Mentally, the easiest way to maintain our health is through our ongoing awareness of what our minds are actually doing. Our Self is like a flexible storage container and our brains are like a section of pipe. Our input of the world expands us.
Our thoughts about the world are an output. Unless they are designed to expand the total capacity of our Self (as we do with meditating), ruminating thoughts only serve to shrink the total volume of our spirit. They undermine us by sucking away our capacity.
Rather than having our confidence and abilities flow away from us thanks to our over-thinking (that’s when we psyche ourselves out), we can instead use our minds to input the world, and thereby change the direction of our flow to one that expands us.
As an example, I am very ordinary, and yet it is not uncommon for people to mistake me for someone smart. The only reason people make that assumption is because I appear to know so much about so many things. But that is not because I’m smarter than other people.
People only think that because most people spend their time outputting words to themselves about themselves, rather than using that huge amount of time to input and integrate the larger world into themselves. One shrinks our belief in ourselves whereas the other makes us grow. Learning vs. insecure rumination. That will obviously make a difference.
So how does that look in practice? For me, since December, dementia parent care has been extremely difficult. Mom can go several days without sleeping, so I have to as well to ensure she stays safe. They’re both uncharacteristically grumpy for the same reasons we all are –pandemic restrictions are depressing and dull.
Knowing it’s an understandably a bad period for everyone around the world, I’ve had to react. For Dad that can just be a couple of extra crib games to keep his mood up. He appreciates the games, which is a form of input, so it expands him and he feels good.
For Mom, we focus on good mornings, so we now do a morning fashion show where I choose an outfit for her that she models before breakfast (maybe I’ll figure out the camera on my flip phone and show you some). That helps her feel appreciated and it gives both of us more positive stuff to ‘do,’ and that joy can set the stage for the day.
Of course, I also need something for myself, so I’ve formally thought about how to nurture my own mental health too. So knowing life was stressful in understandable, temporary ways, I always make sure that time spent on tasks like laundry or cooking, is also accompanied by inputting the joy of discovery (expansion).
I accomplish that by listening to podcasts or watching TV if I can see one from where I’m working. Recently I just saw this program in this BBC series on museums. It was delightfully informative. I learned that many of the paintings and sketches I saw in my travels were not actually paintings for art sake.
Before photography, when rich noblemen travelled through a peaceful Europe on what was known as The Grand Tour (where the term ‘tourist’ comes from), they took along talented artists who essentially created ‘snapshots’ that were designed to awe and impress folks back home.
This meant the pictures generally showed human wonders of architecture and art, and the works often tried to capture the details of street life or this or that foreign industry. These paintings were essentially the first photos and documentary evidence of these distant places and they were designed to reflect well on the person who paid for them.
They were essentially doing early facebook and they were saying ‘I’ve been to this amazing place that you have not seen,’ whereas they could not say that about mountains or trees which ‘belonged’ to everyone visually.
Fortunately, later, cheaper rail tickets would mean that artists could travel on their own. That meant they could paint whatever they wanted rather than what was commissioned for the purposes of ego. And that in turn is what led to what we know of as the more pastoral landscape art in which humans are less significant and nature was seen as the focus.
I now grasp what that other art always was, and now I also know that landscape art exists thanks to the development of train networks and cheaper travel! That is an enjoyable realization to have that I will now layer over every painting drawing or painting I see from that era. In this way the art I will see becomes ‘deeper,’ carrying more meaning.
That will make a lot of galleries into even more interesting places in the future, so I have that to look forward to. In fact, appreciating those sorts of connections in the world only serves to make it a more wondrous place that is fully deserving of our attention.
Do not spend time discussing your petty complaints about yourself when you have all of life to turn your attention to instead. Can you see how information will pile onto other information, until something like a walk through a gallery becomes a far more deep and interesting experience, with little room left for our negative personal thinking about ourselves?
That is why excellent lives look like they do. It’s not the people that are better, it’s the living. People who live that way essentially swim in the daily wonders of the world around us. But none of us can see much of that if our minds are busy and occupied with angry, hurt, or insecure personal thinking.
Turn your thoughts outward rather than inward. Do not invest your life energy in creating painful narratives when you could be absorbed in fascination instead. It’s a simple choice that can seem foreign and strange when we first make it. But once it becomes a habit, our lives become a wonder.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.