After the storm
I read an article describing the great storm of October 1987 which caused death, destruction and devastation to woodlands in south-east England. It obliterated 98% of trees with winds gusting over 200km/h, cork-screwing them out of the earth, knocking them over like dominoes, and flattening woodlands as if they’d been cornfields.
The day after ‘man’ reacted with a sense of urgency to organise and tidy up in an effort to regain control, intervening with heavy equipment, removing fallen trees and debris. But some woodlands were turned into ‘exclusion zones’ to allow natural regeneration. Decades later it was these ‘exclusion zones’ that thrived highlighting the important role of decay as an integrated part of life and this evidence profoundly changed woodland management.
I pondered this reactive interventionist nature that is inherent to us and how we reactively ‘dive’ into our thinking mind to tidy up, organise in a vain effort to control our thoughts, our moods and emotions. Using the ‘heavy equipment’ of pushing out the ‘bad thoughts’, maybe by ignoring them, blocking them.
In the Mindfulness Based Living Course©, Rob Nairn’s terminology the undercurrent and the observer are used to describe this reactive process. The undercurrent is the autonomous, constantly changing content of mind (thoughts, feelings, images, sensory impressions, emotions, mind states and memories) that continuously flows in a random manner of past experiences, neither chronologically or systematically organised.
The observer is continually and vigilantly surveilling the undercurrent though this may be within or on the periphery of consciousness, diving in reactively in a vain attempt to organise, analyse, interpret, or manipulate the contents of the undercurrent. Just like the reactive foresters urgently tidying up and removing what they didn’t like in the aftermath of the storm.
With our mindfulness practice we learn that the contents of the undercurrent cannot be changed but we can work with the attitude of the observer. We can become familiar with the observer’s preferences - what’s pushed away, ignored, blocked and whats grasped on to, and train to notice when we become engaged then bring ourselves back to the present.
When we train in ‘coming back’ we are strengthening our ‘mindfulness muscle’, creating and strengthening the neural pathways to create a habit of noticing engagement and returning to being present.
TIP: Become familiar with the content of your ‘undercurrent’ by noticing what’s there i.e. what are the types of thoughts, feelings, images, emotions, mind states or memories that arise in your internal experience ?
Can you identify attitudes, preferences, expectations associated with your ‘undercurrent’ ? Take notes in your journal to help build an understanding of your 'undercurrent' and your attitude towards it.