Shakespeare Story

Thought of the week: The power of the mind

This week Michelle Terry shares a quote from Hamlet and delves into the power and fragility of thought and the mind during these times

4 minute read

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s we go deeper into isolation, it’s also hard not to go deeper into contemplation.

The Easter weekend was weirdly a welcome break; not from my husband or my daughter, but a psychological relief in knowing that everyone else had also stopped. I had one email on Saturday; the first time in years, and it was lovely…. For a brief moment. But after about five and a half minutes I was cleaning the house from top to bottom, rearranging the bedroom that we share with our three year old, negotiating my space with a singing Elsa doll, and by Sunday my mind was ’full of Scorpions’. I was climbing the walls. I hadn’t felt rage like that since child birth, my anxiety was at an all time high and I was fast losing perspective.

So I FaceTimed a friend, because that’s supposed to help.

But without the face to face contact I didn’t get the hit of cortisol, the mirror neurons didn’t allow me to empathise as quickly, oxytocin surged at a slower rate, the screen blurred so I couldn’t read their facial expressions, and the sound dulled so I couldn’t track the tone of their voice in the way that I needed to truly connect. There is a physical, emotional, mental resonance that happens when we are close to people.

Maybe that’s one reason why Shakespeare wrote plays more than he wrote poems. The thoughts and the images and the psychology need to be shared. Mental health, emotional well being, even morality, depends on empathy, on different perspectives, of being able to see the world through another persons eyes.

An argument for theatre, but less useful to me when I’ve run out of chocolate eggs to bribe my daughter with, I can no longer explain why screen time is bad, I have been screaming ’out damned spot at the mildew in the corner of the shower, and now I am rocking in the middle of a pile of recycling. The resolution has most certainly been ’sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought’ and I have clearly lost ’the name of action’.

I am so aware that many people don’t have the luxury of time to think right now, or talk with friends, or even make a cup of tea; so often we are all too busy simply trying to survive.

But as I cried into the carcass of a Cheerios box, I realised that for me, being busy is a way to survive. A way to disappear or distract or simply runaway from the thoughts in my head that threaten to overwhelm me.

But as nature forces me to stop, or at least slow down, time with my mind gets harder to avoid.

The world has changed forever; how we relate, react, create, destroy, earn, spend; everything is under scrutiny – in the world of my mind and the world at large, and my question is not quite as extreme as ’to be or not to be’ but: ’to think or not to think.

How willing am I to face those thoughts, those doubts and those fears that threaten to overwhelm me? And what’s the worst that can happen if I do? Right now I have my health, my family have their health, I have a roof over my head, and I work for an organisation that is so passionately devoted to its core mission that there is no doubt in my mind that we will find a way to open our doors when the time is right.

So maybe now is the time to pause, and remember that there is nothing either good or bad about thinking.

Because this time of isolation and contemplation will end, and I will be busy again. And when I am I want to know that I didn’t just get through, I didn’t simply cope, but I also gave my daughter my undivided attention, I didn’t take my health for granted, I made memories as well as plans, and I turned at least some of these thoughts into action.

Now does anyone know where I can buy some chocolate eggs?

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There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

— Hamlet

FINIS.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK 

Each week during the UK lockdown, our Artistic Director Michelle Terry shares her Thought of the Week.

Using Shakespeare’s language, Michelle reflects on the individual and universal meaning of the words. By giving personal and emotional insight, she uses the quote to relate to, and express, the mood of this uncertain time.

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