Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tiny streams to mighty rivers grow.

Can you sit in a chair, look into space and think of nothing? If you have never tried it, then try it now, so that you can report back to me.
When I was a little girl (and that wasn't yesterday, or the day before) I would often call out to my father, after I had gone to bed, to say that I couldn't get off to sleep. He would call upstairs and say I should try thinking of nothing. I never could. Within the space of a couple of minutes, something would creep into the corner of my brain.

William James, the American philosopher (and brother of Henry James the author), conjured up the perfect image for this - calling it the 'stream of consciousness' My goodness, they had a real stream to river to sea stream of consciousness going there in that family, didn't they? Dad a philosopher, two sons - one an author and another a philosopher - what a lot of thinking must have gone on in that household! And, of course, the author we all think of when we hear the phrase 'stream of consciousness' is Virginia Woolf, who used it to perfection in her novels.

This morning our paper delivery van has got stuck in a snowdrift and the papers are late. Thus it was that I read dear old Ronald Blythe over my porridge and banana and thus it was that my stream of consciousness began to trickle, then run faster on - well - stream of consciousness.

A very dear friend (yes, M I do mean you) suggested to me at the week-end that my seizure was probably due to my very over-active mind, which seems always to dwell on complicated thoughts. Well, I am not sure how to avoid such thinking - and I am not sure I would wish to, even if there were a way to do so.

James also spoke of this stream being irregular - rather like a bird's life with its flights and perchings. I have always thought of it like a butterfly, which I suppose is a similar idea. All I know for sure is that unless one has a notebook and pen with one constantly, many "brilliant ideas" disappear down the plug hole of life. And even with a notebook the stream often gets dammed up, or dried up. How does one make sense of one's scribblings about some brilliant idea a month after one has written it down - particularly if you've scribbled it down in the dark, in the middle of the night, or going along in the car!

Oh yes, the mind is a wonderful thing; in some people those tiny streams of thought grow and grow into huge ideas, brilliant paintings, amazing pieces of music, glorious novels. But just think how many equally incredible ideas have gone down the drain and disappeared for ever into the wide sargasso sea.

18 comments:

Tom Stephenson said...

I really enjoyed reading that, Weaver, and I loved the imagery. I think I have the classic butterfly mind (hence John Aubrey as a hero), myself, and I've always been slightly envious of people who can focus in to the exclusion of all the stuff in the periphery. It's just too much like hard work for me.

Heather said...

I sometimes wish I could sit and think of nothing Pat. My mind is full of jumbled, untidy fragments of thought which I feel don't get followed or dealt with in an orderly fashion. I deal with the most urgent and the rest take their turn, as and when. I have often hastily scribbled down notes and diagrams for a great idea and then not had the foggies notion what it all meant later. If I manage to live long enough, I may attain a state of orderly mind and person. In the meantime I just muddle along. Hope the papers get through to you.

Caroline Gill said...

You are such a creative person by nature, Weaver, that I feel the 'thinking' goes with the territory. I began art classes (painting) after a lapse of many years, thinking foolishly that they would add an element of relaxing creativity to my more cerebral (largely poetic) creative endeavours. How wrong I was! I still can't get my head around just how much thought goes into an artistic composition (or at least this has been my experience, at any rate). The best thing for me is just to embrace the ideas and 'weed out' later on ... but it's often more a case of 'harnessing' than 'going with the flow' ...

steven said...

weaver this is so true. i've tried parking a pen and notebook by my bed but i find that i haven't the will to wake up enough to put pen to paper every time. then too, the thoughts that do make it to paper lose their significance if not their meaning within hours. have a peaceful day in the dales. steven

MorningAJ said...

I needed something similar after my little scare three years ago and I was introduced to the concept of Mindfulness. The secret isn't to think of nothing - it's to think of something. and to be aware that you're thinking of it. It's not the number of thoughts that get you - it's the ones that you didn't plan.

(PS. I hope that link works....)

