Friday, February 06, 2009

Oh Nothing, How About You?

It is believed that animals think pictorially -- specific pictures of concrete objects or actual places that they have experienced. This is also the way that some autistic people say that they think, Temple Grandin Ph.D. at Colorado State University for example. So, for those of us who cannot understand what that means without a verbal explanation, it is possible to get one.

"I have no language-based thoughts at all. My thoughts are in pictures, like videotapes in my mind. When I recall something from my memory, I see only pictures. I used to think that everybody thought this way until I started talking to people on how they thought. I learned that there is a whole continuum of thinking styles, from totally visual thinkers like me, to the totally verbal thinkers. Artists, engineers, and good animal trainers are often highly visual thinkers, and accountants, bankers, and people who trade in the futures market tend to be highly verbal thinkers with few pictures in their minds.

'Most people use a combination of both verbal and visual skills. Several years ago I devised a little test to find out what style of thinking people use: Access your memory on church steeples. Most people will see a picture in their mind of a generic 'generalized' steeple. I only see specific steeples; there is no generalized one. Images of steeples flash through my mind like clicking quickly through a series of slides or pictures on a computer screen. On the other hand, highly verbal thinkers may 'see' the words 'church steeple,' or will 'see' just a simple stick-figure steeple.

I started thinking about this, in words of course, because Mars and I noticed one of the squirrels that resides on our property meditating atop a small snow bank near our family room door. So I began to wonder, as he stood peacefully, his mind empty of worldly concerns -- what is he NOT thinking about?

It wasn't the first time that we have seen the tree rodents in that relaxed state of consciousness. Frequently during the warmer weather we have noticed a small gray body draped in a prone, pelt-like position on one of the thick branches of our flowering crab tree -- staring blankly. Our winter one sits upright on its haunches with its front legs bent at the knee and held out in front, with both paws hanging limply towards the ground.

The squirrels are willing to let us get within five or so feet of them -- a distance from which we can clearly see the speed and depth of their breathing and the movement of their eyes. Normally both are rapid. The contemplator's ribs barely move, and do so very slowly. And their beady little orbs are fixed in place.

My only real meditative experience has been in yoga classes during Savasana, a.k.a. "final relaxation", a.k.a. "the corpse pose." The English equivalents are, I think, meant to be a form of yogic humor because the experience is meant to be much better than it sounds in translation.
Savasana is a relaxing posture done at the end of a yoga class and is intended to rejuvenate the yogist's body, mind and spirit. It is performed, as the popular names imply, in a supine position with arms and legs spread about forty-five degrees and the eyes closed. The lighting in the yoga studio is turned off to darken the room and soothing, usually ambient music, is played. While the yoga students are in this position the teacher sneaks around the room secretly taken embarrassing pictures that later show up on the Internet. Just kidding! -- more yoga humor.

In my savasana sessions I was always told to "empty your mind" and "think of nothing". That never worked. Sometimes I found myself thinking about not thinking. Other times I wondered what the music was. Occasionally I was listening to my body -- a good thing during the active part of class, a bad thing now. Once or twice I fell asleep.

It is probably because I am a verbal thinker -- the reason why I am writing this rather than drawing it. It is really difficult for us verbalists to stop using words to describe to ourselves what we are experiencing -- even when it is nothing at all. Just ask Jerry Seinfeld!

I do not believe that either method of thinking is superior or inferior to the other. They are just different.

But it does bother the heck out of me that our dumb little meditating squirrel seems to get the picture -- and I don't. In fact it annoys me so much that I can barely put it into words.

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