Epic tales, epic symbolism

 

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The Battle between Good and evil –by Robert Adelman found on Deviant Art

 

 

As a boy I was fascinated by the tales of Middle Earth as told by J.R.R. Tolkien. I also knew that if one fought bravely enough that good could eventually triumph over evil.

As I grew older I became aware of the Northern Norse mythology that Tolkien used as the foundational source material for his work. But unlike his stories I learned that the most striking feature of this mythology was that all was hopeless, that the apocalyptic battle at Rognarök was humanity’s doom, and that no matter how bravely the hero fought the monsters and giants would defeat humanity and the gods of Asgard.

But I also learned that for the gods and heroes and heroines of the North loss in battle gave meaning and mettle to the warrior who courageously stood their ground and fought on regardless of the fact that all was hopeless.

What’s this? I was dismayed that these epic battles would ultimately end with evil triumphing over good. How could this be? The purity of courage be damned I thought, it needed to be rewarded and besides winning and defeating was the goal of all good and evil confrontations or so I thought. Oh yes and by winning of course was meant that “good” would always prevail.

It wasn’t until years later that I achieved some insight into these wonderful tales from the North.

From the writings of Carl Jung I was introduced to the concept of the Conflict of Opposites and the effect of either ignoring or battling the shadow i.e. evil aspects of our personal or collective nature. In this context. either ignoring or actively suppressing the shadow one gives it power, diminishes their own power, and leads to their being overwhelmed by it.

I surmised that if Jung were right, then the hopelessness and defeat so often celebrated in the Northern myths becomes an allegorical warning to mankind regarding its relationship with the shadow aspects of its personality. Is it possible that when one resists or denies the shadow either in themselves or the society in which they live that its power over us becomes paramount in that our violent response only adds to the violence of the shadow and increases its power and makes impossible to overcome? Oh I won’t deny that some battles can be won but ultimately the shadow keeps returning ever more powerfully. Will we never defeat it and have a permanent peace?

We are both good and evil. So what does this say about a God in whose image we are created? If then God is also both, to resist this would seem futile and self-defeating.

I remember that in a long ago Judo class the teacher talked about not meeting force with force to overcome ones opponent but by using the opponent’s own energy to defeat them. To me now this simple strategy seems a  useful metaphor for dealing with the shadow forces of our nature. If we allow ourselves to become the shadow by denying it we will be defeated no matter how glorious or courageous our actions but if we learn to accept this darker aspect as part of ourselves and turn its energy toward good it can add to our own best intentions and we can prevail.

 

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What determines what reality is or is not?

 

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As I’ve so often said we each project so much of ourselves onto the world that we see that  reality becomes rather complicated. Because reality has no meaning other than what we as individuals assign to it or what we collectively assign to it we have an empty journal or a blank script or canvas if you will with which to work.

Essentially we get to stand before every moment of our lives and paint our world using whatever colors we like. We also have the ability to just be curators or patrons of the art that others create, or to paint pictures for others to enjoy, or to paint just for ourselves. Like an artist we can become so immersed in the process that we forget to step back from the canvas now and then to admire the work or to evaluate it in the context of an even greater picture.

The picture that we each create is the story of us, what’s inside of us, all our dreams, hopes and fears. Sometimes the pallet has many colors, sometimes only grays, blacks and muddy browns, but it is us who wield the brush through the pigmented oils given to each by virtue of our being here.

I have found that for me the ego-self flashes and flares, fumes and stews sometimes mixing so many colors that the balance skews or the mix becomes muddied. But when I can get this part of myself out of the way amazing creativity and clarity can show up. When the soul is hidden, oppressed, or damaged there is no art, just a confusing mud.

Now I’m not talking about chaos because even in what seems chaotic there’s a rhyme, an underlying beauty. I’m talking about the dull, soggy, sloppy mess we accept as life and that once in a while we escape from through some form of distraction. This isn’t the life of the creative soul but the confused state of the limited, and limiting, persona– the sleeping consciousness. And this part of us represents so little of what we are that it scarcely qualifies to be called an “I”,  “me”, “you” or an “us”.

There is so much hidden behind the walls erected by the fearful and arrogant ego that we’ve begun to think that this wasteland is all there is.

Not so!

