I recently got a chance to read Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh. The book did not change my life, because no book ever does. I am a firm believer of the fact that the change that comes in our lives comes out of our own volition, irrespective of what triggers it.
If not book A, then podcast B or movie C, but the change will come, as long as we genuinely want to improve ourselves. That said, the book did add a helpful perspective to how I look at things. It made me quieter – on the inside.
The Spiral of Thoughts
I talk to myself constantly. Everyone does, I think. If I am spiralling, which tends to happen a lot when I’m overwhelmed by the general human condition, the talk is difficult to stop. It’s a lot of noise.
It’s a spiral of thoughts – flowing consistently from one to another, each more ridiculous than the last – and while I know that these thoughts are just there and probably don’t mean anything, I cannot separate them from reality.
For example, the irrational fear of me making a mistake becomes a probable event in a series of events which will ultimately lead to me making a much bigger mistake. While I am dealing with that in therapy. I still look for more ways to slow those thoughts all the time.
That’s where we come back to the book. The book talks a lot about Radio NST: Non-Stop Thinking. That’s quite literally what I just described above. It gives a simple way to pause that radio – a bell. The idea, among others, is to have a small bell at your place. The bell is a reminder to centring yourself again and letting all thoughts slide.
However, for me, this is a little difficult since I’m rarely at my place during the day. Plus, the idea of a bell is, in my opinion, a little too intertwined in faith. So, I changed this idea a little.
Since, I do usually know that the spiralling of thoughts is, in fact, irrational. I started clapping whenever I felt overwhelmed. It’s not a constant clap. Instead, it’s just two, in succession, with a one-second pause. I’ve been doing it at work as well as during commute.
Clap-clap, and all of a sudden, everything stops, and I’m there again, looking at whatever I was too occupied to focus on.
I did this when I was with my friends this weekend. We were in the car, and a song was playing. I found it too hard to not focus on my recent breakup. I started to dwell more on the entire ordeal, and the what-ifs, and the how-it-could-have-beens, and the had-I-done-thats, or the had-they-done-thats.
Just then, as I could feel myself losing myself in the spiral, I clapped twice, softly – enough for me to hear it. Almost immediately, I was in the car again instead of in my apartment some weeks back.
However, I realised, that it doesn’t have to be a bell or a clap. It’s only a sound – any sound – you can reproduce when required. A sound which is not jarring to the ears, and which is available to you always. A sound which pulls you back to where you were from your spiral of thoughts.
If the constant radio of thoughts in our heads is challenging to turn off, and if we feel we’re losing ourselves into the spiral of overwhelming thoughts, and as the noise gets too loud, we can make a sound of our own. It could be anything – a bell, a clap, a snap or anything else – as long as it echoes in our head and guides us back to where we truly are instead of the maze of our mind.
P.S. I highly recommend reading the short and sweet book. It was also a major thought behind removing my entire to-do list.