6 minute read
Yes, we have all been there. You wake up on a Wednesday morning only to realize you have to start working in a mere 30 minutes from now. Sure, you considered putting your alarm earlier, but that would just mean less sleep! Instead, you put on some clothes and rush to your work where you continue feeling stressed. The only small ray of sunshine at your work is that now at least you are too distracted to think about the rest of the mess in your life. And why would you want to think about that?
Ah yes. Distraction. Glorious, nourishing distraction. Yes, we tell everybody that we would like to be more focused. We pledge to stop compulsively scrolling down our Instagram feeds. But secretly, we all crave our distraction. Remember that embarrassing thing you did yesterday? Never mind that, look at this quirky post from @chillhouse! Feeling helpless and frustrated with the lack of attention from your partner? Aaaaahw, @thedogist posted some cute puppy photos!!
The truth is that we need distractions. From time to time we feel overwhelmed by life. We talk about having ‘problems’ and ‘family issues’ and it all seems so damn… well… complicated! (But where did I leave my phone? It is of the utmost importance that I send this vague acquaintance a message right now!)
Unfortunately for us, we live in a time where the corporate world has figured this out for themselves. Companies like Facebook and Youtube like nothing more than to serve us our bite-sized bits of distraction. The word ‘entertainment’ has turned into a fancy way of saying that you distract people as a service. And I am not saying there is anything wrong with this in general. But it has become too easy. We are now able to permanently distract ourselves, preventing us from ever facing the seemingly complicated reality of our lives. And thus, we end up stacking up our issues in the corner of our mental room. Ignoring them in the hope they will go away, slowly closing ourselves off from the rest of the world. Until one day you wake up only to realize you have turned into a couch potato, doing nothing but scrolling your Facebook feed.
I know, I know. I’m being a little drama queen. But you get the point: permanently needing to distract ourselves is not a good thing. And the reason that we crave our distraction to the extent that we do, is because the alternative – actually facing these issues – seems so out of reach. They seem so complicated. We’re frankly a bit intimidated by them. If only there was some way to deal with them that doesn’t require so much effort…
So, let’s take a step back. What do we even mean when we say that something is complicated? A quick google search shows us that the word complicated comes from the Latin word complicatus, meaning “folded together”. And if this surprises you, you’re in for a treat. In fact, it explains a lot! Our self-declared ‘problems’ are all folded together, entangled, intertwined ideas, stories and emotions. Things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other, but that we connected nonetheless. And this is exactly why we often don’t know where to start. We shouldn’t try to ‘solve’ our problems. We’re probably the only person in this world who thinks they are a problem in the first place. Instead, we have all these events in our life that we didn’t know how to deal with. And we should untie the mental knot that we made out of them!
So how do we mentally disentangle our own minds? Well, I propose we don’t. Yes, you heard that right. Let’s not disentange our minds. That is to say, it is not per se something we do. Thinking about all these things is how you got this perception of ‘problems’ in the first place, dummy. In fact, I would go as far as to say that all that our conscious mind does is tying different concepts, ideas and emotions together. Rather, it is not-doing what we are looking for.
Luckily, we also have lots of unconscious stuff going on in our minds. And in my experience, these processes have quite a different effect. If I just take a moment to stop the endless thinking and working in my mind, I feel my unconscious mind starting to unfold things right away. By creating some space in our mind, some room, it seems that this mental knot starts disentangling all by itself. I think the analogy with a knot is very striking. When we want to unty a knot, if we want it to loosen up, we need to stop pulling on all the loose ends forcefully. Applying force, applying effort, only ever seems to make things worse. Much better is to fumble around with it lightly, until we see some part of the knot giving way. Then the rest kind of releases all by itself.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed by my life, whenever I feel a strong urge for distraction, I just sit down a close my eyes. I move my attention to the sounds and smells around me. The feeling of my clothes on my body. The feeling of air being sucked into or leaving my body. And whenever I feel the pull of my thoughts dragging me away from these sensations, I mentally state “ah, there is thinking” and move my attention back to my breath. In short, I observe that what is. I take on the role of a bystander of my own conscious existence. And I invite myself to realize that I am in fact none of these sensations. I am not the sound that I hear, the sent that I smell, the thoughts that I observe or the breath that I feel. I am simply that what observes all these things. And this state of mind leaves me with absolutely no option to do anything. Talking about uncomplicating things!
The observant reader will have realized that I just gave a pretty complete description of what meditation is. Nothing vague and religious about that. Simply sitting and knowing that you are sitting, undistractedly. That is what it is all about, in fact. Meditation is the art of not-doing. Actual not doing. Not the kind of “I won’t do anything today, so I will just go to do groceries, the laundry, meet up with a friend for lunch, read the newspaper and watch an episode of my favorite tv show”-nothing. Half of those activities are working, and the other half are distractions disguised as entertainment. No, in order to give your mind the space if needs, to actually unravel the obstacles it sees, you really do need to sit down from time to time and release your grip on your mind. Just now and then, stop being the thinker of your thoughts, and be the observer instead. You will find it will give you all the mental space you wished for all this time. It will allow you to approach your personal issues in a playful, creative way.
All you need to do, is nothing.