Why are they driving so slow? “They” is probably grammatically incorrect unless we’re talking about more than one vehicle. If it’s only one vehicle, the question is only correct if two or more people are driving the same vehicle at the same time – which might explain why they’re driving so slowly. We could ask: Why are you driving so slowly? We’ve corrected some of the grammar, but it doesn’t help much because he or she probably can’t hear you. If the driver can hear you and if he or she is having that much problem driving, we shouldn’t be asking them questions.
Actually, slow drivers don’t bother me too much, but here’s what does bother me. It’s the person at the soda machine trying to make sure all the foam subsides in their cup repeatedly so they can fill their cup to the brim with liquid before moving out of my way. This will trigger my silent monologue: “Please, just put some root beer in the cup and walk away. Don’t you know you can have free refills? Oh great – now you’re looking for a lid and a straw. You do know your standing in front of them! Just turn around! That lid is the wrong size! You’re spilling your drink! That’s right — now make sure you unwrap the straw while standing in my way before going to your table!” By now I’m failing at the basics my faith — “Do not judge . . . ” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love is patient, love is kind . . .”. I can’t believe I’m abandoning my faith over fast food and a fountain drink!
Whether it’s slow drivers or fountain drinks, we have a tendency to believe people are deliberately getting in our way when we’re in a hurry. But, the issue is deeper than that. We carry around a lot more mind-dominating, energy-draining thoughts than a slow driver or inefficiency at the soda machine.
In her 1934 book, A Life of One’s Own, Writer/Psychoanalyst Marion Milner explains that while we have made some progress as adults we have “not entirely grown out of this childhood tendency to confuse thought with things” (i.e. the faulty belief that our thought and reality is identical). She notes that a child, for example, may assume the moon accompanies her or him on a walk. As we get a bit older, we understand “the moon has its own orbit and does not care whether I go for a walk or not”. But as an adult, Milner explains, “It was only when I was running to catch a train that I became convinced people were getting in my way deliberately.” (This sounds like slow drivers and fountain drinks.)
Milner observed, “emotion did something to one’s thinking, pulled it down from its ordinary level of understanding.” In speaking about her own experience she says her preoccupations were “filling my mind to the exclusion of all else. In this state I could not remember my slowly acquired knowledge that other people have independent feelings and lives of their own, I could not see beyond the magic circle of my own rage, so everything that others did referred to me alone. I also noticed that the same sort of thing happened when I was tired, for then worries which I knew were really unimportant would often come to dominate my mind completely. I had long ago learnt that what at night appeared to be an irretrievable disaster would probably shrink to a quite trivial mishap by the time I woke up in the morning.” She adds, “all kinds of bodily conditions appeared to influence the maturity of thought and the capacity for perceiving.” Our preoccupations, if compounded by things like frustration and fatigue further reduce our ability to think clearly.
Accumulating Healthy Energy
Then Milner asks the “million dollar question”. “If emotion and fatigue lowered the potency of our thought, what raised it?” “If one assumed that thinking was a process involving some form of energy, it seemed quite appropriate to imagine my gesture of holding back from mental action as causing an accumulation of energy which automatically raised it’s potency. By preventing energy from continually flowing away in a noisy stream of efforts and purposes I could make it fill into a silent pool of clearness.” The result of this “stillness” would be more mature thinking, more energy, and less anxiety. But how do we do that?
The Magic of Talking and Writing
These distracted and distorted thinking problems are rooted in undefined and unspoken thoughts. These thoughts will likely stay stuck in our minds and distract us until we process them and move them along by putting them in words. Talking or writing things down are keys to moving us to healthier thinking. “Now I saw too a possible reason why sometimes a single verbal expression of preoccupations had seemed to act like a magic incantation upon my mood. It had perhaps just served to externalize my thought so I could stand apart and look at it.”
“I supposed, then, that the reason why so many of my wandering thoughts still contained childish distortions, even when I was not carried away by emotion, was that they dealt with subjects that I had never really tried to put into words.”
“Now I began to guess that the order must be reversed, that only by talking could I learn how to think. Once I had really learnt how to think, then, and not till then, could I have the capacity to deal silently with my own most intimate difficulties.”
“Gradually I began to observe more and more examples of the effects of simply putting an unadmitted thought into words, even to myself. . . . But I now discovered that with the deliberate speaking of my thoughts to myself, in words, they lost their obsessive quality . . .”
Milner talks of “the irresistible urge to go over the same incident again and again. It was only when I had admitted to myself deliberately in words what I wanted, that I was able to accept the fact that I had not got it.”
The Problem of Avoidance and Self-Sabotage
When we shut down feelings and block our natural flow of our thought; it creates problems and most likely limits healthier living. Milner says, “I did learn very soon how to know the signs that would tell me when I was evading an unadmitted thought — worry, depression, headache, feelings of rush and over-busyness–but it took me much longer to learn ways of finding the thought that was causing the trouble.”
Milner concludes with two points:
(1) “The cause of any overshadowing burden of worry or resentment is never what it seems to be.” (It’s not really about slow drivers and fountain drinks. There is typically more going on below the surface.)
“Whenever it [the burden of worry or resentment] hangs over me like a cloud and refuses to disperse, then I know that it comes from the area of blind thought and the real thing I’m worrying about is hidden from me.” (emphasis mine)
(2) “To reason about such feelings, either in oneself or others if futile.“
I now be began to understand why it was not good arguing against obsessive fears or worries, for the source of them was beyond the reach of both reason and common sense. They flourished in the No-man’s-land of mind where a thing could be both itself and something else at the same time, and the only way to deal with them was to stop all attempts to be reasonable and to give the thoughts free rein. In dealing with other people this meant just listening while they talked out whatever was in their minds, in dealing with myself it usually meant letting my thoughts write themselves.” (Emphasis mine)
And that seems to be the key to progress — letting thoughts and feelings write themselves and put them into words. Once we can put words to these troubling thoughts, maybe we can “stand apart and look” at them and move forward.
A Life of Ones Own. Marion Milner (Joanna Field). First published 1934. The Estate of Marion Milner. 2011 – Routledge. Series Editor: Emma Letley.