Hi! I can’t comprehend how fast time is going…but I’m not complaining that we’ve almost reached the weekend again! My last assignment for English is an essay on the novel ‘The Penelopiad’. It’s a retelling of Homer’s legendary myth of Odysseus from the perspective of Penelope and the 12 hanged maids, all of which having been given no voice in the original. This isn’t an English lecture though so I’ll simply strongly recommend the book and move to what really struck me as an important quote to remember in the context of coping with and/or recovering from mental illness.
The quote is the following:
“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does” (Atwood, 43).
I love the message of this quote delivered in the form of a parallel! It rings true to me and embodies something that I’ve been trying to use in my own struggles. These few sentences encapsulate a message that could be conveyed in an entire book! I’d like to break it down for us and share what I get out of it. Maybe it can help you as well!
When confronted with obstacles, including those brought on by mental illness, instinct can be to fight fire with fire. By that I mean when we feel the force pushing and destabilizing us, it may seem that the best course of action is to actively fight back and push against the obstacle. With issues such as mental illness however, force against force may not be the best solution. When encountering a force more powerful than ourselves it stands to reason that the more we push against it the more tired we will become, resulting in a painful and futile struggle. To stick with the theme of myth, David did not beat Goliath by trying to match and overpower Goliath’s strength.
This quote suggests that working around obstacles as water does is a powerful strategy. If I try to grasp water with force to contain it within my fist, I will not succeed. Water changes shape according to its environment. While the stone may seem stronger and tougher, given enough time the water will win by wearing it down.
What Does This Mean in Terms of Releasing Bad Thoughts for Our Mental Health?
When we have intrusive thoughts that trouble us and bring on uncomfortable emotions we often try to push the thoughts away. Maybe some of you have experienced this…a kind of thought process similar to the following:
Why am I thinking about this, I don’t want to. I hate this why can’t I just leave it behind?! Go way, leave me alone, I just want to feel ok and go about my day. These thoughts are stupid, what’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t feel this way, I have to stop it. Why can’t I control myself?
I can’t tell you how often I’ve had these thoughts in response to my head ‘acting up’, as I call it. The thing is the more we dwell on NOT thinking about something, the more likely we are to keep thinking about it. Why? Because our mind isn’t going to focus on how we don’t want to feel a certain way, it’s going to focus on the thing we’re trying to forget. My crisis worker explained this to me with an easy example that I’ll share with you: If I tell you not to think about a pink elephant let’s say, what did you just do? I bet you quickly flashed on a pink elephant! Am I right?
This suggests that focussing on our desire to NOT dwell on something is akin to meeting force with force. Since bad thoughts can be really strong, it’s likely that our end of the force may not be strong enough to overpower it. The solution? Be like water!
I’m not suggesting that this is easy but I think it’s a good strategy. When the thoughts/emotions come, perhaps we should work on subverting them. Instead of feeding into their power it might be best to wear them down by diminishing their strength. Let’s take water to represent patient, passive and continuously free-flowing power. Let’s also remind ourselves that water can represent clarity and calm. If we can embody these qualities by accepting the state that we’re in and regard it with little importance, perhaps we can allow the water to carry the thoughts away downstream. We’re on the bank of a river and unpleasant things will arrive…but if we don’t pick them up out of the river they can simply flow past us.
Passivity is often regarded negatively, right? I don’t think this is always the case; especially when it comes to ridding ourselves of unwanted thoughts and emotions. What would happen if the next time such unpleasantness arrives, we simply say “so what”? There’s a lot of power in those two words of passivity. “I feel this way right now…so what? I don’t need you in my life right now, I think I’ll leave you in the river.” In other words let’s try not to grasp on to the negative and instead allow it to pass us by as one of the millions of thoughts we get each and every day. No more, no less.
I hope water can be an inspiration to us all and a reminder that power does not solely reside in force and strength. We are mostly water and if we can tap into that, perhaps we can be free.
Have a lovely and relaxing weekend everyone!
If you enjoyed this you may like ‘Reframing Negative Thoughts – Coping‘