Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

Seven Illusions

I prefaced this review-sequence of posts about Karen Wilson’s 7 Illusions: Discover who you really are with an explanation of why it has been somewhat delayed, partly by my feeling that I needed to publish the post on the No-Self issue first.

Also, I was planning to do a simple review but the book raises so many fascinating issues it was hard to resist launching into a full-blown commentary. Hopefully, with the delay, I have been able to balance the need to flag up meaningful echoes while remaining sufficiently focused on the text itself to do it justice as I feel it is an insightful and honest exploration from direct experience of various challenges to and rewards for the serious meditator.

This is the second of three parts. The previous post looked at her basic intention and flagged up a couple of caveats from my point of view. This post focuses on the importance of meditation and its challenges. The third post will look at the shift in priorities involved and what we might learn from that.

Why meditation matters

Part of what relates to the importance of meditation, I’ve dealt with in a previous post, which focused on the No-Self issue so I will not revisit that here. What follows will inevitably have implications that are relevant to that issue also.

To describe our life as we perceive it, Karen uses the metaphor of a film to convey that what we experience is only a simulation and not reality. To over-identify with our character, in the Hollywood sense, is to surrender to the illusion and we can choose otherwise (429):

You have the free will of letting the Ego control you, or you can become the master and start living the movie through a totally different perspective.

She argues that (433): ‘To find yourself and to find presence, meditation is the best tool that you have.’

Even so, the task that confronts us will not be easy. Our movie role will not give up without a fight (435):

The Ego, the mind will try to prevent it, it will do anything to stop it. Of course, because the more you do it, the more IT will disappear.

She clarifies what we must do in response (437):

The challenge is to still do it under any circumstances, despite what is being said inside your head.

She shares some of her most telling insights and useful analogies here to help us see what we must do and why (531):

. . . when we are listening to the mind, we find ourselves in the past or a probable future. It is really an amazing tool, which is here to help us survive in a physical body in this three dimensional world. The problem is that we forget that it is just that, a tool, a computer. Over the years we put effort into making it strong, sharp and intelligent. Unfortunately, we overuse it and we forget to turn it off.

This is territory that Hanson and Mendius also explore from their slightly different and somewhat more academic angle. They Buddha Brainanalyse in some depth the neuropsychology of this survival tool from the perspective of brain science.

Karen is very clear about the trap that has been sprung on us by the worldly and practical success of our survival tool (535):

After a while we even forget that we are actually separate from it. This is the biggest illusion, the identification with the mind.

I might want to take issue with her terminology here, when she is discussing what she refers to as the ‘mind’ (582-89):

It is a computer, gathering, analyzing data and offering solutions. It never stops. It is restless. We made it that way. It will only exist in time, in the past or in the future, and it will always try to escape the present, because in the NOW the mind is not. . . . The main problem is that the brain takes everything the mind thinks as real. For the brain there are no differences between an actual physical danger, and your mind thinking about a fictional, imaginary danger.

This conflicts with the understanding I have developed after years of reconciling psychology with Bahá’í spirituality. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us that the mind is an emanation of the spirit and not a product of the brain: this fits with the idea of the brain not the mind as a transceiver, ie it both receives and generates data as the computer does. The brain therefore can be seen in this version of the model as the source of ‘static’ that interferes with our access to the mind, which is our direct link to the world of spirit. However, I don’t think this possible quibble should deter us from recognizing the value of what she then goes on to say on the back of this analogy (589):

Her core point is none the less clear (599-600):

If the mind is only a computer, then it is there for someone to use it: you.  The mind is just a tool, but a wonderful tool. The only problem is the common mistake of identifying with that tool. . . . . You need to find yourself. You need to find where and who you are. And I will say it again: meditation is the only means through which you are going to find these answers.

