In the blurry world of cancer testing I lack clarity. I fully expect to get a clean bill of health after my first mammogram. That does not happen. Nor do I receive diagnosis. I’m in the limbo of further tests required. Like a cow chewing cud I ruminate. I wish I wouldn’t. This is a rather bitter wad to masticate. But I can’t be too hard on myself, for musing as I do. Millions of years of evolution underwrite the negative feedback loop. It’s a self-preserving function to remember dangerous, unpleasant information.
Pleasant experiences, are not life-threatening. There’s no evolutionary benefit to over digesting them. A sixty dollar raise is exciting for about two weeks, and then? I’m inured. I swear i don’t make this shit up. The human brain is hardwired to hug ugly data like a life-preserver. Pretty data flows through the brain like water through a sieve. How long am I ecstatic with my new car? A year? Then she’s not so new and I’m not so thrilled – especially not after that first $1,000 fix, but I digress. My point is, that hanging on to happiness is a learned skill whereas even an amateur can hang onto unhappiness.
Or to put it another way for the e-generation – bad stuff sticks around like cookies unless I clear my cache. Good stuff has no history unless I save it to memory. The default position is rumination – what the ancient yogis call “monkey mind.” Getting to focus, meditation and enlightenment takes work, energy, effort – these are not the factory settings. I can certainly erase cookies if I know how and take the necessary steps. But some cookies are useful. If I erase them all then every time I revisit my favorite website my saved searches are missing, my profile is empty and my password is blank. Saved memory/information/data has its advantages.
If I didn’t remember over watering plants killed ’em, I’d over water repeatedly. I’d be unable to grow a garden, to feed myself. Remember mistakes to learn from them – not to stay paralyzed in shame. There is no merit in ruminating. No awarded prizes. I mean I could tell six friends and then six more and maybe a few acquaintances and even total strangers what a jackass my first husband is (and that would be normal) but not helpful.
Focus is the cognitive opposite of rumination. One is laser like attention the other is scattered mind. Contemplation allows me to consider, analyze, learn and grow, to take information into my storehouse of personal experience – but focus is necessary before contemplation is possible. Composition whether musical, literary, two or three dimensional art may have inadvertently taught me focus. When I read I get so absorbed I no longer hear anything around me, I no longer see the words on the page. When that sort of focus is applied to real life, to bodily sensations, to breathing, proprioception and interoceptive increase.
The important take away is don’t avoid, evade or abort negative feelings. The sooner experienced the faster my recovery from negative events. For example I can feel bad about this mammogram thing or I can pretend I don’t feel bad. I can blunt, ignore, and stuff my feelings. I can attempt to pray a lie, but the human body knows better. Feelings pushed underground multiply and spread in the darkness, reappearing as anxiety and stress dreams, as road rage, and clinical depression. The truth is I can’t avoid My Self and neither can I.
I let tears well up in the corners of my eyes when I say “I’m going back for more testing.” I let myself, allow myself to feel what I am feeling when I am feeling it so I don’t have it running in the background like an old program sucking up energy, exhausting me, producing nil. Processing negative information efficiently is not the only job of meditation. For a healthy balanced life I must consider the biological truth about positive events. Good news. The colleague who says I look great? The students who adore me? Brain default on safe/non-threatning experiences is to not save. I enjoy happiness when it happens without any additional effort. And then it’s gone, evaporated, as if it hasn’t been.
If you’ve ever felt a ridiculous craving for a controlled substance you’ll know what I mean. I could spend all night snort after snort looking for that first ecstatic stimulus to no avail. Or try re-creating the passion of a brand new love – impossible, right? This is why the yogis say “wake up! wake up!” because the factory setting is anti-social, negative affect and self-preservation. We must learn to share, to be hopeful and take preventative care. Children deprived of loving care for their first three years of life have their ability to move from anti-social to social, from negative to positive severely curtailed. They’ve survived just fine thank you, on looking out for number one, expecting threat and utilizing reactionary behavior.
A child taught the golden rule is willing to engage in imaginative play with others, inclined to be hopeful with innocent delight and yet still hovers in-between self-protective and reactionary behaviors. That’s where most of us, without a clear teacher, remain: somewhere between wholly reactionary and actioned. The thermometer or the thermostat? Do I react as a leaf buffeted about by forces larger than myself, relying on invisible means? Or do I make plans, take steps and belief in prevention ?
I only need to be courageously habitual about seeing things as they really are and stubbornly resistant to spiritual by-passing. The insidiously persistent sister of spirituality is the superficial practice of spiritual by-passing. Don’t repeat like a parrot “Every day in every way things are getting better and better for me.” Be real. Take no less than 30 seconds to savor the good thing, to create a pleasant memory. Acknowledge goodness where it is. Take no less than 30 seconds to process a painful experience. Be focused.
Without focus, meditation is day dreaming. Day dreaming is not without merit. It’s just not meditation. Those guided visualizations and hypnotic sessions awaken the back part of the brain. Focus ignites the front. From the older more primitive part of the brain creativity stems, the genesis of our own personal feedback loop. From the newer more sophisticated frontal lobes we can cultivate awareness and interrupt the feedback loop, inserting information. Without awareness we are prisoners of external information.
For example? If a large person tells a small person she is not worthwhile, she is lazy and stupid, this small person will go through life accepting all new evidence that she is lazy and indeed stupid and ignore, dismiss or miss evidence to the contrary. Until or unless awareness ensues she will not question. Perhaps she will seek to drown out the pain of being so lazy and so stupid with alcohol or drugs – which have pretty harsh feedback loop of their own. How then do we convince such a person she is worthwhile and lovable if she is busy vomiting on the porch or stealing money?
Well we might savor and recall the good moments. Working with that person in a sober moment (however fleeting) to consider who cares for her, (even if that is not her family of birth.) And we might allow her to access and process the uncomfortable feelings, in a sober moment – to consider perhaps her family is a consortium of jackasses. Such information might be empowering, if true. Better faced than avoided so that the external substance need not be relied upon. Be willing to mourn what is sad rather than pretending it is not so or does not bother.
If there be sorrow / let it be / for things undone / undreamed / unrealized unattained / to these add one: / Love withheld … / restrained. -Mari Evans, poet (16 Jul 1919-2017)
Now y’all play nice!