The London Review of Books had a short piece on new year resolutions and self-help guides.
The article mentions Pico Iyer’s book The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, which is about productive idleness. In this season traditionally of resolutions, diets, plans and sign-ups, the emerging counter creed urges that people do nothing at all.
Iyer suggests happiness comes by stopping yourself thinking; at least some of the time. On an airplane flight he decides not to turn on his laptop, or read anything, to find that ‘When I awoke the next morning… I felt as new as the world I looked out upon.’ He cites a stillness programme helping war veterans to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder. At Google, staff are offered assisted meditation that results in ‘clearer thinking and better health.’
I get the thing about not thinking. But I’m doubtful about the possibility of stillness. It is clear enough that too much thinking over recent months has only made things more complicated for me, me, me. I was supposed to be sorting stuff out, for a possible tilt at a new relationship. But too much of the examined life might have tipped me over the edge….
|crazy as a coconut|
And I don’t think that being insane is a good starting place for a new relationship.
Would it have been better to have got straight back in there last winter? It feels all I’ve achieved during my much vaunted waiting period, is to prove once again my ability to think myself into a state. It’s an unwelcome attribute. Sometimes I urge myself to just stop thinking: Stop. Thinking. Now. Play some music, read a book, listen to a podcast.
So, I listened to Serial. There’s an episode where a forensic psychologist outlines the mental processes that can lead someone to kill.
The psychologist tries to explain the difficulty in trying to pin down when a killing becomes premeditated murder, rather than unplanned manslaughter. For example, a perpetrator spends time thinking bad things about another. Often they wish these negative thoughts gone; and the person who’s the object of such thoughts gone too. They get fixed into a mindset, they focus on resentments, the sense of injustice grows. As does the belief that it would be better if the other person left their neighbourhood, city, life entirely. The next misstep is that during this period of surging disgruntlement for some reason or other the two people meet. At this point the perpetrator still has no homicidal intentions. But at the meeting they have an argument and the person is killed.
Now, I’m not suggesting I need to keep away from Vela, because otherwise someone might die. I’m really not. I know I won’t jump off the balcony at the theatre. I know that similarly extreme acts are out of my reach.
|an American sniper|
I listened carefully to what the forensic psychologist said, because I’ve always been fascinated with how people come to kill others – soldiers, gangsters and psychopaths apart – and I was struck by the lucid plausibilty of his explanation.
We are all on a spectrum. But that also there is a line that some cross when under pressure, where they find the outside world and all of its messages pointed and acutely personal. You just broke up and you go into a shop, and the radio’s playing a song that previously you found bland and sappy. But now it seems profoundly insightful about love and loss, but also highly pertinent to your lovelorn situation, as if almost programmed to come on as you walked through the shop door.
And that’s what I thought about listening to Serial – that I could relate to Adnan Syed thinking obsessively about Hae Min Lee for a while post break-up. I don’t know if you call it coincidence, cultural schizophrenia, or just pure self-absorption, but when you’re finding meaning about your current emotional predicament in a non-fiction examination of a 15-year-old murder in Baltimore, well, to me this is a sign that you need to come up with some new things to obsess about…
So, I re-state, that the only way to stop the endless chatter in my brain is to meet someone new.
Would you go out with me?