The mind is a scary place. It houses endless unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It is the birth-place of both brilliant and unbelievably stupid ideas. It holds onto the memories that haunt us and the ones that keep us going. It is how we access and express our very souls. There is a whole division of both medicine and science dedicated to understanding the brain. But the mind, the consciousness inside that brain, is so much more than firing neurons can explain. Our entire lives, past, present, and future, are kept inside our heads where no one else can see. Only we can retrieve its contents.
It’s a lonely thought. No one in the whole world will ever be able to know us completely. No amount of physical or emotional closeness can give someone else the ability to see what is going on in your head. They can come to recognize your pattern of behaviors and they can study you until they learn everything that you choose to show, but they will never truly know the depths of your mind. All we have to express it is language. Verbal and nonverbal cues can go a long way but they do not have the capacity to define a soul. I think that those who love us most can come close enough to understanding us that it is not a very noticeable gap in what they know and what is true. But the fact still remains that our minds are entirely our own.
This seems dangerous to me. With so much valuable information swirling around in there at all times, I don’t think that I, personally, can be trusted to be the only one in charge of it all. I decide what I share and what I show. I decide how to interpret all those little neurons full of information and how to act based on that very fickle interpretation. As a child, it comes naturally. You don’t know that your brain is the one telling you things, you just know that you know them. But once you start thinking about your own responsibility to control your brain, nothing is quite so clear.
This is especially true if you are like me and you like to run from your emotions like you run when you need some chips and guac and Chipotle is closing in 10 minutes. Desperate situations call for unthinkably extreme actions like physical (or mental) exertion. Emotions are not concrete. You can try to think and logic your way through them as much as you want, but they rarely make sense. How is it that I am in control of my own mind, and yet most of the time, I cannot get it to make sense? And to make it worse, the more you think, the further down the rabbit hole you slip. Our brains summon more memories and more thoughts and more emotions to try to make sense of the current ones until it turns into one big jumbled mess.
If all the information we need to understand is in our heads, why does it take us so long to get there? If thought is so instantaneous, why does it take weeks to sort through some issues? Why does the tool that we use to comprehend every other thing in the world have such a hard time understanding itself? Thoughts are supposed to be rational. They are supposed to transform what is irrational into neat little files in the office of our brains which we can then access and put away on demand.
But this is not how it works. I’m told that feeling is what makes us human. Being human is a lot of work. Everyday living does not require much depth. School, work, errands, etc. They are routine and simple and exercise the part of your brain that really is a filing cabinet: The professional self, the focused self, the sociable self. The self with no complications or distractions. But these things are not what make a life. Love, compassion, community. These are the richest things in life, and yet they all require a certain amount of investment that is eventually going to cause pain and confusion. But, they are also supposed to cause the most joy and fulfillment. I’m still doing the cost-benefit analysis for that kind of vulnerability. I would say it can’t hurt to try it, but the entire point is that it would. But I’m coming to realize that it might hurt just as much to not try. Life is too long to live it alone and too short to waste any time.