Friday, September 30, 2011


I talked to a man the other day about politics, psychology, several other subjects.  He was astute.  His mind took into account details as he pieced together why he believed things were the way he saw them.  When I argued a point, he would immediately see any weakness in my argument and point it out.  I could get away with nothing, to my own delight.

But then he talked about issues he was having with his wife.  His entire presentation changed.  She was "stubborn", "unreasonable".  He just knew she was having an affair, or at least thinking of one.  She was out late one night, and when he asked her where she had been, she just said "shopping".  What a weak excuse, he said!  Obviously she was cheating!

In short, this brilliant mind, which carefully watched every point he made as well as the ones I made, was now believing rumors and fears in his own mind, with no real evidence to back anything up.  His words were judgmental, the meanings were imprecise, and most of all, he seemed extraordinarily sure of things without any real basis for his beliefs.

I was astonished.  I had seen this man go from a very intelligent, careful, precise state of mind to a state of thought worthy of an emotional adolescent  - blind prejudices, unthoughtout hypotheses, poorly constructed accusations, simplistic thinking.  And within a few minutes, we were back on another excellent intellectual subject, all his facilities on board again.

What happened?  Clearly, the subject of his wife was an emotional subject, and his emotional involvement probably caused a lot of the imprecise and slanted thinking.  But what astounded me most was that this man, carrying a high value for intellectual integrity, slipped into and out of this state of degraded thinking with no indication that he realized he had done so.

Actually, this is so common an experience that we rarely blink an eye.  We just say to ourselves, oh, he's got energy there, he's triggered, he's emotional, and by that, we excuse his irrational diatribe against his wife.

There are several things wrong with this picture.  First, why did an intelligent man not notice how off base and biased his thinking was for those few minutes?  It is as if some Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde scene had just taken place - an alternate personality had taken over, and when it left, he seemed to have no sense his presentation had changed.

If people regularly went into some kind of emotional state that caused them to say, and potentially act, in ways that they might regret later, and did not realize that they were doing that, wouldn't that create havoc in the world?  But then there is already a lot of havoc in the world created by people carrying some strong emotion or conviction.  Could they also be unaware that they are in an altered state, one that they would be embarrassed by if they came out of it and looked objectively at how they had acted and spoken?

I have pondered this for years, and have learned to watch my own mind acutely as well as others.  What I have discovered is that I go through the same cycles.  In a state carrying some emotion, I come up with convictions that I would normally not be sure of, and the convictions become absolute.  Not only do I not question them, I get angry at anyone else who does.  I go into a defensive state where I am believing that my thoughts are right, simply because they are my thoughts.  And while I am in that state, I find it next to impossible to be able to notice what I am doing from an objective point of view.  When I come out of that state, relax, calm down, and start to review how I felt and spoke, I often see that I truly was in an altered state, and that in that state I usually create more harm than good.

This has become a basic principle of Awareness Philosophy.  When a particularly strong emotion comes up for us - a fear, a desire, an excitement, an anger - our brain starts operating in a different way, giving us different conclusions and beliefs than we would have had if we were calm.  When a story crosses our mind that has potent emotional energy with it (like beliefs about abortion, politics, or a philosophy that bears on some traumatic event in our life), our mind turns simplistic, and it seems to us the answer is obvious, and there seems to be only one answer, and anyone who disagrees is seems morally decrepit to our eyes.  We become amazingly simplistic and stubborn, as a religious or political fanatic would.  Our ability to reason, look at the gray areas, fairly consider other points of view, is temporarily gone.  Others say of us, "Oh, don't talk about X with them - it's a big trigger, and they will go off, and there's no talking with them after that."

What is fundamental about this altered state is our unawareness of it.  Noticing that we are in the state tends to interrupt the state itself, because we sometimes can see how silly we are being, and become embarrassed at our own absoluteness.

The Awareness Practice we do helps me notice these altered states as they are happening, and often I find myself being able to stop, rethink, and switch to a more grounded state where I can be more accurate about what is actually happening inside of me.  The result is that I feel I am more in touch with reality, even when emotions come up - I can more easily discern between what is "my stuff" and what is real.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Three approaches to healing and life satisfaction

Awareness Philosophy combines three different approaches to life and thought that are often thought of as incompatible, and that often attract entirely different kinds of people.

The first I am going to call "the engineering approach".  Engineers, as I am using the word, are people who primarily relate to the world through cognitive thought.  They work hard to make sense out of things, to put things in logical order, to understand, to make things clear and remove them from the "gray area" of fogginess that makes it difficult to draw conclusions.  They watch out for logical inconsistencies, pursue anomalies, and are keen on intellectual integrity.  Despite all the jokes they bear, they are invaluable in helping us cope with the world and avoid pain.  The primary therapy that appeals to this type is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is focused on correcting one's thoughts for better living.  In my mind, CBT include people such as David Burns ("Feeling Good"), Dr. Wayne Dwyer ("Change your thoughts, Change your Life"), and Byron Katie ("Loving What Is").

The second approach could be called "the feeling approach".  This includes people who process their feelings, try to work things out emotionally, look at their childhood and any trauma in their life to help them understand themselves as they are today.  They find talking about their feelings rich and deep, and tend to look at people in terms of what motivates them to do what they do.  Most regressive, analytic and emotional release therapies tends to fall in this camp.

The third approach I would call "the mindfulness approach".  Those who tend to gravitate towards mindfulness tend to see emotions and thoughts as not particularly condusive to living a life of acceptance and peace.  Most mindfulness approaches focus on being aware of what is, independent of the meaning we put to it or the emotions we carry about it.  Our interpretations of reality, or of what we experience, tends to take us away from the reality itself, and cause us to distort what is real to the point of creating illusions that harm ourselves and others.  Buddhism has often been a source of mindfulness thought, and modern writers such as Eckhart Tolle ("The Power of Now") fall into this line of thinking.

There tends to be a lot of prejudice between these three approaches.  Engineers are faulted for not having feelings or being fully human, not having heart, being too much in their heads, and sometimes being so caught up in theory they ignore the obvious.  The feeling approach has been criticised for just talking and never getting anything done, - for being off the wall, anti-scientific, woo-woo, or otherwise mentally challenged.  And the mindfulness approach has been criticized for ignoring the influence and positive effects of emotion and passion in our life, and becoming so non-attached that they do not get involved in the real world of human interaction.

Yet all three approaches have critical strengths and insights that we would all be very poorer without.  Awareness Philosophy encorporates these three approaches in order to come to life fully, using all our facilities and capabilities and wisdom to live lives that satisfy.