Archive for the 'mental processes' Category

A post about posting (or not)

July 14, 2015

Yesterday I had something to do that I was to some extent dreading and which did turn out to be difficult to do.  But I got through it, it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great.  On my way home, alone again in my car, I got to thinking about how I could write a blog post about it.  And I realized, as I was observing what I was doing, that that line of thinking was leading me to, to borrow a contemporary colloquial phrase, make it (the episode) a thing — to make it a thing instead of just letting it go.  I had anticipated the episode, I had engaged in it, I like to think that I had done something reasonable during the course of it, then it was over, and while I wasn’t all that happy from the experience, I didn’t really need to assess it, I could just let it be — just let it “have been” — in fact, it was probably better all around to just leave it as something that had occurred, like paint drying.  It had happened, but I didn’t need to reify it.

That got me wondering what impact writing more generally has on how people process their experiences and think about the world.  I know I never wanted to write the book about our experiences building a family that many people suggested I write.  That reaction came to me as a matter of not wanting to relive all those events.  Now my sense is that writing requires me to choose a particular way to present the material, that a particular voice be chosen and that the events be characterized and assessed to some degree and assigned some kind of significance — I don’t think most books are just flat recitation of what happened.

I don’t doubt that some people, perhaps even as a result of writing about them in a certain way, move on from events in their lives after writing about them, but it really hit me yesterday that the process of processing the events in order to write about them was going to impede me from just accepting them as things that had happened, that really did not need to be assigned greater significance than that, and that writing about them would turn them into permanent artifacts of a certain sort in my memories, like bringing home unwanted bargains from a yard sale.  To present the events might lead to positive reactions from others — the material certainly would lend itself to making something dramatic out of it — but I think it would actually result in trading a healthier frame of mind for some more immediate positive external feedback.  I don’t want to file the events away under particular emotional headings, I would rather leave them more fluid and let the memories give me different or more attenuated impressions over time, if that’s what happens.

Finding the Achilles’ heel

September 22, 2014

Once upon a time there was some sort of yogi.  He enjoyed his talents and gifts, maybe a little too much.  Or maybe he just became too self-conscious and nervous about how it was he was able to do what he did.  Or maybe nothing he did or didn’t do had anything to do with it, but at some point in time he ceased being able to connect with his power source, and his abilities became hollow shells  —  he could no longer be the wise person he had formerly been, but he found he could fake it.   Maybe he thought it would be temporary, and so he justified developing work-arounds to get him through the desert of not being able to actually do what he used to do but look as though he were.  In any event, he didn’t admit to anybody that something significant had changed and that he was no longer the person he used to be.  [Actually he was the same person, he just wasn’t the person who could currently do what he used to do.]

This went on for some time, until one of his former students figured out a way to verify for herself that he was using superficial mental processes instead of participating in the flow.

She dyed her hair, she lived among the poor and down-trodden, she became herself one of them.  And then she went to him.  He of course didn’t recognize her, he just dealt with her as someone who made him feel uncomfortable.

Instead of engaging, he ducked.

While superficially his dismissal could be processed in other ways, she could perceive that it actually covered over the nervous fear of a child who is in way over his head.

So she left things at that, because she at least had the ability to perceive that while she could make the situation worse, she couldn’t make the situation better;  for that, the inner little boy needed to be grown up, and for that, he needed to feel safe enough to grow up, and to facilitate that, the only thing that could possibly help was for her to leave as he wished her to do.

While she still had the difficulties in her life to deal with, she had satisfied her need to verify what she had suspected on the basis of other indications:  that there was something going on that was not as it seemed.  She had also found a basis for the discrepancy.

It wasn’t just the evidence of a single incident that confirmed her suspicions, it was also the way the yogi tried to manage the aftermath.  There were many things he could have done afterwards to adjust what had happened, but all he did was more of the same.

The former student felt bad, not just for herself but also for her yogi, too.  She found that she could feel gratitude that he was in this world, that she could accept that he was doing his best, and that she could learn that she didn’t have to condone the particulars to feel that gratitude and compassion or that she had to express that gratitude or compassion in a way that would contribute to the problem, regardless of what anyone else said.  She also didn’t have to pretend that things were other than they were.

What she did have to do was to wait and to listen, to hear what would come next.

And, of course, she missed the way her yogi had been before, that was a sadness in her heart.

Harmony and distinction

July 27, 2014

In law school students are trained “to think like a lawyer.”  It involves the ability to make distinctions and it also involves a skill in finding a way to “harmonize” prior precedents seemingly at odds with each other.