We, that is you and I, are going on an expedition to find who we really are. But this expedition’s purpose is not to arrive at a predetermined destination, for where we are going nothing is predetermined and doesn’t exist in any one place. We are going to uncover that part of us that doesn’t exist in time or place. It is that part of us that will never die for it’s never been born– that which came before the physical us and will continue long after the physical ceases. It’s the still, quiet place in all of us, that knows the real us.

Lights in dreams

 

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The other day I heard someone say that when on the spiritual journey, or on the journey through life itself, “pack light”. This reminded me of an old aphorism, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly”.

Frequently in dreams we are visited by the image of light sometimes as a sunrise piercing the darkness of the night, or as a sunset bringing and end to the day, sometimes as a candle, a ball of light, a lantern, a flashing lightning strike, a distant glow or the light peering from beneath a locked door or through the window of a shadowed house. I’ve seen fires crackling and the veils of Northern Lights in dreams.

There have been lighthouses, light bulbs, lights that can’t be turned on as you huddle in fear of something shadowed or unseen, and lights that go out leaving one in the dark. There are cigarette lighters and sparks, and embers glowing on a hearth.

There are flashlights (aka torches) that highlight darkened corners of a room or some object. There are projectors and ‘magic lanterns’ that cast pictures on a screen and the swirling, undulating, pulsating lights of the psychedelic.

Some dreamers experience the sun peeking from behind darkened clouds or just the sun brightly shining on the land or through the window of a house.

Light comes in the form of shadows cast, mist-like, bright, or in the form of glowing people or animals or the twinkling of stars and in colors of green, blue, yellow, orange or purple. There are searchlights and spotlights, and strange auras.

And phrases such as “lighten up”, or “lighten the load” can show up as guiding ‘lights’ and wisdom symbols. There’s ‘divine light’ and the ‘light in his eyes’ or the light that goes out when some one has died. There’s the “angel of light”, the “light of my life”, the flame of a candle flickering out, the ‘light’ of the world, the ‘one true light’ and “rise and shine”, the start of something new.

What’s it all about?

Lights are beacons to follow, indicators of the divine– the spiritual, the soul and life itself. They can warn of dangers (immediate or while navigating life) such as with lighthouses. It can speak to the quality of intellect or leadership, knowledge and transformation. It can point to needs or solutions, give guidance and direction. It speaks to the aspects of our inner and outer self.

Lights can be about knowledge and knowing, awareness, consciousness and self-development. It can highlight beginnings and endings, life and death, turning toward reality or away from it. It can be about new ideas and the less developed parts of the unconscious mind. Light can focus on the primal or spiritual and either illuminate or go out and be in darkness. Failure to light can be about high anxiety and being paralyzed or trapped by something or someone. If the bulb burns out you might be feeling ineffective or are out of ideas.

It can be about growing clarity or it’s opposite, darkness and ignorance. Lightning can be about sudden awareness or revelation, truth or just a shocking event. A lighthouse beacon can be about the seeking of guidance or a flare can be a warning or a cry for help.

Fire can be about purification or destruction, the end to something or the ‘fire within’ us, a personality trait, or life itself. Lights can show us the way and spot answers to vexing problems. It can symbolize insight, or highlighting some aspect of the self. Fixated upon a single object in a room to the exclusion of that which remains in darkness can be about narrow thinking, or biased ideas and beliefs.

Flickering lights or lights going out can represent uncertainty, anxiety, struggle, loss of personal power or death itself.

People can “hide their light” by being too self-protective, stingy, or self-critical or be self-effacing versus arrogant or show their lighter side versus the serious. Lights at the end of tunnels or behind closed doors such hope lies ahead.

If lightning strikes it could represent pent-up and overwhelming emotions, loss of control or destructive elements destroying your life or peace of mind.

In short, light is a complex symbol in dreams and metaphor that requires one to ‘shed more light upon it’ when it shows up.

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To see more on the subject of lights in dreams you might want to go to the following link: https://thebookofdreamsblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/sparkles-lights-and-auras-oh-my/

A Buddha dream

 

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Some time ago for a men’s group I agreed to give an overview of Buddhism. Now, what I know about Buddhism you could fit in a shot glass and still have room left for the shot. But I didn’t let that stop me, primarily because I wanted to learn something and have long since discovered that it is through the teaching of something that I learn best. What I learned is that by letting go of all my notions about what is real I could quite possibly gain a sense of true happiness.

