Sunday, July 25, 2010

Compassion & Anger

Jordan asks in his last blog [here] "Is my intention kindness, love, compassion like that which one might have for a small child?"

I wonder if it useful to be clear that there is a difference from feeling and action. And, given that clarity (if it is there) where does "intention" fall? Is an action "compassionate" because of some intrinsic nature of the action, or is it "compassionate" because of the feeling in the person undertaking the action? This may be some tricky ground. I think one can judge an action, but perhaps not along strict moralistic lines. Something like, did the action help in the moment? Did the action move the situation along so that all benefited as much as was understandable in the moment?

Therefore, I guess I don' believe in compassionate actions. Compassion is far too complicated an idea. It is not immediate. It is thought out and pondered over. What may have been an action taken for a whole variety of emotional impetus, including anger, can be judged as compassionate even if there was no such forethought in the actor.

We can, I think, also speak of true compassion. True compassion, it is said, is like a hand reaching back in the night for a pillow. I still haven't gotten to the bottom of that explanation, but it seems to me it is saying compassion has no thought. It does what is needed for "the good" in the moment, and it is never quite clear.

I think I as a Buddhist cannot, and should not encourage people to have any particular type of feeling. I should not care what emotion a person may be under when they take action. My focus should be on the effect of the action. I should learn to practice seeing how what I do, including what I speak, or write, impacts the world, did things improve or did things go wrong? Did the wheel turn?

If I can learn to see what I am doing, I can help the world along even in a fit of anger.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two Camps in my Brain

Harry got my wheels turning with his post on vow and intent

For my own sanity I've been starting to look at the origin of emotion, and its links to the "sub conscious" (or to put it in less Freudian terms, the activities of our minds/brains not available to our awareness). What I have found so far is that these two camps he speaks of are co-resident and struggling(?) in our minds.

Both camps are skills that have given us evolutionary bumps (advantage)and engendered survival. One (grossly simplified) is the cortex by which we do complex "what if" pondering and detailed analysis in attempting to predict the future. The other is a "lower", or more evolutionarily aged brain system that tends to function outside of awareness, but whose decisions, (or, acknowledging a less conscious driver, "outputs") get thrown "up" to the cortex. Those decisions, I think, tend to feel like direct knowledge or intuition.

The cortex activity tends, I think, to get in our way. It takes real input, mixes in a fountain of imagining, and yields unhappiness, or euphoria, or other "false" state.

What interests me (and what I seem to currently understand the lesson of Buddhism, or at least zazen) is that it seems to take a cortex to quiet a cortex. We are hooked by logical arguments to us, or within us, about the value of zazen, and strive to learn how to drop such value decisions, to stop picking and choosing.

The low brain knows to reach back for the pillow at night, and the cortex is troubled to know what rules or values make that the right thing to do.

But the high brain (cortex) also has some value added tricks up its sleeve in addition to the intellectual curiosity that gets most people hooked in zazen to start with. Things like compassion are very high brain constructs, and very beneficial.

We often like to simply think of the brain as one organ with a uniform purpose. It seems that it really is a complexly evolved layering of systems, some which have a long history in other animals and mammals, and some which are rarely seen in other species.

Perhaps enlightenment will be revealed as the suddenly developed ability to see the action of the cortex in our lives and not be pulled along in its tide of anticipation, worry, and picking and choosing. Perhaps it is the ability to have an identity that is a more holistic composite of all the brain systems and events rather that just the hyper analytical cortex. Perhaps it is like the story of Helen Keller who suddenly one day just "got" what all that input was indicating.

Early ideas, but exciting for me.