Having a busy mind is both a benefit and a liability. Our busy minds keep us from getting bored, they help us be creative, they are in many ways the essence of who we are. But sometimes the racket inside our heads is loud as a car alarm, interfering with our ability to connect with the world around us, to focus on the task at hand, or to get a good night’s sleep. And our busy minds also can stress us out and make us unhappy.
While I was at residency, I wrote what about how it felt to be surrounded by like people, to no longer feel weird because I’m different. I have been learning things about myself, and in doing so, unlearning what I believed about myself only because other people said it. Me being different from the people I’m usually around does not mean I’m insane and they’re normal. We’re different. That’s it.
I have a busy mind and at times it swells in my head, this cacophony of thoughts. That is when I retreat into writing or reading or running or yoga or anything where I can be away from people to think them through properly. However, for three years I have stayed home with my kids alone and there are times when I don’t have that option. Those times when they are screaming on top of the cacophony are the worst times of all. We have a rule: no screaming in this house, which hasn’t stuck. No screaming in the car has a slightly better record, only because we’re in the car less than at home.
Those worst times of all, though, don’t only belong to me. I have realized I’m not alone in the cacophony. That other people also hear this racket they need desperately to silence. Not being alone in something makes it feel manageable.
Technology makes this noise worse, probably. There are snippets everywhere and you can easily grab your phone and become inundated with information in three minutes. Information you then have to process on top of your already swirling thoughts.
But for two days, I have barely used my phone. Because without social media, what is there to do on it? (I have restricted myself from all games after an obsessive bout with Inside Out Thought Bubbles). I have been active in moments, engaged in what is going on around me. Yesterday, I played trains with the boys and I looked into Holden’s beautiful brown eyes and in those moments I felt so peaceful, not being distracted with something else.
In one study, researchers used an iPhone app to check in on people at random points throughout the day and found that the more people were thinking about something other than what they were doing, the less happy they felt. Even when they weren’t thinking about anything particularly bad.
No cacophony, until there was, and then it was bedtime.
I’m working on cultivating mindfulness now: gathering and focusing my energy entirely on what I am doing at the moment.
And when I can’t, I’ll run.
And when I can’t do that, I will rock myself in the fetal position and uselessly will it all to quiet itself down. Maybe if I’m mindful enough, it will work.
All italicized quotes are from The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quite Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling