Poetry and the loss of soul

12006963_f520.jpgAs I sat working on a workshop on poetry I’m developing I began to list answers to the question, “What is poetry?”

When I came to the end of my list I wrote down, “Everything, and every event in life is poetry. The soul of our being is a poet!”

Poetry speaks of and from the imaginal. When it “speaks of” it’s the soul trying to understand itself and in the “speaking from” it is talking about a nonlinear, non-rational, imaginal, and animating force behind the human quest and thirst for meaning.

Poetry for me is an imaginative activity that encompasses everything in life. Imagination is at the root of all poetry and may very well be the essence of our souls as well. It seems that when my soul desires to break free of my egoistic rational and literal interpretation of reality it speaks to me through poetry and metaphor in my dreams and the events and people in the world around me.

Poetry is about images not literalisms or naturalisms. It is about alternative ways of seeing the world and ourselves. Poetry helps us reconnect with our soul.I say “reconnect” because our society seems to be suffering a loss of soul where it has lost its connections with others and with self. This affects those within the society by robbing them of their sense of belonging and communion.

Our personal myth has also gotten lost, as has that of the larger myth of the greater society. Meaning has become blurred, as has our reason for living.

The current social situation infecting the country and the world is a symptom of our loss of soul. Radical and violent approaches to regaining what is lost reflect the unrecognized panic people are feeling associated with this loss. But this panic is also a symptom of the loss of soul and trying to treat symptoms is futile; It may temporarily relieve the pain but doesn’t cure the cause. Addressing the loss behind the symptoms is critical.

It’s the imaginal needs of the soul that are missing and this has separated us from that which gives life meaning. We see some attempts to address these imaginal needs of the soul in the growth of interest in astrology, divination, magic and fantasy. Even poetry is experiencing a revival. But the society in general is trying to deal with the loss through literal thinking e.g. more jobs, better wages, better medical care, and walls and laws. These may have their merits but are not what the soul is crying out for. Achievement of these goals might temporarily satisfy the ego, a voracious consumer of temporary satisfactions, but will do little or nothing for the soul.

We seem to have lost our excited and loving connection to life. We are in survival mode and this abuse of our souls that we have tolerated for so long has led to the symptoms of disconnection that we see in our communities and greater society. This disconnect is the herald of our greater loss of soul.

Humans are being treated as commodities, objects to be manipulated, and subservient to the power and greed of others. People have become just a means to and end for producing ever-increasing capital. To that end they (we) only have one purpose until they are no longer needed. There is no soul in this and that has stripped people of their own soul expression, their raison d’etre. Modern society implies that a human’s meaning is in what they can produce outside itself. It ignores the inside meaning and demeans the experience of spirit, humanness, individuality, essence, purpose, emotion, mercy, morality, wisdom, and God. Our soul has become secondary to our utility and with this shift in our meaning is the loss of meaning in life.

Are we just cogs in the machine or plug-ins to the corporation god or do we have greater meaning than that? I know that you know the answer. So what are you going to do about it? Hint: the answer is already in the text of this post.

 

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Don’t believe in the Cosmic Mind, or God, or goddess? It’s okay, they don’t believe in you either.

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Belief: Wikipedia defines it as “… a mental representation of an attitude positively oriented towards the likelihood of something being true”. It doesn’t require empirical evidence that something is true. In general they are just personal attitudes and not necessarily reality. Each of us create our own reality i.e. our own attitudes and judgments about what we see or experience. These may or may not correspond to what is actually true. Mostly we don’t bother to look too closely at whether there’s any real truth, in other words, when it comes to belief most humans aren’t very introspective. Most of us walk around thinking that we know what the world is about.

But don’t believe everything you think.

And that should be the default mantra of every thinking being, “Don’t believe everything you think”. Mostly what we think we believe is delusional or better yet illusional i.e. our beliefs are deceptive and misleading. What we see depends on our motivation and that usually involves dealing with fear– fear of the unknown, fear of being out of control, fear of loss, fear of being wrong, fear of being vulnerable, fear of dying, fear of nonexistence, fear of pain, fear of being unworthy, fear of being unloved, fear of commitment, fear of not surviving, fear of meaninglessness, fear of not being important in short, we are all looking for that which will help us handle our fears.

So what can one do to remove the barriers to just being with our fears, no I’m not saying to our becoming or embracing those fears I’m suggesting having them and looking at them honestly? Life is generally fearsome which is why we create beliefs in the first place i.e. to help us deal with them and that can be good but then we act as though what we created was real. What would happen if we just laid ourselves open to what’s actually there without our guard up (no I’m not suggesting we put ourselves into real danger)?

If we were to put our beliefs aside what might we see? If we could really just be in the moment, what might be there? If we could be aware of our fears what might we learn from them? Might we learn how we’ve been letting them determine the direction of our lives? Might we learn that these fears and our reactions to them have over time boxed us up and left us smaller than we actually are? As a reaction to fear we often use our beliefs as a way of limiting risk, what market people call risk aversion, but too much of this leads to a contracted life.

So why did I title this piece, “Don’t believe in the Cosmic Mind, or God, or goddess? It’s okay, they don’t believe in you either”?

The so-called belief in a Cosmic Mind, or God or goddess as an illusion for purposes of self-protection is like a crutch. They are just constructs to help with day-to-day fears. But do they exist? They may exist as representations of our spiritual aspect in that they speak to parts of our being– the deeper aspects to who and what we are and as such don’t require that we believe in them in order for them to exist. They just are or it just is and exist outside our rational brain. And it’s the rational brain as a construct of our egos that the spiritual doesn’t believe in for it is just an illusion. But some may argue that it’s all illusion, but whose illusion? Ah there’s the rub.

A waking dream experience of a very, very bad day: what happens when one lives in the narrow world of expectations.

 

a_chair_in_an_empty_room_by_ondrejzapletal-dbfnsa5.jpgI couldn’t get a break today. But I should have “expected” it because I was in a bad mood from the start of when my feet hit the floor from a fitful nights sleep of very odd and incoherent dreams. At every turn of events I felt thwarted, frustrated, impatient, and intolerant. What…in my dream or in my waking life? Precisely!

In the morning my wife and I thought we’d take a pleasant bike ride to breakfast. But we kept taking different routes that lead away from each other, and when we eventually met up her cautiousness on the busy streets caused her to frequently dismount from her bike and walk, which according to my expectation made us late (not that we had reservations mind you). To add to my frustration a cross walk light chose that morning to malfunction. After three cycles of malfunction it dawned on us that it wasn’t going to light, so we walked across, keeping a wary eye on the traffic.

My frustration built up like an ungoverned steam engine until it needed to find something, or in this case someone, to vent on. I mumbled, fumed, blamed in my head, and struggled mightily not to take it out on the nearest person at hand, poor Fran. I had made the reality of the ride an unhappy burden in my imagination. Once again my imaginary expectations made a mess in the reality. Breakfast, however, was quite pleasant and I started to relax a little.

Later in the day, a granddaughter came over and we went out to Starbucks at the mall for treats and grandpa/granddaughter time, but I couldn’t find a parking space, “ah there’s one!” I’d say and I’d step on the gas arriving just as someone else would pull in to the empty space. Damn! I said in my head again and again as around and around we went until my patience wore thin and the veiled expletives became less shrouded, “There’s one, oh fu…, funny, how “fu…nny” I choked so as to not upset the innocence in the back seat as yet another car slipped in before I arrived and I took yet another round of frustration. “I can’t get a break today!” I exclaimed. “Poor grandpa! We could go to the one near our house.” She said helpfully, probably sensing that grandpa was not a happy rider on this not-so-merry-go-round.

