Monthly Archives: June 2010

Mental Blocks, Creativity, Perpetual Trance, and the Art of Getting Unstuck, Part 4: Seeing the World Anew

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We are in the midst of a historical moment where the fundamentals of a new reality paradigm are just now able to be discerned. The scientific and intellectual revolutions of the 20th century: relativity, quantum physics, psychoanalysis, chaos theory, and more, revealed a world in which the old classical absolutes of time, space, matter, energy, the stable self – indeed the classical distinction between objective and subjective reality – were swept away in a hundred ways by experimental evidence and theoretical frameworks which confounded our traditional views of ourselves, our world, and the universe.

In every field of knowledge, the central role of the self, the observer, consciousness itself, was acknowledged to occupy a position equal in every way to the facts of material existence. It became indisputable in a series of now-famous scientific experiments that the existence and participation of the observer is as significant to the complete description of an event as are the material parameters of what was once referred to as “objective reality.”

With the understanding that our own perceptions, views, beliefs, and actions are causative in the creation and maintenance of “the real world” contemporary philosophical inquiry is reunited with the ancient traditions of humankind. The circle of knowledge is complete in our lifetimes and the potential of realizing the true nature of our existence – existence itself – is within our grasp. What is necessary is to learn how to reframe the awareness we have on a daily basis regarding what we are seeing, feeling, and thinking. And this new frame of reference, once in place, reveals a world in which we are free to feel, think, act, and be in the moment and at one with each other and the rest of the universe.

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In order to learn techniques for reframing our awareness, we will examine how the old frames of reference keep us enslaved and how the new frame of reference sets us free:

The Role of Projection

To understand the ways in which we create the reality which, to our “normal” and erroneous perception, seems “out there” and separate from ourselves, the first procedure we need to examine is the mechanism of projection and how it operates to create the initial division between inside and outside, which serves to alienate us from our inner selves and the world of our experience.

To be continued…
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Image: “I See the World Anew,” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.

 

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Mental Blocks, Creativity, Perpetual Trance, and the Art of Getting Unstuck, Part 3: The Positive Flow

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“All the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable. They can never be solved but only outgrown. This outgrowth requires a new level of consciousness to some higher order or wider interest. Through this broadening the insolvable problem its urgency and the question itself disappear.”

Carl Jung

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It is important, I think, to understand that the actions we take and the decisions we make are the work of evolutionary genius. They have all been made and taken by one of the smartest organisms to ever inhabit the universe. We have made the decisions of our lives for the good and excellent reason of continued survival – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual survival. There have always been good solid reasons for the things we have done.

Our mind/body system learns that some things in the environment are dangerous and we learn to take certain actions/reactions to protect ourselves, our integrity. The mind/body system tries to protect itself by withdrawing and the next time that situation appears the system is less open to it. Once it does this however, it effectively closes off options and is less free to respond to stimuli which may in some ways remind it of the previous danger – even though some threats are misperceived. The system becomes more closed than it needs to be. After having been traumatized in some way, we become stuck in patterns that do not promote optimal growth and change. Because the environment is constantly changing/evolving, the system needs to be flexible and stay open to the possibility of new experience.

It may appear that some of these actions and decisions were not the absolute best ones we may have taken at the time; this is simply hindsight – a debatable judgment call. That fact is we took them in order to protect ourselves from harm – whether real or perceived. And perceived harm is real at the moment of perception – for no one can know the unknowable future.

In other words, we are here, alive, surviving, because from the beginning through this very second we have done everything right – and the proof is our continuing survival. To think otherwise is merely speculation. This is a fact of evolution, the intelligence of our own body/mind system, the genius of life in the universe, and our own excellence and skill at meeting and surviving the “heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”.

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Does this insight make this the best of all possible worlds? If you have followed my words above in the spirit I intend, then, yes it does; in this moment, this is the best of all possible worlds – proved by our continued survival within it.

Can it be better? Could we be doing better? Could we feel better about things? Might we be happier? The answer to these and other similar questions is probably yes. I say this only because I trust the ineffable power of the universe itself, the genius of life to survive and prosper, the astonishing abilities our minds have shown to continue to achieve balance and integration, and for the whole system to evolve toward higher and more productive levels of behavior, cognition, comprehension, and compassion.

