This is the fourth in a series of extracts from my book Listen To Your Footsteps, a collection of reflections and essays on fatherhood, identity, loss, creativity, etc.
THE RUSSIAN author Fyodor Dostoevsky is quoted as having said, ‘To think too much is a disease.’ I have always wondered how one measures thinking too much. I have spent a lifetime in my head and been told I think too much. I have always felt, in some instances, we don’t think enough and what children should be taught is how to think. So many things in the world seem to happen because zero thought has been put into a situation and the consequences of this lack of thought create conflict, on different scales.
But I have also come to recognise that to live primarily in one’s head is not conducive to, well, living in harmony with others. It can be a crutch, this retreat into one’s self. It leaves very little room for anything else, especially when you define yourself as solely your mind. Learning that I am not my mind has been a complicated exercise that I am still working through.
For a long time, if my mind wasn’t working constantly, I would struggle to sleep. Now, when my mind is racing, unpacking scenarios, making plans, stressing about life’s challenges, I struggle to sleep.
My father brought a television into the house around 1982. Prior to this, I had submerged myself in the written world, but this was a whole new world. While what one could watch was limited, all of a sudden we didn’t have to go to the cinema, which was rare in itself, to escape. The only channels available were from South Africa, primarily in English and Afrikaans, with a spattering of programming in Setswana, isiZulu and isiXhosa. A lack of understanding of some of the languages didn’t stop me from planting myself on the floor in front of the telly and zoning out.
Looking back, it occurs to me that the things that I feel into deeply involved a temporary escape from reality. It is only when reading a book or watching a movie or television programme that my mind settles. Being transported into another world or other lives is the only time I am not stressing, plotting, thinking and worrying. When I was younger, I used to do this regularly, but, as I became an adult, I stopped doing it as much, which has resulted in overthinking and being constantly wired too tightly.
The irony today is that we have so many things that serve as distraction but bring with them added stress. Social media is not an escape but a magnifying glass on the challenges of the world. We have so many opportunities to watch films and series that the excessive number of options make it even harder to choose what to engage with.
Having children reduced the time available to spend on video, at a time when I probably need to be a lot more deliberate about taking time for myself, away from adulting, away from being a father, husband, brother, friend, professional, etc. Added to this is the reality that most of my work is ‘head work’ and the majority of my reading over the last decade has been non-fiction, so I am constantly thinking and processing.
It has got to the stage where I can’t watch ‘intelligent’ films that make you think because I find them tiring. Now I just want to watch good old-fashioned action flicks with the usual story lines.
We need to be able to escape. We need to be able to step away from life and its complexities. I used to have hobbies. As I write this, I need to find or rather make space for them.
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