Saturday, 2 March 2013

When "I" arrives, show her the door!

An odd thing to say, in fact it sounds rather unfriendly really, but I find (oh drat there she is already) that so often, when we find ourselves thinking thoughts beginning with "I" there's bound to be a negative there somewhere. We have a disagreement with a friend - off we go afterwards thinking "if only I'd said ... that would have shown him"; we don't have these inner conversations when we have nothing more to add, only when we're trying to put ourselves in the right. Or we might be talking to someone about a problem they're having, "ah, if I were you I'd ...". But we're not them and however well meaning, we can't live their lives, only our own. Likewise, there are the little inner dialogues we have about ourselves; those imagined dramas in which we are central. We might ruminate over what we'd do, had we been involved in some terrible circumstance, the right thing of course, which saved the day; or we dwell on some frailty of our own, possibly physical "I'm so tired of hurting all the time", or perhaps psychological "I shan't try that, I'd be useless/a failure". Then there are the great plans we have for ourselves, those things we are going to do when, if, before, after. All the time we're thinking about them, well, we're not doing them, but we congratulate ourselves on the fantastic outcomes, in fact, sometimes we can become so pleased with ourselves that we actually forget that we've not done anything yet! It is a very human thing to do, and we live in a society that seems to encourage this more. The cult of celebrity is surely the most obvious manifestation of the importance of ME, while endless TV adverts tell us we're worth it, or persuade us that if we just had this car, or went on that river cruise, our lives would be wonderful. They place our neediness centre stage and assure us that this or that product will satisfy.

Hmmm, I'm not sure sure. I have a feeling that, each time we focus on this "I" that we so fervently believe in, we risk compounding life's difficulties. Those thoughts we have about what we'd have said to our friend or lover - surely these colour the next meeting; carry the disagreement deeper into the relationship, yet leave the poor soul no space to explain or defend. The well meaning advice is really more about us thinking we know best than about trying to understand that person's difficulty. As for all those inner dialogues; well, they really don't help at all do they? Those great plans and grand actions have a rather hollow ring, and can lead us to feel rather too pleased with ourselves, yet oddly empty. The misery dialogue focuses on just one aspect of the richness that is life, throws a gloomy shadow over our inner selves, leads us to believe that this pain, that frailty are the whole story of our lives, rather than a little part of them.

This isn't a new thought, I don't think I'm saying something clever here, or something that's not been said a thousand times before, by people more qualified than me to say it. It is at the heart of many philosophies, religions, self help books and counselling sessions. It's ubiquity shows how deep and lasting a quandary it is for we self aware animals. Yet we forget: time and time again we start the day with "I", placing this virtual mirror between ourselves and our lives, gazing into it with loving attention.

The path of mindfulness is, to my mind, a helpful way to move beyond this. It can seem like the same self obsession, watching the moments of one's day with loving focus, trying to be present in full at each opportunity life gives us. But the approach is quite different; it can help us notice when that "I" crops up and gently, kindly turn the tumbling mind to another route, one that looks outwards, free from self regard, seeing more of the life that is living, and less of the inward fantasies. It allows us to listen, really listen with our whole attention, rather than leaping mentally to the clever response we're preparing. It acknowledges the fantasy person we believe ourselves to be is just that, a fantasy, transient as dandelion seeds floating on the breeze.

It is not something I talk about, or write about often, that feels too preachy to me, and in my youth I seem to recall I was a rather preachy person; I hope I am wiser now. But I do try, each day, to look more and more out, and less and less in. I hope I am beginning to get the balance more on the side of life and living, I know I have a long way to go, but the journey is the important thing.

As for those ever longer advert breaks - well, when they turn up, I just hit the mute button, look away, and use the time for something better!

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