This does not mean that we should devalue what she calls the mind (613-621):

First of all, it does help you take care of your body to survive in the world. . . . . Secondly, it enables us to project ourselves in time, in the past and in the future, so we can understand what went wrong and avoid the same mistakes, and we can anticipate and plan for our future. . . . . Then, the mind helps us to tap into and translate information from the spirit world, . . . . . Also, a clear, focused and pointed mind will help us achieve anything we dream of. . . . . . Last, but not least, the mind will translate into words your true being, your soul.

Also that description indicates to me that her concept of mind is closer to that of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá than her original points suggested.

Nor do I want to argue with her next main point (622):

Our essence, our soul is energy and only energy. It does not communicate with language. It communicates with impressions, feelings, and intuitions.

She then moves onto a theme close to my heart (sorry if that sounds like a joke!) and one dealt with in some detail already on this blog so I won’t dwell at length on it here (625):

We are under the impression that our head says something and our heart, our inside, is trying to say something else. Believe me, in these situations, always listen to your heart. Always.

A key point comes slightly later and, though apparently simple, is in my view of profound importance, not just in terms of schooling, which is her point at the time, but for all of us throughout our lives (677): ‘we are not taught how not to use the mind when we do not need it.’ This is something crucial which it is never too late to learn.

ThriveShe emphasises that (677) children, if properly taught, ‘would learn how to focus and use their mind to solve problems, as well as how to turn the mind off in order to not over load it and stay stress free.’ And also, I would say, to gain access to other aspects of consciousness with different powers. Layard and Clark are similarly advocating the teaching of mindfulness in schools in their book - Thrive, reviewed earlier on this blog Unfortunately there is little sign yet that schooling will shift from its current reinforcement of the language-bound ruminating mind any time soon.

One of challenges of undertaking meditation is that the rewards, in terms for example of a quietness and expansion of consciousness, cannot be experienced except as a result of meditation itself, so we have to embark on an effortful discipline motivated by faith alone. She puts it succinctly (716):

That silence and that space cannot be understood at all by the mind or the intellect as it is a no-mind place. The only way to comprehend it is to experience it, to live it. You need to find it for yourself.

Even so (722) ‘Enlightenment is not something far away and complicated to reach. It has always been there, inside you, easy to grasp, just waiting for you to be ready.’

Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, says essentially the same thing (Gleanings: CLIII):

Deprive not yourselves of the unfading and resplendent Light that shineth within the Lamp of Divine glory. Let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts. . . . O My servants! My holy, My divinely ordained Revelation may be likened unto an ocean in whose depths are concealed innumerable pearls of great price, of surpassing luster. It is the duty of every seeker to bestir himself and strive to attain the shores of this ocean, so that he may, in proportion to the eagerness of his search and the efforts he hath exerted, partake of such benefits as have been pre-ordained in God’s irrevocable and hidden Tablets. . . . This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.

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Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at the GGSC

Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at the GGSC

. . . . . the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time—he cannot both speak and meditate.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá Paris Talks page 174)

There is a lot of evidence building up to reinforce the idea that quietness of mind, a current theme of mine, is a very positive experience indeed. In November this year for example there was a post on the Greater Good website suggesting this and pointing us in the direction of supportive evidence such as from Matt Killingworth’s piece of July 2013:

How does mind-wandering relate to happiness? We found that people are substantially less happy when their minds are wandering than when they’re not, which is unfortunate considering we do it so often. Moreover, the size of this effect is large—how often a person’s mind wanders, and what they think about when it does, is far more predictive of happiness than how much money they make, for example.

Now you might look at this result and say, “Ok, on average people are less happy when they’re mind-wandering, but surely when their minds are straying away from something that wasn’t very enjoyable to begin with, at least then mind-wandering will be beneficial for happiness.”

As it turns out, people are less happy when they’re mind-wandering no matter what they’re doing. For example, people don’t really like commuting to work very much; it’s one of their least enjoyable activities. Yet people are substantially happier when they’re focused only on their commute than when their mind is wandering off to something else. This pattern holds for every single activity we measured, including the least enjoyable. It’s amazing

Below is a short extract from Christine Carter’s Starved for Time? For the full post see link.

