psychology


I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as a plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?

– Jalalu ‘D-Din Rumi, Sufi poet

Some people believe in reincarnation, and there are many variations of that theme amongst the faiths and spiritual models of the world. Many times I’ve mused here about the cyclical nature of the single life, peeling of layers, of skins, personalities, and of the spiral nature of …nature!

Neuropsychologists such as Paul Brok will posit that there is not in fact any such thing as the ‘self’. That, in fact, we are no more than a series of firing neurons – not even the product of those firing neurons but that ‘we’ are the actual neurons themselves.  Consciousness is no more than that. All is flesh; there is nothing else. And of course, the word “reincarnation”, if you like playing at etymology,  is about “being made flesh again”. But leaving aside the question of a single, identifiable soul moving from a human to a bird to a tree for today, I wonder whether we “reincarnate” many times within the one lifetime?

What on earth is this about? Well, is it so sacrilegious to wonder whether I really am the same “person” I was when I was 17? No, of course not. For many people, it is common wisdom to accept that we all change. However, most tend to believe there is a common thread of selfhood, on which the multi-coloured, -shaped and -sized buttons of my ‘persona’ hang (a button each for me at 6, me at 10, me at 50).

What if we denied that thread, and said instead that we’re just a bag of loose buttons? An initial reaction might be that in so doing, we lose something. But what? I have my memories – I remember things that happened in the past. I don’t necessarily need to be the same rigid ‘soul’ to remember, do I? Could denying that thread of rigid selfhood be instead liberating? If we let our selves perceive our selves as a button collection, might we be freed of notional constraints? For example, you might be uncleashed from self-limiting beliefs, such as “I’m a secretive type of person”, or “I’m never been good at sharing my thoughts,” “People don’t warm to me,” or “I’m rubbish at remembering birthdays.”

I suspect that if we let go, denied, ignored, that thread of Me-hood, we could all have much more interesting, exciting and fulfilling lives. If we un-anchored ourselves from the Legend of Me (made both by others and ourselves) and let our present, current being be, who knows what voyages we might make? If we understood that I am who I am this moment and that is the only Me that matters right now, then perhaps we would find it simpler to find happiness and satisfaction?  We would not be seeking to fulfil past or potential needs; we would not act out of fear for the future, only out of clarified self-knowledge.

We would not confuse our worries with our desires.

I’m not advocating short-sightedness – quite the opposite. Rather look forward to the lfe that you will live day after day, knowing you’re your best person today and will be another best tomorrow. Look forward to that and recognise the boundless potential you’ve just spotted! If – as a result – anyone has a problem with you being you, well….

😉

Galavanting is about to commence – the play wot I’m in goes a-touring soon, and the play wot I wrote gets a small outing in the midst of it all. The house wot I inhabit is looking forwards to a holiday from me, and the peeps wot I know both get respite and face-time (depending on the disguises wot they use to hide).

The gutting thing is that artsy spring has sprung in my town and festivals galore are sprouting while I’m away. I’m listening to new music from Sheelanagig (clarinetty, eastern European-style, febrile mania – “gypsy jazz” doesn’t do it justice) and saxophonist James Morton and it reminds me I’m going to miss a whole load of new writing and music stuff.

….Now, I know full well that if I wasn’t going to be away, I’d try to go but worry a tad about the prices and that might put me off doing as much as I would like. But I’d seek out the freebies and try (and fail) to press-gang chums into coming out to play, into being adventurous. Then I’d go on me impling tod anyway…!

But I wouldn’t always appreciate DOING it as much as I MISS it.  Isn’t that funny? Why is the “having” less weighty (if it’s a mediocre experience), less fulsome  than the “missing” of the same item? Why does (even small, petty) loss, subtraction give us a stronger feeling than presence, than experience?

Anyone know? Anyone have a view?

Anyway, like I say, I’ll be away. If no comments appear here, it’s ‘cos I can’t approve them – but don’t let that stop you! I’ll be back as soon as I can. Meantime, go and luxuriate in whatever you think you would miss if you couldn’t have it!

😉

A Freudian slip is when you say one thing and mean your mother…..

