‘Thinking begets thinking…’

…is a quotation from Dickens’ masterpiece ‘Oliver Twist’.  I have spoken about unhelpful thoughts, rumination, as well as approaches such as Cognitive Behaviuoral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that seek to help us see our thinking patterns and habits anew.  Dickens’ words made me think of what it’s like on my bike.  Yeah, I know, a one track mind, right?  Just as one thought gives birth to another, so my ‘feet mechanical’ as Emily Dickinson famously put it, drive me in one direction.  If one thought really does give birth to the next what hope is there for us to re – evaluate, examine or contradict our unhelpful thought patterns?  Psychotherapy – ‘the talking treatment’ – examines the present, that’s for sure.  But it goes further back, too.  What Mindfulness, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy aim to do is coax the mind to do is acknowledge our feelings and thoughts, sure.  But it doesn’t stop there.  These two approaches share a common strand.  Once thoughts and feelings have been acknowledged, greeted, so to speak, the idea is to see them on their way by focusing the mind on something else, be it physical sensation such as breathing, or ‘helpful’ thinking, thoughts about where we want to go, what we want to achieve, and how to go about it.

Back in the dim days of the mid – 1980s when I was a student of the Dark Arts of Philosophy,  I read the work of that collosus of critical thinking, Bertrand Russell. These days I can barely recall a phrase or a proof that he articulated so lucidilly on every corner of Western Philosophy.  The phrase I can remember from this pacifist philosopher (he was jailed numerous times for his anti – war activities) was this: ‘people would rather die than think, and they quite often do.’ 

While thinking about our thoughts and feelings, understanding them better via a range of talking treatements, and approaches such as A.C.T. can be effective in helping us recovery our mental balance,so to speak, I have come to the conclusion that thinking is over -rated. 

In an earlier edition of this blog I wrote about what Dickens called ‘dry – rot in Man’.  He was talking about depression and insomnia.  There is a curious phenomena among some depressives (I count myself among them) some of us tend not to cry.  During my bleakest times in the mid – noughties I hardly shed a tear.  I slept, for sure.  I slept and slept and….

But I was as dry as shrivelled as a prune most of the time.  I think Dickens had it right when he described – through the mouth -piece of a buffoon in ‘Oliver Twist the benefits of tears thus: ‘It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens the temper,’ said Mr. Bumble, ‘so cry away’. 

Crying provides relief – it is a synergy of the emotions and the physical.  The jagged breathing, the heaving shoulders, the shuddering frame; the inability to speak.  Dickens describes it like this; as ‘a pleasing melancholy’.

In my experience there is a mingling of pleasure and despair in my mood swings; but I don’t want to think about that right now.

That’s for another time.

Like last week, there’s no one who puts it better than Larkin; so here it is again.


What are days for?

Days are where we live.

They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)


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