It’s, to my way of thinking, a language.  And its relationship to spiritual insight is that it gives a person a way of putting into rational linear thought an insight perceived as a concept without words.  It is not itself, I don’t think, a path to non-dual thinking, but nor does it inhibit non-dual thinking — I think it supports it.  And it doesn’t just deal with splitting things from each other, it provides patterns for seeing compatibility among things that might superficially seem not to fit together.

Now, as for getting to the point of seeing things non-linearly, I am not sure intellectual training is relevant (except insofar, as I said, for providing a language for communicating to others about it), any kind of intellectual training — philosophical, theological, mathematical, etc.  Training in any of them may well provide a fluidity of thought that helps in translating, but how to break out of Kansas and into the Land of Oz, well, that, I think, takes something else and involves a different part of our mental processes.

Handkerchiefs

April 20, 2014

I bought three cotton handkerchiefs at the 5 & 10 yesterday (along with picture hooks, sponges, and a pocket mirror).  They are stiff, too stiff to use until they are washed.

This morning I was stripping my bed to wash the sheets and pillow cases, and I decided to put the folded extra blanket that usually sits at the foot of my bed on top of a trunk while I launder the linens.

The issue popped into my head of whether there was something on top of the trunk I needed to put elsewhere before I put the blanket down on top of it.  I thought, “Well, I can always pull out the box of tissues easily enough when I need it,” and went downstairs with the sheets to put them in the washer.

I’m filling the washer, and I thought, “Do I have anything to put in with this load of sheets?”  And then it hit me, that I ought to throw in the handkerchiefs.

So there was something on top of the trunk I did need to pull off before putting that blanket down on top of it.

I love when different parts of my mental apparatus interact and I feel as if I’m kind of along for the ride.

Dualism about dualism

March 18, 2014

How can it be that it’s either dualistic thinking or non-dualistic thinking?  Isn’t that thinking dualistically to put it that way?

I think there are different varieties of connections we may have to Source, to God, to the universe, to the divinity within us.  Very young children have it in a different way from the way adult mystics have it, and people somewhere else on the continuum I think can have varying levels of conscious connection to the spiritual realm.  Adversity is a factor, I agree, and I think it is especially so in reestablishing the connection after we have developed our personal identity in this world, but different people, as they say, have different gifts — and I think there’s a nature/nurture aspect to how we experience the spiritual, too.  Some people will find their connection through music, some people will be able to translate a spiritual experience into pattern recognition of a different sort when they relate the experience to their worldly lives, as the result of both a predilection for that mode and some training in that direction.  Some people will not translate the experience very consciously — or self-consciously — at all, but live out the results, I think.

We need all the sections of the orchestra to play the symphony of collective life on earth.  Just because we’re not woodwinds doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Just because we know how to coach playing the brass instruments doesn’t mean there aren’t others who can coach the strings.  I am wary of trying to replace one exclusive way of looking at spirituality with another, and wary of ways that involve too much emphasis on the coach.  What I think is true is that some levels of connection to the spiritual realm seem to need the person who connects to have developed enough of an emotional or cognitive structure in the other parts of their mental processing in order to handle the spiritual experience safely as a human being — without such a developed structure, a person can have the spiritual equivalent of a “bad trip.”  But I think there are a multiplicity of roads — and air routes and water passages — that lead to Rome, and I think people may be having slightly different experiences of Rome depending on how they got there and how unimpeded their perceptual and processing equipment are.

Filling an empty space

November 21, 2013

There’s a phenomenon that occurs with some people who develop substantial hearing loss in which their brains create the experience of sounds internally, apparently because there’s a dearth of externally produced sound to process.  I think the sounds are often repetitive and sing-song, if not song-like.

I think a parallel phenomenon can occur with people who have lost a substantial amount of vision.

I’m wondering whether people who lose their short term memory do a version of this, too, and we categorize it under “dementia.”  An elderly person may forget the initial reason for a task or the next steps that were to be taken in the course of completing that task, not realize they’ve forgotten those past facts, and instead come up with a new task involving the papers in front of them on their desk (for example), to fill the “gap” of what they are supposed to be doing.  The lack of awareness may be “dementia,” but if looked at in a more detailed way, it may look less like a kind of “craziness” and more like a combination of memory loss, lack of awareness of that loss, and a tendency to try to fill gaps creatively.

Awakening compassion, developing a shell, or becoming overwrought

October 4, 2013

I apologize for trying to stuff the whole point of this post into its title — it’s my version of writing  notes to myself.

