Friday, 21 December 2012

Buddhist Practice & Homeostasis

Change is hard. This could be the fifth Noble Truth. Regardless of the focus or purpose, it is very difficult to effect noticeable and lasting change be it of perspective or behavior.

Psychological "bootstrappers" would have everyone belly up and "just do it". They display self-righteous disdain for the larger part of humanity's limited ability in this regard. Generic New Age enthusiasts might advise us to lovingly embrace our perceived shortcomings. While this is a great feel-good strategy to avoid self-judgment, it can result in avoidance of necessary change all together.

Why is this the case? Why do we resist even those changes we need the most? The answer lies in part with our body's natural tendency toward seeking homeostasis, that is its remarkable ability to generate sameness.

In general, our ability to maintain homeostasis is a good thing. It is what regulates our blood pressure when we move from a seated to a standing position. It is what increases our metabolism when we go swimming in cold water to keep our internal organs warm. There are times, however, when this system gets in our way, such as when we want to lose weight or begin an exercise regimen.

I am a voice rehabilitation professional and trainer by profession. A large part of my work involves helping people make changes in the way their voice operates either to improve or repair vocal function. When I work with people, I impress upon them the fact that the perceptual system has only two modes of operation "normal" and "wrong." I tell them this so they are prepared when their mind tells them they sound horrible, when in fact they sound much better than before.

Our entire physiologic being craves sameness. Ah ha! There they are - craving and attachment - the building blocks of suffering. And it's built in to our core physical functioning. Oh darn. Conveniently, our Buddhist practice prepares us for this realization. Life has suffering. Suffering is caused by attachment and craving. Now we can understand at least in part where that comes from. Homeostasis!

Maintaining awareness of the body's drive for homeostasis allows us to orient our Right View a little differently than we might otherwise. Rather than being a personal failing of control or will, our resistance to change is a physiologic fact we have to partner with in order to be successful. Settling into this view makes it easier for us to release our struggle against it and meet the challenges of change with mindfulness and equanimity.

As we look toward a new year, many will engage in that timeless tradition of selecting a New Year's resolution. I say, go for it! But do keep your "Right View" wits about you and remember to be gentle with yourself if homeostasis rears its ugly head. Change is hard. That's why we practice, practice, practice.

May you have ample opportunities for practice in 2013!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this is thought provoking in terms of how our bodies unconsciously seek balance, including the brain.