Awakening and mainstream psychology

 

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.

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TRE for muscle pain

 

In the context of therapeutic trembling, the body releases tension and trauma whether we think it belongs to the mind or the body. The body doesn’t really differentiate between the two.

I was recently reminded of how valuable TRE can be for releasing physical trauma. I pulled some muscles in the lower back a few days ago, and have done TRE daily since.

When done gently and after the acute phase is over, therapeutic tremoring can heal and release the injury more quickly, and it feels very soothing.

It would be interesting to do a research project on using TRE for these types of injuries.

Note: Therapeutic trembling is the natural trembling mechanism in all mammals. In our modern western culture, we are often trained to think that this trembling is a sign of weakness or that we are out of control, or we don’t understand what it does, so we learn to suppress it. At first, we often need something more structured to allow it to operate again. And Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) is one way for us to find our way back to this natural trembling mechanism.

GGSC: How Self-Compassion Beats Rumination

 

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.

– from How Self-Compassion Beats Rumination, Greater Good Science Center

It’s good to see this entering mainstream science.

It’s what many ordinary people have observed over the millennia: the medicine we so often seek is our own kindness and love.

Meditation and brain changes

 

Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.
– From Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks, Massachusetts General Hospital

It seems that even brief daily practice over a few weeks can create measurable changes in the brain.

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The weirdest people

 

“If you’re a Westerner, your intuitions about human psychology are probably wrong or at least there’s good reason to believe they’re wrong,” Dr. Henrich says.

After analyzing reams of data from earlier studies, the UBC team found that WEIRD people reacted differently from others in experiment after experiment involving measures of fairness, anti-social punishment and co-operation, as well as visual illusions and questions of individualism and conformity.

– from Westerners vs. The World: We Are The WEIRD Ones.

This quote is from an article based on The Weirdest People in the World? (PDF) published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences earlier this year.

I haven’t read the paper yet, so but it looks interesting and it is an important topic. When we do behavioral research, we most often study WEIRD people – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. It is important to be aware of this, take it into consideration when we analyse the results, and make an effort to include other groups in our studies.

This is nothing new. It is mentioned in just about any research paper: we cannot easily generalize to other populations than the one we studied.

There are practical reasons for using WEIRD people. Most researchers are themselves WEIRD and they work in a WEIRD environment and culture, so WEIRD people are most easily accesible. And resources are limited, so in some cases, there is a choice between using WEIRD people or not do the study at all.

Finally, most behavioral and psychological research is done by and for WEIRD people. We can take just about any study published in psychological journals, ask who benefits from this research?, and find that WEIRD people benefit the most. It’s good to notice and be honest about this, not the least because it may help us question our priorities.

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Research: Meaningful conversations make people happier

 

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject….

But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people…..

Next, Dr. Mehl wants to see if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations.

“It’s not that easy, like taking a pill once a day,” Dr. Mehl said. “But this has always intrigued me. Can we make people happier by asking them, for the next five days, to have one extra substantive conversation every day?”

– NY Times blog, Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

It may be that happiness prompts us to deeper and more meaningful conversations. Or, as the researcher suggests, that deep conversations leads to happiness. They help us find meaning in our life, and connect with others in a more meaningful and intimate way.

And it may well be that this is another tool for happiness: A prescription of one more meaningful conversation in a day.

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Research on The Work

 

The Work shares much with cognitive therapy, and has also many similarities with forms of inquiry found in Buddhist and Advaita traditions. In some ways, The Work is a Buddhist flavored form of cognitive therapy, or a cognitive therapy flavored form of Buddhism.

There is a great deal of research on cognitive therapy, of course. And also on Buddhist forms of meditation. There is very little, or perhaps no, research on inquiry as found in Buddhism or Advaita.

And there is nearly or actually no research on The Work. A quick Google Scholar search only turned up a general overview.

Why do research on The Work? There are many reasons. It would make it interesting to more therapists. It would gain sufficient support so it can be included in interventions, including large scale interventions to increase health and well-being and prevent illness. It would give it a foothold in the academic world, opening up for further research into The Work and similar approaches.

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Support of torture among the faithful

 

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.
Source: CNN

This is a small study so not much can be said based on the data, but it would be interesting if other studies looked into it further.

I wonder – based on my own prejudices – if not self-righteousness is related to support of torture. The more certain we are that we are right and others are wrong, or even worse, that we are good and others are bad/evil, the easier it is to dehumanize them in our own mind and justify torture. (And ignoring the obvious: Torture gets people to say what they think you want to hear, whatever it may be.)

The question with these things is always: How does this relate to me? How do I find it in myself and my own life?

When do I think I am right and others are wrong? What happens then? What am I afraid of would happen if I didn’t see myself as right and them as wrong?

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Research

 

Of the many techniques I am aware of for untying knots, it seems that the Byron Katie inquiries may be among the ones easiest to study. The focus is specific, and the outcome equally specific (the belief in a particular thought falls away, reduced stress, and increased sense of clarity).

It would be interesting to look at…

  • Long and short terms outcomes
    • The longer term general effects of regularly doing inquiry
    • The short-term effects of working on a particular issue
  • In terms of…
    • Self-reported changes
      Standarized tests of stress, addictions, beliefs, empathy, contentment, and so on

    • How others rate the person’s change
    • Changed behavior
      Addictions, relationships

    • Changes in brain activity when attention is brought to a stressful issue, before and after inquiry
    • Energetic changes, for instance measured by pulse changes as in acupuncture (I sometimes notice a significant energetic shift while doing inquiry)
  • Using control groups, maybe…
    • A version of cognitive therapy (surface similarity to this form of inquiry)
    • Empathic conversation and listening
    • Something else?