All these moments

A lifetime is built moment by moment. Like the individual frames that make up a film. When the film that is your life is played back to you, what will you make of the decisions that you made?

You will live many lives in this one life. Life progresses with such relentless forward momentum that you cannot always fully appreciate the significance of the moment, or of what all these moments, taken together, are building. Stopping to take the occasional glance back along the path and to consider the decisions that got you here (and the core values that informed those decisions) can work wonders.

Where is my mind?

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To stop and take stock, you must first be able to stop. Coming to a complete stop does not come naturally to me. It never has. I suspect it never will. However, for the good of my own mental and physical health, I made a decision earlier this month to force myself not to do anything, for as long as I could stand it. To come to a complete halt.

I am now at the midpoint of a fortnight’s annual leave. I can’t recall any time in my life when I have felt more in need of a break, when it felt more urgent to force myself to let things pause, so that I might try to rest and recuperate. This year has frequently felt as if it is out to get me. I have found myself on an unexpected mental health journey these past six months.* It has been exhausting, draining, to try to balance the demands of working life and of everyday life with my ongoing struggles with stress, anxiety and depression.

As the Pixies once asked: Where is my mind?**

In my case – in times of good mental health and otherwise – my mind is usually to be found racing far ahead of where it needs to be. All this excess of use of mental energy. Where does it go?

It is all very well for me to try to force the body to come as close as possible to a halt. Persuading the mind to follow suit is another matter. Over the past week, I have come to realise that my mind is so attuned to life’s relentless forward motion that it continues to flail around in its desire to race ahead long after it needs to be active.

I felt a horrible kind of mental inertia for the first four or five days of my fortnight off. As much as I wanted to rest, my mind still wanted to race off over the horizon, wanted to move back into top gear. My mind felt as if it was almost climbing the walls, wanting to get out of the constraining cell of doing nothing.

Each day, I found myself so exhausted by the early afternoon that I had to try to find some sleep. Occasionally, I could sleep. Other times I am sure I was awake, yet I would not have been able to move if it I tried, while my mind’s eye felt alive in almost a dream state. Bizarre, dreamlike images or memories of moments from my young life appeared before or came back to me with such clarity that I was there again. And again. All the detritus of the mind feeling as if it was shaken up and spooling out in random order before my mind’s eye. The projector of all life’s moments gone haywire.

As much as I wanted to rest, this process would not be hurried. It seemed that my unconscious mind had to be allowed to run its course, from first random memory or weird image to last, in its own good time.

Finally, after four full days off, I awoke on Wednesday 24 August 2022 to an unfamiliar but welcome feeling of peace. The reel of urgently meaningless mental imagery had at last run its course. I could think clearly again.

As difficult as it was to put into practice, making the decision to force myself to come to a complete halt was exactly what I needed to do.

Even when we know a decision to be absolutely right, it will not necessarily be easy to live up to that decision and all it demands.

Decisions, fast or slow

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We cannot always be certain that our decisions are right or wrong as we make them. But we should strive always for our decisions to be informed by our principles, the things we hold to be true.

In this way, most decisions that we make should in theory be simple. Our values, our truths, are already there. Applying them to our choices ought therefore to be simple. In his book Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo shares the following words on decisions:

“In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. If discrimination is long, it will spoil. When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.”

I love these words. But I would find it hard to live by them. Decisions take thought and time for me.

If any of us looks back on the chain of decisions, fast and slow, that have brought us to this moment, most of those decisions will appear simple, clear and (I hope) right.

At all points in your life, your own truth is the one that should guide you.

A lifetime is built moment by moment. Like the individual frames that make up a film. When the film that is your life is played back to you, what will you make of the decisions that you made?

May you be nothing but kind today, to others and to yourself.

May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.

RESOURCES

  • Mental health (NHS) Information and support for your mental health from the NHS.
  • Information and support (Mind) Resources from Mind, the UK mental health charity.
  • NAMI Homefront (NAMI) Online resources from US charity NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
  • SANE Australia Visit the site of this “national mental health charity making a real difference in the lives of people affected by complex mental health issues”.

FOOTNOTES

* I have written about my ongoing mental health journey in the following posts: Into the infinity of thoughtsRenewal; and No words?Mental health first responseGlorifyIn our darkest hours; and At the heart of thingsNo feeling is final; Relax harder.; and Anxiety: Your own worst enemy.

** Here is the Pixies’ Where is my mind? From the album Doolittle.

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2 Comments

  1. Good morning Michael. I’m so pleased that you’re able to rest and recuperate during your break. These moments are deeply, deeply precious and we shouldn’t think of them as something temporary but perhaps as a feeling state we might take back into the workplace (I suspect you already try to do that). I’m reminded of that quote from the late P.D. Ouspensky (Gurdjieff’s principal student and spokesperson): “Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He is a machine which, in right circumstances, and with right treatment, can know that he is a machine, and having fully realized this, he may find the ways to cease to be a machine. First of all, what man must know is that he is not one; he is many. He has not one permanent and unchangeable “I” or Ego. He is always different. One moment he is one, another moment he is another, the third moment he is a third, and so on, almost without end.” Perhaps if we can think of ourselves — all body, mind and spirit — as not fixed to our thinking self but all multitudes we might shock ourselves out of the torpor of having to be something in the world rather than being of and in the world. Take care my friend, Julian (PS. You might like to read the book by Ouspensky, The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.)

    Liked by 1 person

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