Tag Archives: Brain

Waiting for the Rain

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with a visual arts class about the reconstructive nature of memory. This came at a time when I was reeling from two nights of nightmares, the sort in which the dreamer is screaming, screaming, and no one hears or even looks up. I did not remember the content of the dreams when I awoke.

The mind is a powerful place.

I thought about this on my run later in the afternoon, a run that I didn’t want to go on but I know my mind and body well. Not wanting to go due to mental fatigue meant that the right thing to do, without question, was to go.

As it was, the gathering clouds beckoned. The wind blew in a way that hinted at a gift of cool afternoon rain but that could, in the tropics, blow over and leave us with nothing at all.

I watched my mind as if from a perch high above the treetops as I ran along the canal. I watched it growing negative, judgemental, downright nasty in its commentary of the strangers passing by. And I laughed because I understood – because I knew.

What I criticized in others was precisely what I feared in myself.

The sequence of thoughts did not come as a surprise – after all, I know my mind and body well. It was easy to draw a line from a book I’d read to the dreams I’d had to the venom my mind conjured. Easy because I’d been there before.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived a very long time.

And I laughed when the sky darkened further and the wind danced through the trees. A child again, I danced with it.

At the end of my run, I spent a few minutes stretching in the park. And that was when it began to rain.

And that was when I felt my mind breathe again.

The view from Lazarus Island – July 2020

In transition

It’s interesting to watch the mind shift and change, ebb and flow. It’s interesting to experience from the inside, noting the sensations and thoughts at hand, while also experiencing from the outside. That is, watching the self have the experience.

This is what I was doing yesterday when trying to come to terms with what I will call “the dark streak”.

Ever since I can remember, I have always had a streak of dark thoughts. These are the not-so-pleasant ideas that I know are there and every now and then under times of self-doubt, uncertainty, or stress, make their presence known. The dark streak, which I have previously also called the “demons“, is common enough that I am not especially bothered by it anymore. Rather, I am curious.

After yesterday’s encounter with the dark streak that annoyed me because I really hadn’t planned on it being there, I sat down to deliberately make observations. This is what I noticed:

  • The dark streak is likely to rear its head when I experience a sense of isolation. It goes away with a tangible reminder that I am actually not as alone as I might have thought.
  • The dark streak is imaginative rather than destructive. It likes to ponder a range of possibilities and actually gives me a lot to think about when I follow it.
  • The physical sensations that I experience at these times are more closely linked to the part of my brain that is observing the experience. The dark streak might be running hot but my body and mind remain calm and cool if I am watching the dark streak rather than running with it.
  • While the dark streak can paint a vivid image that stays with me, there is a difference between experiencing the image from inside and watching myself experience the image from outside. The latter perspective is that of the observer that I mentioned above.

I don’t ask why this happens – I’ve had help figuring that out. Instead, I can simply ask whether this is normal. But with that question on the tip of my tongue, I can also think of the idiosyncrasies that people have pointed out over time and all I can do in response is shrug. Put all the weird things together and that’s what makes us individuals, right?

There’s a dark streak in me and that’s okay. It’s hardly surprising that we’d become acquainted again.

Society has been experiencing a dramatic transition in the last weeks and months, and this will continue for the weeks and months to come. There will be economic and political effects felt for years, and perhaps a reckoning of social structures that have gone unquestioned for far too long. With transitions come the opportunity to change, reinvent, renew, and restore. Transitions allow us to look around, to ask questions, and to take the time (after all, we are not so busy any more) to do the hard work of figuring out who we are and who we want to be.

I will not romanticise here and claim that I am grateful for this time. (Rest assured, I was crushed when Singapore announced on Friday that we’d be joining the ranks of the rest of the world with school closings and movement restrictions.) But, as I have said for a long time, we need to take much more time to think and much more time to understand ourselves and one another. We have this time. Use it wisely.

Back to the Beginning

I left Singapore’s Changi Airport this morning after 32.5 hours of travel. Half an hour later, I arrived at the hotel where I’ll be staying for a couple days and took a shower in the pool locker room because my room wasn’t ready. My primary objective for the afternoon was to stay outside as much as possible in order to keep myself awake and to let natural melatonin do its thing.

Immediately upon leaving the airport, I realized a year away means a lot in terms of memory. For example, I’d forgotten that they drive on the left side of the road here, a legacy of British colonialism. I forgot that no one knows how to walk in a straight line, that people actually wait for the crosswalk light to change before crossing the street, and that escalators are for standing (strictly on the left, of course). Additionally, I forgot that you tap your subway card on the way in and on the way out to calculate the fare and I forgot the subway map altogether.

So many people smoke cigarettes, which I’d also forgotten, and it’s gross. And yet, I knew exactly where to find the closest money changer and where to get a new SIM card. I remembered the location of certain stores in a mall I used to frequent and was able to recognize new ones.

It’s weird that I was gone for a year . . . and it’s weird that I was gone for only a year.

I felt somewhat similarly in Rochester this summer. There were certain things about driving around town that I’d just forgotten. I’d forgotten how certain neighborhoods blend into each other and the names of different streets that I used to know. It’s unsettling that after spending so much of my life in that one place, a lot of it was gone, replaced by new pertinent information like all the local and express stops on the 4, 5, 6 trains in New York.

I expect that it’s going to be the same in Singapore for a little while. There’s definitely some adjusting to do, but it feels good to back.