Thought #48. Follow your nose.

Learning how to be guided by natural instincts could help us thrive in life. Strangely enough, very few people are used to relying on intuition. By all accounts, rationality is synonymous with lacking faith in our sixth sense. Then, if both approaches, rational and instinctive, seem to be at odds, how can we marry them?

If we could go back to our origins, when the first life on earth struggled to survive, we would, in all likelihood, see how the inborn intuitive power of living creatures came into its own. Yet we cannot help but believe that it should have gone that way.

Besides ignoring the past, we have been taught to believe that human reason equals sanity. Can we make conscious decisions by following our gut instincts? Consciousness and normality is hardly ever used when talking about intuition.

However, we use it all the time. Every day, we make life-and-death decisions unconsciously. For example, we stop at a red light or let the soup cool. But, most commonly, we make thousands of wise decisions without even thinking about them: brush your teeth first thing in the morning, close the door when leaving home, buckle your seat belt when driving to work, answer your mum’s call, etc.

Going on automatic pilot prevents your brain from being overwhelmed, from crashing. If we had to consider every action separately, we would never leave home in the morning. Sometimes, it takes us too much time to come to a conclusion before deciding. It would be advisable to optimise this process.

Why we do not we learn to use our natural instincts more frequently? Why not use them when making conscious decisions? From my point of view, spontaneous people welcome change and that is the crux. In other words, fear of change could be tantamount to excess of rationality.  By acting instinctively, we save time and effort and that gives us the opportunity to concentrate on those tasks that really require such a concentration.

Let you hair down and if the opportunity presents itself, give a chance to your animal instinct.

Thought #47. On selfies.

The self-portrait is not a latest craze. Art history, ancient and modern, gives comprehensive accounts of this genre as a common means of expression among artists. The question is what is the motivation, if any, for an artist to depict himself.

As an aficionado of photography, I have always been amazed at the power of images. Perhaps in pursuit of an aesthetic value, or maybe out of the need of expressing feelings; no wonder I ended up taking pictures of myself. But I hardly ever shared them with friends or family.

I feel like telling something with my photography and that may prevent my output from being much of a muchness. I would not have published my work unless I had been sure that each picture’s message came across as intended. I know full well that my work is not suitable for anyone, though. I am quite comfortable with detractors too.

Why did I take the picture above? Within those four edges I found a way to represent a question mark. But, deep inside I really wanted to spark, at least, criticism. I remember the remark that a photographer, whose work is a model for me, made when I first showed him this photo. He could have disapproved of the lack of compositional rules, the overuse of negative space (which refers to showing a lot of empty space), and many other technicalities. Instead, he said “I’m puzzled”. Bravo, I murmured to myself.

After that short remark, he told me that by hiding my mouth I was leaving the viewer totally clueless. Without any reference but a pair of eyes wide open, he was unable to tell whether I was laughing, making fun of him or simply scared.

Maybe this story leads the way and the reader will follow. When an opportunity of taking a selfie arouses, it is highly advisable to approach it with the willingness to tell something. People are jaded with meaningless imagery, you too.

Thought #46. Poised to react.

A reaction is what you do, say or think as a result of something that has happened. Every time we react to an event or situation, not only our personality is reflected but also our perception of the outer world. In other words, we show who we are by means of our behaviour. But, is it that simple? Can we judge others by their reactions?

The short answer would be no. Imagine that you are a wannabe writer and you show your latest unfinished short story to a good friend who is an avid reader. You might expect a truly informed opinion or a thorough critique but, maybe it just so happens that your friend is not in the mood because of a recent read on child abuse. That read has just provoked so dramatic an impact on him that your friend’s first reaction to the draft is not just negative, but almost violent: “This is bullshit”.

Must you rethink your entire writing career? No, you must not. The same story would have triggered an enthusiastic and positive response only if the timing of the events had been different. The message I am trying to convey is that we often overplay the significance of extreme reactions, both positive and negative. Would it not be better if we took them with a pinch of salt?

