And my head is going to explode if I have to stay tuned to any more thoroughly-middle-class ‘easy listening’. Sorry, I love the BBC but this is too much.
So why am I doing it?
Because I’m supervising this little bundle of life, who is bringing joy, and leaping, and pouncing, and chewing, and chasing into our lives again.
BBC Radio 4 is intended to bring soothing narcolepsy to her new kitchen home.
It’s like having a baby again; bursts of all-action energy and spells of total inactivity. Still, it’s doing me good.
I read a good piece of advice in the week, which is, whatever your faith (or lack of it) everyone should have a Sabbath; a day of rest where you sit, relax and put jobs aside. I’ve not been properly idle forever.
Despite The Archers, it’s good to sit still for a few hours on a Sunday; especially with a warm puppy in your lap.
A difficult week given the untimely demise of our beloved pup; but I am finally released from the shackles of a job which often made me feel helpless and hopeless.
After crying my eyes out on Tuesday as the vet put Romeo to sleep, on Wednesday I began to tackle the domestic to do list: tidying and odd jobs. By yesterday evening I’d got as far as completing my tax return… a process and sense of achievement nicely encapsulated by Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot, here:
Today I have cycled, walked, made sausage sandwiches for breakfast, sorted our evening meal, done my washing, and now am sitting socially distanced outside a little cafe with a nice flat white. I feel a bit like Atlas the robot below, tentatively upbeat…
But there’s no getting away from the fact that this week will always be remembered for our lost little dog; he tried, but after his stroke, never could quite get back to his feet.
Out walking the dog, what should pop up on my podcast playlist than Keith Frankish on Philosophy Bites explaining why I was lost in thought, while the dog was 100% focused on the walk…
The difference between us is he lives in the immediate, whereas we spend a lot of our time elsewhere.
Consciousness is the distinctive feature of the human mind. Because a conscious thought is a thought about something that isn’t perceptually present. We can react to thoughts about the world detached from immediate perception.
So if we can do it, why can’t animals? Not least given we have ostensibly similar sensory apparatus and not massively dissimilar brains?
The crucial difference is we have language… Frankish’s proposal is that it is the presence of language that enables us to have conscious thought, not just conscious perception.
We don’t just use language for communicating with each other, we use language for communicating with ourselves; for stimulating ourselves in new ways, for representing the world to ourselves, for representing situations that aren’t actually real… situations that ‘might’ happen and this enables us to anticipate, to plan to prepare for eventualities that haven’t yet occurred.
This, I think is the function of conscious thought. Conscious thought, I think, is essentially a kind of speaking to ourselves.
And by talking to ourselves we can mentally shift in time and space in ways which my trusty hound probably can’t. He’s a clever little chap – but apart from chasing bunnies and squirrels in his sleep (you can see his legs twitching as he runs them down) he’s a creature of the immediate present.
As Frankish explains:
We might say that one of the main functions of mind generally, in us and other animals, is to lock us onto the world; to make us sensitive to the world around us so we can respond quickly to changes to enable us to negotiate the world in a rapid and flexible way.
But Homo Sapiens has another trick…
The function of the conscious mind, I think is quite different. It’s not to lock us onto the world, it is to unlock us from the world – to enable us to consider alternative worlds, to consider what we would do if things weren’t as we expect them to be, to make plans for how we might change the world.
So this ability to step back from the ‘immediate’ and use language – talking to ourselves – to reflect on what is, has, might or will happen is what our unique combination of language and consciousness give us.
So far so generically interesting. But potentially even more interesting is how I’m going to try and use this insight…
Here are the mental steps:
Most of the bad things that are happening to me in work (and there are plenty) are made worse be me running over them in my mind.
Because I’m quite verbally dexterous I may be guilty of sharpening them in my inner dialogue to the point of exquisite pain.
Treatments may vary but nearly all (bar the most serious) respond to ‘talking therapies’ which aim to change the inner dialogue.
Mindfulness, which helps too, is all about turning off the ‘inner talking’ and returning to the moment – in effect locking back onto the world as a trusty hound would.
Although bad things are happening to me at work (as they are for most people right now) they are still not as bad as the versions in my mind (at least not all of the time) and most of them are anticipated and haven’t actually happened yet.
My inner voice is currently more negative and ruminative than is good for me.
And talking to other people makes it even worse.
So what to do?
Simple – switch language, and here’s why:
People in several different workplaces down the years have commented that I’m very cheerful and animated when I speak French.
I remember that when I used to live in France I couldn’t really do numbers very well in French; it’s like I was saying them in my head but the ‘numbers bit’ of my brain wasn’t properly engaging.
If I’m thinking about something terrible – like getting made redundant or making other people redundant it makes me feel really sad.