Here’s the core problem with all of this: We human beings need stillness in order to recharge our batteries. The constant stream of external stimulation that we get from our televisions and computers and smart phones, while often gratifying in the moment, ultimately causes what neuroscientists call “cognitive overload.” This state of feeling overwhelmed impairs our ability to think creatively, to plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions. In other words, it impairs basically everything we need to do in a given day.

But wait, there’s more: We only experience big joy and real gratitude and the dozens of other positive emotions that make our lives worth living by actually being in touch with our emotions—by giving ourselves space to actually feel what it is we are, well, feeling. In an effort to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that stillness can produce (such as the panicky feeling that we aren’t getting anything done), we also numb ourselves to the good feelings in our lives. And research by Matt Killingsworth suggests that actually being present to what we’re feeling and experiencing in the moment—good or bad—is better for our happiness in the end.

Here’s the main take-away: If we want to be high-functioning and happy, we need to re-learn how to be still. When we feel like there isn’t enough time in the day for us to get everything done, when we wish for more time… we don’t actually need more time. We need more stillness. Stillness to recharge. Stillness so that we can feel whatever it is that we feel. Stillness so that we can actually enjoy this life that we are living.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed and time-starved: Stop. Remember that what you need more than time (to work, to check tasks off your list) is downtime, sans stimulation.

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Seven Illusions

I need to preface this review of Karen Wilson’s 7 Illusions: Discover who you really are with an explanation of why it has been somewhat delayed, and not just by my feeling that I needed to publish the post on the No-Self issue first.

Basically, I was planning to do a simple review but the book raises so many fascinating issues it was hard to resist launching into a full-blown commentary. Hopefully, with the delay, I have been able to balance the need to flag up meaningful echoes while remaining sufficiently focused on the text itself to do it justice as I feel it is an insightful and honest exploration from direct experience of various challenges to and rewards for the serious meditator.

Another reason it has taken some time to get round to publishing this is that there are parts of the book I can’t buy into and generally I don’t review anything about which I have such significant reservations in terms of the central message. However, I am also aware that I have learnt a great deal from the book, which is rooted in her direct experience of the matters she speaks of. She says much that touches me deeply. It doesn’t seem fair not to bring such gems to people’s attention when my reservations might be my blinkers.

This is the first of three parts dealing with her basic intention and flagging up a couple of caveats from my point of view. The next post will focus on the importance of meditation and its challenges. The third post will look at the shift in priorities involved and what we might learn from that.

The Purpose of the Book

As I understand it the book it written to encourage us all to build our search for happiness and fulfillment on a sounder basis (Kindle Reference 70):

[This] is what you have been looking for and searching for all your life. But you were scared, and instead of looking inside you went to look outside.

Changing the direction of our gaze (111) moves us towards ‘[b]ecoming the person you`ve always wanted to be’ which, she feels would be ‘the real source of happiness and as such the real and only thing worth manifesting?’

Part of this process will involve our spotting negative thoughts (156) and ‘counteract[ing] them with positive affirmations.’ ThisBuddha Brain of course is easier said than done given the Teflon tendencies for positive thought discussed in the Buddha’s Brain book already reviewed.

The core aspect of happiness she defines as follows (248):

As we`ve seen before, happiness is the contentment with what is. It is not wishing for life to be different. It is not wanting something that we don`t have.

This is a question of choice (313):

In a nutshell, things are as they are, whether you cry or laugh because of them is your choice. Choosing happiness or unhappiness, anger or compassion, worry or trust, fear or love are our main choices in life.

We can also choose how we respond to the testing behavior of other people, with potentially constructive consequences (372):

Someone is verbally attacking you, calling you names. You can consciously choose to stay at their level and send the same back, or you can choose to send some kind words instead. You should try it once, no argument can last more than a minute if one party is sending love back at anger, negative energy cannot be sustained on love.

