This week I’ve been thinking a lot about thinking. I’ve spent years studying and working where what I could do with my mind was all that mattered. Thinking was what I did, my brain was good at it! But it took an off the cuff comment to make me really reflect on how reliant I’d become on my mind to do all of the heavy lifting. ‘Amanda you think too much’. So of course this kicked my mind into overdrive.
Everyday my social media feed is full of quotes telling me ‘overthinking kills your happiness’ and ‘life happens when you are busy making other plans’ but is thinking in and of itself such a bad thing? According to the Oxford Dictionary, thinking encompasses everything from daydreaming, contemplating and meditating to brooding, ruminating and fantasising. All subtly different in their meaning and tense. The more I reflected on this in relation to my own experience, the more it became clear to me that thinking itself was not the problem, but an imbalance in the type of thinking and in my being as a whole.
I’ve lived with migraines on and off for more than 20 years, but soon after we arrived in the country they became chronic. In hindsight, the decline was already well underway before we left the city. As a newly made local friend said to me, ‘you’re just having your tree change breakdown, everybody has one in some form or another at some point’. I came to the valley with a highly efficient multitasking mind and body, crafted by years of being ‘busy’. I was desperately looking for ways to anchor myself into my adopted community. I quickly learned that it would happen through my hands and not my head. Country life is less about catch ups at coffee shops and more about connection while crafting, working or doing something, anything together. More heart and hands, less head.
Our main motivations for moving to the country were reconnecting with the simple things, slowing down and getting our hands dirty. But quietening my mind has been the biggest challenge. I found my day to day life was less rushed but my mind was still very busy. Planning, chewing things over, dreaming, comparing ….. Past and future, but not a lot of present.
Having chronic pain in my brain, not being mentally or physically productive and clear of mind felt akin to a knitter with arthritis, I couldn’t do the very thing I loved doing. I became frustrated, depressed and overwhelmed. I’ve heard the brain of chronic pain sufferers described as an orchestra that learns to play one particular symphony, particularly well and that’s pain. The more it plays it, the better it gets and the more it wants to play that same piece of music. So. Very. Efficient. And difficult to short circuit.
I still have regular headache pain but I’m getting better at not exacerbating it with overthinking. It’s forced me out of my head and more into the rest of my body. I’ve (nearly) stopped rushing, worrying, multitasking and have become more grounded and anchored here as a result. On a farm, everywhere you look there is something that needs doing but like anyone working from home, you need to have rhythms and routines. You have to schedule time to rest and restore, for fun. I’m going for walks and have let go of the belief that I have to be productive every waking moment. It’s the only way forward.
Living in nature, working with my hands, growing and making things, experiencing first hand the wholistic focus of my daughter’s school on educating the whole person – intellectually, artistically, socially, and morally, has also helped me in my quest for a better balance of head, heart and hands. Busy hands do indeed make for idle minds and happy hearts.
I’m learning that a truly conscious life is lived mainly in the present not in the past or in the future. It’s about finding the joy in the everyday and the mundane and a certain amount of acceptance of what is. Thinking is part of the equation as long as there’s balance.
In the words of the late British neurologist, naturalist and author Oliver Sacks, I’d like to think that in my time on earth “I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”