A Relationship with What Is

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    The mind-as-thought has the unfortunate ability to go away from what is, and the human mind does so habitually and perennially. But the human brain also has the capacity to see things as they are in the moment.

    That capacity, nurtured daily, keeps the brain young. Though aging is a fact of life, I’m convinced that the brain does not have to deteriorate.

    There are three main environmental factors for deterioration of the brain: unresolved contradictions, sustained conflicts, and unnecessary mental/emotional memories.

    With the strong intent to see things as they are as much as one can (given the humble realization that thought is a very tricky animal and one can never be sure), the existential contradiction between ‘what I think’ and what is can be greatly reduced.

    In short, when faced with the many challenges of daily life, if one prefers and defers to actuality over ‘my perceptions,’ one has a compass that keeps the brain heading in the right direction and in basic order.

    A relationship with what is also greatly reduces intrapersonal and interpersonal conflict, which eventually wears on and wears out the brain.

    The other factor is very difficult for many people to grasp, or even consider: the matter of storing up unnecessary memories.  ‘I want my memories; I am my memories’ most people say. But that is patently false. A computer is its memories; a human being is immeasurably more.

    Dr. Robert Epstein, the former editor of Psychology Today and founder of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Massachusetts, says, “The fact is, we do decline cognitively as we age, partly because we’re losing a lot of brain matter. I will oversimplify, but roughly by the time we’re in our 70’s, the brain has atrophied quite a bit, so roughly we’ve lost 20-25% of brain volume by that time.

    That’s rough alright. And he’s right, he does oversimplify. This self-fulfilling prophecy fits and follows with the data that by the age of 85, half of Americans are diagnosable with dementia. Is that a given? I don’t think so.

    Though it runs counter to scientific assumptions at present, I don’t think the brain needs to age like other organs. The brain can, through insight, continually renew itself. But to do so, one has to have the overriding intent to see things as they are, not as one wants to see them or has been conditioned to see them.

    Looking down through the crystal clear waters of the steeply sloping mountain reservoir, I watch two species of fish swim next to the shore. They’re mostly small trout and bass, and at times a score or more of them school together, languidly cruising back and forth in their liquid home.

    The lake and its environs are so quiet that the mind is instantly and intensely thrown back on itself. The stillness induces people to speak in hushed tones, and many evince a reverence for the place. “Don’t tell too many people about it,” someone will often say.

    At first it’s like observing small fish in big aquarium, but within a few minutes something startling happens, revealing an underlying truth that can never be perceived by watching fish in a tank, even huge tanks like at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco.

    As I observe the tiniest movements of the fish, noticing how they propel themselves forward, and sometimes backward, with the slightest flicker of their fins, the silence in the atmosphere becomes indistinguishable from the silence of water.

    Watching the fish leisurely swimming in the still waters under a glassy surface adds another dimension to the quietness in the air.  One realizes, palpably, that soundlessness is of the essence, in air or water, and that silence in nature mirrors the silence of the cosmos.

    From that realization, there is a simple insight: The universe is alive, not just on the biosphere of the earth, but in its very nature.

    There is barely a ripple on the lake. A frog croaks, and is answered by another a quarter mile away. Across the inlet, over 200 meters away, the footfalls of a hiker crunch the ground.

    After three-quarters of an hour, human voices spill over the water’s surface from nearly a mile distant, at the other end of the lake. A hawk with long thin wings and striated under-markings soars over the inlet. It’s time to leave.

    Martin LeFevre

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