Finally, on a side street a lone parking space appeared out of nowhere, far from our destination, “but it’ll have to do,” I thought resignedly. After a long wait in line at the coffee shop the clerk didn’t seem to understand my order, “A large non-fat hot chocolate.” I said wearily, but somehow she heard, “A chai latte, please.” I don’t even know what that is, but on discovering the mistake after waiting for several orders that had been taken after mine, they put the correction in the queue several more orders behind that. Then the difference in cost had to be worked out and that took several more minutes and signatures on a reimbursement chit only to receive a 30 cent refund and the wrong sized hot chocolate.

A simple trip to the coffee shop started to feel as though it had taken most of the afternoon. Not wanting to prolong my self-induced agony I took the smaller cup, grunted a not so sincere, “thank you,” and numbly walked out the door and plopped into an outside chair to stare at the passers-by and sip my now cold hot chocolate.

For a moment I felt dead inside, kind of numb, then I forced my self to chuckle. This was definitely not my day! I mused. But my granddaughter was happy as a lark with her chocolate milk, a pumpkin scone and some other little girl to befriend on the nearby play-scape. I couldn’t help but smile and this tamed the weary beast inside me.

My older granddaughter called from her cellphone and asked me to pick her up at a friend’s house and to take her home. This of course was located several miles from our current position. “Where’s your Mom?” I croaked. “Out with Grandmother.” She said as though I were being just too stupid for asking. So I wrote down the directions on a slightly damp napkin (you ever try to do that?). Of course the directions of a thirteen year old were less than ideal and forced me to consult a map at every stop light while she amused herself in texting me every five minutes or so with a “Where are U?” This of course buoyed my spirits, NOT.

I finally picked her up and dropped her at her front door. Out she bolted and disappeared into the house, no goodbye, no thank you. I left the younger one with her mother who had barely escaped being knocked over by the thirteen year old bent on texting while running toward her room without once looking up, lost somewhere between narrow focus and complete obliviousness. “How do they do that?” I wondered silently. Also the six year old had in mind that she and I were going watch the Barbie at Princess Charm School video, but when Mommy showed up early there were tears of disappointment (hers, not mine)–yet another thwarted expectation.

Soon it was dinner and my wife was off playing bridge at the church so I thought I’d try a rib place I hadn’t been to before. Inside and sitting next to the window I looked out on the traffic moving down the Avenue. Something disturbing intruded– A rumble that I could feel in my chest and inside my head. The ground felt unstable here as it shook with each car that passed, the guy behind me made odd grunting noises, and the ribs smelled dead, uninviting. Nothing seemed in balance. Everything was off just a bit, nothing was quite right. Even the air felt as though it were heavier than usual and pressed down around me. Nothing seemed fully real. Perhaps, I pondered, it was the Paulo Coelho book I was reading? No, this had been going on all day, before I’d had a chance to even read the first page.

As though this day were partly within a dream, some aspect of me wasn’t fully here, but lost in some expectation, and I paid the price–perturbation, unbalance, alienation and a strong sense of separation all of which conspired to leave me rootless and not feeling quite welcome in the world. So, where was I? The truth is that I wasn’t fully there because I was mired in the way I “wanted it to be” rather than in the here and now of the way it was.

It seems to me that expectations, like my granddaughters cell phone texting, tend to narrow ones focus i.e. our vision of reality tends to narrow. It’s like sitting in the middle a room and looking out its one small window and assuming that everything within its frame is all that there is. I could get up from the chair and approach the window and stick my head outside which would of course expand that reality, but, no, I sit, fixed in my point-of-view, depending on the world to bring reality into that limited frame and disappointed when it isn’t what I wanted.

I used to tell my oldest daughter when she was much younger and talking about her image of God, “Be careful how you describe him, for if he is that leaf that just blew by and your image doesn’t include that, then you’ve missed him.”

I often complain that things aren’t the way I think they ought to be and then whine, sometimes bitterly, that someone ought to change the reality so as to better align with my expectations. No that’s not how I say it, it’s more like, “Why do they do that? They should do it like this.” Or some form of “I’m right, they’re wrong.” You’d be amazed at the lengths I’ll go to feel better about their being wrong.

