Pink Floyd had it so right, when they sang “The lunatic is in my head” in the iconic song “Brain damage”!
Do you have a lunatic in your head, how many lunatics are in your head? Just the one, or sometimes maybe more.
It seems to be a very thin line between the voices that chunter away in the back of your mind and what we are popularly told Schizophrenia is like. Being lucky enough to have not suffered this mental challenge, I can only say what I see portrayed on our screens, rather than the reality of having actually been inside it. I’m not sure there are many cases of people who have come back from the other side of Schizophrenia to tell the tale.
I’ve studied a little into “Parts Therapy”. This is a variation on Hypnotherapy, a tool that can be deployed when the client is already in a deep trance state. The idea is to ask what “part” of the client is supporting an “undesirable” habit, and then ask what “part” of the client wants to make a change, and why?
In this very suggestible state, the client is usually happy to “role-play” their internal problem externally for the therapist.
Picture the scenario:-
Therapist:- Would the part of Jeremy that wants to quit smoking please speak up, and give itself a name?
Jeremy:- Hi, my name is Smokey, and I know why Jeremy like to smoke so much!
Therapist:- Smokey, tell me why Jeremy is such an avid smoker?
Smokey:- Jeremy finds that whenever he gets stressed, bla, bla bla – you get the idea!
Therapist:- Which part of Jeremy will speak up for stopping smoking?
Jeremy:- Hi my name is Angel, and I’m her to help Jeremy stop this habit!
As so the conversation goes. It’s the Therapist’s job to negotiate a settlement that works “how about we agree that Jeremy will only smoke 3 cigarettes per evening, after dinner?” Then there’s a whole consolidation and closing process, that then takes hold of the client, and helps resolve the issue.
It takes advantage of the fact that we have a myriad of personas living inside our heads.
When you go to work, you slip into “work-mode” – you might be snappy, efficient and a little sharp-tongued. When you come home, your wife will never put up with that, so you become model husband, caring, helpful and quiet. With the children, you can put on your mask of playfulness, and allow yourself to be a child with your children, something unthinkable in the workplace.
We have our professional fronts, Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, we have our social projections, ‘Mister Loverman’, football fan, party animal, we have so many different modes that sometimes it’s difficult to switch between them! Did you ever humiliate yourself at school by calling your teacher Mum!?
Then there’s the person who’s so deeply identified with the persona that they have built, that it’s no longer possible for them to NOT be that person.
Imagine the surgeon, who now has the power of life over death with every operation, who lives for his work, who travels world-wide, telling others about his skilful interventions, until he’s no longer able to stop talking about what he does. He becomes so deeply wrapped in his own story, there’s no escape.
Where does the line between obsession and madness lie? We often see the tip from one to the other portrayed in films and plays, because we understand it. It fascinates us, and often we quietly wonder if we too could tip over into that free-fall…
So, who are the lunatics?
One of the clues was provided for me by one of my excellent students.
we were on a retreat, and starting to work with the Do Nothing Meditation.
Let’s take a quick side loop and check that idea. So often the techniques we are taught for stilling the mind are Do Something Meditations, this was a Do Nothing Meditation.
Why bother to still the mind at all!? We discover that Meditation in both it’s Do Nothing and it’s Do Something forms, work to ‘exercise’ and expand the brain and its functions. (in different areas and ways..) There’s so many well researched benefits beyond that, to do with decreased Depression, lowered Anxiety and reduction of Stress.
The more common variety of Do Something Meditation comes in many different forms, from gazing at a candle, to repeating a mantra or some sort of guided visualisation, there are many different paths to choose.
The Do Nothing meditation, is pretty much that. Just Do Nothing! (It’s much harder than it sounds!)
It’s about standing back, becoming the Observer of the voices inside you head and NOT getting caught up in them. Recognising them, but not attaching to them. The Pictures that flash by, the scenes that play, the stories or voices that can loop again and again, if you don’t attach to them, they eventually fade.
The process is pretty standard, but as I mentioned, not necessarily simple! I was given the insight by a student who said. “I found it very busy in my Monkey Mind for a while, so rather than get upset about it, I tried to classify where all these thoughts were coming from!”
