Posts Tagged ‘Commander Brain’

I’m in the home stretch of my Lent resolution to give up the idea that other people or experiences can be wholly separate from me, and it’s taken some interesting turns. For example, as I mentioned yesterday, when I started to come down with feeling very poorly, it took me a while to realize it was just another way I had to experience being me. It wasn’t really life “screwing things up“, so to speak. It was just something to experience.

Today, I’m still having to take it slow and steady, which is a little frustrating. But I’ve tried to keep my mind focused on what’s important: not dwelling on how poorly I feel, but on pacing myself. Not getting bogged down in all that I want to rush ahead with, but keeping track of what I can best accomplish in a given moment. Not letting my thoughts wander off to things that bother me or even interest me, but staying with my present moment.

I’ve found it to take a fairly dedicated discipline. It’s like practicing meditation, where we have to be patient with ourselves when we catch unwarranted thoughts trouncing in. We acknowledge them, then gently send them on their way, without judging either the thoughts of the fact that we had them. And that’s still a discipline I’m working on.

It’s also a discipline not to take it too far, staying ultra-focused when it’s time to let things get fuzzy and relax, or brainstorm. Fluidity can seem so easy when observing people in the flow of it, yet it can take some very dedicated practice to sense that flow and allow ourselves to be moved within it.

Speaking of, there’s a puppy very politely calling for my attention. I think I’ll allow this post to get on out, and go play with her.

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I’ve been thinking again about the addictive nature of certainty, and how tough a habit it is to break. Our Commander Brain tends to require certainty in order to feel it knows who “I am” and has the control “I need” to keep structure and predictability in our lives. That’s why it’s so important to first learn how to break the addiction to certainty, so we may be able to learn HOW to learn more about what we don’t yet know.

To break this addiction, I once spent possibly a whole year practicing being uncertain. Each time I felt I had a solid ground to stand on, to start building a new “what I know” foundation, I deliberately went searching out alternate ways to think and feel, pulling the rug back from underneath my feet. I wanted to stop allowing the habit of trying to find one solid place to stand firm forevermore. I wanted to get used to walking a path of personal growth and lifetime discovery. There will always be core values that will guide and comfort me, but these are gifts I carry in my heart, not anchors that hold me down.

Allowing myself to be trapped in the comfortable chains of certainty endangers that freedom to learn and grow.  I have to thank an article I read today for describing these dangers:

Certainty is the most dangerous emotion a human being can feel in politics and religion. Certainty stops all outside thought or reason. It closes the door and is a metaphorical spit in the face of anyone who disagrees. Changing one’s mind is the essence of critical thinking. As Thomas Jefferson himself said, “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”

Fox News tried to tear my family apart: How they failed to incite my father, by Edwin Lyngar on Salon.com

We are blessed with a bright and beautiful world, and equally bright and beautiful minds with which to enjoy it. Let us practice freedom and skill in our minds, that we may live our lives with skillful freedom.

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One of our Commander Brain’s traits is that it likes to pretend that all of its frameworks and ideas are original observations based on an objective view of the facts before us. It can be trained otherwise, of course, but this self-referential bias is pretty common.

The difficulty with this is that unless we can dispassionately explore the roots and origins of our perspectives, we’ll be held hostage by hidden biases and subtext. So long as we leave them in the dark, these strings from our past can dance us like puppets based on judgments we never consciously made. And when we might otherwise see things in a new way and develop a stronger point of view, we might over-rely on these pre-judgments because we don’t know their foundations lay outside ourselves. What we don’t know about what we think we know will cause us to mislead ourselves.

As a bit of a test, I might suggest watching for something to come up over the next few days where you catch yourself in a mental habit. See if you can trace back the earliest time you felt a similar impulse or feeling, as clues to where it originated. Find out whether you can clearly define where the idea was first encountered, and who or what presented it to you. If it was hinted at by someone else, see if perhaps you can sense what prompted it for them, and what relationship that has to your current situation.

Of course, sometimes these “hidden origins” can come up out of the blue as an innocuous surprise. Not long ago, I was putting together some thoughts about Buddhism for someone, and came across something I hadn’t read before.

I have this habit of trying to finish every grain of rice when I’m eating a meal with rice, or otherwise “clean my plate”. However, I think of it most with regards to rice, with the impulse to eat each bit out of respect for the food and all who had worked to make it possible.

It wasn’t a fully conscious thought, but when I did think of it, I thought perhaps it had originated from my abhorrence of waste. Also, I do have a feeling that food is a sacred link in the chain of life, so it’s important to be conscious of it and give thanks. But then I came across someone writing about her Japanese mother having told her that seven gods of fortune live in rice, and it would insult them to leave a grain uneaten. I then read of a Filipino mother telling her child that leaving rice uneaten would make God angry, and then of Chinese and Vietnamese grandparents warning that their child would marry a bad and ugly person if they left any rice…

Where did this habit of mine come from, I now wonder? I think I must have heard it somewhere, perhaps while reading a text on Buddhism, or perhaps at the Hare Krishna temple I used to visit for meal-sharing, decades ago. I am searching for a clear memory and not quite finding it.

Doing this search, though, has given me a fresh chance to examine this habit of mine, and decide whether it’s worth keeping. While I’m not as obsessive-compulsive about it as I once was, I do still feel a strong desire to make good use of the food I am blessed to receive. I do want to keep habits that help me remember to be grateful, and do my best to honor these gifts. Now that I’m aware there’s a lot more to that one little habit of eating every grain of rice, it makes me even more aware of this practice and its importance to me.