However, the mechanism of judging others is purely based on our careful observation of such reactions and therefore, we cannot help but be always poised to answer, with honesty, to the world that surrounds us. That way, we will do, say or think what we really meant, projecting a more accurate image of ourselves and making ourselves better known.

Thought #45. An insomniac mattress.

Animated objects littered the deserted streets. Any living creature would have sensed the rarefield atmosphere that soured that night, but the city was lifeless of proper life. Humankind must accept its fate. A gloomy future, a hopeless existence, the dawn of things had arrived.

An insomniac mattress awakened from its fated death. More than tired, exhausted is how it was feeling. Oppressed by countless sleepless nights trying to please the jaded couple, it could not help but escape. The scenery was beyond recognition. A teapot and a radio soon joined the mattress which was leading an improvised parade.

The white noise delivered by the radio was felt by hundreds of objects as rhythmic beat. Dancing on the streets, making quirky and, at the same time, distinctive sounds, more and more of them stepped in. Beeping, clanking, clicking… a range of metallic dins filled the silence with music.

A symphony under the baton of the mattress whose driving ambition to become a conductor was being fulfilled, once and for all. Books and chairs, pencils and notebooks, baby buggies and bikes, they all gathered around the insomniac mattress, playing unthinkable dissonant chords. An increasing noise, loud and deafening, awful and incessant.

And then silence filled the room. Sweating and gasping for breath, my heart was pounding. It was only a nightmare. A few minutes later I kissed Marta gently and fell asleep for the tenth time that night.

Thought #44. Completely hooked?

Life was transformed with the advent of smartphones. People from my age group, whose upbringing was highly influenced by the availability of the first personal computers, regard this invention as a metamorphosis of those cumbersome machines that used to entertain us every now and then. However, the social transformation that has taken place in the last decade is beyond our wildest dreams.

We used to have play dates; we would spend a whole evening at the park playing soccer. The weekend was synonymous with going out and enjoying fresh air. Family gatherings and friends hanging out were a common sight. Married couples watched a film on TV to unwind from a stressed week at work. Now, it is highly improbable that we would stumble upon a group of children without a smartphone, or that we might see a couple just talking in a cafeteria. More and more elderly people use them every day to keep in touch with younger family members.

A smartphone is more than just a combination of a computer and a phone. The constant improvement of high-speed networks and handsets has resulted in sophisticated pieces of technology that monitor and control our daily life. Curiously enough, we barely use our smartphones to make calls. Instead, we prefer to communicate using multimedia chats, where immediacy and convenience set them apart.

The millennial generation has become hooked on technology. They will go to any lengths to get more gigabytes when their data plan is exhausted; even the most wayward of children will behave well for fear of having their smartphone or tablet confiscated. However, smartphones do have a plethora of advantages such as the ability to make us better understand the global problems that afflict our time. Most would agree that information equals informed decisions.

There is a long way to go to comprehend the profound changes that our societies have undergone and, consequently, we do not have any other option but to wait and be hopeful about what the future holds. In my opinion, humankind has evolved throughout millenniums and, by and large, our welfare has always improved so there is no point in dramatising the risks of this kind of addiction. Only time will tell.

Thought #43. Unreliable memories.

What’s your earliest childhood memory? And your most bitter-sweet one? Can you rekindle your great and joyful past events clearly? Maybe you can answer those questions easily, but that says little about your ability to recall facts and events as they really happened.

Apparently, a single long-term memory did not even exist as an entity. Our mind is not a library where a pile of books rests waiting for being loaned at will. Each life event is broken into several pieces that are stored in different places of our brain, sometimes redundantly. When we try to recall a memory, a process of reconstruction takes place.

It often happens that we find ourselves unable to conjure up a particular event. Probably, it would come later, unexpectedly. Then, if it is still relevant, we will make an unconscious effort to store it again, reinforcing the chances of a future successful retrieval. But memories are volatile, shifting and unstable.

The process of reconstruction can add irrelevant and misleading information to the original event, making new pictures of our past reality each time we trigger and recall them. Depending on the situation in which we try to remember something, our brain can take a wrong path and end up with a wrong set of pieces to build a past experience.

