Tuesday, October 30, 2012


One of the insights of happiness research and particularly
Csikszentmihalyi’s revolutionary ideas in his books “Flow” and “The
Evolving Self” is the brain’s need of direction. Left to its own
devices the available mental energy pushes along habitual paths. With
some kind of purpose, even a small one, it can be organized and used
in a self-vitalizing way.

I find myself thinking about this in relation to ideas about
depression and inspiration. Thinking of the mind as an open system
with an organization that keeps adding new knowledge and experience
until eventually the organizing system can’t hold it anymore. The
system breaks down and there’s disorder until it reorganizes into a
system sufficiently complex to hold the new weight of information.
Insight and inspiration often accompany the new order that offers a
new outlook on previously unconnected information and understanding of
previous experience that wasn’t clear before. But the time of disorder
is dangerous, confusing and dark. We may doubt the things we cared
about before and not understand where the excitement came from. I read
somewhere that the purpose of depression in animals was to keep them
close to home in times of weakness. This fits our situation too.

It might help the negative phases to think that a reorganization is
taking place that our inertia and lack of focus have a positive
purpose in allowing these mental transformations to take place. Rather
than think about the mood itself, find direction in small things,
keeping the focus off the misery and biding time with small goals like
cleaning, walking, catching up with friends until the new
understanding dawns. Too often the temporary loss of purpose can be
alarming and focusing on the doubts and uncertainties produces more
doubts and uncertainties. Relinquishing focus altogether regarding
where we’re headed allows a diffuse attention conducive to the
emergence of new patterns. It’s the same dynamic seen with research of
all kinds. An existing theory will hold until new discoveries call it
into question and new theories must be developed to accommodate the
new information. I’ve found that the low periods are easier to bear
seeing them as part of necessary rewiring. It’s a natural consequence
of having an appetite for new information, particularly when it calls
some long standing assumption into question. Temporary loss of
direction may be unpleasant but the resulting increase in wisdom as
the scope of perception increases completes a cycle of growth. A
broader view opens new choices for the next direction.

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