Monday, February 23, 2004

Whereyn the Bloggiste discourseth upon the Pytching of Base Bals and the Holdynge of Views, and waxeth intolerably Didactick

A young pitcher from the backwoods was struggling with his game. His coach, Nick Copernicus, soon discovered that the youth was so ignorant as to believe that the Earth held still, while being circled by the Sun.

"There's your problem, son," said Nick. "You're trying the throw the ball, and you don't know nothin' about how things really are! It's the Sun that holds still, kid! The Earth is moving!"

So Nick put him through a rigorous course of mental training. Every time he went to pitch, he was to visualize the Sun standing still, not moving, and estimate exactly how fast, and in what direction, the Earth was travelling at that moment. ("'Cause that's the way things really are, kid!") His own pitching needed to take these motions into account: how was he going to get the ball over the plate if he didn't realize that it was moving, moving, in fact, some sixty thousand miles per hour?

The pitcher worked hard at this. His game got worse. He was finally pulled when he walked four batters straight. "You're just not gettin' the hang of how things really move, kid," said Nick.

That season was so abysmal for the team that Copernicus was sacked, and in desperation the owner brought back their former coach, Claude "the Greek" Ptolemaeus.

The kid told Ptolemaeus what he'd been trying to do.

"Look, kid," said the Greek. "Put all that crap outta your head. You get up on that mound, I want you to think that it's been standing still forever. I want you to think that home plate's never moved a inch, okay? Just throw the goddamn ball over the plate. The ball's the only thing that moves. Got it?"

The next season was a good one, and the young pitcher got his game back and did fine. But he still worried. "I mean, the Earth really does go around the Sun, right? We're not standing still, the Sun's standing still."

"Maybe so, kid. I doan' know. Now they got guys saying even the Sun moves around. What I do know, though, is that the pitcher's mound ain't the place to think about it!"

Lama Michael often talks about "holding a view."

"We tend to think," he says, "that there are only two things you can do with an idea like reincarnation -- believe it or not believe it. But there are other things you can do with it. You can just try it on, try it on like a pair of glasses, and see what the world looks like. See what holding that view does."

See what the world looks like with no strangers in it. The person taking your pizza order is someone you've been hopelessly in love with, someone you've put to death for heresy, someone who's changed your diapers and lovingly cared for you. They've been your favorite dog, your husband, and the deer you killed for food. There are no strangers. There's no such thing as a one-off, disposable relationship. No such thing as a loving or hateful act that doesn't have consequences -- maybe tomorrow, maybe ten thousand years from now. See what it does to your perceptions when you seriously view a serial killer as someone who has been, in the past, your cherished son. Maybe you still execute him -- but not gladly, with your heart full of contempt and righteous anger.

Seriously holding a different view has another effect. It makes you aware of what holding your former view did. What does holding "the bounded view" -- as Michael calls it -- the view that our consciousness comes into being as our brain develops, remains hermetically sealed up in our brain, and then totally disappears when the brain stops getting oxygen -- what does that do to our relationships with people, to our relationship with the natural world, to our sense of time and scale?

It's a commonplace of modern thought that conceptual frameworks are provisional, to be kept so long as they work, and abandoned when they do not. Lots of people say they subscribe to that point of view. But few are willing really to experiment with changing frameworks, even for five minutes, let alone a week or a month. Really they're clinging to those frameworks grimly, desperately, and they're unwilling to loosen their hold on them for even a second. And that's another thing that trying to hold a different view teaches us. We can wonder, as we look at the resistance, just why is it that I'm clinging so very tightly to this? What am I afraid of? What do I think will happen if I let go? And what really does happen when I let go?

If our dearest wish is to be correct about the relationship of the body and mind, then it makes sense, I guess, to hang on grimly to our best guess about it. If that's what we take ourselves to be doing with our life. But if what we want to do is to live a fruitful life, lessening our own suffering and others', and making meaningful connections with people, and expanding our sense of the possibilities of human life, then it makes more sense to experiment. Just give it a go. Imagine for a minute that home plate is holding perfectly still, and throw a few pitches.

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