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. In the past I have even tried to become one of those things, if only for a short time. Nowadays I look on such attempts to consciously steer my personality in desirous directions as pointless.
Generally these attempts fail outright and even when they have some limited success I find that what I thought I wanted is no longer what I want. There is, for example, something horribly contrived, annoying and unnatural about trying to be wiser. In the end, given your genes and life experiences, you end up being the only person you ever could have been.
A work colleague once told me why he no longer drank alcohol. He said that several years ago he had 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.
Now those are the kinds of things that change me. When I imagine the embarrassment of such moments it is no longer necessary to consciously try to alter myself. Such stories do it for me.
Yet there is one thing where consciously taking control is necessary and that is annoying music. Often on waking up or when I’m 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. Shortly before going to bed two nights ago I made the mistake of watching Baccara perform this song on Youtube and it has pestered me, on and off, ever since. I can even hear bits of orchestration and bass I didn’t realise I knew. It’s irritating and I don’t like being the helpless victim of my automatic mind. It is then, and only then, that I find a use for the mindfulness technique of paying attention to my 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, while being a very good rule of thumb, is not always the best course of action.