My point of departure is actually my witnessing the hawk yesterday morning capturing its food.

I have a thing for hawks, I don’t know why.  I love them in a way I can’t explain, love their feathers, love their body shape, love their coloring, really love the way they fly, especially when I catch sight of one gliding overhead.  Cue the song lyric:  “A single hawk in God’s great sky looking down with God’s own eyes.”  That’s from Richard Shindell’s “Reunion Hill.”

Watching one do what it does in order to eat and sustain itself I found upsetting.  My cognitive apparatus explained why it must be accepted, my emotions felt protective of the critter in its vulnerability.

When we humans encounter the scene of humans preying on other humans, or a system developed by humans preying on other, more vulnerable humans, what do we do?  Strengthen our shell?  Collapse in hysteria?  Take the step of feeling compassion, regardless of how we can help, and also going through a process of discerning if and how we can help and following through if that’s what we are being called on to do?

I’ve had people in my life decline to take up their social roles for reasons I have never truly fathomed.  They would say, “There’s nothing I can do” when there actually was and when it was something society actually expected them to do under the circumstances.   (To me, it’s a version of the “empty promise” theme I find running through my life, which I’ve written about before.)  Some of them had taken a fall earlier in life, perhaps too early for it to awaken compassion.  Instead they seem to have been so overwhelmed by their emotions that they found ways to shut them down and wall them off subsequently.

I think it takes a certain combination, or combinations, of scenario, emotions, and access to resources with which to process the scene for such an experience to awaken compassion.  Too much intellectualizing and it supports callousness, too much emotion and there’s hysteria.  What I think it needs, in addition to some amount of intellect and some amount of emotion, in order to awaken compassion, is access to the “mountain lakes” the widow in “Reunion Hill” refers to as her source for the water in her streams that feeds her deep well.

This has been said before — Shindell inhabits his narrators in his songs seemlessly, whether they share his personal attributes or not.  (If I could remember where I read that, I would cite it or them.)  He does this when he sings “Reunion Hill,” and I think there’s a lesson in there, too.  Who we are may not be apparent from our surface attributes, some of us are pretty well-disguised.  But ultimately, I think, we are all some combination of “divine spark” and human.

So when we encounter pain and suffering, either initially or for the umpteenth time, where do we go in our mental processes, how do we respond?  Build the walls higher?  Rationalize?  Explode or implode?  I think it’s most helpful to mix together emotion, reason, and that third strand, the water from the mountain lakes that allows us to perceive the world (and universe) as it is.

And how we learn to do this is not going to be just a matter of reading the dots “in the book.”

Confirmation bias

September 12, 2013

I’ve written about synchronicity and coincidence in previous blog posts, including, I think, about the issue of whether a particular confluence of events seems to be more than something random.

The issue of whether I notice something because I am predisposed to or because something else brings it to my attention seems to me to be a somewhat similar question.  Of course, it’s possible that it’s really not an either/or kind of thing, that we notice something when we are open to it —  if it doesn’t come up until we are open to it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that our discernment of it is purely an insignificant echo of something without importance or that we have created willfully.

When some people see patterns and significance in events in their lives, I think it feels as if the events are being highlighted.  This highlighting doesn’t seem to come from the same place as our mechanism for searching for something.  Song writers talk about feeling as if, with some songs, they are taking down a song that exists elsewhere, rather than that they are creating the song themselves.  I think this highlighting sense is similar — it seems to come from somewhere else.

I had a speech impediment as a child, and I had no idea that one could make a hard C or G sound in the back of one’s throat — I was trying to make the sound in the front of my mouth and was coming out with T and D sounds.  I think that perceiving highlighting is like being able to pronounce a hard C.   A person may not realize others are doing that if they are not.

Some communities talk about when an old wound comes up for healing.  One could argue that this creates “confirmation bias,” but what if when something comes up “for healing,” it’s more like one half of a magnet emerging and attracting in further information originating elsewhere?  What if it is a process in which we participate and is not purely something we are doing?

The “highlighting” I mentioned feels like reading something written on a wall.  If it, or our focus on it, is projected there from within us, that also doesn’t mean it originated with our thinking minds.

People can insist that there are only the dimensions they can perceive with their senses, they can insist that certain kinds of numbers that can’t be represented with manipulables don’t exist, they can insist that everything is reducible to something ordinary and usual and mundane.  There are only sparrows, never cardinals.  There are no imaginary numbers.