I would not go so far as to say that we can barely trust our brain storage system, but next time you want to remember something, think about the possibility of taking your memories with a pinch of salt and, if you have your smartphone, take a picture. It is worth a thousand memories.

Thought #42. Crocodile tears.

Crying emotional tears is a strange quirk of humankind. Sometime during the early development of the species, our ancestors had to contrive ways to express emotions in response to new forms of social interaction. However, social traits have been widely and deeply observed among other animal species and yet shedding emotional tears is considered uniquely human, making it so far impossible to reveal the mystery over why others animals do not show emotions using their lacrimal gland.

Apparently, this unique feature could be one of the answers to my dearest question: what makes us human. We are used to witnessing impressive emotional displays involving the act of crying. Despite being generally attached to sadness or sorrow, our ability to weep tears goes beyond these bounds. Angry tears can fill someone’s eyes when an upsetting situation is confronted. Similarly, bitter tears are suitable for disappointments. We even have invented the glamorous happy tears, especially reserved for great moments. The crocodile tears are aimed to make the viewer misleadingly react, which could be tantamount to the popular insincere smile.

Streams of tears have flooded our planet since time immemorial. Genuinely or not, we cannot deny that crying is a powerful tool to convey outward messages. Luckily, modern societies have positively evolved into a social system in which this communicative tool can be used not only by children and women but also by boys and men. But we must be able to turn away and hide tears because crying is also part of our intimacy and sometimes, the mere presence of a single tear rolling slowly down your cheek can make people willing to stop you by making the well-known and telltale “please, don’t cry” statement. I would go so far as to say that sometimes I love tears in my eyes, I need them all around but, I prefer to shed them in private. I cannot stand being told to stop crying. Emotions make us human.

Thought #41. Look on the bright side.

However hard you try, nothing seems to work. This is a situation which may sound all too familiar to most of people. When we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, especially when there are too many clouds on the horizon, it is challenging to make the right choice. A dilemma normally involves two equally undesirable alternatives. And still, if you look on the bright side, the fact of having the choice is by itself something good enough.

How we learn to make conscious decisions is probably the crucial question. In order to broaden your experience in the art of decision-making, take into account that fear is the worst enemy. Fear of change, particularly, has been broadly studied by psychologists and researchers all over the world. I would say that we normally tend to exaggerate the importance of our own dilemmas. Inwardly, it may seem the most important ones but, if you openly share your problem with, for example, a friend, a new point of view could melt your niggling worries.

Coldly considering the action of making decisions can improve the chances of success. You can weigh your alternatives, but most importantly, you must let your hair down and try to wind down. A put off decision is better than a hastily made. Sometimes, however hard you try, nothing will work until you manage to stand back from your quandary. This little space between you and your problems might be enough to discover some overlooked facts that could tip the balance firmly in favour of an apparently worse choice.

Thought #40. Verdict: guilty 2/2.

I went to a library and asked for a copy of the newspapers that had been mentioning or examining any fact related to the crimes. I can still see legitimate fear in the face of the librarian when she saw me, it’s an image that I will never forget. I picked up the pile of papers and studied it carefully, taking notes in a little notebook: locations, names of the victims, times and dates. In short, I tried to gather as much information as I could, in an attempt to clear up my mind. My life was a real mess as I couldn’t foresee what would be my next movement. I couldn’t think clearly. When I handed out the material to the librarian I had a hunch that something didn’t dovetail.

For the next four weeks I visited the crime scenes and to my surprise, I couldn’t recall any of those places. People would run away from me as though I was a plague-ridden dog. Maybe I wasn’t doing myself any favours by wandering around like a madman. On one occasion, someone summoned the police and I was taken to the nearest police station, held in custody in a cell and then questioned. After 24 hours, they had to release me as they didn’t have any crime to pin on me.

Exhausted by the efforts expended in trying to shed light on the mysterious circumstances of those crimes, I had no option but to visit my old psychiatrist and friend. He received me at his office and we affectionately hugged each other. I needed therapy. During the following five months I did nothing but visit him. It took us more than twenty sessions to understand what was going on. Schizophrenia didn’t prevent me from bringing back my memories and I hadn’t tried to blot them out. Apparently, I could have been a victim of a misleading investigation and I could have been accused for want of any other potential suspect.

