Minds are like search engines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I am in bed, drowsy, ready for sleep when it begins. As I sink into the mattress, desiring rest, my mind wakes up and goes into overdrive.

I lie there, one thought jumping to another thought and another and another. Suddenly, I remember a commercial for a search engine and realize my brain is doing the same thing.

In the ad, someone says a word or phrase that fires off a connection in another person, who then repeats another word that brings something else to mind in a different person and on it goes. Each connecting thought moves further and further from the original one.

The idea is that most Internet search engines work this way with the exception of the one in the commercial. (Hate to burst their bubble but theirs does it too sometimes).

Anyway, in my head on this night, the thoughts are jumping like bullfrogs on hot pavement. It’s something like this…

“Boy I’m sleepy. My feet are cold. Wish I had on fuzzy socks. Fuzzy stuff is nice. My cat likes fuzzy things. I like that cat. Cats are nice, and boy are they independent. It’s good to be independent. People like independence. Egyptians want independence. Wow, those riots over there are intense. We had riots when there was segregation. Oh, it’s Black History Month. Maya Angelou has a program coming on this month. I like her. She’s a great poet. I like poetry. I haven’t written poetry lately. Late, yes it’s late. Boy I’m sleepy…”

And, thoughts cycle around until I fall asleep from the exhaustion of trying to fall asleep. Sometimes I try to stop the running commentary by focusing on relaxing. It works some nights; others it just sets me thinking thoughts about relaxation until again, I fall asleep tired from relaxing.

With the light of morning streaming through my window, I considered my thought-jumping experience and realized it happens a lot, not just at night. In fact, I am a writhing mess of connecting thoughts a lot of the time, and for the most part, I’m completely unaware of it.

Perhaps, this goes on with most folks and these connections become how we view life.

For example – passing a local business, I saw a sign, “Skaters Wanted.”

Immediately, I pictured young, probably teenage, females wearing roller skates serving hamburgers. Nowhere in my thought connection did I see a 40-something guy or an older woman wearing skates. (I also went on a journey to the days when roller skating was the most important thing in my life, but that’s another column).

So, my idea of who the skaters should be and even how they should look, limited my imagining any other possibilities.

This happens with bigger issues, too. For example, some hear “Muslim” and connect to the word terrorist. Even those of us who try to be open minded have a little of this connection because of what we think we know and all we don’t know about Muslims and their faith.

By the same token, some Muslims hear words like Christian and American, and jump into a line of thought that is probably less than positive.

So, what to do about the search engine in my head? While I might not be able to log off of it completely, at least I can ramp up my awareness that it’s running, and maybe move thoughts in a positive, creative direction.

Who knows what could develop in my head — the new thought connections I‘d find. Maybe I’d connect hamburger-serving skaters with the possibility they could be age 40 or Muslims with the thought that most just want peace and independence.

Hey, one night I could catch that bullfrog before it leaps onto the hot pavement and find myself drifting peacefully into dreamland.