Self-trust is a theme here as is forgiveness and being responsible–to act as though you are responsible for all there is. Want a good job? Want a good relationship? Want peace in the world? Who’s responsible for that? “But I can’t be responsible for all that!” You might cry. No you can’t, if you define responsibility as a burden, or as blame, or if your image of yourself is too small to include it. If your view of the world is that there is you and then there is everything else, then you are most definitely outnumbered. But what if you held yourself as bigger than your image?

Now, I’m not talking about your ego-image, that’s always small and can only be inflated through and by itself, including only itself, excluding everything else. What I’m talking about is something much bigger than your personal identity–your personal consciousness. I’m talking about the awakening of something primordial, always becoming, life affirming, and inclusive–inclusive from the point-of-view that everything is already connected and reflecting everything else.

It has been said that the consciousness of a Kingdom can be seen in an individual. Truly powerful kingdoms affirm the individual who, in turn, affirms the collective. When I act as though I am you, my responsibility for your well-being shifts because it is my well being that is at stake.

Part of the process of becoming a fully actualized human being includes the rectification of the opposites that exist within us and that we project onto the outside world. As long as we continue to act as though we have no responsibility for the conflicts that are a result of the faux separations we have created in our psyches, then the peacefulness that grows from being connected will struggle to be realized. I say realized because the peace is there–it’s not as though we have to create it. It is, however, hidden beneath all our fears, unacceptance and rigid adherence to personal point-of-view–all things that separate us from each other.

Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) set out on a journey to eradicate suffering. What I think he discovered is the real cause of suffering, us, the ego us, the illusory separate us. He preached a way of reconnecting with what is real in order to reveal the rightness of this greater spirit. In this place of the here and now we can experience the happiness, the joy, that is Being.

A mythological journey

 

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A while back my wife and I had been traveling along the coast of and in the waters of the Adriatic, Ionian, and Aegean Seas, the places where Homer penned his stories of the ultimate heroes of the Archaic to Classical eras of ancient Greece and Rome.

While traveling along the Dalmatian Coast one cannot help but to step into the ancient worlds full of myth and fantasy. Myth is the secret opening to the psyche through which the universe pours its wonder and wisdom. Myths are the productions of the psyche.

This psyche of which I speak represents the totality of the human mind, both the conscious and the vast unconscious. In classical mythology it is the personification of the soul, or inner animating spirit and in science the psychological structure of a human being, the center of thought, motivation, and feeling. But in myth, Psyche was a beautiful girl loved by Cupid (Roman) or Eros (Greek) and made immortal by Jupiter (Roman), Zeus (Greek), the King of the gods.

Though myths come wearing many costumes, they represent the one true being. It is said by some researchers e.g. Joseph Campbell, that all of humankinds “religions, philosophies, arts…prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep” come from the “magic ring of myth” *.

Myths today are mostly thought to be quaint little fables that the ancients made up to explain their world and that disappeared once science took over. But in science the essence of humankind has been reduced to chemical and mechanical interactions and social conditioning and meaning is only in what can be observed and reproduced scientifically– life is only about procreation and survival whereas the ancients envisioned a much greater significance for humankind whose essence was of the universe and where meaning was to be found in every thing and act.

In today’s modern world there is an almost desperate search for meaning, i.e. something that says we are more than just our parts, our bodies, status, or our fashion statements.

We long to be the hero in our own myth, to slay dragons, earn acknowledgment and win the Golden Fleece, find the Holy Grail, be wooed by the White Knight or win the hand of the most beautiful princess of the land or be dubbed an immortal** by the god of gods.

To the ancients the myths that sustained them were a reality i.e. the gods lived amongst them and everyone accepted this. Today all we have is our unrecognized inner myth or pantheon of dreams.

 

“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may very well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid.”

 –Joseph Campbell

 

Campbell goes on to say, “dream is personalized myth, myth is depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problem and solutions shown are directly valid for all mankind.”

We can learn about ourselves through an understanding of not only the ancient myths but those that we have created for ourselves both in our waking and sleeping dreams– we are already the hero of our own myth and much of the story is shared by others– we don’t have to take this journey alone.

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*Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Meridian Books, 1956

**everlasting life; the hereafter; eternal life

A “Hidden Music” dream

 

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“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

 This is a quote oft attributable to Frederick Nietzsche that I ran across while searching for aphorisms. It stuck with me all week mainly because it seemed to be speaking directly to me.

Two other quotes that seemed to apply came to mind as well, though I don’t recall from where I first saw them and Google didn’t help at all. My apologies to those who first spoke them.

