AFTER SHOCKS

The building that houses the outpatient clinic where I’m interning this year, seems to be under some sort of malevolent static-electricity spell. I was disconcerted, on my first day, to be sparking against every door handle, stapler, filing cabinet, and desk drawer I touched. Even the doorways are framed out in metal. Everywhere I went, that hazard followed.

I find such shocks intensely uncomfortable. A job of mine used to involve a component that exposed me to shocks regularly, and until someone kindly brought me a grounding wire, I became unhappier and more irritable each time it happened. Thereafter, standing in place, working the machine responsible for the static, I wore a bracelet with a strap that clipped to a bolt and spared me further pain and anticipatory stress.

There’s no such recourse, however, in an environment that involves walking about, and I quickly developed the habit of smacking things with the flat of my hand, to spread the charge, before handling them more precisely. Now I walk around the office thus, hitting door frames, tapping the photocopy machine—you get the idea.

It helps. It also fostered in me a habit so constant, in the 20+ hours I spend there per week, that it quickly generalized to other environments, such that I found myself smacking door frames and tapping handles every carpeted place I went. I realized this a few days in and was embarrassed by the quasi-OCD quality to my behavior. Was anybody watching? (Fortunately realization broke the habit.)

At the same time, an awe was woken in me for the power of aversion: the insidious way it has of becoming second nature and its ramifications for our assessment by others. I was aided in noticing this by the highly physical nature of the stimulus; but what about all those situations in which aversion is interpersonal and/or developmental? What about, for example, the child who resists certain people, locations, or activities? The child who balks, to the frustration of adults?

Perhaps this illustration can serve as a reminder that everything has an origin, even when we can’t retrace our steps to find it. Teaching mindfulness to children offers them a salutary awareness of their sensations and reactions that hopefully can at least help them express, to themselves and others, their challenges. If they can’t tell you where something began, and thus satisfy the demands of logic, they may at least be better able to say where they’re at.

Please share your thoughts and experiences

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