For a long time, I saw my mind as an obstacle. An obstacle that got between me and friends. It hurt.
Maybe it began when, in efforts to console and reassure me, my folks told me that the other girls at school were jealous that I was so bright, that’s why they were horrible to me.
I blamed my mind.
Looking out from the inside, I saw only problems in making friends. Only problems in people liking me, the biggest problem being, of course, that I was too bright.
I began to think that I was too threatening for people. Too intimidating.
And perhaps I was. But also, this idea kept me safe from having to try to get to know people. It kept me safe from the rejection which would probably follow later on.
One day, when I was bemoaning this insurmoutable obstacle – my very nature – that got between me and friendship, a wise woman said, “it’s not how intelligent you are that counts, it’s how much you love people”.
I didn’t understand, not then.
There was too much hurt around. Hurt from being bullied at school. Hurt from being left out. Even as an adult, women in the groups I socialised in would ostracise me.
When I did open up to friendship, when someone opened up to me, it would be amazing. But then it would go wrong. I didn’t understand what I’d done – was it just me?
It hurt, a lot.
Frustrated, hurt, left out.
Other bright people find a different sticking point. Some see their minds as the best thing they can offer, and don’t bother about love, instead happily beavering away being clever, doing clever things.
Some get by in friendships, never quite connect on the deeper levels, and stay strangely dissatisfied in relationships. “This is as good as it gets.”
These aren’t happy places either.
Roll forward a few years. I was listening to a nurse describe her experiences of the old people she worked with. Alzheimers. Dementia. Old age. It wasn’t pretty.
People revert to who they are underneath, she said. If they’re angry underneath, then they just become angry. If they’re anxious underneath, then all they are is anxiety. A rare and beautiful few would just be love.
When the mind is stripped away, all that remains is the underneath. There is no choice then.
If I were ever to lose my mind, I would want to be a loving person underneath.
My problem changed. It was no longer “what’s wrong with me that people don’t like me?”. It became “how can I love these people?”
My mind is no longer the obstacle it once was. It does great things, one of which is becoming ever more aware of other people, their needs and preferences, and thinking up ways I can love them more.
You could even say that I learned to love my mind.
For bright people choosing to beaver away cleverly, doing clever things, I ask: who will you be if/when your mind is stripped away?
And for those thinking that this is as good as it gets, it isn’t. Loving people can be as deep as and wide as you can imagine. If you can imagine more than this, what’s stopping you?
She was right, you know, the woman from years ago. What matters in friendship, in relationships, is how well I love people.
What matters most to you?