Sunday, March 30, 2014

Redemption through Dylan Thomas

The past few weeks (maybe even months) have been a hectic time, thanks to weighty decisions floating above my head – not my decisions to make, actually, but ones which would certainly affect me.  I’m the type of person who plunges into decisions so as to get the suspense over with, so I admit to feeling a bit of stress while I’m waiting to see what will come to pass.  These things can’t be rushed, but I find myself wishing that I could push them along anyway! 

One of the ways I deal with stress, especially in relation to other people, is by conducting mental analyses of the situation.  Sometimes this is helpful and lets me separate reality from my emotional reactions.  More frequently, though, I admit that it ends up stirring up my emotions even further, since it’s hard to be unbiased in a situation when you’re on one side and another person is on the other.  It’s a relief while I’m thinking it over, but afterwards, I feel more depressed or more stressed or even angry at the other person involved (which isn’t very productive). 

So, recently, I resolved to practice keeping a silent mind.

I watched several videos in February, posted on the lovely ‘Daily Connoisseur’ blog.  Ms. Scott, who writes the blog, had filmed herself reviewing and discussing a favorite book of hers called The Untethered Soul. I haven’t read the book, but I was most intrigued by the idea of everyone having a voice inside their head, which is continually giving a running, self-biased commentary on everything that happens, and often leaping to unfounded, unfair conclusions about one’s own situation and other people’s actions and reactions. 

I thought, ‘That sounds exactly like my mental process,’ when she described what the voice sounded like.  The problem, though, is that the voice is seldom based on anything real.  It misleads us and makes us unhappy and closes us against other people, since it so disposes us to misinterpret them.  I’ve often struggled with exactly these problems in my relationships (my stress-handling technique usually leads to justifying myself at the expense of others).  It seemed a healthy undertaking to try and improve myself by quieting my mind and listening to reality instead. 

It turns out that achieving a silent mind is incredibly hard, especially during stressful times. 

I’ve been doing well with my project when events have been favorable, but it’s easy to be a decent human being when everything is sunshiny.  When the sky is overcast, however, not so much.  Every few days or so in the past several weeks, when I’ve felt tense or inclined to be irritated at someone else, I’ve had to spend much of my unoccupied time driving or showering, etc., telling myself, ‘Keep a quiet mind.  Keep a quite mind.’  Nothing else quite silences the irritated mumbling of the voice inside my head. 

I admit that it’s an exhausting effort, resisting such a deep-set habit, but at the same time, it’s been quite a cleansing feeling.  It’s much easier to have clear thoughts and clear emotions, unmuddied by my own biases. 

And then tonight, the effort paid off in a wonderful way. 

I was feeling worked up about something a friend had told me and I hopped in the shower soon after our conversation.  The shower is one of the places I usually let my mind roam freely, so of course my mental voice piped up at once, complaining about my worries and the effect my friend’s choices would have on me, etc. etc.  So I went back to my mantra of telling myself to have a quiet mind. 

Instead of a conducting bitter trial of my friend in my head, I thought of my seed pots for the spring.  I planted them a week ago, and today my tomato seed pushed a slender pale stalk out of the dirt, working on the project throughout the whole day, and now two delicate green leaves are swayed gracefully over the dark potting soil.  Suddenly, with that image in my mind, a line of poetry popped into my head – one I hadn’t thought of in years: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age.’ 

The line of poetry was like a light.  It soothed my mind and quieted my chattering mental voice, and suddenly a revelation about my friend’s dilemma came to me, something which made the impending decision seem so much more positive and hopeful.  I realized that only in a silent mind can true thoughts spring up and grow, as fresh as the small tomato seedling valiantly striving for existence under my heat lamp.   

I have often been grateful for my broad exposure to fiction and poetry, but the moment in the shower only reinforced how beneficial art can be.  When we strive to become better people, beautiful creations seem set there to be the rungs which support our climb, confirming that our choices are beneficial after all.

Brave new tomato plant!

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