Sunday, July 21, 2013

Not Zen 68: Crazy Aware

A psychiatrist and her patient rose from their chairs in her office.  They strolled out of the second floor suite and treaded down a flight of steps. Outside, they found bustling sidewalks and traffic-filled streets.  They skirted throngs of pedestrians and a convoy of bicyclists. The glare of the sun cast confusing shadows.  Around them, people moved from place to place.  There were sounds of metal on metal, of children yelling, of shoes on the sidewalks. The patient talked about his observations.

"I thought I was going to hate this," he admitted.  "But I like how everyone's keeping their distance.  They're ignoring us."

"Just to confirm, you were initially anxious about seeing the crowds?" his doctor asked.

"Of course.  I was only hiding it."

"You think so?  Well, we're all limited.  Not everyone can see themselves in the mirror."

"Not everyone is afraid of crowds the way I am."

"I meant something different," she said.  She led them toward an outdoor cafe.  Smells of food drifted on the breeze.  Customers huddled together in groups as they ate.  "Everyone knows a little bit of your feeling.  But mostly, other people have different problems.  I see a lot of problems in my line of work."

"Do other people hide their disabilities too?"

"They try.  Their problems aren't hidden for anyone who looks.  No one really conceals mental issues."

"I can hide mine.  I do it every day."

"You might think so but no, you don't.  How can I explain?"  The psychiatrist sighed.  She took them around the sidewalk to the other side of the crowds.  Her patient stepped out in the street at first.  It took him in a few seconds to build up the nerve to follow her.  "You wouldn't be under this illusion if you were missing a finger.  You would know that people must notice.  It might take them a minute or two but it would be inevitable.  With emotional problems, it's the same."

"You think my fears are as noticeable as a missing finger?"

"If you and a friend sat down for lunch, in time your friend would forget the missing finger." She pointed to a group of diners.  They spoke animatedly with their upper bodies and ignored everyone else. "But mental problems become more obvious over time, not less.  They're in every choice you make, every word you utter, every glance, every gesture."

"That's awful."

"It's natural.  Your actions are shaped in every instant by your perception of the world, same as they are for everyone else.  That's why I think you'll improve."

"You think you can train me to lose my fears because everyone else is messed up?"

"I think you can succeed because you allow for the possibility that your perceptions are wrong. You check them and make corrections. That puts you ahead of people who are fooled by their senses all the time but never question what they perceive."

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