Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sleuthing the Mind’s Labyrinth

        Creatively, the twentieth century dazzles in its abundance of inventions, societal innovations, institutions, artistic presentations, even famine and wars. May one not say that the engagement with nature, mass and matter is only hampered  by a tired imagination. And where does the credit go? Why, your mind, of course.

Enter the Follies
  Such  a phenomenon. We use it to contact life and fulfill all our brilliant ambitions. But it exerts its foxy moods, too. As much as our mind can astonish, it can show contrary and petulant sides as well. There are moments it foists upon us the idea that it is a dire necessity to be admired by significant others. When that recognition does not arrive, how upset one feels. Again, who or what made me upset? Could it be the mind? Of course not, my mind would not make me feel that way. When things don’t run the way of  expectations, distress is obviously caused by a nemesis. From weather conditions to political declarations, from loud neighbors to my misbehaving kids and tardy colleagues, the idea that my distress issues from outside these  circumstances remains unentertainable. My preferred sense of entitlement would be compromised. 
Throughout the day, how my mind loves to reminisce, in a leisurely way, that the world doesn’t always treat me right. Moments at my work environment, home life, or rush hour traffic, all need to acknowledge my importance and everything will be alright. Taking my own council and acting independently of external reassurance seems too risky. Better an authoritative figure to mandate my favorite solution and then obviously things would improve. 
Then there’s the striving ideal that one should be admirably intelligent, enviably competent, always achieving, with nary a hair out of place, and minimal apologies for incidental mistakes. Or the compelling idea that if some external item really suits me, the more the better. Try that with two expresso lattes and find out how your body responds. 
Also the comforting notion that if I strive for uncontestable control over the entire situation, my worries dwindle. Play the stock market on that tip and watch what happens.  How unfair that headaches emerge when my mind insists that my efforts and every task won’t tolerate imperfection, on my terms. Then there is the admonition that if I just act more professional, become emotionally detached, as some high minded obese friends always recommend, then divine order will take its course. Well, of course, since my chosen deity watches over me. Could I just not sit, for example, in the kitchen and await a divine emissary to cook the meal? My suspicion is that anticipation becomes the supper. Yet if you want to sit on the sidelines, be above it all and distant yourself from the bothersome world, withdrawal becomes your solace. But does worry cease?  It’s been said when remaining utterly above it all, aging prospers. 
Best of all, there’s that underlying, irresistible concept that harbors victimhood. Could fate deal such unfair blows? ‘How could I lose,’ says Charley Brown, ‘when I am so sincere?’ Hence, woe betide is the proper recourse, almost commendable. While I nurse my mournfulness, the last remedy to undertake is a hint of brisk exercise. Horrors, a sorrowful disposition always flees a metabolic upgrade. People just don’t understand.
Here, reader, sample a few instances of how we entrance ourselves by staring at the homemade mirror of our discontent.

The Theatre of Mind
With sufficient reflection, it becomes obvious that the rational mind with the help of its fertile imagination and senses, possesses not only colossal power to generate modern culture but an almost irrepressible facility to take refuge in its own melodramas. We relish the empathy of others replaying our home grown tales of unappreciative calamity. These scenarios may enthrall but, like fast food, consolation can’t supplant substance. 
In rehearsing these internal soap operas, it may not be self-evident that the one who gets star billing is also the script writer and, most of the time, the usually sole member of the audience. As the poignant drama unfolds, forget at your peril who tacitly ranks as designer and uncontested stage Director.
The puzzler again knocks, how much more is my mind? How many dramas to be performed? To put aside our imperative self-interest, for the moment, and widen our purview of possibilities, one might find instances of startingly intelligent, creative individuals whose brio of noblesse oblige touches the lives of others. Among the numerous pace setters in this art of thriving, Tagore, Swami Rama,  Helen Keller, Norman Cousins, Barbara McClintoch, and Howard Zinn come to mind, each stirs a universal yet versatile assessment on contending with life. Mandatory for them before acting is first to discern. Nor were they unfamiliar with the exasperating fact that things collapse, even reverse.  Some dreams are renewable, some aren’t, eh? Disappointments and astonishment goes along with any territory, so... Could it be that learning how to read and treat life right beckons less baneful surprises than supposed?  As Goethe put it: as soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live. 
When our lifestyle puts us in hope’s way, is there not a gradual forfeit of anxiety about daily living, a diminishment of future fears? Encouraged, you inspect for symptoms of growth? Have some days provoked you to default the external assurances coveted for security? If you cherish religious pretensions, a day may come when they seem less imperative. No need for recriminations. Your fearful beliefs were almost unavoidable, given your indoctrinated exposure.

The Show Must Go On                                                                                   
         Perhaps a pertinent illustration from the mythic past might illuminate our topic. Along with Freud’s pithy remark that the clans of a certain island people are hopelessly beyond psycho-analysis, there is an ancient legend that Sakyamuni, the revered Buddha himself, no less, once immigrated to the green Isle to crusade with his sacred message. 
          One day it so happened that a whistling stroller sauntered along the shores of Glendaloch and spied the sallow-looking monk perched under an oak tree. Suddenly the cross-legged visitor  opened his eyes wide and plangently preached that ‘Life is all suffering.’
Noting that dour utterance, a wry smile flashed across Finbarr’s face, 
and the Leprechaun sashayed up to the placid sitter, got his undivided attention, and griningly retorted: 
‘Aye, laddie, such a lugubrious outburst might befit the Brits,
but methinks you’ve misplaced your wits and forgotten that this glorious life is evermore the art of possibilities.’ 
          Rumor has it that the saffron monk soon departed from the ol’ sod, 
exasperatingly mumbling something about its incorrigible inhabitants. Echoing Sigmund, of course.
          Likewise, who’s to say we are not born irrepressible strollers,
impetuous learners of the warps, woofs and crannies of existence? 
May it not be perforcely stated that we are hardly human beings searching for religious experiences;  nay, we’re embodied spiritual beings journeying through the labyrinth of human history. Our sensual embodiment is a toast to the creativity of the Cosmos.
Contending with life with this unintimidated perspective casts a flexible ambience upon those dark days that don’t always yield the gold. Utterly unpredictable dire events, episodes of heightened futility that embarrass our competency, when backfires seems our inheritance, perhaps its no one’s devious fault but just the unheralded crisscrossing of events.

But when the smoke clears, look who’s still standing, eh?