When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
– Victor Frankl
When I was fourteen or fifteen, I wanted to learn about psychology. Through grace, the first books I found — on my mother’s bookshelf – was Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. I was very fortunate that he was my first formal introduction to psychology.
It’s a common stereotype that traditional Freudian analysis lines the pockets of the analyst while offering insights to the client and no real resolution. I suspect there is a lot of truth to this, with the caveat that I don’t have personal experience with Freudian analysis.
Analysis and insight at a story level is just the first step in resolving our issues. It gives us an idea of what to work on. For any real and more thorough resolution, we have to go further and typically use other approaches.
What are these other approaches? It can be a range of different things and depends on the person, the issue, and what’s available.
Here are some examples:
Act in spite of our fears. Act as we imagine we would act without the issue. Try it out. Make small steps. (I am sure this one often is part of psychoanalysis sessions.)
Engage in dialog with the different parts of us, and the different parts of the issue. Take the role of the different parts of our mind. (Voice Dialog, Big Mind process, Internal Family Systems).
Use heart-centered approaches like ho’oponopono or Tonglen. This can be deeply transformative and helps us transform our relationship to the issue, the person or situation the issue seems to be about, ourselves, others, and the world, and it also transforms the issue itself.
Release tension and trauma out of the body through, for instance, therapeutic tremoring (TRE). Over time, this can take some or most of the charge out of the issue.
Go further in exploring how the mind creates its own experience of the issue. See how the mind associates sensations with thoughts to give the thoughts a charge and create the issue. See the associations the mind has around it, holding it in place. Find underlying beliefs and identifications, also holding it in place. This can be done with the Living Inquiries.
Identify and examine stressful and painful stories and beliefs holding the issue in place, for instance through The Work.
Use energy healing to bring awareness into the issue and releasing it from all the different parts of our being. (Energy bodies, pathways, chakras, energetic blueprints, physical organs, etc.) Vortex Healing is by far the most powerful and effective approach I have found for this. (In thirty years of exploring a range of approaches.)
These are just some of the approaches I have experience with and have found helpful. What’s common for all of them is that they go beyond just taking and having some understandings, and that’s essential for any real resolution. Whether that resolution is in our relationship to the issue (or what it appears to be about), or a resolution of the issue itself.
And for any of them to be effective, we need to do it with sincerity, receptivity, some doggedness, and with guidance. After a while, we may rely more or mostly on our own guidance, but it’s always good to have the perspective of someone else, especially when it comes to our more ingrained issues.
I should mention that I have a great deal of appreciation and respect for Freud. The essence is sounds and valuable (that much of what’s happening in our mind is outside of conscious awareness, projections, defense mechanisms, etc). And yet, he was a pioneer and a child of his own time and culture, so much of the specifics are perhaps less helpful.
A friend of mine recently told me of a relative who is suicidal (and a psychiatrist) and goes to Freudian psychoanalysis three times a week without it appearing to do much good, or at least not enough good. That was the seed for this article.
In depth psychology, the shadow refers to what we disown in ourselves. Qualities and characteristics in us that we see (more) “out there” in the world and in others than in ourselves, and that we haven’t yet befriended and gotten to know in ourselves. These are usually qualities and characteristics our culture tells us are undesirable, and that don’t fit our desired image of ourselves.
We are scared to admit to them as part of ourselves and our life, often because of fear of how others may see us and judge us, so it’s easier to pretend they exist mostly or only in the wider world and others.
This means we often become afraid of our own (psychological) shadow.
It scares us when we see it in the world because it seems threatening to our well being. We may be afraid of angry people, or immigrants, or people with a certain ideology, or wolves, or aliens, or ghosts, or anything at all. Of course, sometimes it may be appropriate to be afraid of someone or something. And a sign that its a shadow-fear is that it’s consistent, out of proportion to the situation, and often made into an ideology.
And it scares us when someone (which may be our own mind) suggest it’s part of us because it threatens our desired identity. Often, this scares us because we are afraid of how others may see us, judge us, and treat us if we admit to it in ourselves.
Say I am a US businessman with a checkered history. My father gave me almost all my wealth and bailed me out repeatedly when I went bankrupt. My business dealings are often based on deception and semi-illegal activities. So I feel like a fake and a failure, and instead of admitting it (which would be a threat to my desired image of being a successful businessman) I call others failures and fakes. And since I’ll need to keep this up in order to maintain my desired image, this becomes a habit.
Defending and propping up our desired (and very partial) self image is tiring. So eventually, we may realize that it’s easier to just admit to it in ourselves. It’s a relief. It makes us more human and ordinary. It puts us in the same boat as everyone else.
To the mindset that wants to maintain a desired self-image, this can seem threatening. But when we actually do it, we find it is a great relief. We are able to be more real with ourselves and others. We don’t have to be so vigilant when it comes to our self-image. And our views and actions are more fluid and less dictated by the need to maintain our old desired self-image.
As usual, this is an almost infinitely rich topic so I’ll just add a few things.
It is easier to do this among others who do this. It makes us feel more safe. So making a shift to befriending our shadow sometimes does come along with a shift in who we spend our time with.
And there are more structured ways that makes it easier for us to befriend our shadow. There are specific shadow work approaches. Tonglen is great. Most forms of inquirytends to do it. And for me, the most effective and thorough approach I have found is The Work of Byron Katie.
As we befriend our shadow, it’s no longer a shadow. What seemed scary and threatening no longer is that to us. I suspect that’s why I rarely use the term shadow when I write there. It would make sense to use it since it’s a well-known term but it doesn’t fit my experience so well.
The term shadow makes it sound like something monolithic and one single thing. It’s not monolithic. It’s not a single thing. And it’s not even a thing in the first place. It’s just one thought held as true, which makes my mind see it out there and not in here, and spend some effort trying to maintain that division. And then another thought. It’s something that happens here and now, with the thought that’s here and now.
And the content of that thought varies. Sometimes, it’s about heartless politicians. Sometimes, it’s about idiotic people wanting to shoot all wolves. Sometimes, it’s about a friend who is too angry. Sometimes, it’s about how my mother treats my father. Sometimes, it’s about noisy neighbors.
Since we can project the shadow (any unwanted characteristic) onto anything, we can also put it into the past and future. We can vilify the past, and we can scare ourselves with scary images of the future, whether it’s our own or the world’s.
The image of being afraid of one’s own shadow is a bit comical. And that’s how it is with the psychological shadow as well. We are afraid of something we don’t need to be afraid of. We scare ourselves. It seems real before we investigate it, befriend it, and see it’s literally almost nothing.
In one sense, it’s almost nothing since it’s all created by the mind. In another sense, it’s something since admitting to certain characteristics in ourselves can lead to others judging us and treating us differently. (Especially in more traditional and smaller societies.) And in another sense, it’s something since befriending our shadow allows us to experience ourselves as more whole, more deeply human, more connected to everyone and everything, and it allows us to draw on all of these characteristics in ourselves and make use of them in different situations in life.
How is it all created by the mind? It’s the mind putting labels on the world, others, and ourselves. Deciding these labels are either good or bad, desirable or undesirable. And then making the effort of putting bad labels out there and good ones on ourselves. These labels of good and bad are partially cultural and partially individual. Sometimes, we decide that culturally “bad” labels are good for us. They serve as protection for us. (For instance, being stupid, ugly etc.) So we reverse the usual
These labels of good and bad are partially cultural and partially individual. Sometimes, we decide that culturally “bad” labels are good for us. They serve as protection for us. (For instance, being stupid, ugly etc.) So we reverse the usual good/bad content and tell ourselves “I am stupid, and she is brilliant”. In this case, our own shadow contains characteristics that our culture see as good and desirable. We just don’t think we deserve to see it in ourselves, and we find some sense of safety in it.
Why can it be so difficult to recognize and befriend our shadow? It’s largely because of our culture. It tells us some characteristics are good and some are bad, so we naturally want to see the good ones in ourselves and put the bad ones somewhere else. Our family demonstrates this to us as we grow up, as do friends and society in general. It becomes a habit for us, ingrained almost from birth. So it naturally feels difficult and perhaps scary to befriend our shadow, at least at first, and at least with the characteristics our mind most strongly tells us are bad, undesirable, and scary.
I also assume that in some traditional and smaller societies, it could be risky to openly befriend our shadow. If done with some wisdom, we would just appear as more whole and wise people. But it can also be done in a less balanced, more brash, and less mature and wise fashion, and that could be risky in any culture and society. We’ll get a backlash telling us to wise up.
Our culture does also send messages about befriending our shadow, often through fairy tales, poetry, books, and movies. It tells us humanizing stories about the gifts of befriending our shadow. These are very valuable pointers.
I’ll also say a few words about projections in general. The shadow is one type of projections. And projections are, in one sense, images our mind creates and puts on the world. These types of projections are essential for us being able to navigate and orient in the world.