I hope that made you smile. I was just wondering about the nature of “control”, as a matter of fact, and trying to think of something funny to say about it, and came up with that one instead (it’s the way my uncontrollable mind works: darn fractally thing that it is).

Here’s another. Walk into a crowded room, shout, “Hey, you! Paranoid!” and see who turns round.

But enough jokery-pokery. Control (behave, Imp!). Control (and breathe…..).

So, why am I on this subject today (when the sun is shining and I am killing time before I can run without getting a brunch-related injury)? Well, I am feeling a little stressed out [thanks, Stu, for your recent comment about meteorites landing while I’m on stage: I’m not sure if that add to or lessens the angst..;-)  ] and I would like to feel less stressed. And as we are all prone to do in such circs, the Imp has been trying to find little solaces, consolations, to provide relief.

And then it hit me.

I’m all a-fizz and a-bother because…I don’t feel in control!

And then it hit me again (well, not the same thing; I’m not a goldfish): I don’t want to be the sort of person who wants to be in control! I want to be the sort of person about whom other people say, “wow – that Imp is just so relZZZZxed” *

And then when I’d finished beating myself with a slide rule (oh, the angles, the precision!), I got to calculating just why we feel uncomfortable when we sense we don’t have enough control as we would like over our lives.

Many psychological studies show that if we don’t feel in control, we’re more likely to become stressed – or, rather, to react less well to stressful factors (like having too much to do, being tired, a lack of consistency, having uncertain rules of the “game”). Well, it’s hardly brain-science. Oh. Yes, it is, actually. Sorry.

Anyway, the opposite of a sense of control is, of course, a feeling of powerlessness. It’s wholly understandable that the more powerless we feel, the more we will attempt to control our world, to enforce an order on it, so that it conforms with what makes us feel comfortable again.  And the thing is, that enforced order can seem exaggerated, OTT, to others.  For example, everything might have to be “just so” (moving into the extreme of OCD territory), or we might need to know all the details of how something works before we accept it, asking a million-and-one questions; we might bully or nag; we might develop little superstitions, rituals, routines from which we won’t budge. All that hassle, just to feel comfortable again!  So you can imagine, it can’t be feeling good inside someone who’s introducing these kinds of (false, temporary) consolations into their lives.

Now, you might have noticed I have talked about a feeling or sense of being in control – ie, we don’t actually have to BE in control, but we need the security of feeling that the situation is UNDER control. And that means that other people can provide that security if we let them. We can trust parents, friends, bosses, doctors, whoever, to be managing the situation – we don’t HAVE to take responsibility for it ourselves.  But if we let ourselves trust, we can feel more secure – we don’t have to carry the world all by ourselves.

So, in the Impish case, I know I have (as mentioned in an earlier post) identified the facts (I’ve done my homework; done my best) in order to demolish the feary phantoms, and to regain a sense of control, I can have faith in others around me – we’re all in this together and we’re all doing the best we can. I just need to remind myself that the boxes are ticked (a great list-maker, me, at times like this) and I’m happy. Not so anal, after all….

I will leave you with a smile – the real definition of a control freak: someone who swears they wouldn’t correct you about your breathing if you weren’t “doing it all wrong.”

* See? See? I make a typo and don’t need to correct it, ‘cos it’s just, like,  so cool? See? Uhh, like, how totally chilled is that, yes? You do agree, dontcha?

😉

Eleanor Roosevelt said you should do something every day that scares you. There’s also a hugely influential book called “Fear the Fear and Do It Anyway”.

I’ve got some scary stuff coming up – going on stage for a three-week run, including singing in public (not done since I was at college).  I’m not having the naked-in-public dreams yet (not had those since I was about to quit the salaried job to work on my own…and then was cured when the boss said, “yes, I dream of you naked in public, too.” That got rid of any fear I had about leaving the job!).  And I’ve been doing some other scary stuff, too. All of which makes me think. And lucky ole you can join in the thinkin’.