 

“People who don’t understand things tend to reject them.”

 And

 “Let your heart lead and your mind follow”.

(I can imagine the corollary to that might be “let your mind lead and heart will get lost in the dust”.)

 

Not all that long ago I had a dream that seemed to reinforce this notion of some inner voice, or song that few others can hear. The dream seemed to be an extension of the dream I had even earlier that I had labeled The Blue Fresco. This dream could also be interpreted as what I’m now calling a “Hidden Music” dream.

It’s only when I’m quiet, when I’ve stilled the incessant chatter of my ego-voice that I can hear the music. When ruled by pride, fear, desire, worry, anger, distrust, greed, or when I imagine myself better than others I cannot hear the music. When I judge others or myself, I cannot hear the music. When I surround myself with distractions (TV, Facebook, Twitter, video games) I cannot hear the music.

It is only when I seek the sound of silence that I can hear the music of the spirit. It is from this deep venue that my soul waits to be expressed by as Rumi said, “It’s most beautiful face”. To dwell in this place is to dance to the music that few will ever hear, not that they cannot but that they will not and herein lies the cause of our deafness, the “Will” of will not, the be-all and know-all of the human consciousness that hides the beauty of what we all are beneath its suffocating self-centeredness.

It is this self-centeredness of the will that has us search the world for some treasure when the treasure is in us all the time. It’s what Lao Tzu called the Tao, “the origin of all things” the heart of all our being, the essence of what we are. It’s what lies between each of our words and the thoughts that create them. It’s what is beyond our personal and collective motives.

When we become self-centered the music cannot be heard. As Lao Tzu said “the quest for outer acquisition closes the door on the Tao” and it is the needy self-centered ego-self that is always projecting outside itself its unreality because it knows that it is hollow and empty within. No matter how hard it tries, no matter how many self-help programs it takes it cannot fill the void of itself for here there is no music within the void. It is not in the personally created ego that we can find the music of our true self.

As with that dream of several years back (The Blue Fresco) one needs to leave the empty world behind it and follow the intuition of the child into the mountains beyond where the music lies. Therein lies the connection with the spirit, the real self.

A world out of balance

 

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The archetypal union of the masculine and feminine aspects of all humans.

In earlier blogs I have discussed the role of the archetypical symbols inherent in dreams. Carl Jung believed that an inherent dichotomy or dualist quality exists with human beings, if not all reality and that to lean too much one way or the other, that is to allow one aspect to dominate its opposite aspect, will create a destructive imbalance.

In short, Jung believed that what was needed in the world was balance between these dualist opposites. Because the world is dualistic, meaning for every A there’s a B, Masculine/feminine, up/down, conscious/unconscious, spirit/body, soul/ego, light/dark, or intuition/knowledge, or liberal/conservative. Existence of one suggests the existence of its opposite i.e. they generate each other and cannot exist alone.

One of Jung’s favorite oppositions was the masculine/feminine (most likely one of yours as well). He used two mythical figures to describe these traits, Eros for the feminine and Logos for the masculine. Eros represents the intuitive, feeling (including mood), relationship, caring and playfulness. Logos represents logic, progress, reason, knowledge, and order. The world has for sometime been overwhelmed by a masculine dominated ego that has looked upon the emotional feminine as representing chaos and therefore the need for controlling it.

However, within each man is a feminine aspect that allows him to express the characteristics of caring, inclusiveness, thoughtfulness, emotional attachment and intuition. The more “masculine” (controlled by his masculine traits) a man becomes, and the more he represses his Eros qualities, the more likely that he will become unbalanced and fall prey to a lack of objectivity, literally losing touch with the “reality” he holds so dear. Hurt easily turns to anger and resentment because he can no longer see the reality. Contentment and security weakens and the overly masculine male begins to control his external world in ever increasingly violent ways. He is also cut off from meaning and is then forced to look for it in very bizarre ways e.g. through over-control, domination, drinking, lying, drugs, fighting, hyper-sexuality, and/or indulging in risky behaviors.

Women who are cut off from their masculinity frequently connect with men who show enough masculinity to compensate for their loss and will put up with a lot of abuse so as to not lose this compensating link with what they lack. This lack also may reinforce a woman’s greater attachment to family and home and suppress the urge to go outside the home to get her needs met, thus imprisoning her.