In another sense, projections are when the mind tells itself that some characteristics are mostly or only in us and not in the wider world, or the other way around, and when these stories are invested with energy (associated with bodily sensations) so they seem more solid, real, and true.
And the shadow are the characteristics our mind tells itself are undesirable, and sees more in the wider world than in itself.
What does it give us to befriend our shadow? When we don’t, we have a unrealistic picture of the world, and we tend to get caught up in (harmful) ideologies and reactivity. It can lead to dehumanizing other people and groups of people, and “demonizing” people or parts of the world. We also make more misinformed and misguided decisions, and we are less able to work around or strengthen our weaknesses. We are, quite literally, prone to be blind-sighted by our blind-spots.
When we befriend our shadow, it gives us a more realistic view on ourselves and the world. We are better able to make good and informed decisions and take care of our own weaknesses (find workarounds, strengthen). It creates a sense of us all being in the same boat. And we are less caught up in reactivity, dehumanizing people, and demonizing parts of the world. We are hopefully a little more able to act from informed clarity and kindness.
This is something I have found interesting since the initial opening or awakening, and I have written about it a few times before.
The experience of awakening is, in itself, quite simple. And yet, there are different ways to interpret it.
What do we mean by awakening? I have found a simple way of talking about it that seems relatively accurate. What we are, which is what any experience happens within and as, wakes up to itself. We can label this consciousness, or love, or Big Mind, or the divine, or many other things, but each of these labels makes it seem that we have pinned it down more than words really are able to. What we are wakes up out of identifications with anything created by words, with any identity.
Thoughts – mental images and words – describe what happens within content of experience. And identities are created by thoughts so also happen within content of experience. They cannot easily point to anything outside of the world of experience. They cannot very easily point to what we are, what awakens to itself.
Small interpretation. There is a small interpretation of this, and we can also call this the psychological interpretations. I assume this is the interpretation that some within psychology or academia use or will use in the future. We can assume a world much like most people perceive it. There are separate beings. We have a physical world. And the awakening happens because we are, in our own immediate experience and whether we notice it or not, consciousness.
Since we are consciousness, or that’s where the identification “lands” in an awakening, everything appears as consciousness. All of content of experience – all our sense fields including thoughts – happens within and as consciousness. So, to us, the whole world appears as consciousness. It’s a projection.
Awakening is real, and happens much as it’s described by mystics of all and no traditions. And yet, the world as the mainstream society and academia assumes it is, is just like that. Separate physical beings exist within a physical world, and that’s it. This interpretation makes awakening more palatable to the mainstream society and academia. And the essence of awakening is still as described by mystics from all times and around the world.
Of course, any thought of the world existing as the mainstream sees it happens within and as what we are. So we just pretend that’s how it is. It’s a strategic choice. A guess. An assumption that makes sense because it makes awakening more understandable to more people.
Big interpretation. There is also a big interpretation of awakening, and this is the one often found in spiritual traditions. Again, the essence of the awakening is the same as described above. But here, we assume it’s all about the divine. All of existence is the divine, and it wakes up to itself locally and sees through the thoughts of being separate, being a separate being, the world inherently being physical and so on.
In an awakening, the world appears as consciousness and love taking all the forms we see in the world, and that’s exactly how it is. It is all consciousness and love, and we can call it Spirit, Brahman, the divine, or whatever else the different spiritual traditions call it.
Which one to choose? Which interpretation do we choose? It depends on our situation, background, and inclination. If we want to approach the mainstream world, or work in academia, the small interpretation may make more sense. If we are more free agents or come from a spiritual tradition, the big interpretation may make more sense.
And there are also some hints that can help us choose. With an awakening, there is often a whole range of side-effects. We may see auras and energies. We may pick up information at a distance. We may experience a great deal of hard-to-dismiss synchronicities. We may sense what will or may happen in the future. All of this, in my view, points to and fits better with the big interpretation of awakening or reality. All happens within and as the divine. Within and as the One. Within and as the nothingness allowing it all.
From a conventional view, there is this human being and consciousness is somehow connected with it.
And logically, since it’s the consciousness experiencing we must experience ourselves as this consciousness. Whether we notice or not, we are consciousness.
The next logical step is that we can notice ourselves as this consciousness, and any and all content of experience as happening within and as this consciousness. And that’s awakening.
It’s really super simple. Almost banal. It certainly doesn’t have to be very esoteric. And yet, I realize it can seem a bit mysterious since that’s often how it has been presented in the past, and if we don’t have a direct experience or taste of it ourselves it can seem a bit abstract.
But in reality, it’s very simple. It’s already our experience, whether we notice it or not. And there are simple ways for us to have an immediate taste of it.
The essence of what the mystics and spiritual traditions have talked about is also true. It takes time to clarify this and make it our new conscious home. It takes time to get all the different parts of ourselves on board with it. It takes time to learn to live from it more consistently and in more and more situations in life.
And any and all of the different practices from different spiritual traditions can help us with this, whether it’s natural rest, training a more stable focus, prayer, heart-centered practices, inquiry, body-centered practices, a life of service, and so on.
This is the psychological perspective on awakening. We can still imagine there is a physical body and world, and that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we notice that all of it – all of our current experience of this human self, others, and the world – happens within and as what we are. It happens within and as what we may call consciousness. In our immediate experience, all is one since all happens within and as what we are.
The difference with the spiritual perspective is that here, we go a step further. We acknowledge all of this, but we may say that the world really is consciousness, and we may call it the divine, or God, or Spirit, or Brahman, or Big Mind.
And if you are like me, then you’ll find both of those perspectives valid and useful. Which one we use just depends on what seems most helpful for ourselves or others in the situation.
This is something I have been curious about since the initial spiritual awakening: an awakening can be interpreted in a psychological or a spiritual way, and most of the data fit either explanation. Which one we chose depends on our inclination, which one seems most helpful to ourselves, and perhaps which one seems more helpful for the reciver if we point to it for someone else’s benefit.
In short, an awakening is typically experienced as a realization that all is awakeness or consciousness. Any apparently separate beings are expressions of this awakeness. They are local and temporary expressions of awakeness or consciousness, as is everything else including what appears as the physical world.
This can be interpreted in a psychological way. This awakeness or consciousness is connected to this human being, and since we are this awakeness we can awaken to ourselves as this awakeness. We – as observer, experiencer, doer, human self – and the world as it appears to us happens within and as this awakeness. This is an explanation that actually would fit within conventional psychology, although not that many talks about it this way. (Yet… I imagine more will in the future.)
This allows us to operate with our immediate experience on the one hand, where everything happens within and as awakeness, and the conventional world on the other hand, that exists and functions as before. Of course, in our immediate experience all of this, including this framework or map, happens within and as awakeness, as everything else does.
It can also be interpreted in a conventional spiritual way. The whole world is the divine, and it temporarily and locally takes itself to be a separate being, and then awakens to itself as awakeness and everything happening within and as this awakeness.
Both the psychological and spiritual interpretations fit most of the data. In the first case, we – naturally – project the awakeness onto the whole world. In the second, everything – the whole world – is this awakeness and awakens to itself as all of it.
So which one do we chose? It depends on our culture, background, and inclination. And it also depends on what is most helpful to ourselves and others. If we talk about this in a conventional psychology setting, we may choose the psychological approach. If we talk about it in a spiritual context, the spiritual interpretation makes more sense.
In either case, it’s good to be aware of these two ways of interpreting awakening, hold both lightly, and see that we can choose to use one or the other depending on what seems most helpful in the setting we are in.
I said that most data fits either interpretation, which means some data fits one better than the other. To me, what’s revealed through parapsychological research – ESP, near-death experiences, reincarnation cases and so on – fits the spiritual interpretation better. As does my own personal experiences of ESP, seeing energies and auras, distance healing, and more.
I also said, “This awakeness or consciousness is connected to this human being”. I use the word “connected” intentionally since it leaves room for both a materialistic interpretation (the mind arises from the brain) and the reverse (the mind and consciousness as primary and using the brain as radio waves uses a radio).
Why is most mainstream psychology is not yet on board with the psychological interpretation? Partly because they are not so interested in awakening, and may assume it’s just a fanciful idea and not something pragmatic and close at hand. Partly because they may not realize or have taken in that we, in our own experience, are awakeness or consciousness, and that all content of experience happens within and as this awakeness. It can’t be any other way. When this awakeness wakes up to itself, and to all its experiences as happening within and as itself, that’s what we call awakening. It’s close at hand and not very mystical or fanciful.
I regularly notice the upside of being a bit grumpy.
It helps me get things done. It helps me overcome inertia so I can do tasks I, on other days, may put off due to some resistance.
This is an example of helpful daily-life strategies. I notice I am a bit grumpy, and I intentionally use that grumpiness and the energy behind it to get things done I have earlier put off.