For some people right now it may look as if I’ve wandered from expectancy into another restricting trait, point-of-view. But isn’t an expectation just another point-of-view and vice versa? Both require a vision of what is and a narrow vision at that. Both affect what is seen aka reality e.g. experienced and thus inform our actions, or how we feel about them.

In our waking life I think that many of us are standing in the room with the small, framed window. It isn’t until we enter the world of the dream that our frame widens, even disappears, and holds the potential of infinite possibilities. What would happen if we treated our waking lives in the same manner e.g. as a frame with infinite possibility? What would happen if we let go of what we think our life should be and embraced what it is?

What would happen if we were to get up off our tuchus and walk over to the window and stick our head out to get a broader and clearer view?

Well, there’s always tomorrow.

Musings full of nothing significant: Do you believe in ghosts?

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During a meditation not too long ago I found my mind carried away by a quote that I heard during the new Cosmos series I had been watching the day before.

The quote in and of itself wasn’t particularly significant but it’s what it stimulated in my subconscious that then found its way to the surface the following day that caught my attention and dragged me away from a perfectly good meditation.

So what was the quote you may ask? It came from the son John of William Herschel, the 18th -19th century astronomer and composer, then a young boy when he asked his father, “Father do you believe in ghosts?”

His father said yes, but not in the human kind and then went on to explain how the light from many of the stars we see in the night sky has taken millions or even billions of years to reach our eyes and how those very stars may no longer exist because they have long since died. In this way he explained we really do see the “ghosts” of the dead, the ephemerae of the past.

The truth is that you and I are always seeing what was, that every event, every object that we see is but an image from the past. This is because it takes time for our brains to process a sensory input. Not very much time, granted i.e. 80milliseconds to be precise and we wouldn’t even notice except in those cases when there are two sensory inputs such as visual and auditory and if the object of the sound/vision stimulus takes more than 80 milliseconds to reach our eyes/ears. When this happens sound and vision are out of sync thus producing a lag between the two. Ever notice that during a fireworks display that there’s a lag between the flash and the bang? In this case the “ghost” is two fold i.e. the flash is 80 milliseconds dead while the bang is at least 160 milliseconds from the past. What we see and hear is but a ghost from the past. Fundamentally what we are conscious of doesn’t exist in the here and now. Consciousness is only of the past. Consciousness is but a ghost.

No wonder science has trouble with consciousness and try as they might scientists can’t even agree on what ”consciousness” is, they don’t seem to be able to account for it. They know a lot about ‘how’ the brain functions but can’t explain what consciousness is or how it works– science simply cannot measure it and if you can’t measure it, then you can’t do what science does, test it. We know it’s there because we’re all walking around with it, but how do we find out what it is if we can’t use the scientific method on it?

What do I mean by consciousness? It’s the ability to have mental experiences and we do that all the time whether awake or asleep (your dreams are part of your consciousness).

Some scientists and philosophers have wondered if at the atomic level of existence our consciousness may be like that of a photon of light i.e. massless. It seems as though neither light nor consciousness exist within the same time/space paradigm as we do, as our bodies do. “How is that so?” you may well ask. Our bodies have mass and can never attain the speed of light because, according to the Einsteinian equations, that would require that they become infinite in their mass. But light can travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles/second) because it has no mass. And from the point-of-view of a photon of light time has stopped– it “lives” within no time i.e. the present. If you look at consciousness closely it also seems to have no mass therefor not a part of the body. In a material world of bodies space and time exist as a single entity, space/time, but in the world of the photon and perhaps as I’m suggesting the world of mind, time doesn’t exist and thus nether does space. As Einstein suggested time/space may be only a function of the observer, the brain.

So let me get back to this hypothetical photon. This is the same as the light that left the body of a star and traveled across time. If this photon could think it wouldn’t know that its body may already be dead and that what it “sees” of itself is only its ghost.

