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How Do We Experience?

As you read this page, you are experiencing. You may be experiencing interest in what may unfold before you, or you may be experiencing skepticism about the value of what this person has to say. Or you may be experiencing your sore back. Or hunger… In all of these cases, there is a focus of interest or need that both draws your attention, and serves as a lens through which your experience is formed. In this forming of awareness, the way you experience yourself and the way you experience the world is created. The external object of perception is not the primary shaper of experience, since the same object can be experienced very differently by different people. What creates the meaning of the experience are the attitudes, beliefs, needs, and world view of the perceiver. So, in the process of contacting the present moment, awareness is brought to some object of awareness (figure), which may be external (e.g. this blog entry) or internal (e.g. hunger) and is given meaning by the background (e.g. personal history, biases, cultural environment, zeitgeist, etc). Our emotions, then, are felt responses to the relationship between the figure and the background. So, a glass of water would have very different meaning, and would evoke a very different emotional response from a man struggling in the desert, than from a man sitting in a restaurant. And their response to the water (figure) would be a function of the degree of need or interest that the figure/ground relationship elicited. We are constantly forming such figures in relation to a (personal, environmental, cultural, economic, etc) background. As soon...

The Problem of Identification

I can now start to lay the groundwork for the usefulness of content-less awareness (which I call Presence) in our lives and in the framework of psychotherapy. When we focus on the content of awareness, we identify with specific content to the exclusion of other content. We identify by nationality, by political party, by religion, by values, by character styles, by gender, by socio-educational brackets, and on. Our identifications serve many purposes, both supportive and limiting. But, the most striking thing to me is that we actually believe that we ARE these identifications – that they are synonymous with our essence or existence. And this presents significant problems. Since we cannot always achieve that which we identify with (“I’m an A student”), and the world is always changing (our partner may reject an established way of relating), and those qualities which we may have dis-identified with (“I’m not a forceful person”) may be required to deal with what lies ahead, any inability to discard or change old identifications leaves us stuck in our lives and unable to meet the new circumstance fluidly and creatively. We often don’t quite realize that we are limited by our over-identification with some fixed form; we just feel stuck, or incapable, or believe that acting differently “just isn’t me”. Knowingly and un-knowingly, we would rather suffer than to relinquish our fixed form – the way that we “know” who we are. But, what if the particular form was not what we identified with? What if our identification was with our awareness itself? With our very Presence? Then there would be a sense of continuity...

Beyond Identifications

By now, we begin to see that while identification with our state, our context, our actions is necessary, it also becomes a trap which obscures our experience of who we are. We become identified with fixed ideas of who we are (and what the world is) and we substitute these ideas for actual contact with ourselves. The image replaces reality, not just in the case of the narcissist, but in each and every one of our “self concepts”. The phrase itself is a clear statement that we become a “concept”, and image, not just to others, but more importantly, to ourselves. So if not an image, a concept, who are we? If we eliminate ideas of self, what is self? It actually seems to be constantly moving and changing, with every moment, with every thought, feeling or emotion. If not tied to a fixed image, and if paid attention to from moment to moment, it actually appears to be a fluid awareness which reflects the moment to moment shifts in the interaction between our organism and our environment. It is both a creator of and a creation of the constantly changing “life space”. This is a remarkable discovery, to see the self as a constantly changing, fluid experience, shaped by and shaping not just what is “inside”, but also what is “outside” our skin. All the time, this self identifies with the passing experience, and then “drops” that identity, for the identity of the next moment. It could begin to seem that this “self” actually has no solid, core “self”. And in a way, that’s true. There is no...

Being, Thoughts, and Self Experience

I have found that most people mistake their subjective state and their thoughts about the nature of reality for the Truth. In its extreme, we call people who operate on this basis psychotic – when their internal experience is at sufficient odds with what most people consider to be reality. So, when someone tells us that green dragons are intoning malevolent threats, or that everyone on the street is involved in a conspiracy specifically against them (and that the ringleader is their third grade teacher), we suspect their sanity and call them psychotic. But, people who we consider to be normal do this as well. When a sports fan tells us that he knows if he wears a pair of socks that he hasn’t washed in 10 years his favorite team will win, we may roll our eyes, but we don’t call him psychotic. And when someone says that he is certain that when he walks into a room everyone is thinking critical thoughts about him, we usually assume that this is a distortion, but again, we don’t assume psychosis. In these examples, however, the person’s assumption about what’s real affects their emotional state, and likely reinforces behavior that is based on their mis-perception. The sports fan will wear smelly socks to the game, and the person who experiences critical eyes will feel shame and will likely try to avoid being in such a circumstance. When a person’s thoughts are strong, consistent, and self negating, the person will come to experience him/her self as damaged, bad, defective, and/or worthless. And no amount of “positive feedback” will necessarily change the...