In the longer run, it’s also good to explore what’s behind the resistance and resolve it. It may be (unexplored) fear and discomfort, and behind that stressful beliefs and identifications, and behind that early life experiences creating wounds, stressful beliefs, and perhaps (mostly low grade) trauma.
Going back to the initial strategy, there is now some research on grumpiness and pushing through resistance. It’s an example of research where – I assume – the researcher had a hunch, followed up on it through research, and had it confirmed. The hunch may have been from noticing something in their own life, or being told about it, or reading about it in fiction literature. And, of course, the research may later be interpreted in different ways, or later research may find something else. That’s always a possibility.
It’s also an example of research that may seem a bit obvious. Since psychology as a scientific discipline is still in its infancy, a lot of the research will seem a bit obvious. It needs to be to create a foundation to build on. And, sometimes, they do find things that initially may seem counterintuitive.
Yes, we can definitely say they are…. if we see them as reflecting states and process of the mind.
Hell reflects a hellish state of mind. The mind experiences something and tells itself it’s hell. It may be caught in beliefs about a situation, state, or emotion. And it gets caught in blind reactivity to it which is experienced as hellish and may look like getting caught in anger, despair, grief, vengefulness, justification, self-pity, and much more.
Heaven can reflect two different things. One is similar to hell. The mind experiences a pleasant state and tells itself it’s good, it’s so good it’s heaven. It’s heavenly. Another is when the mind is able to notice and allow what’s here, whatever it is. It’s a certain equanimity or contentment, independent of the particular content of experience.
Purgatory is any time an unloved or unquestioned part of ourselves is met in a way that allows for healing. It can happen through noticing and allowing it as is. Or, for instance, inquiring into it. It may be uncomfortable. It can feel like torment. It can feel overwhelming. And yet, because of how it’s met – with some noticing, allowing, respect, and patience – it’s ultimately healing. It’s purifying and can bring us to heaven.
So if someone asks me if I believe in heaven, hell, or purgatory, I’ll say yes. But it’s a heaven, hell, and purgatory that’s right here and we can explore for ourselves right now. We don’t need to wait until we die.
Talk therapy can be helpful in some situations, depending on the client, issue, therapist, and timing. In the best case, it can give us some sense of being seen and understood. That what we experience is normal. And it can give us some helpful insights and pointers.
For me, I generally find other approaches far more helpful.
In my case, it’s the ones I tend to write about here: Ho’oponopno to change my relationship to myself, others, a situation, or the world. Tonglen for the same. Inquiry for releasing beliefs (The Work) or charges out of an issue (Living Inquiries). Therapeutic trembling to release tension and trauma out of the body, and even out of specific issues (TRE). Vortex Healing for a current situation, emotional issues or identifications, and even for physical issues. All supported by training a more stable attention (samatha), and also noticing and allowing what’s here (Natural Rest, Shikantaza).
And for me, all of that supported by nature. A relatively healthy diet. Some physical activity. Nurturing of nurturing relationships and activities. And whatever else seems helpful.
When awakening happens here, it tends to be projected out.
We see it everywhere. The whole universe seems awake. We see it in other beings, and that it just needs to be more consciously noticed there for a more full awakening to take place.
Projections typically happen in two ways. One is when we legitimately recognize what’s here also out there. In ordinary human interactions, it’s called empathy or understanding. I sometimes get angry, so I recognize when others get angry. The other is when I put my own things on others. I am angry at someone, so I imagine the look she gave me means she is angry at me even if that may not be the case at all.
Which one is it in the case of awakening? It could be either one, although there are hints here and there suggesting the first one – at least in its basic version where the universe is perceived as awakeness and consciousness. Some of these hints are: Synchronicities (in my life, they happen in clusters, in some periods they happen at a ridiculous rate and other times less so). Download of information after an awakening. Seeing auras (which can be checked and confirmed or not with others who also see them, as I did after the awakening). Sensing at a distance (can also be checked with others and reality).
So, yes, we perceive the universe as awakeness and consciousness, and awake to itself. That’s because this awakeness is recognized here. And some clues suggest it may be an accurate perception.
Another version of this, which seems more typical for our modern interconnected age, is a perception that larger parts of humanity are about to wake up or is waking up. This too is a projection, but is it also accurate? I am not so sure about that. It’s easy to get that impression through internet where we can find a good deal of people where awakening is or have taken place. The same is the case if we live on, for instance, the US west coast where the culture (a large subculture) tends to support awakening. Also, more people may be waking up because information and support for inviting in awakening are more readily available. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually taken place.
Note: When we say that existence or the universe is awakeness or consciousness, or even that it’s awake to itself, that doesn’t mean this is consciously recognized in all beings. In most beings, it’s not consciously recognized. And that’s part of lila, the play of the divine. We could say that Spirit has gone to great lenghts to make it so small parts of itself is in the darkness in this sense.
When we explore identities, it’s helpful to explore both ends of the polarity.
For instance, if we have chronic and bothersome issues in our lives, we may also have a victim identity connected with it. It’s helpful to explore this identity and perhaps find healing for it. At the same time, we have a victimizer part in us. We couldn’t have a victim part without the victimizer part. They depend on each other to exist, and they hold each other in place. If we only address the victim part, we only do half (or less) of the work and the release will be partial.
An example from my own life is the victim identity connected with the chronic fatigue (CFS). Yes, there is a victim identity and it’s helpful to inquire into it and invite healing and release for it (through inquiry, TRE, Vortex Healing etc.). But that’s less than half the picture. The rest is the internal victimizer that creates and holds the victim-identity in place. This one may be more difficult to notice since we tend to see it mostly “out there” in life, circumstances, or others. But it’s equally, or really, in here, in me. And that’s where I need to explore it if I wish to find more freedom around the whole victim-victimizer dynamic.
The freedom and relief that comes from this work makes it worth it in itself. And, who knows, it may even impact my physical health. The release may support my body in healing itself better. So it’s definitely worth the time and investment required to find some healing around this and many other identity-sets.
Note: When I have worked on my own internal victimizer using Vortex Healing, I have found it helpful to approach it from slightly different angles. For instance, intending to work on the victimizer, the bully, the self-cruelty, and more, one at a time.
Also, when I say that working on just one of the pair of parts or subpersonalities, it’s because there is the other half, and there is also the awareness and exploration of the dynamic within the pair. So if we work on just one of a pair, it’s less than half of what we need to explore to find a fuller release.
I was at a social gathering yesterday where the topic of burnout came up, and a therapist talked about the importance of mindfulness and staying focused and so on.
I understand it’s tempting to look to individual changes for solutions. It’s part of our culture: we tend to see individuals as autonomous units rather than as seamless parts of a larger whole. We are trained to look to changes in the individual for solutions. And individual changes can sometimes seem more controllable than the situation.
Although in my experience, if I want to change a behavior or avoid something like burnout, it’s often more effective to change the situation. We exist within social and physical settings, and these significantly influence how we are, perhaps more than we often are aware of.
It’s not an either-or situation, but, if possible, changing the environment is a good start.
Struggling with procrastination? Get a work-buddy that you can work side-by-side with and who can hold you accountable. Or work at a cafe. Or hire a personal assistant if that’s something that works for the task. Try out different approaches and find the one(s) that work for you.
Over-eating unhealthy foods? Remove processed foods and sugars from the house. Shop from a shopping list and don’t add more to it when you are in the store. Make delicious low-on-the-food-chain meals ahead of time so they are readily available. Have plenty of tasty fruits, vegetables, and nuts on hand. Make sure you feel satisfied and nourished before you leave the house so you are less tempted to have fast food. And so on.
Want to prevent burnout? The solutions here depend on the work and personal situations. For instance, my doctor in Norway cut his patient list in half last year so he could have more time with each patient, enjoy his work more, and prevent burnout. My doctor in Oregon switched from working for a hospital to private practice, and similarly intentionally have a small patient list. At a personal level, it can help to limit activities, pay for assistance with practical things, and so on. And at a larger level, it has to do with business, political, and social norms, expectations, values, and policies. (Perhaps not so easy for us as individuals to change, but good to be aware of and perhaps be a small part of the solution for.)
And in some areas, we already know and make use of the importance of the environment. For instance, want to learn something? Join a training program or school for just that. Want awakening? Traditionally, we would become a nun or monk, and now we may join the regular practice program of a local spiritual community or do retreats or workshops. I don’t always agree with the way this is done, but these are areas where we traditionally use the change-the-situation-first approach.
With a client (or myself as a client), I tend to focus first on changing the situation, especially the low-hanging fruits, the things it’s relatively easy to change that has the most impact. And then on what in us prevents behavior change, for instance, what are the emotional issues? (And address those through inquiry, TRE, Vortex Healing, or something else.)
Note: I know that the therapist probably knows this too, and most likely includes this in his sessions with clients. I was just struck by how he immediately went to individual-focused solutions.
It depends on the purpose. But a good starting point may be to include these facets.
