Hardening of the Categories & Other Hazards of Thinking

By luck of genetics, I’m apparently prone to hardening of the arteries. The idea of this bothers me somewhat, but since I’m without diagnosis or symptom, I tend to put this out of my mind, or (more precisely) into the foggy category called  “possible futures.” Then I go back to what’s in front of me, or the next “possible futures” category, whichever is first.

There’s another condition that concerns me more right now and seems to cause more damage in the aging process: Hardening of the Categories.  Just as the body tends comes less flexible without a full-scale yoga or stretching practice, so does the mind.

Most of our lives we have count on our minds to create files and categories to represent life. To help us sort through the chaos of the world. It’s how we tell the difference between safety and danger, and it seems to be hardwired in our make-up, a basic survival strategy to avoid things like saber toothed tigers.

But this very strategy has a serious downside. When we’re constantly checking with old archives to see how to treat a situation in the present, we get stiff and we lose resilience. It’s a serious handicap to making our way in a world that changes so quickly that there’s little flexibility or time to update our files.

Case in point: I love my iPhone and all the ways it serves me in keeping my schedule up-to-date while providing entertainment, contacts, and information. But apparently the geniuses at Apple and Google & I-etc.  sometimes change the user interface of something I use without consulting me.  Which means that my old, well-established categories and strategies no longer work. In order to be able to continue using the tool (or at least update the file), what’s needed is a surrender of outdated mental file and an opening for new information.

At this point I have at least three choices: to give up something I love, to learn new tricks, or to beg or hire somebody else to keep me up to date. Thank goodness I know I have these options because without the resilience to follow through on one of these solutions, I’m helpless.

I would miss my iPhone terribly. But it’s not just use of my toys and tools that suffers when I hold on to the old “tried and true” categories.  Rigid thinking is much more tragic when it keeps me continually stuck in the concrete of past of old struggles and relationships.Over the last forty years my husband has transformed himself from a slob to kind of a neat freak, partly to please me. When I notice this I’m grateful. But when the old “slob” category, which still exists in some hardened area of my mind, takes over, I miss a miracle in my everyday life and an opportunity to live more deeply in appreciation.

And this is just a tiny example of how the Hardening of the Categories can rob me of pleasure. Rigidity of the mind has the potential to wreck every relationship in my life. When I see others through the lens of the past, I close my heart in little or big ways. I prove myself right, in my mind, but I miss the big picture.

I miss each moment by referring back to one in the past.

Stuck in hardened categories I miss my life. Although my arteries may still bring blood to my physical heart, my soul’s heart shrinks.

So the question arises: Which would I prefer, hardening of the arteries or hardening of the categories?

What do you notice? Is there someplace in your life that you miss the big pic and lose something important? Watch for it. Take a step to the side and soften those categories…and those arteries.

3 Responses to “Hardening of the Categories & Other Hazards of Thinking”

  1. Roxanne

    Hi Susan,
    Great analogy. When we see others through the lens of the future and what we hope will happen, we miss another part of the big picture. Drat. Seems this moment is the only one that really works for us! 🙂

  2. Anne Gordon

    What I love hear even more than your play on words is bringing to light a truth for me of how referring to past “files,” presents me from being fully alive in the present. Thank you for dusting off that awareness for me Susan!

  3. Anne Gordon

    oops! don’t you love my play on words? I meant to write “here” instead of “hear!” Another opportunity to laugh at myself!


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