Thinking about Thinking

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The other day I was jamming out to some tunes while sitting at my desk and doing some work. Of course, I can’t honestly justify paying for Spotify premium, so when I picked the random mellow playlist that I was interested in that day I was thrilled at the surprise of hearing a bit of Amy Winehouse. The song “Wake up Alone” came on, and with her sultry voice, Amy sang a tale of sadness and dismay as I typed away on my computer, half-hearing the lyrics. Then came a line that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. “Run around just so I don’t have to think about thinking.” This idea of running around and pre-occupying ourselves to keep from thinking obsessively about something or someone is completely natural for most people. Whenever something bad happens we are told to be strong and to show no emotion. This of course means that we can’t focus on the issue at hand for too long, because of course, focusing would lead to an emotional reaction. Therefore we begin to make our lives hectic in order to avoid thinking.

I’m torn about this subject because frankly I can understand both sides. On the one hand, it is never a good idea to avoid things. Generally speaking, the longer you avoid anything the bigger the beast will become and what might have been a prick on the finger size hurt, will turn into a bolder smashing into you type of pain, very quickly. Furthermore, it really can’t be healthy to run around all over town, picking up seventeen random hobbies and having very little down time. I recall a time during my undergraduate studies when I went to meditation classes. A very interesting young man, whose view on life was quite different from most people I had met before, led them. I recall going to class one day and finding that no one else had shown up. The instructor and I were alone and he asked if I would prefer to just chat a bit instead of the regular session. I eagerly agreed. I don’t recall much of the conversation, but I do remember him telling me a story about how meditation helped him process his feelings. He told me about how he had gone through a breakup. In order to process the breakup, he, being incredibly hurt, locked himself up in his bedroom and meditated for hours. I recall him saying “I meditated until I had felt all the feelings and processed the entire breakup.” After that, he said that he felt perfectly fine. That was it, just one incredibly long session in his bedroom and he was fine. The first thing I thought was “Great, now men can recover even faster and be even more infuriating post breakup!” and then I thought about how freeing it must feel to know that no matter what happens, he has the tools in himself to work through a situation and process quite quickly through the emotional baggage many hold onto for months and months, if not years. If he had chosen to avoid his feelings, to become a busy body and run around so that he did not have to think about thinking he would never have processed this breakup so quickly. In fact, he would have drowned it out with noise, until one day in the near future, it would have bubbled up and most likely lead to a drunken text/call to ex-girlfriend which would have led to many more miserable feelings of guilt and shame in the morning. (At least that’s my most educated guess on how it would go.)

On the other hand, running around so that you don’t have to think about thinking can be the saving grace that one needs. When I first left law school I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would do next. What was my big plan, what was I supposed to accomplish. Thinking over and over again about what my life had in store for me led to very little actual progress, for there were no answers, no crystal ball so to speak. When I started a new job I found myself busy. My days were filled with learning how to manage multiple new tasks at the same time and learning how to be competent in a field I hadn’t considered as an option. Each day I spent working away, pre-occupied with office tasks, gave me more distance from the incessant nagging of the unknown life to be lived. A month in, I found that I could think about the future in small bursts without getting overwhelmed. Two months in, I found myself thinking about the future positively. Now, in my fifth month at the new job, I find myself comfortable with the idea of not knowing. My job was my Hail Mary pass into serenity. It threw me into so many different tasks that it didn’t allow me time to ponder on what could be. It was exactly what I needed at the time.

So, I wonder if Amy Winehouse had it right to include that line in a song about heartbreak. Perhaps she was running around trying not to think through the situation at a time when she should have stopped and processed. I believe that the people who deal with adverse situations the best are those who understand when to use each coping mechanism. Stopping to think through and understand one’s feelings seems vital to a situation that has a solution and perhaps just needs some time and distance to quell your emotions. Perhaps, staying busy to avoid thinking is best left for when the problem itself is over thinking. And maybe, just maybe, a sign that you truly understand yourself is when you begin to know which type works in which situations for you.

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