The type of experience. Sad, happy, angry, content, elated etc.
The strength of the experience. Is it strong or weak? Overwhelming or barely noticeable?
The frequency of that particular experience. Daily. Every few days. Every hour. Every few years. Never. Once?
The level of engagement. How engaged are we with it? Do we engage and struggle with it and spin it into a number of other stories and emotions? Is it easy to see that it’s just passing and visiting, and allow it as is?
Type, strength, and frequency can be helpful to pinpoint emotional issues to find healing for. And the level of engagement shows us how wrapped up in it we tend to be. If it’s just something that’s passing, it doesn’t really bother or impact us much. But engagement with it may influence our experience and life quite a bit.
In everyday life, there may be faint sadness from reading a story in the news. It’s allowed, passing, and not engaged with. In a conventional depression, there may be frequent and strong sadness that’s strongly identified with. And in a healing or awakening process, there may be strong emotions and thoughts but they are allowed, welcomed, and not engaged with much. They are recognized as living their own life and passing.
Is awakening and mainstream psychology compatible?
I would say yes. At least if we understand awakening in a pragmatic way, use a simple language, and frame awakening so it makes sense from a psychological view. And if there is some generosity and willingness from the psychological world.
Here is an example of how we can talk about it:
(a) Our perception is always of all as consciousness. We don’t perceive objects, people, or the world. We perceive sensory input and imaginations mimicking sensory input, and all that happens within and as consciousness.
Apart from being logical, we can also explore it in immediate experience and find it for ourselves. If something appears real and solid, it’s because mind tells itself this experience is the real world. In reality, it’s a combination of sense experiences and imaginations of these sense experiences.
(b) So awakening is just a shift of our center of gravity, what we take ourselves to be, from content of experience to that which experience happens within and as. It’s a shift from ideas of being a human to the awakeness or consciousness it all happens within and as. Instead of taking ourselves to be content of experience, we find ourselves as context.
I say “just a shift” because it’s simple in theory. It’s easy to grasp as an idea. But the actual shift can take a good amount of work. We may have glimpses and short periods of experiencing this shift, but a more stable and thorough shift typically takes work (and, mostly, grace).
The idea that awakening and mainstream psychology are incompatible comes partly from weird and “mystical” ideas of awakening, and partly from psychology wanting to stay sober and down to earth. Of course, there is already a good deal of interest and research on mindfulness in psychology. And I suspect one of the next steps will be a genuine interest in, and research on, awakening. Using a simple, pragmatic, and sober language when we talk about awakening will support that step.
What may research on awakening look like? Here are some possibilities:
How people who claim a stable and clear awakening function in life? What are the typical characteristics? How do they perceive and operate? What are the brain and other physical characteristics?
The difference between the awakening itself and how it’s lived and embodied. How much of the person is on board or aligned with the awakening. How to support that embodiment.
What’s the process to awakening? What are the paths? What works for whom? What’s the most effective approaches for people in specific situations (personality, inclinations etc.)?
What are the pitfalls on the path? What can go wrong? When is it more likely to go wrong? When is it less likely? What can we do to prevent it? What can we do when something does go wrong? What are the approaches that work best for the different scenarios?
My guess is that we’ll see this type of academic focus and interest more and more in the coming decades.
Shared secrets of this kind is the norm for certain issues, and I assume one reason most people don’t speak about it because others don’t speak about it. Also, many don’t like to have their inconsistencies pointed out and in the open because it means they (or we) would have to do something about it.
I think there are a great number of shared secrets in our culture. We know but don’t speak about it because it would rock the boat. We know but, for whatever reason, don’t want to know so we don’t speak about it. Or we would know if we paid attention to it, but since we haven’t yet we don’t have anything to say about it.
If we know but don’t speak about it, it may be for several different reasons. Others don’t so we would go against norms and taboos. We may not want to hurt someone’s feelings. It would put the spotlight on us and make us vulnerable to uncomfortable attention. We may be expected to do something about it.
Here are a few examples of these types of shared secrets:
We accept certain ingroup behavior more readily than similar outgroup behavior.
We give reasons that are not the real reasons for our behavior. (To appear better to ourselves and others, to not hurt ourselves and others.)
We pretend we know when we don’t know. (And that we can’t know anything for sure.)
News in the media is not so much about news as entertainment. They sell a product. It’s not about shedding light on the really important issues in our society and culture. (There are some exceptions, such as The Guardian.)
We pretend it’s ethical to imprison other beings, use them as slaves, eat them etc. We justify doing medical research on them bc they are similar to us while justifying enslaving and eating them because they are different from us.
We pretend it’s ethical or OK (or wise) to not take the interests of future generations, nonhuman beings, ecosystems etc. into consideration in our policies and decisions
Some accept a religion just because they are born into it. Not because it makes more sense than anything else. They do it for social reasons.
Some go into a religion for emotional comfort.
And things I noticed later….
International and national policies are often aimed at lining the pockets of the wealthy.
We pretend that an economic system and ideology (in our time, neoliberalism) aimed at benefiting the wealthy is in the interest of everyone.
None of these are necessarily bad or wrong, but it’s better to be open about it. To admit to ourselves and others what we already know and see the inconsistencies in it. That’s when change can happen.
Is it true we pretend? Yes and no. In many cases, we may know but not know that we know. We need to be reminded or have it pointed out, sometimes by life itself. And I am also very aware that these reflect my own experience of the world and may seem different to others. Read More
It’s a complex question and, as usual, it depends. Here are a few angles.
In general, what’s common and shared in a culture is not seen as unusual or a problem. (Although people from another background and culture may well see it differently.) Common religious beliefs and behaviors won’t be seen as delusional, even by people who disagree or have another view. And since most human cultures accept religions, we tend to give religions and religious people more leeway than we do in other cases.
If religious views or behaviors seem too much out of the ordinary we are more likely to wonder what’s going on. The views may be stronger than usual. Their views or behavior may be out of the ordinary. Their identity may be seen as unusual. And that may be considered a disorder or delusional.
Mystical experience is a subset of what I just mentioned. Some religious traditions and cultures accept mystical experiences (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism), and some see it as more unusual (Protestant Christianity). In the latter, mystical experiences may be viewed with more suspicion although it depends on how the person interpret their own experiences.
In general, from a mainstream psychological view, it depends on how the person views their own beliefs and experiences. If they have a reasonably rational and mature relationship to it, and their interpretations are not too much out of the ordinary, they are likely to be seen as sane. If they seem to have unusually strong beliefs, or very unusual interpretations, they are more likely to be seen as delusional.
I understand this approach. As social and group creatures, we absorb the views and norms of our culture. And whatever is ordinary is also normal and generally seen as sane. And yet, it’s possible to take a more dispassionate view. We can take a step back and imagine we see it from the outside.
From a more dispassionate view, I would say religious beliefs are delusional. If we adopt views and beliefs (a) unsupported by our own experience and solid data, (b) just because someone else holds them, that is – in a strict sense – delusional. It may be understandable and ordinary but also delusional. It makes about as much sense as believing in Santa Claus.
So why don’t psychologists see religious beliefs as delusional? There are many reasons. Mainly, the beliefs are understandable and ordinary and they want to give people some leeway. Also, they don’t want to antagonize large groups of people. And if religious beliefs are seen as delusional, then any belief will have to be seen as delusional.
And, of course, that’s actually true. When we hold our own imagination – which our thoughts are – as representing reality in any final or absolute sense, then we are delusional. Any belief is, in a strict sense, delusional. That’s why it’s also stressful. It’s out of alignment with reality.
Fortunately, there is a way out. And that way may include many forms of explorations including various forms of meditation, heart-centered practices, body-inclusive practices, and inquiry.
Perhaps in the future or in some society somewhere else in the universe, the norm is to take thoughts for what they are. As imagination only helpful in a practical sense to help us orient and navigate in the world. And not as a pointer to any final or absolute truth or reality. In such a society, religious belief – as any other belief – may be seen as delusional. Understandable but delusional.
Just to make it clear: I am talking about religious belief here. Not necessarily spirituality. Spirituality – as anything else – can and does get mixed in with beliefs. But it can also be a more open and pragmatic exploration. It can be a reporting on direct experiences, in an as honest way as possible. It can be a practical exploration through using pointers and practices to see what we find. It can be an exploration of reality, just as (other forms of) science. And that can be done outside of or (sometimes) within a religious context.
Many psychological measures and questionnaires are well designed and thought out. But some are not. Their questions can be interpreted in different ways which leaves the answers open for misinterpretation. Or they don’t measure everything needed to give a good picture of the situation.
For instance, here are my answers to two different measures of depression. A short one (MASDR) where the questions are reasonably well phrased. And another (CES-D) where they ask about the frequency of specific types of experience, but not the intensity. This provides insufficient data for any useful interpretation, and – again – leaves the answers open to misinterpretation.
