My softball team was losing. Bad. There were a lot of reasons. Most of the guys weren’t hitting. Three guys made errors. And our pitcher walked six or seven guys. That’s the one that got me.
Because it wasn’t necessary and was easily correctable.
It was a simple case of using the mind...
In softball and baseball, there is a “strike zone” that the pitcher must throw the ball into. If he misses the zone, it’s called a “ball.” If he throws four balls to a batter, then the batter gets on base for free. If it’s a strike and you get three of them, the batter is out. There is an umpire behind the catcher who makes these calls. Of course, this means the game is subject to human frailties.
The strike zone is supposed to be from the batter’s knees to the top of the letters on the chest of his jersey, roughly at his armpits. But in softball, the strike zone is almost always called from the thighs to the top of your shoulders. It is a high arc pitching style, and most softball umpires call a high strike zone. That day our umpire was calling the real strike zone, which meant pitches that usually were called strikes, were being called balls instead. After our pitcher walked five guys (who all scored), I went over for a chat with him. “The umpire is not calling the high strikes,” he complained to me.
“Stop throwing high strikes,” I replied.
Oh yeah, he never thought of that. He was so ingrained in his routine – that he never gave it any critical thought. His thought process was simple (and usually effective): “I always throw the ball here and it always gets called a strike.” This simple story holds a very important lesson on how the human mind works (or perhaps more accurately, doesn’t work) for many people.
They get mired in thought patterns. And in doing so, give away their power of reason. Critical thinking and rationality give way to knee-jerk reaction. And what a tragic waste that is…
Some of the greatest gifts we are bestowed with – the rational mind and the power of critical thinking – are lost through neglect. People forget how to think, then start looking for other people and institutions to tell them what to think. It’s like going through life thinking, “Damn it sure does hurt to walk with this pebble in my shoe,” but never elevating your thinking to the level of stopping to remove the pebble.
The Sutra and Mahamudra scriptures say something very profound on this subject. They declare:
“If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha; you should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere.”
You need not be or aspire to become a Buddhist to see the wisdom in that pronouncement. Buddhahood is simply a metaphor for enlightenment. And that I believe, is our real reason for being on this earth.
So why don’t more people use their mind? I’m not sure but have some theories. Mainly I think they get infected with memes without realizing that they’ve been programmed. And the fall from a thinking mind to a reactive mind is a long, slow journey – one that happens in such small steps that they don’t realize it’s taking place. (Insert frogs getting boiled in the slowly heating water or similar cliché here.)
As brilliant physicist Richard Feynman once sagely remarked, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” Of course, this programming starts when you are very, very young. Here are a couple examples of how this ends up...
I was in Panama with some of my Mastermind Council members. The spouse of one of them is riddled with lack programming and has very serious issues with money. She wants it in her life, but she has deep-seated programming that money is bad and rich people are evil. We were driving back from dinner and I remarked what a spectacular view the Panama City skyline was across the bay. Without even thinking, she automatically replied, “Does it bother you that all those buildings were built by corruption?”
“That’s an interesting theory,” I replied. “Are you saying that all the decrepit barrios were built by honest people, and all the new buildings are built by crooks?” Of course, that shocked her into silence. She wasn’t trying to be confrontational or judgmental but didn’t even know what she was doing. It was just a knee-jerk reaction from her underlying programming.
Another time I was with a friend who is a fundamentalist Christian. We were debating whether the Bible is a literal translation of the word of God. My belief is that the Bible teaches through metaphysical parables, and he believes everything described happened exactly and literally the way it is written. I asked if he really believed that Jonah swam around in the belly of a big fish for three days, popped out and lived happily ever after. I was curious why he never questioned things like how Jonah breathed, what fish would be big enough to hold him and keep swimming around (In the scriptures, it was not a whale as many people suggest.), or any of those other pesky little details. My friend said that he didn’t have any problems with this because it was a miracle from God, and with miracles, anything is possible. Now I don’t have a problem with him believing that. It was what he said next that got me…
He added that it had been documented on the Internet that this was feasible, because it has happened several times since.
“What!!!,” I wanted to know, “Where did you hear that?”
“Bible study class,” was the reply.
“And you really believe that this has happened again. Someone was swallowed by a fish and swam around in the fish’s belly for three days, then popped out and bought a condo in Key West?”
He was quiet for a long time. Upon reflection he acknowledged that he actually didn’t believe the story after all. But here’s the point…
He’s an intelligent, successful person who is functioning fine in this world. He has a nice career, makes some money, and has a beautiful family. But he never questioned that belief, until confronted by my incredulous disbelief and questioning.
An important dynamic here is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. My friend was raised to fear God and work hard to get into heaven, which meant accepting everything the church said without question. To question even one thing was viewed as a lack of faith, and lack of faith is the kind of thing that can get you a one-way ticket to Hell with gnashing of teeth. He was programmed to believe everything the church and its representatives said. As a result, to prevent cognitive dissonance, when confronted with anything irrational or implausible, he was forced to deactivate his rational mind.
Spending time with me, he could see that I held his belief to be preposterous. This created a dichotomy. He respected the church. He respected my opinion. The two opinions were diametrically opposed. This forced him to reactivate his rational mind and participate in critical thinking.
Important Note: If my friend does practice critical thinking and decide that the Bible is the literal translation of the word of God, that’s cool too. He might decide that miracles don’t need to comply with the laws of physics. But at least he’ll develop that belief after actual thinking instead of rote programming.
So how does that work with you? Do you think you’re really using your rational mind in all areas, or are you mired in the thought patterns of knee jerk reaction?
Understanding how the mind works can give you many insights into how you can get the best performance from it. Which is another way to say you can co-create a life of meaning, instead of existing in someone else’s idea of what your life should be.
Here are the areas I find most people today are totally infected with memes (mind viruses), and likely to react with preprogrammed actions, instead of a thoughtful response:
Which works out great if you were born into a perfectly well-adjusted family, exposed to a broad selection of spiritual practices, raised in a wealthy, caring, loving, nurturing environment, with a benevolent government that promotes your right to freedom and success. Which happens about as often as you see a giraffe performing open heart surgery…
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