Of Chimps and Chocolate Chips

Are you one of those people who always pick the slowest line to stand in? I do, every time. In fact, I think all of us choose the slowest line. I have never heard anyone brag about always finding the fastest line, have you? If that were me, I’d surely let the rest of you “slow-liners” hear about it.

In the grocery store checkout, I will stand aloof from the other indiscriminant line-standers and watch to see which checker looks like they got a good night’s sleep, how many carts per line and how full each cart is. I usually narrow it down to two lines and just before I’m hemmed in from behind by a less discriminate shopper, I bolt over to my second choice. Then I stand and watch as shoppers, who were back in the dairy department when I first got in line, are now gleefully stuffing their car trunks full of eggs, chocolate chip cookies, and the 2 for 1 Gummy Bear Bar-B-Q Sauce special from aisle 4.

Why? Why do we abhor standing in line? Because it’s boring? Because we feel nothing is being accomplished? Because standing there, shifting from foot to foot, we realize that life is passing us by? Yes, to all three. Lines are boring, unproductive and render us impotent while we are there. Or, so it seems.

Some people treat life as one long line. They are always trying to be where they are not. They feel they must always be doing something. The thing is, life is not a long line. Every instant is a complete life within itself. We just fail to adequately appreciate it. Here’s what I mean.

Stop everything you are doing right now and ask yourself, “What, at this very moment, do I absolutely need? Unless you were taking a dip in your pool when you “stopped everything” and right now you absolutely need a life-granting gulp of air, your answer will have to be…Nothing. From moment to moment, we need only the essentials like expanding lungs and pumping heart. Beyond the basics, we have desires, not needs. Desires come not from the present. They are ignited in the memory and fanned into fury by the possibility of future fruition.

We humans are unique on this earth, not because we can think, plan and communicate using language. Any garden variety chimpanzee with a middleclass upbringing can perform all three. Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness, says that what really separates us from our furry neighbors (of the chimp variety) is our concept of time, particularly the ability to project our thoughts into the future. Humans can imagine, and imagination it turns out, is both a boon and a bane. Wielding this double edged sword, we can dream of a safe and secure future and then build toward it. Or, we can visualize the nightmares ahead and be immobilized here in the present.

So what does all this have to do with the frustration of standing in a grocery store check-out line? Everything! Feeling bored, anxious, or frustrated, are symptoms of a restless imagination. We can imagine that being stuck in line will make us late for the game on TV or hold up the meeting at the ladies garden club, or both. It’s even worse if we encourage ourselves to think happy thoughts like sipping a quiet glass of wine with a good friend or fastidiously grooming our chimpanzee. As soon as we realize we are still stuck in line, the emotional storm clouds again gather overhead.

The problem is not a long slow-moving line. The problem is the mind, and that is where we will find the cure. Boredom and anxiety are just symptoms of the mind dwelling in the past and/or future.

So, how do we neutralize these unwanted emotions that trample all over our peace like K-Mart shoppers after the Blue Light special? Why, we do what the chimps do. We pay attention to what is right here, right now. We entice our minds into the present by paying very astute attention to the things around us. Try it. It can’t fail. Open your bag of chocolate chip cookies and taste one. I mean really taste it. Feel the crumbly-ness dissolve on your tongue and explode into a shower of sweetness, followed by the slow melting chocolate chips. Follow the swallow, all the way into your tummy. Become aware of how it makes you feel, become aware of Eufeeling. Now turn your attention to the artichoke in your cart. Appreciate it for the odd and remarkable creation it is. Rotate the stem and feel the points tickle-scratch across your palm. Smell it and see if it doesn’t remind you of musty Fritos. Become quiet and pay attention to how you feel in that silence, you Eufeeling. Pick up a banana and…

Well, I think you get the idea. To neutralize the pressures of civilization we only have to become like animals. We forsake the meandering mind for the joys contained right here in the present. We become like a cat watching a mouse-hole; alert, ever watchful and absolutely alive. Paying attention is not only a cure for boredom; it is the remedy for the daily frustrations and anxieties of our lives. Once you pay attention then pay attention to how you feel. There you will feel some good feeling, some sense of wellbeing like calmness, lightness, or peace. Eufeeling is always there, always has been and always will. You need only pause long enough to recognize it. So, get up in the morning and pay attention; feel the warmth and wetness of your shower, taste the toothpaste and smell the coffee. Pay attention all day long and you will thank me by evening.

Video: Stop Thought Experience

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0 thoughts on “Of Chimps and Chocolate Chips

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