Always beginner’s mind

Perspective makes the difference

I’m taking another shot at cleaning up this hard drive on my “old” computer. I think there are still components that can be un-installed, to reclaim even more space, not to mention speed. The more programs you have running on your computer, the slower it tends to go — if, that is, you’re a “mortal” like me, with a serviceable but far-from-top-of-the-line model.

I start my vacation today. Just two days off, before the onslaught at work begins. I have a ton of stuff to do, and in the past I would have declined to take time off, because I take a lot of pride in my productivity, and I don’t want to leave my co-workers hanging. It’s a terrible spot to be in, and Lord knows I have pulled out all the stops for them in the past, so they wouldn’t be left hanging.

But you know what? The Company is doing a lot of things that say loud and clear, “We don’t really care about your productivity and your team, and you better do what we tell you – or else.” They’ve pushed this agenda for the past 2 years, and I hate to admit it, but it’s worn me down. Also, my co-workers are just a little shy of insane, with their go-go-go mindless reactivity that dashes madly from one task to the next, without ever actually finishing anything. They’ve worn me down with their multi-tasking mediocrity.

Now, in the back of my head I have been thinking that I don’t want to trash my reputation with poor performance. I don’t want to alienate people who could do recommendations for me. But the people whose recommendation I care about have either left the company already, or they are on their way out, and all of us are going to say super nice things about each other, because it’s a small world, and we know that if we do good for others, there’s a chance it will come back to us. The people who are staying, who are invested in me super-performing for them and The Company, aren’t the sort of people I need recommendations from. So, I don’t feel like my long-term prospects have been that jeopardized by this environment and this organization. It’s all good. And anyway, I’m going to go back to contracting, once I’m done here. There’s a lot less pointless drama for me, when I’m not “permanent full-time”.

So, I’m not getting concerned, and I’m not letting  myself worry. Today and tomorrow is “me time”, and I’m looking forward to just kicking back and enjoying things. Running a few errands this morning… taking a trip to a museum I’ve been wanting to visit… heading out into nature to just relax. They’re calling for rain tomorrow, which could put a damper on things, but my spouse and I are fine with that. We’ve got rain gear. We also are taking books to read, and if we spend the day sitting in the car reading and resting…. away from the hustle and bustle, that’s just fine with us.

The point is getting away.

It’s funny, though… for me, getting away is less of a necessity than it is for a lot of people. Yes, it is good to take a break from it all, and yes, it does help me “reset” my mind and give me a different perspective on things. But I don’t crave it like some people. I think it’s because each day literally seems like a whole new one to me. Every morning when I get up, things feel new. Hopeful. Like there’s something else out there to discover and learn. Sometimes I wake up with a terrible sense of dread, but that’s usually due to fatigue or a physical feeling. When I’m feeling sick and foggy, and I’m in pain, I really do get depressed. But when I’m well-rested, not much can get me down.

In this respect, I think my crappy short-term working memory actually helps me. Because I forget so much, and I lose my place so often, I have had to learn how to keep an open mind and perspective, and watch for clues and opportunities. When much of your daily experience that’s more than 20 minutes old seems to evaporate behind you as you walk through your days, you learn to keep going and keep your eyes open for clues about where to go next.

Literally. I mean, my memory for how things were and what I was doing, just an hour ago, tends to be pretty vague. I have to think hard to recall what I did just half an hour ago. And who has the time and energy for all that work and thinking, every minute of every day? If I focus too strongly on the past, I lose sight of my present and where I’m going in the future. So, I have to keep going, keep moving, keep growing and improving.

Some people would get pretty upset, if this happened to them and that’s how their life turned out. For me, I can’t remember anything different. I just never realized that this was unusual, until I did my neuropsych testing and learned that I have the short-term working memory of a chipmunk. Things get lost for me after a surprisingly short period of time. They start to dissolve and disappear on me, leaving big gaps in what I think I remember about what just happened.

That was an eye-opener for me, and it threw me for a loop. But then I realized that it wasn’t all that catastrophic — I’ve managed to put together a pretty excellent life, despite all that “disability”, and frankly, a lot of stuff that people insist on remembering simply isn’t worth hanging onto. I have several really good friends who are ultra-invested in nursing grudges and remembering every single slight and hurt that’s ever been done to them. I can honestly say that that kind of mentality does NOT make you a happier person, than someone like me who has no “storage space” for that sort of stuff. I mean, I couldn’t remember it, if I tried, but why bother trying? It’s much better, in my opinion, to start fresh each day.

