Saturday, August 23, 2014

The All Consuming

I've known people who have told me that they possess a "stillness" of mind. They say they can sit and just "be," without a constant yammering and clamoring from their own thoughts. I'm not such a person, though I envy those who are.

Thoughts surge constantly through my head. They careen this way and that. They roil in eddies and rush in cataracts over tumbling rocks. Many of them are anxious thoughts, worried thoughts. This is one reason I used to drink. Alcohol would shut at least some of the thoughts down.

Don't get me wrong. I like thinking. I just wish many times that I could keep my thoughts on task, that I could wield them like a hammer instead of having them act more like a spill of thumbtacks.

There are times when my thoughts do flow the way I want them. It happens if I'm reading a really good book, or watching a really good movie. I've noticed in the last few years that it happens when I get involved in playing a video game. My mind starts making dozens of decisions a minute but they are all focused, all flowing in the same direction.

It also happens when I'm writing. At least sometimes. I've come to realize that when I say, at the end of the day, "the writing went well," it's because I achieved that flow. My focus had narrowed, had become sharpened onto one primary topic, the creation of a scene. This state of flow is very pleasant to me. The worries go away. The focus becomes purely on the now, the moment of creation or involvement. I call it, "The All Consuming."

I've also realized lately that this has always been a thing with me. There's a story in my Micro Weird collection actually called "Thought Flow." It almost perfectly illustrates my point. And it was one of the first ten stories I ever wrote.

How about you? Do you possess stillness of mind, or do your thoughts run more like mine? And what do you think of "The All Consuming?" Do you experience it? Do you like it?
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25 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I probably achieve that more when I'm playing my guitar than when I'm writing. I can zero out my thoughts though. I can be driving in silence and my wife asks what I'm thinking about and I tell her absolutely nothing - and it's the truth.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, thanks for a thought-provoking post. Although I meditate regularly, I don't experience "stillness of mind" as easily as when I'm occupied with a mundane activity like reading or writing or even going through my stack of books and putting them in order. I also find it easier to stay focused, on the road ahead, while driving—I'm in the moment behind the wheel. It relieves stress for me.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I didn't read Alex's comment above but it's funny that he should feel the same way. Maybe, it's a universal thing.

Brian Miller said...

mine is generally chaos...ha....but i def know the flow..and i know when i have it...and i know when i dont...

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, I almost never have the zero thought experience.

Prashant, being in the moment is definitely a stress relief.

Brian, chaos, I know you well.

Angie said...

I'm more like you. In fact, "racing thoughts" is part of the bipolar diagnosis. :P But like you I can focus, sometimes. If it happens when I'm writing, when everything just flows, that's awesome. And I usually feel like the stories I write that way are better than the ones that come all start-stop with my thoughts bopping all over the place. Although you can't prove it by sales, so what do I know? :)

Angie

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I don't envy the ones who do not have clamoring thoughts... even a little bit. I only stop short of complete chaos. :)

sage said...

My mind is always running as much as I try to still it

Riot Kitty said...

They go on all the time. Even when I sleep.

Hootin' Howlin' Hephzibah! said...

Charles, I would love to learn how to tap into "The All Consuming" more often. Unless I'm reading a really good book, writing, or listening to a good book while making art, designing, or dancing, my mind bounces all over the place and is flooded with ideas, most of which never get done. Having a severe case of hyperactive-inattentive ADHD makes consistent concentration throughout the day a challenge. The six months I was on Adderall, many years ago, was the only time I ever remember being able think in a linear fashion and stay focused for long enough periods of time to be really productive. It's incredibly frustrating. Squirrel!

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, I sometimes find that even stories that came in fits and stops can be salvaged by a final rewrite in which all the flow is there.

Bernard, at this point in my life I think having a stillness of mind would freak me out and I'd think I was dying.

Sage, not stillness for the unstilled.

Riot Kitty, yes, I know it well.

Hootin', I think it's why I gravitate toward activities that consume me. Then I feel in control.

Erik Donald France said...

Definitely. I've also heard something of the kind referred to as "The rapture of the deep."

Ty Johnston said...

I rarely have stillness of mind. My thoughts seem to race far too often. It's a real pain when trying to go to sleep, though I've a few mental techniques that help a little.

As for "The All Consuming," I have experienced it, but for some reason I have found it less and less the older I get, especially with reading and writing. I can still experience it occasionally with music, and sometimes even with a movie or TV, but not often. I'm not sure if it's me or entertainment today or a little of both, but rarely does today's media consume my zen the way it more often did when I was younger.

the walking man said...

No shit. My mind is absolutely quiet unless I wake it or set my eyes upon something that bring me to a thought. I do not dream either. The first thing i remember in the morning (no matter what time it is usually around 2 am) is that I was awake and now I am awake again. Sleep is deep blackness, no dream or vision.

The thing of it is though it took years to stop the onslaught of thoughts, worries, fears, doubt, tactics, plans. I wanted to hear the voice of the creator. and only in complete quiet can I be certain with whom I am talking.

I don't remember when my sleep became what it is now, but I used to hear voices, conversational in tone. I'd wake remembering the last words spoken, but now I sleep and I wake, very few times of waking are that fuzzy what day or time is it, just alert.

I don't think you'd like it very much Charles for you derive much of your creativity from the chaos. Where as I derive mine from the quiet.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, that's a good phrase for it. rapture indeed.

Ty, I've had that experience too, of getting older and experiencing the all consuming less. I think part of it is the pace of modern life and all the distractions. Part of it is that we've seen a lot and so when reading or watching TV we pigeonhole new things into already established categories and then that frees our mind up to leap somewhere else.

Mark, yes, I think as I've gotten older I've come to appreciate the chaos of my thoughts more. I can make use of it. And to be truthful, they don't race quite as much now as they used to

Ron Scheer said...

For me, as a cancer patient, mental stillness and calm are believed to have a physiological benefit, so I have learned to practice daily meditation. My thoughts, of course, continue with memories, plans, etc., and to manage them I try to label them as "already past," "not yet," or "not now," to temporarily remove them from awareness and get back to mental quiet--which may last for only a few seconds.

Flow, when it happens, is magical--a form of deep, uninterrupted concentration--in some ways out of time and space. I've seen it defined as "a relationship of continuous giving and receiving between you and the task."

Oscar said...

At times my thoughts go from linear to circular and I'm right back where I started from. I like the feeling of being in the groove so to speak.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ron, I like the description of the giving and receiving between the person and the task. I believe I can agree with that.

Oscar, I recognize my circular reasoning. Most times I can short circuit it after I realize but sometimes it is very hard.

Sarah Hina said...

A spill of thumbtacks--yes, exactly.

I get The All Consuming, but it's kind of a double-edged sword. It's so rare and transcendent that even when it's happening, a part of me's hanging outside, thinking, "Why can't this happen all the time?" And "When's it going to end?"

Figures!

Charles Gramlich said...

Sarah, that sounds like me too, the little nagging voice going, "is this real?"

jodi said...

Charles-that kind of thought wears me out! I have learned to shut off most thoughts thru yoga. I hate to have my thoughts control me, and letting my brain rest is helpful. It seems to work for you, tho!

goatman said...

To actively defeat the thoughts seems to defeat the purpose of the exercise. Better, seems to me is to watch them flow from a distance without reaction.
Also is the exercise where concentration on a candle light, guitar notes, gardening project, etc has the effect of being able to stem the flow of the "monkey mind".
Takes time.

Chris said...

A Cimmerian friend of mine once said, "Time for stillness of mind in the grave...."

Or something like that, anyway.

Snowbrush said...

I'm like you about writing but not about alcohol. As for other times, I've found that Cymbalta makes my mine race, and thast makes it hard for it to race in any given track. It also makes me fidgety. I keep trying to accommodate myself to all this because the drug reduces my pain. Without the drug, I'm probably less that way than you, so the drug has taught me what a drag it is.

ivan said...

Stillnes of mind.

...Could not have achieved anything were it not for the furies. Like you, torn this way nd that.
I guess "This Budd is not for you?"