What Shall I Think About Today?

This is not an idle question. We tend to think of our thoughts as phenomena which come and go like the weather and which we cannot control; but thoughts can absolutely be cultivated and trained. Think of it less like weather and more like gardening; helpful and fruitful thoughts can be nurtured and harmful weeds can be uprooted. The more we do this during our waking hours, the less we will be disturbed by unwanted thoughts during the night.

Even so, I often wake in the night and start to Think with a capital TH. Last night around 4 a m I started off worrying about climate change and graduated to an unfolding horror-film where I was discussing my novel on live TV and burst into tears when someone criticised it. Oh, the embarrassment, the humiliation! Oh, the millions of hits on youtube! Oh, the total inability to ever live it down! These are the scenes that my brain presents to me in the early hours, and it’s a total pain. I know why it happens: the reasons are well-documented. First, it’s the middle of the night; it’s dark and there are no distractions, so the unregarded thoughts and fears of the day grab their chance to get a little me-time. Second, there’s an energy dip; it’s a long time since you last ate and blood sugar is low, meaning that the defences are down. And third, you haven’t yet had enough sleep, so the brain is more suggestible.

It’s not always terrible during these hours; sometimes I get amazing ideas, lightning-flashes of genius that illuminate the entire landscape of my life. Sadly, just as the terrific fears don’t seem so bad in the light of day, these ideas don’t seem so brilliant either. The cold light of day is a great leveller.

One thing I’ve learned from reading Paul McKenna’s book on sleep is that it’s a good idea to tackle these things while you’re still awake. Write down your fears; transcribe your ideas. For me the best time is often the late afternoon when my work for the day is done and I have a little time to contemplate where I’m at; what’s worrying me, what’s exciting me, what dark fears lurk beneath the surface, what great hopes are straining at the leash. The more time you give these things during the day the less likely they are to pop up at night.

Another thing I’ve learned is that it’s not a good idea to read before going to sleep. Now, this presented me with a problem: it’s been my practice ever since childhood to read in bed and before I needed reading glasses I would lie down with a book propped beside me on the pillow and often fall asleep that way. However I couldn’t but acknowledge that reading almost any novel is likely to stimulate thoughts and emotions rather than calming them: enter Pooh. I was able to read the House at Pooh Corner and Winnie-the-Pooh over and over and found that they sent me into a dreamlike, contemplative state and satisfied my need to read without stimulation. After I’d read them each about a dozen times I turned to the Narnia books and these have kept me going ever since. You’d think I’d get bored but I don’t because it’s not about what happens so much as entering a new and eternally fascinating world, and this has an entirely different effect on the brain from reading an ordinary grown-up novel. Those novels are wide-awake but in Narnia you seem to dream.

I have other techniques for when I’m awake in the night: rewinding the day is one (describing to myself the events of the day in reverse order) or counting backwards from 300 or putting my hands in shakti mudra or asking my subconscious to put it all in a dream instead of keeping me awake – a bit like asking your secretary to put all their ideas in an email. There’s no doubt that as a people we are overstimulated; turning off the TV half an hour before bed is a good thing (not that I usually do) practising meditation or visualisation is another, and I’ve gone back to this after a Holiday Hiatus.

So that’s me. How have you been?

Kirk out

Visualise Your Way to a Better Life

I’ve been doing a bit of the old self-help lately, dipping in to Paul McKenna’s books and using his hypnosis CD, and I’ve found the exercises very useful.  I’ve long been convinced by the power of visualisation to change your reality (I’ll give you some examples in a minute) but these exercises go further, using the techniques of Neuro-Linguistic Programming to help neutralise negative thoughts and emotions.  I’m not exactly clear what NLP is but according to this site it’s about finding a better way to communicate with your subconscious in order to get what you want.  Sounds good to me.

