A very quiet moment as a solution to the buffet problem

What's the opposite side of the buffet problem? I think it's either (a) practicing the mature person's Art of Discretion when choosing where to invest attention or (b) a Very Quiet Moment.

I don't have much to say or think about (a) without turning it into a research project on decision analysis. (read these, if you're interested in it.) It's a fascinating topic, trying to understand the logic behind the dumb decisions one makes... presumably to make better ones, but it's perhaps more fun to rubberneck the bad ones, smoldering in the median, as they recede in the rearview mirror. Just writing and writing that sentence is an insight into the problem: if the problem is signing up for more work than one can do, focusing on the decisions that precede the work is just shifting the burden, not lightening it.

So: if avoiding the buffet problem is the goal, surrounding oneself in the absence of things to choose might be a better way. Escaping to the wilderness? Not quite—past life. For a few months in 2016, I tried Headspace guided meditation, if only due to susceptibility to podcast advertisements. I don't know if it helped—I don't even know what hypothesis to test to see if it helped—but there's one thing I do know after trying it: it's nearly impossible to be still.

The easiest test is to sit somewhere quietly and concentrate only on breathing. In out etc. Try to get to ten without thinking of anything, lightly guiding the mind away from encroaching thoughts back into some cold dark quiet center. Three times—maximum. Usually less. Three times of concentrating only on that spot in your head where the air catches some turbulence when you breathe in through your nose, and after that the small thoughts that were pawing at the closed door of your mind like a cat burst in and fill the space. The chief one—the one I'm most conscious of after it breaks in—is the one that says "Let's use this time for something productive, let's get something done while we're sitting here". This is pointed 180° from the desired direction. I understand that it's possible to get to 10 and beyond. It's difficult to imagine the discipline to do it, but it's not hard to imagine it's the same kind of discipline needed to avoid the buffet problem.


Because thoughts lead to thoughts... I remembered that I have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita (भगवद्गीता, bhagavad-gītā), a good not-flowery translation (compare to the alternatives...) by Barbara Stoler Miller. I've had it for over ten years, it's tiny, yet I've never finished it. I couldn't get into it—too much abstract stuff about non-action, self, discipline, etc. Anyway, I dug it up and gave it a quick pass. Chapter 6, verses 35-36:

असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम् ।
अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते

असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम् ।
अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते

I don't read Sanskrit either—here is Miller's translation:

Without doubt, the mind
is unsteady and hard to hold,
but practice and dispassion
can restrain it, Arjuna.

In my view, discipline eludes
the unrestrained self,
but if he strives to master himself,
a man has the means to reach it.

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