In speaking of the way we think about the future she revisits familiar territory reminiscent of the Twain/Montaigne problem – ‘There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened’ – but pointing out that positive as well as negative expectations can be equally pointless (396):

Guess what: ninety nine percent of your thoughts about the imaginary future will not happen. What you are so scared of happening will not happen. The house you would buy if you win the lottery will not happen. What you are doing now by thinking about the future is wasting your present.

It’s in the process of unfolding this explanation that she brings in the stumbling blocks for me – first of all, her reincarnation model.

For reasons I have explored at some length, this view of the afterlife is not one I find easy to accept. I won’t rehearse all my arguments here. I will simply state her position without further comment. She believes (308):

. . . . souls choose to incarnate on the earth for the purpose of learning, growing and helping others. They know what they need to work on, and also what they need to do to achieve their goals. So they have a pretty good idea of the life they need. Then, they plan very carefully their next incarnation, choosing their place, date, and family of birth.

She uses this model to explain certain types of evil (423):

You see, if someone wants to experience forgiveness, and needs someone to hurt her/ him, someone else needs to be the malevolent actor. How can a beautiful soul full of love and light harm anyone?

I think it best to leave the readers of this post to make up their own mind on this one.

The second stumbling block is to do with the power of positive thought to change what happens.

Her often repeated belief is that if you believe confidently enough that your needs will be met or your problems solved, they assuredly will be. A succinct statement of this kind of thinking is if, for example when you are in dire financial straits (336), ‘You trust that enough money will come to cover your needs’ then ‘it always does.’ She explains more fully later with an example from her own experience (1615):

. . . one day, when my car broke down at a time in my life when I had no fixed income, a very high rent, and when I  needed to come up with a couple of thousand dollars in two weeks, I totally panicked. My mind repeated ‘I’ll be ok’, ‘I’ll get the money’; yet my body was stressing as much as it used to. Hadn`t I learned my lessons? Of course the money came, in unexpected ways, at the right time, and exactly the amount I needed…silly me. I KNEW IT!

But for some people the money doesn’t come – and it’s too easy to say that this is because of their negative attitude.

Much as I value her authentic experiences of meditation, I am not convinced by this anecdote that this is a general truth. I think there are far too many examples in the world as a whole of widespread and persistently unremedied suffering for me to accept that kind of claim. I also find myself wondering where her mocking reference to positive fantasies about the future – ‘The house you would buy if you win the lottery will not happen’ – leaves her on the power of positive thoughts issue.

However, in spite of what I perceive as these blemishes, the book as a whole has a great deal of value to offer. Except for her reincarnation model and the power of positive thoughts issue, I have no problem with any of this, which maps onto much of the literature from which I have already learnt so much.

With one minor exception, I will from now on focus on the positives, as they far outweigh these reservations.

trigger for meditation

After this nit-picking and before pausing until the next post on this topic, I feel I need to end with a longer quote from Karen’s book to illustrate why I find it so valuable. It is the way she manages at times to fuse a compelling and vivid account of her direct experience with an explanation of some of its implications. These are the gems that make the book so well worth reading. I find such passages moving as well as inspiring and convincing – and there are many of them.


. . . what you want to find is silence. Silence inside your own head. Now I couldn`t imagine living again with incessant chatter in my mind. I love that silence. I love that peace. And I love the ability to gently disregard the thoughts which I don`t want. In that silence, in that space where there are no thoughts, in that absolute peace, I bathe in awareness. I bathe in being.

Now it feels as if I used to be buried behind layers and layers of incessant, illogical, and uncoordinated thoughts. But one day I finally emerged. One day I found myself deep into my own abyss. And since then I have remained at the surface, always breathing, always being. And only when I managed to come to the surface did I finally see reality as it was.

I now see the world clearly and simply, without judgment, without descriptions, without words inside my head to tell me how it is. That space in between thoughts is a special place. It is where everything is. It is where everything comes from. That place of silence is a pure magical beauty. It needs to be experienced to be understood. The mind cannot fathom just a portion of that reality.

