Mind Matters — Broadening Vision

Ever had a Simpson Duh (or is it a “Doh”?) moment? I had one recently. Not yet on the Master’s Mountaintop, it occurred when I was apparently not practicing what I preach about being calm and centered in the face of a crisis. I deluded myself into thinking I was evaluating the minor mishap (that I had precipitated myself) with equanimity.

As I hurried to my car to get to an appointment promptly so I could return to may office in time for another scheduled appointment, I noticed the car door slightly ajar. “Uh-oh, the seat belt buckle caught again”, I sighed. I get in (when you’re past sixty, there are no active verbs for this maneuver). I turn the key. No sound, no go. I presume that I am assessing the situation carefully: battery needs a charge; call Triple A; call regarding the status of being late for the first appointment; check about any possible wiggle room for the second appointment.

I consider I am acting reasonably even though I am aware of a rippling anxiety. Alas, it is here where I go astray. I did not heed the anxious buzz in my head. And so, I did not simply sit awhile and let myself settle enough to examine more options. Instead, I took one track as the sole possibility: “My car is the only way.” This was the assumption upon which all my decision making was based. I didn’t make room to think out of the box—or out of the garage.

Across the street, however, sat another car—my husband’s! He hadn’t taken it to work that day. In some unlit corner of my brain, I had known this. No matter. This factoid didn’t enter the realm of possibilities. I didn’t even “see” the car: the obvious was invisible. I was suffering the tunnel vision that can occur in an anxious state.

Fortunately, in the basically trivial crisis of my day, all worked out. Triple A arrived quickly; I managed to keep both appointments, albeit with some tweaking.

However minor this event was, I think the message it delivers is major. While being singly focused may often be virtuous, narrowness or myopic vision becomes its vice. Many times, such constriction of thought is the result of stress and anxiety.

Neuro-scientists are now able to pinpoint where the brain “gets stuck” when anxiety rises. Stress in our environment can create brain locks that in turn precipitate the skinny vision I experienced. And such vision, or lack thereof, is not limited to individuals. When anxiety is collectively shared, a family, a society, a corporation, a country can also exhibit such tunnel vision.

So, what is the antidote? What gets the brain unstuck? Simplicity, actually. The simple acts of:

  1. Breathing—pay attention to your “inspiration”—notice your breath!
  2. Finding your feet—notice where you are, where your feet are, to get balanced and centered.
  3. Feel your body—honor your integrity by noticing what parts of your body are tensing. This is a way to get back into yourself, instead of “being beside myself”!

Ah! We do indeed teach what we need to learn.

A few books that may be of interest on this topic: