Dec 23

Handling Christmas Stress

Four hacks for handling Christmas Stress – and change your life

1.  Shift from  Christmas Stress by Clearing Your Thinking

When you begin to feel stressed – particularly Christmas stress –  and you feel frustrated, put upon, rushed, angry, remember these simple truths that will change your Christmas – and your life.

Nothing external causes your emotional state

Some things or some people can be difficult, because they themselves don’t understand their own emotional responsibilities. But nothing and no one can jump into your muscles, or brain, or hormones, to bring you into a tight, stressed state – only you can do that. So what can you do then?

Your emotions are a response to your perceptions, not to fact or reality

We suppose that other things or other people cause how we feel.  In fact, someone else’s behaviour can’t cause anything in you.  What happens is you perceive, and then filter your perceptions through the blackbox of your mind – and then, you react, like a ping pong ball, reacting the same old way over and over again.

2.  Realise That Your Notions Of How It Should Be Are Bad For You

Do you know there are only 10 rules in the Bible? But you have zillions. And then you react when your rules are not met. Try looking at your difficult person or difficult situation differently. Maybe it is ok, just different from what you would prefer. Gosh! OK… take a new path

Everything really is as it should be

Since the dawn of time, one thing has led to another, and that to another… right down to what is happening now. That annoying behaviour or person or situation is inevitable because of everything that has gone before.

The Butterfly Effect -you cannot change the past. The future is another matter

How it is now is because everything prior is how it has been. The Butterfly Effect is a the recognition that if you could change the past, even the recent past, the present, including the present you, would be a crazy version of what you now know.  Also, it is the notion that something you change now, in this instant, can have far reaching effects. If a butterfly flaps its wings now, who knows what a wind of change will result?

You can’t change the past… but you will respond better to your current provocation when you realise that its origins are a long way back in the past, and it is useless to see it as a blame situation in this moment now. And your own past contributes to what you are feeling and how you are reacting in this moment, too. It is not so easy as “you did, I didn’t”.

All the invisible past things can’t be changed. They are fixed, and have their beginnings far back from where you are in this moment of stress.  That is a good thing to take into account, when you feel stressed, cranky or overwhelmed. Even this moment of provocation is less stressful when we realize that a long trail of previous causes have made it be as it is. Why not be a butterfly and flap your beautiful wings?

Right now is where the butterfly flaps its wings

.The first flap of  your delicate wings is just a little shift in your mind. You can become more comfortable with what aggravates you. You can become more tolerant of frustration and discomfort.

Emotional discomfort is probably more of a trigger for stress than physical discomfort.  One way  you can handle it better is to remind yourself that you can!  You can remind yourself that you have strength and skill, and that emotional outbursts and  reactions show your own intolerance.  They don’t make a statement about anyone else.  So becoming better at handling Christmas stress means being OK with the present, however it is. And the easiest way to do that is to give up the blame game for the obnoxious things that happen and the obnoxious people around you.

Becoming tolerant, giving up the blame game

When you realise that that the present is a result of a long chain of past influences, you can actively work on having an “allowing” mindset, one that permits others to have their funny ways or to be different from how you would like them to be.  Another really big thing you can do is to stop blaming anyone else for how things are.

Yes, you might be able to see how it all could have been different! Yet, in fact, it is exactly how it had to be.  So where is the blame coming from?  Only from your frustration.  So… what can you do?

The future can be changed, and it starts now

Here’s the good news, The present is already on its way to being the past. But the next moment is unformed.  You can change that – right now!  Wow – the future can be changed. And the bad news?  You have to be the one who changes.  Ohhh….. But remember the Butterfly effect. Even a small change you make can have far reaching effects.  If you go on in the same old way, your ping-pong mind will just get one hit after another

Well, at least take a deep breath. In fact, here are some quick physical things you can do to release a bit of your Christmas stress

3. Make A Quick Change In The Very Moment – Physical

Here is a quick way to make a difference in your own state, right now, at any time. When your mind gets uptight, so does  your body. So if you can’t quickly change your mind, do something to change your body state.  This is a quick start.

