Transcribe your podcast

The Brendan O'Connor Show on TV, Radio One with all care pharmacy discover a team that's always here to support you at all care, taking care of communities across Ireland.


Let's train leave their the and the antianxiety behind for a while now because Tony Bates, clinical psychologist, is joining me. And what we're going to talk about today is solitude Tony.


Good morning, Brendan. Good morning, listeners. Hi.


So in terms of obviously, Tony, we're living in a time where we find ourselves isolated children forced on us.


And I think for solitude scares the hell out of us, the idea of being being in a room with our own heads.


But you're saying that and I think you've two books that you're recommending, too, in this area, but you're saying solitude can be a really good thing and can help give us perspective on things.


Oh, it's it's very important. And when we chose these two books, Solitude and another one will come to in a moment, I mean, it was it was October and perhaps we didn't realise I didn't realise that, you know, and for solitude would be a problem in many people's lives. So I hope this doesn't seem insensitive to those over. Doesn't rub salt in wounds. But the first book I want to talk about is Anthony Sourcebook Solitude.


Now, this was a book given to me by Tracey Brady, who's the sort of grand dame of psychology in Ireland are Edna O'Brien. She founded the psychological society, founded the first professional training course, and has meant a lot to me since she gave it to me in the 90s.


And it's it's a book written by a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, who more than anyone else appreciates the importance of forming and maintaining close, affectionate relationships in our lives.


I mean, our bonds of friendship and love are critical to our mental health.


But what he's saying is that being able to spend time alone is also important to minding our mental health and deepening our sense of identity. What he says actually is the capacity to be alone as a valuable resource. It enables men and women to get in touch with their deepest feelings, to come to terms with loss, to sort out their ideas, to change attitudes, to grow our imaginations.


OK, so, yeah, the thing is, going back to a lot of people kind of don't want to be alone with their own thoughts and their own heads a lot of the time, do they, Tony? And particularly at a time like this?


No, no. I think I think we're quite frightened of being alone. And I don't think our culture helps us a lot because it constantly reminds us that people who need people are the happiest people in the world. And you know, that somehow happiness and what we're looking for lies exclusively in in our close social relationships.


And again, they are important, but they're not the only thing I think you can think of being able to be alone as a skill as well as a fact.


But it's something we learn.


And if we can learn that as children from a deep sense of security, we learn it best.


Yeah, yeah. You know, of course we do.


With kids are very much forced them into sociability, don't we?


In a way, we we worry about how they're getting on with their peers and we do tend to push them into a lot of peer activity. And, you know, solitude is something they probably only know as a punishment or a threat. And so it's not totally surprising that we find it hard to be with ourselves and be quiet and to just feel that we're in good company when we're with ourselves.


Yeah, and if you see a child ever on their own, completely engrossed in er in doing a picture or something with their tongue hanging over their mouth, I always think that if the root of the tongue is, is loose and relaxed, if that's a person in flow and completely at home in the universe isn't.


Well that's the great child. Psychoanalyst Wendy Donald. Wendy, he said, you know that the real litmus test for a secure child is one who can play uninterrupted in a room with an adult. And they can you know, they can they feel secure enough to kind of explore and to to move into their own imagination. And that is that's really important, you know, and it's a skill that we we sometimes. Don't have because we haven't had that security, a lot of therapy, for example, I think is primarily providing a space where somebody like a child can just drop into their own inner lives and imagination and feel safe doing that.


OK, if we don't have the luxury of therapy and if we didn't develop the skill as a child, are there any little practices you would recommend for how we develop that skill as adults?


Well, absolutely. I thought a lot about this because the only value in looking at these books on solitude really are to see so something in them that can help us at the moment. So so there's three things I have, Your Grace and Perry, first of all, the artist.


I love this. He said recently, solitude is he said there's a refuge, a place inside my head where I can go on my own and process the world in its complexities, a kind of inner shed in which I can lose myself and find myself.


So what I say to people is when you first walk into your own shed, don't expect peace and quiet.


