Learning to hear yourself think
Have you ever wondered why people say "I can't hear myself think"? It seems a juxtaposition of terms. Thinking, after all, is a silent personal action and would not make a noise you could hear, unless you're thinking with your mouth. Last week I discovered the meaning behind the phrase.
I was writing this column at home on a public holiday and the usual calm and quiet of my home was broken by the building work that was going on across the driveway. You would think that your ears would slowly get used to the ceaseless drone and vibrating sounds made by the piling machine, that carried on throughout the day and should have turned into background noise. But no, it didn't. It made its presence felt at every moment of the day, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it.
A young Thai artist currently showing at the Saatchi Gallery explained how she felt one had to become attuned to the task at hand, to become one with the elements, to remove the ego from the equation, so the task is no longer a task, but an extension of your person, allowing you to get on with life without pain, anxiety and suffering. It's a very Buddhist concept.
Yet, it's easier said than done.
I tried tuning in to Julian Bream's guitar music as I worked, hoping that the beautiful notes would reverberate and overcome the whirring sounds of the piling motor. I've often complained when my kids turn their speakers on loud enough for me to hear Kanye West or Nicki Minaj through the bedroom door, but on this occasion I actually turned my tiny little portable speaker up as far as it would go. It didn't work. I'm sorry Mr Bream, but you were no match for those persistent machines.
My kids also complained about the noise, though I found it hard to believe, considering the decibels their ears should be used to by now. But it's not the same, I know. Nicki Minaj is no match for construction piling either.
Even my dog was walking around in a daze, unable to take her usual afternoon nap due to this disturbance.
So it took me a while to find something to write about. Writing a column requires a bit of a thought process; finding a topic that has touched me enough to share with you, finding something somewhat interesting and intelligent enough to relate it to that doesn't make me sound too much of the fool that I am and keeping my fingers crossed that you will find it not too much of a waste of time to read.
But that day, I couldn't hear myself think.
I never thought I'd actually say that one day, and mean it, literally.
Actually, if you think of our young artist and her Buddhist concept, she was quite right. We go through our lives being disturbed and aggravated by things around us and we thus lose track of our own being. Our thought process is prevented from being utilised to its full potential because we are constantly being diverted by work, kids, lunch, dinner, social functions, Line stickers, Facebook posts, Instagram, Snapchat, traffic, uncooperative taxi drivers and of course, our own ego.
Life is one big diversion and a lot of the time we are weak enough to allow it to throw us off track. Together, they create one big noise that is so loud that we can't hear ourselves think.
Then, after seven hours of constant noise, the machine stopped for a break. Suddenly, Mr Bream's guitar took on a resonance that had previously been overwhelmed. I could hear the birds outside the window and actually differentiate between their individual calls. My mind was clearer all of a sudden and my fingers started tapping away at the keyboard with an urgency that had previously been dulled all day.
I suppose that's why people go on meditation retreats. They try to get away from the diversions that keep them sidetracked. They wear plain white clothes and keep a silent vigil during the whole period, so their thoughts can be called back from where they have been scattered. The mind is a powerful thing and as I have mentioned before, we are born with an equal amount of grey matter, so why could Sir Isaac Newton discover gravity, while I have trouble trying to use my phone stylus pen?
We should all look for a break in the constant drone of life's diversions and listen to our minds think.
Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the features editor of the Bangkok Post.
M.R. Usnisa Sukhsvasti is Bangkok Post’s features editor, a teacher at Chulalongkorn University and a social worker.