A New CPU?
In our head-centric culture, we assume the brain is in control, like a CPU, or Central Processing Unit, executing a plan.
And we tend to judge and blame others based on the assumption that they are consciously and cognitively saying and doing things to irritate, offend or hurt us.
But the brain, of course, is just another organ. Imagine applying the same logic to the kidney: “This guy next to me in line at the grocery store was regulating his renal tubules to remove toxins from his blood stream in such an annoying way!” (You gotta be kidney-ing me!)
Thich Nhat Hanh, the late Vietnamese Buddhist monk, said, “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun … Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person.”
When I fall into this pattern, I think I’m inherently blaming the other person’s brain. Lately I’ve found it a helpful exercise in empathy to look around and try to see people as powered by a different CPU — the heart (the Central Palpitating Unit). If I envision the humans (and even animals) I cross paths with during the day as walking, beating hearts instead of walking, scheming brains, I can (sometimes) access more compassion. I try to extend this compassion to myself. While it’s natural to say, “I am thinking,” I wouldn’t say “I am heart-beating.” The heart (not the heady “I”) propels us forward; “I” don’t have much say in the matter.
I see this idea echoed in the famous last line of The Great Gatsby, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” — “beat” and “borne” connecting the heart that arrives with us in the womb. The “past” here sounds like a deep past, a primordial pulsation. (Intriguingly, astronomers recently discovered a radio signal that is pulsing like a heartbeat in deep space.)
My dad told me that when he was drafted into the Army, everyone got the same haircut and identical uniforms and he found this liberating: you didn’t know where the guy next to you came from, his social status or his ordinary “costume.” If you’ve attended an MEA workshop you may have found something similar (although thankfully without the buzz-cuts and military fatigues): underneath our titles and our layers of adaptive, cognitive strategies — borne from a deeper past, prior to our sophisticated “I”’s and brains — our hearts power us on.
Rob Baedeker is a writer and a communication consultant and coach with the Stand & Deliver Group. He is an MEA alum who plans to move to Baja and live there part-time.