The Writing Mind

Thinking and reading on how the brain and mind work earns a seal of longevity at my desk. To say nothing of the many journal pages filled by said meanderings and challenges. The files, which I’ve been stuffing with random pieces of paper, are full of articles on same.

But my favorite and often reread is a book by Daniel B. Smith: Muses, Madmen, and Prophets.

I don’t know when I first began hearing voices. Pretty much, it’s been with me all my life. For many years, I’ve use my keyboard to record messages by putting my fingers on the keyboard, eyes closed, asking a question, and typing what I heard.

I didn’t even know hearing voices, or as I call it, The Voice, since there’s only one, could indicate schizophrenia, only learning that in Daniel Smith’s book. I must admit to being flat-out crazy from time to time, often when I’m overloaded with to-do lists or midway into something and discover I’ve lost an essential whatever to complete. And I’ve up and moved across the country, often on a whim (well, usually The Voice), with no idea where I was going to live or what I was going to do. Arriving where you need to be but not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing can lead to flat-out crazy. Those time, I usually go to the library and pull down books and smother myself with words as I seek answers.

But maybe I’m off topic.

What really prompted me to write today was, in cleaning up papers and shuffling things into recycling because once more I’m finished with the book and don’t know what else to do with myself, I came across an essay I’d saved from the February 21, 2016 New York Times Magazine. “Contemplation Therapy.” Obviously I’m not very far deep into piles since this was so recent.

In The essay, Gretchen Reynolds writes: “This month, a study published in Biological Psychiatry brings scientific thoroughness to mindfulness meditation, and for the first time shows that, unlike a placebo, it can change the brains of ordinary people and potentially improve their health.”

Mindfulness meditation, in short (very short) teaches the practitioner to pay attention to how the mind chatters or otherwise harangues its owner; i.e. mine and yours. Mindfulness also pays attention to the body, where it’s tense or grumbling or otherwise distracting oneself. It can also rewire your brain.

An interesting movie, several years ago, What the Bleep…Do We Know, showed a representation of how the synapses of the brain fire and how they fire the same way over and over to fear, disgust, anger, etc, deepening the connection. The task is to change the way the brain fires. When I taught speech, I showed the movie and helped students learn they could put down their fear of public speaking by silencing the chatter. Meditation works, and often I’ve used  word cues to stop my mind chatter. One of my early-early-in-my-twenties lessons was from “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.” I learned I could change the way my mind chattered.

For a writer, it’s a valuable skill. It clears the mind of I can’t do this I’m going to fail and all the other self-defeating lines and makes space for the lines you really need to hear.

“To meditate mindfully demands ‘an open and receptive, nonjudgmental awareness of your present-moment experiences,’ says J. David Creswell, who led the study and is an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Health and Human performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.”

The study used two different subject groups: one taught mindfulness meditation and one taught relaxation. At the end of the three weeks, both groups felt less stress, but brain scans found “more activity, or communication” in the brains of those who practiced mindfulness.

Here’s what was truly interesting: “Four months later, those who had practiced mindfulness showed much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation…even though few were still meditating.”

The researchers still don’t know why. No doubt, more research will be done.

But the bottom line says we can change the way our mind chatters and changing that chatter leads to better health and clarity. In truth, researchers don’t even know where the mind resides: brain? body? organs? heart? Well, the heart’s an organ, but a special one. But I wonder if that matters as much as knowing we can change the manner and ways we think? (or fear, as the case may be.)

Writing is hard work (which in part explains my exhaustion this past week when I’ve puttered and taken naps and not written and basically had an empty head), and finding clarity can be, well, we could say “challenging” or we could use any number of words not fit for polite society.

But wouldn’t being mindful of our mind be more effective?







My Ordinary Skills

Today’s WordPress prompt asks, “what ordinary skills are you bad at?” An interesting question. I guess we’re all “bad” at something although that’s such a subjective and judgmental word that I’m not sure “bad” is an effective way to describe anything.

So, okay. What ordinary, daily thing am I less than effective in doing? The first thing that comes to mind is remembering what day it is. In other words, I’m not so great at the skill of memory: ask my husband, my children, my friends, my students. If I don’t write it down, I probably won’t remember. And this isn’t an age thing, it’s a pretty much all my life thing.

So I got to thinking about that. Actually, I wonder about memory a lot, write about memory a lot, try to figure out why I remember some things and not other things a lot.

Now here’s the funny thing. My son just called and asked why he couldn’t get on a family website anymore and when he repeated the password, I realize I’d changed it and forgotten. Oh. Good thing I write things down. Especially passwords.

I’ve thought a lot about memory, and one of the things I’ve considered is how much I rely on what I call “messages.” In other words, much of what I rely on are the words that come into my head to tell me what to say. For example, most mornings when I wake, I ask myself, or my mind, “what day is it?” and wait for an answer. I find that odd. Not that it happens, but that I do it at all.  

In some circles that would be called schizophrenia and in others mysticism. I was somewhat startled, reading the book Muses, Madmen, and Prophets to learn that hearing my name called from somewhere outside me (i.e. not in my head) was a signal of schizophrenia. I’ve heard my name called most of my life. What? I ask. Sometimes I get an answer and sometimes the call simply turns me in another direction. I’ve considered those moments spirit’s promptings.

But then it’s also true that many mystics have been medicated out of their minds, so to speak. Seeing signs and wonders is not necessarily a valuable commodity in our world. At least, not since Freud. Carl Jung, on the other hand, was a little wiser and willing to be filled with wonder.

So there you are. A musing on musings. A wondering attached to what do I do least well. But then again, another question arises: perhaps our weaknesses are also our strengths if we recognize and accept them. Perhaps by allowing my hard drive memory, as it were, to remain empty of unnecessary verbage, I’ve allowed it to fill with space dedicated to spirit. I suppose the argument could be made that spirit resides in our hearts not our heads, our solar plexus not our amygdala, but perhaps spirit, in whichever way we follow it, resides wherever it wants to.

Right now it said, find an image of hands knitting. So I did. Hopefully that image means something to you.

Happy New Year! May your journey bring you peace of mind, peace of heart, and a healthy body. What more could you ask?