Highlights; Space!

Some highlights from the last month or so:

  • Seeing Phil Cook live at The Parkway Theater. This was one of the best musical events I’ve been to in recent memory. He played pieces from his recent album “All These Years”. If you haven’t heard it, I highly recommend it. It’s just sublime.

  • Watching the ice slowly melt on our street. Seriously, at its peak this year it was probably three or four inches of solid ice. But not everywhere. It was like traversing a slippery mountainscape. Several days above freezing, with some sunshine to boot, and it is now mostly flat. It reminds me of how wonderful it’s going to be seeing all this ice melt as spring comes.

  • Watching the fascinating—albeit depressing—documentary, “Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet”. Al and I had a long conversation afterwards about what Earth is going to look like in the near or distant future. My guess is that things won’t change fast enough until they get really, really bad. That’s how humans tend to be: we’re not great at preventative action. We usually would rather wait until something is very obviously wrong, panic about it, then take drastic and sometimes ineffectual action. This could look something like: the ice caps melt, the planet gets really hot, large areas are uninhabitable; people panic, starting wars for resources and habitable space; we, along with many animals and plants, die in large numbers due to all these factors; we end up living in small habitable zones throughout the planet, while it goes through a maybe millennia-long healing period to deal with the fallout from our current age. During that time, people would probably be finally living sustainably, because they would have no other choice. Obviously, I hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s looking likely.

Well, I’m continuing this blog post a couple of days after starting… And now we’re in a snowstorm! “Historic” and “epic” are words being used to describe it. Right now it looks quite beautiful.

Sometime in the last month I was getting stressed—as I am wont to do—and right at the peak of my mental race-running I went on a walk down to the riverside by where we live. I had the realisation that I am designed, through nurture or nature, to always be striving to achieve. It goes way back to my childhood and upbringing; a good day is a productive day. A relaxing activity is a relaxing activity. This motivation to do things can be corrupted into tail-chasing activities like video gaming, cleaning up folders on the computer, obsessing over something or other. The same system that propels me to be productive also compels me to try and achieve things all the time, even if they’re imaginary, like in games. This also seems to set my mind racing all the time with things I will do in future. So if it’s not doing something now, it’s planning something for later. It’s like a wheel that keeps on spinning. It has good intentions, but it doesn’t know when to quit.

Part of understanding this was reading about addiction. Some of my relatives have struggled with this, and I’ve seen it quite close up at various occasions, and felt its echoes in my own self. The most amazing thing I read was that addiction corrupts our sense of motivation. It’s not strictly an illness, in the sense of a malfunction. It’s more like our brains and bodies are doing what they think is right, but in doing so, create a system that is very, very harmful to us. I read that in our brain when we begin addiction, new neurons are created, and old ones pruned away, to create as efficient a path as possible to attain the object of the addiction. You become fixated, obsessed, and any alternative path becomes less and less available to you as your brain streamlines your entire motivation mechanism to focus on obtaining the thing you desire.
In reading this, I recognised that this motivation system is strong in me. I can be intensely focussed on one thing, obsessive even. It’s been a beneficial system for me with some things—learning the guitar, songwriting, mixing, learning things in general, working hard, getting things done, cleaning up, doing dishes, etc., etc. But it’s clear to me that that same system is what gets me into trouble with things that aren’t so useful, in fact even detrimental. What if the thing you’re chasing is harmful to you, and you don’t even know it? It feels good when you do it—a lot of things do. I read somewhere that all pleasure registers the same in the brain.

All this came as something of a download while on this walk. So I, at this point talking out loud to myself, came up with a way out. I repeated a phrase to myself, which I have kept repeating, in order to remind my whole being to switch the wheel off. “I don’t need to do anything; I don’t need to go anywhere, because I can’t. All I need to do is create space”. This is nice because it still gives my body/being a task: to create space. I can almost feel the little conductor inside me going “erm… right, OK lads. New orders from the top… Err, create… space? Yup, that does say space. Space? Hmmm… OK. So… Right. You heard me, space!” And then a wash of letting go comes over me. It’s very enjoyable.