Sunday 8 December 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'Is mindfulness turning me into a psychopath?'

'You end up observing yourself'
'You end up observing yourself'
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Do you ever think that all the mindfulness might be turning all of us into psychopaths? Or sociopaths, which is largely the same thing I gather. Or at the very least do you ever wonder if it might be making us all like those previous generations of Irish men who weren't in touch with their emotions and bottled everything up.

We had been told that those men who bottled things up and were stoic in the face of whatever happened were a bad thing. It was unhealthy for them to bottle the stuff up and it was apparently hard on their wives and children. They would have been better off, the thinking went until recently, to get more in touch with their emotions.

The last 10 years in Ireland has been very much about everyone getting more in touch with their emotions. I'm old enough to remember, as, I'm sure, are you, what Ireland was like before that. We used to laugh at people in touch with their emotions. It was crazy hippie stuff that they did in California. Up there with yoga, salads, avocados and therapy. How we laughed.

Sometimes a guy would come back from America in those days and he might intimate that he was trying to be more positive about things, or maybe that he was going to the gym, or drinking less, or maybe he would want to talk about things, in a real way, about things in the family, or things that had happened with his friends when they were younger. Well lads, the slagging he would get. Look at your man and he home from Amerikay after turning into a yank, with his positivity and his feelings.

And he would be brought out and given a few pints until he was as negative and blocked up as the rest of us.

Back in those days there was no plant milk available in Ireland. Pasta was the height of exoticism back then and was indeed regarded as some class of a health food. It was practically stocked in chemists, where you could also buy olive oil. Nobody was gluten-free back then, or at least they didn't know it. Bread was the staple diet - real bread, sliced pan, none of your sourdough - and if you were in constant pain in your stomach from eating the bread, then you just sucked it up and got on with it.

And then things started to change. Suddenly there was a new generation of parents who wanted to be their kids' best friends, and adults who wanted to buy the fancy runners they weren't allowed to have when they were kids. And men were encouraged to cry. And then Bressie changed everything by forcing us to acknowledge that life can be hard sometimes.

I was fully bought in to this new touchy-feely Ireland. I've always been a sensitive soul deep down anyway.

Hypersensitive some would say. But I don't speak to any of those people anymore.

So it was a logical step then that I would go back to the meditation. And I've been finding it very good. But I have started to realise that key to the guided meditations I sometimes do, is the notion that you basically do not get involved with your emotions. The gist of the meditation and mindfulness seems to be that you acknowledge the emotions, don't attempt to repress them, but don't react to them, and then move on, and there'll be another one along in a minute anyway.

The metaphor they sometimes use is that of a raging torrent of a river. And your job is to stand on the bank and observe it going past, but do not dive in and get battered about by the emotional tsunami.

And it makes sense. I have far too many emotions, so it's no harm for me to try not to dive into all of them. But then as you keep up the practise, and it bleeds into your everyday life, you find yourself standing back from emotions, as the kids say, IRL (that's 'In Real Life', grandad). And I will admit it makes life much easier to just stand around observing yourself and everything from a bit of a distance, but you do wonder sometimes, isn't this the definition of a psychopath? Or an Irish man from the 1950s?

Anyway, what of it. Let's move on. There's things to be done. And they won't get done if I'm here yabbering on like some hysterical woman. Now where's my pipe? I need to sit staring wordlessly into the fire for the evening.

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