Do you ever have any of those unannounced and random moments of thought? The point where you mind is mostly devoid of any meaningful thought process, important or insignificant and then there it is. Apparently emerging from nothing up pops that meaning of life type question… What if?
I’m prone to them. Particularly last thing at night, and that’s actually not the best time to have them. Sometimes the thoughts can be productive (at the time, or for the future) and that’s not so bad however; when your thinking is simply rumination about problems, that’s mostly not so good.
Don’t Count Thoughts, Try Sheep
Luckily my latest what if moment occurred on a Sunday morning, thankfully not at night. I laid in bed watching micro-dust particles dance about in the air that surrounded me, movement that was totally in-tune with my in and out breathing. As I rubbed sleep from half awake eyes and scratched my head. The particles, usually invisible to the naked eye, were being highlighted by piercing shafts of morning sunshine, breaking through part drawn curtains. It’s that moment when, muttering to yourself (or whoever else is there) – “OK so I’m awake but it’s Sunday” – you question the validity of more nodding or robbing yourself of another forty winks.
All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusions is called a philosopher. Ambrose Bierce
And then it happens, all the stimulus you need for that first round of your daily, but mostly inane (sometimes puerile) divergent thinking. Not to worry, it won’t be the last. The next batch of thinking on tangents will come along to join you, at some point before the day is done. Sure as eggs are eggs!
This type of thinking, particularly if it’s done when you should be sleeping, can actually be unhealthy. It needs to be controlled and reduced (where you can) because, long-term negative impacts on your health are well-known. And the latter statement comes from personal experiences, as well as most of the clinical advice underpinned by scientific research and evidence.
Insomnia: Most people experience problems with sleep in their life. In fact, it’s thought that a third of Brits will have episodes of insomnia at some point. The causes can include physical conditions, psychological conditions (such as depression or anxiety) or a combination of both. (The NHS)
Sleep, at night or with reduced efficacy during the day (shift workers); is supposed to be about recharging your body’s batteries. Not the latest grudge match between Psychology FC and Philosophy FC in the Neuroscience Cup. Sleep is when you should be emptying your head of the day’s crud, not filling it with even more crap.
Your what if, or other such questions and ideas, need to shelved for another time. Stifle your hidden desire for that last quick mental-agility workout. Bedtime isn’t the best time to try to replicate the seminal works of René Descartes‘ and your version of Discourse on the Method can wait for another day. This might have been your Cogito, ergo sum moment however; it’s fair (and possibly even humorous) to say… the Principles of Philosophy weren’t formed overnight. Your grey matter needs pricking with regular stimuli and at regular intervals before you can be considered a Philosopher.
From a BBC Radio 4 series about life’s ‘big’ questions – A History of Ideas
Deep thinking, just at the point your head hits the pillow and you’re closing your eyes isn’t conducive to falling asleep. I know this, from lived-experience. It’s akin to signing up for a round of cognitive circuit training with philosophical burpees, star-jumps and press-ups at the psychology gym. And I’m not what you could call a fan of exercise.
It’s also the root-cause of some people’s insomnia. As well as being a prominent reason behind many people’s addictions, both to prescribed medication and alcohol or illicit drugs that are used to self-medicate.
Suffering from a sleep disorder on a short or long-term basis is extremely stressful and can also affect your loved ones and those you work with. (www.insomniacs.co.uk)
There’s plenty of good advice available to combat the problem. Advice that is designed to help us all improve our sleep (see NHS) but as with any advice, good or bad, it’s success is always dependent upon whether or not we chose to take it. Help is clearly needed and by many. A study by health insurers found; “two thirds (67%) of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep, and around 16 million say they have insomnia.”
Incidentally, in addition to all the known health benefits of getting enough quality sleep, science now suggests it’s also a good time to learn a new language apparently, who’d have thought it? But off I paddle down another leafy tributary – enough about sleep, or the lack of it and back to the what if?
Those original bubbles of random cognition, as with many of my previous varied examples, tend to nearly always grow into something far bigger. That first thought springs forth and then quickly trickles away with gravitational tendencies of flood proportions. Initial small questions (or ideas) get strengthened by diverse tributaries, emptying into the ebb and flow of a tidal mainstream. Before you know it, the spring has sprung, the stream becomes a river and off it meanders, depositing a modicum of silt and detritus in the disputed delta before finally, flowing out to a collective sea of cognitive flotsam and jetsam.
