So then, I’m sitting in the outdoor café area of Ideal Market: a local whole-foods grocery. Beautiful sunny day, and great view of the Flatirons!
In the course of enjoying my salad, I pick up a cherry tomato, with the thumb and first finger of my right hand. En route to my mouth, the cherry tomato squirts out, and begins its parabolic arc toward the ground.
Before I know it – as though on automatic pilot – my left hand has reached out to cup in its upturned palm the cascading tomato. Ninety-nine days out of one hundred, I would have responded in self-congratulatory fashion, with a feeling of: “Way to go – nice catch!”
But today I’m nursing a fairly seriously sprained left wrist, whose tenderness has led me to greatly curtail – or at least have the intention to greatly curtail – my movements there. And the movements required for the catch that I just made were precisely the most painful ones possible; precisely those that I had strongly intended to avoid, for as long as it took for the wrist to heal.
So instead of exclaiming “Way to go – nice catch!” – I yelp in pain, and silently mouth (since I am in a public café ) a string of expletives. And then, gazing at my wrist, feeling a bit betrayed (even while cradling it gently) wonder: Whose side are you on? Who is your master, truly?
Interweaving Operating Systems
Such a startlingly clear instance this was, of surface-level intention being overridden by a deeper level of conditioning (or was it “spontaneity”?) – in a way that, via post-hoc analysis, seemed utterly irrational. I mean, what’s more important: (1) keeping an injured limb relatively immobile; or (2) preventing a cherry tomato from falling on the ground? My rational mind says, obviously #1. Yet in the moment, the decision enacted was as though it were #2.
So I found this to be quite interesting – and even more so in the context of the back-story, so to speak, viz. how it was that I came to have a sprained wrist in the first place, which was …
I was riding my fun new high-powered scooter – which weighs in at a rather hefty 350 lbs. – when I noticed a flashing sign indicating that there was construction on the road ahead. Wishing to avoid the construction, I attempted a U-turn – but in cutting such a tight angle at a much-reduced speed the scooter began to tip onto its side. Sensing the (literal and figurative) gravity of the situation — viz. stalled upturned scooter in the middle of the road — my body-mind went into a heightened automatic/spontaneous response, which included pulling very strongly with my left hand-wrist-arm to bring the scooter back to vertical.
Though successful in averting the scooter’s toppling, I could feel — immediately thereafter — the pain in my wrist. Clearly the usual “safety parameters” regarding upper limits of what I attempt to lift had been overridden. In other words, at some level the question was asked, what’s more important: (1) bringing back to vertical this toppling scooter; or (2) preserving the health of my left wrist? And the answer enacted was #1, which accords with my post-hoc rational-mind analysis of the situation.
Who’s In Control?
Now, stories abound of seemingly super-human capacities that emerge, from who-knows-where, in the face of extraordinary circumstances. And perhaps this was something akin to that. But what I found most interesting was that something obviously beyond surface-level intentions expressed itself — “took control” of the situation.
My surface-level intention to avoid harming my wrist (or any other individual body part) was overridden by a deeper self-preservation instinct, i.e. being willing to sacrifice a part (the left wrist) for the whole (of the body’s life). This makes sense.
But what’s the sense in snatching a cherry tomato out of midair, when the cost is aggravating an already painful injury? The answer would seem to be: none, really.
Splints & Diamonds
Though if we expand the frame of reference, to included all instances of falling objects potentially needing to be caught – say over the course of two or three decades or an entire lifetime – then perhaps the total benefit of such automatic action out-weighs its cost? So for instance, a single ten-carat diamond pendant snatched out of midair — preventing it from sliding down the drain, or cascading over the edge of the Grand Canyon to be lost forever – easily compensates for occasional discomfort, in keeping the automatic reflex fully automatic.
Or perhaps my deeper wisdom does not disciminate between a diamond and a cherry tomato — knowing them be equally valuable?
The cherry tomato scenario also exemplifies the usefulness of splints and casts: external supports of ones intentions that, by themselves, are incapable of overriding deeper habitual patterns. A cast or splint can represent and enact my intention to immobilize my wrist with much more consistency than can my body-mind alone. (I still don’t have one, but I can appreciate the theory )
In any case, this all has me reflecting, once again, upon the ever-slippery issues of desire, intention and free will: How the truth of the matter, relatively speaking, lies somewhere between the extremes of predetermination and utter randomness. And how the ultimate (non-conceptual and hence unspeakable) answer, in terms of true freedom, lies in taking our stand as the Pure Awareness within which the entire dance – replete with its playful array of paradoxical conundrums – unfolds.
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