Take a deep breath and slowly let it out

This is wonderful to do before you reply, or whenever you feel things are getting on top of you

Brief muscle tensing for body relaxation

Tighten all the muscles in your arms and hands – and then just let it all go. Arms heavy, soft.  Just for a moment.

 Release neck and shoulder tension

Paradoxically TIGHTEN your neck and shoulders.  Scrunch your shoulders up towards your neck. And then let go.  Do that two or three times. Letting go on an out-breath is nice

And perhaps you begin to notice that YOU are in charge of how much stress you feel, and you don’t have to be like a ping-pong ball that bounces off predictably whenever it is touched by someone or some situation that is different from what you like.

 

4. Meditate: The best way to handle Christmas stress or any stress

Sit still and quiet for a period, and actively restrict your mind from journeying out to all those entrancing thoughts about how awful it is.

An hour daily would be great (Not enough time?  Then 3 hours!)

Ok, 20 minutes

Ok then, 10 minutes in the midst of things

 

And a fifth: Learn how to do your life better

Book Into my Resilience Course In February Immediately!!

Come To The Meditation Retreat in January, 19 – 21 !

Book into my Learn Meditation and Mindfulness course asap

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/four-quick-hacks-handling-christmas-stress/

Nov 30 2017

Scientific Meditation Research

SCIENTIFIC MEDITATION RESEARCH

There is a plethora of meditation research – the biology of meditation, the psychobiology of meditation, health and well-being outcomes, and research that shows that meditation changes brain structures.

The first foray into meditation research came with Herbert Benson and a biometric understanding of the physical state of meditation. His book The Relaxation Response, published in 1975, described his understanding of meditation as a physiological phenomenon.

Benson’s work enabled meditation to be taken seriously by the medical and scientific community who were otherwise sceptical of “Eastern” disciplines and philosophies, and sparked the academic discipline of research.  More recent research on the connection between meditation and neuroscience, and meditation and brain plasticity, may be more interesting to the traditional meditator.

An upside for the profession of meditation

The great benefit of a scientific understanding of meditation is two-fold: it has put meditation into the realm of acceptability in a cynical age; and it has endorsed meditation as a practice that brings changes to personal life that have been described for many generations- eg  calmness: see this research discussion in Scientific American.

And a downside

The downside is also two-fold:  on the one hand, these changes indeed have been known for many generations.  The research has not given the community anything new other than to add another step in the description. What has been known for centuries, or millennia, is now attributed to changes in the brain… but those changes themselves are attributed to meditation practice. A bit circular… and much of the potential depth of meditation is lost in applications that miss the point of what started it all.

The other is that meditation researchers are often not long-term, still-mind meditators themselves.  This can and probably does lead to a gap of understanding in the scientific approach.  If a meditator reaches a no-mind, no-self state, and their experience of self and the world changes fundamentally, current research methodology is a blunt instrument to explore the ineffable.

Reading Research – Know what you are looking at

If you are looking for information on aspects of meditation that have been scientifically researched, here are some basic guidelines. Make sure you know the difference between opinion, populism, and true research

Opinion

Opinion will simply state someone’s view, without any support for it.  Some who give their opinions of course may have a substantial background of experience and expertise in what they are discussing, and may offer valuable wisdom.  Or their opinions may not be wise at all.  Opinion-givers ought to be willing to show why their opinion is worthy of attention.

Populist Publications

Populist publications are generally written for those who do not want to or do not know how to read scientific research. Some may be solid and point to research, though the material is simplified and easy to read. Others may be entertaining publications with poor reliability.

Two examples of  reliable populist publications

These and others like them would give good information without you having to read the research itself. They are reliable because the submitting authors are science professionals themselves.

Psychology Today: generally you would expect professional authors explaining issues based on research, though references to the actual research might not be given – for example this article on Your Brain on Meditation

New Scientist: Science journalism that will expand understanding, and describes research in easy to read terms; references to the research might be given too.