That silence and that space cannot be understood at all by the mind or the intellect as it is a no-mind place. The only way to comprehend it is to experience it, to live it. You need to find it for yourself. You need to look within. Go inside yourself and find this beautiful sacred place. Once you find this silence, you will be overwhelmed by its music. It is a deep sense of knowing and of purpose, a feeling of finally being home.

Then you`ll never want to come back to the busyness, to the craziness, to the chaotic world of the mind where only fear reigns. The silence is what you were always looking for. That`s where YOU are. Everybody is looking for themselves, they just don`t look in the right place. You will find yourself in this silence. You will find yourself out of the mind. Really, it is so simple, so close, and so easy. Enlightenment is not something far away and complicated to reach. It has always been there, inside you, easy to grasp, just waiting for you to be ready.

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Seeing Red

Seeing Red v3

For source of adapted image see link

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The Buzzing in our Brain Cells v5

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Still in pursuit of my publicly declared goal (why didn’t I just keep quiet?) of deepening my understanding of interconnectedness, at least in part by reading about and practising mindfulness, I discovered a gem of a book – The Practical Science of Buddha’s Brain. It pulls together psychology evidence to shed light on the way that Buddhist processes achieve their efficacy.

I may have been subliminally steered towards the book after moving onto Williams and Penman’s Befriending meditation (page 195), which warmly reminded me of my early days of meditating. I learnt how to follow the breath at the Buddhist Centre in Eccleston Square, London, in the early 80s. At the end of each meditation, as I read at the time, you finished by bowing and wishing that the fruits of your meditation be of benefit to all living beings – a very similar process.

Whatever it was that primed me, as soon as I saw this book on the shelf I had to buy it, and I’m glad I did.

Mind and Brain

The avowed aim of Hanson and Mendius’s book (page 10) is to explore ‘the relationship between the mind and brain, especially regarding conscious experience.’ They feel that this question is as important as what caused the big bang or what the unified theory integrating quantum mechanics and general relativity will look like. I’m inclined to agree with them, but then I’m biased.

They begin by clarifying the exact nature of their debt to Buddhism, which does not extend as far as accepting the existence of a transcendental realm as part of their model (page 11):

. . . with a deep bow to the transcendental, we will stay within the frame of Western science and see what modern neuropsychology, informed by contemplative practice, offers in the way of effective methods for experiencing greater happiness, love and wisdom.

Their loss, sadly, but what they do manage to achieve is well worth reading, as it explores accessibly but in reasonable detail what happens in the brain that accounts for the powerful effects of meditation.

In this post I don’t plan to mention every example of that as there are other issues I wish to focus on. However, it is worth sharing their summary to give the flavour of what they do in this respect (page 16):

It’s impossible to change the past or the present: you can only accept all that as it is. But you can tend to the causes of a better future. Most of the ways you do this are small and humble. To use examples from later in this book, you could take a very full inhalation in a tense meeting to force a long exhalation, thus activating the calming parasympathetic nervous system. (PNS). Or, when remembering an upsetting experience, recall the feeling of being with someone who loves you – which will gradually infuse the upsetting memory with a positive feeling. Or, to steady the mind, deliberately prolonging feelings of happiness as this will increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which will help your attention stay focused.

The Negativity Bias

Buddha BrainWhat I want to focus on now are one or two of the valuable insights they convey as they go along. The first, concerning our evolutionary heritage, helps to clarify why meditation is both so valuable and yet so difficult for most of us. I will also deal with their treatment of a pet theme of mine later.

The first of these insights is derived from our evolutionary history (page 26):

. . . . to motivate animals, including ourselves, to follow [survival] strategies and pass on their genes, neural networks evolved to create pain and distress under certain conditions: when separations break down, stability is shaken, opportunities disappoint, and threats loom.

They explain slightly later not only why this was so but one of its most unwelcome correlates (pages 40-41):

. . . it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival. . . . . The brain typically detects negative information faster than positive information. . . . . Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.

The consequences of this are not by any means simply confined to life threatening situations for us modern human beings (ibid):

. . . . In relationships, it typically takes about five positive interactions to overcome the effects of a single negative one (Gottman 1995).

