Of pergolas and programmed puppies

Posted by on 08.22.07 | No Comments
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I read a story once about a scientist who was researching how our brains are patterned. I don’t remember a thing about what he came up with, but I do remember the story he told. It was about a young dog who was let out of his house into the backyard, and saw a squirrel. Our hero chased the squirrel up a tree, barking and having a fit. The squirrel sat on a branch above the dog’s head chattering and na-na-na-na-booboooing the dog as only squirrels can do. The dog was berserk. And then, all of a sudden, the squirrel lost his footing, and fell directly into the dog’s mouth. For the rest of the dog’s life, everytime he was let out of the house, he ran directly to that spot under the tree, sat and barked, expecting a squirrel, any squirrel, to fall into his mouth.

I have thought about this story many times since hearing it, because it highlights the workings of this human’s brain. I will lock onto anything that seems like it meets my need of the moment, and figure that there’s some magical power inherent in doing whatever I was doing when I had the good feeling or experience, or not doing whatever it was when I had a bad experience. And thus the pattern is set, with expectations and ruts conveniently built right in.

The trick is, or it least it seems to be right now, to unlock my brain from its pattern of behavior(s). Here’s some examples:

  • smoking a cigarette when I’m tense or want to change my mood: the act of smoking has then ceased to bring real pleasure and connection and become a pressured and lifeless habit
  • eating when I’m upset, worried or afraid: eating has then ceased to be an act of caring for myself and become one of being asleep and on a ‘hamster wheel’
  • thinking that I can bring romance to my life by doing the same thing that brought it the last time leaves me feeling frustrated and uncreative, and my partner feeling somehow manipulated

Recently I’ve been experimenting with consciously NOT doing whatever I have always done in a particular circumstance. This experience brings to mind a working definition of insanity:doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

My friend and partner was building a pergola in his backyard last week. I had some pretty strong feelings about how it should be assembled, because I was being the ‘straight man’ for this little project. There was only the 2 of us (ask for help? I think not…) We had to balance two 90 pound beams while putting the other two 90 lb. beams up and putting fitted boards across them. It was pretty intense, as there was a real possibility of breaking the cross boards if the beams fell (and we actually did break one of them). The usual way I would deal with something like this would be to give my opinion, probably unasked for, and then be angry when it wasn’t taken. This time, I spoke my mind, was able to find a way to help support the beams so we could both maneuver the them, and not be upset because my idea about how to complete the project wasn’t taken. I made a conscious choice to not feel victimized by the situation, and found myself enjoying the fact that it didn’t go together easily–it actually became fun to figure out how the instructions, produced in Vietnam, meant for the contraption to be be put together. It was fun to come out of the project feeling physically tired, but mentally alert and emotionally balanced. And, by the way, the pergola looks lovely!

This isn’t a one size fits all solution–each moment is truly new, and if I come to it knowing that I don’t know what will be expected of me, or what will bring peace, harmony and laughter, and the only thing that is needed is an open mind, I’m thinking that I’ll live a happier life, and my mind will be less rigid and insistent. It’s part of a spiritual practice of saying ‘yes’.

I guess the deal is that there’s a real difference between something done ritualistically that keeps me asleep and not connected to what’s really going on, and a true ritual that opens my mind and heart. I know the difference, but sometimes fool myself into thinking that the one takes the place of the other.

So here’s my challenge for the week. I have yet another mouse in my house, probably genetically related the one I had to do the death-by-peanut-butter thing with in July. I can do this differently–I will never not be sad to see a broken body of a once-living creature, but the truth is, I deserve to live in an environment that is not any more hazardous that necessary. When I hear the ‘snap’ in the night, I have the option of doing something un-patterned: I can roll over and go back to sleep, knowing that I’ve done what I had to do. Or I can do the usual: cry and be sorry that I’ve had to do this dastardly thing, feeling guilty and somehow ashamed and making a little drama out of the incident. I’ll probably do the latter, but my desire is to become less dramatic, more grounded in the spiritual understanding of the nature of what is.

It may not sound like a big thing, but it is, for me.

I’ll still take the little mouse body out into my garden, and do a burial with it, asking for blessings for all the creatures. But I think I can let go of the guilt–guilt for me is the puppy under the tree, that becomes the old dog that can barely walk, still under the tree with its mouth open waiting for the squirrel that will never fall. Probably.

Dog…and whale…both trying something pretty new.

Any thoughts?

Love to youse all out there–

Beth, Dried-eyed, crusty old VTH Host



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