Finding clarity often has to do with differentiation. And here is a very basic one.
There is a difference between thoughts, bodily sensations, and identifications.
Thoughts are mental imitations of the senses – whether they are images, sounds, taste, smell, movement, sensations, or something else. When we talk about thoughts, we usually mean images and words, and words are typically a combination of mental images (of the words) and sounds.
Sensations are bodily sensations. When the mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, the sensations tend to lend a sense of charge (reality, substance, solidity) to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations.
When there is identifications with a thought, it seems true. The mind identifies with the viewpoint of the thought. Thoughts that are not identified with pass through and are recognized as just thoughts. They are seen as questions about the world. Temporary guides for orientation and action in the world, at most. It’s clear that they don’t reflect any final or absolute truth. Thoughts that are identified with tend to seem true and real. And the mechanism for identification with thoughts is for the mind to associate sensations with thoughts, as described above.
When it comes to tools for exploring these, they each seem to work on certain aspects of this thought, charge, and identification dynamic. They each use a slightly different angle to invite a release of the charge out of the thoughts, and soften the identification with these.
For instance, Living Inquiries tend to release the association between thoughts and sensations. Thoughts are then more easily recognized as thoughts, and the previous associated sensations may still be there but now with less or no particular meaning. The Work helps us recognize that previously believed thoughts are not inherently or absolutely true, and that other angles are as or more valid. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) tends to release the charge from the body which is associated with stressful thoughts and trauma, and the thoughts behind the stress and trauma tends to seem less charged and less true, and there may be less identification with them. Vortex Healing seems to work from both the bodily charge and consciousness side of this dynamic.
A footnote about mainstream psychology: I have for a long time noticed that mainstream psychologists sometimes don’t differentiate between these. For instance, many psychological questionnaires ask about thoughts but not how much charge they hold, or how identified the person is with these. And that’s one of many ways questionnaires can be interpreted in a misleading way.
It’s well known that certain psychedelics, like magic mushrooms and LSD, can be used to treat depression.
For some, it seems to work through giving the user a form of spiritual opening, a taste of oneness. And that, in turn, gives them a new context for life and everything, and a deeper sense of meaning and belonging. They see themselves and their relationship to the rest of life differently.
For me, this has happened spontaneously. And I do notice that depressions don’t seem to stick or take much hold. There can be a range of emotions, including despair and emotional pain, but depression doesn’t seem to make so much sense in the context of all as the divine. And that’s what I hear from others as well, including people going through a dark night of the soul. (Although I am sure there are exceptions.)
I have never used any psychedelics and don’t feel drawn to trying any. But I do know that if used appropriately, in the right setting and with the right guidance, it seems to help some people. I still wouldn’t recommend it if anyone asked since things can go a bit weird, and there are alternatives. There are alternatives for dealing with depression. And there are alternatives to having a taste of oneness. Read More
The term dark night, or dark night of the soul, can be used in a psychological or spiritual context.
In a psychological context, it’s often used about anything psychologically shattering – trauma, loss, burnout or similar.
In a spiritual context, a dark night of the soul it’s what typically comes after an initial opening or awakening, and a period of “illumination” (as Evelyn Underhill calls it). It can take the form of a loss of conscious connection with the divine, a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing, loss of health and other losses in life, and more. It’s a humbling and very human process, and the “darkness” comes largely from our reaction to it. Our minds don’t like it and perceive it as dark, even if it is the next natural step in our maturation and development.
They are quite similar. In both cases, we may have a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing with an invitation to find kindness, understanding, and healing for it. We come up against our beliefs and identifications with certain identities and are invited to examine them and allow the hold on them to soften. In both cases, it’s an opportunity for great healing, maturing, humanizing, and reorientation.
In the bigger picture, both can be seen as a spiritual process. An invitation for healing, maturing, and even awakening out of our old beliefs and identifications.
There is also a difference, and that’s the conscious context of the one going through it. In a spiritual dark night of the soul, there is already a knowing of all as Spirit – even what’s happening in this part of the process. And that makes a great deal of difference. That helps us go through it, even if it’s just a background knowing.
What helps us move through a dark night, whether the context is psychological or spiritual?
Here are some possibilities: Taking care of ourselves. Understanding people around us. Therapy – body-oriented, mind-oriented, or both. Nature. Food that’s nourishing. Time. A willingness to face what’s coming up and move through it. Inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries etc.). Heart-centered practices (Tonglen, Ho’oponopono, loving kindness etc.) Body-inclusive practices (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema etc.)
For me, support of someone who understands the process, finding helpful tools and approaches, and the willingness to face what’s here and move through it, have been especially helpful.
What tools and approaches have worked for me? The ones mentioned above, and more recently Vortex Healing.
Note: In a spiritual context, there are several dark nights of the soul. I simplified it here and just mentioned the dark night of the soul. The essence of having to face beliefs and identifications is the same for all of them, at least the ones I am aware of so far.
Note: In any dark night, and any life experience, our distress is created by how we relate to and perceive what’s happening. That’s why inquiry can be very helpful. There is an invitation there to find more clarity and consciously align more closely with reality.
The photo is one I took at the edge of Princetown on Dartmoor some years back.
I usually don’t write about mainstream psychology here since it’s covered well many other places. But the topic of burnout has been on my mind lately as I have helped with a thesis on the topic and it illustrates a more general point.
In the mindfulness world, mindfulness is sometimes promoted as an antidote to burnout. And that’s true enough. It can certainly help individuals to be more resilient and reduce the chances of burnout.
At the same time, mindfulness is an individual solution to a more systemic problem. In most cases of workplace burnout, the problems lies with the structures and the system. It has to do with how the business is organized and operated. It has to do with the owner and management.
And beyond that, it has to do with how we have organized ourselves collectively. It has to do with our current social and economic system, and especially the very obvious downsides to neoliberalism.
Beyond that again, it has to do with our most basic worldview. We currently have a worldview that separates humans from nature, values the material over the immaterial, the human over rest of life, and too often values profit over people.
As individuals we function in a larger social and ecological system, and that’s where most of the causes and solutions to burnout – and a range of other apparently individual problems – lie.
Healing and awakening is all about aligning with reality – at all levels of our being.
That’s a tall order. And it’s already what’s here.
We are a local part and expression of life. We are already reality so from this perspective, no alignment needs to happen. We can’t align with what we already are.
And yet, as human beings, we are typically out of alignment in many ways. There is room for alignment and this alignment is an ongoing process of exploration and inquiry, healing and maturing as human beings, and embodying our discoveries and realizations.
How did we get out of alignment? We got out of alignment by holding our thoughts as solid, real, and true. We aligned with our thoughts more than being receptive to life as it is. We came to identify and experiencing ourselves as a being separate from the rest of existence. (Consiousness identified in that way, and took itself to be a being within the content of itself.) And this process built on itself so we came to create wounds, trauma, dynamics leading to some physical illnesses, relationship problems, and a culture and society out of tune with the larger living world.
Nothing is wrong. It’s all life expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. And yet, it is uncomfortable so at some point, there is a motivation to coming back into alignment with life so we can find a sense of home, being in tune with reality, and being more at ease.
How do we get back into alignment? We do so by noticing what we are. That we already are (this local expression of) life and a whole that always is whole. We do so by healing and maturing as human beings. We do so by an ongoing process of clarifying and embodying.
That’s the short version.
And in more detail:
Already reality. We are, in a sense, already 100% aligned with reality. We are life, this local part of the Universe, all of us is already Spirit. We cannot help being 100% reality. We are more than aligned with reality, we are reality. We are this local thinking, feeling, experiencing part of reality. As what we are, we are already reality.
Room for realignment. And it’s a tall order. It’s an ongoing process. We’ll need to face a great deal that may be uncomfortable to us, mainly because we have habitually pushed it away and seen as scary. As who we are, this human being, there is a lot of room for realignment.
Out of alignment. How did we get out of alignment?
One answer is that we, as human beings, tend to believe our thoughts. We hold some of our thoughts as real and true representations of reality and perceive and live as if that’s the case. That inherently creates a sense of separation and of being a separate being, and temporarily veils what we already are. (Life experiencing itself through this local body and these local thoughts, feelings, and experiences.) This – combined with meeting difficult life situations – is also what creates contractions, wounds, and trauma, and the accumulated effects of different types of contractions.
Another answer is Lila, the play of the divine. It seems that Existence has an inherent drive to experience itself in always new ways. The universe is life expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. And one aspect of that is creating beings and energetic/consciousness veils that create a temporary and local experience of separation. Nothing went wrong. There are no lessons to be learned, no redemption to be earned. It’s just the temporary play of the divine.
Into alignment. So how do we get back into alignment?
We get back into alignment by noticing that we already are life and whole as we are. We already are a wholeness that’s always whole. We can understand that in different ways, and the easiest may be to notice that all happens within and as awakeness or consciousness. And that’s always whole and undivided.
