Managing our mental health is not only about developing a philosophical outlook: it is also about building habits of behaviour. In fact, the two go together. Changing our thoughts can eventually change our behaviour; but equally, changing our behaviour can have a significant effect on our thoughts.
When we are developing routines of behaviour, we do well to check that they are conducive to peace. Examples of the rather contradictory behaviours we undertake are:
using stimulants and depressants (alcohol, nicotine, etc), which have quite complicated effects on us
using light-based technology (phones, tabs, etc) at night time, which confuses our body clock
We lead messy lives, full of delusion in terms of cause and effect. We can counteract the confusion by becoming like scientists, and treating our daily life like a laboratory. This can lead to the re-examine of assumptions, and lead to positive change.
For example, we can pay more attention to how our different friends and contacts make us feel. On investigation, we may discover that certain people always leave us feeling agitated, and others always leave us feeling quite calm. We can pay attention to these feelings. We don’t need to ditch all the ones who agitate us – but by noticing how they make us feel, we put ourselves in better control of our own peace.
We can do the same with TV programmes – we can run down the TV menu, noticing how calm, or agitated the titles in the listing make us feel. And again with images – we can try finding a selection of ten pictures on google that make us feel peaceful.
It is not about excluding all stimulation from our lives – it is more about giving ourselves a chance to understand consciously what we are routinely exposing ourselves to.
THE SPEED TEST
We have a habit of doing things as fast as we can. When we are driving, we are tempted to drive right up to the speed limit. When we are using technology, we may find ourselves typing or pressing buttons as fast as the technology allows.
We can try choosing peaceful activities, and then removing the time pressure. We can give ourself ages to clean a pair of shoes. Or we can give ourself a long time to garden a tiny patch of garden. Or we can allocate a much longer time for a walk or a coffee with a friend.
Peace does not rush itself. Life tries to entice us into ‘compressive time’, where our experience is an anxious one of trying to become faster and more effficient. Sometimes it is good to allow ourselves into ‘deep time’, where our experience can be much more immersive without time pressure.
What stimulants and depressants do I use in a normal day?
What is my relationship with substances such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine? Do I use them to pull myself from mood to mood, instead of letting myself settle?
What is my relationship with people and events? Do I know which friends help me to feel calm, and which ones agitate me? Do I know which activities I find peaceful, and which ones pressurise me?
Do I spend too much of my week in ‘compressive time’, judging how much I can do in how few minutes?
Would I like the opportunity to spend more of my days in ‘deep time’, immersing myself in simple experiences without pressure?
Instead of trying to ‘run the world’, can I find ways of doing small things with great love?