May 16 - A Lesson from the Microwave

What do you want for lunch,” I asked my husband.

“I’d love that leftover piece of pizza if you don’t want it,” he replied.

“Why don’t you just put it in the toaster oven,” I suggested. “It will taste fresher than if you warm it up in the microwave.”

He fiddled and fussed with the toaster oven, but every time he thought he was turning it on, he actually turned it off. Called into the rescue, I assisted him, and we soon got it started. The pizza was inside the oven, so I went about fixing a lunch for me that would better fit within my caloric allotment for the day.

It was only a couple of moments before we heard a “bong!” “Oh boy, my pizza’s ready,” my hungry husband said while reaching inside to pull out his delicious lunch.

“No, honey, that just means the oven has preheated...you have about eight minutes to wait.”

“B-b-b-but,” he stammered, “when the microwave bongs it means the food is ready. I just figured this was the same as what I had experienced before!”

“Now, that’s a life lesson,” I exclaimed! “This is what we do all of the time without realizing it!”

What did I mean by that statement? How does a leftover piece of cold pizza become a life lesson? Please, let me count the ways!

1. It is important to understand how our brain gets trained to scan for what we expect in life. If we put something in a toaster oven and hear a bell that sounds just like the microwave we had previously been using, it is natural to think the bell of the toaster oven means the same thing as the microwave’s bell. At least, that is, until we become more aware of what we are doing.

2. Both a reward and a punishment are registered in the brain... for life. We may not always be conscious of it, but the memory of it is always there. For example, there were many years when my husband couldn’t understand why he hated to go to the dry cleaners. Then one day when his mother was visiting from the west coast, she went with him to pick up the cleaning. While they were waiting in the shop, he mentioned his discomfort.

“Oh, I know what that is,” she said. “When you were recovering from polio, we had to put hot packs on your legs three times a day. You would scream and holler because they were so hot and frightening to you. They smelled just like the dry cleaning steam that is in the air here.”

Mystery solved…the connection was revealed. After that, he knew he did not have to worry about hot packs any longer and was happy to pick up the cleaning as a result.

3. We go through most of our life in an unconscious state. We don’t look at the pizza to see if it is done...we hear a bell and react by taking it out of the oven although it may not even be warm yet. How do we learn to see or hear what is right in front of us? How do we look through a curious lens rather than an “I already know” one?

Once when my mother was visiting during the fall, she asked me if I thought she should take a sweater to my daughter who was playing outside; she thought it was getting chilly as the sun was setting and my daughter might be cold. I remember saying, “Mother, I know when she is cold. I take good care of her when you are not here...I don’t need you to tell me when my own daughter is cold.”

Oh, how I wish I could do this moment all over again. Unfortunately, I had heard criticism and an unfavorable commentary on my mothering rather than a grandmother just expressing her thoughts of care and concern about her precious granddaughter. I automatically heard what had hurt me as a child when I had done something wrong, and, as a result, I was not able to hear what my mother was actually saying. I was in automatic listening for sure, and to my regret, I created unnecessary angst for us all.

And then to numb the awareness of what I was doing, I reached for one of my favorite addictive substances. This only made matters much worse as it rendered me even more unconscious of my feelings. I had definitely lost touch with myself and my internal wisdom. Next time you do anything, ask yourself, “What might I be doing, seeing, or hearing in this moment…unconsciously? What might I need to notice that is a result of my perception rather than what is in front of me? Am I reacting to what is in front of me, or something that was there many years ago?” Remember, if it feels familiar, especially if it is uncomfortable or painful, you will benefit from trying to remember what you might be reenacting. So often retrieving such a memory can free us up to experience everything our hearts have desired all of our lives.

It can also improve the taste of our pizza!

What ears do you listen through? What do you usually see with your own eyes? What did you fear as a child? How often do you see or hear that in situations today? Would you like to learn to listen with curiosity instead? Would you like to see something that is brand-new?

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