With absolutely no disrespect meant to Benedict Cumberbatch, he doesn’t own the phrase “mind palace”. Using the method of loci (or going to your mind palace or whatever you want to call it) is a very useful thing to do, especially if you’re like me and your memory is about as reliable as Southern Rail. I’m currently working on a show at the VAULT Festival, and a lot of the conversations I have with my producer Kate rely upon the idea of a mind palace, because we’ve got so many things to do:
“What was that rehearsal technique I said I wanted to use next week?”
“I don’t know, dear. Look in your mind palace.”
“We said we were going to email Adam about something. What on earth was it?”
“Er…I dunno, let me look in my mind palace…I can’t find it.”
“Have you checked the library?”
“The cupboard under the stairs?!”
So far, so silly. But what I am discovering is that, quite apart from being just an excellent memory aide, having a mind palace is a very healthy thing to do for emotional reasons.
For example, people talk about burying their feelings or locking negative thoughts away. This would be very easy to do in a mind palace, because you could build yourself a cellar or a dungeon or whatever else took your fancy. However, being the proud architect of a mind palace makes you feel the need to be more creative about these things. For example, when I come across a particular fear or worry I let it loose in the palace grounds to run around the rose garden and splash in the ornamental fountains. Mentally ‘releasing’ bad feelings is very helpful, because you can acknowledge their existence in your life without constantly feeling the need to monitor them. They can really get under your feet if you keep them cooped up all the time.
“Hey Vicki, nice mind palace. Where’s your fear of commitment got to?”
“Oh, he’s running around on the croquet lawn with my concerns about career trajectory. They’re having a great time, don’t worry. Would you like some tea?”
The best room in my mind palace is the conservatory. It has no strange wicker/fabric combo bits of furniture in it, and it most certainly does not have leaves all over the roof. It is a quiet, calm room where there is always sunlight streaming in from all angles, and it’s very warm and cosy the whole year round.
The sunlight in this room is a concoction of all of the things that make me happy: memories, people and other bits and pieces of life. Highlights include the moment in Moulin Rouge when Jim Broadbent runs away screaming “LIKE A VIRGIN!”, my friend Andy’s laugh, the smell of coffee, the Dad’s Army theme tune, cheese jokes, watching Christmas movies with my family and excitement about my best friend’s wedding next year.
The reason why I am talking about these big, small and silly things that make me happy in my mind palace conservatory is that they are a huge part of how I maintain my mental health. I think mental wellbeing is a very specific thing, and a huge part of why we struggle with it is that we always end up feeling isolated by our own thought processes.
One of the greatest and loveliest things about the show that I’m working on is that we teamed up with mental health charity Mind. Mind do incredible work for people who struggle with their mental health, and I am so pleased and proud that they promote conversation about what is still a pretty taboo topic. They effectively knock on the door of everyone’s mind palace to check that they’re ok, and to reassure you that you’re never alone. Mind palaces exist in neighbourhoods.
So to conclude, dear reader, go and build yourself a mind palace that you would love to live in, and invite people in who will appreciate being there.
Have a stupendous evening.