Some Thoughts About the Mind

I think a lot about how the mind works. I read a lot of theory and try to observe the world as much as I can. 
I think we, as humans, have two different kinds of experiences that are dependent on each other. 

The "me" experience:  all our thoughts, feelings and interactions with others that feel like they are thought, felt and experienced by "me". 

The "not me" experiences: day dreams, night dreams, "flow" experiences like listening to music, drawing, gardening, the thoughts that come up in the shower or when driving, a song you might wake up with in the morning, an idea that appears when you are exercising- thoughts and feelings we have that just find their ways into our minds and are not experienced as "me".
When all goes right, we welcome those experiences. They are mysterious yet revealing, they are foreign yet seem to connect us with an essence that is beyond our own megere existence. 
These experiences are what Winnicott called "Going on Being", Jung called it "the Collective Unconscious", Lacan may have called it "The Real" and other people call it "Religion or "Art".  

It's interesting when you think about it: some people may be very concerned with money and social status, their work and educating their kids, but they may still seek the uplifting feeling of taking part in a religious ceremony, a rock concert, riding a horse or painting a picture. We feel ourselves to be different when we are in those experiences, they make our lives richer and our relationships stronger, even though their meaning feels very personal and almost difficult to capture in words (other than poetry). 

The "not me" experiences were there first, but I think every healthy baby is born with a pre-disposition to seek "me" experiences. She does this in two ways: 
1. By using her senses and noticing her ongoing experience; her baby mind is wired to remember patterns and contrasts.
2. By using her relationship with other people who already know about the world: her caregivers translate her "not me" experiences into thoughts, feelings, words, sounds, facial expressions. Those can be perceived by her senses so she begins to find patterns and contrasts in the behavior of people around her too. 

The baby learns to translate her "not me" experiences into "me" experiences. Soon she will learn to create "me" experiences that are separate from her "not me" experiences as well. So now our baby has a world of thoughts, feelings, states of mind and relationships that she can call her own. She also has daydreams. If you know babies you might see that they don't really know how to tell the difference between a thought and a daydream. It takes a long time to learn that. 

One very useful way to differentiate between those two different types of experiences: those that belong to our different personas in the outside, inter-relational world, and those that belong only inside our minds, is by playing.

Play is the tool a child uses to practice, elaborate, differentiate and translate between his inner world which is mysterious even to him, and the world of his own personality and relationships with other people. Play can be done alone, with friends, in a family or in a community through rituals such as religion or art. 

Play is to a child, like religion and art are to adults, a serious endeavor. A baby plays almost all the time. A toddler, much to his chagrin, learns that some times are for play and some are not. This is the beginning of differentiation- and it is not easy. A young boy will play with his Legos out loud but an older child, who has more awareness of the difference between the inner and outside worlds, will play alone in silence- keeping the discussion between the characters of his play separate from his interactions with other real people. 

Play, combined with input from our senses and our close relationships with older people, allows us to understand the difference between thoughts, feelings and body sensations that are connected to the world outside and those that are connected to the mysterious inner workings of our mind/body. If all goes well we learn to ignore, or "repress" the signals coming from the "not me" when we want or need to interact with the world outside, while giving room to those signals at a different time. If all goes really well we also know how to translate between our "not me" most inner ways of being into "me" ways of being. So we can have "me" versions of "not me" experiences- kind of like being able to speak two different languages. 

Psychotherapy sometimes has the luxury of being in the position of the translator. I think this is what Freud dreamt about when he thought about a patient lying on a couch free-associating while a psychoanalyst is giving her his undivided attention yet  attuned to his own associations and day dreams. This relationship: safe, quiet and unique, provides adults with a rare opportunity to delve into the mysteries of the "not me". By translating, with the help of the therapist, this "not me" or "unconscious" material into "me" language, a patient can enrich her experience of life and deepen her relationships. 
This is a very nice thing to do. 

Unfortunately, many of us find this very hard to do, not only in our therapist's office, but also in everyday life. 
Some of us encounter problems in the "me" world: with our own day-to-day life and in our relationships with others. When we think about it, we might find that we also have trouble with our "not me" worlds. Perhaps we become anxious when driving alone in the car or when we try to do yoga. Or we might have nightmares instead of interesting dreams. 

For some, being able to tell the difference between our "real life" and our daydreams can become a challenge: we might notice that our day dream seems so real we become confused or feel like we are living in two realities at once. For some people, the whole concept of "me" is a challenge: those people find themselves feeling, thinking and acting in very different ways when confronted with certain situations. They may spend whole periods of time in states of mind that seem far away from what they perceive as their "normal" selves. Those phenomena, which are sometimes referred to as "bi-polar" or dissociative disorders, can feel very devastating to people, as they are rarely accepted in our society. 

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