Sunday, September 26, 2010

Once more with feeling....!

Not that long ago you couldn’t walk five yards in Central London without having one of many free newspapers placed into your hand and though I don’t miss the carpet of paper that would line every tube carriage at the end of the day, I do however miss a small section in one of the papers called 'Lovestruck’.     Its purpose was to act as a sort of forum for Londoners who had been attracted to a stranger they had seen whilst out and about (usually on public transport) but couldn’t quite pluck up the courage to go over and say hello!    Instead they would dedicate a few precious lines to this stockpile of brief encounters beseeching the object of their affection to get in touch.     A typical message would read something like “You – beautiful lady reading crime fiction on the Northern Line, Me – trying to catch your eye and tell you I’ve read the same book!   Coffee?”    Realistically the chances of these brief messages getting read by the person in question was pretty slim and nearly every one of them expressed an unfulfilled wish for an interaction to have taken place; if only they had actually met.     Every day the 'Lovestruck’ section seemed to be getting longer and longer and never the same message posted twice or two days in a row.     You had only one chance to read the message that was meant for you.  Chances of being struck by lightening were higher! 

This got me thinking about the idea of an emotional time lag; a delayed response to something after the initial moment of experiencing it has passed.    In other words why do we sometimes wait to say how we feel right there and then?     One reason could be that frankly disclosure is exposing, it involves a revealing of ourselves and can make us feel naked and vulnerable.    In so many ways modern life is conditioning us more and more to keep our cards closer to our chest and if necessary even bluff our way through.   We try not to show too much enthusiasm when the estate agent shows us our dream property, we hold out on telling someone how much we like them in case it’s too soon in the relationship and then there’s that frequent practice among diners of eating an unsatisfactory meal in silence and then never going back again.     There are countless situations where we push down or swallow how we’re really feeling.   I think somewhere somehow emotions have become a bit scary.      It’s okay to express them in the privacy of your own home (or in therapy) but not in public please!      The subtle panic that spreads at the hint of an emotional exposure is no more palpable as on a packed train when a heated argument can create, in seconds, discomfort for everyone as they witness (and feel) emotion gone airborne.    

Another reason why we keep our feelings to our self is the fear of experiencing things we’d rather forego; rejection, humiliation, shame and plain old embarrassment.     There seems to be a minefield of potential dangers out there, out in the open.      No wonder that little section in the newspaper was so well employed; it helped take the edge off and at the same time nurtured some hope that an opportunity hadn't entirely been missed.     But what I think allowed it to really grow is that just like text messages, letters and email, it provided a safe space to communicate and it did this by creating an optimal distance.     Not too close and yet close enough to convey ourselves, a kind of contact where we are once removed from the other person.     The same can be said for the telephone of course where even though we get an instant response (unlike email etc) we can't see it.   The popular sitcom ‘Frasier’ and the older ‘Midnight Caller’ were based on this very premise where people would call in to a radio show to talk about their problems over the phone.   For organisations like Samaritans and ChildLine the telephone has literally been a life line.     And then came Skype and all the video type calling which has blurred the line between what's 'real' face to face contact and what's in fact very sophisticated technology.     Skype is probably the closest two people can get to each other and still be thousands of miles a part.      

Sadly the free paper with its 'Lovestruck’ section no longer exists though I'm sure the same can’t be said for those hundreds perhaps thousands of commuters falling in and out of love every day on their way to work.    Here’s a piece of advice - imagine what you’d like to say to him/her, write it on a piece of paper, rip it up, then walk over to where they are and say it once more with feeling, good luck!          

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What are you humming?

“A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.”                        Author unknown.

Parapraxes or Freudian slips as they are commonly called are named after Sigmund Freud and are used to describe words or phrases that we say which we didn’t mean to, they are slips of the tongue that come out of our mouths often very similar sounding to the word we were meant to say.       The slip though is not an accident.       It is, according to Freud, an interference of a wish, hidden feeling or a particular thought all buried in that part of ourselves we do not have readily access to; the unconscious.      And once in a while these hidden ‘repressed’ parts of us slip out.    A Freudian slip however doesn’t just stop at speech; it includes memories, physical behaviour, misreading words and mishearing words.     The latter is very common I think, it’s that familiar scenario when having a conversation with a friend and they say a word which you mishear to be another word, the word you hear is not what they’ve said at all (although again similar sounding) but rather it is what’s on your mind and more importantly what it means to you i.e. the context in which the word has been misheard.     It’s a bit like that expression ‘we hear what we want to hear’.     And the same thing goes for misreading words so for example we may read a word in a newspaper which is not actually the word that's written there but it’s the word we read, because it’s what‘s within us in that moment and the context of the paper allows it to reveal itself.             

