This morning in my lounge room I experienced the joy of a musical instrument war. My son plays the trumpet and my daughter plays the violin. Every day it is a battle to get them to practice but today they both decided that they wanted to practice at the same time. Neither of them would back down as they both argued that their practice was more important than the other persons.
So began the noise of a trumpet and a violin both playing completely unrelated pieces of music at the same time and at the loudest volume they could both muster. I decided not to intervene this time but to simply enjoy the fact that my children were actually practicing their musical instruments without an argument. However, the noise that did result was very overwhelming and so very disjointed that I really just wanted to leave the house and go somewhere that was a little more peaceful. This situation got me thinking about the brain and the way that often our thoughts can be like my two children playing their musical instrument at the same time.
Our heads are often so cluttered up with our own internal dialogues that it is hard to hear anything clearly. Thoughts fill our every waking moment and sometimes they can become so overwhelming and noisy that they are no longer actually helpful to us. They are like music in our head that is no longer playing the same tune. The ability to focus or to develop awareness of each of our individual thoughts long enough to be able to hear their separate tunes is very challenging, but also extremely useful.
“Our heads are often so cluttered up with our own internal dialogues that it is hard to hear anything.”
As I stood there listening to the war of music in my lounge room I noticed that if I really focused my attention on the sound of the violin I could filter out the sound of the trumpet. Hearing the beautiful gentle tune my daughter was play and enjoying the occasional “squeak” as her finger missed the note. As I continued listening I shifted my attention to the trumpet and the triumphant fanfare my son was playing. The violin filtered into the background. My son was playing a song that was powerful and resounding, which triggered feelings of success and strength as I listened.
Our thoughts can be helpful or unhelpful sources of information. However, if we can’t learn how to shift our attention on to them in a meaningful way, the information will often get lost in the clutter of our thinking or we will become so overwhelmed that we just focus on the thought which is the loudest. Learning how to shift our attention and awareness onto our thoughts allows us to access the helpful information that our thoughts may be bringing or to become aware of some of the thoughts that are not so helpful.
“Our thoughts can be helpful or unhelpful sources of information.”
Mindfulness is one of the tools that helps us pay attention to our thoughts in a focused way. When we are being mindful of our thoughts we are being completely aware of all the noise that is happening in our mind and then trying to gently focus our attention on individual parts of the clutter in an intentional non-judgmental way. This is by no means an easy thing to do but with practice you will get better.
We can’t control our thinking but we can exert some power over our thoughts by directing our attention, like a magnifying glass, to focus on something specific within all the noise in our brain. Just like I found in my lounge room there was a beautiful song being played by both my children. I just needed to learn how to focus my attention so that I could hear it.
By VERONICA MCKEON (PSYCHOLOGIST)