Also this bias towards negativity determines the scenarios with which our imagination mesmerises us constantly (pages 44-45):

[Mini movies run in our heads] and . . . . keep us stuck by their simplistic view of the past and by their defining out of existence real possibilities for the future, such as new ways to reach out to others or dream big dreams. Their beliefs are the bars of an invisible cage, trapping you in a life that’s smaller than the one you could actually have.

Effectively they are asserting the same insight as is attributed to Montaigne and Mark Twain: ‘There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.’

They describe a kind of three-legged stool upon which we can sit to remain grounded, but doing so is by no means easy as it entails going against the flow of our evolutionary heritage (page 46 – my italics pick out the legs of the stool):

Virtue restrains emotional reactions that worked well on the Serengeti, mindfulness decreases external vigilance, and wisdom cuts through beliefs that once helped us survive. It goes against the evolutionary template to undo the causes of suffering, to feel one with all things, to flow with the changing moment, and to remain unmoved by pleasant and unpleasant like.

The effects of this negative bias upon memory are particularly debilitating (page 68):

. . . even when positive experiences outnumber negative ones, the pile of negative implicit memories naturally grows faster. Then the background feeling that what it feels like to be you can become undeservedly glum and pessimistic.

We need to make a conscious and sustained effort to cut against the grain of that bias – shades of Schwartz et al again here from earlier posts on this blog (page 73-75:

To gradually replace negative implicit memories with positive ones, just make the positive aspects of your experience prominent and relatively intense in the foreground of your awareness while simultaneously placing the negative material in the background. . . . . Given the negativity bias of the brain, it takes an active effort to internalize positive experiences and heal negative ones.

The Wolf of Love

wolf of love

For the source of this image see link

Readers of this blog will know that I have explored the importance of our widening our compass of compassion if the problems currently confronting humanity are to have any hope of being resolved. It will therefore come as no surprise to them that one of the strong appeals of this book is precisely because of the emphasis the authors place on this very point, but in their own very telling fashion (page 122):

I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.”

They spell out the implications (page 131):

The wolf of love sees a vast horizon, with all beings included in the circle of “us.” That circle shrinks down for the wolf of hate, so that only the nation, or tribe, or friends and family – or, in the extreme, only the individual self – is held as “us,” surrounded by threatening masses of “them.”

And the drastic consequences (page 132):

As soon as you place anyone outside of the circle of “us,” the mind/brain automatically begins to devalue that person and justify poor treatment of him.

And then the music to my ears, in terms of my immediate aims of the moment. They assert (page 169):

…[that] everything is connected to everything else, that “us” is the whole wide world – that, in a deep sense, the entire planet is your home and the people on it are your extended family.

Their concept of self, which they move on to discuss, is worthy of consideration also, but I’ll keep that for a separate post probably next week.

What about their practice?

I’ve only really tried one of their exercises but it has proved interesting.

I recorded a guided meditation concerning how to become aware of awareness in itself based on the suggestions below.

Buddha Meds 01

Buddha Meds 02

The very first time I used it, and only to test it rather than seriously, I ended up with tingles down the spine every time I heard my recorded self speak of focusing on being aware of awareness itself. And, even though I still find it hard to achieve that kind of consciousness with any consistency, there is still the same kind of energy circulating when I use this exercise at those same points, so something is happening.

I am hoping to use it for a while on a daily basis to see if I can stabilise my connection with this kind of consciousness. It will be a major breakthrough if I can.

If all their other exercises in this book prove equally fruitful, I could be drawing on it for a long time, even though it refuses to be drawn into a deeper consideration of the transcendent.

Just to close on something else important, what I have already found really useful is their page (184) of suggestions to help me hold mindfulness more effectively in mind.

Mindful Eye v2

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Mary poem

Why the Pressure Cooker?

At the end of the last post, I explained that what I wanted to understand was why, when I’d finished a boring but not My head cooking v2particularly dangerous process, in this case the renewal of our house insurance, it felt as though my brains were boiling.

