No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached

A few months ago, Bianca, my 5 year old daughter, learned how to tie a knot. I wouldn’t have noticed that if it wasn’t for a very obvious change in her playing: one day, I found the living door tied up with a red string to the first chair in the room. Actually, the string was tied to a toy computer which was sitting on the chair, but you got the idea. A red string tying together the door knob and the chair. Kinda obvious, you couldn’t miss it.

I wanted to lift the string up on my way in because I had something to do in the living but I suddenly heard Bianca:

– No way, dad! No trespassing! You gotta tell me the code.

– What code?

– You know, the passing code

– Oh, that code, I said. Which one should be? Does *Bianca* works?

– Of course, she said, and she gently untied the knot.

I could safely pass into the living room, while the red string was lying on the door, unattached to anything.

From that day on, every once in a while, Bianca tied something with something else. Usually, this was happening in the living, and the tied objects were either doors or chairs. The strings were dividing the living room space in new areas, forcing me (and her, of course) to choose different paths across the room. In a playful and apparently chaotic way, the room geography was changed every time she was playing like this.

The more I was leaving her unsupervised, just by herself, the more complicated the string structures became. After a few weeks I deliberately started to observe this new game of her. It always started in the same place, from the living door and then it was extended. Sometimes the strings were forming new structures with all the chairs, in a strange web of red strings. Sometimes the doors of the kitchen and bathroom were involved too, on different levels, reminding me of the “invisible” red lasers in the James Bond movies.

Fact is that every time I was allowing her to form these new structures, the room was completely changed. And there was no way to destroy these structures. Of course, not without some serious resistance from her. And noise. Gradually, I adapted. I learned how to walk in the room without changing the new models, leaving her game untouched. In the end, I learned there were only 2 ways to work my way out through the chaotic red web: 1 – by telling the “code” which gave me a free pass, and 2 – by cleaning up the room after she was living, making it all clean and shiny for the next playing adventure.

The Inner Strings

The other day, after I told the “code” and she untied a knot for the thousandth time, something stroke me. Although nothing was changed in her game, I sat down and looked at the structure again. With a very different eye, this time. And I suddenly realized that I was doing the same thing, only in a different place. In my mind. And those strings and knots, well, those were just what we call “synapses”.

The more I was looking at Bianca’s strings model, the clearer my intuition became. All the things that we’re telling to ourselves, are just strings tied up from one spot of our mind to another. We learn a new word by tying the sound to a mental representation. We remember a scene from our childhood by tying it up to the smell of a madeleine. We give names to people and things. We identify actions by following the strings with which we tied them up in our minds. Suddenly, I got dizzy. I just realized that my mind was completely similar with the living room, only a few million times bigger. And not only my mind, any mind in the world.

The only difference is that we don’t have the comfort of cleaning it up. There is no “mind dad” who, after we gently go to sleep, will make the living room neat and shiny for our next play. Most of the time, we’re tying up knots on top of other knots. We’re building incredibly complicated structures in our heads and, at some point, we even forget how the initial architecture of our mental room was. The geography we create in our heads takes over reality. And, just like Bianca, we have an incredibly hard time to destroy these models. We forcefully resist to any attempt to freshen up our space and let go.

Because, deep down, we start to believe that our fragile structures, created just because we know how to tie a knot, are a replacement for the real life.

For instance, we start to believe that somebody hurt us long ago and that string is tied up to the “anger” chair. So every time we see that person, or, even worse, every time we think at that person, we just go and sit on the “anger” chair. That’s where the string is leading us.

Or, we tie a knot from the door of self-esteem to the chair of money. Every time we want to enter that door, we are driven to the money chair. Because there is no other connection between self-esteem and money in our mind. This is how we hard-wired it. This is how we tied up the knot.

Or, at times, we tie up the chair of “love” to a certain person in our lives. When the real person disappears, the string will go down the floor, unattached, and we will lose the chair of “love” all together. You know, that chair was always there. We’re all equipped with it, just like a basic facility in any normal house. But since the string was gone, we just stop using it. Sometimes we may tie it up to another person, but not without a lot of resistance and frustration.

The Unlearning

Fact is our mental structures are incredibly difficult to modify. The knots are so strong and some of them are tied up so long ago, that we forgot how to untie them. This internal structure has taken over our internal geography years ago and we don’t know anymore where the real bed is, where the chairs are, where are the doors and why some of them are stuck. Truth is, we are the ones who blocked them all, we are the ones who created that incredibly complicated structure, but we just forgot one very important thing.

To clean it up every once in a while.

Living our life the way we want, which translates into tying up our own knots to the structures we choose, is exhilarating. Just like Bianca’s game, we get an enormous amount of joy out of it. But, just as Bianca’s game, we should never forget that this is just a game. A new one will start tomorrow. And then the day after tomorrow. And so on.

If we keep the old structures, we’ll eventually run out of space. We’ll choke. As a matter of fact, we even invented words for this specific situation. I think one of them it’s “depression”. Another one would be “illness”. And even another word for this would be “unhappy”. All these words are just representations of a super crowded internal playground, one so complicated and so erratic that we don’t know our way out of it anymore.

Take It Out

As I was sitting on my chair, still puzzled by my intuition, the outside world slowly started to get in. Light and small sounds were finding their way into my senses. And I just realized that the real living room was even more crowded than 5 minutes ago. Apparently, Bianca found some new strings she was just getting ready to “attack” library shelves. At this point, I got up.

– Would you come with me outside, Bianca?

– Why? I’m playing very nice here, dad.

– Hmm, I have an even better game for you, and it involves the same strings and knots. Interested?

– Yes, yes, yes, she cried.

And she even forgot to ask me for the code, as I was untying everything in the room.

Five minutes later, with a few dozens of strings and a very clean living room, we went outside, in the backyard.

– Would you help me to tie up the vineyard? I asked.

– Of course, vineyard is my favorite!, she answered.

I looked up inside. The living room was clean and neat again. Everything was in its place. It looked like a really good space to rest and enjoy. Like a living room should be, anyway.

I looked up outside. The vineyard was a wreck, with branches pointing erratically in different directions. Could seriously use a strong hand to give it some structure. So, we started to put our knowledge and experience in knots to some good work.

– Are we going to have real grapes this fall, dad?, she asked me at some point.

– Yes, love, I answered. We will.



Running For My Life - from zero to ultramarathoner


The spooky thing about depression is that it sneaks in. There aren’t really trumpets and loud voices announcing: “Hail, hail, this is depression entering the room, all rise!” Nope. It’s slow, silent, creepy. It doesn’t even look like depression. It starts with small isolation thoughts like: “Maybe I shouldn’t get out today, I just don’t feel like going out”. And then it does the same next day. And then the day after that and so on. And then it starts to whisper louder and louder in your ears: “Why would you go outside, you loser? Didn’t have enough yet? Want more people to make fun of how much of a big, fat loser you are?”

And then you start to breath in guilt and shame, instead of air. Every breathe you take is putting more dark thoughts into your body.

Until you get stuck. You can’t move anymore. At all.

If you want to know how I got out of this space, eventually, check out my latest book on Amazon and Kindle.

Running For My Life -from zero to ultramarathoner

Dragos Roua

The guy who started all this. Entrepreneur, ultra-marathoner, tanguero, father and risk taker. I’m blogging here, but I also spend a lot of time in this marvelous space.. You’re invited, by the way.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I really liked the metaphor you came up with, and your daughter sounds incredibly creative. I definitely agree that we need to perform a mental housecleaning on a regular basis, and clean up our mental “messes”.

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