I'm writing, after a long break of not doing so...I thought writing was your thing? A voice queries. I had some 'block', another parries. Or was it mere laziness? I wonder. A lack of discipline! Shhh, now - be kind to yourself. No! A kick up the arse is what you need. Such contradictory voices often do battle in the mill-house of my mind. But here I am, writing again. Thanks Emma. "It's good for you," she said. And she was right, of course. I copied her request to a blank document on my laptop and pinned it to the desktop a month ago. I also emailed myself a reminder but the subject 'Emma's article' quickly descended my inbox. An 'email spring clean' is why I made it here. That, and seeing past certain 'stories in mind'.
I must admit I found it a difficult topic to tackle. Where to focus? So many possible tangents. And so many distractions: Facebook, email, message alerts, news... and every half an hour or so: what if she's the one?! (it's really not a good idea to sit by the window in a cafe: half-an-eye will inevitably remain on those passing by). There was also the usual 'I can't', 'I've nothing to say here' and 'It's too hard' demons to battle. A difficult topic indeed. Although, not in the sense of it being awkward, or sensitive. Not now, at least. The depression, panic attacks, paranoia, giddy euphoria, and suicidal thoughts (purely 'symbolic' I assure you, or me), all mostly under wraps. Along with the remnants of a bad LSD trip or two (however, if anyone mentions irreparable drug-induced long-term damage, flashbacks, or friends that 'never quite made it back', I may have to leave the room). The fact I've touched upon these things - which any sensitive, creative soul is surely obliged to - is probably why Emma asked me to write something for her new blog.
'Stories in mind' is something I've been thinking a lot about recently. The stories that we choose (or, that do our choosing); the voices in our head; the narrative we spin from thoughts; the meaning we assign to circumstances, memories, social interactions, and so on. Something happened, you see; about six months ago. Nothing spectacular; just a time-ripened shift. I began to see the story-making, and it's affect. But really see it. In all its suffering-inducing glory. Thoughts entered my head as usual - by way of that little-understood medium of consciousness we all share experience of - sometimes a trickle, sometimes a torrent, always seemingly beyond control - but I clearly saw how I could either let them pass unhindered, uninspected, unindulged, or could dip into the flow and grasp and fondle and meddle... and, of course, with a little mental mix and match, make it all mean something.
Too much attention on any particular thought, or cluster of thoughts, and the flow of consciousness was disturbed. Somewhere in my eager-beaver brain I'd build little dams, and too many. When not inspecting newly assembled drift-thought and flotsam, I'd find myself wallowing in little eddies by the sides of the stream. There, thoughts of a similar ilk collected, swirled, and turned in on themselves, forming little pools that I'd splash about in but would all too soon stagnate. There were plenty of metaphors that came to mind to help me see the story-making. Sometimes it was more highway than river, attention to certain thoughts causing frightful tailbacks. Whatever the backdrop, I'd picture the thoughts compile and compress, knot and tangle. I'd imagine little neurone pathways calcifying or kinking, and experience the pressure that built as a result. I'd almost see my focus secreting 'attachment' - binding thoughts - and know that inner attention to be misplaced. Dark thoughts, attracting dark thoughts. And the same message: I have no real control over the thoughts entering my head, but I do have some control over what I choose to focus on, and moreover, what I make it mean. That is, I have control over how I relate to my thoughts. Which is to say, how I relate to myself. And everything else for that matter.
My parents are in town. They've come to see my nephews Easter school concert. They're staying at my brothers house in South London. I live East. We've arranged to meet up. There's a nice exhibition at the Barbican I'd like to take them to; my treat. They prefer to meet centrally, which from my brothers home is a 30-minute journey on the Underground. They don't want to change tube lines. Fair enough; they're old - a thought almost immediately swept aside by: They travel all the way to London from Wales to see my nephews but can't be bothered to cross a platform and travel an extra ten minutes to see me. I feel an odd mix of abandonment, frustration and invalidity. I feel myself closing up to them and the world. It's so familiar and easy and.... wow, stop! It's stories in mind. Oh... yeah. For a brief spell, seduced by a child's churning feelings, I'd fallen for it again.