This seems to be what happens at the event horizon of a black hole, that line of demarcation that defines what’s outside the hole and what’s inside. If you were to step across this line it would look to others outside as though you were forever trapped within the horizon itself when in reality you had early on been crushed and torn into atomic flotsam. All we see out here is the “ghost” of who you were.

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There are some theories that suggest that we ourselves are dead the moment we are born, that our light has traversed time and that like my make-believe photon we only see the ghost of ourselves and that it is always in the present moment. Light does funny things to time and because it helps to define existence we may see that our existence is relative to the observer as well. While in the ship of our bodies we see one reality but to an observer outside this reality quite another reality exists.

Now, I’m not suggesting that any of this proves my musings, but it does perhaps show that ghost images of what once was can far outlive their original existence especially from an observer (the brain) on the outside of consciousness.

Do you believe in ghosts? Perhaps we are one!

It’s a different world now

 

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All through our lives there are events that encourage us to look at life differently. There are times when what used to work no longer works, when friends we were once close to then become not so much and new friends beckon, when an exciting job becomes dull and a chore, when children come in and out of our lives, when we lose jobs or get new ones, parents die or we ourselves become sick, or when we gain or give up relationships.

Every event requires some kind of adjustment, some kind of shift and some kind of detachment. To hold on to the old can cause sickness. It’s like the germ of life within a seed that has to break through its skin in order to grow, to continue to live, and where not shedding the old skin to make room for the new can result in death and in our case it can be a slow death of our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being.

Life is often about learning when to let go, when to allow for the shift, and how to expand the container where we are to hold all our experiences gracefully so that we can come alive again.

Nearly four years ago I lost three close friends, people that I would have gladly called brother and mentor, three who at varying levels impacted my life greatly. Their deaths have to this day left me at times lost and scrambling for new meaning in my life. I was someone different when they were around and now that they are gone something about who I am has changed.

It is truly a different world for me now that they aren’t in it, my definition of reality isn’t quite the same, isn’t quite as solid, more surreal than real, and more made up than true. My emotions have also become more raw what with feeling both love and anger more acutely. It feels as though I’m at the edge of something new and I’m trying to just let this be and not fight it so as to not squash what is about to grow before it gets started. For me letting the feelings just be what they are is a means of watering the garden and watching the seeds do what seeds do when left to grow.

What I’ve learned from my dreams: If you are the director of your life’s story is it time for a rewrite? It depends on who you think is producing and showing the movie.

 

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“I am the light.” “You are the light of the world”. Are these just quotes from a biblical text or something much more profound?

When you hear people use phrases such as “You are the light” or “All is light” or “The light within” what is meant by Light? The Light, being talked about is the metaphysical essence of all life e.g. the soul or spirit– basically what we are.

Think of a movie being shown on a screen. What’s on the screen isn’t real but there is a light coming from a projector behind you and it is that light that is being projected onto the screen. Our natural level of consciousness is like that screen. What we think is real is actually a projection of light upon this screen we call life. But where’s the projector, behind us or is it in us? I contend that we are the projector of our own light upon the screen of our lives and therefore the producer of our reality.

We keep projecting all kinds of silly stuff onto our screens, the list is long for example, such things as, “I’m too helpless and small to make a difference in the world”, or “I only have so much time, life is short, we can’t get it all done, take what I can before it runs out”, and don’t forget the iconic, “I am separate from everyone and everything”, “The circumstances of my life determine what I do or don’t do”, “The best way to deal with things that make me anxious is to put them out of sight”, or “God hasn’t got time for us little people.”

This list and way of thinking assumes that the projector is behind us in the theater of our lives and that something else is the producer of this project called life. The list of course is very much longer than what I’ve laid out. I could fill several books with these falsehoods and fantasies. It would be folly to try to deal with each as a means to gaining enlightenment. To try is to make the false assumption that the solution to all our problems lies at the level of the problem. Though most self-development gurus, advertisers, and politicians would like you to believe that this is so, it is not.