The human mind is a study in chaos.


Mostly it's like a six year old birthday party where every child has had too much sugar.


This is mine. She's not being fair. Tell them to stop.


When you first step into your own company, the noise in your head may be deafening and you can feel on edge and easy at that point to be drawn into stories like, oh, you're not good enough for how you can make yourself a better person.


But if you can resist, you know, resist those stories and be kinder to the jumble of opposites that you find in yourself, things begin to move.


Anthony's store and his books has a nice phrase that I've used for years, which is, you know, when you have these stories of these nagging thoughts, he just says, there I go again. There I go again.


For him, mental health was being able to say, there I go again. Yeah, yeah.


Because actually that just interrupts it then, doesn't it? It breaks it.


And either Zieger, who I want to come to, a woman says, don't try to understand things. That's too much in your head. Go to your heart and say to yourself, sounds like you're feeling dot, whatever that is. Yeah.


So I think the first thing is to kind of we meet what's happening in our heads, but then we drop into our body and we notice how we're feeling because that's really the work. I think solitude is a door that we enter to connect with our own heart.


And in moments of quiet, a lot can happen in terms of healing and integration and fresh perspectives. So.


Well, I think but I want to talk about this recent research from the University of California published in late September, which has gained global coverage. Now, it was one of these totally simple pieces of research that was never intended to go anywhere. And it's had a huge impact.


There were trying to help people, you know, cultivate positive emotional states in their lives rather than descend into very sad places.


And so they came up with the idea of people doing an all walk. This is a way. OK, OK, OK. And this is they said to people and they were in the 60s, 70s and 80s, they said, look, how about once a week for at least once a week, for 15 minutes you take a walk and as you walk, you shift your focus from what's happening inside you to what's happening around you.


And you look for things around you that are amazing, are magical or fascinating or just very interesting.


OK, and they did this and they found extraordinary and the other good, they did a control group, the other group, we're told, to figure out what they were going to do for next Christmas. You know, they had some problem in their head they had to sort out. But the group that were given the external focus came back feeling much more grateful, part of a larger picture, much more their whole mood had lifted.


And the other little thing they did that they had no intention of using in the research, but became a big thing, was they asked them to take selfies before and after they asked everybody to take a selfie.


They wanted to just have photographs, I think, to show people when they were present in the research and they thought to be nice. But when they analyzed the selfies, they found this extraordinary difference.


The selfies of the people who had problem solved, if you like, showed quite large faces, you know, in terms of the overall picture, whereas the selfies, those who did the old walk were small and tiny.


They were like they were more interested in trying to show their surroundings than show themselves. Yeah, I think that's OK. And they were stunned by how dramatic the difference was.


By the way, on the on the Problem-Solving thing, you also star makes the point as well that silence can often be a better way of getting a solution than effortful problem solving. Is that right?


Yeah, I think what happens in moments of quiet is that, you know, there's a kind of a. A sorting out process, you know, the things that were all of us getting, a lot of things are coming at us in terms of information and views and experiences. And and they had that has to be processed, you know, digest it. And I think when we're when we when we link up all the bits, we begin to to and without making any great effort, just allowing ourselves to be quite so that this work of integration can happen.


I think we naturally emerge with a fresh prospect.


You know, that sense of you go out for a walk with the problem with your shoulders and you you come back and you've forgotten about it and you put the key in the door and you turn the key and bang the solution hits you.


I think that can happen. A lot of it is.


I think being alone is to really trust that our minds are amazing things and they do sort out and come up in very creative ways with with solutions to problems and and and indeed with very creative expressions of how we see the world if we just let them.


Is that the power of the idea kind of subconscious mind then more so than the conscious mind?


Well, I think that is Anthony Stories is a Jungian really by and young, very much believed that he would prescribe to his patients to do something he called active imagination, where they were encouraged to go out and kind of allow their unconscious terms of images, thoughts to kind of float up and just, you know, be in their head.