Unfortunately, society often attributes people who suffer from a mental illness with aggressive traits. Say the words disorder and crime and our brain would end up making a strong connection that would eventually make it impossible for us to see the forest for the trees. I’m unable to hurt anyone. But appearances, more often than not, are deceptive.

More by accident than design, the therapy helped me to remember how the trial procedure took place. The interrogation room where I was questioned before the trial was cold, lifeless and featureless. As if it were a film, a metal table with two chairs, a security door and a one way mirror. The man who conducted the questioning was the same that appeared along me in the front page of the newspaper I receive when I left prison. But it wasn’t a usual procedure. All I faced then was a brainwashing session. Well, not one but a series of sessions that undermined my confidence and my sense of reality. In less than 72 hours I admitted the crimes and signed a typewritten declaration.

I visited my doctor one more time. During the session I had the opportunity to tell him about those brainwashing sessions. 15 years in prison for a series of crimes I hadn’t been responsible for. My friend and doctor gave me a really useful piece of advice. I had to go on with my life. “Forget the past and try to recover your job.” were his final words.

I went to the hotel and had an interview with the director. A signed report from the doctor and a three-hour long meeting did the trick. I started working in the night shift, this time as a maintenance boy, giving a hand wherever I was needed. Two months later I received a telegram from an unknown source. “Only one more death. You paid for my sins. I’m no longer here.”

The morning newspaper showed a picture of a cordoned area near the police station. “The inspector in charge of the series of murderers that hit the city almost 16 years ago was found dead after committing suicide. Police sources say….”

Thought #39. Verdict: guilty 1/2.

After 15 years of prison, not only strangers, family or friends but also I despise myself for a series of brutal crimes I can barely remember. Leaving prison should have been the most exciting thing a convict could ever have dreamt. Ex-convicts used to say that it can also be terrifying. My exit wasn’t either intoxicating or scary, though. I felt empty, hopeless, more than lost, strayed. I was mental and that also goes back to when I was arrested on suspicion of murdering five young women.

I had been seeing a psychiatrist for years, since, at high school, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Until the trial took place I had been receiving a long-term psychiatric treatment that allowed me to live an almost normal life. For many years, I worked as a bellboy at a luxurious hotel in the city centre. After my morning shift, I even regularly attended classes of criminology at the Oxford University. My parents were well born and they encouraged me to study whatever I was keen on. It wasn’t after the verdict that they their hopes of seeing me as a perfectly sane person had definitely been wrecked. They died two years before I became a strayed destitute, before I got out of prison for crimes I can barely remember; before I was virtually and undeniably robbed of freedom and something more.

In prison, I never felt at home. The fact of being deprived of freedom of action wasn’t the worst part. In fact, I felt like a complete outsider since I arrived in prison. I never thought I belonged to their criminal kin. What can you expect from a madman? A crazy person cannot be trusted, can be? Undervalued and detested by my cell mate, I had to struggle to stay calm. Sometimes, I felt the urge to commit suicide, but soon I found myself soothed again. The doctor had augmented my dose of drugs. I took them religiously, it wasn’t necessary any kind of supervision. It saved my life countless times.

If I had to mention a friend, beyond doubt, it would be the doctor. I could see in her look a glimmer of understanding. She had the ability to penetrate deep inside me. It wasn’t her kindness. What I most appreciate was that she never mentioned the brutal crimes I was convicted for. Well, the only occasion she talked about it was when she read the admission report signed by the prison’s psychologist. Even then, she didn’t do it with a judgelike manner.

When I was released, I regained possession of my belongings. Among them, a newspaper from the day I was condemned splashed the story of an alleged psychopathic killer that was about to be judged. A picture of mine illustrates that front page article. The inspector in charge of the investigation stands in the background, almost blurred by the zoom lens focusing on me. I was roused and filled with mixed feelings. I couldn’t remember the face of any of the five women that appear below my picture. Now, six months after that precise moment, the truth could be revealed.

food for thought