I’ve got to admit for many years I’ve tended towards black and white thinking. Things were fine or things were awful. It was a case of friend or foe, right or wrong, yin and yang. It was a tendency to seek simplification, to come down on one side or the other, to decide where I stood. On the fence seemed like a cop out and grey areas seemed to pollute the essence of what I was responding to. Add to that the complexity of the world we seem to live in and black and white thinking can be hard to avoid. I’ve come a long way in dropping this way of being, thank goodness, I’ve learned to appreciate other ways of looking at situations, other perspectives, finding the positive in the negative. But sometimes challenges occur and in marches the black and white.
After a difficult couple of weeks in the aftermath of the volunteering situation I mentioned last time, and after stress stalked in, I found myself operating in black and white again. I wanted a proper ending to the relationship with the ‘client’, one that is mutually beneficial, not just for me, but for the person concerned too. I’ve been feeling that if I don’t get that kind of resolution (and it looks like I won’t) then our time together in the befriending situation has all been for nothing. That the ‘good’ we created has now gone ‘bad’. So I think you’ll agree, that’s black and white thinking. Thankfully my husband is a grey area thinker by nature, so he’s been very helpful. And Galen, who commented on my last post, pointed out that stepping away can be the resolution – a very valid point, which I’m trying to appreciate.
Before I get onto the half and half philosophy, I want to share something I’ve described in my memoir in the last few weeks. When I was 18, after a virus, I was left with tinnitus and a minor balance problem which can cause wobbly vision when it misbehaves. Neither could be treated or cured. It was very tough accommodating to both of these, but I did eventually accommodate very well by coming to understand what was going on in my body and mind. With the recent stress, my tinnitus has flared up again. So this coincided with my describing it in the memoir and describing the way of handling it and any other persistent chronic symptom. Since I have no idea when the memoir will be finished, I thought I’d share this approach with you now, in case it is of benefit to anyone, and because I’m having to use the approach currently.
Talking about my tinnitus and imbalance is something I have always been reluctant to do, as talking about something can bring attention to it, and it’s this attention which causes the problem to increase, as you will see below. But also, people can say things like, ‘Oh, that must be awful! How do you stand it?’, and those are killers. Sympathy is not required. I firmly believe that sympathy can be destructive. Most of us have something to bear in life, be it with our life circumstances, health, or relationships. We all seem to get our share, so positive support or simply sharing is most beneficial, not sympathy. In the memoir I had a choice. I knew I was talking about my two bugbears and by doing so I was drawing my own attention to them, like the scenario of trying not to think of the red elephant in the room. And of course I did begin to focus on them. Predictable or what? I then thought of taking this material out. Would that fix things? Would it fix me? But no, I wanted to explain and to share what I’ve learned that is relevant to my story and to the theme. I decided I was being too sensitive about it – yes, that again, and that I was giving the symptoms a form of power over me, a kind of superstitious thinking with a not walking under a ladder mindset. So I decided that maybe, just maybe, I should try sharing something I usually avoid at all costs, maybe it would do some good, for me and others. So I’m sharing and walking under the ladder! And here is what I’ve discovered from lots of research and putting it into practice, what actually works best for dealing with unwanted symptoms or even states of feeling you don’t relish. It’s a combination of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) together with an understanding of our human physiology, and I’m using it now for my tinnitus flare up:
Fundamentally, you need to understand how the brain and the sympathetic nervous system work. The brain is wired to ensure our survival at all costs, so it tunes in to what it perceives to be a threat – your unwanted symptoms – because they bother you. The perceived threat is paid more and more attention to as a danger, due to you fuelling it with aversion, stress and worry, and this resulting hypervigilance activates the sympathetic nervous system to react further, which in turn increases the symptoms. It’s one of those vicious circles, and is maintained by the kind of attention you pay the symptoms. The more you pay attention with an emotional charge of aversion and fear, the worse the symptoms can get, so we have to turn this around. We have to change the way we react, emotionally, psychologically and physically. But how?
Changing your attitude and your relationship with the symptoms can help to stop the cycle. Relaxing into the symptoms, where instead of trying to ignore them you practice accepting them and seeing them as harmless, is the way to do this. In other words, you change your personal response. And if your response becomes less reactive, you’re giving your nervous system a chance to return to its baseline again. Most crucially, by taking this approach you are inviting in a psychological ‘habituation’ to the symptoms, where the innate response given to the frequently repeating stimuli slowly lessens. You tuned in with your aversion, you tune out with relaxation and acceptance, so the symptoms can fade out of awareness into the background again. After that, you can’t help but happen to notice them, but they don’t actually bother you. This not bothering about them is the end result of your having over familiarised yourself with them. They just don’t matter anymore. Then you can return your focus to whatever you happen to be doing at the time. It’s a case of surfing the wave instead of trying to swim against it…
So there we are, sharing done, and I hope it helps someone. And for some reason, recently deliberating on this, and the cause of the stress, brought me to a book a follower on twitter was enjoying. It’s a rather weighty title : ‘The Importance of Living’, written by a Chinese philosopher, with bags of attitude, called Lin Yutang, and considering it was published in 1937, it’s astonishingly modern in the writing as it addresses universal human themes. Running through it is Lin’s ironic sense of humour, and humour is very important to the Chinese, apparently, so I chose the yin yang symbol of the two cats for Lin’s chapter which drew me in, called The Philosophy of Half-and-Half.
Derived from Lin’s respected sources, he advocates that a well-ordered life comprises of a balance between extremes:
Between action and inaction
Living in half-fame and semi-obscurity
Not so poor that one can’t pay the bills, but not so rich where there is no need to work
Reading, but not too hard
Learning a lot, but not becoming a specialist
And what he seems to be concluding is that the doctrine of half and half (yin and yang, positive and negative) best serves us, compared to more black and white modes of thinking, feeling or living. He says when life is fairly carefree and not altogether carefree (it’s then) that the human spirit is happiest and succeeds best. He says the proper merging of positive and the negative outlooks on life brings a more harmonious living and encourages a more harmonious personality, which in turn can bring a joy and a love of life. And it’s this joy and love of life which is the quintessential thrust of the book.
Here are some Lin Yutang quotes to leave you with, which seem to encapsulate his more laid back philosophy:
If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.
Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.
This I conceive to be the chemical function of humour: to change the character of our thought.
Life is too short to make an over-serious business out of it.
Liking the last one especially…
(pic from piaxabay)