In a previous post on a chapter from the Kellys’ substantial
book, Irreducible Mind, I explained a little about the thresholds that place a filter between our consciousness and experiences from above and as well as experiences from below. This way of looking at things was originally derived from FWH Myers whose slightly confusing use of terminology I tried to clarify in that post using the diagram above.
I am planning to look at things from a slightly different angle now, more to do with the dynamics of the mind rather than its possible structure.
Reading, Writing and Relating, my three ‘R’s
In ‘My Background’ on this blog I have written: ‘I have been learning to use books and writing as two of the ways in which I can improve the maps I use to live by.’
My experiments with using what I was reading in this way began in earnest in the mid-70s. I had stepped back into the mainstream after living for nearly a year in communes devoted to bioenergetic analysis and primal therapy. (I may write more about those some other time.) I was working in a day centre for mental health. It wasn’t the clients that stressed me out but the tensions between the manager and her deputy, both of whom were pulling in opposite directions. After a few months of using a glass of sherry to de-stress when I got home, I decided I needed a healthier remedy. I enrolled in a Transactional Analysis (TA) group (more on that too later, maybe). I also bought lots of books about mind work, and I kept a detailed journal of my reading and my reflections during this whole period and have continued the same practice for much of the time since.
TA was extremely helpful in assisting me in the management of my interactions with other members of staff, not only in terms of understanding better how I was getting hooked into unhelpful patterns of relating, but also in terms of how to straighten out my responses so that I could more successfully avoid the hooks. Journaling is a good way to think about your thinking if you go back over what you have written with a more dispassionate eye later.
Somehow, though, this was not enough.
I was convinced of this when, in one of the books I was reading at the time, I came across a most interesting way of expressing the problem. It went something like this. ‘Why would you give someone else the power to make you upset/sad/angry? It’s your mind. Why let them control it.’ At the time I’d never thought of things this way, or at least not so clearly.
TA took me only so far in my understanding of how this might work. Yes, it gave me tools to examine my thoughts and behaviour, to step back from them to some extent. It also gave me other ways of thinking and behaving to substitute for them. These are two very powerful processes for inner change. However, the emphasis was very much on the TA way of analysing what was happening and on substituting the TA remedy. It hid the essence underneath. The essence, as I now understand it, only gradually became apparent. It’s this essence I hope to unravel now.
This diagram will hopefully help.
‘Well, that’s a fat lot of good!’ you shout, ‘I haven’t a clue what it means!’ And I can’t blame you for saying that. My initial response won’t be much help either: ‘I think in diagrams which saves an awful lot of words for me at the time.’
Now I realise I have to unpack what that means, of course. Behind those few coloured shapes and their labels stands my debt to Bahá’í ideas about the mind/soul/brain relationship, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, psychosynthesis, work on neuroplasticity, and a myriad other things I can’t call to mind right now. As this is not meant to be an academically respectable post, I’m not going to fret over that. Let’s get down to the basic practical implications.
The diagram represents the forces that might be impacting either directly or indirectly upon our consciousness and the decisions we make about what to do. We need to bring it down to earth a bit so we’ll start with a scenario.
What does this vignette illustrate in terms of the diagram?
My values are clear: compassion is the key. They come, you could argue, from a sense of spirituality that says we are all in essence one and when I harm someone else I am harming myself. One model suggests that our mind is an emanation of the spirit and could convey to us intimations of such higher values. This would affect the way we feel about the situation we are in. The diagonal line in the feelings box is there to flag up that that such intimations do not have quite such direct access to consciousness as the more powerful signal from our drives. Using similar imagery to that which Myers employed, the membrane between my awareness and promptings of the spirit is not as permeable as my higher self would like it to be, though it’s probably far too leaky already as far as my lower self is concerned.
My drives, that can be described as coming from lower urges generated in my brain, are pushing me to secure a competitive advantage. They come through; loud – passions tend to run high; clear – I know exactly what the message is; and very swiftly – they often have a short cut to my attention that bypasses my higher cognitive functions: for those reasons they can all too easily commandeer my will to their purposes even under the best of circumstances. Even more so if I forget what I have decided is really important to me.
A pause for reflection before action is often imperative. Reflection is not just thinking, as I have explained in more depth in a previous post, but thinking about thinking, and allows us to step back from what we are experiencing and inspect it more carefully, not mistaking it for who we really are or for the truth. The disidentification exercise created by Roberto Assagioli is a key tool in learning to understand the power of this insight and how to apply it to our lives. This was part of the power of TA: it gave me some tools at least with which to think about my thoughts and feelings and about how to pull back from a complete identification with them. (Below is the adaptation of Assagioli’s disidentification exercise I made to reflect other traditions as well.)
This is only one half of the picture though. The other half will have to wait until the next post.