But if you were to think of yourself as the projector, the one responsible for the pictures that are produced on your personal picture screen i.e. your life, perhaps you’d have more control over the picture being viewed? Better yet, what if you were the light itself that shines through your projector and animates the figures on the screen? Then no matter where you pointed your projector you would see only your light and it is only your light you know. Everything on your screen is the light you are projecting.

Very much like all the images and characters in your sleeping dreams everything you see is an aspect of you and you have the power to adjust what it is you’re focusing on i.e. you can focus on the real you or a facsimile. Do you focus on the you that you were born with or the you of your parents and the society and culture you grew up in?

Bring your full light to the image and you’ll begin to be aware of what you really are– you are the light. This is your true self and we’re all projecting some part of it. What you see “out there” is a projection of your own light. If you are seeing it half darkly know that you need only shift the focus to bring greater light to the image. I’m talking about ‘awareness’, looking beneath what appears obvious, and adjusting your lens so that the picture becomes clearer. The outside world isn’t out of focus it is your projection that is out of focus. By refocusing your awareness away from the image on the screen and more toward your inner self you can begin to notice what it is that’s running this film.

So how does one begin to see the show differently? How does one take the focus in hand? Remember that everything is an aspect of you and with this in mind one way might be to give greater attention to the subtleties of everyday life e.g. you know the smell of coffee brewing in the morning, you know that you like that smell, but how is it making you feel, what images, thoughts, and feelings in your mind does it bring up, what does that first taste of the hot brew hitting your tongue do to your body, your mood, your outlook on the moment?

Furthermore what are you projecting onto the first person you meet in the morning? What part of you are you shining onto them, your light or some part of your darkness? Look closer, who is that really out there? If you adjust your focus a little does that clear them up somewhat?

In short, expand your awareness, look beyond the obvious. Look what else you are projecting and look at what else is in the light. Do this until it becomes second nature.

Fool’s errand

 

the-fools-jester.gif“The arc of the moral universe is a long one but it bends towards justice,” is a quote used by any number of people, the most notable of which was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in one of his speeches. The quote was from a mid-nineteenth century Transcendentalist, Theodor Parker.

But this arc that bends won’t just happen, it has never bent on its own. It has always taken active “benders” to move it towards justice.

Peace and Passive are two words that have often been linked to each other even though Peace requires Active not Passive participation. Peace doesn’t just happen and when it does, it doesn’t come from fear or the need to dominate and control, it comes from positive resolve and intention.

Justice requires positive activism, an activism that promotes a context of positive connection between people and ideas.

I’m using the attribute modifier ‘Positive’ for a reason because both negative and positive create context i.e. the ambient condition in which things exist. Positive and negative motivations can coexist within either context, in fact they can inform each other. But the type of overall context tends to bend things toward one or the other way of being.

This tendency is why some efforts to bring about positive change are frequently thwarted because of negative subtext. For example, when a desire to change something is layered onto an unspoken negative such as a feeling of helplessness (at a loss for what will really work), cynical thoughts (‘they’ could change but probably won’t), or manipulation (if I can get them to change I will benefit e.g. will no longer be in fear or I will get my way) it is doomed to fail at some point.

When I use the word “resolve” I’m referring to the power of intention. As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Our intention creates our reality.”

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The typical game of world peace , oops I mean whack-a-mole

I’m suggesting that we stop focusing on the problem and start shifting our attention to what it is we want to create (the ground of being or context for what exists). Tackling problems without addressing the context is like playing “whack-a-mole” at the arcade, it’s a forever exercise with no end goal other than each whack has a momentary and terminal feeling of satisfaction attached.

When you have honestly and truthfully defined what it is that you want for the world you live in and resolve to do what is wanted and needed to create that, the action needed will reveal itself as will the obstacles to achieving it. Do you think the iPhone just suddenly appeared fully functional and ready to transform the world of communication? Obstacles become markers along the road to success when they are included as a necessary part of an intentional context. Great inventors know this as do effective social activists.

