The Ebb and Flow of Thought

Posted: September 24, 2011 in Deeper Things, Motivational Moments
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I recently observed a scene of a beach on television (which is the best I’ve experienced so far… I need to travel) that got me thinking really hard about how the mind works, in the context of your thoughts and/or imagination. This is the birthplace of Dreams and Ideas. This scene I observed with all its multiple angles and narrated information on the “ebb and flow” of the tide, sparked a lot of connections in my mind about how our own thoughts work. There are characteristics of a tide ebbing and flowing found right in the way we think or feel.

Simply put, ‘ebb and flow’ is basically the coming and going of the tide on a beach. The phrase though is backwards: going and coming. This phenomenon is influenced in large part by the gravitational pull of the moon. Here’s an explanation of both terms:
Ebb – The water receding from the shore, going seaward. Due to the fact that water is a ‘body’ (i.e. it has a mass and volume that can’t change), this part is necessary for the build up of a wave, as the wave is part of this body of water. Also, this is when boats go out to sea.
Flow – This is the approach of water towards the shoreline. Waves always move in the direction of the shoreline/beach. Usually if there’s anything that’s to be found, the tide usually brings it to the shore.
The phrase is used elsewhere to describe a pendulum effect of extremes, in emotions or even seasons of your life.

That’s a description of what’s happening in the sea and on the shore. Now, if the ‘body of water’ is what our minds are capable of, then the shore would represent what we’re conscious of. We all love it when there is a flow or of thought and ideas are popping up at every turn, things are quick, the mind is alive! It’s a glorious feeling. In this fast-paced life we live with the internet and new ideas springing up everywhere, most times, you’re under pressure to always have ideas or else you are drowned by everybody else’s. So the ‘creatives’ may favour this idea of the ‘flow’.

This is fair as it does take a good dose creativity to stay afloat in this world of ‘intellectual property’ and ‘updates’. The ‘ebb’ however, is looked down upon as a lack of creative spark. Ideas seem to be less and less, or even non-existent. Your ‘thinkers’ may prefer this type of situation, as you’re not clouded with too many things, and you can really focus on one or two things. It’s a more quiet approach to thought, and has a sense of stability behind it, maybe even a maturity. If there was a downfall to this, it would probably be that most times ideas stay there, being thought of.

Okay, so I’ve given you the most obvious way to look at this concept of ebb and flow in the way we think. It is very easy to deduce this from the descriptions of how the tide works on the shore, and I could leave this post here. Really, what I described was how it first came to me, and it made sense. However, I missed something very fundamental to the concept of ‘ebb and flow’…the word ‘and’! Funny enough, it’s literally the key to why the scene that sparked all this…sparked all this.

Our minds both ebb AND flow! All of our minds? I believe so. I’m sure that is a bold statement, but what’s the point of putting this for all to see if I’m going to be timid right?

There is almost a necessity for this in the way we think, for there to be a conscious element that births ideas and brings creativity, and a receding that allows a passive build up of thoughts. Without a flow, creativity never manifests. There’s little that comes forward to impact your reality in an obvious way. Thoughts happen under the radar of your conscious self and result in choices or even habits you may not want when you think about them later. You’d be closed to yourself and to others, as a flow exposes what the subconscious has developed. It’s also a way of revealing to you what you’re capable of creating, and without this evidence, you can’t build confidence.

Without an ebb, ideas can’t develop. It’s the ‘returning to the body’ that makes things clearer sub-consciously. There’s a spark, but no fire. Ideas and thoughts are produced, but are subject to unnecessary scrutiny from your conscious self. Some ideas need to be kept from your prying conscious and nurtured in your subconscious. Growth, or more appropriately maturity isn’t reached as raw thoughts become the order of the day, thoughts that have never stood the test of time. Another problem that may arise is too many thoughts coming to the fore when there is no ebbing in your mind.

In fact a synonym for ‘flow’ is ‘flood’! It is entirely possible to drown yourself in all your ideas or creativity as well when there isn’t an ebb. I’ve experienced this when I have an idea for a song, especially when all I have is a Dictaphone to record. It’s impossible to keep up with all the parts, riffs, melodies, chord progressions, instruments, rhythms…and record them one at a time! I almost always forget something in one area while I’m recording another. However you can be relieved by the fact that because all your thoughts belong to one ‘whole’, forgetfulness does not mean it’s gone, it’s just gone back to where it came from and it is entirely possible for that thought to resurface at another time if you allow it.

Why is all of this good for you? It’s good because it means you need “quiet time” where thoughts are developed and matured (no that was not a reference to prayer for all my Christian buddies).It means there’s nothing wrong with having times/seasons with little clear creativity, it’s happening, just not at the conscious level. It means your ‘sparks’ of ingenuity can catch fire and really make an impact, when they do come. It means you have capacity to be original in the moment, and if you’re not, it’s still okay. It means there’s no ‘better’ state of being, between creative and thoughtful. BOTH are necessary to have a sense of completion.

Sometimes you experience a flood of conscious thoughts, sometimes all that capacity is drawn away from your shores to be a part of a developing collective. Yes, you may lean more towards one than the other, and there’s no problem with that. Just don’t tell yourself you’re better at one than the other! I’ve found that being an imaginative person myself, the ‘ebb-effect’ is especially pronounced in me as well. And that’s not a contradiction, that’s how it should be! If I didn’t realise that, I’d be in a world of trouble.

I always wondered why it was ‘ebb and flow’, and not ‘flow and ebb’. Well, there needs to be a place of origin for your thoughts to be, before they can come to the surface again. You find that when a massive flood is about to come, one of the most telling signs is that there’s an equally massive ebb that takes place in the tide, with the water receding much further back than it did normally. Only after that can there be a flood. Floods don’t start at the shore. In fact the term ‘flood’ is a way of describing what that body of water does to the shore: it completely engulfs it! So a ‘flow’ or even a ‘flood’ is a byproduct of the original mass of water building up and moving in a certain direction. So the flow is a result of the ebb. That’s why we tend to need to ‘refresh’ our minds with a break of some kind every once in a while.

So when you feel like nothing’s happening up there in your head, don’t fret, you’re just in that ebbing phase of your thought process. Your imagination is allowing a build up that you will enjoy soon. Stressing out about this natural process will just lead to more stress. When your ideas are sparking quick, allow it as well, you never know what gems you might come up with!

There is a danger though, especially in the quiet mode, it’s very easy to stay there! I cannot emphasise this enough. Please don’t read this and use it as an excuse for mental laziness!! Not developing ideas and bringing them to the fore is actually quite wasteful and I think it’s foolish, with the mind that you have! Conversely, some people (and even some jobs) try to force the creativity to come out all the time. It’s a very good shortcut to burnout! In some situations, you’re not allowed to take breaks, however you need to find ways of taking your rest seriously if you find yourself in such a stressful place.

I guess my mind is flowing finally! It had been a while since I last wrote something like this. To be honest, I was starting to get lazy. Oops!


  1. […] The Ebb and Flow of Thought ( […]

  2. […] Today I said to myself “I haven’t written a poem for ages, I should do one right now”, only to find myself staring at a blank page for 30 minutes. Then toying with a few words, and deleting them. Then remembering my blog from a little while ago “The Ebb and Flow of Thought”. […]

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