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.

Dreaming wakefulness

 

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Who creates the universe that we experience? The following diagrams are meant to represent a different possibility for the reality we observe, the reality that seems to exist because of its oppositions. I’m just playing around here because I actually know nothing about reality other than what I can touch or intuit and frequently these too are in opposition and conflict with one another.

I’m looking beyond the reality that we create through our biases– conscious or unconscious, and our physical senses. I’m digging around in what some might call the metaphysical. What if it’s all a dream and everything comes from the imaginal part of the human mind?

When I use the word “state” in the figure below I’m dabbling at the surface of quantum physics, at least as I understand it.

 

Dreaming state                                                                                                         Wakeful state

Fig. 1

Fig. 1 Perceived as opposites but perhaps these are not opposites but a continuum i.e. two states of the same dream– and it all takes place in the observer.

 

Reality (empirical/causal)                                          Fantasy (synchronistic/acausal)

Fig. 2

Fig. 2 Perceived as opposites but if all is imaginal then perhaps they constitute two states of the imaginal.

 

States of reality seem to depend on the observer that is, how the observer observes. In the quantum world, that is the unseen world smaller than the atom, everything seems to exist everywhere and ‘everywhen’ what is called super-positionality until an observer chooses how, what, and when to observe. At that point the observer causes this state of super-potential reality to collapse into just one reality. This seems to include the construct of time as well. As the theory goes there really isn’t any time save what the human mind creates so that everything isn’t happening at once. Talk about the ultimate multitasking if it were! Even Einstein showed us that the reality of time is all relative to the position (point of view) of the observer, that it isn’t consistent across the universe i.e. reality is relevant to the the individual and their point of view. So if reality is not consistently the same for everyone is there a “real” reality or are we making it all up?

As the theory goes we may be creating reality by merely choosing what we look at. Interesting, huh?

While in the dreaming state the rules of the waking reality are suspended, so all those pesky concepts of time and space are suspended. That’s why dreams don’t follow any temporal order or any spacial rules either– anyone for walking through walls or flying above rooftops? When we awake a new set of rules seems to take over but these rules are moderated by the efficiency of our sensing and recording apparatus.

There is research evidence that suggests that sometimes we register the future before it happens or on a more mundane level our biases, beliefs, and values determine what is seen or not seen and/or felt or not felt.

There is also speculation based on observation that dreams reflect the un noticed patterns coming from our waking life and that they also create patterns that manifest in the waking life. The imagery research done by psychologist Catherine Shainberg has been used to show her clients a link between ones everyday behavior and their dreams, to seek the patterns in both, and then to choose a response versus just reacting*. Basically she claims that there is no separation between the night dream and the waking dream**.

But we may not be in charge of any of that, that is to say that our conscious self i.e. who we think we are, is being controlled by an unseen force that psychologists call, the unconscious.

It is this unconscious mind that makes up the vast majority of our self that affects what we see and what we do with it. We may be no more in control of our wakeful state than our dreaming state. There might be a very real possibility that both states are but a dream.

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*   Kabbalah and the power of Dreaming (2005)

** For more on the waking dream try Life As a Waking Dream by Diane Kennedy Pike, (1997)

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.

Living in the realm of the “Box-world” and afraid to live outside its illusion of safety

 

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Not too long ago I was dreaming of walking around in a box, wandering the inside edges looking for an exit, longing for something different, and unable to find my way out. The box is symbolic of the context of my life, the milieu within which I live my life.

Context, the beliefs we have about life and about ourselves including our judgments of self and our worries, embarrassments, and self-criticisms all affect how we see others. Look at another person and we pretty much only see ourselves. As a matter of fact if you want to know about yourself, note what it is you see in the people you meet.

Challenging our context expands it and it becomes more inclusive and broadens the amount of material and experience we have to draw on to interact efficiently with the only thing that we truly own, the here and now. The human psyche is always trying to expand its context whether the conscious self wants to or not though many folks pride themselves in being able to resist that expansion– they call it loyalty, or unyielding faith, or being true to ones values and beliefs. Basically its just laziness in that it’s easier to not critique ones beliefs or allow for pesky change.

It’s as though this little-self built a box around itself in a misguided (or cynical?) attempt to keep it (you) safe.

Most of us treat our lives in a very narrow manner and get all upset when it’s suggested that we let go of our comforts and seek change i.e. when we are asked to broaden our context.

“Dear me, no. We, Hobbits, are plain quiet folk. Adventures make one late for dinner.”