On the collective (national, worldwide) level*, this imbalance seems to create an environment where men are dominant and women submissive. But both are unsatisfied in the arrangement. When unsatisfied (unbalanced), the male usually ups the masculine gradient for he knows little else and because, for him, the inner world either doesn’t exist, or is to be feared, so he tries to master his lack of satisfaction by controlling the outer world, through force and manipulation. The female does the same often through passive force and manipulation.

So we’re all running around in a world searching for satisfaction, i.e. happiness, in all the wrong places and desperately trying to gain it through manipulation of the world around us. This is what happens when you leave everything up to the ego by detaching yourself from the spirit/soul. This is what happens when you cut yourself off from your opposite aspects. This is what happens when you treat half of yourself unequally.

 

You can’t find happiness through domination and control, or their

         opposites: avoid-domination and avoid-control!

 

Happiness has the greatest success of being found through a personality that has discovered its opposite and has learned to integrate it into a whole and then project this wholeness into its relationships with others.

My book The Archipelago of Dreams: The Island of the Dream Healer is a story about the imbalance in mankind and how one man finds an entry into the mysterious world of the Dream. Forced to let go of his Being he enters the Otherworld of the Spirit where at the potential cost of his life he will be challenged to right the imbalance and set a new course for mankind.

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*I’ve also explored this social imbalance in a May 2017 blog entry Causes-of-world-unrest-thinking-that-only-your-point-of-view-is-the-right-one

Two poems felt while listening to a flute meditation

 

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Dream Journey

Sailing into the night beneath the big dipper’s spout

a dragon and a dove fly within each other’s wake

and I tack north till dawn comes starboard.

The Coming

Silver streaks across white cotton skies.

A hill’s edge turns black silhouette and the shadows become arbored spires reaching out to the rising light.

A cock crows, a crow calls to hidden brothers and then the quiet.

Not a leaf twitches.

All are holding their breath awaiting the coming of the light.

It will come, it always does, a holy thing giving of itself freely.

Not a thing out there but a glowing deep within every cell of our being.

With us at birth and at the closing of our days.

Neverland, the border land between sleep and wakefulness

 

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“Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning” was Peter Pan’s answer to Wendy when asked where Neverland was located. It was also Captain Kirks answer to helmsman Checkov when asked “Where to Captain?” in Star Trek VI. In both cases it referred to a mystical place between realities, an ‘unknown country’.

Neverland is also my name for that borderland called the daydream where we are neither in sleep or in wakefulness but certainly lost to both worlds. It is a place at the margins of reality a place that some call fantasy.

Now, a certain amount of fantasy is healthy to a balanced psyche. It can be healing to ones sense of self and help one to recuperate from the traumas of the everyday. This fantasy world often serves the artist, poet, writer, musician, lyricist, inventor, and scientist or just about everyone else. It is where the energy of creativity is born. I suggest that it is the semi-lucid place where the conscious meets the unconscious to where the soul speaks to us most clearly and where its power is felt most keenly.

But the traveler who hikes to realities edge must be careful where he or she steps and to visit too long or too often can lead to entrapment and skew the balance of the psyche i.e. it can separate one permanently from the upper kingdom and thus alienate them forever from friends and family. This was the very real threat that Robert experienced in the Archipelago of Dreams.  It is in our daydreams that all sorts of realities can be explored. In this place the soul is freed from the restrictions of the body and its limits with time, place and idea. Here there is a clarity of mind that can begin to form and inform. No longer restricted by time the future can come into focus. Traveling into the past often affects what’s happening in the present. One typically forgets what they are doing when they travel deeper into Neverland.

In the upper realms when one is tasking the mind narrows its engagement to deal only with the analytic task at hand and compassion suffers terribly. But in the Neverland of the daydream both the analytic and empathetic modes function and cycle through different modes and leading perhaps to a broader understanding. In the daydreaming mind various associations not seen when awake can bring forth understandings that the awake mind has grappled with without success. This also happens during dreaming but it tends to be more random.

Basically we are a daydreaming species. A recent Harvard study suggested that we humans tend to daydream up to 47% of the time we’re awake. But this is not useless idle time because studies have shown that unusual associations and pairings, counterfactuals if you ill, take place during a visit to Neverland. From our unrestricted depths well up all kinds of strange new thoughts that often turn out to be quite useful where new possibilities surfaced beyond what people are already exposed to in their waking lives (according to Baird and Schooler, Psychological Science, 2012). It is suggest here that more creative solutions result when the mind is allowed to wander into Neverland i.e. in general the better one is at wandering through the borderlands of consciousness, the more creative they tend to be.

