Sunday, June 14, 2009

Changing Our Relationship to Our Selves

It's interesting that we can choose to alter our relationship to ourselves and alter our subjective experience and our outward behaviors. I use the process of working with and changing my internal state and outward behavior through the application of mindfulness/awareness, directed by both Buddhist and psychotherapeutic insights and guidance. Buddhism focuses on form not content. Buddhist mindfulness of the present moment either has no interest in the identification of internal contents – one simply experiences consciously the breath or a pain – or uses a noting procedure – “pain,” “judgment,” “hatred” – when those experiences are mindfully observed as present in the moment.

Psychotherapy focuses on content. What’s causing that emotional or physical pain? Why are you judging yourself? What is the meaning of that subjective phenomenon in terms of your unique narrative and needs? So a moment-to-moment practice of the self which combines the two modalities would have both the use of mindfulness in the moment to bring attention and raise awareness and the application of the guiding self-understandings of psychotherapy to direct the attention with an overarching purpose. In both cases we’re altering our selves by changing our relationship to ourselves.

For example, I have a tendency to delay doing things that need to get done. For years I simply acted this out unconsciously, not even knowing it was characteristic of me. Gradually I became aware that there was a pattern of delay behavior occurring in different contexts that was causing me suffering. I would have to do something before a certain date in the future. I would put off doing it because the due date wasn’t here and for whatever deeper psychological reasons that made me averse to action. I would feel anxious as the due date approached that I wasn’t getting it done and I might get into trouble if I don’t do it. Finally, I’d see that due date was upon me and scramble to get it done. Most of the time the thing got done, but if I’m going to do the thing anyway, why not do it immediately since I know it has to get done eventually and save myself all the anxiety and aggravation that I feel while I’m delaying. It didn’t make sense.

For a few years now I’ve been training myself to identify these situations as soon as they arise. For instance, I got a rebate on a new cell phone which I had to send in before June 10th. In mid-May I thought: “Oh, I have lots of time, no worry.” By June 2nd I caught myself thinking “I can wait, it doesn’t needs to be in till June 10th.” But at that moment I realized what I was doing and told myself: “No, this is one of those delay situations that’s going to cause you suffering for no good reason.” I imagined the due date coming and me finding I didn’t have some form I needed for the rebate and missing it. I then felt the resistance to sending it in immediately, the heaviness and aversion. Then I reminded myself that this is a little hurdle I can jump over and that I'd feel better once I got it done. So gathered up the forms and went to my desk and sent it in.

A small example, but illustrative of the combination of mindfulness and psychological insight required to alter a persisting, pain-inducing pattern that manifests in many areas of my life.

2 comments:

Robert said...

An acquaintance recently emailed...seems she has
landed in a new town and found a new rocking chair
so to speak. That elusive baby rattle which will reassure
her beating heart that its OK to be.

This time it is Ken Wilber...been awhile since
I swam in that stream. Googled Ken Wilber and I get
a site that leads me to you.

I appreciate your willingness to share your adventure.
Often your words and those who comment are colorful,
lucid and just plain fun.

Mindful awareness......certainly and interesting idea.
I been dancing with this permission/contemplation
for some time now....."its OK for the focus of my attention
to move from what I know...and to rest upon what I don't"
I struggled at first...it was way to spacious...give me my rattle....

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

far out