This I Believe

J.C. - Austin, Texas
Entered on June 13, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: creativity

Who Picks the Songs on the Jukebox In My Head?

“And Love Is Fine For All We Know

For All We Know, Our Love Will Grow

— That’s What The Man Said

So Won’t You Listen To What The Man Said”

It suddenly dawns on me that Paul McCartney’s trite little ditty is bopping through my head, even though I couldn’t have possibly heard the song played within the last decade or two. This strikes me as extraordinarily strange. Usually I can trace the origin of the song back to a conscious moment –a high, nasally, purple dinosaur voice singing “I Love to Read” through my cranial speakers reminds me that I’ve watched Barney five times this week with my daughter. Or when Robert Smith’s melancholy voice whines in my ear, I remember that The Cure is no longer cutting edge rock, but grocery store pop. But sometimes the songs just come from nowhere.

And why is it that nine out of ten songs that play in my head really annoy me? Surely if there was any conscious choice involved, I’d spin songs I liked to hear. So the question remains, who’s picking the songs?

The truth of the matter is that we have very little control, or even awareness, of where most of our thoughts come from. Neuroscientists can tell you all about synapses firing and dendrites reaching out to be tingled by energetic impulses bouncing around in our brains, but the bottom line is that the origin of our thoughts remains a mystery. If you don’t believe this, just try to map out what you are going to think about for the next five minutes, then see how long it takes before you’re thinking about something else. Unless you’re a Zen master with years of practice under your belt, I’m going to bet that “monkey mind” wins in under a minute.

It’s miraculous that anything gets done at all on this planet. Fortunately (although that’s a debatable word!), our brains form associations that let us repeat most of our necessary actions without being aware of having to think about them. For proof of this, I ask you, did you survive your last cell phone conversation while driving?

What’s the point? Well, most of what passes for conscious behavior on the stage of human interaction is really a cleverly disguised version of sleepwalking. The only chance we have to make any kind of choice about our actions arrives in the split second between stimulus and response. Think how many of those we miss in a day, or in a minute! I believe that before we go trying to change the world, or our spouse or children, we ought to work on becoming more conscious of our thoughts, our automatic responses, and the fleeting opportunities to make choices. And when we see how difficult it is, maybe we can have a little compassion and tolerance for our fellow sleepwalkers when they do stuff that seems unutterably dumb.

Now, whatever you do, do NOT imagine “Macarena” playing in your head!

Gotcha!