–Bilbo Baggins (JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit)

I’m sorry fellow humans but we were built for wholeness and change is what leads to wholeness. Rigid, or doctrinal thinking creates an illusion of safety, it is of the small-minded ego and is, I suspect, contrary to the wishes of God or the goal of the universe. Ultimately life is not safe, you don’t have to be reckless with it, but life can be pretty durable and can allow for one to explore all kinds of options. Why would a powerful being such as God want anything less from its creation? Why would it create something so much smaller than itself? God is not of the small-minded and simpering ego, nor is this ego a reflection of God i.e. it’s not the ego self that is made in the image of God. There’s a much bigger you that gives you life, that animates your being and manifests the wishes of that which created it. Do it justice, give it honor by functioning bigger than the “little self”.

Don’t let the “little self” be the leader of your life, point to where you were meant to go and it will follow.

Where were you meant to go? An answer to that question may lie in listening to something other than your ego-self because this little ego-self will always choose the lower easy or self-enhancing road, always. And when I say listen to ‘something other than’, I’m not talking about reading some book or following some guru, priest or priestess, because nothing outside yourself has the same authority and wisdom as your bigger self– your soul. The books and priests are of the box and can only preach to you of what’s in that box.

When in the box of the little-self there are all kinds of things designed to divert ones attention away from the real power in one’s life. There are holy books and all kinds of preachers and gurus who have painstakingly written about or have been trained in the tradition of boxes to make sure that you don’t get outside the box.

What box, you say? One of the best ways of discovering the parameters of the box is to listen carefully to the “box-people”, the box keepers so to speak. They will gladly show you what the box looks like. Once you see it, then you can work out a way to get outside of it and begin the real journey toward authenticity.

For too long we humans have mistrusted our own divinity in favor for the con of the outside world. That’s because we’ve been hoodwinked into believing that the small-minded ego-self had the answers or at least knew where to find them. The ego-self is noisy, boisterous, incessantly verbose, and self-absorbed and effectively hides the quieter voice of the divine within us. This is because the small self doesn’t think that it will survive if the bigger self were to become dominant. But it’s quite the opposite because the bigger self knows that it cannot attain its wholeness without the little-self remaining intact.

 “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

 –Luke 9:23-24

 Give your bigger-self a chance to make good on the promise of that which created you– listen to it, it actually makes more sense.

 

 

Wisdom of the heart

 

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Oft times I find that I cannot say what is in my heart and turn to the poetry and wisdom of others to shine a light on my own story, my own soul. Below is a collection of poems, sayings, and quotes that come from people who had moments of lucidity that spoke deeply into my own heart. I hope they move you as well.

 

 

 

‘Buddy’s Poem’

“Can we be here without a purpose?

I don’t think we can. Earth is too

wise to waste herself on us.

A wound can come and set us

upon a path; the big ones do.

Stepping stone: Learn humility from scars.

Stepping stone: Apprentice to imperfection.

Stepping stone: Claim the beauty of your soul.

Yes, I do believe in traveling this way.

Once I met a high-spirited eagle with

a crooked yellow beak who had been

grounded for life

by the infectious bite of a tiny mosquito.

You’d think that humiliating

for such a bird,

enraging.

But no,

this bird tossed a stone in front of me,

arched his head back

 

and screamed into the heavens,

“Compassion!”

And, I knew, absolutely knew,

in that moment

he meant

for everything.”

© 2013/Jamie K. Reaser

From “Wild Life: New and Selected Poems” (Hiraeth Press in June 2013; )

 

“Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

-Eckhart Tolle

What you meet in another being is the projection of your own level of evolution.

–Ram Dass

“The reason that ego and love are not compatible comes down to this: you cannot take your ego into the unknown, where love wants to lead. If you follow love, your life will become uncertain, and the ego craves certainty.”

–Deepak Chopra

The Art of Self Reflection – What To Remember When Waking

“In that first

hardly noticed

moment

to which you wake,

coming back

to this life

from the other

more secret,

moveable

and frighteningly

honest

world

where everything

began,

there is a small

opening

into the new day

which closes

the moment

you begin

your plans.

 

What you can plan

is too small

for you to live.

 

What you can live

wholeheartedly

will make plans

enough

for the vitality

hidden in your sleep.

 

To be human

is to become visible

while carrying

what is hidden

as a gift to others.

 

To remember

the other world

in this world

is to live in your

true inheritance.”

– David Whyte

 

“When you get to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.

