Most drivers have watched a squirrel run in front of them, notice the car, and try to figure out which way to run. They dart back and forth, spastically changing directions in their indecision. “Go, little squirrel!” you shout when you see their indecision. You root for them to pick a direction before your tire squishes them to jelly. Sometimes all of our minds can function like that.
According to National Today, National Squirrel Appreciation Day was originally created by Christy Hargrove…
“on January 21 [as] a day to learn about and celebrate the world’s cutest rodents.”
But it doesn’t feel very cute when you get caught in the headlights and Squirrel Brain nearly gives you a seizure, trying to figure out which way to go. Everyone has had these moments, similar to the Buddhist concept of Monkey Mind. Monkey Mind is, basically, scattered thought. It’s when, no matter how hard you try, you find it hard to focus.
Squirrel Brain goes a step further. Where Monkey Mind is more like Attention Deficit Disorder, Squirrel Brain emerges out of a sense of threat. The fight, flight, or freeze reflex kicks in, but your brain can’t decide which thing to do. At best, Squirrel Mind can ruin your day. At worst, it can get you squished.
Squirrels are Nuts!
Another distinctive of Squirrel Mind is the inability to decide what to do with resources. Out of a sense of threat, squirrels bury, unbury, and rebury their nuts on an obsessive level. National Today says that …
“Squirrels can lose as much as 25% of their cached nuts to thieves! And the largest perpetrator of such crimes are other squirrels.”
Further, the website says:
“Squirrels fail to recover up to 74% of the nuts they buried. And most of the nuts they dig up, are nuts that they steal from other squirrels!”
Squirrel brain comes from a perceived threat—not just from oncoming cars, but from loss of resources. An example of Squirrel Brain would be the pandemic panic that we witnessed (and participated in) at the beginning of COVID. Everybody rushed to Costco and bought pallets of toilet paper. We buried so many nuts—bottles of hand sanitizer—that it’s going to expire before we can use it all. This manufactured scarcity convinced others that they, too, needed to hoard resources or steal them from others. Our societal Squirrel Brain caused a lot of problems.
The Theory of the One Thing
Whether it’s a real or perceived threat, sometimes everyone acts out of Squirrel Brain. What are some ways to counteract this feeling of disconnectedness in the face of fear? In Getting Rid of Squirrel-Brain: How to Work Smarter Not Harder, Yellow Parachute discusses the Theory of the One Thing. Basically, when you feel like a nut, focus! Instead of scrambling from here to there trying to get a hundred things done at once, stop and focus on one thing. Do that one thing well, and then move on.
In the 1991 comedy City Slickers, Curly (Jack Palance) gives Mitch (Billy Crystal) some advice about the One Thing.
“Do you know what the secret of life is?” Curly asks.
Mitch replies, “No, what?”
With a mysterious look in his eye, Curly holds up one finger. “This.”
Mitch looks confused. “Your finger?”
Curly answers, “One thing. Just one thing. Stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.”
Mitch says, “That’s great, but what’s the one thing?”
With a gleam in his eye, Curly replies, “That’s what you’ve gotta figure out.”
How to Find the One Thing
Here are some tips for how to get the breathing space you need in your life, to counteract Squirrel Brain, and figure out the One Thing:
- Develop a routine and stick to it. Whether it’s a routine at work, church, leisure, or home life, predictability helps eliminate the surprises that lead to those “caught in the headlights” moments. Monks often call this routine their Rule of Life. But you don’t have to be a monk to practice this way of peace.
- Take some time for yourself. I’ve been planning on being too sick to work today, for a little over a week now. *cough, cough, wink, wink*
- Try Lectio Divina as a spiritual practice of reading the Bible. Rather than reading it for information (Bible study), this method embraces a way to hear from God through opening your spirit. Instead of focusing on the words, it listens for the voice of Christ, who is the Word.
- Embrace Contemplative Prayer as a way to focus less on the problems at hand, and more on the One Being who has no problems. Center your prayer on things like your heartbeat, your breath, and just being with God in this present moment.
Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut
There’s wisdom in the old TV commercial that said, “Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t.” The fact is that Squirrel Brain is going to happen. You can find acceptance and serenity in the fact that Squirrel Brain is out of your control. No matter what you do, sometimes you’re going to feel like a nut, and other times you won’t. However, there are ways you can focus on the One Thing to limit those Squirrel Brain times. Today, as we observe National Squirrel Appreciation Day, it’s good to know that we don’t have to suffer from Squirrel Brain. There are ways for us to keep our focus.
For Further Reading:
Squirrel Brain by Sacha Chua