The Hamster Speedometer

How to adjust the speed of your mind to suit your creative needs

Imagine a hamster and a hamster wheel.

The hamster’s mind is the only thing that dictates how fast the wheel goes.

The truth is — the hamster doesn’t need to run. But, from its perspective, it can’t see that. So it unknowingly creates its environment.

Until it learns the link between its state of mind and how the world appears, it has no control over its experience.

Seven speeds of hamster

  1. Standing still. Happy. Clear. Seeing the world as it is. No need to move.
  2. A little bit of personal ambition creeps in. Starts walking. Feels the wheel moving. But still happy. Still pretty clear.
  3. The wheel and the walking start to become the focus. Still happy, but perspective has narrowed. The rest of the world is a bit less important.
  4. Now it’s all about the wheel. Moving faster, but can easily keep up the pace. Still happy, but attention is fully occupied by the wheel.
  5. The adrenalin kicks in. No space for reflection. Just fight of flight. Constantly monitoring risks. Not happy, but still able to keep up.
  6. Now it’s a struggle. The adrenalin rush turns into neediness and insatiable greed. Running faster and faster, finding no pleasure in anything. Nothing is ever enough.
  7. Life is a living hell. Running, falling, being spun by the wheel. Full panic. Everything is a source of terror and pain.

At the beginning, the hamster sees the world clearly. Sees things as they are and is calm and happy. And the beautiful thing is that as the hamster gets further from seeing what’s true, things get more difficult. There’s a built-in warning system. The horrific thing is that the hamster doesn’t know how to listen to the warnings. Doesn’t realise that everything is under its control. That the deathly spin of an out-of-control world and the leisurely stroll of a gently trundling wheel are both the product of the same thing: how fast the hamster is walking.

How to not be a panicked hamster

There is a hamster speedometer in all of us. All we need to do is listen to it. 
All it takes is knowing there is a scale, seeing where we are on the scale and learning how to move back towards seeing what’s true.

The wheel starts moving when we start holding on to some idea of who we are and where we’re meant to get to. To speed up the wheel, just put ever more focus on the importance of who you are and where you’re meant to get to. This is a way to increase tension. To slow down the wheel, just let go of any stories you have about who you are and where you’re meant to get to. Deprioritise those things. Maybe think to yourself “I’ve really no idea who I am or where I’m going and that’s just wonderful.” This is a way to decrease tension.

By moving deliberately up and down the scale — from standing still to moving — we can explore the different ways different speeds can be useful. We can find out what gifts these different states of mind have to offer.

It also helps us to see where other people might be on the scale. Rather than judging their actions, we can recognise the mindset and see what they’re doing as a natural consequence of being unknowingly trapped in a hamster wheel. We can stay off the wheel and, perhaps, point them back in the direction of seeing what is true.

The Hamster Speedometer is based on a Buddhist teaching on different mindsets. In the version this is based on, the different levels are described as hell realms and god realms and so on. I thought that was a bit off-putting, so I switched out hell for hamsters. Works for me.