“There are questions that can't be answered in words, that must be lived. In recent years, researchers have been able to show that when our minds are not actually sleeping or actively engaged in a task or in moment-to-moment awareness of our experience, they wander in a particular 'default mode circuit,' including mid-line areas of the brain associated with self-referencing and first-person-narration—with thinking about 'me.' Scientists have correlated being in this 'default mode' with unhappiness.”
Tracy Cochran (Lessons from Lucifer; Parabola, Summer, 2016)
In Paradise Lost, John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” To say that we can think ourselves happy or unhappy is a vast understatement. We can quite literally think ourselves into delusion. We can imagine that others hate us and are colluding against us, or that we are simply the most fabulous human on planet earth. We make constant comparisons between ourselves and others, and depending on our self-assessment come up either woefully insufficient or dazzling. Most of the time, when we think too much about ourselves, we conjure up vast numbers of criticisms, which can lead to depression.
Living in our heads is dangerous business, because the mind is endlessly creative and it never sleeps. When we are sleeping, our mind is churning out dreams and images, some of which are helpful, and some, not so much. If we live a fear-based life, quite often our dreams accommodate with terrifying scenarios. The point here is that spending too much time focused on our fears is not good for our mental health, let alone our physical health.
One way of getting out of our heads is getting into our bodies, literally. Exercise, especially outside, is a great way of focusing attention away from corrosive mental self-examination. Anything from walking/jogging, to yoga, Pilates, or dancing require us to focus on our bodies, to experience our physicality, to place attention on muscle groups and balance. Movement gets us out of our constant analyzing, and into body awareness.
Another outlet is work. Work, regardless of how routine it may be, requires us to actively engage with a task—it forces our mind to focus specifically rather than wandering endlessly in self-examination land. If you're not employed, then having a project, especially a creative project, can be as energizing as exercise. Being motivated to get something done—even, God forbid, housework—can move us out of our heads and into our hands. A job completed makes for a satisfied soul.
Ruminating is simply not good for you. And now, scientists, bless them, have proved that there is a correlation between too much “me thinking” and unhappiness. Today is a great one for getting out of your head. Put those hands, and feet, and heart and soul to work.
In the Spirit,