Pausing For Thought
Always a useful exercise but something we tend not to do, or at least not anywhere near enough. We are too busy living our hectic and sometimes chaotic lives. We do everything at warp-speed, and often with little thought of why we do it or what the outcomes might be.
When was the last time you just sat and thought about nothing in particular? Waiting for that unexpected morsel of an idea or piece of trivia to pop into your head, that is simply begging to be unravelled. It could even be shouting at you to be examined but no, you don’t have the time or the inclination to dissect the issue(s), ones that could well end up screaming at you in the future.
Importantly, do you ever take the time to actually think about why you think the way you do? Better management of our, thoughts and feelings is important. Thoughts direct our behaviours but also, they often have impacts for our mental-health and overall well-being and not in a good way.
Usually, I find the whole process cathartic, except when it happens just before going to sleep… always assuming you can actually sleep after it’s happened. But for me, it’s one of those simple pleasures in life, a (hopefully) structured form of day-dreaming. I find the whole process to be a useful form of retrospective mindfulness.
If you happen to be a BBC Radio 2 listener, as I am on most days of the week, my what if thought is not dissimilar to those #MindBubbles moments that Jo Whiley talks about. You might also know what I mean when I say; it can be a bit of a Pause For Thought moment.
I suppose this whole thinking process stems from foundations in angling, my passion for sitting for hours at the side of a lake or river fishing, alone with my thoughts and at one with nature. One of those important and valuable personal but simplistic pleasures in life. And simple is good, it was also something that’s illustrated in a slightly flippant but humorous manner in The Little Book of Common Sense: Or Pause for Thought with Wogan.
The late Reverend Ruth Scott, a stalwart of Pause for Thought offered words worth considering, irrespective of her personal beliefs and without religious connotation. I can subscribe to her idea that “true human beauty grows from the inside out” or, again without the religion how, “all of us can be involved in living out empathetic love…” I can listen to the thoughts of others and form my own opinions… It’s a healthy and useful skill that we should all try to work on sometimes!
Reverend Ruth Scott was much loved amongst the Radio 2 family. Working with both Sir Terry Wogan and Chris Evans, her Pause for Thought reflections were enjoyed by millions of listeners to the Breakfast Show over the years. Our thoughts are with Ruth’s family at this sad time. @BBCRadio2
Philosophy on Religion
Don’t get me wrong (or panic), I’m not getting evangelical, neither am I about to start pedaling religion. Despite the fact religion would probably welcome all the support it can muster at the moment. Especially in the UK, we’re one of the least religious countries in the (developed) world, and mirror atheism and non-belief trends across the remainder of the western-world (see here).
Despite the decline but more from a world perspective; the following of various faith-based beliefs is actually increasing. Apparently 84% of the global population self-identify as belonging to a religious group. It’s possibly got something to do with the fact so many people are worried about their world at the moment. And what better than faith to mitigate against your worries or concerns? Many say that faith creates hope and without hope we have nothing, apparently? But what do the statistics mean for the future? (Read more)
Personally speaking I’ve long been an advocate for secularism. For me, having a faith, whatever the belief may be isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s how people chose to apply their beliefs to life and the lives of others that I mostly have problems with. Most wars throughout history have had some form of religious connotation in their process. But it’s also an unpleasant experience having somebody’s faith stuffed in your face or worse, that belief forms the foundations and basis of a society’s education, or underpins its politics… at the behest of the state. That is where the danger is and always has been.
When examining this particular #MindBubble it is worth remembering that, as with the diversity of the human race; some religious stupidity should always be expected and perhaps even accepted, at least in some part.
But as with today’s politics and humanity as a whole; too much of what is wrong in religion stems from those individuals (or groups) who interpret and manipulate things, usually in furtherance of their own personal aspirations or group purpose. But even that is partly OK, just until it begins to impact on others who don’t hold those beliefs. It’s all about having an ethos for and acceptance of – vive la difference!
There are huge consequences to religious belief and practice… countless wars and conflicts have had an overt or covert religious dimension throughout history, right up to the present day. (The Guardian)
Many people’s difficulties arise from inherent hypocrisy that are evident within elements of religious belief, or subsequently displayed perfectly by [some] practitioners and devoted followers. Add to the mix a measure of valid angst around clerical dishonesty, the understandable revulsion about repugnant activities or even how the Church of England struggles with institutional racism and you can understand why the popularity of religion appears to be waning in the developed world. And all that before you even start to consider any of the strange rituals or worry about extremist religious violence.