I decided to place this matter before my subliminal mind and wait and see what popped into consciousness. This approach has worked many times in the past as long as I remain alert for the whispered hints that float up from the cellar of my mind.

Sure enough, late that night, as I was cleaning my teeth, I thought to ask myself again why I got so uptight. The answer came: it was partly to do with my sister Mary’s death.

I’ll need to explain that, I suspect.

Mary was 12 years old when she died in 1939, four years before I was born. My parents were in grief still, having had the war to cope with as well as their grieving process. To put it somewhat dramatically, it felt as though my mother’s anxiety about my health and my father’s broken spirit had imprinted a conviction on my soul that, because you never know how long you might live, time is infinitely more important than money.

Most of us, in this society, will be able sooner or later to earn again what we have spent. Time that has been wasted cannot be replaced. Once it is gone, it gone forever. So, to put it more materialistically, spending time trying to save small amounts of money/dosh/dough/loot, no matter how I try to rationalise it as prudent, violates the conviction branded on my brain in childhood.

And it is hard for me to look upon my personal ‘scripture,’ in which so much emotion has been invested, merely as a childhood script from which it would be right and helpful to detach my mind in the moments when it is screaming to be heard. This is what being mindful would require and I don’t think I’m quite that mindful yet.

The following day, though, I began to wonder whether this explanation, poignant as it seemed, was all there was to it. It would have been easy to accept the emotion-drenched story as a full account of the problem, plausibly painting the trauma as all that was needed to make me, its victim, the prisoner of this kind of over-reaction.

When I remembered to ask again, it soon became apparent that the Death and Dough part of it, though clearly powerful, was only the beginning. As often happens the problem was, in psychobabble, ‘multiply determined.’  I was equally determined to get to the bottom of it.

Notebook with Eye v2

The Full Five Dimensions

The subliminal mind obliged with a set of responses as I sat quietly by the garden table with my notebook in hand. Three more ideas surfaced.

I hate commercial Deadlines.

At first I thought it was all deadlines, but I checked with myself and remembered that producing pieces of work for a deadline has never really bothered me, anymore than completing blog posts on schedule is a problem. No, it’s definitely the deadlines imposed by big companies for their contracts or insurance companies for their policies, as in this case.

I know I regard most big companies as sharks who are out to extract from us without anaesthetic every dollar/penny that they can. But why was I so uptight just for that? I know they can’t really eat me. I do seem to be exaggerating the costs of failing to meet the deadline.

I remembered how I feel when the car service is due. It’s as though I believe that if I miss the date, when I get into the car the following day the engine will fall out. Maybe I have the same fears with house insurance – fail to renew on time and the roof caves in.

It was worth holding this crazed logic in mind as a possible factor.

But Deadlines were not the end of it. There were going to be five dimensions working hard to get my brain buzzing with this problem.

The whisper came through that the Devil of the fourth dimension was in the Detail.

I hate picking over details. This could be a temperamental issue. If you accept there is some validity in the Myers-Briggs typology and it’s not as flaky as astrology, then I am an INFP. True to form, I won’t bore you with what that means in detail.

I’ll cut straight to the chase.

A website describes one aspect of people with this personality profile: ‘The mundane aspects of life are of less interest to this type, and they are more excited by interesting ideas than by practical facts.’ That’s me to a ‘T.’ So, whether there’s anything in this personality typing model or not, the description is an exact fit. If it’s not a question of temperament, I’m not sure where the trait comes from.

I’m definitely a lumper rather than a splitter in terms of my instinctively preferred mode of operation. Always the big picture: never the nitty-gritty.

It’s also true though that the preference for ideas rather than practicalities might also relate to the money issue I described at first: money is just too mundane a thing for my abstraction-loving mind to be bothered with. This notion, if it is true, has clearly been reinforced by my childhood experience of my parents’ grief.

And, to be fair, also by the stories that came down through my mum about my dad. Apparently, during the depression, he had a butcher’s shop. When people came in who could not afford to pay for meat he gave it them on tick and eventually the business went bust because he never got most of the money in the end. It feels like a betrayal of his principles to get concerned about cash.