What scares you? We can say, first of all, “making a fool of ourselves”, but actually, it’s being a fool in other people’s eyes, really, isn’t it? It’s not so bad if we’re the only ones who think we’re a fool. We can set about righting that problem in private. So, it’s other’s low opinion of us that is a scary prospect. We can be scared of pain, too – for ourselves or others; and of loss, having what we cherish taken from us. In all cases, it’s a prospect: it’s not frightening once it’s happened – it’s regrettable, awful or even perhaps not as bad as you thought it would be, but we’re not frightened by it  once it has come about. And that’s the common element of fear – the “might”, the possibility of a bad thing.

So what? What’s the gap between fear (prospect) and the actual (outcome)? Your fears can be put to rest finally with just one thing – knowledge; certainty. But of course, when we’re talking about the future, you can’t have certainty (“No, It’s OK, Imp – you won’t muck up on stage.” No – not too credible, unless you have a crystal ball.). But you can when you’re talking about the present or past – “no; you’re wrong – your little sister has not just poisoned your doughnut.”

Can we therefore use this reminder to help soothe fears? Well, you can, in a way. You can break down the big fear, the “what-if”, by turning its various elements into its constituent, present-dependent parts…..like this:

  • have you practiced all your words?
  • does the director have confidence in you?
  • are you still working hard to make sure you don’t muck up?
  • have you identified all your own weak spots and worked to make them stronger?

And of course, when you do that exercise, you remind yourself that mucking up is much less likely – you bring rationale into play – and what a trusty shield it is!

So – more scary things needed…!

…as if….

Assumption is the mother of the screw-up

– Angelo  Donghia, New Yorker and interior designer

I had an idea today – or perhaps it was a thought. I almost wrote, “just a thought”, but realised that would put ideas above thoughts, and that’s just a false promotion.

Anyhoo, it struck me, this notion. It was this: without a whole bunch of feelings and thoughts about the world – and more specifically, the people – around us, it could be very hard to function effectively. But they don’t – by any means – necessarily help us out all the time, either.

What sort of things are in this bunch of feelings and thoughts, then? It’s assumptions, empathy, sympathy, compassion (“feeling with” someone), anticipation of another’s wants, needs or feelings. All of these are about putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Neurologically, it’s partially about prediction of events (“if or when X happens, Y tends to follow” becomes “when her ice-cream falls to the floor, Suzie will be upset”).

That’s the logical side of things – but in terms of narrative, it lacks what would be the natural next step for the majority of people: to anticipate and then react to the other person’s need (compassion / empathy / sympathy), perhaps by putting your hand in your pocket to buy another ice cream, getting the hankies ready, or providing a distraction, like letting the ice-cream fall on your own head to make Suzie laugh, rather than cry…..because all of those would be a nicer thing for her.

Some people are very empathetic (watch out for people who ‘catch’ other people’s yawns) and in extreme instances can be irritating in their ever-readiness, meeting, matching, catching the needs of those around them. But they might be the ones who make the world go round, so I’m going to leave them alone.

And there are other people who choose not to “feel with” others, or choose not to at certain times (ranging from ignoring the whinger in your group of friends to “compassion fatigue”  – a term now used to describe the public’s weariness at hearing “too much” about suffering and donating less and less). And we all do this on occasion, whether for tiredness, boredom or other reasons, ranging from the selfish to the “it’s good for them” school of thought. And before you ask, I’m not going to address the issues of empathy and autism and Asperger Syndrome – others are better qualified.

But…

…what interests the Imp today is how we walk around our worlds making all kinds of assumptions about other people; about their thoughts, needs,  desires, dreams. And very often, especially with those we flatter ourselves we know best, we don’t even realise we are doing it.

How often do we hear ourselves and others say, “he did it because…..”, or we explain another person’s behaviour away with, “oh, well, she’s jealous / excited / waiting / plotting….”? And doing this is not a bad thing – I think we need to do it to learn, to interact, but it can be ludicrously off the mark and lead to all kinds of misunderstandings, wrong judgements and rather unusual situations. We usually only find out we got it wrong when we get a surprise (which makes sense, doesn’t it?) or offend (prejudice being the bad extreme of this “thought-about-others” spectrum).