If I consciously think about the same thing in French, there is little or no physiological effect… it’s as if the ‘pain connectors’ aren’t there; I think it, but more slowly and not sadly…
Perhaps it’s because I have to work at it. I think more slowly, and my vocabulary is less ‘fine’ in French – but it seems the pain and sadness just isn’t there when I think the same thought in French. In fact it’s not really the same ‘thought’ at all, its more a daisy chain of words which register in the mind but aren’t ‘felt’ in the same way.
So based on Keith Frankish, when bad and sad thoughts crowd in, I clearly need to switch to Frankish – or French as we know it these days. Whenever I start ruminating or feel chest clenching anxieties about work I plan to try thinking about them in French to get them under control.
Let’s see if it works… And if not there’s always Italiano! Vive la France.
As I head to my half century this autumn, there is much to celebrate. None of it at work, if I’m honest; but at home my cup runneth over.
A house move hoves into view; thus providing the steady drumbeat of tasks: chucking away, taking stuff to the charity shop, driving to the municipal recycling facility and odd jobs on which (secretly) I thrive.
I have been ‘outed’ as a foodie at work, and “if the shoe fits wear it”… Armed with my constant companion – the InstantPot – and a burgeoning supply of Tupperware, I love my cooking and my homemade work lunches.
Family life is endlessly full. Yesterday, for Father’s Day I was treated to tasty tongue tinglers new and old by my offspring; capped (after the obligatory two trips to the municipal recycling facility) by a family bike ride to foodie heaven and a Venezuelan pork and crackling arepa for lunch.
And then there’s the dog. Such a happy little hound. Endlessly up for catch, wrestling with his stuffed pheasant and balls of all shapes and sizes. He is a constant source of joy in our lives.
Home is where the heart is; and my home and heart are full of happiness right now.
Knitting together from several sources: it’s well worth celebrating life’s small moments of joy…
A friend of Tim Ferriss recommends a ‘Jar of Awesome’ – a Mason Jar (as above) into which everyone in the family drops little paper slips, to celebrate small happinesses…
Not sure that would work in our house. I think we’d be arguing with each other and scrumpling up each other’s slips of paper in no time.
Plus ‘Awesome’ may be overstating it. Small blessings, kindnesses and happy moments are more up my street.
As so often Chris Croft is a voice of practical good sense. He recommends a small notebook to jot down happy moments through the day; then recap and write three more at bedtime.
So I’ve now got a list on my iPhone titled ‘Jar Mitzvahs’, my virtual jar-cum-notebook of daily moments, and memories, and things to be thankful for.
And as Chris Croft suggests I’ve found some recurring themes…
…cooking, activities with the kids, chucking stuff for the dog to fetch, sunshine. But there are also a few I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t written them down… kind words, being appreciated and just rubbing along with folk at work.
Happiness isn’t that complicated; it breaks out every time you clear the clouds from your head.
He’s a lovely little fella, but phew! As predicted; a puppy is a whole lot of work.
Still it’s a joyful business. And despite finding myself breathing mist: in a bobble hat, an old coat and a pair of crocs; chucking a stuffed squeaky toy for him at 6am this morning (for the tenth day running) it’s nice to have a dog about the house.
Life’s all about choices in the end. The house is a tip; the brief idealistic moment (after we moved two houses) of thinking we might get the place sorted and tidy is almost forgotten.
But a tidy house and a tidy life is a shrinking life – a puppy creates mess and disorder. That’s no bad thing.
After a month of refusal, obstruction and obfuscation… on Monday the dam finally broke.
Under siege from my other and better half, out thought and out argued by my eldest; and finally advised to throw in the towel by my youngest… I gave in. Tomorrow we drive to the south coast to pick up a small brindled bundle of energy and potential joy called Romeo.
My daughter’s well argued PowerPoint put a massive crack in my defences
Our friends bringing his sister Winnie round last weekend brought the proposition to life…
So tomorrow we embark on by my guesstimate circa 17 years of having a hound again. Here he is looking rather down in the mouth with his breeder:
Albeit I know I’ll end up schlepping around in the rain, cold and dark for myriad hours as a result; I also know – in my heart of hearts – this is a statement of genuine optimism.
A dog brings mess, bother, responsibility, cost and ultimately great sadness – in their inevitable and sometimes painfully protracted decline. But a dog also brings joy, unconditional love and companionship; no one more pleased to see you when you open the door than a dog.
Every home is a happier home with a hound.
And so to our old dog. Poor old Mr Tumnus went downhill very badly in his last months; but he was a very fine hound for a good 7 years. It has taken half a decade but it’s time to welcome another big fella into our lives.