Last night, as I was getting ready to go to bed, I had a hard time letting go of something that had happened earlier in the day. As a joke, I told my boyfriend that perhaps I should solve a math problem in my head. Like, how much is 7594 divided by 12? Six hundred and twenty six, he answered, impressing me immensely with his long division abilities in the middle of the night.
The idea of refocusing by solving mathematical equations in our heads is not mine. I read it in Kristin Cashore fabulous Bitterblue which I reviewed here last week. Bitterblue’s father, King Leck, had a special grace, or ability: he was able to convince other people with his words to do, think or feel whatever he wanted them to. He could hurt people and tell them that they do not feel pain, and they would have to believe him. He could force people to hurt other people, and they would not be able to refuse. He could tell Bitterblue that he loved her, and she would never know: what was the truth?
When her father was alive, Bitterblue and her mother lived in a mind fog, never sure what was true and what was implanted in their brain by Leck. Bitterblue’s mother, in an attempt to dispel some of the fog so as to keep Bitterblue safe, would tell Bitterblue to solve complex mathematical equations in her head.
Mathematics is objective and unemotional, and I suppose King Leck never thought to confuse Bitterblue into believing that one plus one could be three. Mathematics saved Bitterblue and her mother, allowing them just enough clarity of mind to be able to escape (this happens in Cashore’s first novel, Graceling which I also reviewed). When the story of Bitterblue begins, Leck is already dead, but his reign of horror had left the country traumatized and suffering. Bitterblue, trying to heal her people, still uses her mother’s well-taught lesson to refocus her mind at times of stress.
Ruminating on life’s unpleasantnesses is one of my greatest faults. I might not have Bitterblue’s practice in calculating complicated equations in my head, but I am capable of focusing my attention on other, pleasanter thoughts if I want. In fact, we all are. Research proves we cannot really multitask, despite our desire to believe we can. Our brains are able to concentrate on only one thing at a time. We are focusing creatures, and sometimes a re-focus is what we need to change our perspective, lighten our mood, or survive.
Last night I refocused my scattered energy to this blog. I went to sleep happy. I had something to think about that gave me pleasure: a great subject on which to write!
For those of you who are fond of mathematics, by checking on my calculator this morning I can tell you that 7594 divided by 12 is 632 with a long line of decimals after it, but I think 626 is close enough.
Are you prone to ruminating too? What do you do to refocus your thoughts?
First of all, Bitterblue sounds like an intriguing read. Secondly, you are absolutely right: our brains are not wired to multi-task, as much as we’d like to believe they are. When I was a teacher, I was intrigued by brain-based research, and that fact was one of the first I learned.
I really enjoyed this post, Sigal.
Thanks Susan! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
Good read Sigal – at times I envy those that seem unaffected by the cares of the world and life. When the internal switch goes off inside my mind – telling me to stop the dwelling, I focus on my kids and loved ones lost. Typically this helps me to “move on” mentally.
Thanks Tim! I need to remember that, to focus on the children and my moments of joy with them. I always wonder about people I know who seem so calm, like nothing can perturb them. Are they really calm or just better at hiding how they are feeling? With me, for better or worse, everything is written on my face, and now on this blog as well sometimes….
Good post, Sigal. I haven’t heard of this book…sounds interesting.
I recommend all of Kristin Cashore’s novels, Sharon. They are lovely and very well thought.