And he believed that the unconscious and the conscious were trying to become integrated and he felt that kind of integration is key to mental health. And we just need to allow it when we sleep, when we pray, when we meditate, we're also creating a space where we can allow that to happen. But he really believed in this act imagination. Yeah.


OK, now the other book you wanted to talk about. Well, the other book is, you know, when I was first recommended this by my book club, I did not feel in the least bit enthusiastic about it. It's called The Choice by either Deger. And this is a woman who spent some well a year of her life in an outfit. But and so I thought, oh, gosh, and this is not going to be hard to read.


Who needs that? But you know what? It was one of the most gripping books I've read in the last year. And as moving a book as I can remember and deeply satisfying in terms of how it progressed and left me overall with a very happy feeling. So I am recommending this as a happy read. Marion agrees with me. She said, I can't describe to you how powerful this book is that from the back cover. So I you know, Edith is a woman who, as when she was she grew up in Hungary, had a difficult life until she was 16 and then at 16 was her family, where they were taken to Auschwitz.


And she was there a year. And then after that, she had more difficult times, horrible times, actually. And I think that she describes to us this story which which she didn't write until she was until she was 90, you know, so this is a woman who kind of kept back the things that really she'd been through until she was 90. So. So Edith is oh, you know, if you can think of Anne Frank, you know, that's the best way to describe her.


If Anne Frank had lived, you know, sadly, she didn't.


But if she had lived, there was something in her diary that just I think we all fell in love with her.


We just it was so real and so human and beautiful. And I found something of the same in this woman. You know, the book is called The Choice. He said we cannot choose to have a life free of heart, but we can choose to be free to escape the past, no matter what befalls us and to embrace the possible. And that is the choice that she is inviting each of us to make.


So it's it's, as I say, gripping. It's moving and it's an idiot.


I actually had the opportunity to talk to you last year, and she's a she's a fantastic woman.


A very key thing there for her is the difference between choosing to be a victim, that you can be victimized, but you don't have to choose to be a victim. Isn't that right?


She said we're all likely to be victimized in some way in the course of our lives. And at some point we will suffer some kind of affliction or calamity or abuse caused by circumstance or people or institutions over which we have little to. Troll, this is life, she says, and this is victimization, it comes from the outside, in contrast, victimhood comes from the inside.


No one can make a victim of you but you. We become victims not because of what happens, but when we choose to hold on to our victimization, we develop a victim's mind, a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving, punitive and without any healthy limits or boundaries. We become our own jailers when we choose to live in the confines of a victim mind so that I find that hard to read.


But it seems unsympathetic. But it struck me then, you know how we think of people who are going through hard times at the moment.


Of course, we feel sympathy for them and we feel empathy for the pain they're going through. But if we just say, gosh, God loved them, the poor creators, what what are we saying to them? But I think what this book is saying is, look, it's not just sympathy you need.


It's also you need to be empowered to feel that you can do something and that no matter what's happened to you, there's a power in you that's greater than what badness has happened to you and it's happening to you now.


So it's a very I like the fact that she was lifting us up and showing us how to live. Some of this solitude are not to be, not to be, not to drown in it.


Tony, this comes back to something that we've kind of mentioned before in our chats. It's kind of about changing our story. The story we tell ourselves is the picture we have of ourselves.


Yeah, I know it is. Anthony story quotes Wordsworth. He said there's a dark, inscrutable workmanship that reconciles discordant elements, makes them cling together one society. In other words, he says, being alone and being quiet allows our minds to reconcile discordant elements in our lives, to accept and integrate what may have been left out in the cold because it didn't fit with our picture we had of ourselves.


And time alone can result in us tearing up that picture and seeing our lives on a much larger canvas. Nice. Now, before we go, there's the final thing I want to talk to you about, but I just want to tell people that you have, again, very kindly notes to accompany this interview and we put them up on the website. And, of course, people, I think, do like to listen back to your pieces and on the player are on podcast so they can do that at our website as well.


