Expecting different results

May 20, 2020 — Aran Rees
Expecting different results

Everyone knows that to do the same thing and expect different results is the definition of insanity. This is one of the many things that Einstein didn’t say but everyone believes he did. Perhaps the reason we feel the need to attribute this wisdom to someone as universally admired as Albert Einstein is that, looked at with a little more care, it turns out to not really be true. Or, at least, not always.

I love contradictions. When you find a contradiction you’re usually on your way to something interesting. Many hands make light work, right? But then too many cooks spoil the broth. So which is it? The contradiction points to insight. So what about this definition of insanity?

Yes, if you continue to eat salty, fatty, sugary foods but expect your health to start getting better instead of steadily worse, you’d be in for a nasty shock. Continue to relate to people with anger and suspicion and expect them to start to like and trust you? Nope. That’s not likely. But what about meditation? Is that something you need to continually change up?

Every day I sit down on a cushion and close my eyes. I focus on the sensations associated with breathing and try to remain aware of what my mind is doing without becoming identified with thoughts. Every day I do the same thing. Do I always experience the same results? No. I’ve never experienced the same meditation twice. The fact is that in some areas of life doing the same thing is precisely how you get different results.

They say that no man steps in the same river twice. This is because the river and the man both change over time. Maybe a more relatable example might be how Ian Malcolm explains the nature of chaos - that small, imperceptible variations in complex systems lead to different results even when you follow the same routine - by dripping water flirtatiously on the hand of Ellie Sattler as they ride through the soon to open Jurassic Park. Sometimes, even when you do the same thing, you not only can achieve different results but you might find it impossible not to.

Maybe you’re into the whole Buddhist conception of the self as a process rather than an object. Maybe you’re not. But to practice meditation is to notice that change is constant. That we can simply witness it, without needing to force it. So maybe we don’t need to worry so much about trying new things all the time. Maybe we can allow ourselves to do the same thing and expect different results. Just sit. Just breathe. Just practice. And see where it takes you. On that note, I’m off to rewatch Jurassic Park.


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