We also get back into alignment through healing and maturing as human beings. And by consciously living from whatever realizations we have about life, what we are, and who we are (aka embodiment).
Both of these are ongoing explorations. As what we are, we keep noticing and clarifying. As who we are, we keep healing, maturing, and embodying. And it’s not at all a linear path.
A few additional notes:
Christianity. I thought I would say a few words about Christianity. In some cultures, the idea of aligning with reality for healing and awakening is natural and comes in from birth. I assume Buddhist cultures, Taoist cultures, and many native cultures are this way.
In other cultures, and specifically Christian and perhaps Abrahamic or theistic cultures in general, it’s different. Here, nature, life, and reality is viewed with some ambivalence and perhaps suspicion.
In Christinanity, there is the idea of original sin which makes us question our own nature, we are suspicious of our natural drives (sex, eating, resting etc.). We may also be trained to be suspicious of nature and life since it can lead us into temptation. In a Christian culture, or one that was Christian for a long time, it can seem odd or questionable to want to align with reality. If we and nature is more or less inherently sinful, why would we align with it?
Maybe it’s better to push it away as much as we can? Or maybe it’s better to transcend? We may try transcending, and find it works for a while, but reality is whole so we are inevitably brought back here and now with what’s already here.
In this case, it’s good to take small steps. Try it out and see what happens. We can explore this through inquiry where we question stressful thougths and find what’s more true for us. We can also explore it through body-centered practices such as Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises where we use the natural and inherent mechanisms of the body to find healing. Through these explorations, we may see that aligning with nature and reality is healing and can give us a sense of coming home. We gradually build trust.
Healing, awakening, & sustainability. As shines through what I wrote above, healing, awakening and sustainability are all about aligning with reality. That’s why the three – for me – are inseperable. The seeds of dis-ease, an unawakened experience, and a society out of tune with the larger living world, are all the same. And the basic remedy is the same as well – align with life and reality.
For healing, we can align through inquiry, TRE, Breema, yoga, meditation and more. For awakening, we can align through inquiry, meditation, prayer, and more (whatever helps us ripen). For sustainability, we can align with life through philosophical and economic frameworks that takes ecological realities into account (which none of the current mainstream ones do), and a generally worldview that does the same.
Psychotherapy. I intentionally left out psychotherapy from my (brief) list of ways we can find healing. That’s because psychotherapy can be healing or not depending on who’s doing it (the therapist) and the approach they are using. If the therapist’s view is inherently skeptical about life and reality, then any healing won’t go very deep. It may even be traumatizing. If their view and life is more deeply aligned with life and reality, and they have a deep trust in life, then the healing can go quite deep. Process Work is an excellent example of an approach that’s inherently trusting of and aligned with life.
Human behavior is often irrational. We tend to focus on what’s immediate, dramatic, and emotional. We are drawn to what’s shocking and unusual rather than long-term trends. We are more interested in this morning’s dramatic death than the thousands dying of hunger each day. We are more interested in what Trump tweeted at 5am than increasing social inequality.
The media knows that and plays into it by making news into entertainment and drama. That’s how they get viewers and readers. That’s how they maximize profit. They too act in their short-term interest.
And all of it is from evolution. For our ancestors, it was important to pay attention to anything that stood out and anything dramatic, and they rarely needed to pay attention to the big picture or slow trends. It’s how we, as a species, survived.
In a democracy, we need to get people to pay more attention to the serious and slower trends, and less on shorter term drama and entertainment. And we can do just that by taking evolution and how people really function into account, instead of wishful thinking about how people “should” function.
If we have sufficiently informed political and business leaders, we can set up structures so that what’s easy and attractive is also good in the long term and in the big picture.
And we can speak to people in general in ways that work with the mechanisms put into us by evolution: Tell compelling stories. Make it simple, immediate, and personal. Show how it aligns with the values and identities they already have. Make it genuinely attractive.
There are two more facets to this. Some of us seem wired to look more at the big picture and think about things in a more dispassionate way. That too makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. As a species and community, we generally need many who are drawn to the immediate and a few drawn to the bigger picture.
And there is another reason why many tend to avoid thinking about the big picture: they feel they are unable to do anything about it. So we can add one more element to how to work with how people already function: Show that their actions do make a real difference. And make that too immediate, personal, and emotional.
I went to an excellent talk with Samuel Bercholz and Pema Namdol Thaye at the Asian Art Museum earlier today. They are the author and artist of A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir. I can highly recommend the book. (Samuel Bercholz also happens to be the founder of the Shambala publishing company. I must have read hundreds of their books.)
A few things about hell. It’s created by our own mind, and more specifically by our beliefs and identifications. Beliefs and identifications are at odds with reality, and create unease and sometimes suffering. This hell is with us as long as we have these beliefs and identifications, whether in this human life or between incarnations. We create our own hell.
What’s the remedy? It’s partly to heal our very human trauma and wounds. And more to the point, to heal our relationship with our experience. To befriend our experience, independent of it’s content. To find kindness and even love for it. And to recognize our experience as awakeness and even love. And this goes for all of our experience, including other people, the world, ourselves, different parts of ourselves, and our own discomfort, pain, and suffering.
My own experience with hellish states. It’s a good reminder for myself. As I have written about before, I have gone through a difficult few years. Following a nondual opening that lasted a few months, I was plunged into chronic fatigue (CFS) and later PTSD. Adyashanti talks about how an awakening or opening can “take the lid” off anything suppressed or avoided in our mind, and that’s what happened to me. There was no chance of holding it back or pushing it away.
A huge amount of unprocessed material surfaced over the following months and years, and it led to PTSD and several months where I hardly slept and all I could do was walk in the woods in Ski, Norway. (While listening to the audio version of the dark night chapter of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill and Adyashanti talking about the dark night and other topics.) Fortunately, I had some guidance by someone who had gone through it himself and understood (Barry Snyder) and I also did The Work and found TRE, both of which helped me tremendously.
And still, a great part of this process was something I just had to ride out. Practices and healings helped in taking the edge off some of it, but the vast bulk of it just had to live its own life and was something I had to find a way to live with, even if it often felt indescribably unbearable and overwhelming.
As so many describe, it has gradually tapered off although I still feel I am in it to some extent. I am very grateful for having found Vortex Healing which has been and is a great support for me in the healing and continued awakening process.
Note: As I wrote the section above, I was aware that this is a good example of hellish states but not a good example of how we can work with it. The unprocessed material that surfaces is something I have worked with extensively and continue to work on healing and clearing – mainly through inquiry (Living Inquiries, The Work), TRE, resting with it, and – these days – Vortex Healing. As the intensity has gradually decreased, it’s easier for me to work on it.
I recently answered a set of questionnaires connected with a course using tools from different spiritual and psychological traditions.
One of the questions was (paraphrased): do you experience the world as unreal, as a dream?
Do you experience the world as unreal, as a dream?
In a psychological context, I would answer no since a “yes” could be taken as a symptom of schizophrenia. I don’t experience the world as unreal in that way.
In a spiritual context, or in the context of a spiritual emergence or emergency, the answer would be “yes”. The world is revealed as consciousness (Spirit, love), as insubstantial, as a dream. The world and dreams both happen as and within consciousness.
Although the questionnaire was presented as part of a course using spiritual tools, I did answer “no” since the questionnaire itself was clearly a standard psychological one.
I was recently interviewed by a friend who is in Robert Keegan’s Order of Consciousness certification program.
One of the questions he asked was is it who you are? That orientation to see what happens as a gift, is it who you are?
It’s almost impossible to answer such a question simply. It completely depends.
To others who have known me for a while, the answer is probably yes. I have had that orientation since my teens.
If I answered a questionnaire aimed at detecting that orientation, I may score quite high. In terms of that questionnaire, it’s who I am – at least at the time of answering the questions.
In the big picture, it’s obviously not who I am.
At a human level, it’s not really who I am. I wasn’t that way, at least not consciously, before my mid-teens. There are moments where it goes in the background and something else is stronger. It may change in the future.
And I am really that which experience happens within and as. I am that which this orientation comes and goes within.
So is it who I am? Yes and no. It depends. It’s complex. And I am sure my answer will change if you ask me in a month, or a year, or ten years.
A good summary of some simple ways to (a) align more with reality in order to (b) get things done – or find peace with not doing it.
There are just two elements to it:
Don’t trust your future self. If you are not doing it now, you are not likely to do it tomorrow, or the day after.
Be honest with yourself. Instead of saying I don’t have time or I’ll do it tomorrow, say what’s more true: It’s not a priority to me right now. It can feel harsh but it’s the reality. And the truth shall set us free. It will either motivate us to do it now, or find more peace with not doing it.
I am doing the Finder’s Course in a few weeks and filled out most of the psychological pre-measures today. It was a reminder of how imprecise many questionnaires are.