If one finds oneself reading highlights and one allows oneself to start finding patterns, one sees the world in a new way.  We can label that new way error or pathology, but it does allow a person to perceive things beyond what the initial patterns are about — one’s apparatus gets loosened up and like the heron swallowing a big fish, we can take in more of the world as it actually exists.

We could also label higher math nonsense.

Engaging in mental processes beyond the usual can lead to positive results not achievable other ways.  Not reducing highlighting to confirmation bias can train a person to see more deeply and to actually come up with ways of analyzing real world issues that produce more helpful ideas for dealing with them.

At least, that’s how it seems to me.

God, the imagination, and books

September 4, 2013

Some people are open and some people aren’t.  Some people even make an art of not being open.  They always hold something back, behind fear, behind, vanity, behind pride.

Being open allows us to see ourselves from multiple perspectives, not just the way we would like to think we are.  We allow ourselves to see the secondary consequences of our attitudes and behaviors on others and we adjust our attitudes and behavior  accordingly.  If we refuse to look at the negative impacts we have on others, we close ourselves off from not only them but from ourselves.

I suspect meditation helps get around that by being a way to put aside the carapace, albeit only temporarily.  Some people do, in contrast, make their entire life a living prayer — they are always open.

When we are open, we can perceive through other than our monkey minds.  What we perceive includes what some people label “God.”  It is not perceived through our imaginations, which are part of our monkey minds.

Willy was a very open person, whether or not he believed in God.  He was kind and generous.  He also had that quality I associate with men of being ready, willing, and able to defend his turf, however.  But he knew that sometimes the most helpful technique is to allow the other person’s energy to become their own undoing, that deflecting that energy can be key.  To me he demonstrated that a person can be a conduit (for the forces of the universe) without being conscious of it.

A close friend of his shared with me that he considered Willy a mystic.  I liked hearing that.  It gave me a way of understanding his sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table to eat, for example.  Or drinking directly from sink faucets.  He was so fastidious about other manners that these behaviors called out for interpretation.

We can teach intellectual ideas through others.  We can disseminate them in books.  These may provide touchstones for others as they try to gain a sense of themselves and of life, analogous to consulting with a village elder, but they also present a hazard, namely encouraging people to believe that the development of the person is, or can be, had through the intellect.  The intellect is a helpful interface between experience and communication, but the significant things a person needs to go through in order to develop into the person they have the potential to be will not be experienced through reading or through learning in a classroom.

Willy had that sense, too, I think.  He was continually frustrated by new hires who thought of life as a problem set and he had little patience for academia.  He fled college (with his degree) in three years and went into the Peace Corps.  He finished his dissertation while working full time, in large part because he much preferred working and solving real problems;  even with the added demands of working, working at a job gave him more energy for his dissertation than remaining a full-time graduate student would have.  In primary school he had experimented with focusing on the niceties necessary to gain complete approval in academia, and he reported to me that he had found the rewards hollow.

I think this blog is my compromise.  I’ve got people in my life who want me to write, and I what I really want to do is to walk.  I think writing is in some way inherently misleading, but the snippets that are blog posts perhaps come closest to those momentary understandings we become privy to through interfacing with the universe through prayer and meditation.

Is the main event finding God or just finding?

May 3, 2013

I’ve been trying to make this point for years, especially after reading The Social Animal by David Brooks.  We have a strand of mental capability that is not the thinking mind or the emotional reactive part of our mind.  I made the point in my comment to his column in the NYTimes for today, I tried to make the point to him directly after he spoke at Harvard a couple of years ago.  My results are a lesson for me to remember that people need to come to their own realizations themselves, however much my own task may seem to me to be to keep repeating my understanding and modeling it.

This part of our mental apparatus that I’m talking about is what gets an airing during meditation and it’s the part through which we commune with the forces beyond us and within us that are greater than ourselves (God, if you like).

I often think it’s more important that people learn to locate this part of themselves and to use it than it is that they “find God” with it.

And I wonder if the emphasis on belief in God, or not, has gotten us distracted.  I do think that if we stumble into communing with God, we become much more aware of this part of us, so finding God is a tempting goal.  But I think it can also lead to the dead end of people thinking they’ve found God when what they are doing is thinking about the idea of God and finding God and imagining it and intellectualizing it.  And people who try to provide shortcuts to finding God may unintentionally induce people into mistaking the process of the shortcut for the dynamic that occurs when the goal is reached.  And beyond that, we lose a lot of people who find belief in God a dealbreaker but who would be fine with locating and using this piece of mental apparatus, I think.