Magazines with poor reliability

These are more for entertainment than information, and the articles are usually written by journalists who do not have expertise in the topic they are writing about. Examples are those like Women’s Day, the Sunday Magazine of newspapers, and such like.

Magazines that would also be unreliable from an information perspective are those pushing a particular agenda, or supporting a single view point (or bias) and arguing for it. In such cases, science data that would counter their point of view is suppressed,  rather than being taken into account.

Anecdote vs Data

A major difference between meditation opinion and meditation research is that opinion generally rests on conclusions reached from personal experience. For instance, someone might say “I like hanging out with meditators – the ones I know are easy to get on with”. The person might tell a story or two from their experience, using anecdotes to illustrate their point.

Research requires as many subjects as possible who meet criteria (eg long term meditators), and compares them on specific factors –areas of a brain scan, for instance – with controls (people who don’t meditate, for instance). Measuring them generates data, that is, raw numerical scores on each factor for each group.  In its raw form, the data doesn’t tell us much. To be useful, the data has to yield statistics.

Statistics

Meditation research findings are statistical.  That is, the information gained from the study must show confidently that the control group (non-meditators) really are different, on the factors measured, from the meditators, and that the difference is not just by chance or by incidental issues such as social group. This statement of confidence is what makes the finding reliable.

Not proof – the Null Hypothesis

Something else that is excellent about scientific meditation research is that no one sets out to prove anything. The starting premise is negative.  An example would be that “there is no difference between the brains of meditators and non-meditators”. If the statistical result confidently shows a clear difference between the two groups, the true outcome is that it is highly unlikely that the research has discovered a chance discrepancy between the two groups… and therefore, it is highly likely that the meditators really are different because they meditate.  Still not quite incontrovertible proof about the meditators. What has been demonstrated is that the null hypothesis, that there is no difference, is unlikely.

Replicable

Another aspect of scientific meditation research is that the findings are expected to be the same if other researchers repeat the method.  That is why research reports give every (sometimes tedious) detail of what they did, from selecting subjects, to the methods they used and the analytical tools they employed. Everything is on the table!

The Structure of Scientific Research Reports

A scientific report will always include

Abstract – a brief summary of the work that gives readers the essential findings in a nutshell

Introduction – discussing the current state of knowledge of the topic and where this research expands current knowledge

Materials and Methods – gives detailed information on how the study was carried out, including how subjects were chosen, both for the experimental group and the control group; and the experimental treatment of the subjects; and any external materials required. This section also mentions the statistical method chosen to analyse the data that is generated.

Results – Includes the statistical analysis of the raw data. The result gives the level of confidence that there is a difference between the control group and the experimental group. The acceptable level is that statistically, the difference is at least 95% more likely than unlikely, therefore, not arising by chance.

Discussion – This area of the report comments on the implications of the finding, and suggests where further research could be of benefit. For instance, if mindfulness practice is shown to reduce the perception of pain, then…?

References – Most research papers add a long list of references of prior research, a goldmine for anyone wanting to explore the topic more deeply through established research.

 

FINDING RESEARCH REPORTS AND ABSTRACTS

True research articles are to be found in professional journals, eg The Journal of Neuroscience. Try typing “meditation” into the journal’s search function. You will get a tantalising list of real research. You then have a choice to read the entire research report, or to read the abstract.

Abstracts

The abstract is a great time saver. The abstract will tell you briefly what the researchers did, who the subjects were, what the research found, along with a very brief pointer to the implications. It is a way to access the reference details – authors, institution, journal, volume and date – and to get findings in a nutshell.  Here is an example of various abstracts, provided by an educational institution to help research report writers: https://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/presentations_abstracts_examples.html.

Meta-research

“Meta” research is a review of large numbers of published research reports, which gives an account of the state of understanding in a particular field. This is a neat way to see a quick overview of research. Sometimes meta-research might include a critical analysis of research included, or it can be quite simple and summary. Here is an example of a simple summarising, meta-account of research on meditation and brain plasticity.

And here is an example that includes a review of the research, in the well-respected journal, Nature, on The Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation

Free or pay-per-view?

