Installing Windows In Your Mind
If you look in the mirror, you see your face. But if you look in your mind, what do you see? I think that what you see (or sense) is a windowless room in which something like monologue and something like dialogue take place. I think that you see a room and that you hear your own voice, sometimes asserting (“I want toast!”) and sometimes debating (“But isn’t wheat bread much better for me than white bread?”).
Your mind is a stuffy place, a familiar place, and a troubling place. It is pleasant enough because of its familiarity but troubling because of what you experience there. This is where you doubt. This is where you pine. This is where you announce that nothing is going right. This stuffy, familiar, troubling place is where you dwell in every private moment—and how musty it gets!
It is a place of secrets, secrets that we keep from others and secrets that we keep from ourselves. It is here in this stuffy room that we whisper, fantasize, and get even. The room is occupied in the strangest way: by obvious thoughts like “This jar is hard to open” or “What’s on television?” and by strange intimations of that which we do not want to hear and see, like insults not forgotten or the fact of our mortality.
I suspect that every mind would benefit from becoming less windowless. Don’t you? Don’t you think that just adding windows would help the things called “depression, “anxiety,” “obsessive-compulsive disorder,” “mania” and even “schizophrenia”? Isn’t it more than stuffy in there: isn’t it downright stifling and oppressive? How many times have you thought that thought? How many times have you had that conversation with yourself? How much airless repetition can you possibly tolerate?
What if you installed two windows, threw them open, and a let a cross breeze in? Wouldn’t some regrets waft away? Wouldn’t some stale conversations dissolve and disappear? Wouldn’t you find a little peace without having to travel to the beach or having to open another beer bottle? Wouldn’t everything change, just the way that life changes when a cloud passes and we see the sun again? Wouldn’t a balmy breeze make you feel altogether better?
The Buddha’s phrase “get a grip on your mind” suggests work; and it is indubitably work that cognitive therapists are suggesting when they ask you to engage in thought stopping, thought substituting, and all the rest. Even mindfulness, especially for beginners, is very hard work. But doesn’t adding windows and opening them wide sound easy? Doesn’t it sound, well, like a breeze?
When I do this easy thing—when I throw open the windows of my mind—I know exactly what benefits I receive. I instantly love more. Maybe it’s the imagined gardens, seaside promenades, and quaint villages, maybe it’s the children laughing and playing: who can say where the breeze is coming from or where it’s going? But I definitely love more with the windows thrown open.
I also think more clearly. I’ve written more than fifty books and I know what it takes to bring a train of thought to conclusion. It takes showing up, of course; but, having shown up, I do not want claustrophobia. I want airiness, a breeze, and a blue sky. I want concentration, but in a hammock. I want focus, but as in a sea gaze. I want the stillness of a summer afternoon but with the windows open so that sounds can trickle in and the air can keep circulating.
You will love more, think more clearly, feel emotionally better, and maybe even turn any diagnostic label you’re saddled with—your “depression” or “post-traumatic stress disorder” or “attention deficit disorder”—into a memory that you can then completely forget as it departs on the next breeze. You don’t need screens or storm shutters because you can leave mosquitoes and hurricanes out of the picture: all you need are simple windows that you sometimes shut but that you more often keep open.
Self-mastery isn’t only about heavy lifting. It’s also about the kind of easy remodeling I’m suggesting. Open windows in the mind do not make you slender, rich, or famous. But they clean house, air the place out, and can make you smile, when, for days, not a single smile has been available. You can imagine those windows; you can open them; they are available. Please add windows to your mind right now, or by tomorrow at the latest, because a windowless mind is a place of serious self-harm.