– Edward Teller

 

“I prayed for change, so I changed my mind.

I prayed for guidance and learned to trust myself.

I prayed for happiness and realized I am not my ego.

I prayed for peace and learned to accept others unconditionally.

I prayed for abundance and realized my doubt kept it out.

I prayed for wealth and realized it is my health.

I prayed for a miracle and realized I am the miracle.

I prayed for a soul mate and realized I am the One.

I prayed for love and realized it’s always knocking, but I have to allow it in.”

­­–Jackson Kiddard

 

“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”

– C. Joy Bell

 

“Asking the proper question is the central action of transformation in fairy tales, in analysis, and in individuation. The key question causes germination of consciousness. The properly shaped question always emanates from an essential curiosity about what stands behind. Questions are the keys that cause the secret doors of the psyche to swing open.”

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ”

― Pema Chödrön

 

Typically we humans look for easy fixes—a pill, a diet, a prayer, the ultimate work-out machine. And it all needs to happen within 10 days, or your money back! But that’s not the way of the universe. Sometimes one needs to do a little work on themselves to become proficient with something, anything, and becoming more the author of one’s life requires some work.

 In this DreamingWizard link there are a number of techniques designed to bring you into the present moment so that you can begin to be truly relevant.

 

“There is no one who hears, there is just hearing. There is no one who sees, there is just seeing.”

–C. Beck, Everyday Zen (1989)

If I were to carry the idea in the above quote further I might add, that there may be no “I” who is dreaming, there is just dreaming.

 You and I don’t just see people or objects, we see our continuously altered, comparative projections onto those people and objects and then we surmise a meaning to those projections. Fundamentally, we are “Meaning Machines!” in that we assign symbolic meaning to everything.

 

“The wind? I am the wind.

The sea and the moon?

I am the sea and the moon.

Tears, pain, love, bird-flights?

I am all of them. I dance what I am.

Sin, prayer, flight,

the light that never was

on land or sea?

I dance what I am…..”

–Carl Sandburg

 

“The question may be, if all we are is our body, where do we go when it dies? Ponder this and don’t be too quick to answer–discovering the secrets to the universe and to your true nature cannot be found in the quick answer whether that answer comes from some dogma, book, some guru, your schooling, your beliefs, or your own thoughts. Asking the right question in the right way is far more important because it engages more than the mind–it tickles the soul. The moment you think that you “know” something the engaging process shuts down and the soul is shoved aside.

The Unknown is more vast, more open, more peaceful, and more freeing than you ever imagined it would be. If you don’t experience it that way, it means you’re not resting there; you’re still trying to know. That will cause you to suffer because you’re choosing security over Freedom. When you rest deeply in the Unknown without trying to escape, your experience becomes very vast. As the experience of the Unknown deepens, your boundaries begin to dissolve. You realize, not just intellectually but on a deep level, that you have no idea who or what you are. A few minutes ago, you knew who you were—you had a history and a personality—but from this place of not knowing, you question all of that.”

–Adyashanti

 

 

 

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.

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

 

More Barriers to love and the spirit within: The seeds of our own destruction

 

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Not too long ago my wife and I presented a Cornerstone class on conflict resolution at our granddaughter’s elementary school. Project Cornerstone first came to the school district as an anti-bullying program. But over time the use, or over use, of the word “bully” to identify a certain type of behavior has hardened into a type of person rather than a type of behavior i.e. they “are” a bully instead of them “behaving” like one.

When “bully” becomes a label instead of a description of a behavior it leaves little room for the person displaying the behavior to change or even to defend themselves because the use of the word sets them in concrete. The label then becomes a way of excluding someone. Most of us do that with the word “evil”. Once we’ve hung that around someone’s neck they’re no longer a human and they are open to all kinds of abuse.

This isn’t unusual behavior on our part in that we humans often tend to paint each other with a broad paintbrush. It’s easier to do this and doesn’t require much higher-order thinking. This becomes especially noticeable when we are caught up in our fear of something that we don’t understand and begins to escalate radically as the more helpless and fearful we become.

Tribally we humans tend to reject outsiders and behaviors that we don’t understand and when those so-called outsiders seem to be of a particular tribe we tend to paint them all with one color. Even the best of us sometimes fall into this trap as when we condemn a race of people for the actions of some of that race or when we condemn an entire religious group for the horrific behaviors of a certain subgroup.

