Thursday, 7 February 2013

Minding your mind

Reflection of clouds on Soap LakeClouds can be bright and fluffy or dark and ominous.  The darkest can thin out and blow away without coming to anything, the prettiest can turn nasty and dump a hailstorm on your head.

Clouds make quite a good analogy for our thoughts and feelings.  Just like the same water molecules could form a thick, gloomy cloud or something fluffy and harmless, similarly the same situation can leave one person dour and glum while another cheerfully bounces off the walls.

But while we can't change the core of who we are and how our minds work we can, to an extent, change our thinking.

I'm not going to peddle the 'all suffering comes from a bad attitude' line here, because I don't believe that.  The universe is not a fair place, and bad stuff happens to good people regardless of how shiny their thoughts.  But there are things we can do to make us more resilient against the crap that life throws at us.

Even with my ropey self awareness, I can tell a difference in my outlook when I'm overtired, haven't had enough physical activity and haven't eaten well, as opposed to when I'm properly rested, fed and exercised.  I do feel better, physically and emotionally, when I look after my body.

But the sick irony is that when you most need a good brisk walk, a plate of steamed vegetables and nine hours in dreamland, you're least able to do it.  Fatigue and depression drains your energy, your executive funtioning and your will, yet somehow also leaves you jittery, anxious, insomniac and unable to relax.  It leaves you in a place where a litre of icecream straight from the tub and a 12 hour Youtube marathon is all you can manage.

And sometimes, that's OK.  Sometimes you genuinely can't do more than that.

But I find if I can make a tiny little step towards being healthier, I can start to claw my way out of the pit of inertia and despair.  It's about baby steps: a glass of vegetable juice, walking to the corner and back or once around the backyard, a shower and a clean shirt, fumbling once through the Sun Salutation.  Don't try to go straight from the depths to jogging, preparing a full, perfectly balanced meal and meditating for an hour.  You'll crash and burn.  (The voice of experience has spoken.)  But if you manage a tiny bit today, maybe you can manage a tiny bit again tomorrow. Maybe even a little more.  And not only are you healthier, you start to feel a little more in control.

I'm in a bit of a pit at the moment.  I have a lot I should be doing, but no particularly clear idea where to start, and it's all very scary.  It's easier to run and hide away with the ice cream.

But last night I managed a reasonably decent dinner and a good night's sleep.  Today I've managed cereal for breakfast and even mowed half the lawn.  And I feel OK.  I feel a little less completely overwhelmed by the world in general.  Nothing out there in the world has changed - what's changed is my outlook on it.  And tomorrow, with another decent dinner and good night's sleep, I may feel better still.

Little bit by little bit, baby step by baby step, we can turn our thoughts around.

Photo: Reflection of clouds on Soap Lake by the University of Washington digital collection