So is a Freudian slip a slip up?       It is after all showing us where we’re at so to speak and what we may be mulling over in our mind, it is a little spark that can bring to light how we’re really feeling, whether we’re aware of it or not.      And this brings me to the title of today’s blog post.    I have a theory about humming, I think that humming is another form of a Freudian slip in that it also reveals how we are and where (emotionally) we are in the present moment.      And the biggest clue is in the lyrics of the song itself.      Have you ever found yourself humming a song or a certain part of a song all throughout the day over and over?      Unless you’ve been listening to it recently or just heard it on the radio I would argue that you are humming that song for a precise reason.      What reason?      Only the person doing the humming can work that one out, as in the same way a dream is entirely unique to the dreamer.     It seems to me though that the hummed song is verbalising the experience of something related to the person humming it.    It is telling you simply, and others close enough to hear, what is on your mind.     Unlike a slip of the tongue, humming is a stretched out version and it doesn’t involve that shock of spurting out a word we didn’t mean to (although on some level we probably did).    

So what do we do about our humming, what is it good for?       In a similar way to a dream it is telling us information and like any other knowledge we gain we can choose what to do with it.     For example if we are humming a song about loneliness perhaps that is how we’re feeling and what we need is to be close with others.      The reverse is also true whereby we tend to listen to songs that echo the mood we’re in at that given moment, and the same can be said for films.      We are constantly communicating ourselves to the world and if we want the world to hear us we must acknowledge, to ourselves first, what it is we are trying to communicate.       This is where dreams, daydreams and I’d like to think humming can help us do that by showing us what is on the inside that wants to come out.        

Picture taken by Flavio Cruvinal Brandao 2008, Flickr.

I recently attended a friend’s wedding outside of London and all the way there I kept humming a song that I hadn’t heard in years.      I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly singing this song and why now?      And then I realised that this particular song is on a CD which I had bought years earlier whilst spending the day with a friend, the same friend in fact whose wedding I was going to and somewhere in my mind I was remembering (humming) that day we spent together.              

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Super-Glued Pound

“Oh God I know I know I’m running late, I’ll be about 20 minutes, really sorry, get a coffee and I’ll see you very soon, sorry”.    

I was already sitting in the coffee shop when I got the message.    Having got used to my friend’s late arrivals (you know who you are!) I’d bought myself a small pot of tea, not a coffee fan, and felt secretly pleased that I would have some time on my own to sit and watch passers-by pass by.     London really is such a busy city I thought, we must all look like busy bees from a bird’s eye view, swerving in and out of each other’s lives every day.    I am one of hundreds and thousands of people that pass each other on the street never knowing the person they just past or how many times they may have passed them by before, whether any one of them could be someone to fall in love with, later want to forget or more likely not see again.    If the ‘six degrees of separation’ is anything to go on (theory suggesting we are all connected to each other on earth through a series of no more than six acquaintances) then there is little keeping us apart from the people we walk by in the street; we already have the potential to know them.   But what does it really mean to know someone?   Is it the things about them that helps us know them or can we know a little bit of someone without knowing them at all?

Drinking my cold tea I wondered if it’s just me or whether we all get a little philosophical sitting in coffee shops?!   I blame late friends.   And before I had a chance to veer off further I suddenly noticed a £1 coin on the pavement outside right by where I was sitting.   How long has that been there?   Perhaps it’ll still be there when I go outside and claim it!   But I was too late as just then a business-looking woman carrying a briefcase and two handbags (?) stopped in her stride, stood over the pound and bent down to pick it up.   To both our surprise the pound remained where it was.   It was stuck, faultlessly glued to the ground and didn’t want to budge an inch as the woman tried unsuccessfully to pry it free.   I watched her tug and pull at it for quite some time until finally she gave up and walked away.   A super-glued pound, that’s sort of brilliant!

Then just like that, the lines that separated complete strangers from each other started to blur and interactions albeit brief began to take place.    It became almost hypnotic to witness what was happening right in front of me as dozens of people would stop in their tracks, bend down and reach out, and then straighten back up again looking slightly embarrassed.   They would mutter something to each other bemused before continuing to walk on.    It created a momentary focal point for almost everyone on that side of the street; couples, families, children seemed exceptionally enthusiastic and took on the challenge to scrape up the pound and then get to keep it.    But no one had any luck.    This little tease was becoming more valuable than it’s worth.     