In short, to waste precious time going into detail about money was like selling your soul to the Devil. I could see the different threads forming a cord strong enough to throttle me. To complicate things, there is a baby in this bathwater – I really do believe that the love of money is the root of a great deal of evil and it’s hard to tell where this praiseworthy principle ends and a neurotic fecklessness masquerading as virtue begins.

Another possibility is that my kinaesthetic processing bias is at work here. I’ve dealt with this at some length in an earlier post so I won’t go over all that again here. In brief, it’s far easier for someone whose natural inclination is to work visually or verbally, to comfortably perform detailed analyses, nit picking over tiny discrepancies.

Someone like me, who likes to feel their way, has to work against the grain when scrutinising factual details. Only if someone’s life was on the line would I feel that the end justified the effort, for me at least. House insurance didn’t seem to qualify by that criterion, unless of course roofs really do fall in when you don’t pay on time.

We’re not done yet I’m afraid though we’re almost there.

Then there is an aversion to displeasing anyone.

This is rather like a Please Me Driver in TA terms. And what effect does that have?

I find it barely credible to say this, but it seems that even when it’s a call centre operator, whom I’ve never met nor ever will, I behave as though they held my life in their hands, as though if I irritated them too much, by some strange voodoo power, they’d do me serious damage. I really, really do not want to upset him or her. In fact, I’m like this with most people unless I’m angry or outraged. At such times I cease to care and speak my mind. So far, though, my survival at such times seems to have done nothing to convince me I could be as frank when I am calm.

I know that I am also exceptionally keen not to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I know where that comes from, but this is not the same. It’s upsetting in the sense of offending or displeasing that’s at work here. I’m not entirely sure where that comes from with such strength,  but I certainly had key authority figures in my childhood who were capable of kicking off even to an insultingly raised eyebrow or sarcastically curled lip on my part, not to the extent of getting physical but certainly of having a major strop. Silent disapproval and some kind of ban for as long as the sulk lasted were the usual consequences. Definitely something to be avoided if possible. It had to be a major issue for me to risk that.

Still, that possibility doesn’t seem to provide experiences of sufficient strength to explain my current aversion to the faint possibility of upsetting people hundreds of miles away. Myers Briggs trait theory suggests that INFPs loathe conflict of any kind and will go a very long way indeed to avoid it, so that could be in the mix as well, I suppose.

And there we have all the threads involved so far as I’m aware at the moment. Death, Dough, Deadlines, Details and Displeasing people, making it a 5D problem.

Does knowing all that help?

Once I add them all up in that way, I can see they would make a very potent cocktail, easily strong enough to knock my mind out of gear when picking over details which will then be raised as levers to dispute an insurance quote. Whether it really constitutes a correct explanation, rather than a convenient rationalisation for an embarrassing inability to deal calmly with the simple practicalities of life, is still not clear.

From a pragmatic point of view the key question is, ‘Does knowing this help me defuse their effects?’

I believe it might, as I can pick each element off one by one and use the mindfulness desensitisation process to take the powerful charge out of each of these elements, assuming they have been correctly identified. This is the process I described in an earlier post. I summarised its elements as the summoning up to consciousness of a troubling experience combined with a distractor activity that helps induce greater calm in the presence of the stress stimulus.

This would test whether these ideas are rationalisations rather than accurate explanations for why I get so uptight. I could try to defuse them all one by one and see where that leaves me. If nothing changes it would either suggest they were not the culprits, or that I was using the wrong remedy. I’d be inclined to think that the first explanation would be the best: I was backing the wrong horses.

So, I’ll be giving it a go and letting you know how I get on.

For now the main point is that mindfulness work enabled me to spot the problem and triggered this helpful analysis. Let’s see if it can take me one step further.

Who knows? If I manage to work through this lot successfully I might be ready to tackle my aversion to haggling.

Was that a pig I saw flying past my window just now?

pigs in sky

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