In the past I have found myself wondering if I should try to be calmer, wiser, fitter, better-read, more understanding of others or some other thing that I’m not. Sometimes I even try to become one of those things, if only for a short time. Nowadays I look on these attempts to steer my personality in supposedly desirous directions as misguided. It’s like a cat wanting to be a tiger. Generally such attempts fail outright and even when they have some limited success I find that what I thought I wanted to be is no longer what I want. There is, for example, something horribly contrived, annoying and unnatural about a self-made wise man. In the end you are who you are and given your genes and life experiences you end up being the only person you could have been.
One of my life experiences was being told by a work colleague why he no longer drank alcohol. He said he had once been invited to spend Christmas with his friend’s family. On Christmas Eve he got very drunk and woke up on Christmas morning to find that during the night he had urinated over all the family’s presents that were piled up around their Christmas tree. That was such a mortifying experience that he gave up alcohol for good.
Imagining such things has a chastening effect upon me too and probably affects the amount I drink, especially if I’m staying at someone’s house. Hundreds of things happen to you every day and subtly alter the way you behave and it isn’t necessary to actively search out such experiences in a conscious effort to learn from them. If they are part of your world, they will come to you and you will absorb them, like it or not.
Yet I have one caveat. Often on waking up in the morning or walking through the streets of Tokyo I find I have a song going through my head that won’t go away. Over the last day or two it has been, Yes Sir, I can Boogie. You see, shortly before going to bed two nights ago I made the mistake of watching Baccara perform this song on Youtube and it has haunted me, on and off, ever since. I can even hear bits of orchestration and bass I didn’t realise I knew. It’s really irritating and I feel like the helpless victim of my automatic mind. It is then, and only then, that I find a use for the mindfulness technique of watching your breathing. This reliably erases all known pop songs from my head, including those that are notoriously hard to budge like Baccara, ABBA, and Paper Lace.
Clearly just doing what I do, thinking what I think and leaving my mind to its own devices is not always the solution.