I don’t want to make light of people who are suffering anxiety, distress or are in crisis – particularly when any of these experiences reach the level they’re becoming debilitating.
An “imagination power smoothie” is not a substitute for clinical help.
But building on yesterday’s post, acknowledging Mental Health Week, and that fact that our mental health is not a thing that exists in isolation – is not our mind in a jar, like my grandparents’ false teeth when they went to bed. It exists as part of a network of minds, an ecology of beings, it’s connected to our physical bodies, but also to everyone around us, the living and more-than-human beings, AND to the cultural and societal institutions we have to navigate. It’s all connected.
(See Gabor Mate for all kinds of beautiful wisdom on this. AND also, check out Dr Jennifer Mullan at instagram.com/decolonizingtherapy: “Mental health awareness month irritates me. Like most novelty months annoy me. Mental health is a colonial concept. My emotions, body, systems, home environments, access, financials, and spirit are what makes up one’s mental health. Colonial deprogramming, is a generational process. Not a YOU one. It’s a WE process. It’s one of finding the joys, the insecurities. The struggles. The pleasures. Growth is what I believe we are here for on this earth.”)
So your health is related to the state of the world today.
And we need to reclaim our power to influence that state of the world… rather than accept that maybe we should just “fix” ourselves somehow.
I heard the incredible Rob Hopkins speak on the weekend. Rob is the author of from What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want , and the founder of the Transition Towns movement. He is an agent for positive change in the world, through community building, and he distills so much of what is wrong with the world, right now, as being related to a failure of imagination.
Here’s his recent Tedx Bologna presentation, which gives you his basic thesis.
Imagination and IQ were increasing, historically, in concert with each other. We were getting smarter. (At least, according to the methods we were using to measure it.) Until the mid 1990s when something weird happened. The progress decoupled. Intelligence and imagination broke up with each other. IQ kept growing and imagination began to plummet.
Now, on the precipice of so many dark futures, in 2022, we’ve come to feel that the situations we’re living through are inevitable. That the best way to get through is just to numb out, or pretend it’s fine, or to party like there’s not tomorrow and seize our happiness with our elbows out to make sure we get our share. And I understand this entirely.
But what Rob said, that left me sobbing over my keyboard, at the sheer relief of having this named, is that we need to address this as a failure of imagination, and get to work, together, imagining all the other possibilities and futures that need us in order to come to life. As Rilke, the poet, once said very beautifully, although in German, the future comes to life through you. And it lands in you long before it actually manifests in the world.
SO WHAT YOU PUT INTO YOUR MIND MATTERS A LOT.
Your dreams, your plans, your ability to think forward, depends utterly on the media and information you are consuming, as well as what you’re doing and experiencing. So, if, for example, you’ve just spent two years constrained by a destabilizing global pandemic, and consumed a lot more dire media than ever before, chances are that your imagination is a bit emaciated, it’s very hard to imagine any positive outcomes and you’re probably feeling a little stressed/frazzled/fragile…
You may also be experiencing elevated stress levels, and that little sea-horse of a hippocampus that is the home of memory and imagination (that’s the shape of that part of your brain) contracts when your system is flooded with cortisol.
So, when you’ve been consuming shitty news AND you’re feeling stressed, your imaginative and creative capacity (where our vitality as human beings lives and where we get energy and a charge and a feeling of flow and aliveness) is affected.
So. The mental environment matters.
And it’s pretty hard to have good mental health in a messed up mental environment.
I think there are a lot of helpful things that CAMH, and other mental health practitioners, can offer us. A suite of things to contemplate: seeing a therapist, being part of a support circle, meditation alone or with a group, journalling, time outside, breath work, movement.
Listen to the podcast or read the book Burn Out from Emily and Amelia Nagoski… it’s so kind and full of helpful science about emotions and how to “complete” them.
But also, to pick up this thread from yesterday, instead of focussing in, on:
“what are you going to do for your mental health, or your self-care, today?”
focus out on:
“What might you do today to spring clean the mental environment we’re inhabiting?”
It will help you to enjoy your experience more… just I like I always feel better after I’ve done my annual spring ditch clean in front of my house… and it will also improve the lives of others. Added bonus.
You don’t have to do it alone.
In fact, the whole point of this is to say, we can’t do it alone. We are relationally wired, so our mental health is utterly connected to our social environment. So find a way to hang out with people whoa re going to improve your mental environment.
Like, Rob’s cronies at the free Together We Can summit, which is happening online from May 11-21, and is designed as showcase of all the amazing things that are happening in the world. It’s the kind of food our imaginations need. It’s on UK time, so 7pm translates at 11am for us. So why not make it your lunch break treat… and immerse yourself in some stories of real life people dreaming up better ways of living, and clearing up the mental environment, to create conditions in which we can all thrive.
The best antidote for worry and overwhelm, it has been said, is doing one small thing.
All these small things are do-able, by ourselves, even if we’re not feeling at our best. We can repair a much loved shirt. We can learn about trauma. We can amplify the good. And they build and build and build. And maybe one day we’ll all wake up and say, wow, my head is not in a fog today and my heart does not feel heavy… because of the small steps towards big dreams that we began. In honour of our collective mental health. And the right to flourish.