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Home » Columns » The music of the night

The music of the night

Publishing Date : 08 May, 2018

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White



There is a lot going on in my mind, so much stuff that last night I had the same thoughts which I couldn’t switch off, irritatingly replaying itself like a stuck record. Of course, these were not pleasurable thoughts like being on vacation with Meghan Markle or glorying in some made-up accomplishment or victory. No! These were worries which were tormenting me and keeping me awake.


As usual they arrived in the wee small hour of the morning when I felt like I was the only person in the world awake and carrying it all on my shoulders. Just me and my tormented thoughts –“Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again”.  Paul Simon knew a thing or two about those tortured night visions.


It was the father of modern philosophy, Descartes who coined the famous saying, "I think, therefore, I am”.  His point was that we cannot be figments of our own imagination because that imagination itself makes us real.  However, he also put his finger on the human curse – that troubling characteristic of human beings which is that we think!  Even worse, we over-think!   Sometimes it is about the misspent  past, others, darkly contemplating the future and being conscious of our unconscious.


This is what makes us so unique and distinguishes us from all other species. So thinking should be a good thing – at least when it is working well and serving us. But just as thinking can be our best friend it can also be our worst enemy. Last night my visitor was the latter.
When our mind is being unhelpful it is not regretting the past with thoughts of I should have and could have and what might have been; when thinking about the future it equally plays on our fears and insecurities - if I had a Pula for how many times I have envisioned homelessness, relationship-less and dying from a rare disease in the middle of the night etc. I would have more money than I’d be able to spend.  As Mark Twain said, “I have lived through some terrible things in my life…some of which actually happened. “


You’ll be familiar with the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ - the notion that to be fit and healthy you need to eat good food because the food you eat reflects the health of your body, so it is with the mind. You must ensure that your mind is not full of junk ‘food’ because what is in your mind will affect how you perceive and experience the world around you. It becomes a reflection of what is in your mind – mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body).  Even the Romans had worked that out.


This is where examining our thoughts is so important because if the world around you appears hostile, judgement filled, hateful etc, ask yourself why? Is this a true reflection of the world or is it just your world? If it is, ask your next-door neighbour why they perceive the world as joyous, wondrous and embracing. You live next door, went to the same school have similar social status etc, but if you project onto the world, as well as onto other people, the afflictive, negative thoughts and emotions you must ask why? If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.


So back to my middle of the night mental panic attack; In the cold light of day, I can see more clearly what was going on with my thoughts on that seemingly endless loop. I had forgotten what I know. Firstly, I am not my thoughts – far from it - and secondly, I know how to manage the mind to keep it healthy. It’s the same principle as I must exercise very day, eat healthy and be productive – these are the things which I value, and I do because it is what holds me together.


If I start to neglect these things and not pay attention to them, then my core is weakened, and I start to feel like I am falling apart. It is the same with my mind - meditation, mindfulness and creating a space between my thoughts so that I can observe them is what I need to do. I am also a positive psychology graduate, so I know this stuff and I should know better than to neglect them.


Before the cynics say here he goes again on this alternative new age stuff, mediation and mindfulness (M&Ms) is my cup of tea and while it may not necessarily be yours, my point is that each of us has to find our way of silencing the unfriendly and unhelpful mind whether it’s the voices or the thoughts. M&M is to me what religion is to others or a parachute to the person jumping from a plane. When I think back to my education and how I was never taught the most common and basic mental life skills, where no one talked about the voices in the head or rumination or that feelings of weirdness, not being good enough etc are as normal, it makes sense that I had to school myself later in life.


Now when someone tells me in a coaching session that they feel different and weird, I tell them welcome to the world. We are all creeps, we are all weirdos, trying to hide that fact from everyone else. I am old enough and ugly enough to know that if I increase my dose of M&M it doesn’t guarantee that I won’t have sleepless nights but as Martin Luther said that “while you cannot keep a bird from flying over your head; what you can do is prevent it from building a nest in your hair." What I did last night was to fail to question my thoughts or at least the reality of them.


Just because you have them doesn’t make them real or even your own. They are just thoughts…represented by words and images and which give rise to feelings. I failed to be the observer of my mind last night- what they call cultivating the space between your thoughts. It is that "space between the notes," said Claude Debussy "that makes the music." If there were no spaces between the notes on a sheet of music, the sounds you would hear would not only be unintelligible but meaningless, even annoying. And annoying they certainly were.

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