This entirely accords with the practice of yoga visualisation and affirmation.  In yoga you change your thoughts by cultivating more positive ones; not by suppressing or denying the negative but simply by focussing more and more on the positive.  As McKenna says, ‘You always get more of what you focus on.’  That is why people who focus on the negative all the time are never happy: even when good things happen they are still focussing on the down-side (much like the news media.)  In yoga we also use affirmations to cultivate positive thoughts and experiences.  It is very important when creating an affirmation, to avoid negative words.  So for example, instead of saying ‘I don’t smoke’ or even ‘I am a non-smoker’ you would substitute ‘I am free from smoking.’  Come to think of it, advertisers do the same thing: whoever came up with the suffix –free must be rolling in it.

So: one or two examples from my own life where visualisations have helped me.  Before Christmas I was thinking of getting OH a radio.  OH is notoriously difficult to buy presents for: unless you go for something related to drinking coffee (and those options were exhausted long ago) you’re pretty much stumped.  Last year I got what I thought was an interesting couple of books which have languished unread on the bedside table.  But this year a radio was the clear choice: the one in the kitchen, being smothered in cooking oil and penetrated by steam, had ceased to provide anything like a clear signal and besides, I had seen the perfect thing in an electronics shop up the road: a great radio with the added righteous glow of supporting a local shop.  Just one problem: the radio cost £80 and I only had £30.

Not to worry: McKenna to the rescue!  For I had acquired his book by this time and was already practising the NLP exercises, so I set about visualising the radio.  There were times when doubts would kick in and I would think about getting a cheaper one, but I had my heart set on that radio and so I oriented all my thoughts towards it too.  Christmas was getting closer, but I wouldn’t give up.  Then, with only three days to go, we got some Christmas money in lieu of presents.  Was it enough for the radio?  Hell, yes!  Did I bomb down to the shop and get it?  Hell yes.  And is it a success?  It really is.

Of course the other side to all this is appreciating what you have when you have it, but I’ve already blogged about that here.

I can’t tell you what my current visualisations are aimed at but it’s big.  Really big.  Because as Thoreau says, you should build your castles in the air where they belong; then you build the foundations under them.

Kirk out

New Year, Old You

This time of year the blogosphere bursts with projects, projections, plans, aims and objectives.  Weight will be lost.  Fitness regimes will be instantiated.  Old hobbies will be pursued and new ones taken up.  Ambitions will begin to be realised.  And so forth.  I don’t generally make new year’s resolutions but I do like to make plans for the year which embody a vision of where I want to go.  I don’t feel the need to start a fitness regime because I already do yoga – though more walking couldn’t hurt, so I’ve done a bit of that.

I find walking on my own a very contemplative activity, particularly if it takes me away from my usual environment.  Hence I went for a drive the other day with only the vaguest idea of where I would end up; and where I ended up was Cropston village at the top of the reservoir.  Knowing that the reservoir backs onto Bradgate Park, I formed a scheme: I would walk down to the park and all the way round its perimeter.  Which I did; this being a walk of about six miles all told.  Then yesterday morning, inspired by OH’s new regime which is to go for a run every day at six am (yes, I know) I drove up to Beacon Hill and went for a short but very brisk, cold walk before Quaker meeting.

But the main part of my vision is of course writing; and so I’ve formulated plans for the year involving where I want to be in December and working back from there.  I found a really good idea in Paul McKenna’s book ‘I Can Make You Rich’ which I mentioned a few weeks ago in which he uses visualisations to create a picture of the future.

First on one side you draw a big picture (either on paper or in  your mind) of where you want to be at the end of the year.  On the other side you draw a much smaller picture illustrating where you are now.  Then in between you create pictures which get larger each time creating a timeline between now and the future and illustrating your progress.  I’ve found these to be very powerful.

My aims for this year are to publish (or have accepted) a full-length work; either a novel or a collection of poetry, and to get an agent.  To this end I will send off one thing every month and I will find out the best way to approach agents.  And as far as this blog’s concerned, I’m aiming for 1000 readers.  I know it’s been a bit quiet over Christmas but that’s only to be expected, but we’re back now.  And don’t forget that my 500th follower will receive a FREE volume of my poetry.

So if you’ve enjoyed this blog, tell others.  If you haven’t, tell me (but tell me nicely please.)  And let me know how you’re getting on with your writing projects.

Happy New Year!

Kirk out