There is a 13.7-billion-year track record of the universe becoming ever more complex, intelligent, and compassionate. Things get better. And they get better in all the ways we wish they would. Our wishing and dreaming and work and effort are all added to the universe every day. Everything you see around you has its beginning in the imagination. We have created the world we have been dreaming about. And our dreams for making it an even better place do continue.
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The quote from Carl Jung with which I began this rumination is appropriate here. Seen from particular, limited, points of view, our lives are filled with insolvable problems. And this has always been the case. And yet, looking back, we have moved on from so many of them. We didn’t actually solve them so much as we simply moved beyond them to a higher plane of experience in which they were no longer relevant or where they no longer loomed so large. In short, it looks like much of our dilemma is a matter of perspective.

Changing perspective is doable even when solving problems may seem impossible. In the next several entries I’ll focus on ways to achieve new perspectives, new ways of looking at old problems.

And sometimes, even the simple passage of time allows us to see things in new ways. There’s a clue there somewhere, I think.

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Image: “The Positive Flow,” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.

 

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Mental Blocks and the Art of Getting Unstuck, Part 2: Time for Change

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It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
– Edmund Hillary

With more potential connections than elementary particles in the universe and a thousand trillion computations per second occurring at the quantum scale, our brains are the most complex pieces of matter produced in the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang. These astounding complexities lead physician and consciousness researcher, Stuart Hameroff and others to see consciousness as a basic elemental component of the cosmos. Mathematical physicist Paola Zizzi calls this vast resource of cosmic intelligence, which bursts from the deepest darkness of the material universe “The Big Wow.” This miraculous moment – for each and every one of us with beating hearts, breath in our lungs, alive in the present – is nothing less than THE BIG NOW!

And yet, we stumble, so often clueless and uninspired…confused, stunned out of our minds. And when reminded of the utterly miraculous nature of our existence each and every second, we are confounded considering the mindlessness of so much of what fills our time.

Our problem is the torrent of pre-programmed nonsense and negativism that engulfs our thinking process and keeps us steps behind in being in the present and giving ourselves a real chance at living, loving, and behaving in truly creative ways in the world.

Have you ever tried to stop your thoughts? For just about every human that has ever lived, it is an impossible feat. In fact, to gain some small amount of mastery over the endless stream of disconnected, seemingly random conceptual confetti that so often crowds out the space between our ears requires discipline and mastery that places one at the threshold of great spiritual awakening. Our spiritual and philosophical traditions have been, since time immemorial, pinioned on meditational practice in which the common processes of thinking are halted in order to allow some form of effective insight to occur in the mind.

And so, to improve the quality of our state of mind, it is necessary to gain some ability to manage what occurs in thinking – to acquire some ability to manage one’s thoughts. The most direct way of arriving at solutions to self-generated problems is to learn to work in new more constructive ways with the thoughts that create, nurture, and sustain them.

Meditational practice is a form of technique, in other words, it is a form of technical knowledge – something that can be learned. Methods of managing the mind can be learned, of course. But they also come naturally. The problem is that they often occur as negative reactions, protective measures that end up being counterproductive to our overall well being. It is hugely illuminating to re-experience some of the natural ways we learn to control our mental states – in both positive and negative ways – toward the ultimate goal of gaining increased levels of mastery in managing this most mysterious and miraculous moment of being alive in the Big Now!

Let’s begin by being aware of how we experience time. Notice how even what many consider to be the most objective matter-of-fact aspect of our lives and the universe – time itself – is actually experienced subjectively. We stretch our notion of time based on simple psychological states of pain and pleasure, for example. Pleasurable experiences seem to cause time to move rapidly while experiencing boredom or pain causes our sense of time to slow to a crawl.

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”It is only in appearance that time is a river. It is rather a vast landscape, and it is the eye of the beholder that moves.”