Early in digital history, journal articles were free.  Then they became fee-based, but the abstracts, a short summary of what was done, how and why it was done, and the outcome, were free. Now even some abstracts may attract a charge.  It is a matter of searching till you find what you want. If what you want is only available online as pay per view, there are other ways around it.

One way is to hang out in any university library and read directly from prestigious journals.  If that is not your scene, another free source is PubMed, an arm of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Surprisingly, much does appear there, all free. Or, you may be interested from a specifically psychological point of view: try this link to an all psychology resources  site.

Other websites may offer free research articles – some of which may or may not violate copyright – and some might be from online publishers whose criteria for publishing research might not be as stringent as those of the most prestigious institutions.  Be careful of what you look for.

Who wouldn’t love scientific meditation research?

Of course it is trustworthy, in a way that other comments about meditation cannot be.  The elephant in the room, though, is that research is based on preconceptions.  A research model cannot be set up without a conceptual framework of how one group might differ from another.  To state the obvious, no one knows what they haven’t conceived of, and so cannot test for it. That is a hiatus in scientific meditation research.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/meditation-research/

Sep 14

Spring, Growth, Equinox, Balance, Satsang

Spring – Time of Renewal and Growth – and the Equinox

pictures of Spring flowers

Spring, lush, optimistic

Spring has come to Melbourne with it burst of lush and colourful growth. And with it, a magical moment – the Vernal Equinox.  Two fantastic aspects of the  natural cycle.  Do you feel the change in yourself?

As the natural world literally springs into renewed life, perhaps we humans can renew, too – renewed optimism, energy and growth. Are  you willing to risk all as you push up into the light, and the sun, and the rain? If you are, you will find uncertainty – you can’t be sure whether you will meet with drought, or ruinous rain, or a gentle nurturing.

You cannot control outcomes, even more than the plants can, or any more than the birds can secure for certain the viability of their hatchlings.  But perhaps that uncertainty is inherent in growth.

And do you know what?  It is only us humans who invest hope in the enterprise.

Those remarkable flowers, brilliant and delicate, do not even consider themselves beautiful, nor do they feel diminished when rain starts to rot their soft petals.  They don’t hope for anything.  While they might “struggle” for sunlight or soil nutrients, there is no ego in it – they don’t take it personally.  Flourishing is not “success”, and withering is not “failure”.  It is odd, don’t you think, that we, so ordinary, are each just one amongst the billiions of us on the planet? Even knowing that each of is part of a vast mediocrity, we nevertheless  rate our selves and our projects as a “success” or a “failure”.

Supposing we simply allow the feeling of the rush of energy, and work with  gusto at the right time – and then allow that what  happens, happens?

The Equinox

Here is another part of Spring, the Vernal Equinox when the hours of light and dark are equal.  Of course, it is the perfect metaphor for living!  There is no dark that does not give way to the light.  And in fact, you cannot hold on to the darkness, even if you want to. The Dawn comes, just as inexorably as the Dusk comes to end the most perfect or the most horrid day.

The beautiful teaching of the Equinox is that, even if the “winter of our discontent” seems very long sometimes, the time of balance, when all is put to rights, inevitably rolls around.  What follows is a time of greater light in our lives.  And then even that is balanced.  If you suppose yourself especially gifted, or especially worthy, or especially important, or especially insightful… there will come the time of balance  between you and those you have looked down on… and you will experience  diminishment for a period.  It is all just so natural and so predictable – you’d wonder why we get upset about the ups and downs of life.

As Spring moves towards the heat of Summer we can really enjoy nature. For a while, we are no longer huddled indoors out of the cold, or staying indoors out of the heat  of midsummer.  Let’s enjoy this time as a time of renewal in ourselves, as well – no longer avoiding anything in ourselves.  If you have a cold heart, try opening it to warmth and growth; if you have a hot temper, try mildness and moderation.  At least for a month or two!

I wish  you the best of seasons, the best of new growth, and the delight of noticing the Spring in your soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/spring-growth-equinox-balance-satsang/

Aug 22 2017

Starting Your Meditation Practice – Part 1, Time

New to meditation?  Here are some tips on getting yourself established.

