Meditation has brought me to realize, yet again, the rampant, automatic nature of my monkey-mind; that my mental radio is locked on the rumination station. I have been paying extra attention this time, deliberately trying to increase those periods of self-awareness in which I adopt what, in the wonderful world of writing, is referred to as the third person perspective, and what in meditation specifically is referred to as observing, witnessing or witness consciousness. I have come to do this not only for the 21 minutes I sit following the breath every night but frequently during the workday as well, all in the attempts to identify and categorize the shit arising in my mental space.
I also came upon some notes recently which I made during my previous period of mindfulness meditation in which I noted some mental patterns that have thus far escaped my awareness this time around.
Let’s begin with my Radiohead Syndrome, which is to say the presence of this ongoing and frequently disappointing soundtrack to my life. Two or three weeks ago, I listed at least a short list of the songs that echoed in my head during a two-day period. On Sunday, I noted that I at first replayed Sleep Apnea by Chevelle, from their SciFi Crimes album, then the Twelve Days of Christmas, and finally Go With the Flow, by Queens of the Stone Age. The next day I catalogued the song, George of the Jungle, and then Letters from a Thief, another song from Chevelle’s aforementioned album.
Though I had been listening to Chevelle on Spotify through my phone as I cleaned dining room during the last hour of my shift, it wasn’t always the last song that I heard which got stuck on loop in my mind the next day. It could also be triggered by something I saw or heard. One day recently, for instance, I remember having seen a plush Winnie the Pooh doll on the shelf in the break room and as aware as I was, try as I might, I could not, for the life of me, get the Winnie the Pooh song out of my head for a good portion of my shift.
Imagining myself being interviewed (as an artist, writer, musician or for reasons unspecified) has for long been my default scenario for depicting inner dialogue. It seems I do this for self-reflecting purposes and self-analysis. It is significantly different when it comes to what I call my Narratives of Justification, however, where I imagine the dumbest scenarios, such as explaining to someone why I put things in particular places or positions on the shelves while doing stock, talking in a similar fashion to cops who I imagine pulling me over, to my landlady as to why rent is late, or talking to cops that end up at my apartment door because someone smelled me smoking weed.
Other spontaneous daydreams involve fictional scenarios in which I rescue or save people, as in during a hold up in the restaurant in which I work, or when a customer grabs a hold of the arm of a girl on front counter. In any case, I cast myself in the role of either defending people or calming them, sometimes both.
On other occasions I find myself taking an imaginary guilt trip, doing something that inadvertently harms or even kills someone else. I hit a dog, a child, or an adult with my car, as an easy example. If I am unharmed or crippled as well, they suffer greater damage, typically death.
Another form of catastrophizing I engage in is imagining my own death. I am only torn apart by the reactions of others — either their grief or the lack of effect my corporeal departure had on them — not in reference to my own state.
Consistently I have found myself looking back on the present moment from some imagined point in the future, viewing the present as past, the now as later. As one example I documented some time ago, I was sitting at my computer desk, putting on my shoes to go do some errands, running through what I was to do in my mind. I started damning myself for being too lazy to add getting quarters to do laundry to the list — as if I had already gone out, not gotten them, and came back despite the fact that I had yet to leave.
More frequent is my imaginary fighting or arguing — with my mother, my boss, old friends, the fucking prep lady. Even imaginary people in totally fictitious scenarios. I get pissed off about arguments I never even had and I notice it primes me, at times, to have such arguments in real life, or bitch about those people in the attempts to blow off steam and circumvent such confrontations. This is clearly a waste of energy and it just makes my life more miserable.
Then there are the flashback bitchslaps: sudden, intrusive memories of high emotional intensity. These are of events which I feel — perhaps at the time, but surely in retrospect — made me appear stupid, inauthentic or pretentious in others’ eyes. Or the episode may have dealt with me having hurt someone. This may have been done intentionally, albeit while in the grips of consuming rage, or I may have only realized I had unintentionally done so out of ignorance or insensitivity just after it occurred. Far worse, I may only come to realize, or in the very least suspect, that I unintentionally hurt them only in retrospect, when the flashback hits me. Instead, I may realize that I had plagiarized someone else, which makes me feel phony, or that it at least had likely seemed that way to the other person.
The flashbacks in question may have been of events that happened earlier in the day, but may also be incidents that transpired weeks, months, or even a shocking number of years ago. In any case, in toto these flashback bitchslaps deal with me doing or saying something that I fear inspires others to perceive me in a way I find unfavorable.
I immediately, automatically and aggressively try and swallow it down in my mind by beating myself up inside through guilt, shame, embarrassment and anxiety in tandem with automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) in the more traditionally-conceived sense of internal dialogue — “judgements” might be a good label for them. So far in my personal notes, my personal judgments include the following phrases:
I’m such a turd.
I’m such a fucking asshole.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
Why do you get like that?
At some point years ago I began engaging in “thought-stopping”: things you say in response to the negative thoughts, emotions, memories and fantasies that arise automatically in your mind. I often find myself saying it aloud, as if in an attempt to talk over the noise in my head as I cringe inside:
Who the fuck knows?
I don’t fucking know.
I don’t even care.
I don’t give a shit.
I don’t even understand.
Oh, shut the fuck up.
Fuck that shit.
As a consequence, thought-stoppers like those listed above have become automatic as well — which is unfortunate, as thought-stopping not only fails to work but exacerbates the issue, leading to what is known as thought rebound. Pushing thoughts away is no more effective than clinging into them. Where attention goes, energy flows, but also: what you resist, persists.