July 23, 2016

Legs on a Snake

As one of Amir's friends recently wrote me, "He was so damn good with words." Yes, he was. Though he never studied writing, Amir had a gift for language and for conveying his thoughts most profoundly. I've provided some examples here on this site. Here's yet another, in the form of an email exchange from 2009, after Amir's friend described how she prayed for patience and clarity and trusted that she would be guided to do the right thing. Amir's beautifully-written response:
"What you are describing is a phenomenon commonly known as 'faith.' It not only requires trust in something bigger than yourself; it also cannot be reconciled with or explained through our classical rationale-based thinking. The Buddhists know this--they refer to this kind of neurotic thinking as 'legs on a snake,' totally irrelevant. The scientific method, and Western thinking in general, has no place for this intuitive way of living.
I have understood for many years that God, as I know him, is both imminent and transcendent, within and without. There is no dualism in my mind with regards to this fact. However, I am also well aware that Psychology, as a science, can shed much light on my errors in thinking--'cognitive dissonance,' as it were. The realization is that there is a middle path that incorporates both a rational and spiritual approach to self-improvement. The trick is not letting the pendulum swing too far in either direction.
As you said, you have to know when to turn your brain off so as to avoid spinning your wheels and freezing out any possibility for change. Similarly, despite any overarching spiritual principles, you have to remember that the brain is a machine, and that faulty wiring, manifesting itself in dysfunctional patterns of thought, must be repaired from the ground up. Precisely why I referred to this work as 'tricky business.'
Fierce lions guard these inner gates to liberation, and old habits do indeed die hard. A little effort goes a long way..."
Oh, how dearly I wish Amir had figured out a way to turn off his own brain, as he advised his friend to do. That was one of the things he struggled with the most--I know because it's a struggle he and I shared and talked about openly and often. I'm lucky to have learned how to manage my overactive brain, most of the time. Amir was always searching for ways of calming his mind and quieting his own neurotic thinking and cognitive dissonance. How I wish both he and Jason had achieved that sense of peace. I think they both found it briefly, at different times in their lives, but they struggled to hold on to it, as countless others do. My heart aches for all of them.