Alfred Korzybski, a profoundly influential semantician,  said that “the map is not the territory”. IE, it’s important to remember that what you believe to be the world around you is not the reality. It’s your perception of it. Others perceive it differently, constantly, and you can perceive it differently, too.

By extension, in the Imp world view (which is ever-changing, of course), it’s best always to be reviewing your map as you move through life – just as if the life ahead of you is uncharted. Because, of course, it is.

How do geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we, humans know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within if only we would listen to it, that tells us certainly when to go forth into the unknown.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Swiss psychiatrist

Here’s a thought-provoker. What if your gut tells you one thing but your brain pushes you in the opposite direction? As we all know, there’s no fool like an old fool (if you’ve not learnt your lessons by now, you’re an even bigger fool….etc etc).

Perhaps what you hear from your instinct is unpalatable; perhaps it’s inconvenient. Whatever is going on in that brain of yours, when your guts tells you one thing and your conscious mind another, it’s definitely a conflict. You’re hearing from two different parts of the brain, which work in different ways, and are differently evolved (and have different purposes). We’ve got the reptilian brain (instinct), working on the basis of things you might not consciously recognise (small signals, tiny reflections of past experiences), and the conscious, modern brain, working on logic, rationale; “sensible” stuff, the stuff you can see, can count, can list.

Much modern wisdom advises us to trust our instincts; to have confidence in them. But instinctive feelings – more often than rationale – are often characterised by doubt. So, what’s the maths?

Early in 2007, a team from University College London reported findings to the effect that people make better decisions when they don’t think too hard about them – even when the tasks or decisions facing them involve things like counting.  Many of you out there will have read Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book, Blink, which comes from the same viewpoint. The subconscious mind works very hard, peddling away for you, while the lazy old conscious mind looks like it’s doing all the work.

So, back to the beginning: resolving instinct/cognitive brain conflict. Perhaps the safest thing to remember is that instincts put the self first; they are all about survival. That can make you greedy (wanting more than your fair share) or just wary (been here before – don’t make the same mistakes!). If anyone knows any interesting work or has any observations on this, would be fascinating to hear more, so I can witter away at greater length at a later date.

😉

Hats off to medics and care/health-worker types. Many fine people in there. ….What inspires this particular random salutation?

It’s the little memory I’ve had just now, that in measuring the success and value of various interventions (operations, drugs, procedures, protocols etc), the quality of the patient’s life is often taken into account. And there are scales of measurement. Which is, natch, where the fighting begins. Quite right too: you have to get these things right.

Quality of life ought always to be a consideration when treating someone’s health.  Seeing the patient as a person, not a “condition” is the only way you can do this, and it takes time. Thoughtfulness always does. What’s so tricky is that things that improve my quality of life are completely subjective (thankfully, otherwise we’d all be quarrelling over the strangest items).

But are you aware of the things that improve your quality of life, really? Today I got a full 3,000 words down, had me hair done, did some proper cooking, had a great conversation with my hairdresser and said ‘screw the tax chores’. All on top of yesterday’s wintry-sun five-mile, peaceful wander and a damn fine sleep. These things make me happy and each one (and other stuff) make my life better.  But it was the writing that made the day so good and really made me feel fine – when I would have thought it would be the walk or the sleep that won.

Of course, it’s not necessarily the activity that generates a sense of well-being. It’s the state of mind generated by the activity. I’m having a jolly fine time right now, thanks to the barber’s shop rendition of “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” rolling around the kitchen right now [it’s the radio; not me!]. And chatting with you, of course. Although it’s not doing my concentration much good, as you can clearly see.

Lots of us use TV to relax, to switch off – in effect to make the day good after hard work. Some read, others drink, play sport or chat. Do they get you to where you want to be? Have you thought about it? Do you ‘save’ quality of life-improvers for the weekend, thinking they require time? When was the last time you tried or found a new life-improver (without obligations – the horrible fun-spoilers that they are)?

We’re coming up to a time of year that causes so much stress for so many people, when it ought to be enjoyable. Take the holidays and find the fun for you. An Imp on every Christmas tree!

😉

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