For me, the most interesting bit of this practical joke/impromptu social experiment was the fact that no two people’s reactions were the same, each response was an idiosyncratic reaction to the world and how the person himself related to it.     Some people smiled and seemed to appreciate the funny side while others looked less amused at having bent down all the way for nothing.    Several people looked at me suspiciously thinking perhaps I had done this as I sat there in my front row seat watching the mini charade I had created.    No, I couldn’t take the credit.   A man with the biggest back pack I have ever seen was particularly memorable as he hovered above the pound weighing up whether it was worth the pain of reaching down with what looked like a small country on his back and the strength he would need to get back up again.   I guess he decided it was worth it and seconds later his ‘oh well’ shrug of his burdened shoulders was so touching that I had to resist the urge of running outside to give him a pound myself.

The super-glued pound still firmly not going anywhere was playing a silent part in revealing something about each person who encountered it.    In fact at times it appeared to be revealing a great deal; humiliation, anger, humour, shame, confusion, and certainly surprise.     Perhap it is the ‘little things in life’, those subtle blink and they’re gone moments that can say so much about who we are if we pay attention to them.   I thought again about what it means to know someone and realised that I had just got to know a tiny little bit, a pound’s worth, of the people on the pavement that day.    And then I heard someone I did know call my name......

“I am so so sorry, you’ve been waiting ages for me haven’t you, I don’t know what happened this morning I was gonna be on time as well, really sorry”.

“It’s okay” I said, “just sit down and watch this........


Sunday, September 05, 2010

How Words Heal

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the giddying feeling that comes from having a deep and meaningful conversation with someone. The kind where it feels like you’re both completely on the same page and as you walk away you can still feel the connection lingering on inside you. It’s a great feeling, it is happiness and it says a lot about the irreversible effects of talking.

So why is it so ‘good to talk’ and when did ‘anything ever get solved by talking’? Talking doesn’t necessarily solve, it resolves. It seems to me that talking about our feelings can help us change the way we feel, more so it can help us change the way we feel about our feelings. In short it changes us. Our lives are lived through language, through discourse and communication. Even those times when we withdraw from others and want to be alone that is also a message to the world, loud and clear.

When we talk we hear

Going back to the meaningful conversation I mentioned, what makes this experience memorable to us is that we are involved in it, it is about us and as we talk about us we hear ourselves, sometimes for the first time. This dynamic is pretty common knowledge as far as therapy goes; clients talk, therapists listen. And yet it is the talker who has the most potential to hear things anew. It is this potential that gets ignited when we have a deep and meaningful conversation (the giddiness) because it shows us that we have the potential to change our life through words. There are moments where we can be talking about something and the next minute realising what we’ve just said and what it means, as though the act of saying it actually creates it in that second. For example when you next hear someone say ‘I’ve never thought about it like that before’ you are witnessing them talking, creating and hearing themselves all at once.

When we talk we feel

Have you ever thought about something sad but it wasn’t until you said it to someone that it made you cry... There is something very powerful about hearing our own voice saying how we feel about something to another person. It’s no coincidence how emotional wedding speeches get on the day, even when they’ve been rehearsed in private over and over again. We literally feel for ourselves, more so when we give the feeling a voice. Let’s try a little experiment... To yourself read the following statements below: -

I'm in love with you

I never want to see you ever again

You make me utterly happy

I am so sorry for letting you down

Thank you for everything you have done for me

Now say them again but this time out loud and to someone you know. I imagine it becomes a very different experience. What we say becomes how we feel; if I start shouting at someone in the street I will feel angrier and angrier, and if I say thank you to someone for helping me I feel grateful. Our words are affective and influential, and with that in mind perhaps we can try saying more of the things that help us feel good.

When we talk we are heard

It is unmistakeable the feeling we get when we are saying something important to someone and they are really listening to us. You realise at that moment that it’s also important to them and that you are important to them. I think in this instance the actual content of what we say takes a bit of a backseat to the experience of actually saying it.

Being acknowledged shouldn’t be underestimated, it’s powerful stuff and I would say it is the very heart of what heals through words; the knowledge that they make an impression on others and who doesn’t want to leave a mark on the world let alone in the memory of the people in our lives.

Chop Suey - Edward Hopper