Category Archives: culture

How do you expand a mind?

Mind you, I’m not plotting to expand yours. You may keep reading free of the fear of that.

What I am considering here is my own mind who wants expanding regularly, but rarely gets the chance. Because I am very busy confounding its attempts by confining it and pointing it in its rightward direction. Any veering off course is met with a swift kick to get back on track…This you know. This you do. This is yours and not theirs. This is the pattern we have established here. Stop being silly and get on board.

So, I am asking myself, what expands a mind? And while we’re thinking about it, how about its alternative: what constricts one?

Oh, I’d like just to invest in a prescription. Dole me out some prednisone to reduce the inflammation, and NOW the blood will flow more freely to those cerebral spaces. But that’s too chemical. Too controllable. Too directed. Can a constricted mind even unconstrict itself? No, I think expansion desires a different way.

One might consider, here, today’s popularly proffered solution: seek out “opposing points of view” and listen “with an open mind.” This generally doesn’t work for me. My sit and listen tends to spin off and spiral into ways I can defend my position just as soon as you are through.

Clearly, this is no recipe for expansion. Expansion, I fear, has more to do with letting, and perhaps with its calming companions, lessening and releasing. Instead of breath-holding, these three invite me to blow out that old dead air in order to accommodate some refreshener. To make ample room in my mental meandering for question-asking, what-iffing and perhaps even a bit of wit and whimsy.

Like…

What if gravity didn’t hold? What if humans could walk through walls? What if magic was real? What if stars could speak? What if (gasp) I didn’t have to abide by all the rules of best behavior? I know this is NOT a mind expansion for many of you, but it’s a biggie for me. And it’s my mind we’re investigating here, so come with me …

What if we could be issued an exemption from always having to behave according to expectations? Even a momentary exemption, say the moment when a foul ball came into my possession at a recent pre-season baseball game and everyone in the stadium expected me to hand it over to a kid. No respectable adult would KEEP that ball. Heck, the guy in the NYY hat whirled on me and shouted, “Give it to a kid!”

I didn’t want to. And I didn’t. Yep, that’s what this is all about. Me, reconciling that moment. When my mind — normally constricted by guilting, shaming and shoulding — broke out of that mold. No guilt, shame or shoulds here. Everything dilated to allow a little breathing room. And it was okay.

What, I’ve been wondering since, what if this expansive moment could last?!! What if we could activate it ON PURPOSE?!

Really is this such a stretch? I mean, our eyes do it all the time. When darkness descends, our pupils dilate to help us see. That’s hard-wired into our subconscious. So, why not will ourselves to let more figurative light in to our cerebral spaces? Intentionally, invite our minds to skip freely down new paths opening doors to new ideas, and new ways accessed by new passageways? Dare we suspend the mathematical and equational, even the sensational and emotional, in service of the … mystical? supernatural? Let’s call it super-rational… where, a bit more light might help what’s been hidden to show itself?

Ah, try as we might, we humans only have meager success at controlling the subconscious by intention. A few may be especially capable, but alas I am not one of these. Try as I might to pry my eyes open to let more light in, my reflexes resist and my eyes slam shut, smarting from the effort.

I have more success actually in the darkened room when I shut my eyes tightly, excusing them from trying to extract visual input where there isn’t any. Don’t waste your time; just let yourself see. Somehow that “letting” allows perception to travel through different channels creating a new inner dialog.

Something like… you won’t die if you keep this baseball. (Who told you, you would?!) and… If you let yourself, a giddiness will overtake you every time you look at it. Go ahead… And when you hold it, it will transport you to long ago memories of major league games your mom took you to.

Games when your 8-year-old self wished the big-leaguers would hit it right to you so you could catch it in the mitt you hauled all the way from home. Games at 10 years and 12 years old, when, as a consolation prize, you brought home the game-day-give-away, a Dal Maxville signature bat. (You weren’t bold like the other kids who asked for bats signed by the heavy hitters instead of the light-hitting shortstop. No, you would never ask; you took what they gave you.) Oh, you brought home memories for sure.

And you brought them with you to tonight’s game, so that when you gripped that ball, you tucked it deeply in your pocket. When kids surrounded you awaiting their handout, you didn’t comply. You broke the rules and kept that ball. And gave it, sure as day, to the kid in you who’s been waiting decades for that catch.

Light. A veritable blooming.

