SEASICKNESS OF THE MIND

Seasickness hits you when your body tells your brain one thing, and your eyes tell it another, about how you are oriented in space relative to the horizon.

There is another kind of seasickness that is psychological. It distorts reality in a similar fashion, and it too makes us sick. It is subtle but not entirely below conscious awareness: We can catch ourselves at it. It happens ya never know when. It gets you when the mood does not match the moment.

I discovered this distortion of reality in action one day when I found tears on my cheeks on a day when I was really, really happy, and everything was going swell. “Okay, what’s up?” I asked myself. I tuned in to this experience.

What I discovered – ta-da! – is this: While “I” was so very happy, my body was not; it was deeply sad. At that moment, I could have attached that sad feeling to something going on around me, could have concluded my job was depressing. I knew my body chemistry was out of whack at the time: the doctor told me my estrogen level was 800 times normal and other hormones were in balance at that level. Is it that knowledge that led me to delve into the experience?

It hit me then and has never left me: That our mind goes around assuming life makes sense at any given moment, assumes that our feelings arise from what is going on at that given moment. (Well, that is usually true for most of us.) We assume life makes sense this way, so when our body chemistry creates a mood or feeling, we twist our minds and change our opinions to match or attach the feeling to whatever is happening at the time. Believing that reality makes sense is one cause of mental illness?

It is as if we had a pocketful of labels in our “feeling bin.” Painting that ‘depressing’ label on the job would prompt my mind – as time went on and as other things happened – to invent ways the job was depressing to validate the label the initial experience painted on there. A snowball effect, a cascade of assumptions and conclusions, would have occurred. I would be more miserable at work than warranted. The label is like a color filter on a camera: everything looks rosy or blue or scary.

At least some of the people who are hostile unreasonably had angry body chemistry sometime ago, and attached the ‘angry’ label to everything some time ago, and lost focus. They are stuck on angry. Some people are stuck on stupid and feel inadequate inappropriately. Some people are stuck on feeling secure and are inappropriately trusting. COULD I JUST PLEASE GET STUCK ON BEING SENSIBLE?????

Another example of this pernicious process is “I am not good at that, I can’t do that.” Of course, sometimes it is “I am so good at that” because it was a good day when I first tried. Let’s say I am doing a particular thing . . . cutting up vegetables . . . and my psyche is irritated. I conclude that I hate cutting up vegetables. After that, I am annoyed when I ‘have to’ make a salad. Let’s say I am feeling disagreeable because my tummy is upset, and it’s raining outside. I conclude rain is a bad thing. Really? Let’s say I am angry and a certain person walks in. I must not like that person. Really? Let’s say my brain has bathed my endocrine system with nesting urges, and I fall in love with the next warm body I encounter? Really?????!!!!!

Losing the labels (or the colored filters) is a challenge: Most of our conclusions are valid. You have to catch yourself in the act of slapping one of those labels inappropriately on an experience. And you have to question how you really feel about . . . whatever . . . and why. Is that what ‘living in the moment’ is about?

Oh, how liberating it is to unravel these inappropriate conclusions. It is like losing a bad religion, like recovering from a disease. Now we realize we like a color that we thought we didn’t like because, when we were a kid . . . .

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