Friday, August 24, 2012

Being Aware

I had a problem and was seriously focused on it. I was struggling with a needed segue wording for a blog. (My friends tell my I’m a crazy person when it comes to segues.) Had the ideas clearly thought through, but couldn’t find a clever way to connect them. Old hackneyed phrases and clichés kept popping up. Suddenly, I heard a siren. OMG! I am in my car, stuck in heavy traffic, have missed my exit, and an ambulance is bearing down behind me. There I was, interacting with my mind instead of the world. Now I have a new problem—getting to my appointment on time and saving my life in the process.
            My mind is the most amazing machine. I just wish I were more able to manage it. (In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt says we are like a rider on an elephant and think we’re in charge.) 
But being stuck in my own thinking is not the only place I have trouble. Sometimes it’s when I’m too focused out there.
(I don’t know how to segue into this next part so will just leap in. I DO have a point so please hang on……..)
            I’ve always been aware of bridges. They’re like doorways in that they make it possible to go from here to there, the possibility of connecting areas. Once in Turkey, we took a side road to attend a camel-wrestling contest held by two villages. (Yes, the camels wrestled, but that’s another story). The money raised was to build a bridge over a deep gorge that separated the two villages. I knew how important it was to be connected so it made me feel good to help the villages build their bridge.
            I love the bridges in Seattle. Big bridges, little ones, they’re all over and many of them open for ships. I never complain when stopped by an open bridge. It makes me feel connected with a greater world. That ship might have come from China or India. Who knew? And they make a great excuse for being late. “Sorry. Bridge was up.” You’re hardly ever wrong.
I have favorite bridges. I like the little Fremont Bridge where Rapunzel’s hair used to stream down from the Tender’s turret. And the bridge over the Montlake Cut is sweet with its tiny parking spot for the Tender’s car. I like the high University Bridge and the one that links International Village with Beacon Hill. Breathtaking views. But my favorite is the Ballard Bridge. It goes over that stretch of water between Lake Union and the Locks that lead to the Sound.
            I love that bridge, as the water below is filled with fishing boats, those hardy ships that brave the Alaska waters. And so one afternoon, as I drove onto the bridge, I noticed the light at the Tender’s tower was orange. “Hm-m, that’s interesting,” my focused mind began, “I thought the light was supposed to be green. I wonder what’s happened? They’re like the traffic lights, you know red, orange, green,” my mind chattered on as I stared at the light and continued to drive. As my wheels hit the metal grids, the light turned red. OMG the bridge is opening! I raced across, heart pounding and there in the rearview mirror, saw the metal grid begin to rise. That’s why the light was orange.
            I knew better than to let my mind get so focused on one thing. In one of the programs my friend Judi and I had designed for The Boeing Company, one aspect had to do with a phenomenon called “situation awareness.” That’s when a person focuses intently on one thing at the cost of the whole. Our examples were videos of plane crashes. The one that struck me most was (recreated) of a crew that noticed a light blinking on their dashboard. Within moments, every crewmember was concentrating on that blinking light as the plane dove straight into a mountain.
            I know it’s important to focus intently while working. I’m able to do that—so able that when the phone rings I jump a foot. However, in order to survive, I need to be fully conscious—I need to be here, now. And thus I’ve brought us full circle from my original point. (Thanks for hanging in there.) Being conscious is not that easy. I must somehow manage to live in the present while my mind keeps up its constant chatter about being haunted by the past and wondering about the future. Big task. There are those fascinating things that capture my attention and I’m stuck like super glue. And there are the filters my mind has about what I see, hear, and remember. Who can figure it all out?
            So with my imperfect brain, my muddled mind, my desires and dreams, I daily step into my life and do the best I can. Moment by moment by moment. It boggles my mind. Maybe that’s a good thing.


  1. I know exactly what you're talking about, Ruth. At least I feel less alone in my suffering!

  2. I like the quote about one day at a time being enough, because I have trouble letting go of the past, and even more trouble trying not to worry about the future. “Do not look back and grieve over the past for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful it will be worth remembering.” There has to be a balance in there somewhere though ... remembering and learning from the past in order to make good use of the present and create a bright future. Maybe I will work it out tomorrow.