Sony has come out with a new camera that promises to automatically take an artificially rosy picture of life. Without human intervention, the HDR-CX12 takes a still picture of anyone in its frame of view who smiles. So if there’s a group of people having a bad or just so-so time, and only one of them happens to smile, the camera snaps the picture. In this way, all our memories will be good ones, full of smiles and sunshine.
Maybe a genius has also developed a tape recorder that turns itself on when anyone says something nice. I’d like to have a telephone that only tells me I’m wonderful and rings often with good news.
In other words, if I can’t make my world a better place, I might be able to use technology to limit my exposure to the unpleasant. Just as a horse wearing blinders plods on ahead, undistracted by the traffic and commotion on either side of him, so will clever instruments allow me to march through each day blissfully ignorant of all unpleasantness.
But then, all this could also be done only using the mind. Forget technology! As Buddha said, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.” So it’s not what’s coming at us from the outside that matters as much as what we’re putting out there to begin with.
Think of all the money I could save and the batteries I wouldn’t have to buy if I could just screen my thoughts before I project them out into the world and make them seem real.
From what I’ve experienced, the only way I can do this is to slow down my perceptions and thoughts enough to notice each one. Before I get a gut feeling, I get a thought. If I notice the thought and give myself the space and time to ask, “Is this something I want to harbor, nurture, and water with my attention??” then I have a chance to determine what’s going to become real for me very soon.
When I quit smoking this last time, I began to notice how long my nicotine cravings lasted. They never made it past 30 seconds. At first there were a lot of them, and they came every 10 minutes or so, but a specific craving never lasted longer than 30 seconds. After three weeks, it had slowed to a craving every four hours. I’m afraid nicotine gum is actually counterproductive, as it merely prolongs and forestalls the detox. So why freak about something that lasts less than half a minute?
The problem lies in the fact that these cravings just keep coming, and I get worn down over time. If six months later I still have a craving every day, I begin to wonder if maybe it’s not a craving but wisdom. I start to lie to myself. My mind can rationalize anything. The same mechanism works for shopping and sex. I’ve wanted this item for a long time, maybe two whole weeks, so I simply must have it. If I feel like I want to have sex with a person, after I’ve run it through the rationalization/justification mill, it emerges not only as okay but God’s will! We were meant to be! Covered by a veneer of romance, it is now enshrined as love.
At this point, I’m using Sony’s new camera backwards. I’m anticipating only the good parts. Later, I’ll be using the camera upside down. To remember only the problems. But it’s all coming from inside me. Cravings, plans, urges, expectations, demands . . . they’re all inside me, controlling my perceptions and actions.
So the place to take control of all this is obviously as early on as possible. I think the reason meditation is so effective as a life-changer is that it allows us to notice an individual thought or impulse the moment it arises. In the hurly-burly of normal thought and action, that one little, seemingly insignificant birth would be lost.
And when you find yourself truly lost, when you’re in divorce court or at Jones town and wondering how everything possible got reduced to the grim choice of whether it would better to be shot or to drink the glass of cyanide Kool-Aid, it’s too late to trace it all back to that one little thought. The thought that led to the belief that Jim Jones is a prophet. And the next thought that because he’s a prophet, he knows what God’s will is for me.
So whenever I ask myself, “How did I get here?” the only real answer is, “I let one thought lead to the next, and when I acted on those thoughts, they solidified into my reality.”
Of course, the same logic holds true for good outcomes, as well. If you’re in a good space, having fun, doing well, that journey all started with a single thought, too, and you were wise enough to act on them. The Sony camera has a chip that can detect a smile, and that’s why people are willing to pay $500 for it. If I could detect the moments I lie to myself, that would be priceless.
You can buy a whole book of Dan Coffey’s essays online: My World & Welcome To It.