Saturday, September 21, 2013

Same old thing for 90 seconds

See, it tends to be a pushing and shoving match.  Your ankle hurts and you should do something about it but you are tired of the problem and you don't want the problem to exist.  You want something different from what you have.  Understandable and a common human problem.  So, you push the problem to the back of the pile.  It wants attention.  It has a duty to alert you to a need.  It tries to creep or crowd forward, seeking attention.  You push it back, just for now, just until later.  Later quickly arrives and it … get the idea.

The Buddhists, both American and others, advise us to stop the pushing.  Sit with the problem, they say.  That is, intentionally face the difficulty, the quandary, the puzzle, what you hate or fear.

Jill Bolte Taylor in "My Stroke of Insight" says that many of our neural circuits need about 90 seconds to fulfill their function.  Their mission is actually some sort of warning, some sort of alerting: "you are hungry: eat" or "these stairs are steep: hold onto the railing".  Taylor is a neuroscientist and knows a good deal about how our minds and brains work.  She modifies the Buddhist idea a little by quantifying it: sit with the problem, wallow in it, suck it up, smear it all over, for 90 seconds.  That can be a surprisingly long time: once around the whole clock face and half again.

That's it: you listened. You faced the problem, you addressed it, you heard it out.  Now for the slower, fuller brain power: what is the next step?  Am I aiming toward some solution or partial solution or palliative?  If so, where am I in the process and what is next?  If not, have I concluded there is not much to do with that particular difficulty other than suffer with it. That is an ok approach: just suffer.  Suffering ennobles.  Suffering earn points, both in heaven later and in increased sympathy and empathy for all humans before, now and later, all of whom have suffered something, are suffering and will suffer, just like you and me.

It can be a gentler problem.  Maybe you see the same old scene out the window.  Maybe you see the same old face in the mirror.  So, sit with the same old thing, seek the depth of the sameness, the very most trying of the same location, the same food, the same for those 90 seconds.  After that, newness will descend all over you.

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