In closing I share this excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe’s Marginalia (Part V,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846):

“There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word; but the idea commonly attached to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in question. They seem to me rather psychal than intellectual.

 They arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquility–when the bodily and mental health are in perfection– and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these “fancies” only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so. I have satisfied myself that this condition exists but for an inappreciable point of time–yet it is crowded with these ‘shadows of shadows’, and for absolute thought there is demanded time’s endurance.”

 

 

 

10 Cognitive Thinking Errors and what to do about them.

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10 Cognitive Thinking Errors and what to do about them. (based on an article from Reddit.com)

We are living in a time of easy access to an overwhelming amount of information and of much over-the-top rhetoric with questionable fact delivery and weakened logic that seems to be driving a fear-based narrative. Part of what reinforces this negative stream are what are called errors of cognition or just thinking errors. These show up more often than not when we are in fight or flight mode and weary of all the negative input that inundates us at every turn.

Note that these are “errors” and not necessarily “disorders” unless of course one uses them all the time and in a way that affects their ability to function effectively and appropriately.

In September of 2016 I wrote about the effects that fear has on our thinking in Fear breeds bigotry and bullying .

The following is a deepening of this idea:

Based on the work of Aaron Beck and others, in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David Burns outlines 10 common mistakes in thinking, which he calls cognitive distortions.

  • ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING – Also called Black and White Thinking – Thinking of things in absolute terms, like “always”, “every” or “never”. For example, if your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. Few aspects of human behavior are so absolute. Nothing is 100%. No one is all bad, or all good, we all have grades (I call this ‘absolutism’ and I find that I use it most often when I’m having an argument with my spouse. Nope, it doesn’t work).
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask yourself, “Has there ever been a time when it was NOT that way?” (all or nothing thinking does not allow exceptions so if even one exception can be found, it’s no longer “all” or “nothing”)
    • Ask yourself, “Never?” or “Always?” (depending upon what you are thinking)
  • OVERGENERALIZATION – Taking isolated cases and using them to make wide generalizations. For example, you see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat: “She yelled at me. She’s always yelling at me. She must not like me.”
 I’ve also seen this when people support or discount a reality because they “Knew someone who…” or “Read about someone…” or “I have it from a ‘good’ source and then apply that info globally. This falls into the category of “There are huge drug cartels in Mexico, therefore all or most Mexicans are drug dealers”. 
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
  • When you catch yourself overgeneralizing say to yourself, “Just because one event happened, does not necessarily
 mean I am (or you are or he/she is…[some way of being])”
  • MENTAL FILTER – Focusing exclusively on certain, usually negative or upsetting, aspects of something while ignoring the rest. For example, you selectively hear the one tiny negative thing surrounded by all the HUGE POSITIVE STUFF. Often this includes being associated in negative (“I am so stupid!”), and dissociated in positive (“You have to be pretty smart to do my job”). Boy do I over use this one! Both on myself and on certain politicians and political parties.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Learn to look for the silver lining in every cloud
    • Count up your negatives vs your positives – for every negative event,
stack up a positive against it. Make a list of both negative and positive
character attributes and behaviors.
  • DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE – Continually “shooting down” positive experiences for arbitrary, ad hoc reasons. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences. The good stuff doesn’t count because the rest of your life is a miserable pile of doo-doo. “That doesn’t count because my life sucks!” To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask yourself, “So what does count then?” “In what way?”
    • Accept compliments with a simple, “Thank you.”
    • Make lists of personal strengths and accomplishments (I’ve found this to be particularly helpful though you may need to keep it nearby to remind yourself.)
  • JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS – Assuming something negative where there is actually no evidence to support it. Two specific subtypes are also identified:
    • Mind reading – assuming the intentions of others. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check it out. To beat this one, you need to let go of your need for approval – you can’t please everyone all the time. Ask yourself, “How do you know that…?” Check out “supporting” facts with an open mind.
    • Fortune telling – anticipating that things will turn out badly, you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact. To beat this, ask, “How do you know it will turn out in that way?” Again, check out the facts.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • When the conclusion is based on a prior cause (for example, the last time your spouse behaved in this manner s/he said it was because s/he felt angry so s/he must be angry this time, too), ask yourself, “What evidence do you have to support your notion that s/he feels…” “How did you arrive at that understanding” “What other conclusion might this evidence support?”
    • When the conclusion is based on a future consequence (“I’ll die for sure if she keeps harping on this…”) Ask yourself, “How does this conclusion serve you?” and “If you continue to think that way… [what will happen to you]?” and “Imagine 5 years from now…” (Future Pace)
  • MAGNIFICATION AND MINIMIZATION–
    • Exaggerating negatives and understating positives (I do this when I’m going down the rabbit hole of ‘absolutism’). Often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negatives understated. There is one subtype of magnification/catastrophizing – focusing on the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just uncomfortable: “I can’t stand this.”
    • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask yourself, “What would happen if you did [stand this]?”
    • Ask yourself, “How specifically is [this/that/he/she] so good/too much/too many/etc. or so bad/not good enough/too little/etc.?”
    • After asking the second question, ask yourself, “Compared to what/whom?”
  • EMOTIONAL REASONING –
  • Making decisions and arguments based on how you feel rather than objective reality. People who allow themselves to get caught up in emotional reasoning can become completely blinded to the difference between feelings and facts.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
  • NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) patterning interrupts and creates new ‘anchors’ that are the most powerful state changers – interrupt anything negative: “X makes me mad” “How does what I do cause you to choose to feel mad?” Interrupt: “How could you believe that?”
  • SHOULDING ( or Oughting)–  “Must”, or “Can’t” thinking.
  • Shoulding is focusing on what
 you can’t control. For example, you try to enlighten another’s unconscious – they should get it (for me this comes from my self-centered ego self, after all I got it why can’t you? This assumes that I actually got it). Concentrating on what you think “should” or ought to be rather than the actual situation you are faced with will simply stress you out. What you choose to do, and then do, will (to some degree, at least) change the world. What you “should” do will just make you miserable.
 Often these come from the expectations (values?) we were fed as we grew up.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask, “What would it feel like, look like, sound like if you could/did or could not/did not?” or, “What would happen if you did/didn’t?” or, “What prevents you from just doing it then?” or, “What rule or law says you/I SHOULD?” or, “Why should I?” or, “Could you just prefer instead?” or, “Why SHOULD I/YOU?”
  • LABELLING and MISLABELLING – Related to overgeneralization, explaining by naming. Rather than describing the specific behavior, you assign a label to someone or yourself that puts them in absolute and unalterable negative terms. This is a logic level error in that we make a logic leap from behavior/action (“he called me a name…”) to identity (“therefore, he’s a jerk”).
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask yourself, “What could be a better way of looking at this that would truly empower you/me?” or, “Is there another possible more positive meaning for this?”
    • When you recognize you are labeling or are being labeled, ask, “How specifically?” Example: “How specifically am I a jerk?” – which will evoke behaviors rather than identity (what helps is for me to see where the other fellow’s “jerk” shows up in me because it almost always does to some degree).
    • Remember who you/others are in spite of behaviors: “Even though I failed the test, I’m still a worthy person.”
  • PERSONALIZATION & BLAME – Burns calls this distortion “the mother of guilt.” Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. For example, “My son is doing poorly in school. I must be a bad mother…” and “What’s that say about you as a person?” – instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, “lf only I were better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.” Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. On the flip side of personalization is blame. Some people blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: “The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.” – instead of investigating their own behavior and beliefs that can be changed. I will use this one just about every Father’s day to explain any problem facing my kids.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask, “How do you know [I am to blame]?” “SAYS WHO?”
    • Ask, “Who/what else is involved in this problem?”
    • Ask yourself, “Realistically, how much of this problem is actually my
responsibility?”
    • Ask, “If there was no blame involved here, what would be left for me/us
to look at?”

These 10 cognitive errors are all habits of thinking that are deeply ingrained. The good news is, like any habit, these patterns of thinking can be broken and discarded through awareness and practice.

 

Sources:

Captive Hearts: Captive Minds, by Madeleine Tobias and Janja Lalich, Hunter House, 1994; pgs 101-103

Take Back Your Life Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David Burns, M.D.

Unlimited Power: The New Science of Personal Achievement, by Anthony Robbins, Joseph McClendon

Encyclopedia of Systemic Neuro-Linguistic Programming and NLP New Coding, by Robert Dilts & Judith DeLozier