Thursday, February 5, 2009

Let your mind alone!

[image: a Thurber cartoon]
Let Your Mind Alone! Humorist James Thurber stole that book title from me before I thought of it. I have always been sorry.

This is (or was) America, so it's fix, fix, fix, isn't it? Everything except the infrastructure. And call in the experts, let's get this over with. Talk therapy was a sort of cultural fad that gained tremendous popularity as we gained affluence, so that the all-purpose word therapy has come to stand for psychotherapy or talk therapy. I'm not saying it didn't do me some good to pay someone who to sit and listen to me talk about myself, and accept me, someone whose hidden agenda was probably to get me to think about someone else. I just note that the insurance companies will only pay for short courses of cognitive therapy; they claim the long talks, the insights, have not been shown to work. (Not to say they are experts on what works; they won't pay for acupuncture.)

Cognitive therapy is sort of like Zen with a nail gun. You go in there and get right to work on your ignorance/delusions, only they are called something like "logical fallacies." I tried it once, and found that I could work my way through to seeing the error of my ways for an hour or two. Then I went back to the old normal. Habitual thinking has a lot of magnetic force.

The fact is, and I don't have to cite religion on this, what matters is not what we think, but our actions. If you want to say what we think informs our actions, there's some truth to that. But I don't care what kind of mean sexism, for instance, is in some guy's mind, as long as he keeps his mouth shut around me and pays women fairly. It's not so black-and-white. Sometimes someone like that has a paternal sense of commitment and responsibility, and is kinder to women than the up-to-date guy who argues that equality means his sexual partner should take care of her own abortion.

Words are a form of action too. Most of the violence done to me in my life has not been physical, but verbal. Somehow it sticks with you more than a beating. The taunting of a junior high bully. The hate letter - more common now that you can send one with one click. The habitual criticism of neurotic parents.

But here's the thing: the only way to keep ourselves from wounding others, doing harm with words, is to become aware of them. Ultimately, this is compassion, and wisdom is the understanding that when you hurt someone else, you drop poison into the whole world, and you are an intimate part of that world.

But to work, compassion and wisdom have to be accompanied by awareness of your actions, what you're saying and doing right now. We seem to have a remarkable resistance to any self-awareness that shows us our errors, and awareness is not selective. Maybe this is why Pema Chodron says meditation practice begins in bliss and ends in bliss, but the road inbetween is hell. Or at least, a challenging climb, not for the faint of heart.

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