In recent years we have witnessed the horrific behaviors of a religious subgroup and have rightly labeled their actions as evil, but some people out of their own fear and ignorance have branded all of that religious group as being evil. This is of course a big mistake and totally unhelpful to the cause of peace and our ability to detect what it is that needs to be done to contain the evil behavior and how to lessen the number of those who fall prey to the lure of this subgroup.

While we hold people accountable for their behaviors and while we do what is necessary to end and/or contain the evil we must look at what conditions are enflaming and enabling it and do what is necessary to end those as well.

Yes, we need to fight this, but we need to fight it intelligently and not do it in a way that throws gasoline on the fire thus spreading its damage over a greater area. We need to respond to the presence and actions of evil and not just react.

Reacting is a “lizard brain” action where no thought is required just instinctive animal reactivity. God gave us so much more to work with that lies above the reactionary archaic brain stem and we need to resist the tendency to label everything we’re afraid of or don’t understand as being evil and thus subject to our wrath. We need to stop acting like a frightened snake striking whatever moves and more like the intelligent thinking sons and daughters of a loving God we are.

Simply put, we cannot push back the darkness of evil by simply pouring on more and more darkness– we need to add some light to it. WE (you and I) need to come up with some ways to 1) rein in our own lizard brains and 2) find ways to end the spread of evil and once accomplished deal appropriately with the root causes of it. To do anything else will only perpetuate the evil i.e. you can bloody the land with more killing and that may subdue the evil but only temporarily.

History is rife with lessons on how we humans take the wrong paths toward peace. That’s because we react out of fear instead of responding to it and using it as a motivator to change, a change necessary because we have failed to do what is needed to treat others with the respect we would want for ourselves.

Now, that is not to say that we can end all evil. There will always be those who have been sickened by their own minds and will seek solace from that pain by attempting to dominate and control those outside themselves as though it’s the outsider who causes their sickness. There will always be egos that want to feel bigger and more important and will attempt to subjugate the world around them.

Compassionate Containment may be what is wanted and needed in these cases at least until science can find a successful means of healing them. But each of us who are healthy has the means for controlling our own negative and reactive behaviors. We need to get serious about learning what those means are and start actualizing them.

We need to embrace the real meaning of enlightened civilization and grow beyond our reactive tribal mentality. Currently we seem hell-bent on sewing the seeds of our own destruction.

Politics and reality: Even the rats in a maze have a better grasp of reality than we do

 

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Many years ago as a graduate assistant and in charge of the rat lab at the university I noted that rats could learn pretty easily where the cheese was in a maze and would quickly go right to it regardless of how complex the maze. But when the cheese was removed the behavior was readily extinguished within 2-3 attempts with no success. The rats wouldn’t go down that tunnel anymore looking for the cheese.

However, human beings don’t behave in this manner because once the cheese is removed the human being will go back down the tunnel to where the cheese used to be again and again, nearly forever. Are human beings basically dumber than the rat I wondered?

That possibility may or may not have merit but I think human beings keep doing what they know doesn’t work again and again because ”It’s supposed to work!” or that they want it to work therefore it should if they hang in there long enough. It’s why we keep voting for the same dunderheads who promise us things, aka cheese, that we know they can’t deliver on, again and again. It’s why the political faithful keep voting against their best interests by saying yes to a totally discredited economic plan because the ‘cheese’ is “supposed” to be there. Be aware that their leadership knows this and manipulates this fact to their advantage.

This cognitive default keeps us from seeing the facts i.e. the cheese ain’t there no more– but with humans facts be damned, its supposed to be there, so that’s where they’ll go. The “dumber” animals don’t have this encumbrance because they operate within reality as it is, not as they wish it to be.

We self-create the way we think reality is supposed to be and it’s a very personal reality. This is usually very inaccurate mainly because we’ve buggered all the data with our want-it-to-be’s and our self-serving projections. Most of this was done when we were children when of course we had little experience and knowledge from which to draw any conclusions and from there on out we only picked the experiences, emotions and events that agreed with our flawed view of reality.

As children our decisions that we made were mostly based on fear– fear of doing the wrong thing or being the wrong way and thus losing approval, or knowing the wrong stuff or knowing only part of the issue but we didn’t know what was the best way anyway so we relied on the adults around us to tell us what to do. But of course they don’t know either, but had learned to pretend that they did.

