About Kavanagh’s Attic



Graphic by Gail Kavanagh. Quote unknown but never forgotten.

When my children were young, I used a kind of `mind-control’  process on them when they were afraid, or about to undergo something unpleasant but necessary, like an injection. I held them tight and told them to think of the nicest thing they could imagine.

My father used to say that the only place we are truly free is in our minds. No one can tell what you’re thinking, no mind police can tell you what to think and you can go anywhere your imagination can take you in seconds.

As I tried to show my children, I believe the mind can be trained away from depressing or negative patterns, and that it can help us cope with unpleasantness. The mind responds well to habit. If you think habitually, “this is going to be bad”, it generally is – if you think, “I am strong, I can get through this,” you generally can. The Buddha said “with our thoughts we make the world” – well, perhaps not all of it (nature is a great thought but I’m not taking any credit for it) but with our thoughts we can certainly make our own world.

“Imagine,” said John Lennon, imagining that if everyone had the same thoughts, we could remake the world.

That always reminds me of the Berlin Wall, which divided a city for 20 years. Then everyone had the same thoughht and the wall came down. At any time during those 20 years, this mass thought could have occurred – the wall was more psychological than physical, kept standing by fear rather than bricks and mortar. I believe thoughts can travel, sometimes flitting from mind to mind (so that more than one person may have the idea – that way it stands a good chance of being born, like necessary traits in natural selection) or it can occur to a whole generation.

I think of my mind as a kind of attic storehouse. Shelves upon shelves of papers, books and boxes spilling their contents, all mixed up in a frightful clutter with no filing system. Anyone venturing in there bent on tidying would face a daunting task.

Journaling, writing and art are my way of tidying up. Ever written a good idea down then lost the bit of paper? Try as you might, you can’t recall it. The mind, relieved of the burden of having to keep yet another brainstorm on the front burner, has tidied it away into one of those boxes. You wrote it down. My work is done.

But sit down with a journal, or a pile of collage material, and just let the mind find its own lost stuff. Suddenly, all kinds of things pop up. “Remember this?” shaking the dust off of some long forgotten memory or piece of trivial information. A rusty old projector cranks up and pictures flicker across the screen – this was the view from the mountains over Avila – this was a Scottish morning with the mist lying in the glen like steam on a giant teacup. This was a face you loved dearly once and have not seen for decades.

There’s a comfy old chair in my mind’s attic where I can sit back and watch the movies of the past, or read through one of the crammed folders in the file boxes. Unless I journal or draw it, I’ll probably forget all about it again, but once I have done that, it becomes magically tidied.

Of course, in every attic mind, there is also a basement – a place where all the childhood terrors and adult fears are stored. It’s murky down there, the light bulb gives off about two watts, and if you’re not careful you’ll come out bleeding.

My fear of heights is the first thing to come up and grab me as I peer down into these murky depths. I know I will have to write about it – put myself on the edge of a precipice, or go down with the Titanic, but so far I have only squealed, jumped back and given it a paragraph or two.

But it badly needs tidying. Or least a better light bulb.