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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 person’s internal experience – “you are telling me that I am worthwhile, but I still feel worthless to my bones”. And learning to be accepting and compassionate toward the damaged self may be helpful over time, but the person still experiences his/her self as damaged. But when a person does not experience his/her self through ideas, the self experience changes dramatically. When, for example, someone who is deeply and chronically depressed begins to meditate, he may experience brief periods of quiet, peacefulness, and well being. Even brief moments of this experience are very significant in two ways: there is relief from the relentless pain of self diminishment and self damning; and can be the insight that when there are no thoughts – not even self affirming thoughts – the natural state quickly reverts to one of well being. And the question of “who one really is” is thrown on its head. Are we who we keep telling ourselves that we are? Or are we who we are when we are not being told anything at all? This experience and the subsequent awareness of the implications of this experience have given a great sense of hope to many people who I’ve worked with. And beyond the sense of hope, it shines a light on the falsity of the stream of self attacking and self diminishing thoughts that have come to be mistaken for the Truth. When we bring that experience and awareness back into the therapy situation, it begins to redefine the problem, and transforms the nature of the work.