Friday, November 13, 2009

Lose Your Mind and Come to your Senses

Fritz Perls, a Gestalt psychotherapist is generally attributed with the expression “lose your mind and come to your senses”. When I utter these words to people, I can see that they are frequently taken aback. We often equate “losing our minds” with “going crazy”. It almost sounds like a paradox-how can we lose our minds and simultaneously come to our senses? Although Fritz Perls was doing psychotherapy in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the wisdom of his words very much still applies to our present world. In fact, our culture’s relatively new interest in yoga and mindfulness meditation can be seen as contemporary expressions of this philosophy of living.

So what does it mean to lose your mind and come to your senses? For me, these words acknowledge that the mind not only has the wonderful capabilities of helping us resolve problems, imagine new possibilities and recall special moments but it also has the capability of entrapping us in less than helpful thinking patterns. We’ve all had occasion to worry, obsess, and ruminate about the past and about the future. Also, sometimes our mind becomes so much of a filter of experience (rather than helping us understand and respond to experience) that we live more in our ideas and mental construct s rather than living in real experience. Coming to our senses is literally that –experiencing the world around us through our eyes, our ears, our sense of touch and contact with things. Think about the last time that you walked down your street. Were you really aware of your experience of walking down the street or were you lost in your own thoughts that may have had nothing to do with the world around you. When was the last time you were able to see thinking as one aspect of your experience rather than experience in general?

Coming to our senses, is often the antidote to some of the torturous thoughts that we can have about past events or an imagined future. Coming to our senses helps to expose thoughts for what they are: passing ideas that may or may not have any basis in reality. Coming to our senses reminds us to see reality the way it really is, not through our ideas about how it should be or how we think it really is. Finally, coming to our senses is often a wake-up call that allows us to step away from unproductive thinking patterns for a bit and wake up to the present moment around us.

We often think that our thoughts point to an objective truth about a situation or an issue but that is not necessarily the case. Coming to our senses is not a way of avoiding reality or pushing away unpleasant feelings or thoughts. It’s more of a way of putting our lives in a broader context of living that sometimes allows us to see and experience things differently. For example, you may be having strong feelings about someone who is important in your life and has somehow let you down or disappointed you. You may be engaged in a lot of mental dialogue about your anger or disappointment with that person. How could that person do that? I wonder about this, I wonder about that. Maybe I should do this, maybe I should say that. Maybe I should think this way rather than that way. You may find yourself getting caught up in a lot of mental activity that is speculative, unproductive and possibly harmful to you and others.

While you are feeling that emotional pain, it is also possible to be aware of what else is happening around you. There’s the pain, yet there may also be dinner that needs to be prepared, or the crying of a baby that reminds us that someone needs us, or the beauty of a flower in your backyard that is fully in bloom. Coming to our senses is like opening up or widening the lens on a camera. When our thoughts and emotional pain are no longer the only thing in the photo, we can respond to life dilemmas in a very different way.

Best regards,


Copyright David Boudreau 2009

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