Intention toward a context will literally change ones consciousness. For example, if you were to have as your intention to change your negative responses to others, or to events, by actively replacing such things as anger, impatience, or fear with compassion, understanding of differing needs, and calmness/centeredness, your experience of the person or event would shift.

Once the personal context has shifted then one can see the action necessary to shift the overall context.

In short, to focus all our energies on solving individual problems as they pop up without addressing the context in which they are created and sustained is a fool’s errand.

Great Expectations: The unconscious influence on perception and action

 

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Line drawings of our expectations on the left with reality on the right. Note that anywhere along the line on the right one could compare progress with the expectation on the left and be disappointed and/or angry even though the outcome is exactly as hoped for.

 

Last night I had a dream. In the dream things that I expected did not happen and I started to get upset, then angry, with how things weren’t happening the way I thought they should. In the dream I found myself yelling, “Stop doing that, that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it!” When I awoke I realized that this was a reflection of my unexamined feelings associated with being disappointed with something someone had done. I had been chewing on my judgments of them all the day preceding the dream so it was only natural that the issue should show up in a dream.

The issue wasn’t really about the unexplored feelings however, they were important but something else was affecting those feelings. The issue was really about my expectations for their behavior and it was these that were coloring my inner dialogue. And it was my expectations that were affecting what I was feeling about them.

So what about an unmet expectation was causing trouble in my mind or to put it another way when someone or something doesn’t live up to my expectation of the way they should be, why do I find that upsetting? Whoa, the onus of the problem just shifted radically from “it’s their fault” to “It’s mine”. My expectations are affecting how I see the world and then how I react to it.

There have been many studies about the effects of expectations in fields as varied as science, teaching, marketing, and politics. Expectations affect not only the findings of a scientist but on what they choose to study. They affect a journalist, a jury and a judge on what facts or non facts they choose to believe in and they also affect how a teacher perceives a student that can cause the teacher to either not expect much from a student or to expect more. Our expectations affect how we vote, listen to talk show hosts on T.V. / radio, and the products we buy and all of this opens us to manipulation the kind marketers and politicians use to get us to think their way instead of for ourselves. These real world perceptions also affect the decisions and pronouncements that a politician makes once in office and even affect when a policeman chooses to make an arrest or pull his weapon from its holster.

When I was a Freshman in High School we read Charles Dickens’ book “Great Expectations”. I loved the story but don’t think I really understood how the expectations of both the protagonist of the story, Pip, and the adults and others around him were affected by their expectations and how these judgments of the way life should or had to be ran their lives.

And behind every expectation there lays a judgment, a judgment that anything other than ones expectation is less– less important, valuable, honorable, patriotic, or correct… well you get the idea.

But let me narrow the field a little. In my dream as well as in my waking life I tend to let my judgments get in the way of what I am seeing. All too often I let my labels of what something is or should be affect what it actually is. All too often I will let my labels get in the way of my love for someone or something. This is true for not only how I see others and treat them, but for how I see myself that then will often lead to how I treat myself.

But I will always have judgments, I am like most people a “judgment machine” either judging something “good” (meaning it agrees with my point-of-view) or that it is “bad” (meaning that it doesn’t agree with my point-of-view)– yes I can choose to be tolerant of the so-called “bad” but often that’s just a personal expectation that I hold for myself because I judge myself to be a “good” and tolerant person. See? I’m a judgment machine!

One way that I deal with my judgments that affect my expectations, that affect how I feel about and how I interact with others, is to first become aware that that’s what I’m doing. For example, if I were to have the judgment that what someone is doing is stupid I just say to myself, “I’m having that “stupid judgment” thought again. What this does is to take the thought out of the automatic mode of perceiving the world and allows me then to shift my perspective and to look at myself to see what of myself that I may be projecting onto the event or the person.

Sometimes my judgments lead me to evil thoughts where I play a game in my head of tit-for-tat or an eye for an eye and I spiral down into negativity. What has helped me here is another expectation for myself i.e. that when I notice that I’m playing this negative scenario in my head that I will notice and never meet or counter evil with evil, negativity only breeds more negativity. I can use this negative energy to protest the evil in such a way that it makes some people stop and think about their actions or the actions of others.