 

1. Decide on the period in which you will be able to meditate every day.

20 minuutes is a minimum to be effective. If you think you will manage 30 minutes, great – every day. And if you are seriously serious, you might find that you could meditate for an hour a day.

2. What about if you miss?

Ok, we know that everyone misses once in a while, just as once in a while you might miss lunch. Missing lunch makes you very hungry for nutrition, and in missing meditation your hunger for deep change goes unsatisfied. Keeping a steady practice trains the mind to a) have some discipline and focus, and b) become so still that eventually you see how your mind works in creating your sense of self.

3. How will I know when my meditation time is finished?

Set an alarm. Phones are wonderful time-keepers. Set it for the exact time, whether 20, 30 or 60 minutes, and DO NOT GET UP UNTIL THE FULL TIME HAS ELAPSED. If you are fidgety, just watch the mind wanting to escape. And continue till the bell rings.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/starting-meditation-practice/

Jan 15

Physical Body, Spiritual Body

body-mind-spirit2Your physical body, spiritual body… can it be so, or do you suppose that the body is totally matter, perishable and not at all spiritual? That the mind is spirit while the body is only the vehicle?. There  could be something quite back-to-front about that. Great teachings suggest there is something suspect about the mind and its role – sayings such as “die to self”, or “the void”, or “no-mind-no-self, or “beyond the ego”, suggest it.  So here is something to consider about the body – it seems totally spiritual to me.

Your body lasts much longer than “you” do

Even if were to agree that the body is purely matter – but maybe that’s not as clear as it seems – it lasts much longer than your mind.  Without your mind there is no “you”, and yet.the mind is fragile..  put a chemical in the brain and your mind will be changed, and what is perceived as “you” will change, too.  Put a bullet in the brain, and the mind will be finished for good and all, unless it survives in some vegetative mode, when “you” seem not to have a presence at all.  What about the body?  Decomposition, yes, but every atom of it will persist for millennia, repackaged in some form or another.  The body, even on a material level, approaches infinity in its durability. It just won’t be “you” any more.

Your mind is  a product of your body

You may like to suppose that the mind is spiritual, and the mind is who you are.  Hey, get real!  No body, no mind. “Oh, but the mind is who I am, I am a mind living in a body, and so I will live on when my body dies.” Isn’t that how it goes?

Well, Yoga has seen through that story for thousands of  years.  That desire to live forever is called “abhinivesa”.  It is spiritual childishness, the ultimate ego-trip, and you ought to grow out of it.Your mind is a neural network, and  your thoughts are neurons firing off. Not so special after all?  Don’t bother coming to  me with your beliefs, either – they are just a bunch of neurons firing off and do not establish what reality is.

“You” are one of the mind’s ideas.

What?!! Surely by now you have had enough. Wouldn’t you prefer the comfortable fantsay of  “yourself”? The “me:” who has a body, and a mind, and a soul, and an infinite future. Very cosy, too bad it is a furphy.  When there is no neuronal function, there is no one saying “me”.  Without a thought/neuronal firing, you cannot tell anyone your name or who  you are. “You” cannot own anything.  It is not that “you” have a body and a brain and a mind – rather, the body has a brain which makes a mind, which has an idea, which it calls “me”.

Why be offended?

Why be offfended – is it  not remarkable, fantastic, miraculous? This amazing body is much closer to everyhing you have thought of as spiritual, and your body may be a more direct doorway to it, than your mind is. Your mind creates the person and personality, with all its misbehaviours and problems – the body is peaceful.  Without the mind’s commentary, the body is an entirely different experience from what you are used to.

The mind tells  you what you ought to feel and do and how you ought to be seen, and is rarely honest about what you really feel and how  you really are.  It postures and poses and argues.  It creates boundaries and limits, and then projects them onto what is. It is intrinsically polarised, seeing the entire world and everything in it from an I-like-it / don’t-like-it perspective. The body doesn’t do any of that. It is simply peaceful. How  much more sensible the body is, considering that  Reality couldn’t care less whether you like it or not, and hugely resists your definitions and limits.

