Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Off course

Though we strive to be balanced, moderate and mindful - or, should say - some of us do, the truth is that, by and large, as a species we are anything but. We are often, (not always), passionate, impulsive and given to fits of very different kinds of moods. I think most humans could be diagnosed as bi-polar, though most of us keep the ends of our emotional/metabolic spectrums within a manageable range or learn to hide our excesses from others. But we all have our ups and downs, every single one of us, no matter how mild they appear from the outside looking in. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

At one end of the human spectrum are the behaviors that could be classified as benders. I'm not just talking about overdoing intoxicants for a period of time. People go on work benders, exercise benders. When people fall in love, initially, that condition is definitely a bender. I've been thinking about the mass shootings that seem part of life in the U.S. these days, unfortunately. Those people, the shooters, reach some kind of bender tipping point at which time they buy guns and go on a rampage. Suicide is a bender. The Tour de France? Bender.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea.

On the other end of the spectrum is what I usually call shutdown. In certain cases I think of it as locked down, or even locked down and rusted shut, as a friend describes it. Included in the condition of shutdown is depression. All sleep difficulties - whether a person sleeps too much, avoiding wakefulness, or at the other extreme, when a person can not sleep, therefore can not integrate and process through sleep and dreams, and can not rest, that person is suffering from shutdown.

People in shutdown are dull. Their hair is dull, their eyes are dull, their skin is dull. There is not a lot of life force around them. They suffer from chronic ailments that never improve or get worse. They are unfocused, unmotivated. They languish in jobs they dislike, relationships that are offline or chronically dysfunctional. Their routines become entrenched. They watch a lot of television. In severe shutdown, over time, humans become blank. Do you know what I'm talking about?

I believe it's normal for us to touch these extremes sometimes - briefly, please. Go ahead, go on a bender, but not forever, not until you crash and burn. Go on a bendette. Touch the extreme, then come back to center. Likewise, sink into shutdown if you will, but don't linger too long in the muck of that extreme. Come back to center. As long as we don't stay too long at the extremes, the movement back and forth allows us the full range of human expression. It also helps us organize around the process of returning to a place of balance. The ebb and flow of emotion is an essential part of being human. We need the ebb and flow, as long as we turn back towards center before it becomes destructive.

There are many disciplines that map a course from the extremes of benders and shutdown back to a place of balance. Meditation, yoga, the martial arts are three I mention often because classes and instructions are widely available. But there are many ways to learn to come into your center from whatever outlying regions you've traveled to.

If you don't meditate, please begin right away. Take a class, join a group in your community, or just set a timer and sit down for twenty minutes. Just sit down. Here's a link to sitting meditation instructions, beautifully written by Jack Kornfield who was my first teacher. 

I live in Washington DC, just a few blocks from the Capitol. Our lawmakers are on a bender of power struggling which has resulted in a government shutdown. They have somehow gotten so bent out of shape that they've merged the two ends of the spectrum I described above. Congress is suffering from an ourobouros of imbalance. It's a crisis of extremes with no balance of any kind in sight.

I wonder how many members of Congress meditate. Some of them do yoga, some engage in the martial arts. How I wish someone would sit them down together in the rotunda of the Capitol and guide them through several sessions of mindfulness meditation, lovingkindness meditation, and the Inner Smile meditation.

A congressional daylong meditation retreat would break the impasse. Can you imagine? Sadly, that's the last thing anyone is going to suggest. It's a damn shame.

May the pattern and impasse be broken. May they move forwards with compassion and clarity. I'm not holding my breath, but may it be so. Shalom.

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