Wednesday, April 18, 2012

#HAWMC - Book quote inspired post: I am a caveman

"[Your body] is an antique biological machine that evolved in response to a world that no longer exists." (The Time Paradox) Today's prompt is use a sentence from the nearest book as inspiration to write, free-form, for twenty minutes. (I cheated a little and went over on time, and didn't quite do free-form. But that's because I love this book, The Time Paradox, and I wanted to do it justice. It explains so much about how difficult it is for out little human minds to wrap around reality. My body's design hasn't really changed in the last 150,000 years. My environment, however, has changed drastically---largely due to our own efforts! My analog, caveman brain is in a digital, machine-driven world. Let the comedy begin.

For example, did you know that it's actually impossible to live in the present moment? That's simply true because our nervous systems lag behind what's actually going on. It takes time to see, hear, feel and process all those other wonderful senses---from 10 to 250 milliseconds, in fact. My organic brain is designed to anticipate, because that's the only way we can function in the world when we're always lagging behind. However, this is where everyone gets tripped up. What I anticipate is a story I've made up in my head, to try and predict the future, based on my past experiences. It's still a story. Reality is often painfully different. And if, say, I have an extremely traumatic past experience, that can cloud my judgement of the present moment, because I can now anticipate a terrible future that I didn't know existed before.

Further, I can become so wrapped up in avoiding that potential terrible future that I end up sabotaging myself in the present moment. In my anxiety and attempts to make sure that trauma never happens again, I can in fact create the very situation I'm trying to avoid. I anticipate that someone is going to be mad at me, so I get defensive. But then the person does get mad at me, but it's because I got defensive. They get confused because they don't think they've done anything to get me so worked up. And they're right! I'm jumping to conclusions and trying to anticipate moves. But in doing so, I force the situation to take a certain shape; a shape the other person may not want at all!

If I actually want to respond to the situation as it is, and not how I anticipate it to be, what I have to do is slow down, relax, and observe. My caveman brain is trained to look out for the tiger, find food, survive the elements, and maintain my place in my community/family group. I don't have to worry about predators like my caveman ancestor did. Finding food is as easy as going upstairs to my refrigerator. We don't just survive the elements anymore: we make fashion statements with our clothing. My community/family group is scattered across the country. Is it any wonder then, that I sometimes feel isolated, and adrift in a sea of strangers? Is it any wonder that I struggled a long time for a sense of purpose? Is it any wonder that I startle myself and see danger that isn't really there? No... But the awesome thing is when I change my perspective of a situation, I can change my response to that situation. Instead of making driving a competition with me and the other cars on the road, I can instead envision that we're all being carried on one big river, with different currents, and it doesn't matter if that guy gets in front of me. We're all part of the flow.

From an objective point of view, "bad" things are always going to happen in my life. I can't always avoid them. However, so far, I've been able to survive, despite it all. So I should give myself credit for being able to handle these situations as they arise, rather than always being on the defensive. I can do that with my doctors too. It's absolutely paramount that I treat each new doctor as new, and not a repeat of times past. Instead of anticipating for the bad experiences I've had, I can treat each doctor as a brand new opportunity for success. And by doing so, I'm being more fair to them, treating each doctor as an individual, rather than judging them as a group.

My caveman brain wants to make these associations to keep me safe from encountering the traumas of my past. But I'm a stranger to them. When I act defensive, I'm not giving my doctor a fair chance to do right by me. And I want to be as open and honest as possible. One, that helps them learn what's going on in my body more accurately. Two, it's the only way to build that all-important bond of trust. We may be all civilized and technologized, but human relationships still come down to primal rules that existed long before we built cities. Integrity still boils down to saying what you mean, and meaning what you say, backed up by proper action.

Like no other creature on this planet, we have changed our environment to better serve our needs. All animals change their environment to some extent, and a lot of animals do it with a purpose, just like us (building traps for prey, building shelter, nesting, etc.). But no other species has done it with such understanding of what we are going on about. We have taken the reigns of our fate as a species, and changed how we interact with the world. We live according to a clock, rather than the setting and rising of the sun. We are able to treat disease and strengthen fragile bodies that would not survive otherwise. But underneath it all, we're still just animals. We all have animal reactions, animal irrational behavior, and animal weaknesses. I have to remember that if I'm to successfully take responsibility for my life.

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