That’s the upside to examining the roots of our feelings and beliefs: we don’t just get to improve on the ones that don’t serve us. We also develop a deeper sense of meaning in the ones that do, helping them serve us better.

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I just wanted to give a quick kudos to my Commander Brain. There’s been several things that we haven’t been able to be in control of, including some things that have absolutely been my responsibility to ensure work out a certain way as much as possible.

My Commander Brain has rolled with it though, feeling less anxious about the loss of a feeling of control. Or rather, the feeling of there being no control. Sure, I know consciously as well as subconsciously that ultimately there is no real “control”; there are just too many variables outside the human grasp. There remains the habit though, of wanting to try to hold the imaginary reins even so.

With so many such things slipping from our grasp or staying just out of reach despite a promise to come closer… Well, I think my Commander Brain has done fantastic at keeping centered and allowing whatever comes to come. There’s been minimal super-frustration, and what has arisen has been pretty short.

This daily presence practice has been working out pretty well for me. Let’s hear it for Happy Zen Year!

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There’s been someone I interact with on a mildly regular basis, and we get along fairly well as a rule.  In the past while though, he’s started to develop this bad habit in dealing with me that has started to get under my skin.  I’ve been doing pretty well in not taking it TOO personally, since I know it’s not just me he does this with.  I haven’t been succeeding completely, though.

Today, I caught myself thinking and feeling the same type of thoughts and feelings that are implied in the way he’d been behaving.  I didn’t act on them or verbalize them, thankfully.  But I had them.  And this made me stop to think further.

I’ve read that we tend to attract or observe in our lives the sorts of things that are reflected within us.  And if that’s true, it would probably vary whether it started “outside” or “inside” ourselves… and it probably wouldn’t matter.  If “THEY started it!” isn’t exactly the best defense for one’s own bad behavior, then it doesn’t sound like a great excuse for one’s own bad thoughts or feelings.  Not when they are left untreated, and therefore become habitual.

So I decided to try to treat myself for symptoms of judgmentalism with regards to this subject.  (Being human, that’s something I keep revisiting, so I try to take each flavor of it as I’m ready.)  I decided to take a breath, take a step back, and put what had annoyed me into perspective.  I’m helping my Commander Brain recognize that it’s not in control of how this other person treats me, and that this one recent habit is still very minor in light of our overall positive interactions.  I’m also reminding us that this thing that triggered our judgmentalism is truly no big deal, and extremely fixable with some patience and effort on the part of Analytical Brain and Problem-Solving Subconscious.

Writing about this is helping, as well.  My Commander Brain still sort of resists being called out like this, but we’re both recognizing this is describing a process in effort to give a decent example for others who are going through something similar.  As Commander Brain recognizes that absolute perfection isn’t expected of it, it becomes more open to accepting where it falls short, so that it may embrace the steps toward becoming stronger and more sure-footed.

Thank you for joining me in this step on my journey.  If I hadn’t committed to coming and writing each day I’m able, I likely wouldn’t have tried to come up with something to write about.   Without sitting down to communicate this thing I’m working on, resolving it would have been much harder.

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I’ve heard it said that the portion of our brains that forms conscious thought and decisions makes up only about two to five percent of our overall mental processing. The other 95% or so is taken up with doing all the major work of life, such as breathing, digesting, making the limbs move, and keeping aware of sensory input (or even extrasensory).

For me, zen is all about getting that roughly five percent of our brain to stop trying to take charge all the time. And that’s no easy trick, because that five-percenter thinks it’s solely responsible for everything that happens to us, and everything we do and say in response. Since that’s wrong, that puts the five-percenter in a terribly unstable position, making it work even harder to form ideas and frame judgments and worry and fret about how to gain control over the uncontrollable. This all works out to us consciously experiencing the world in a very filtered, heavily edited and redacted way.

So when we want to try to settle back and see about experiencing this world of ours directly and unobstructed, we have to find a way to help that five-percent get out of its own way. Somehow, some way, it’s got to stop trying to micromanage everything, instead allowing all its mounds of labels and continuous-loop-recordings slip aside, even for a moment. And that’s no easy trick, because one of the downsides of feeling responsible for everything is the fear that everything will fall utterly and catastrophically apart if we let up for just one second.

Instead of commanding the Commander Brain to shush up, we can instead train ourselves to help it shift its attention to directly observing without judgment, without filter. We can find something that even Commander Brain finds soothing and safe, such as a blissfully relaxing cup of tea. After analyzing the tea to criticique its temperature and health properties, even Commander Brain will let us raise the cup to our lips for a sip.

And in that moment, simply be aware of sipping tea.

Sounds easy? Try it, and see how well you do the first time. Then a second, perhaps a third. Find out how long you can drink tea with your only conscious thoughts centering on the feeling of the cup in your hands, without considering it as pleasurable or not. At the same time, be aware of the color of the cup and tea, without judging as to whether it’s too light or dark or just right. Feel the temperature and flavor and fluidity of the tea as it moves over your lips, your tongue, your throat… just feel it.

Experience this all Just So, savoring it Just So. Experience it as Wholly Complete, Just As It Is.

For me, that’s the zen I stopped to experience today. And for the record, I got about one and a half sips in before I started to get distracted by wondering how long I should sip tea before getting back to stretching, then back to work.

Still, that’s a sip and a half more than yesterday. I’ll count that as Wholly Complete, Just As It Is.

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