The story-making, I realised, was going on most if not all of the time. A chattering monkey brain moved by every thought and feeling. Perhaps unsurprising for a brain that evolved over two-million years for survival, not happiness. But now that I clearly saw it, or knew what to look for, I could call it out. Often I'd nip it in the bud right away, knowing that if I didn't it might build and build into some mini-crisis down the line. The the flicker of blame, the sparks of anger, the ripple of worry. I'd simply repeat the words: "just a story" and more often than not, back into the ether the pesky thought-forms would tumble - often pursued by other, more favourable stories that I might whisper kindly to myself. No one can be alert and ready all the time, of course, but even so; if all of a sudden I found myself feeling down, or worse, and not really knowing why, I'd recover quicker simply by reminding myself there was most likely a story behind the churning emotions colouring my vision that I was taking seriously; some thought I'd plucked from the stream of consciousness and surreptitiously assigned meaning to in the backwaters of my mind. Just a flawed interpretation. A jaded meaning-making. It was time to own the stories in my mind.
I enter the jaws of the Underground, descending towards the Jubilee line. Halfway up the other escalator, rising from the depths, I notice a girl. A stunning, slow, yet all-too-quick ascent. Pig tails, perfectly platted. Olive skin. A delightfully composed unknown. I look away so as not to stare but glance back as she glides by, my heart adjusting tempo, my stomach lurching. Black jeans; light-coloured stitching framing an empty back pocket and, more. Her alluring grace disappears from sight but ignites within. It's with no great deliberation I decide to try and talk to her. I'm compelled by too many stupid regrets of letting similar opportunities slip by. But do I turn and sprint against the mechanical behemoth dragging me down and away... or jump the slippery divide? Hesitation costs me precious seconds. It's such a long escalator, damn it. I bound down it regardless, iron-teeth-gnashing at my heels, then scoot back up the other side but with a self-consciousness leisureliness, I notice.
I don't do internet dating. I do this. Carpe diem! Opportunity awaits. Get a move on!
What kind of opportunity? Oh nothing much. Freedom, perhaps. Fullness in place of emptiness. Connection not isolation. Beauty where ugliness dwelt. A brief hello, or a lifetime together. Who knows? I'm vaguely aware I'm running from something. Or searching for a part of myself. Or projecting something impossible on the poor girl. But that's all just stories in mind, right? I'd like to say I found her, but I didn't; a befogging swell of tourists swallowed her up. I'd like to say I that I broke into laughter at my folly, finally unpicking the feeling driving me. But I didn't. It takes me days to recover. I feel it as a death.
It became apparent that there are two levels of story-making in need of attention. A core story, etched out in early childhood and centred around ones self-image and emotional being, and everyday subservient stories: the aftershocks of an awkward social interaction; the offending comment; the feeling of being 'lost' or 'hopeless' and so on. Ones tendency to latch onto such crappy thoughts usually results from the inner script - bestowed on you by friends and foe, parents and priests, Hollywood and all the rest - dictating that oneself, the star of the show, deserves to feel a certain way. Growing up, it's unlikely any of us received all the support, affection, safety and encouragement we needed. It's unsurprising therefore that more often than not our primary narrative reeks of 'shame' and reads 'bad' or 'unworthy' (cue all the flawed behaviours we deem necessary in order to feel safe or loved). Thought and emotion are obviously intimately linked and a negative spiral often ensues: a person's skewed perception often souring experience for themselves and others, and bitter experiences further validating their rotten self-image. Whilst we're largely conscious of the subservient stories and collateral damage caused by them, the core story we're not. That is, until we delve, rummage and reflect a little (or a lot... along with a tear or two), and start to decode those cursed 'repeating patterns' we're all plagued by. Aren't we? You wrote that story at your core, but who dictated the words? The protagonist in your favourite childhood film? Your mother? A school bully? Are you living your own story, or someone else's? And does it matter?
The core story may or may not be changeable, but what definitely can change is your relationship to it. There is a saying: what you look at disappears, what you resist persists. All your compensating behaviours for the shitty idea you have about yourself represent your 'resistance'. Just look at them, so they say - and at what lies beneath - really look - and what you'll begin to see is more mirage than cast iron diktat, concrete plinth and menacing statue: arm stretched out, one finger pointed directly at you (a figure that in my case bares remarkable resemblance to my mother... funny that). And with a little time, and help no doubt, you won't take it so seriously anymore; it'll just be 'that silly old thing' you notice again and choose to give no credence to. But, if you don't look at the icky inner story-stuff, then trying to break well-ingrained negative habits with positive affirmations, hypnosis and the like just won't cut it (the idea of putting plasters on a gaping wound comes to mind). What's required is an inspection of the injury (no looking away, mind), a cleaning out of anything festering there, followed by a little neat sewing. Sing to yourself while you do it, if you like. Or dance. Or just cry. But don't look away. Or rely on Elastoplasts.