- Thornton Wilder

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Groundbreaking work by psychologist Milton Erickson and others, offers illumination here. Examining our subjective experience as a form of self-hypnosis, or trance, provides insight into how we automatically change our own perception based on our reactions to events. Understanding that we are always managing our minds and therefore continually influencing our own perception of reality in unconscious ways can give us important knowledge.

With experience and practice, this new self-awareness grows. Once we can see ourselves making choices that result in more productive, creative, satisfying, and harmonious ways of living, the incentive to move toward greater well-being can become as natural as our previous tendencies to feel out of control.

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Next time: Seeing ways through the maze.

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Image: “Mind Over Mental Blocks,” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.

 

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Mental Blocks and the Art of Getting Unstuck, Part 1: Being Stuck

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Teaching art is teaching people to think and act creatively. After a lifetime of doing this, I see creativity as really nothing more than thinking and acting in ways that are not simply repetitions of previous thoughts and actions. In other words creativity amounts to the ability to not get stuck…

In a global sense then, getting stuck is the problem with our minds.
We get stuck in certain ways of thinking and nothing new is going to happen until we can get ourselves unstuck. The inability to solve problems is the inability to get unstuck from old ways of seeing in order to see a new solution. Mental illness is getting mentally stuck in loops and scripts that either have no useful relation to appropriate realities or getting stuck in thoughts that reinforce negative patterns of behavior. Emotional illness is getting stuck in emotions to the degree that we are simply overwhelmed with feelings we can not bear to experience without constant pain.

Getting stuck in patterns that guarantee defeat and create self-fulfilling prophecies is the bane of our minds and the ruination of our lives.

The place to start with remediating this tendency to get stuck in repetition is to pay some attention to what is going on in the mind during brief intervals of daily life – an endless jumble of chaotic activity occurring, seemingly all at once.

There is a long and voluminous history of psychological models for understanding the activity of observing one’s own mind, from ancient Vedic and Oriental methodologies through various schools of Western psychology to new age revelations and modern neuroscience. It’s not necessarily helpful to exclusively follow any single particular pre-determined path and dismiss others. Instead, for our purposes, a more synthetic and self-observational approach can reveal much.

Any individual may simply take some time to look at the way his or her mind seems to work on a typical day. This is illuminating enough to yield some useful insights without the need to check with an expert at every turn.

What typically occupies our thinking minds? What kind of thoughts are we processing? We are continually reviewing a series of culturally produced memes – views we have been carrying around since childhood. There’s the to-do list, the list of things we should have done, the list of regrets, fears, desires, and the list of people with whom we are inextricably bound up. We’re reprocessing many manipulative media-induced messages – from old song lyrics to the latest movie or TV show we watched. There is also the incessant turning over of self-critical messages that we have accepted from the criticism of others and newer ones that we’ve added ourselves, frustrated desires, endless wishing for fulfillment, the complaints, the blaming others for our plight, etc. Observing this makes one wonder how anything practical, productive, or rational can hold itself together long enough to gain any momentum in our consciousness.

Rather than get lost in the minutia, for now we’re just looking at the repetitiveness of it all. A lot of it does seem to repeat itself in a sort of endlessly looping way. That’s what we’re looking for – the most tenaciously gripping scripts that refuse to stop no matter what you’d like to do about them. If we’re angry about something, for example – if you’ve ever been depressed or are depressed now, you know about the endlessly negative messages we can harbor and how unrelenting they can be…

It can be helpful to simplify what is perhaps the most complex subject of all – getting some insight into how our minds work. There is no reason why it has to be a matter for experts alone. We have the most complete subjective experience about ourselves. We are very close to grasping the most obvious solutions to our problems. They are right with us – inside us every day.

Our distressed thinking is the source of the distress in our lives. Rescuing ourselves from this situation is a matter of unraveling the thinking process strand by strand, thought by thought, pattern by pattern, script by script. We have all of our days – our whole lives to accomplish this.

We talk to ourselves constantly, internally. The state of our internal monolog sets the stage for the state of our minds. The state of our minds sets the stage for the state of our lives.

We have an opportunity to take a look at the state of our minds every second of every day. The paths to resolving our problems follow from these simple observations.

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Next time: Working toward the solution: getting unstuck.

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Image: “Mental Blocks,” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.

 

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