They make assumptions that may not be shared by the ones taking it, so the results are unreliable.
For instance, one asked me what percent of time I am happy, sad, and neutral. I initially came up with a number far higher than 100% and then had to bring it down to 100%. The reality is that most of the time, and even right now, there is a mix of happiness/contentment, sadness, and neutrality. I would perhaps say 40% happy, 50% content, 50% neutral, and 20% sad.
The questionnaire assume that they are mutually exclusive and asks what percentage of the time I experience one or the other. If I am honest, I would have to say I experience all three most of the time, perhaps 90-95% of the time. To me, it makes far more sense to ask what percentage of each I am experiencing right now.
Update Jan. 18, 2017
I decided to add a few more examples of how questionnaires appears to make assumptions not neccesarily shared by the person answering the questions. I realize this may be a bit pedantic…!
People should try to understand their dreams and be guided by or take warning from them.
I am answering “no” since I don’t think this applies to people in general. I definetely work with my own dreams – often using Jungian active imagination – but I wouldn’t prescribe it for people in general. They may not be interested or benefit from it.
If the question is really about how I see dreams then the question is misleading and my answer (“no”) will give a different impression than what’s true. Still, I can’t second guess the intention behind the questionnaire and answer “yes” since it’s not true for me.
Off and on since childhood, I have been fascinated by magic tricks and how they are done.
First, there is the enjoyment of being baffled. Then, of learning how it’s done. And with the best performances, the enjoyment of recognizing the skill with which it is done.
In addition to this, magic tricks tells us something about the mind.
Good magicians are experts on certain ways the mind works and they use this to entertain and fool us. And when the secrets behind the tricks are revealed, we also get some insights into how the mind works. (See, for instance, Teller’s Seven Ways to Fool the Brain.)
Mainly, the world of magic tricks shows us how our minds operates on expectations and assumptions about the world, and that these are not always accurate. Most of the time, they are accurate enough and very helpful to us, but sometimes these assumptions break down. Assumptions won’t always be accurate, and magicians take advantage of this and – if we allow it – reminds us the fallibility of our assumptions.
Some even think that magic tricks are “real” magic, and that too shows us something about the mind. It shows us how our hopes and fears can hijack a more rational and down-to-earth view, and what happens when we don’t do sufficient research and lack knowledge about a topic.
There has always been groups ahead of their times. I am obviously very biased, some of these seem pretty obvious, but here are some things I see as pointing forward in history.
A deeper respect for more of human diversity (ethnic, sexual etc.) and the unique gifts, insights and perspectives of each of these groups. This will be reflected more in media and storytelling. (Going far beyond what we see now.)
A deeper respect for all life. Including all life in the circles of “us”. A recognition that this deep respect for all life is essential for our own well being and survival. It’s good for us because it aligns with reality and what we already know.
A transformation in how we organize ourselves at all levels and areas of life. A deeper alignment with ecological realities in all areas including economy, production, architecture, engineering, transportation, education, energy use and more.
A deeper acknowledgment that we don’t know. A science that’s more integral, holistic, and inclusive. A science that has removed some of its current blinders.
A deeper sense of deep time, evolution, Big History, the Epic of Evolution, and what it means for all aspects of our lives.
A more integral and holistic approach to health. One that includes body, psyche, society, ecology, and spirituality.
A genuine and thorough scientific approach to what’s traditionally been the domain of spirituality.
A shift from policies that favor corporations and the few to policies that favor most people, ecological systems, and life.
Giving a voice and power to nonhuman species, ecosystems, and future generations. Giving a voice to the voiceless in politics and the legal system. Simply because it’s the right thing to do, and it ultimately benefits all of us.
A shift from religions to spirituality. Holding ideas and ideologies more lightly, recognizing and emphasizing the universal core of all religions, and focusing on the practical aspects of spirituality.
Regenerative design. Design of buildings, cities, regions etc. so that we support thriving ecological and social systems.
A shift from treating animals as a resource “owned” by humans to thinking, feeling, experiencing beings with value of their own. A shift from seeing ecosystems as a resource to living systems with value on their own. A shift to giving nonhuman species, ecosystems, and future nonhuman and human generations a real voice and say in our decision and policy making. (As best as we can.)
As someone said, the future will probably not be as bad as we fear and not as good as we hope. I think the areas above will continue to develop and gain momentum but I don’t expect all of these to become mainstream to the extent I imagine they can be. They will be strands in how we humans experience the world and among many other strands. I also know that the way we see these things now will continue to develop and that our terminology and ideas about many of these things will relatively quickly be seen as obsolete. I am also hesitant even writing this because it’s just about identical to what I said and wrote about in my teens, and that suggests that I haven’t matured or developed much since then! (Which in some ways is true.)
There are many more finely grained things that probably will happen, at least among some people. For instance, it’s pretty certain that psychology will finally catch up to more of what different spiritual traditions have known about, explored, and developed over centuries and even millennia. Different states of experience. Enlightenment in the sense of what we are – that which experience happens within and as – noticing itself. The effects of body centered/inclusive practices. The effects of inquiry, and what different forms of inquiry can tell us about how the mind works. The effects of some forms of prayer such as the heart prayer.
Any scenarios about the future reflects what’s here now. It reflects my own world as I experience it. It reflects my ideas about the past and present projected into the future.
There is an important difference between mainstream psychology and inquiry: Mainstream psychology leaves many underlying assumptions unloved and unquestioned, and inquiry leaves no stone unturned.
Of course, it depends on the practitioner. I know psychologists who addresses even the most basic underlying assumptions and identities, and I am sure there are people using inquiry who don’t.
I assume that as inquiry and Buddhist practices keeps influencing psychology, there will be a change in how mainstream psychology operates. They may soon recognize the importance of identifying and questioning our more basic assumptions and identities.
What are some of these basic assumptions and identities?
I am X. (My name. Gender. Nationality. Occupation etc.)
I am X. (Personality traits.)
I am X. (Thoughts. Emotions. Awareness. Love.)
I am X. (A body.)
X is as I perceive it. X is findable. (The world. People. Objects.)
X is as I perceive it. X is findable. (Thoughts. Emotions. Sensations. Awareness. Love.)
X is as I perceive it. X is findable. (Space. Time. Past. Future. Present.)
There is a findable threat. There is a findable compulsion.
And more. Whatever we can name, which we usually don’t question.
Why is it important to leave no stone unturned? To leave no assumption unloved and unquestioned, even the most basic ones? It’s because these too are stressful beliefs and identifications. These too are limiting. These too are out of alignment with reality. These basic and underlying assumptions are what most or all of the other (stressful) assumptions and identities rest on.
I keep coming across brain myths, which is surprising since a simple Google search is enough to dispel them. And yet, it’s perhaps not so surprising.
For instance, “we only use 10% of our brain”(or another small percentage), implying that our brain has capacities we are not using. This is silly even on the surface. Why would evolution produce a brain that has capacities we don’t use? Evolution would only select for capacities we – the majority of us, and most of the time – are using. It’s true that we use our brain very effectively, which means that certain parts only “light up” when they are actually needed and in use. The rest of the time, they rest, which is what makes most sense. So we do use all of our brain, but not at the same time. (If we did, it would be called a seizure…!)
The left/right brain myth is also prevalent, and equally much a myth.
So why are these ideas perpetuated? I suspect because they do work as metaphors. There is a grain of truth in them. A metaphorical truth even if it’s not a literal truth.
We do indeed have capacities that most of us are not making use of. It has nothing to do with not using more of our brain, and everything to do with either (a) not having developed these capacities further, or (b) being distracted or having beliefs so they are not revealed to us. We may not have developed our critical thinking, or music skills, or dance abilities. And our attention may be caught up in beliefs and identifications, so we don’t notice that any sense of being a separate me comes from identification with thought. We don’t notice what we really are, which is what this field of experience – as it is here and now – happens within and as. (AKA awareness, love.)
It’s also obvious that we have a more creative and holistic way of experiencing and relating to the world, and a more linear and analytic one. We wouldn’t get very far if we didn’t have both. It has very little to do with brain hemispheres, but we still have these aspects of how we view and relate to the world. It’s a metaphorical truth, not a literal one.
Content of thought, stories (i) – through talk therapy of various kinds.
Content of thought, stories (ii) – through subpersonalities and parts.
Relationships and groups – exploring ourselves in relationships and groups and through relationship and group dynamics.
Body connections – exploring the connections between body and mind, through movement, shaking and more.
Earth connections – exploring our connections to the Earth (worldviews, experiential).
The dynamics of thought itself – through cognitive therapy or inquiry (leaving no stone unturned, questioning even the most basic assumptions).
Love – finding love for what’s here…. emotions, thoughts, subpersonalities, emotional and physical pain, and more.
Awareness – recognizing the content of awareness, including thoughts, emotions and subpersonalities, as awareness itself.
