Getting Back to Baseline

In science, a baseline is a standard of value to which other similar things are compared. Zero degrees Centigrade is a baseline. It is the temperature at which water freezes. Other temperatures are compared to zero. Picking a baseline is somewhat arbitrary. It depends on what you want to measure. One could develop a temperature scale in which zero degrees is the temperature at which chocolate melts. That’s approximately the temperature of the human mouth, so that could be useful.

One might establish a baseline via meditation. In a successful meditation, one becomes calm, the mind settles down and emotions become peaceful. That relaxed but alert condition could be considered a baseline, which provides a reference for comparing other states of consciousness.

After an argument, or after watching a disturbing film, or after playing an engaging video game, a person will be in a more or less agitated state. Or if one lives a typical life in a developed nation in the 21st century, one’s usual state is fairly high on the stress scale. Unfortunately, many modern westerners have no reference for peacefulness. If you ask people, what they can do to relax, you may get answers like, “I will play with my cat,” or “I’ll watch TV.” Those activities may be relatively relaxing, but they don’t compare to the relaxation one might get from listening to a guided relaxation exercise or practicing autogenics. Similarly, if one has not meditated, one does not know what emptying the mind would be like.

Let’s say you have meditated, and upon rising, you feel calm, clearheaded and rather pleasant. That could be a baseline against which you would assess your experience at other times. After commuting or watching the TV news or dealing with a difficult person, your state will likely be something other than calm. Rather than accepting that that’s the way it goes, and having a lot of thoughts about how crummy life or people are, you could just note that your mental/emotional state is altered from baseline. That would be a signal that it is time to do something to bring it back. Perhaps a few deep breaths, a reminder to relax and a mental recitation of a mantra or affirmative thought will shift you back toward that baseline state that you know is possible. Maybe you would want to take some time to gather yourself, possibly by meditating or by some other skillful means for coming back home.

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© 2010 Tom Barrett