There’s a light in our darkness

I didn't see the light left on. 
It was such a small beam directed downward.
A task light, meant to illuminate
what was cooking, to give a
progress report on the scrambled eggs
which had been long since consumed.
I didn't see the light left on. 
What with the sun's rays drowning it in their showy display,
splashing their way across the fingerprint-streaked kitchen appliances and reflecting onto the floor,
where yesterday's crumbs mixed with this morning's paw prints all clamoring to be cleaned.
I didn't see the light left on. 
The overhead luminescent so immediate and far-reaching.
The days' news face-up, unwilling to wait with its urgent communications,
and night-before items strewn, awaiting retrieval,
while two impatient hounds whine their displeasure
from sleeping quarters half-a-room away.
I didn't see the light left on. 
Those perpetual under-the-cabinet LEDs so unforgiving!
Every corner exposed, every surface uncovered.
"Coffee's ready!" insists a tiny green light, dismissing its "2:00 AM" digital display.
Little liar. Pay no attention to the coffee pot clock.
It used to brew on command, back in the day.
I didn't see the light left on
until it was time to leave; and I
switched off the overheads,
extinguished the LEDs and
bid the sun's rays farewell as they moved mercifully
onward taking their attentions and affections elsewhere.

"Excuse me," beckoned the light,
its beam still focused on its solemn assignment --
standing sentry over the cooking coils,
long cooled and fully forgotten.

until the darkening dared it to proclaim itself.

"I'm still here."
I wonder what else I am not seeing,
drowned as it often is in the invading ambient light.
I wonder what else I am not hearing, 
quenched as it often is by the parading ambient noise.
I wonder what else I am not sensing, 
habituated as I've become to the pelting of ambient turmoil.
I wonder what I might discover, if
I let myself attend to the light left on:

Its dedicated beam
Its resolute stare

Its stalwart attention
Its deep concern

What is it trying to show me?
what is it trying to tell me?
What is it dying to say?
Perhaps only darkness could bring this to light.  

Who took the lane lines?

I thought I was just too early for Master swim when all I saw were four bright orange rescue rings floating on the surface of the pool. It turned out the absence of lane markers was on purpose. Today’s workout would be free-form. “Choose a direction and swim outside the rings. Pull a few, kick a few, swim a few, whatever you feel like.”

Today we were doing the pool imitation of an “open water swim.”

Actual open water events are pretty much free-for-alls, with every swimmer fending for him or herself. There’s climbing and clawing and a sprint to the front in order to avoid the same. And if the dark, choppy water doesn’t provide ample challenge, there’s the matter of keeping your bearings… and contending with cramps, hypothermia, injury or exhaustion. Of course, for those swimmers who cannot continue, rescue boats are close at hand.

None of this happened at the neighborhood swimming pool today.

At least not to me. Because, after jumping in, swimming a few strokes, looking up every two or three to be sure I wasn’t gonna clobber another swimmer, then taking extra irregular breaths to gauge my bearings per the buoys, then preferentially stroking with right arm to navigate the turning radius, I completed one lap and climbed out.

“This just isn’t my thing,” I apologized to the guy who set up the course. “I come here more for the Zen.”

But what I really meant was, “This is totally nuts!” There’s no way I voluntarily subject myself to an hour of dizzily circling the pool while hyperventilating in fear of ramming somebody. All that just because nobody set up the lane lines…

One of the guys called to me as I was leaving, “What’s the matter? Don’t like the waves?”

Nope. It wasn’t the waves. Effort I am okay with. It was the tight turns and uncertainty I objected to. It felt… debilitating.

Wow. As soon as I named the feeling, it all made sense. This open-water swim felt like the year and a half we’ve been living. Our orange buoys — pandemic, climate change, injustice and cultural division — have set us a-spin. They’ve changed all our rules. Boundaries we thought were fixed have now moved. Truth may not be true. Our friend may not be our friend. The system we thought was fair, isn’t. Temperatures trending upward may not be temporary.

What we thought was unchangeable isn’t; the world can change in a minute.

Life right now feels like an open water swim, and even if you’re a good swimmer, it’s disconcerting and dizzying. Our opportunities for collective Zen have gone missing.

I need to inject more of my life with stuff like organized Master Swim. I need lane lines, a planned workout, the right equipment, a clean, well-kept space and some hearty companions. Because in that space, even and especially after supplying maximum effort, I find peace — the peace that settles my mind and clears my head, the peace that trains my heart and uplifts my soul.

How I am longing for structure, discipline, order and clear expectations where I can be free to supply my effort, my skills and my talents to contribute to my world as it is and make it better. To find a bit of good news and amplify it. To uncover a good idea and inspire a group to pursue it. To lift up the work of others who are on track toward something great. And to lend a hand where I can.

Because this head-spinning time needs a-righting. And getting out of the pool isn’t an option.

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