Each of these has their place and role. I may be more interested in the inquiry and love approaches right now, since they are helpful for me in the phase I am now, and I may write about them more than the other approaches, but that doesn’t mean they are more important than any of the other approaches. And although most of us tend to focus on one or a few of these at a time, it doesn’t mean that our approach is linear. I explored awareness first, then content of thought, love, and Earth connections, then group dynamics, and then inquiry and body connections. Also, these approaches tend to be complementary and mutually supportive. One informs and supports another.
“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave.
They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again.
Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.”
~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.
A new study suggests that we were onto something. Natasha Odou and Jay Brinker at the Australian National University found that writing about a negative experience from a self-compassionate stance significantly improved mood by allowing people to process (rather than avoid) negative emotions. [….]
These findings contribute to the growing realization that self-compassion practices generate positive outcomes—more well-being in general, more life satisfaction, personal initiative and social connectedness—and protect us from negative experiences of rumination, self-criticism, shame, anxiety, and depression.
See previous posts on this topic. I have backdated this post so it will show up alongside the others.
September 29, 2017
How we approach it. As with anything else, how we approach the UFO topic makes a big difference. It’s the difference between seeking truth or emotional satisfaction. It’s the difference between being taken seriously or not. It’s the difference between creating a field that scientists will want to approach or not.
If we latch onto beliefs and take them as true even if we cannot really know, it will be obvious – to ourselves and others – what we are doing. We are acting out of reactivity and an emotional need. We allow emotional reactivity override rationality. Many do exactly that in this field, and that’s why it’s often viewed with suspicion or even ridicule by others. (When I say it’s obvious to ourselves, I mean that a part of us knows what’s going on, and we are still doing it. We are also aware of others doing the same but may chose to not say anything.)
If we approach it with honesty, groundedness, and sanity, it’s quite different. Then, it’s just an investigation into something mysterious. We are open about what we may find. We are more invested in finding and reporting on what’s really going on than supporting a particular view or theory. We hold off on drawing conclusions. We practice generating and exploring a wide range of possible solutions including the ones that would be disappointing to us. (We may even practice favoring the most boring solutions.)
In the first case, we are more interested in a short-lived emotional satisfaction than truth. And in the second case we are more interested in truth than in satisfying wishes, fears, or identities.
Of course, for most of us, there is a mix of the two in how we relate to most areas of life.
And it’s helpful to be honest with ourselves when we do one or the other. We can look for the signs.
Do I feel invested in a particular answer or interpretation? Do I feel or act defensive? Do I feel or act reactively? Are there particular interpretations I particularly want to dismiss? Do I feel an emotional charge around the topic? Do I feel a charge around wanting to back up my view and get others over on my side? Do I use word such as “I know….” even if I cannot know for certain? If so, I am most likely caught in emotional neediness and may favor satisfying that over a more rational approach.
The more rational approach also have some signs. Do I practice generating a wide range of possible solutions, including the ones I don’t personally like? Do I keep an open mind? Do I acknowledge that I don’t know? Do I acknowledge that any interpretation is an interpretation, and that there are other ones out there – including many none of us may be currently aware of – that would fit the data equally well or better?
I am aware of only a few in the UFO field that takes such a dispassionate view. Jaques Vallee is one, and Clas Svahn is another (although their approaches are quite different from each other). Most are somewhere further along the spectrum towards being emotionally invested in a particular answer, whether it’s pro- or -anti-alien. (Whatever they understand as alien, whether it’s beings from another part of the universe or something more “supernatural.)
I personally have an interest in the field for two reasons. One is that it helps me see the difference between rational and emotional approaches more easily, and I get to see and examine my own approach in that light. The other is that the different UFO phenomena likely have different types of solutions and each of them are quite interesting – whether it says something about human psychology and sociology, about unexplored natural phenomena (Hessdalen), or something else that falls outside of our current modern and scientific worldview.
Some reflections on UFOs and related phenomena.
See part one of this post for more. (I decided to split it since the first post became longer than expected.) This second part is started on May 18, 2016, although I back-dated it so it would show up next to the initial post.
Magic wand. If I could wave a magic wand, how would I like the UFO topic to be approached? Not so different from what most would like to see, I think. Taken seriously by scientists, media, and politicians. Approached in a sober way using scientific methods. Open minded. Open to a wide range of possible answers and findings, and actively practicing generating and exploring multiple possibilities. Being comfortable with knowing we don’t know. (Until we do know more.) Studying the phenomenon from multiple angles and within and across multiple disciplines.
As it is now, the topic is taboo in mainstream science, media, and politics in many countries, perhaps especially the US. That leaves a vacuum that’s filled by amateurs (which is OK since most professionals currently won’t touch it) and by people with a less than sober and scientific approach (which understandably tends to further scare off the mainstream).
It does seem odd that we (a) know something is out there we don’t understand (from a few seemingly good cases), and (b) the answers are possibly very important and may change our worldview dramatically. And at the same time, the field is shunned by most professionals. It’s a strange situation we find ourselves in.
Aliens that look like us. I was very interested in astronomy as a kid and also the possibility of alien life. I read a good deal of books on the topic (mostly by Carl Sagan) and watched sci-fi movies as I still like to do. Even early on, it didn’t make sense to me that aliens were depicted as very similar to us. Why would they be? Of course, in fiction it makes sense. As someone said, central casting is short on actual aliens so in older movies humans in costume had to do. We find it easier to relate to stories about humanoids not too different from us. And even alien infections, which requires them to be similar to us to be plausible, do make for good fiction stories (Andromeda Strain).
But outside of fiction, why would anyone think that aliens would be anything similar to us? It seems extremely improbable that they would be similar to us in real life. They developed in an environment that’s likely to be different from ours in significant ways. They developed among other creatures likely to be very different from the creates we co-developed with. The innumerable accidents of evolution, and their particular path of evolution, must have been quite different from ours. So why would they end up so similar? It really doesn’t make sense. And the possibility of being infected by their infections seems close to zero. Our biology would have to be extremely similar to that to be within the realm of the possible. (Even among closely related mammals, only some germs infect across species.)
Only a few answers make some sense to me. (a) The aliens visiting, if they exist, are created specifically to visit our planet and us. They are bio-engineered for that purpose. (b) There are so many different ones out there that some of them happen to look like us, and these are the only ones visiting us. (Seems very implausible.) (c) There is some galactic panspermia going on where the seeds of life are spread among planets in different solar systems. (Seems unlikely, and evolution is still likely to be very divergent.) Or (d) they are all created for us in some other way, which includes through human imagination.
To me, this is one of the big questions in ufology and one that’s not addressed nearly often or seriously enough. Among those who do address it is Richard Dolan who suggests the bio-engineering possibility, and Jaques Vallee who talks about it as possibly a display or performance created for us for an unknown reason. Of course, the easiest answer is that it’s all created by human imagination, but that doesn’t account for the stories that do seem to have some basis in reality.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been interested in UFOs off and on since my childhood. It’s part of my general curiosity about the world, and I like to take a mostly scientific approach to it. Here are some brief thoughts on the topic:
(a) There seems to be something going on that we cannot explain from our current mainstream worldview. Leslie Kean and others have documented several cases with multiple apparently reliable witnesses and multiple sources of data. It seems that some of these cannot very easily be explained away as something known, imaginations, hoaxes, or disinformation. (Although some of the apparently reliable cases very well may be.)
(b) Mainstream media and science tend to dismiss the topic without taking a closer look first. Especially in the US, and partly in Europe and perhaps other places too. This is a very unjournalistic and unscientific approach. Why does this happen?
(i) It may be due to an existing culture of dismissing and ridiculing this topic. Many journalists and scientists may buy into and accept this culture, without questioning it.
(ii) It may come from a fear of being associated with something that doesn’t fit into our current mainstream worldview. As we know, there is sometimes a cost to go outside of and question the mainstream views. It may lead to opposition and criticism, and possibly being seen or treated as an outcast. For scientists, it may reduce their funding opportunities.
That’s how it is, sometimes, even if we know the mainstream views are provisional. They will be replaced by other views. And any view is ultimately wrong. If there is one thing history – and common sense – tells us, it’s that our current worldview will be replaced with another, and will in the future be seen as limited and even misguided. We don’t know exactly how, but we know it will.
We also know that humanity – and our civilization and science – is still in its very early infancy. And what we don’t know is always and inevitably infinitely more than what we do know, and what we “know” is always and inevitably up for revision.
(iii) How was this culture of dismissing the topic created in the first place? Some say it was an intentional policy by the US government. Initially, in the 40s and partly the 50s, they – and the media – did take the topic seriously. Then, there was a shift towards dismissing and ridiculing it .This may have created a culture which has been continued and is partly self-perpetuating.
In any case, it’s often strange to see scientists taking the decidedly unscientific approach of dismissing the topic without first seriously looking into it.
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