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cognition & appointment

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Widening Circles, Written by Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Joanna Macy


I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.

I may not complete this last one

but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.

I’ve been circling for thousands of years

and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,

a storm, or a great song?


"When in doubt, simplify. Perhaps the goal can be better understood as a moment of silence. It doesn’t sound as fancy as 'enlightenment,' but even one moment of true silence can have a profound impact. When you are truly silent, there are no obstacles between you and the truth. In the space of that moment, what you seek can reveal itself. Just be careful not to attach to that idea either, for the moment you realize you have reached that moment is the moment that you have fallen out of it."

- Miguel Chen,

A tool for when the mind feels spinny, a map for inner reorientation at heart center.

We thrive when attention is situated in the here & now. As attention gets pulled / goes chasing, presence diminishes, compromising response-ability. Our body's there but our mind isn't. That disconnect spawns stress, disorientation, confusion, hostility, and the various other roots of suffering.

Two common lures are association & curiosity.

Association tends to pull us into an imagined past. We see x and are reminded of y, e.g. we see an apple & think of that time, what was it, 6ish year so, or was it 7, we went apple-picking. Body is in the present, mind is drifting toward the remembered - really, reimagined - past. Then another lure flashes, the invitation to compare - was I happier then or now? Would I rather be here or there? What about my current moment is like apple-picking?

Now the mind's beginning to spin: it's simultaneously trying to track the original association, the new comparison, and the body-present. If it's really spinny, it may start threading new associations & comparisons into the mix, creating a cereberal cat's cradle of thought streams. At this point, disorientation sets in, it may feel like a tail spin, and so we instinctively grasp - onto the same spinning momentum we started, with an "any port in a storm" mentality. We've now turned the spin into our stability, similar to the way a space ship can use rotating to simulate gravity.

This is where we're most confused. We've achieved artificial stability through spinning, which generates more association-comparison loops, which generates more spinning, more grasping, more... In the midst of this perpetual dis/re-orientation, our body-present is like the earth seen from the spaceship - you're aware of it, but nowhere close to touching it, to flowing with it, to being it. Reconnection with body-present seems daunting, even impossible. And even if we muster the clarity & courage to try, the perpetual grasping-spinning makes it difficult to stay focused on the effort.

Mental energy can spend hours in these loops. Once looping becomes a habit, our mental energy may stay trapped there continuously, becoming part of who we are. Like in PTSD, there are associations - loud sudden noises, a smell, a certain fabric - which rip mental energy from present awareness, trigger an association with a traumatic past event, spook the disoriented mind into clinging, & the loop becomes more absorbing than the present body moments, until we're more associated with the looping than the flow of time.

Curiosity works similarly: something prompts us to think, "I wonder...," "what if...," etc. Where association tends to pull us toward a re-imagined past, curiosity tends to pull us toward an imagined future. Mental energy now moves into imagination, which creates an engrossing mental projection of our curiosity's urge. The projection may reveal something tantalizing, something horrifying, something that sparks more curiosity. Drawn to the intensity & seeming importance of the projection - ooo, cupcake; oh no, Freddy Krueger! - we may insist on remaining in the projection, perhaps to milk more pleasure or other feelings from it, or under the impression that we're solving a problem in there. Now the mind is trying to track the original curiosity, the growing insistence, & the increasingly distant body-present. Spinning...grasping...artificial orientation...swelling confidence coupled with metastasizing confusion...and our minds are in another world while the body is in ours.

Being so strongly identified with our minds, we, attention-awareness beings, tend to chase mental energy down its rabbit holes, leaving the body to fend for itself in the continuous flow of time. Indicators include increasingly robotic & reflexive behavior, feeling annoyed/disrupted by occurrences in environment, feeling hollow & numb in body, slouching, etc. - the signs of a body with a groggy or dreaming pilot. We might also think of it like a child whose parent is spaced out on the couch & there's increasingly frantic knocking on the door.

Our saving graces here are appointment & recognition.

