“Enmity shapes our consciousness and identity. The people we hate haunt us; they inhabit our minds in a negative way as we brood in a deviant form of mediation on their bad qualities. The enemy thus becomes our twin, a shadow self who we come to resemble. “Karen Armstrong, 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life
The Meditation Mantra of the Month is SAMSKARA. This is the word for the habitual patterns of the mind; the beliefs, stories, and versions of reality that we think over and over again, until they shape the neural pathways of our brain into deep grooves. Like water running down a dirt road, the amazing connections in our brain are going to choose the path of least resistance; the well worn grooves of our most repetitive thoughts. A well-worn neural pathway in my brain is that I am bad at math. This deep groove has started other branches of thought patterns like — I can’t/don’t keep track of my bank account, and another off-shoot of generalized anxiety about money.
The quote above about how enmity shapes our consciousness is just what I am talking about. I have a neural pathway dedicated to a really creepy guy whose scary dog came running at me and my dog at a park, a few years ago. We can all come up with people who we just can’t Un-hate because the experience is sealed in the very structure of our brain. And people that we have more experience with, get a deeper, more well-worn, even more easily accessible neural pathway in our brain.
I worry that we, as a culture, have come to hate the time we are in. While there are definitely some specific names and faces that many are directing their hatred toward, I also think we are relentlessly meditating on what a miserable time of life this is, in particular. Our whole identity is wrapped up in our crazed response to everything 2020. We are digging away at this powerful neural pathway of how out of this world our suffering is right now. It isn’t just COVID-19, but the Murder Hornets, and the Meth Alligators, the debates about wearing masks, the crazy presidential election, not getting our hair cut, going crazy being with our kids All The Time (ok – I have really dug this one in my brain), making sure our boomer parents stay home and stop getting all the samples at COSTCO, going back to school or not going back to school, worrying about teachers. This is to say nothing about police brutality, protests and riots all over the country, incredible amounts of people about to be homeless because they can’t pay rent, and so many kids who just simply do not have enough food to eat, at all. And have the officers who killed Breonna Taylor been arrested yet?
Yes, I know that there is SO MUCH GOOD that is also happening – I know. All is not lost, by any means. I guess I’m saying that maybe we need to catch ourselves in the default, tip of our tongue, casually catastrophic thoughts we have (about masks, mosquitoes, school districts, ZOOM, politics) and give ourselves a moment to stop digging the neural pathway of disdain for 2020. Can we pause and decide if this is really the ditch we want to keep digging? Do we ALSO have some thoughts in our head about our current life that might be a wee bit more thoughtful, and less of a knee-jerk response to the most recent threat to our sense of security?
Because otherwise, how ON EARTH will we dig ourselves out of this mental rut we are in? I don’t think it’s just going to be 2020. I remember 2019 being a wee bit of a shit-show every now and again too. I’m not saying to turn your frown upside down or make any lemonade out of these big lemons. I am also not suggesting that we can think our way out of this cultural depression. But — if we keep this up, we are going to soon forget how to be hopeful, how to recognize when we are feeling joy, how to get in a bad mood and then move on to another mood. It started out as funny (maybe) but I wonder if our jokes and memes about how wretched 2020 is have by now reshaped the neural pathways of our brain, making the “new normal”, that everyone keeps talking about, a culture of disappointment, disdain, and despair. And probably other words that start with the letter D.
“Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of our lives. Imagination gives us the opportunity to envision new possibilities – it is an essential launchpad for making our hopes come true. It fires our creativity, relieves our boredom, alleviates our pain, enhances our pleasure, and enriches our most intimate relationships. When people are constantly pulled back into the past, to the last time they felt intense involvement and deep emotions, they suffer from a failure of imagination, a loss of mental flexibility. Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach. ”Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
Do you need to read that quote a few times? I sure do. So, how can we get our imagination station up and running again? We are in desperate need of a boost of imagination. We need our creativity fired up so that we come up with a new way to make our education hopes and dreams work for our kids, and now just give up because we can’t think outside of the building. Oh my good lord, do we need some relief from the boredom. And how. How might imagination relieve the crippling pain of anxiety for poor communities whose lives have only become more difficult in this pandemic. What a gift imagination is in that space. How can we imagine having New Ways of Relating to people with whom we disagree? Are we even willing to imagine that?
How can you cultivate a practice of imagination – does that seem like a thing you can DO and not just think about? What would open up some space in your brain and get you off of the well-worn neural pathways and into some more open space where you get to create new ways of being. Do you need to get outside? Do you need to use your non-dominant hand for a while? Do you need to go to the library and check out a book that gives you even the tiniest spark of curiosity, which might flex your imagination muscles a little? Do you need to practice an instrument you haven’t picked up in years? Do you need to paint, draw, knit, sing, run, kick, dance, hike — what do you need to get your imagination working again??
Do not delay. We need you to turn the lights back on, sweep the floor, and get to work on that Imagination Station like it’s your job. Let’s not wait for 2021 or even pretend that the world will just work this all out. It is a bit of a mess right now.
Peace on your head, you.