This book:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Miracle-Mindfulness-Classic-Meditation-Revered/dp/1846041066/ref=cm_lmf_tit_11_rsrssi0
has been a lifesaver to me (literally, I suspect)

I'm not going to pretend that it's easy to start with, but it works, if you persevere. And you'd be amazed at the positive side effects.

It won't stop you thinking about stuff and having ideas. It'll just stop you wasting time on the bits that take up energy but don't contribute!

MorningAJ said...

Not sure why the PS came out in the middle there! :)

izzy said...

Thanks for an important reminder!
If I can sit down near a window and play the "No name" game for a while, it will bring me to a lovely, peaceful place. Only rule is -you can't attach
a name to anything you see- let it go
by unnamed. The first time I did this
it was a very windy afternoon, which helped because leaves and such were whisking by- which assisted with letting go. After you get the idea, you can do this with a candle if you want. Keep trying !

C Hummel Kornell a/k/a C Hummel Wilson said...

Weaver, I cannot meditate because my mind is never still. The first time my current husband tried to teach me the art of meditation I ended up in tears! I have learned to settle for creating images of places and of things that bring me calmness and tranquility, that's as close as I can get.

Love your new heading photo!

jeanette from everton terrace said...

Oh how I understand. I often wake in the middle of the night and my mind starts racing with ideas or lists of things to do and it's all downhill from there, I just get up sleep is lost.
I've tried to meditate and if my mind stays still for a minute or two I usually fall asleep (probably from so many sleepless nights). My husband can only focus on one thing at a time which I guess means he can concentrate, I'm hopeless.

Tess Kincaid said...

As a poet, I like to tap into that stream of consciousness. But, I agree, it's hard sometimes to turn it off at night.

The Solitary Walker said...

Interesting post, Pat. First of all, I am pretty sure your 'seizure' will have had nothing to do with an 'over-active mind' per se. However, if our thoughts get out of control, leading to anxiety, neurosis, sleeplessness etc., this can certainly have a bearing on our general physical and mental wellbeing. Meditation and mindfulness, as someone suggested in a comment above, is definitely beneficial in calming the mind and its endless flow of thoughts, as I know from personal experience.

George said...

I would simply echo what Robert said, Pat, specifically that your active mind probably had nothing to do with your recent seizure. If anything, an active mind builds neurons, facilitates synapses, and contributes to one's health and well-being.

Totalfeckineejit said...

The best poem is the one we never wrote.

Kim Palmer said...

Interesting view today Pat! Quite true too. I find myself that tying to turn of the thoughts is impossible, sometimes it is easier to roll with it all and sleep when it lets me. I also carry around the notebook and jot ideas down constantly as art inspiration. Some of them progress on, others do not. I read with much hilarity your posy about Mr. Naughtie, how funny. Poor chap will never live that one down. We are all the same though, remembering the funny things that happened, not necessarily the things others would want remembered at all! I hope this finds you recovering and on the road to better health. I was saddened to hear of your recent illness but am pleased to see you are recovering and heading back to normality again.

Titus said...

Interesting, Weaver. My insomnia is down to a mind that won't switch off, but I never have a notebook at my side, as all of my many brilliant ideas always require 'development', and there isn't time in a day to 'develop' them all. So when I write, I sit down to write, and let what's there come then.

I listen the the World Service all night (nifty under-the-pillow speaker) as listening to others thoughts helps to stop mine!

Gerry Snape said...

I'm trying to do this, Weaver, every night in bed when my brain is going," oh dear have I got the whatever for whoever and when ever!!! I'm thinking into nothingness....it's not easy!

Cloudia said...

My posts are born as scribblings during a walk...pictures taken...wishing you all the best, my complex friend




Aloha from Waikiki

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ChrisJ said...

Interesting post, Weaver. I have been told that I over-think and also that I have a grasshopper mind. Nevertheless I so completely value that quiet time alone with my thoughts. It has been my mainstay since retirement. Don't want to sound preachy but my meditation is best and most calming when I'm thinking of all the qualities and goodness of God. This can comfort me when I have panic attacks -- not too many of them now,and the tendency is inherited. Retirement has given me more control over my time and therefore over my thought.
Does that make sense?