your inner-most home. And it has a few user-friendly formulas to do it with. Which all sounds great, right? But something about CBT also irritates me. Because it seems a bit patronising, sometimes, to be sort of "taught" to "un-think" or un-learn your so-called "negative thoughts." To sort of shuffle things around in your skull to just think a little differently. Sometimes that seems a bit fake. A bit try-hard. A bit rose-tinted glasses goody-two-shoes to suggest that there are "right ways" and "wrong" ways to think. But then I have to remind myself that there's also a whole lot more to CBT than just hoodwinking yourself with word games and tricky thinking. For at another level, this seemingly formulaic therapy can also reflect elements of much deeper, much older wisdoms such as: "You are not your thoughts" (which I once heard spoken by a Buddhist monk on the radio). What do you think about that idea?
How will you know that you're ready to start? Once you've planned and perfected and plotted all your goals on a graph, like we're so often encouraged to do. How will you know you're ready? It's an important question, whatever change or dream or hope you might be facing. (And, life being what it is, it's pretty rare not to be facing one of these sorts of things…) So how will you know you've done enough preparing and perfecting of the plan - and when it's time to just take the plunge? Does the perfecting have a use-by date? Or is it something you could get lost in the safety of and languish in forever if you wanted to? Something comfortable, even? Something that perhaps beguiles you with the promise of being able to predict and resolve almost any problem that may arise - before they appear, of course. (And in a universe of potentially infinite possibilities and permutations, is that even possible?)
You know the story, an apple a day's supposed to keep the doctor away. But can a healthy diet also help keep depression at bay, too? Some researchers see a connection. And that's important, because sometimes depression's treated as though it's "all in your head." As it turns out, it may well be in your body, too. And, if that's the case for you, then it's worth investigating. So let's take a quick look…