Obviously. I mean – compare… I cannot retain much of anything, and I bounce out of bed on many days with a great sense of expectation and anticipation. While they remember each and every instance of insult, slights, hurt, inconsideration, offense… you name it… and they literally can’t get out of bed a lot of days. They don’t want to live their lives, they’re afraid of living their lives. They expect bad things to happen to them at every turn, and a lot of times, that’s exactly what happens. But the bad things happening is not the problem. They get stuck in those bad things and cannot work through them, so they get stuck. Because their minds are stuck in that place. They’ve fallen, and they can’t get up.

I’m sure a lot of it is neurological. One of these friends was routinely knocked out on a regular basis by abusive adults their parents hung out with. There’s also the one-time drug abuse that left its mark, long past their last drink or drug. It’s also biochemical — one of the most hard-up friends I have simply refuses to eat responsibly. They live on coffee and chocolate and rarely eat a real meal. Small wonder they’re screwed up. They just won’t take care of themself. It’s heart-breaking to watch, but that’s their choice, and no matter how I try to reason with them, they just can’t seem to get it.

The thing that keeps these friends of mine going is drama and stress and adrenaline. They’re always getting themselves into some sort of mess — probably because it makes them feel alert and alive. I know for a fact that a lot of them have “tonic arousal” issues, as a result of brain injuries. But they can’t hear me talk about it. They just can’t get their head around the whole TBI thing, which is a shame, because they could really be helped if they would just admit that that’s the issue. But they’re more interested in proving that the problems come from outside them, not inside their head. There’s a whole mindset there that just kills. And it’s a shame.

But enough about them. For me, beginner’s mind is the only way to live. I start fresh each day, mostly because I have to. It’s way too much work to try to remember everything — that’s where my lists come in. Most of all, it’s way too much work to try to remember all the emotional and mental experiences I’ve had lately — even if those experiences were uplifting and encouraging. When I think about it, I realize that I’m constantly orienting myself to the present and to “what’s next” — not so much to the past, because that is dim and fragmented for me. And when I interact with people, I really follow their lead when I socialize and take cues from them, and I rely on them for reminders of what I’m supposed to remember and think about.

It’s a good thing that all of this happens inside my head, because if people new just how reliant I am on the people around me for even the most basic conversation topics and direction, they’d think I was a complete idiot.

On the other hand, when I look around at people who supposedly “know” how things were or what happened once upon a time, I see a lot of people who have very different perspectives about exactly the same thing, and who have completely different recollections and interpretations of “reality”. It’s like they’re all living in their own worlds (I guess most of us are), and they believe with all their hearts that their version is the right version. And they’re willing to defend that interpretation with their very lives — as a result, we’ve got wars and conflicts and political parties.

So, maybe having a “good” memory isn’t so great after all.

And maybe it’s actually better for me, that my past becomes just that — a faded, fragmented, distant past, about so much of which I’m uncertain. Maybe it’s better that I don’t remember all that much from my childhood, aside from shadowy memories and a bunch of brightly shining times when I knew I was okay, and new everything was going to turn out alright. Maybe it’s a blessing, that I can’t retain all the kinds of crap that my friends are so adept at remembering.

Maybe beginner’s mind is exactly the right thing for me.

I know it’s what a lot of people strive for. They actively seek to put themselves in that frame of mind. But I’m there by default, thanks to at least nine mild traumatic brain injuries that had progressively negative impacts on me. Each time I got clocked, a little more of my brain changed. And now here I am… beginner’s mind. Some people would (and do) pay tons of money to learn how to get there, but I learned for free.

NOT that I’m advocating repeat concussion as a route to enlightenment. Far from it. The thing is, for all that I’ve lost as a result of mild TBI, life hasn’t turned out to be a total waste. I’ve been forced to acquire new skills and adapt — or else. And all the hard work has been worth it. If I ever get concussed again, I’m not sure what will become of me. Maybe my memory will be completely erased.

Who knows? All I know is, right here and right now, I’m feeling pretty good. I have a few days off — a four-day weekend, which I’m looking forward to. I am practicing relaxing and getting back to my “happy place”, and the world looks pretty promising to me — despite all the international upheaval and what-not.

Bottom line — life is good. Onward.