But mostly I find that I just make these automatic judgments, expectations and decisions without assessing them and that of course doesn’t allow me to be at choice with either the perception or the response to them. This begs the question as to what degree am I really at choice with anything in my life, especially if I’ve allowed most of it to be run by my unconscious points-of-view – those unconscious points-of-view that the sleeping brain presents to us in our dreams in an attempt at trying to bring consciousness to our choices?

Ah, “free choice”, real choice, of what to think, what to feel, or how to act, how much do we really have? That’s a topic for another time.

Does objective reality exist?

 

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Now I want to make everything perfectly clear I AM NOT A PHYSICIST! I also was not a math major. The hard sciences fascinated me but ultimately it was what are called the soft-sciences (psychology, mythology) that attracted me. I say this to make it clear that I have no credibility when it comes to anything that smacks of physics and yet I’m arrogant enough to want to use it as a means of taking a closer look at what’s behind the theoretical curtain of reality that interacts with psychology.

We’ve all been taught about how BIG the universe is and have been introduced to theories about how it came to be e.g. the Big Bang. Seems simple enough though I’ve always imagined the physics behind it all to be much more complex.

Here’s a basic equation describing the Big Bang or expanding universe cosmology        H2=(a/a)2=8 πG/3• ρ–kc2/a2+ Λc2/3* It seems almost too simple to describe something so big as our universe.

And you’d be right if you were to think that because a physicists’ reality never seems to be that simple.

Steven Hawking at Univ. of Cambridge (holding the same chair as Isaac Newton) suggested that the universe has no boundaries—no beginning and no end. To do this, he uses Imaginary Time that runs perpendicular to the past/present/future, “regular” time you and I experience (I know, don’t ask). However, when using “regular time” there will always be a beginning, or T=0.

Abhay Ashtekar, a Penn State physicist uses a model of gravity that allows him to mathematically waltz right up to T=0 and then pass on through to the other side where he says is another universe that is in the process of collapsing rather than expanding like ours. Does this mean that there is a T= minus 0— A previous cause of a first cause, or a first cause before a first cause, or an effect before a first cause? It boggles!

Now here’s a boggle: The London physicist David Bohm believes that objective reality does not exist, that at the heart of it all is a phantasm—a hologram if you will. He argues that at the deepest level of reality everything is actually an extension of the same basic something.

To make this statement he cites the work of the Parisian physicist Alain Aspect who performed an experiment with amazing, some might say magical, results. He and his team discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic particles are able to instantaneously communicate with each other regardless of the distance between them e.g. one foot or one billion feet between them it makes no difference. But, but… what about Einstein’s nothing can go faster than the speed of light rule?

Bohm says that they are able to do this because their separateness is illusory! They are extensions of the same thing. He uses the following illustration to get a handle on the boggle: Imagine that there is an aquarium with one fish in it swimming around. Now imagine that the only way you can observe the aquarium is via a camera recording the fishes every move. Imagine now that there are two cameras projecting pictures onto two monitors but the second camera is shooting at right angles to the first. If you were to believe you were watching two aquariums and two fish you would see two different movements. But if you were to watch more closely you would see that these movements seem to be linked e.g. when one faces the front the other is facing the side. Because you don’t see them as the same fish its hard to understand the link.

The bottom line is that we are only seeing a portion of the reality and that is what is happening to subatomic particles that are “instantaneously” communicating. At the deepest level of reality the universe is a projection and everything is interconnected.

This sounds like as many theologists’ claim, that everything including you and I are at a fundamental level connected. And the concept that everything is a “projection” appears to mirror what Depth Psychologists have been saying for years i.e. that our reality is but a projection of our own minds.

Science and theology get closer and closer.

________________________

*The Alexander Friedman equation for the expansion of the universe.

 

 

 

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