Mental health has been on my mind lately. Literally. Don’t ask me to verify these figures but I am told we have between 12000 and 50000 thoughts in a day. Is that 34 thoughts in a minute? Someone should check my maths. Apparently, 80% of those thoughts can be negative.
I studied a little bit of psychology at uni way back in the 1980s when self-actualisation seemed to be all the rage. A couple of months ago I realised I had subconsciously internalised the idea of self-actualization and it had influenced my state of mind.
Basically, self-actualization means the drive to reach your full potential. I understood this to mean life is a journey and that I would learn about myself and others on my journey. I would become a better stronger person, self-fulfilled and self-aware. Nowadays it sounds a bit self-indulgent.
In essence, though, it is a psychological theory (and practice?) that is about potential rather than what goes wrong. It is optimistic.
I have written about how important yoga is in my life and to my writing. It seems that whatever rocky thing I am going through a yoga class will give me a new lens, or it will remind me of a lens I have forgotten. It helps me on my life journey.
In particular, I am a little obsessed with mindfulness which is tied closely to yoga practice. There is a misconception that mindfulness means thinking happy thoughts. It is more complicated.
I want to share four myths with you. They do not come from my mind. I am paraphrasing from The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris.
Myth number 1 – Happiness is a natural state for human beings. Everyone is happy.
Myth number 2 – If we aren’t happy there is something wrong with us.
Myth number 3 – To be happy we just have to get rid of our negative feelings and thoughts.
Myth number 4. We should be able to control what we think and feel. That is, get rid of negative feelings and thoughts.
The truth is (now I am paraphrasing Buddhism’s First Noble Truth!) we all suffer. Life is suffering. Alternatively, I could quote former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser – “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” He was paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw
“Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.
Okay, I know this post is meandering a little. Or a lot. I am prone to 34 thoughts every minute and these ones are not organising themselves.
For me, mindfulness is not about substituting unhappy thoughts with happy thoughts. If I try and push away anxiety or worry or sadness I am denying the truth – which is that anxiety and worry and sadness exist. It’s like going on a diet. As soon as you are not allowed cake you will obsess about cake.
Mindfulness is about being present. My challenge is to allow discomfort – to be present with it without it consuming me and turning into a black dog of depression. I don’t have answers. I only have the joy of a dog welcoming me home, the anxiety of not feeling good enough, the taste of strawberries and the sadness of loss. I am all of those things. I can’t just be the good and easy things. In fact, I value the joy because I know the contrast of the sadness.
Everyone’s journey will be different. It is our responsibility to have care and compassion for both ourselves and others on the journey. I think that is what the theory of self-actualization is missing.
Meanwhile, I will be at Oz ComicCon on Sunday, hopefully making some sense when I am on a panel with other people I fear will be smarter and more articulate than me! (I am allowing myself to sit with that anxiety and using that discomfort to call me to the action of pre-preparing…) Our panel “An Artist’s Guide to Mental Health and Wellbeing” will be on Sunday at 11am on the Brisbane Toys R Us stage.
We will end our panel with our best tip for good mental health. What is your tip for good mental health? I know sleep is one of mine!