“Oneness with the universe”, “the divine”, “immortality” and “inner peace” are just a few popular themes of yoga. Practitioners delight in pondering these themes whilst in their deep meditative states attained through breathing and movement. It’s bliss – it really is.
Here are a few quotes by Woody Allen on the very same themes:
I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.
Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday.
Students achieving Oneness will move on to Twoness.
What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.
You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.
There’s certainly a gap between the perfect world of the ancient yogis and our modern lives – and Woody Allen, with his famous neurotic streak and wit – makes great light of it. Have you ever found yourself doubting yogic wisdom in your everyday life?
Recently, I took an online assessment for the so-called Big Five personality dimensions and found that (like 30% of the population) I also have a neurotic streak. The assessment declared “you tend to be nervous, high-strung, insecure, worrying” (my results are shown in the figure above). True enough (I even carry a few genetic risk factors), and perhaps is why sometimes I can be tormented by a skeptical inner-voice that bursts my bliss as I dwell in meditation. Sooo annoying!
We all love Woody Allen’s movies and quips. Perhaps we see ourselves in his endearing neurotic characters? and can collectively laugh at the movie screen (even if we are wracked with neurotic grief on the inside)? I don’t know. In any case, its not actually fun to be, or funny to be with a really neurotic person … someone who is always ruminating on their insecurities and fears. They can drive themselves, and you, nuts!
Can yoga and meditation help? Can they help a neurotic person shift from being a veritable prisoner of their fears and insecurities, wracked with neurotic grief on the inside – to being a more objective observer – more like a detached watcher of their own stream of consciousness – eventually coming to laugh at their inner drama as they might at a Woody Allen movie?
Here’s a research article that may shed light on the topic. Traits, States, and Encoding Speed: Support for a Top-Down View of Neuroticism/State Relations by Drs. Michael D. Robinson and Gerald L. Clore. You can read the open-access article, so I’ll just jump to the part I thought was so interesting.
The authors explored the extent to which people suffer from neurotic tendencies as a function of how well they are able to perceive and encode information as it streams into the brain. Some folks encode neural information more efficiently and, these folks, tend to suffer less from their neurotic tendencies. The exciting aspect of these neural processes, is that they can be improved with appropriate training and practice.
Common to these theories is the idea that anxious individuals are often trapped by habitual ways of thinking and that a focus on the present, for example, as facilitated by mindfulness training, is successful in breaking such habitual, self-defeating modes of thought linked to high neuroticism.
Therefore, the link between the present data and therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness practice must be somewhat speculative. Nevertheless, it is also worth pointing out that the largest predictor of categorization performance is practice. Furthermore, practice is viewed as the most important contributor to mindfulness-related skills. Therefore, it may be that discrimination skills, even of a reaction-time variety, can be trained that that such training would be useful in alleviating neuroticism-linked distress.
So perhaps the yogic wisdom of Woody Allen rests, not in the jokes themselves, but in a kind of mindfulness that allows him to step back and monitor his own stream-of-consciousness. Much indeed to make light of. Worth practicing and practicing in 2011 … to laugh at myself in 2012.
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