Simply put, using word and picture metaphors, our brain wants to help us turn Image-Z:
An Image-Z brain is dizzy and disorganized, easily emotionally hyper-aroused. Image-Z brains struggle with sustaining attention and most are excellent at making up wild and crazy stories about the future and the past and then cunningly convincing us that they’re true. Except, at any moment our Image-Z brain is serving up those stories, 99.9% of the time everything around us in our immediate environment is generally, A-OK. Our Image-Z Brain does things that make us later scratch our head and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?” It also is the reason we find ourselves becoming quite practiced at offering apologies to the people around us.
Shaping Up the Q
Image-Q is how the neurons in your brain look when they’re integrated and organized. An Image-Q brain allows us to Be Here Now, to hang out in the Precarious Present completely awake and fully engaged. It also allows us to make real-world plans for the future and successfully carry them out, while playing well with others. An Image-Q brain shows us with the qualities that neuropsychiatrist, Dan Siegel identifies with the acronym, FACES. An Image-Q brain is … Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized, and Stable. This integrated neural network produces energy flow similar to a river flowing easily between chaos on the one bank and rigidity on the other. It’s perhaps best characterized by Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If,” which begins, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you ….” Psychiatrists and psychologists make diagnoses using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Essentially that manual is describing either excessive rigidity or excessive chaos, i.e. an Image-Z brain.
When our brain is organized and integrated in Image-Q fashion, life is good. We have little need for things like drugs, alcohol or addictive sex to enhance or motivate our life experience. We end up spending many of our days towards the far right on the continuum of things like unconscious-to-conscious, restlessness-to-contentment or contraction-to-love that I borrowed from Buddhist teacher Rodney Smith and presented here several weeks ago. It’s challenging for an Image-Z brain to consistently manifest love in the world.
Getting Where We’re Going
So, how do we transform our Image-Z brain into an Image-Q brain? Answer: Practice, practice, practice. Mostly through noticing all the times when we end up emotionally washed up on the river bank of rigidity or chaos. Another way to think about that energy flow is as a Window of Arousal. The practice is working to easily open our window wider and wider. As we do, things that used to upset or depress us begin to lose their power to emotionally toss us away. We no longer need to “seek shelter from the storm.” We are the shelter. It lives in us as an expanding ocean of serenity and harmony.
Finally, here’s a well-known story I have my Listening Practice students read and actively work with, which dramatically illustrates what that Wide Window might actually look like in the real world. It’s worth reading (or re-reading) and remembering:
“Sit down here and tell me about it.”
The train clanked and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty – a few housewives with their kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows.
At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our car. He wore laborer’s clothing, and he was big, drunk, and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that the baby was unharmed.
Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up.
I was young then, some twenty years ago, and in pretty good shape. I’d been putting in a solid eight hours of aikido training nearly every day for the past three years. I liked to throw and grapple. I thought I was tough. The trouble was, my martial skill was untested in actual combat. As students of aikido, we were not allowed to fight.
“Aikido,” my teacher had said again and again, “is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.”
I listened to his words. I tried hard. I even went so far as to cross the street to avoid the chimpira, the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations. My forbearance exalted me. I felt both tough and holy. In my heart, however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty.
“This is it!” I said to myself as I got to my feet. “People are in danger. If I don’t do something fast, somebody will probably get hurt.”
Seeing me stand up, the drunk recognized a chance to focus his rage. “Aha!” he roared. “A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!”
I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the first move. I wanted him mad, so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.
“All right!” he hollered. “You’re gonna get a lesson in Japanese manners.” He gathered himself for a rush at me.
A fraction of a second before he could move, someone shouted “Hey!” It was earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous, lilting quality of it – as though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something, and he had suddenly stumbled upon it. “Hey!”
I wheeled to my left; the drunk spun to his right. We both stared down at a little, old Japanese man. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentle-man, sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.
“C’mere,” the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. “C’mere and talk with me.” He waved his hand lightly.
The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels, “Why the hell should I talk to you?” The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his socks.
The old man continued to beam at the laborer. “What’cha been drinkin’?’ he asked, his eyes sparkling with interest.
“I been drinkin’ sake,” the laborer bellowed back, “and it’s none of your business!” Flecks of spittle spattered the old man.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” the old man said, “absolutely wonderful! You see, I love sake, too. Every night, me and my wife – she’s seventy-six, you know – we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench. We watch the sun go down, and we look to see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree, and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better than I expected, though, especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It’s gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening – even when it rains!” He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling.
As he struggled to follow the old man’s conversation, the drunk’s face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. “Yeah,” he said. “I love persimmons, too.” His voice trailed off.
“Yes,” said the old man, smiling, “and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.”
“No,” replied the laborer. “My wife died.” Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. “I don’t got no wife. I don’t got no home. I don’t got no job. I’m so ashamed of myself.” Tears rolled down his cheeks; a spasm of despair rippled through his body.
Now it was my turn. Standing there in my well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than he was.
Then the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I heard the old man cluck sympathetically. “My, my,” he said, “That is a difficult predicament, indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it.”
I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair. As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with muscle…had been accomplished with love. ~ Terry Dobson