I have been encouraged to think about this matter by an old friend well practised in the Buddhist traditions: David Brazier. Those of you with an interest in the Buddhist perspective may find David’s videos of specific interest.
In a recent exchange with David, I made the comment that “clients are more likely to thrive when we work on building bridges – within themselves and between themselves and others.” This comment was based on the work of Dan Siegel and Stephen Porges with their focus on the role of the social engagement system on our developing mind.
David challenged me not to overlook the importance of solitude and of independence. He reminded me that Buddhist psychology talks much about how the mind is conditioned (within our relationships) and the outcome is not always benign. Many readers may well endorse this view from their own experience.
David pointed out that solitude does not necessarily equate with awareness of our inner experience. He went on to say that: when I am alone in nature, it is not myself that holds my attention. Nor am I much concerned with becoming more attentive to my self. What holds my attention is the beauty and vitality all around. In this, the “self” evaporates in the presence of the trees, the earth, the sky, the passing beetle, the crying bird, the chill wind, the balmy sunshine.
He is not even so sure about safe experiments with mindfulness or body scanning. He reminds me that this is “somewhat off the point of what Buddha was talking about when he spoke of smriti (the Sanskrit word that gets translated as mindfulness)“.
He says, further, that he is not seeking “self-conscious awareness of the present moment or body-scanning or any other mechanical technique, beneficial as some of those techniques might be for certain medical purposes. What is being talked about is religious consciousness, having a consciousness of the high purpose and meaning of everything that one does because everything that one does is part of the holy life within a holy cosmic vision and exists for that purpose”.
He warns that being disconnected from a sacred life can lead to fear, resentment, aggressiveness and all manner of evils. Moral or immoral behaviour appears to be a sign of how closely connected – or not – a person is with an holy life.
The difficulty I have here is that this perspective is, indeed, personal and sacred. My own world has little connection with any ‘religious consciousness’. Maybe that’s an experimental outcome that I have yet to experience. Furthermore, I share Siegel’s view that our Mind evolves within a series of relationships, and that is not going to go away. Our internal and external relationships are not optional extras we can pick up and put down, whenever.
What David describes appears both simple and complex at one and the same time. This is especially so for people like me with no explicit “holy cosmic vision”.
David reminds me that my perspective need not be a deficiency!! He points out that the Buddha took a middle path in regard to philosophy. He recognised that there exist many kinds of metaphysics in the world. In particular, he emphasises that there is nothing to be gained from people getting “lost in the jungle of competing views“. I particularly like that and trust that this outlook is evident in this web site, and any experimental design.
Am I too modest – or too concrete – when I advocate the design of safe experiments to expand our minds just enough – to make small changes in the way we help our lives to evolve? After all, I do believe that such experiments can keep us in touch with the energy that helps us rise above more immediate and concrete experiences.
Maybe the apparent contradictions I am noticing here are an illusion. As DAvid infers, this often seems the case when philosophy starts to get a hold on us.
How do these ‘illusions’ work into safe experiments? Deborah Lee, presenting to an on-line CPD course, has interesting things to say about the brain being uninterested in whether our visualisations are real or imagined! With this in mind, she recommends experiments that involve “acting-as-if …” This means practising an experience or behaviour that does not come to us naturally.
For example, presenting your ‘best person’ may be difficult to do, but it stretches us. The experiment requires us to notice outcomes that may both surprise or disappoint us. It is not easy to succeed when we start practising something new. Elsewhere, I give the example of learning to ride a bike – for most of us, it takes time and comes at the cost of a good few tumbles.You can check out Deborah’s comments on:
but the link may not be around for long.
SAFE EXPERIMENTS to explore our spiritual self
I still believe the Body Scan can provide a beginning. Here controlled breathing is used as a ‘gateway’ to looking inside ourselves and consider travelling elsewhere. The Body Scan asks us to turn attention to our inner thoughts, feelings and sensations. True, this focus is intended to help me ‘just notice’ what goes on inside myself – rather than outside but it can help us go on to do something after ‘just noticing’. It is perfectly feasible to go on to other things. Dan Siegel certainly thinks so when he expands the levels of body scaning into his Wheel of Awareness. Perhaps Dan’s Seventh Sense provides a starting place to move toward David’s position.
Either way, safe experiments involve doing something just a little bit different. Perhaps a spiritual dimension is less preoccupied with action and an advert of not doing on some occasions. David seems to tell me that attending to the “moment-by-moment” experience does not require us to change it and I have no problem with that. For me, the important point is that we have a choice – a choice to do as well as not do.
Deeply cruel behaviour is persistent and it has continued from time immemorial. Furthermore, none of use can escape the experience of pain and grief when we will loose people somewhere along the way, even if we thought we never had them in the first place. It follows that we are not alone when we experience a deep hurt even though it appears personal and unique. Numbing is one strategy to address the pain of any experience. But,as Deborah Lees say, you also numb out the goodies – the love and the warmth.
David may be reminding me that solitude does not have to involve doing things but valuing everyday experiences such as “stretching out an arm or pulling it in again, in eating, drinking, masticating, swallowing, obeying the calls of nature, in going, standing or sitting, in sleeping, waking, speaking or being silent,” and to have the opportunity to become aware of all that means.