The mind has its plans and desires, and sometimes forces them on the body, as though the body were an impediment that had to be dragged along  unwilling.  And still the body is peaceful.

In time the body passes into death, and the mind kicks up a fuss.  Not so the body, which simply retires itself when the time comes.

The Magic Key

Magic key, magic doorway – try this:

Just sitting, take your attention to your physical sensations. The mind will immediately jump up with its commentary and definitions (this is my posterior, this is the chair; this is my arm, that is my sleeve, etc).  Whatever the mind comes up with, it is a thought about your physical experience, not the experience itself. So you have to consistently disregard it, dismiss the  mind’s commentary on your experience.  Probably best to have your eyes closed, too, to reduce the overwhelm.

As you tune in more acutely to physical sensation, you will find – no thinking! – that sensation does not distinguish between your backside and the chair.  It is just a spreading sensory feeling awareness, no edges or distinctions.You cannot distinguish where the air molecules meet your face molecules.  You cannot even feel what it is to have a face.

Soon you may find that your experience is a non-bounded amorphous sensory state, consciousness with no thought, no projections,  no “me” – nothing to separate you from the whole, no ego centre.

A physical experience of the spiritual

Sure, in such a state we can talk about neuronal levels and the parasympathetic nervous system.  It is also, though, a physical/spiritual experience, and it would be the same old mind-trick if you reduced it to an either/or definition. The state is an experience of vastness and sublime peace, and seems to be one of great love. What? It’s just a body, can’t have such statements about it?

And yet, maybe we can.  What is happening in that state?  No mind, no self? Oh, tick that one.  Sublime peace? Tick. Non-defined (non-finite, in-finite?) Tick. Merging with the whole? Tick that one. Love and acceptance? Why, tick that one too.

And then we find we can be less serious about all the mind stuff.  The skilful, clever, analytical mind is to be enjoyed and worked, and yet it is not the “who I am” and it is not the be-all and end-all of spirituality.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/physical-body-spiritual-body/

Dec 25

Happy Christmas

christmas-2016-598x1063jpgHello, here is a brief rundown on Christmas 2016

I’m at Buln where it is very peaceful.
Here is Rob relaxing on his ACTUAL 70th birthday

rob-relaxing-on-his-70th-birthday-downsized buln-companionsHere are some non-human companions I asked (nicely) to leave the house

 

and here are some links, if you would like some reading:

One I wrote for Waverley Yoga :

Peace, Joy, Love

and some old Reflections

Christmas, Jesus, Yoga

The Heretic’s New Year

 

Now I am pretty sure there will be more sugary foods, oops, I mean festive foods, and sweet company,

Wishing you everything you hope for, and also those qualities that you have not even dared to hope for.

love,

Mataji

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/happy-christmas/

Aug 25 2016

Uncertainty, Control, Stress

Uncertainty is a major stress factor for most people.  It goes hand in hand with lack of control, which often freaks people right out. We can face uncertainty in a strong and empowered way, or we can be irrational, inept and unhealthy.

Some ways that people attempt to take control is by doing their best to get certainty.

If it is in a specific area, they might, for instance:

  • do some research, eg the statistics on employment opportunities in a certain field, if the uncertainty is about paying their bills
  • do a FB search on someone before accepting them as a friend

But what if the uncertainty is more deep-rooted?

A feeling that you might not be able to trust someone close to you, a feeling of  concern for someone you love, a feeling that maybe life is not treating you fairly, a feeling that maybe the world is going in a direction that upsets you?  No amount of research can fill in the gaps.

What to do about the stress of uncertainty?

Some people have quite unhealthy ways of coping

  • they might just get into an anxious funk
  • they might lash out at some person, or develop an angry, criticising, unhappy outlook on everything around them
  • they might do irrational things like buying a lottery ticket as “an investment”, or looking for psychic advice
  • or they might make a rash action, eg walking out on a relationship, with the notion that doing something is better than doing nothing
  • they might talk spitefully about someone who nudges their feelings of uncertainty

Well, nothing much good comes from angry reactions, irrational behaviours, or from anger and fear turned inwards as anxiety or unhappiness.  Could there be another way? Why, yes!

