Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples
King Lear, William Shakespeare
Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you
Crowded House – Weather with you
The wind rages, rain lashes down, you battle head-down through the storm seeking shelter, a haven from the elements. Battening down the hatches, you pray for respite lest nature’s full force sweeps away your flimsy protective cover and strips bare your resolve.
Deep breath, restore focus. Miraculously, the clouds break, the wind drops, rain ceases, and a single ray of sun pierces through, probing the land beneath, warming, instilling hope. You can venture out, fulfil your goals, prevail and prosper...
As Brits we obsess over the weather. It’s something to make conversation about and ‘break the ice’. It gives focus to the national proclivity to complain! It seems to define a cultural mood. It can dictate whether we stay in and shun it’s influence, or pour forth with white skin exposed to collective wincing from the glare, crowding any patch of available open land out of urgency to glean some nourishment from the elusive sun’s lukewarm rays.
Perhaps this does indeed inform the collective-consciousness of a nation, and reflect in the patterns of thought and mutual anxieties that proliferate amongst the masses. In effect a reversal of the ‘pathetic fallacy’ which literary motifs employ to express the moods of the protagonist through descriptions of the external weather (see King Lear as example, or Macbeth whence evil deeds and their machinations are accompanied by ‘thunder, lightning and rain’ or ‘lamentings heard I' th’ air’).
Taken further, this notion of our connection to external atmospheric conditions can be usefully repurposed to help us guide our own internal ‘weather’. As an analogy it makes sense, because the contents of our thoughts are dependent on the electrical impulses generated by the vast collections of neurons and networks of this activity that form ‘waves’, both localised and generalised, bringing ‘fronts’, characterised by calm conditions, or chaotic patterns that rage across the continents of our brain’s ‘globe’.
A calm, sunny, warm day can put one into a pleasant, happy frame of mind that can free one up from the perplexities of everyday demands. It can facilitate a ‘recalibration’ of one’s focus, and recharge the batteries for the next ‘onslaught’ of inevitably changing conditions. Likewise, as the rains thin out from tropical squall to gentle pattering on the greenery surrounding, nature’s abundance is evident, and reminds us we have a sustaining, nourishing environment in which to forage and flourish.
So with this in mind it makes sense to adopt a method for taking control over one’s own weather systems, to seek to manage and adapt to stormy tendencies rather than be at their behest, cowering in the nearest availble crevice!
I am currently trialling a device that provides ‘neurofeedback’ by monitoring brain states in real time, a so called ‘meditation’ device. This ‘MUSE’ is a commercially available piece of kit which uses ‘dry electrodes’ to retrieve signals from key points across the scalp, and which as been used in academic settings, and to a degree ‘validated’ for it’s capacity to record ‘evoked potentials’ which can be meaningfully analysed (Krigolson et al., 2017). Interestingly, the ‘meditation app’ this comes with translates in real time the averaged waveform activity into weather based imagery that helps train one to become better at ‘stilling one’s mind’. This means reducing the precedence of intrusive ‘mind-wandering’ thoughts, in order to restore focus, ‘mindfulness’. In short, reducing the default mode activity that I regularly talk about.
Whether this proves to be ‘ground breaking’ remains to be seen, but it strikes me that the weather analogy can be useful even without this device. The principle behind neurofeedback, effectively as with any training ‘drill’, is not to rely on the drill or method itself, but to become more attuned to one’s own behavioural tendencies (patterns of thought in this instance), and to automate one’s response to these – to instil an ‘unconsciously competent’ expertise if you like. The brain should learn how to change it’s own state once the relevant cues have been acknowledged and it ‘knows’ how to adapt to this new way of going about it’s business.
So you can start already by observing your own thought processes and equating them to weather phenomena. If your mind is in turmoil, then you are experiencing a storm front! Is it localised or more general? I.e. are you focusing on a single obsessive thought that goes round and round or is a general anxiety that rages globally? Can you focus in on this metaphorical conceptualisation and seek to reduce the intensity of the front, or guide it elsewhere till it loses it’s power and the clouds part to allow the warming sun to shine through?
Doing this first thing in the morning can be an invaluable way to set yourself up for the day, to determine the quality of the weather, and to prepare for unexpected turbulence.
Take some time (5-10 minutes) and let this be your initiation to the day’s challenges. If you can ‘control’ your inner weather, then you will be more prepared for whatever the external weather throws at you – you will not be in disarray struggling to cope with the unexpected.
Listen to the sounds around you – it's not just about the weather, it’s about how you notice, and respond to the stimuli that occupy both the external world and the inner realm that you alone are privy to. But the principle remains. This equates to external vs internal attention and the systems that manage these and in effect determine whether you are ‘task-focused’ (externally-oriented) or internally ‘distracted’ (default state). If you can listen to the outside sounds and begin to differentiate those that have ‘relevance’ to you versus those that are simple background noise, you are on the way towards now using that capacity to turn inwards, to sort out signal from noise, useful thought contents that contribute creatively to managing problem-solutions versus ‘noise’ and the beginnings of a change to more destructive weather...
Ultimately what you are doing here is learning to focus, learning to inhibit the unnecessary, and also learning to recognise where spontaneous activity can derail your direction. The spontaneous is the stimulus that arises out of nowhere – a sudden gust of wind – and pulls your attention away from what you need to accomplish. It becomes the focus when it is by and large irrelevant and its importance amplified out of proportion. Before you know it you are rapt with attention at the power of the storm.
With these analogies and a simple focused discipline you can at least prepare yourself and be ready for the unexpected gust of wind that buffets you but does not hinder progress. You will be ‘inflating your weather balloon’ if you like, with the right amount of internal pressure and buoyancy to allow you to sail forth high up on the prevailing winds to alight where you will.
If this is not enough to get you started, you can always try one of the devices as I have mentioned!
So pull up your deck chair whilst the external weather is currently glorious, and empower yourself with this method. Soaking up the elements productively ready to face whatever the weather may throw at you. And wherever you may go in future you will always take a sunny disposition with you!
Krigolson,* O.E., Williams, C.C., Norton, A., Hassall, C.D. and Colino, F.L. (2017). Choosing MUSE: Validation of a Low-Cost, Portable EEG System for ERP Research. Front. Neurosci., 10 March 2017. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2017.00109
The science of cognition and perception in context
This is where I elaborate upon brain science relating to cognitive functioning dependent on environmental context.