I found this a very interesting approach. We have the idea, that when we start a course of Meditation, that we will just sit down, and get started. What rarely gets explained to us is that one can fail repeatedly before one succeeds, and that the process takes lots of time to get good at; but as always, Practice, Practice, Practice!
The actual meditation process has been classified into four parts. Firstly, you experience the Storm, the noise, the chaos! This is followed (if you hang in long enough – in my experience over 20 minutes when you first start..) by the Surrender phase.. usually presaged by the thought “Oh, I’ve really had enough of this!!” and then you often start to slip into stage three.
The Third stage is why we started in the first place – The Zone! This is the quiet still spot that moves us from The Sympathetic Nervous System to the Para-Sympathetic Nervous System. This is moving from stress into calm, from using resources to storing them, and most importantly into healing mode. Think of the long summer afternoon, as a child, colouring a huge drawing, time spilling left and right, not a care in the world – no time, no space… this is the Zone.
Inevitably at some stage (we’ll crash out of this blissful place, and realise we are back in “reality” whatever the hell that might be!) This is Stage Four, called Recovery. In the recovery stage, we gather ourselves, and decide if we are going to loop round again, or finish there.
So, it’s great to know that the first stage can be really bumpy and unproductive! My student decided that if he was going to have to sit and go through all this noise, perhaps he’d try pigeon-holing some of the thoughts! (Bad student, you are supposed to be Doing Nothing!! – Good Student, because there are 100 ways to the top of every mountain, and please don’t take what I’m droning on about as gospel!! Always try to figure it out for yourself! Sometimes the Teacher is the blockage to your progress!)
One day when I was in a maelstrom of noise in my head, I decided to do as he’s done, and to catalogue who was actually speaking!!??
I’m one of life’s natural born optimists. This does also equate to spending lots of time planning for the future, and imagining amazing potential events! (What to do with the inevitable Lottery win etc..)
This part of me was in full swing that day! I happened to stroll in on a very vigorous session of the “Planning Department” I can’t remember exactly what was being debated in that particular chamber, but I remember the multitude of ideas expressed!
Shortly after that I noticed my Dad. It came as a shock to me to discover that my Dad was alive and well in my head, especially as he’d passed away some thirty years before that! He certainly had some very strong opinions that seemed to be colouring many of the thought processes!
I’m forced to answer the question “Do men think about sex all the time!?” – well, some reports from the 60’s suggested that men though about sex every 7 seconds, which could be up to 8,000 time per day!! That reminds me of cartoon characters, with their eyeballs out of stalks, tongues lolling out of their slavering jaws, and the sound of an old car claxon in the background “Ah-ooo-gah!”
More recent research suggests that 20 times per day is probably closer. Along with The Planning Department and Dad, was The Sex Department. (Their office is situated in the basement.)
There were more voices, you get the idea.
The Teacher, often chiding, sometimes informing. The Depressive – “I can’t do that!”
The Sensible One – “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” There are so many, with so many subtle variants, they are too many to list
And of course, somewhere hidden deep inside everybody, The Child.
Probably more accurately The Hurt Child. Sadly, without abused and physical damage, our inner child seems to get hurt come what may, it’s all just a question of degrees, and of how you decided to deal with it. Some people suffer the most horrific abuse and turn out to be able, fully functioning adults, some people’s childhoods are a bed of roses, but they still end up damaged beyond belief.
Healing your inner child is the best gift you’ll ever give yourself.
So, this litany of voices, all speaking at once. I decided to use a Venn Diagram! (That’s officially the first time I have ever used that since Mr Murray was brutally beating me – aged 9 for stupidity, and claiming that all of these things would be invaluable throughout my life!!)
So many of the thoughts overlapped each other, but I was able to see the core of each one, and boil it back to a set of just a few common “Root” issues. A very valuable discovery it made too. When you start to see where these things are growing from, it becomes easier to purge them. Get the root and pull it out!
This then is a useful process on the road to Do Nothing. It’s actually counter-intuitive, but it’s really Do Something (useful) to help Do Nothing better!
Maybe it’s time you audited the Lunatics in Your Head?