How to Reset Your Brain

I had a bad day last week. I crawled out of bed for a very early Skype conference, but the connection went down. I tried fixing it for a frantic half-hour, but ran out of time. Then I went to my yoga class only to discover it had been rescheduled. I sat in the car breathing quietly until it was time for my next appointment. I got there on time, but my contact didn’t show.

I headed for the office with a sinking feeling. So many things to do in there; so many to go wrong. It was barely mid-morning and I already wanted to cancel the day. I’m not superstitious, but I know when things are going to get worse. Bad things happen of course; but bad days are about attitude, not just luck.

It’s all in our expectations. To plan on things going our way is to set ourselves up. That’s no great mystery; we all do it, we all know it. But why, if it’s so clear and simple, don’t we stop doing it? Stubbornly ignoring reality seems to be in our blood, or at least in our brain.

We find relief by understanding that default reactivity. The patterns we aquire through life are a template for how we respond to the things it throws at us. They’re learned, not hard-wired, and yet we identify them as ‘who I am.’ Who can change who they are?

I was heading for the office when I had a brilliant idea. If expectations are undermining my day, why not do something unexpected? I turned around with no idea where I was going. I didn’t care. Actually, I did care: I wanted to not know; it was time for a reset.

I found myself on Rigaud mountain, and what a lovely fall day for it. I tried to check Google Maps, but my phone couldn’t get a signal. I looked for an unknown trail. There must be one. Instead of making the non-signal part of my ‘bad day’ scenario, I let it go and enjoyed the disconnect. The relief was immediate. My breathing deepened; the tension relaxed.

The trick is not to seek security but to embrace insecurity.

To change our habits we have to realize they’re not who we are. We get stuck in them as if we had no choice. The reasons are different for each of us, and understanding them loosens up that sense of being stuck as who we are; it provides new perspectives. Then, change comes naturally.

This is the purpose of mindful reflection, not just to calm down but to gain insight into who we are and what we aren’t, so we can grow in the healthiest possible ways. We want to stop short-changing ourselves and see our life flourish.


Author: Stephen Schettini

Host of The Naked Monk

13 thoughts on “How to Reset Your Brain”

  1. I watched you that day and expected you to come home tired and frustrated. Instead you were relaxed and cheerful. It was wonderful!

  2. “The trick is not to seek security but to embrace insecurity.” Another way to say it is “not to seek certainty but embrace uncertainty”. (Gotama Buddha)

  3. Boy….isn’t this exactly what it’s all about! I remember driving to work through a pretty challenging part of Chicago. I wasn’t in a bad mood, things were OK and there in the midst of some run-down buildings was a new privately run coffee shop. I’m always looking for privately own coffee shops and had never even seen “chain” coffee shops in this part of the city! I decided I had to stop in. The young owner made me my latte. I noticed the bullet hole in the window. He said it just goes with the territory. He was excited, fascinating and full of joy and life. Although I really liked my job I was not feeling excited, fascinated, joyful or full of life like he was!…I was just feeling OK. I called work and said I wouldn’t be in! I sat with the young owner most of the morning. I don’t think any other customers entered. I finally left and went home feeling so “full”…and it wasn’t from the latte! It was one of my favorite “sacred moments” in the city. The coffee shop closed within a month…..but I still carry it with me and it sustains me often. It was my Rigaud Mountain in the city for that day!

  4. Call that a bad day ? It’s all relative I suppose. It does illustrate the point though, we aren’t solely our accumulated conditioning pasts. As to what we are, I can’t say for sure, other than impermanent dhammas. I think it’s helpful to look at the discomfort which is encountered when we build an identity of ourselves.

  5. Yes, changing habits ain’t easy. Perhaps koans might help here. Perhaps the most famous was by Hakuin,, what is the sound of one hand [clapping]? But this seems a reductive translation. Literally, Hakuin says, one hand has a voice, listen to it!

    Not sound, but voice, a much richer and interesting concept. Sound is only physical, voice is also physical but voice has other meanings and nuances, an inner voice, a feeling, and spirtual nuances. I think, not sure, it’s Hakuin’s 250th anniversary and I am sure that he more than anyone else made the Rinzai zen sect what it is today. Very few people anywhere at any time could both write and paint [da Vinci, Michaelangleo and Blake come to mind] but Hakuin was a fine zen painter and a prolific writer. There is another blog about Hubris and Buddhism and did anyone attack his fellow monks with more vehemence than Hakuin? For changing and breaking habits, perhaps Hakuin is not a bad guide. At least, that is true for me.

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