Also, when you were in here with us before Christmas, you were talking about resilience. And I think it really struck a chord with a lot of people. And so you had so many inquiries after it.


You've made an interactive workshop about it.


Yeah, I woke up Stephen's day and said, you know what? Everybody is so much goodwill out there and people are doing things for other people all over the place. So why can't I be part of that wave? And I just thought, let's take this resilience idea and turn it into something that would be fun and creative and interactive and and offer it for free or for what I'm doing I'm doing for free. But I'm saying to people is I'm doing it within from the platform of the sanctuary that's Systemsand sanctuary in Dublin and where they support about a thousand people a week at the moment, some of them very lonely, very vulnerable.


And so I people maybe asked just to make a donation to to their work. But money is not a problem. If it is a problem still, they're welcome. And it'll be two weeks time in the morning and it'll be on Saturday morning and it'll be for an hour and a half, two hours. And it'll be great fun. People will write their own resilience story for the year ahead.


OK, super.


By the way, I should say to people as well that also on the website we will put up again the interview I did with Ed Eger back in August, because I think a lot of people got got a lot out of the race as well.


I heard before you go, we talked about Gloria Gaynor and I will survive the last time you have her. You do have a little musical kind of point to make first as well.


I have a good story. You know what I think of solitude. I think of Paul Simon and his shed. His inner shell as when he was turning 21 was his downstairs bathroom in the family home in New Jersey. And around midnight after his parents are gone to bed, he'd like to lock himself in there with his guitar. He would turn off the lights, turn on the taps. The sound of running water soothed him, and the tears gave a lovely echo to his playing.


And he said he went in there to play and to dream. And one night he was working on a piece of music that he really liked, but he had no words for.


And at 3am he looked around the room and the words came to him, Hello, darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again.


And when they first recorded Sound of Silence with Colombia, they called out on Wednesday at three a.m. and it reminded me of Samuel Beckett that all our words are stolen from silence when he was talking about good writing.


So what a way to think of solitude that it's kind of hello darkness, my old friend. I come to talk with you and to listen and to be open. It's not that when we emerge from the toilers, we'll all have a hit song, a global here's. But I'm really saying that being alone is a creative act. Something will always happen. Your job is to let go the old story and be open to being surprised.


OK, thanks, Tony. Tony, I want to just put one email to you from Amy because I think it's kind of important, OK?


She says, solitude and silence is great to have as a choice. But when it's a constant in our lives and we crave companionship and that is not a choice, it can be a lonely desert, not just relating it to the corporate Lockton. Some people don't have a community.


And that's the flipside, isn't it, that loneliness. Enforced silence is one of the harshest methods of human torture.


I mean, it is we know this, that our enemies know this and it's been used throughout history. If you really want to break someone down, you know, Anthony Stork talks about this, some reviews, a lot of the impact of people being held in captivity and tortured. Loneliness is something many people have struggled with over the past year.


At some level, we're all lonely.


And I think. But here's and certainly social contact is without doubt the most important life giving support that we can have.


But when I looked at some of the studies on loneliness, they were done again from University of California, Stanford, and they said, actually, the people who had the worst kind of loneliness did not necessarily have a lack of social contact, that sometimes the solution to loneliness isn't to kind of plunge somebody into the middle of a party and that, you know, there is a loneliness from not being with people and there's a loneliness that we all have to face in ourselves that no matter how close we are, no matter how much support we have, that at some point we're all alone.


We all have a responsibility to live our lives. Amy sounds like she needs people and company, and I wish that she finds that in some way. And to be very creative about that, I was talking to one lonely person recently and she said, you know, I got so lonely in the house. Me was an older person. Should I go outside the door and I stand in the garden and the neighbors go by and say hello. And she said, I've met loads of friends.


So I think sometimes this, you know, the very pain, the things that really hurt us also stretch us and they move us beyond the story that we've had about our lives up to now, the picture that we need to tear up.


OK, Tony Bates, thank you so much as always. And why don't we go into the break a little bit of the sound of silence.


Hello, darkness, my old friend.