As a meditator, it’s easy to get down on your brain. At least for me it is. The brain is so proficient at distracting and entertaining and protecting you from yourself, from knowing yourself, from perceiving reality. The brain doesn’t think you can handle it. The brain wants to make to-do lists and analyze episodes of Succession and replay interactions with your boss and even wax on about the benefits of meditation – as long as it doesn’t have to shut up an meditate.
Despite its many shortcomings, the brain is a glorious, creative, plastic, infinitely complicated organ. It can even be put to excellent use in service of liberation, freedom from aversion and attachment.
Marvelously mundane case in point:
I was hunting for the remote control in order to watch my kickboxing video, and found it on the couch, along with a guacamole lid, three balled-up paper towels, a lighter, and several crushed corn chips. I threw it all away in frustration born of repetition and futility. After exercising, I made myself a sandwich and, reaching for a plate, found bowls stacked on top of them. I then went for the cheese slicer and found it in the wrong drawer. Frustration bordering on anger again.
Before you start identifying with my plight, let me color in this sketch.
My partner is afflicted with significant ADHD. His everyday life made a sharp turn for the better once he was finally prescribed treatment in the form of a Schedule II drug. It improved my life, too. Particularly in his willingness to engage in various activities, errands, etc. But he can’t take the drug every day, for fear of addiction, and he still struggles with completing tasks that most of us non-ADHD folks do without thinking, or with minimal effort.
The problem from my perspective, as the partner of an ADHDer, is not knowing what I am allowed to expect and what I am allowed to get pissed at. What is reasonable when interacting with someone whose brain does not work the way mine does? When am I being unreasonable and when is my compassion being exploited (if unintentionally)?
And how can I help him? I got him a Tile, an alert that can find his keys, wallet, and phone. But other than that, there’s really not much I can do. And that is very hard to accept. We’re conditioned to believe that correcting someone’s actions will produce a change in behavior, but our conditioning is based on a certain type of brain functioning that simply doesn’t apply to everyone. We find that hard to believe, so we look for an explanation we can control: they’re lazy, they’re being deliberately intractable – mal intent is more welcome than an inexplicable inability to do things the way we want them done.
I’ve tried to moderate my expectations. As long as the bowls are in the right cabinet, even if it’s the wrong stack, I won’t get annoyed. I can let go of not composting the ubiquitous paper towels, if he at least throws them away. As long as I can find all the shower stuff he moves when he takes a bath, there’s no reason to mention it.
Reasonable, right? I mean, right?
I felt the spark of an alternative as I tossed the couch garbage this morning. Hang on tight; it’s a doozy.
What if none of it upset me?
What is the fucking point of all this aversion?
If I thought it would do any good, it might make sense to hold onto some of it, just long enough to bring it up with him. But we’ve lived together for almost a decade. We’ve been over and over these things. Most of this stuff is a weekly performance. Why do I bother? I don’t mean that in the shaming, irritated sense. I mean, literally, why am I getting bothered about this bullshit?
Yes, I’d rather not have to pick up garbage, and rearrange dishes and utensils and such, but getting bothered about it doesn’t make it any more pleasant. In fact (you know it!), it always makes it worse. If the task is actually difficult to do, I can ask him to take care of it, absent the tone of frustration or resentment that creates more pain for him, which inevitably creates more pain for me. The only justification for the anger has been refuted above. I know it’s not deliberate and I know it’s not antagonistic. I know he cannot correct this with grit and determination. But some part of me still wants to believe there’s a logic to it, something I can fix. I can’t fix it, or him, or anything. I can just do what I do, and try to do it without attachment to outcome.
Does it seem impossible? It’s not. If you have a young child or a dog, you organize their everyday chaos without inflicting guilt or preaching, because you accept both their guilelessness and your role as caretaker. There’s no reason we can’t extend that to everyone. It’s just a matter of letting go of what doesn’t serve you. I don’t like getting pissed off about this bullshit. I know that. I don’t like being a nag. I know that. In these situations, there’s no reason not to stop causing myself and others pain. Stop clinging to the way I want things to be; stop freaking out when they’re not.
See? Brain sees problem, Brain traces cause, Brain remembers 4 Noble Truths, brain proposes practical solution.
We’ll see if it can stick the landing. I’ll keep you in the loop.