My father recently took a moderately bad fall. He’s okay, but he caught the TV stand on the way down and deeply gashed his hand to the point where I could see fat and tendon. It was a shocking experience, and a minor emergency. But this is the life and set of risks he and my mother consciously chose in return for staying at home.
Falls are always decent probabilities at their age. But so is dying in their sleep. So they comfortably live between these possibilities; they just want to have as much fun as possible between now and then. It’s quite wise. Besides, life teaches by experience. So, for people like us, ’emergencies’ start to get kind of routine.
Of course we do all we practically can to avoid them, but Dad’s been adamant about refusing to use a walker in the house. Plus he carries his cane a good distance off the ground where it does him no good. And because he has no memory, correcting him accomplishes nothing.
Our only option is that we surrender the idea that we can control too much, and focus on that time in between—the time we want to make great because it’s limited. We have all accepted that they will die, and we even know the general odds about how it’s likely to happen. And since a fall is right up there for odds, this was shocking, but not surprising.
Fortunately, an accepting and open state of mind is perfect for an emergency because we need our minds for that—not for our thoughts about the emergency. I had no ‘me’ or ‘I’ thoughts about what was going on. To myself, in those moments, rather than being a thinking person having a thought-filtered experience, I simply became the ‘verb’ of response.
As soon as I heard him fall my mind jumped into ’emergency mode.’ I could feel the adrenaline hit. But not too much adrenaline, because there was other chemistry there. Chemistry that was keeping me calm, and helping me focus.
It’s the interference of busy personal thinking that generates the chemistry that clouds our reactions to the present moment. Without that thinking we have the calmer, more instinctive reaction to danger we have as animals—which many people forget we still are.
In fact, the naturalness of that feeling is why ‘heroes’ will often dislike being called ‘heroes.’ It’s because inside they know they simply responded to an instinctive, no-thought reaction that most humans would feel in the same situation.
Despite the naturalness of those feelings, we can derail our capable selves with insecure or fearful thinking. That cloud of thought is what Buddhist’s call ‘the illusion.’ None of that is ‘real’ to anyone but the person thinking it, which is why it is irrelevant when responding to someone else. We need our attention on them, not on our thoughts about us.
Without those thoughts we have pure awareness, whereas panic is when we notice almost nothing except our own thinking. For me, that state of mind allowed me to calmly go through a series of prioritized actions that were born out of my First Aid training, my extensive reading, and my experience caring for two seniors for 12 years.
However much knowledge we have to draw on, we won’t have access to it if our minds are busy conjuring interfering emotions that are only relative to us and not the situation. But to become more conscious we must study the difference between a direct experience and a thought-based one. That’s all my students really do with me.
One is soul, the other ego. One is effective and creates action. The other is emotional, and it only creates an experience for the thinker, but it does nothing in the outside world. We’re all very basically familiar with the feeling of busyness over effectiveness. But most of us are so busy minded that we only find effectiveness by training, routine or chance, based on our histories, not our awareness.
Despite those histories, we can become more aware, and in doing so shrink our suffering egos. But it won’t happen by accident. If we want to live consciously, we must learn the differences between conscious and unconscious experiences.
The difference is substantial because, in many cases, it is easier and more rewarding to go through a difficult experience consciously, than an average experience unconsciously.
Many people with good lives still create depression or anxiety for themselves. And many people in very challenging situations manage to find happiness. The difference isn’t in the lives or the people. It is in how those people are using their minds.
To learn more about becoming more conscious, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can make arrangements to talk. All humans operate using the same principles, so it only takes about a few weeks to make a notable difference, and after only 12 weeks we can experience permanent change.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.