We could consider where the feeling comes from in the first place regarding uncertainty.. why do we feel that we “need” certainty and control

An inept way of addressing this is immediately again to turn towards someone or something as the cause.  Nope, that doesn’t work – it takes us straight back to the disempowering anxiety that we’re seeking to recover from.

The skilful and ultimately effective way – and so also the spiritual way – is to enquire again: What is it in me which supposes that certainty is necessary and that control is a requirement of living?

We may find that the notion of need for certainty may be one of the unchallenged assumptions which, amongst others, leads us to poor outcomes through much of our life.

So we have to turn back again and again to where it comes from. Challenging our assumptions about it, once we have the courage to look without flinching, brings with it what we wanted all along – decisiveness and empowerment, self-validation and self-motivation.   We lose something illusory and gain something much better –  the strength that comes of working with reality instead of wanting reality to be different.

 

 

 

Don’t forget to share this!

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/uncertainty-control-stress/

Mar 26

Unchallenged Assumptions Lead to Poor Outcomes

Here is a conversation I had recently with a student:

Nothing external can cause an internal response

What causes our emotional reaction is the black box full of assumptions (in the mind) by which we make inferences about how we should behave, emotionally and socially. So an insult doesn’t make you angry: what makes you angry is an assumption about behaviour, eg When demeaned, I should feel angry and vindictive; Insults demean me. So he insulted me; that was demeaning. Then the perfectly logical inference is to become angry and vindictive.

Yet the basic premise or assertion or assumption is not in itself correct – we don’t challenge it when we  make inferences from it that motivate our decisions.

So you see how Inference can be a valid cognition (correct reasoning from the basic assumption) and still have a completely wrong outcome, if the underlying notion is unchallenged. That’s where the hard work is –  just trying instead to change patterns of reaction is repressive, and is not effective,  if the hidden cause isn’t changed first.

Every day messiness

The comments that students make  don’t generally take into account the everyday inferences that mess life up. The great yogi Patañjali figured out nearly two millenia ago that all thoughts are an experience of non-reality, and yet he says that there are some valid thoughts, inference amongst them.  So even valid inference can take us down the path of non-reality.

Along came Cognitive Psychology 2000 years after Patañjali to point out belatedly to non-yogis that our usual way of thinking is mistaken. We normally suppose that something external causes our emotional reactions. Yet nothing external can cause an internal response.

What about this, then? Hurting a child?

STUDENT: Your extra explanation on Inference, especially in reference to everyday life is helpful. I’m struggling a little bit to understand this one, especially the bit “Nothing external can cause an internal response”. I understood the example you used about the black box full of assumptions about how we should behave, emotionally and socially.

Then I thought of a more extreme example and lost the bit of understanding I thought I had. What about if you were walking and all of a sudden you see (external) a man grabbing a child by the hair and throwing the screaming child in pain against a brick wall. People would generally respond (internally) to seeing such an event in some way, depending on their individual black box as to how they respond. Isn’t this still an internal response (whatever that might be) to an external event? or are you saying the external event is neutral in and of itself and therefore has no ability to cause any types of internal responses? or am I totally not getting this?

M: Hmm, that is a fairly common counter-argument – I usually get, What about Child Molesters!!! And it is true that if I saw a man – or woman – bringing harm to a child, I would want to do what I could to prevent it.

On the other hand, the peoples of South America, Incas and/or Aztecs, practised child sacrifice. I read that the distress and tears of the children was highly valued, as it increased the regard the gods would have for what was offered to them. And the parents felt blessed by the whole thing.
So, evidently, it is not the pain and suffering of a child (external) that brings about the response, but rather, something (internal) sitting in the black box.

And  now you’re probably judging the Incas/Aztecs via your own black box – and they would judge you through theirs!