And we keep thinking that if we keep choosing appropriately from our rather limited reality that eventually we’ll get the cheese. Sometimes it looks as though we do get the cheese, but it only lasts for a short while, doesn’t it? This is called intermittent reinforcement in the behavioral sciences and it’s the kind of learning that’s the hardest to break away from. It’s what often creates the ‘supposed’ in the “its supposed to be there” way of thinking. It’s what keeps people gambling their money away because at one time they “won” something.

So we keep shooting for what feels good and hoping that maybe this time, this person, this way of being, will be it.

This is the way it is when you’re attached to something outside yourself for your well-being. There’s a lot of suffering in that and any “happiness” is often just the absence of pain. You know, we’ve bought into a lot of rubbish about what happiness is. We’ve been led to believe that if we just have the right things e.g. a wife/husband, children or no children, breath freshener, toothpaste, smile, schooling, more schooling, better schooling, job, the right job, a better job, the right sex, better sex, a good vacation, a better vacation, or if we’re the right weight or have enough money (is there such a thing?), then we will be happy. But none of it lasts for very long does it? Then it’s off to the next thing, the next fashion, the next relationship, the next wise guru. But when we live in an illusion of reality, there’s always disillusionment.

How do you break such an insidious and all-consuming cycle? One can transcend the cycle and one can transform their relationship with reality. But first you have to acknowledge that you really don’t know what it is and that what you’ve made up is a mess basically a pack of lies and half-truths.

It’s a whole new retraining that requires that we let go of our dependence on something outside ourselves. Now I don’t mean that we all need to become emotional islands, we need each other. We need to be open to the support and the love of others, we just don’t need them to be responsible for our lives, to tell us how to be and what to think and feel and happiness doesn’t come from them, it comes from within. It’s the ‘cheese’ in you that you need to search for, not outside in someone else’s maze, it’s not there, it is gone! Get over it!

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Learning how to love ourselves: First step in loving others

 

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Q: So how does one learn to love oneself?

A: I’ve found the following to be useful:

 

  • Through serving others
  • Through friendship (unconditional)
  • Through patience
  • Through a giving relationship (non-competitive relationship–the spirit of relationship)
  • Through the loving and caring for nature
  • Through the act of loving even when you’re not feeling it
  • Through the act of forgiveness
  • Through opening your heart

 

Notice that all of these require that a person get outside their self that is, outside their narrow little ego-self, so as to include the “other.” This in effect expands the image of self to something greater than the ego and it’s the ego that contains the idea of being less-than.

Giving reverence to something much bigger than yourself takes you out of the confined space of the personality and opens the door to the infinite space of the divine. Love is no longer about you (as in getting or feeling love) in that you literally ‘become’ love i.e. you are its expression.

Note that all require increased consciousness as well. In order to see the reality around you, you have to be willing to let go of the reality you have. Loosen your expectations of others (and yourself) and allow what’s there to filter through. The act of forgiveness is a really effective tool in this process. Holding someone or some event in blame, censure, or punishment becomes a locked prison cell for the person doing the holding as well as creating unnecessary resistance in the other person. Note that blaming, censuring and punishment rarely affects positive change in people. Typically people just learn to avoid the blamer/punisher.

Love and caring cannot exist in a condition of animosity, blame, rancor, revenge, impatience, and aversion. And its loss isn’t just local to the person or event that’s unforgiven, it creates a ripple effect that spreads out across all of ones reality. Forgiveness is one of the most freeing experiences one can ever have. It what opens the heart and allows all the rest to come into your world. It literally opens you up to the Grace of God.

“I looked in temples, churches, and mosques. But I found the Divine within my heart.”

–Rumi

Lastly, you might have noticed that all the useful suggestions for opening yourself to the love of self require that you sacrifice, your point-of-view and your need for control. Points-of-view keep you locked in place, it narrows your reality to a myopic view of what’s actually there. Love is so big that it cannot be seen through the peephole of your limited point-of-view. There is nothing more limiting than a point-of-view. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one, just don’t be wedded to it.

Have you noticed how little in control you actually are? We do things to control the actions of the other so that we might feel safer, or more important. But this is a never-ending battle and we never really feel safer, or more important. Thinking that we have control of anything other than ourselves is a distraction. And we can’t have control over ourselves until we know who and what we are, which brings us back to the need for increased consciousness.

So how do we get this increased consciousness?

  • Through serving others
  • Through friendship (unconditional)
  • Through patience
  • Through a giving relationship (non-competitive relationship–the spirit of relationship)
  • Through the loving and caring for nature
  • Through the act of loving even when you’re not feeling it
  • Through the act of forgiveness
  • Through opening your heart

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