Friday, December 4, 2009

Am I perceiving the world accurately?

Dear Edahn, 


Is it possible for the mind to create a whole world of its own, apart from but as a reaction to the real outside one? By this, I'm referring to how the mind is reacting to the external world yet at the same time internalizing and creating a quite different world. I understand this is perhaps too broad but I'm looking for a general answer.


Absolutely. In Zen Buddhism, they compare a clear mind to a clean mirror that perfectly reflect what's going on in the outside world. An unclean mind is like a mirror with dust on it that distorts what's going on outside.

Your perception, the thing you're experiencing right now, is a combination of your sensations and the judgments, labels, and automatic associations your mind produces ("JLAA" for short). You can think of it like a mathematical function* where x is stuff in the external world (lets call them "events") and y is your experience. When your mind is active and noisy, y = * JLAA. Events and JLAA fuse together and are impossible to distinguish. An extreme form of that is schizophrenia where JLAA and events have become completely indistinguishable, but it's also really obvious with other disorders like body-image disorders, anxiety disorders, Borderline personality, phobias, etc. In a phobia, there's an automatic association of danger with some object or situation -- spiders, hammers, intimacy, etc.

Most of our perception contains an element of fusion except in those moments where we really feel relaxed and calm, what I keep referring to as Rest. When your mind is relaxed and at rest, the JLAA disappears, so  = x. The mirror is reflecting perfectly. A Buddhist would call JLAA your karma. The objective of Buddhism is to clear your karma by making peace with desperation -- needing thing to change -- which is the source of karma. The primary tool is meditation, which is a tool for coming to peace with where ever you (and who ever you are) are in your life. Kindness towards yourself is a key component since when you're kind to yourself, you're not judging yourself and demanding you be a "better" person. Being kind to others is another key, since it helps you take your mind off of your needs and your struggle to change yourself.

If you're interested in cleaning up your mirror, you can give meditation a shot. I've had some favorable results with meditation and a lot of frustration. The frustration is actually a great opportunity to be kind to yourself, but it's easy to forget that. Cognitive-Behavioral therapy is all about identifying the JLAA and challenging it. Gestalt therapy is another technique that's really a form of meditation that came from Zen Buddhism. If you want my advice, I'd suggest trying to be a reasonably kind person (even if you don't totally feel it). You don't have to go overboard and pretend to be an angel, just try and be helpful and agreeable. If you have some specific area of your life that's giving you a lot of trouble, perhaps the reason you wrote in, then try and pay careful attention to your reactions and see what's going on. Some situations are truly threatening, others are only threatening because the negative automatic associations are scary and intense. When you identify those automatic associations, challenge them. Be tough and strong! Don't take shit from no one, not even yourself. Try this out for the next 3 weeks. If you want some more instruction, check out Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach or The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa. Very accessible, modern, and inspiring.

___
*Fuck, more math? What the shit is this, AskMyMathProfessor.com? Not yet, fair readers!


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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Edahn, you really are something! Thanks for the answer.
Forgive my boldness, may i ask what books you have read that have contributed to such insight in the field?

Edahn said...

Thanks for the kind words.

Many of the observations comes from measuring my own experience and analyzing the differences between moments of peace/joy and moments of tension. Obsessive people-watching has also helped with insight into motivation. :)

The books have helped structure those observations. Some of my favorites are Alan Watts: Wisdom of Insecurity, Desmond Morris: The Naked Ape, Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield: Seeking the Heart of Wisdom is a phenomenal book that breaks down a lot of Buddhist psychology.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! i think i myself will check them out :)