Inside the Black Box

For one, it is
Ist assumption: Kindness to children is an imperative
2nd assumption: Unkindness to children is horrifying
3rd assumption: People being unkind to children must be stopped.
INFERENCE: If I see someone hurting a child, I must be horrified and I must make it stop.

For the other, turn all that around and you have the Aztecs feeling blessed by their child’s pain and suffering. A different imperative inside the mind.

Externals can’t jump inside your mind or muscles

Of course some examples are extreme. I am not for a moment saying that nothing has value. But it is impossible to get away from the fact that inner processes account for our reactions. If you don’t know about an insult, you don’t get upset. If you don’t know about the child, you don’t get upset. Those are the externals that in themselves have no power to get inside your mind or your muscles or your endocrine system, and cannot in themselves cause an emotional state.

I suspect there is a solution, and probably goes along the line of empathy rather than rules.

Is this it?

STUDENT:   So our inner processes account for our reactions to (externals). So first there has to exist something (external) an object, a situation,whatever. It doesn’t cause how we react to it or not react to it , it just exists. Our reactions are subjective like what one tribe considers acceptable another might not.
I’m still not sure about whether (externals) in their own existence are neutral. I am guessing I would probably have to be able to see reality to answer that?
I was going ask you about where empathy and Karma fit in, but I think I might leave it for now.

 

M: Yes, that is so whether we like it or not.

In a hugely extreme sense, humans only make sense of the bombardment of sensory stimuli by creating categories and then interpreting the stimuli as convenient. Patatanjali calls it “vrtti sarupya” – total identification (of self and reality) with thoughts.

The mind makes sense of reality in its own way

Zen came to a way of communicating that by using terms like “suchness” and “isness” and “emptiness” – things are not what we say they are, things are what they are in themselves. A plant doesn’t call itself a flower or a weed, it is empty of a sense of self and devoid of the meanings we project onto it. Take that over the millions of experiences we have and where does it leave our certainties?

In more recent history, one could read Jung or research deeper into neuroscience or cognitive psychology. Or ask a scientist about the “flux of particles” that really makes up the reality of the world around us.

What to do about it

So everyday emotional behaviour is highly inferential. In daily life, doing something about it means that internal processes are the proper thing for each of us to investigate, rather than considering only how something external can be changed to our liking; and becoming fully aware of those internal processes instead of being dominated by the common unawareness:  that each person feels that he or she is the one who’s right.  Feeling right is a state of mind, while it is facts that are synonymous with reality. Factual reality is neither right nor wrong, but it wins every argument you have with it. Clearing the mind of resistance instead of persisting with feeling right means examining the contents of the black box in the mind.

People are more rational than we might suppose. It is unchallenged assumptions that make us stupid.

 

PS: Here is an article I wrote recently on Karma

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/unchallenged-assumptions-make-us-stupid/

Jan 04

The Conundrum of Discipline and Letting Go

Here Sarasvati discusses the problems of actually living a Yogic life.  The first conundrum is, “What is surrender?” (not what  you might think)

Sarasvati supervises Anatomy and Asana teacher training for the Australian College of Classical Yoga.  Her own Yoga school is Waverley Yoga, where you can find other writings on her Blog. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/the-conundrum-of-discipline-and-letting-go/

Nov 08

Thinking about Choice

Thinking about choice…do you take responsibility for the choices you make?

Choice newTo become aware of the choices we make and being upfront about them – this is one way of getting to know ourselves better. Our choices are a clear reflection of us for all to see – we had better have a handle on them ourselves.  But there are other ways of looking at choice – try these mind-bogglers.

Pre-determined?

There are many aspects to choice.  Determinism would suggest that choice is an illusion and you really haven’t got any choice. Its position is that a long chain of cause and effect accounts entirely for the decisions we make, and the feeling of choice that goes with them. Can’t stand the thought of that?  Determinism would say, “Well, of course not!” Your reaction was fully predictable because already determined by the pre-existing causes in your life (and of the stream of pre-existing causes preceding your entry into the world),

Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/thinking-about-choice-2/

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