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You might be experiencing an “intolerable life situation.” You might be experiencing “irrational” thoughts or behavior (though those thoughts or behaviors will still have internally consistent inner logic, almost without exception, as we’ll see below). You might be suspicious that you’re exhibiting extreme or “emotional” thinking. You might be suspicious that you’re falling prey to false dichotomies, black and white thinking, etc.
Additional things to notice: “I should,” “I have to,” “I can’t,” “I won’t,” “I mustn’t,” “If only I could,” “Things would be so much easier if…”
Depending on the development of your meditation practice, you might experience the above as coexisting with nonverbal, nonsymbolic, “phenomenological,” felt inner barriers–stuff in way, stuff coming up, maybe more like inner stances and postures, clenching, reactions, different inner configurations that protrude strangely, or seem strangely static, or at least exist only in discrete states, states that won’t “mix” or “integrate” or play nice with each other. Your metacognition senses that more is possible but that you’re limited in the ways in which you can arrange yourself internally, and those limitations seem somewhat arbitrary. You can move and internally arrange yourself in some ways, smoothly, effortlessly, but not others.
This metacognition around “inner arrangement” comes later. The thing is, as most readers of this blog know, most of our behavior and decision-making is automatic, unconsidered. Automatized complex behavior is great, except when it boxes you in, and it’s not working, and you don’t know you’re boxed.
Non-Conscious Controlling Belief Automaticity
Your brain thinks it knows the way things are. Usually this is great: you don’t consider teleportation as a solution to a problem you’re having because… it’s not a solution; it’s not an option. It just doesn’t come up, so your conscious mind doesn’t get distracted by it. Sometimes it’s pretty practical stuff, not like teleportation at all, but you’ve learned to habitually bypass these practical possibilities, so much so that these possibilities are never automatically engaged nor ever consciously considered.
Potentially Conscious Controlling Belief Automaticity
Other stuff is more in the realm of possibility, like “talk to Bob,” “revise your resume,” “try a phone call instead of email.” Sometimes these sorts of options are actually a workable path forward, especially with a little bit of thought and nuance. Except, for whatever reason, they’re not. Your brain shuts them down, though maybe they stick around for a few hundred milliseconds. Usually, these fleeting glimpses of seemingly unworkable behavioral possibilities go unnoticed. But a meditator can start to notice them. This is where you can start to get a better sense of some of the phenomena mentioned in the introductory paragraphs.
Activated Controlling Beliefs
You can slow down, maybe get a little bit creative, maybe start to ask why you’re not doing X, which might seem “reasonable” to an outside observer or to someone who got air-dropped into your body. You can start to call up a felt sense* for “what’s going on,” why you might be doing or not doing “reasonable” thing X.
A clue that you might be able to call up such a felt sense, that there’s something there is that you realize you’re “emotionally activated.” You might feel jangled, or shaky, or triggered, or defensive, or “doth protest too much,” or internally “whip-lashy.” There’s something there. (This is related to the experience and concept of your true rejection.)
Elaborated Controlling Beliefs
You might be able to gently evoke and ease your felt sense, your fairly discrete, bounded, contained, nonsymbolic, felt sense of “what’s going on,” into a form something like this:
- I might take steps towards possible life puzzle pieces A, B, C (xor I might step away from activities, responses, behaviors, A, B, C)
- But, I prevent myself from doing this or myself prevents me
- Because if I were to take steps towards/away-from A, B, C: then
- Intolerable U, V, W would definitely happen and/or vital X, Y, Z would definitely not happen.
Shortened: I can’t do X, because if I did do X, then Y. So, of course I can’t do X. (This is phrasing is pretty much exactly Coherence Therapy. I’m going for something possibly a bit more general.)
You explore around until you get a sense of whether/how something like that is going on. You sense this potentiality, but barely, distantly, dangerously, because, if you took the slightest step in that direction, disaster. And you can work out a sense of that, all at once, with some of this internal structure.
It’s important that you’re not looking for something top-down and theoretical. This is not hypothesis-spinning, theory-spinning. If you’re doing it “right,” it will perhaps have a bottom-up, “phenomenological,” behavioral sense to it. Your fingers might itch and twitch. You might feel it in your body as pre-behavior. It will have feeling, and weight, and truthiness. It will resonate; it will feel right; it will feel true. Sometimes this resonance will be weak or fleeting but it’s distinct and unmistakable, and it might take some practice and persistence to get a felt sense with these sorts of emotional and behavioral components. And it’s not the Truth with a capital T. It’s a provisional map that’s acceptable to system one, that feels right and true to system one, that is right and true–to system one (for now, perhaps fleetingly).
And note that, this can remain distinct and structured yet nonsymbolic. You can put words to it, but you don’t have to.
And as you approach your unique life situation, and pay attention your inner dynamics, and gently stabilize stuff with concentration, deft touches, and working memory, you can build up some fairly complex, deeply resonant maps, all activated, all at once. And then… I’ll keep working on fleshing this out… See Coherence Therapy, see the Lefkoe stuff.