Mindfulness Matters

4.1.1Two forces motivate much, if not all, of human behavior–grasping and craving, or crasping for an economical combination of the two. I should say that it’s not just human behavior, all animal behavior falls under this rubric. Humans have our own particular virulent, materialistic, and imagination-driven versions of it.

Despite my intentions to remain equanimous throughout the Super Bowl, I found myself having an intensity of feeling. My outward behavior was contained: no shouting, cheering, or gesticulating but by the 4th quarter as the Patriots rallied from a 10-point deficit, I found my heart pounding out of my chest as I sat quietly and watched.

Feelings convey information. At their most basic, pleasure signals good things that we should approach and unpleasant marks the potential for threats and motivate us to be heedful of that possibility.

The feeling I was having during the game was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. It was more compelling than pleasant or unpleasant, but falling more towards the unpleasant side of things. Whenever we feel distressing, unpleasant, or painful feelings, we can ask: “What’s on the line?” The feeling signals threat, so we can seek to understand what that threat is and whether it is valid.

What were the consequences for me? I didn’t have a bet on the game. I don’t have a stake in the team but I was responding as if I had a stake in something. Since I’ve been in this emotional place before (particularly in 2007 and 2010 when the Patriots lost to the Giants) I had a good idea of what was happening.

I wanted something. I wanted the Patriots to win and, more importantly, I wanted Tom Brady to win his 4th Super Bowl ring so he could be among the three quarterbacks ever to have done so (Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana are the others for those of you not versed in football history).

I wanted a hero. I wanted to be able to say that I witnessed this greatness and I could own it as my home team. I was crasping; therefore I had feelings. It’s as simple as that. My desire to valorize Brady and the sport spectacle made me vulnerable to feelings. I could not be fully equanimous because I had a vested interest.

This scenario replicates itself countless times each day. We are almost ceaselessly engaged in such crasping. We want things to go a certain way; we don’t want other things to happen.

Whenever you are feeling some distress, you can pause and ask yourself: “What’s on the line?” It’s possible that all that is at stake is an idea; you’ve got no real skin in the game as was the situation for me and the Super Bowl. Sometimes, the idea is accurate and other times it is based in imagination. It’s a predication, fantasy, or distortion that may have no or little grounding in reality.

A little inquiry can go a long way in untangling these knots that drive our feelings and our behavior. I was able to contain my behavior last Sunday night but this was because I had made an intention to do so (see my post from last Sunday). Usually, feelings lead to action and when we are in the grips of crasping, the results are usually not beneficial to ourselves and others.

When we hit upon something solid–that thing we want–we can ask another question: “Can I let this go?” “Is it really that important?” “Is it worth this strife?”

My pounding heart revealed to me that I am not yet fully awakened and I can laugh at myself for that. For me, the feelings were worthwhile, in part, as an homage to my late father who missed yet another Super Bowl. In many other instances in my life, I am just blindly reaching out and pushing away experiences in some contrived effort to be comfortable, certain, or distracted. These craspings could bear greater scrutiny.

What are you upset about? As you sit with your feelings, see what’s on the line. See if the feelings match the situation. If you let go of self-importance, how would that affect the situation? The process of examining desire through this meditative inquiry can help to free you from unnecessary anguish.