Originally posted on 05-17-07:
Yesterday I briefly mentioned the importance of daily routines, and here it is another day. When I woke up this morning, I found myself in the same bed I went to sleep in, still of masculine gender, still speaking English, etc., all of which might seem reassuring, and it is, but therein lies a problem. Because so many aspects of our life remain the same from day to day, and through each day, they lead to an all-embracing sense of continuity that is more embracing than it should be. It leads us to overlook differences that occur in us during the day that it would be wise to pay attention to.
My favorite and oft-used example, (here’s another one) is the difference between our state of mind when we are standing on a scale and when we are sitting down to eat. When on the scale, those of us who are health conscious—or simply vain—are aware of any discrepancies between our actual and desired weights. Somehow that state of mind evaporates when we are faced with an enticing menu, unless we have somehow managed to give the weight-conscious state of mind ascendance over the food-loving state.
People are puzzled by this inconsistency if they don’t realize the extent to which our brain’s orientation is determined by the situation in which it finds itself. They are fooled by the constancies of our bodies and identities into thinking that there is some ever-present consistency in the operation of the brain. They say things like, “Why did I order that huge slice of chocolate cake when I know I need to lose weight.” The point is that the “I” that is aware of the need for weight loss is not the same “I” that ordered the cake. Each situation activates a different set of mental states that the brain has come to associate with that situation. We are functionally different people as we move from state to state, but the illusion of a consistent identity prevents our dealing with those changes effectively. A neat analogy is a computer that is a word processor one minute and an image processor the next—same computer, different function.
Once we understand these transformations, we can take steps to give any given state enough prominence that it will be activated outside its usual stimulating environment. We can frame a picture of ourselves when we were thinner and put it on the breakfast table, tape it to the refrigerator, etc. We can subscribe to health and nutrition newsletters, read them, and display them prominently in the kitchen. You get the idea…
To generalize, if in our “good” moments we envision ourselves as different in some way—improved—we must overcome the brain’s inherently fickle mode of operation by reinforcing the state of mind that is aware of the importance of this improvement.
Specifically, yesterday I mentioned my practice of reading “reminder” material every morning. I have a couple of bookcases full of books on Buddhist subjects that continue to reinforce the importance of paying attention to my brain state even after I have read them, just by being there. I leave a few with attractive covers strategically placed around the apartment. There are also quite a few books on brain function that have helped me to understand “the true nature of mind.”
The “me” that wants to be different has to take steps to override the “me” that’s stuck in old habits, all of us sharing the same body.
Just Like Last Year: Impermanent