Appointment is recentering awareness in the heart. Feeling the pulse & breathing into the heart space are two physical paths in. Attitudes for appointment include "ahhh," "so," and other mindsets of acceptance & integration. Centering thoughts include "softness" & "stillness." We stop trying to figure things out & reconnect with the heart, a pulsing piece of us always immersed in the present, always thumping along with the rhthym of universal space-time - indeed, the heart is a dynamic, feelable portion of space-time itself. Anytime you sense things are off, spinny, etc., practice appointment.

There's a lightning-thunder effect here, perhaps driven by intuition-cognition. Intuitively sensing we're out of whack, we appoint in a flash. The thinking mind gradually realizes over the next few moments that something's changed. Once thinking mind (cognition) realizes acting mind (intuition) has reappointed, it can join the effort by encouraging reappointment with heart-space breathing, with recurring reminders to reappoint, with the assertion of will to remain appointed. (This dichotomy of intuition-cognition might mirror Daniel Kahneman's System 1 and System 2.) We've now gone from the vicious spiralling of thinking-clinging into the virtuous cycling of appointment-disappointment-reappointment. This increasingly anchors presence in heart-center, providing an abiding, trustworthy orientation from which to observe, experience, & engage the flow of time.

Recognition too has a lightning-thunder quality. Interestingly, it works using the same mechanisms that pulled us into the spirals - association & curiosity. In a flash, our mind recognizes it's spiralling. Having seen so many times now where that spiral goes - lugeing a tightening spiral of confusion -, recognition associates the spiralling with suffering. Curious how to stop the spiralling, the mind sifts through the card deck of memory for a solution. If we've trained the mind to reappoint, recognition will now prompt reappointment.

Recognition also helps us better comprehend the patterns of our spiralling. We may notice we spiral more when tired, that certain tones of voice trigger us, that curiosity about money is difficult to resist even consciously, etc. With repetition, recognition builds a library of data about our spiralling tendencies, providing us valuable intelligence for shortening our time in spiralling & increasing our time in appointment.

As we master our spiralling-appointment cycles, we find that new challenges arise, forcing us to refresh & flex our recognition. Suddenly we're making new associations, chasing new curiosities, and our old methods aren't working. Naturally, we're discouraged, having grown comfortable & confident in our hardwon skills.

This is a fork in the road. We can quit or recommit.

If we quit, saying it's unfair, the goalposts keep moving, the carrot always remains dangling before my nose, or another victimhood story, we remain stuck in our current cognition. We grow lazy, the waters of our thinking grow stagnant, & we stop learning new skills for recognition & appointment. We become like a frog who has left the excitement & uncertainty of the riverbanks for the slowness & predictability of a private swamp. A fine strategy for recharging and refreshing. But beware the Hotel California effect - "relax, said the night man / we are, programmed to receive..."

If we recommit, refresh our willingness, we continue to grow. Our sphere of awareness will continuously contract & expand, reaching greater expanses with time, gradually reconditioning our minds to increasingly broad & variable states of being. As these states repeatedly expand to the edge of our spiralling and beyond, we gain a new perspective on our addiction patterns, enabing us to gradually soften our attachments to them. Some, like Siddhartha, may reach a state where awareness rests sustainably beyond the curling dynamics of a chasing mind. Here I picture a mind like an eagle, soaring in widening rings, with the body mercifully & joyously liberated from the push-and-pull of the mind's ever-shifing attachments. May we all experience at least a semblance of such profound peace & harmony.

Jedi tricks for appointmnet include (there are roughly 84k): stillness, softenness, attentively letting go, counting breaths, feeling into the heart beat, smiling, winking, coyly sticking out tongue, saluting the spirit of silliness (my silliness talisman is the rooster), refreshing nose breath, "ahhhhhhh," raspberry/blubbery lips, singing/humming, dancing, playful jibberish, attentively begging, splash of cold water, the feeling of sunlight on skin, fond memories consciously engaged, a heartwarming story or joke, anaesthesia videos (a silly showcase of the disinhibited, disoriented mind), a quality rom-com watched with an open heart...

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