Earlier I wrote a blog “living in our heads”. The topic of this blog is related to it.
When I was in my first job as a psychologist I suffered from a lot of tension, sleeping problems and some depressive symptoms. I was very much living in my head and I was aware of it. To find a solution I was thinking about how to get out of my head, but that only made it worse.
Many people in the Western world are living in their heads. Thinking, rationalizing. And in that way losing the connection with their bodies. All day we are thinking and we have to be effective. If we have some spare minutes, rapidly we consider what to do. By the time we reach home, how often do we only want to lie down on the couch and watch television? Without energy to do anything else? I experienced exactly this during my first job. And this is how a burn out starts: we lose the balance between thinking, doing, feeling and being.
A tumble doll has a big base that makes it stable It won’t fall. It can resist some shocks. At the end it will be centered again, back to it’s base. Living in your head is the opposite. It’s like a pyramid turned upside down. There is no base to go back to and that makes us unstable. It gets worse if we try to solutionate this problem by thinking, as the head and the thinking part will even increase and cause more instability.
In the meantime you know that I like to make a bridge to developing countries. What I saw in Uganda were more centered people. They are very much grounded and don’t overthink as much as we do here.There is more space for creativity and spontanity. And in the end, everything seems to work out as well, with a lot less experienced stress.
Some weeks ago I spoke to a Haptonomist “Beate Langemeijer”. Haptonomy litterary means “the science of feeling”. As I was telling her about my experiences in Uganda and my theory, she pulled out a tumble doll! It had quite long arms and she demonstrated how the tumble doll, upside down (on its head), was able to prevent falling by using the arms. However, to maintain its stability costs the tumble doll a lot of energy.
Than what is the solution? There is nothing wrong with thinking, as long as it doesn’t start taking over from you. Mindfulness practice can be a way to become more aware of the automaticity of thinking and being more aware of thinking patters that are repeated. Mindfulness helps to switch between the doing mode (that includes ruminative thinking) and the being mode. By focussing on the breath, one can widen it’s experience and “the wisdom” of ones body will often be more effective in finding a solution than our ruminative mind.
However, in Uganda I haven’t seen one person meditating and still the Ugandans seem to be very centered and stable people. What is the secret? I think the balance between thinking, doing, feeling and being is kept because the work of people mainly consists of practical activities. Instead of a lot of abstract reasoning. Secondly, people take it “pole pole” what means “slowly”, one step at a time, which creates more present awareness, instead of rusthing things as if it were a ratrace. Then thirdly, the feeling part is much more integrated in daily life of the Ugandans that is surrounded by music and dancing. Than last, but not least, even though meditation hardly plays a role in Uganda, there is a lot of spirituallity in the form of religion.
So now, what can we do here in the West to remain or become tumble dolls instead of living in our heads like pyramids turned upside down:
- Doing sports once or twice a week can help to strenghten the “doing” part. If you don’t like to do sports, this could also be going for a walk every now and than. Try to be aware of your movements and the surrounding while sporting. How does your body feel? What do you see? What do you hear? And smell? This helps you to be in the present instead of overthinking your next activities and by that being in your head again.If you want help in being present while moving, than you may find it usefull to participate in a yoga class.
- Meditate every day. This doesn’t need to be very long. You could set an alarm for 5 – 10 minutes (for example by using the app insight timer) and focus on your breath. You will notice that you get distracted by thoughts, sounds or emotions every now and than. This doesn’t mean that you are failing. Being distracted during the meditation is very normal and even a part of the meditation practice. Every time that you got distracted you kindly bring your focus back towards the breath. Other moments that might be a chance to meditate if you lack time are while you are in the cue (either in the supermarket or on the Phone), going to the toilet or while you are in a boring meeting.
- Bring rest in your daily activities by doing one activity at the time. Set realistic goals instead of aiming to high and never being able to complete.
- If you have problems to feel you might want to try haptonomy yourself.