Saturday, April 18, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 18, 2020 - Being the Non-Anxious Presence

It’s a points system really. Sometimes we are carrying around a lot of points against us. Sometimes we arrive into stressful situations carrying the baggage of one or more already stressful situations in our lives. How many points are you carrying around right now? 

We love to worry like it’s our job. We feel we’re being productive with our downtime if we are gnashing our brains over something. How many things are you worrying about right now? We justify that we are giving our concerns ample consideration and prayer if we maintain sufficient angst over them. 

I have news for you. That’s a lie our biology is telling us in order to preserve itself. Not that preserving our biology is a bad thing, of course. Our biology is essential to life. But, its base instincts do have their shortcomings in the modern world. 

Our brains are wired for immediate gratification, not future planning. It’s the difference between what’s called an immediate-return environment and a delayed-return environment. Our mammalian brains are wired to take shelter when it rains, not go to school, get a job, build a house. Hunter gatherers would hunt and gather when they got hungry for the food they would eat in the immediate. The advent of future planning is still very recent to us in evolutionary terms.

So, while we have developed the capacity to create advance plans using our new-fangled neocortexes, we still have the old knob and tube wiring back there as well, influencing the whole. Anxiety is logical, even if not ideal. It’s what we do about it that separates us from our ancient ancestors. 

Some people have the ability to walk into a room and alter the energy of the space by their presence alone. You might call that having an energetic talent, or a reputation for being an easy-going person that precedes them. Or they might be shrewd and calculating with what they say or do so as to avoid any unnecessary confrontation. Here’s a second piece of news for you. It’s all the same thing. 

We prefer to think that we leave our troubles at home when we go to work or school. It’s considered a mark of professionalism. We’d certainly rather that be the case, but we’re nowhere near as good at it as we like to think. Unfortunately, statements of leaving our troubles at home refer almost exclusively to keeping our mouths shut about them. But that doesn’t answer the state of our minds and hearts on the subjects of them. And those thoughts and feelings and brain chemicals and heart rate and blood pressure and concentration are what actually fulfill and inform your work, not your silent mouth. 

So, immediately disabuse yourself of the notion that you don’t walk around with all of your points on you at all times. They are always with you.

Knowing that, what would you like to do about the number of points you have? And what would you like to do about the number of points you accumulate? Finally, what would you like to do about the environments over which you have a little bit of influence? 

The answer is to seek to be the non-anxious presence. 

If you want to positively impact a system, a relationship, or an environment, simply be at peace within it. Use spiritual principles to find a path toward being accepting of things over which we have no control so that we have the greatest capacity for changing things for the better. It’s an excellent thing with which to occupy yourself while everyone else thinks the sky is falling.

Right now it’s a very windy day. As I write this, the power has gone out. Apparently a tree at the end of our block fell and knocked down a powerline. Eventually it will be back on. But I find I have to keep re-directing my thoughts back to the non-anxious presence I wish to be. Even for myself.

It is difficult. There’s no denying it. And it’s pointless to pretend that even the masters always had it under control. There are few spiritual masters in recorded history whose stories do not include them throwing a fit or two. A few of them have even been murderous. Don’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides. Usually their insides aren’t that different from your own. You’re just not hearing about the full story. 

I used to lecture to students in a nursing program at a local community college on esoteric thinking in medicine. I asked them to conduct an imaginary scientific study. If we took a large group of study participants, all of them nurses, and had half of them go about their routines as normal. The other half we have take one deep, cleansing breath before entering every patient’s room. That’s it.

Over the course of an imaginary study year, which groups’ patients do we think would have better overall outcomes? 

Of course we’d have to actually conduct such a study to be certain. But we know enough in general to anticipate what the result might be. I’d guess that the nurses who mindfully breathed, even with only a single breath, before engaging with their patients would have a tendency to be more relaxed during their assessments. The patient would likely be more relaxed as well. What do you think the imagined outcome might be of that? To say nothing of what might be occurring on an energetic level about which we can only speculate.

This is a choice, as much as we like to pitiably think of ourselves as having no choice in anything. To be sure, we rarely have a choice in what befalls us, or our loved ones, or our communities. But we have all the choice in the world about what kind of influence we would like to have over them. 

Choose to be the non-anxious presence. Choose to infect your environments with ease and benevolence. Not only is it a good basic practice, but it’s really entertaining. Try walking into a room full of people who are losing their minds over some pointless drama without your batting a single eyelash. Cool and collected. It drives them nuts. Bring popcorn.

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