Some of these problems have been evident in one form or another for decades, if not centuries. Much like other human skills and traits, passionate belief can be a powerful weapon, used for both good and bad. Society has allegedly moved on, growing and developing since our medieval past. The Witch-Trials and publicly buried hatchets of past sectarian conflict have (mostly) been consigned to the history books. But still, there are elements within some aspects of religious doctrine that have not.
It doesn’t matter if it’s done overtly or covertly, religious zealots tend to advocate and perpetuate many of the problems that come from faith based doctrines. Especially when that doctrine is ferociously applied to an unreceptive or unwilling social collectives. The plight of Native Americans in incidents like the forced removal of Cherokee Indians – The Trail of Tears – halfway across the continent, is a fine example of religious, political and social intolerance born of greed. And the Cherokee people were one of Five Civilised Tribes… What hope did the ‘savages’ have?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not singling out the USA. America is just one example, they certainly don’t have any monopoly on historic genocides or ethnic cleansing, for the purposes of religious persecution and intolerance. There is much in recent times and a lot of it much closer to home. But the dogmatic behaviours of religious (and political) leaders is probably just a reflection of many inherent human traits in our society – those people that religion is often seeking to control. See, even faith has it’s philosophical chicken and egg dilemmas!
The conflict that still exists between the church and the LGBTQ community, in many countries is another case in point of – Religion before Humanity – Before acceptance and tolerance. This dogmatic approach to life’s realities is probably the main source of fuel for the fires of religion’s demise, and in so many. No wonder the General Synod has told it’s CofE Vicars that opening for business on Sundays is no longer obligatory.
All that said, a large proportion of religious teachings do actually dovetail well with many positive human traits. The types of behaviours and human interactions that most of us admire and value… and could do with more of in today’s world. No, the problem with religion is the extremes of humanity that are screwing the whole process over and for me… you can shove it all where the sun don’t shine! But moving on…
DILLIGAF: My F##k it Bucket
Disregarding the loud claims about global-warming, the next imminent animal extinction, or the fact that politics, commerce and inherent human greed are responsible for breaking so much in our society; I prefer not to be reliant upon that wing and a prayer principle. It’s just so illogical and irrational to me. I see absolutely no benefit to be gained from the proverbial “having a word with the big guy upstairs” process.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have faith or belief, just that mine is fairly different to the ones many other people have – think acceptance – it’s one of those “valuing diversity” mantras that we’re all supposed to be embracing today!
- Can I fix the problem? NO
- Will the situation change if I worry about it? No/Unlikely
- Throw it in the bucket and move on (drink tea!)
You see I’m living in the USA but no, not the country. I’m referring to possessing an unconditional self-acceptance ethos, which is something that spills over into your daily life. It’s difficult not to gain value and benefit from the life-changing magic of not giving a f**k, a strong part of my inherent DILLIGAF philosophy.
It’s healthy, and a useful skill to have, especially if you don’t want your head to explode with the aftermath of everything that is wrong in our world. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck can help by providing a counterintuitive approach to living life well.
You might have got this far and still be wondering – where’s that bloody what if that started all these ramblings? But possibly more likely, you’ve possibly got fed up and shuffled off but that’s OK… You see the main problem here is, as a direct result of all this unfettered divergent thinking, I’ve actually forgotten what I set out to fucking illustrate… bugger!
No matter, thoughts are like buses, another one will be along shortly. Or perhaps not, given the shit order of our roads in the UK and our crap public transport infrastructure. and the cost? Phew, don’t get me started on train tickets.
I’m sorry if I didn’t retain your attention but that was your choice, I offered a divergence from the mundane by giving you something (mildly) interesting (or humorous) to read. If I didn’t or couldn’t retain your attention that’s also fine and another one of your choices – remembers school reports – must try harder!
You see I’m not fixated upon courting attention. I don’t need to be listened to (or read) to have my own sense of satisfaction and wellbeing, neither do I need the endorsement or accolades of others to feel valued and be grateful for all I have. Yada, Yada, and that reminds me…
“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose” – “Do or do not. There is no Try” – “Death is a natural part of life” – “Always pass on what you have learned.”
If you end your training now — if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did — you will become an agent of evil. (Yoda)
Blah, Blah – fades away into the sunshine – hopefully!