Albert Ellis and the magic line


Albert Ellis, one of the early (western, mainstream) cognitive therapists, died last week.

In a Buddhist/Adveita/nondual perspective, he was right on in realizing that our “personal philosophy contains beliefs that lead to his [our] own emotional pain”.

It is also funny, and telling, how he drew a magic line for what to question. Anything that has to do with how our particular identity is made up and fleshed out is questioned, and rightly so. A lot of stress and suffering comes from these types of beliefs.

But the core beliefs, that of being a separate self, and taking ourselves to be this human self, were not questioned by him. These beliefs went unnoticed. They were taken as so obviously true that they were granted asylum from examination.

These too are personal, or rather cultural, beliefs that lead to our own emotional pain. In fact, they are at the core of our experience of stress, discomfort and suffering. Everything else, all the beliefs that has to do with our fleshed-out identity, are only flavors and enhancements of this one essential suffering.

Of course, all these secondary beliefs prop up the core belief in an I with an Other, so questioning the core beliefs directly does usually not have the immediate effect of all of them falling away. (Although it can, in some circumstances.) Usually, we have to question both types, over and over, for some time, unraveling one thread at a time in the tapestry of beliefs until the whole thing comes undone.

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