We are bombarded daily with messages from advertisers, the media, shows, movies, the news, our families, work, friends, school, churches and politicians to name a few. Neuroscience has found that our brain is more active when we are asleep then when we are watching TV. (Unless we are very selective about what we watch.) Without being aware, we internalize these messages thrust-ed upon us every day. Advertisers use sophisticated classical conditioning techniques to make us mindlessly want things we don’t need. As a society, we have been conditioned to be materialistic and view success as having lots of money and “things”. We see images of what the ideal woman should be, what success looks like, what we should drive and how we should think. Based on our selection of news programs, our political affiliation or religious orientation as well as our self image, we automatically seek out information that confirms and conforms to our beliefs.
In his ground breaking book ” What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why you Should do The Opposite, David Desolvo writes: ” The brain doesn’t merely prefer certainty over ambiguity – it craves it!” Our need to be right is actually a need to feel right!’ Neurologist Robert Burton calls this a certainty bias which skews our thinking. Since our brains crave certainty, we become anxious or threatened if our world view, religious or political beliefs are challenged. Even despite compelling evidence to the contrary. (Disalvo) Thus differing view points, cultures, religions and ways of living are threatening to many. Think about it; if my way of thinking or believing is right, good and the only way – your way must be wrong. So if I am good then you must be bad or evil and I should fight evil.. Right? Or?…
It is easy to see how religion can be a source of conflict rather than a force towards healing . It not that any particular religion is the problem. It is simply our brains! Kenneth Wilber, one of the great current thinkers of our time states moral development falls into three distinct stages. It is all about me (egocentric) to it is all about us (ethnocentric) to it is about all of us. (world centric) This parallels Kohlberg’s three levels of moral development. pre conventional to conventional to post conventional. According to Wilber, 70% of the world population is ethnocentric. Which means I see and accept the world through the lenses of my tribe, culture, religion, country, political belief etc.
With ethno centric populations being 70% and numerous countries owning weapons of mass destruction, controlling vast amounts of the worlds resources, consuming significant amounts of these limited resources, and polluting significant amounts – it doesn’t take an Einstein to see the trouble we are headed towards!
In order for there to be peace, sustainability and a shared common humanity; a critical mass of people need to reach the third stage of moral development. (Its about all of us ) Carl Jung was asked if there was hope for the world and his answer: “There is – if enough people do their inner work”. It is up to each of us individually to wake up from the collective trance and realize that there is only one human race and we are all a part of it. As Desmund Tutu says- ‘We are all family”. Jung and depth psychologists realized that on a soul level we are all connected. This supports Jesus’ teaching that what you do to the least of us you do to the rest of us. Einstein reasoned that that this feeling separate from each other is an illusion. From an energy standpoint as well – we are all connected.
Jung believed that Neurosis is being or having to be someone you are not. This is the imprisonment of having to conform to external definitions of who or what you should be. Shakespeare wrote the “most confining prisons are the ones that we don’t know that we are in”. Psychological health and emotional well being is to live authentically. This is “to see with your own own eyes and to feel with your own heart” (Einstein)
To “wake up” and develop awareness and mastery, is to step outside of your emotional field”. (Daniel Starr) To do this; is to over-ride our conditioning. Awareness is the foundation for growth, healing and taking responsibility for our lives. With awareness we have choices. The cost of staying unaware is to be on automatic pilot and living a life that is not authentically and genuinely ours. When we stay stuck with self limiting beliefs like we are not good enough, deserving, we can’t make a difference etc.., the names, the places, the people may change in our lives, but we repeat patterns with similar outcomes. As we become more aware, we have more choices and can live more intentionally and creatively.
So how does one wake up from a conditioned, neurotic life?
According to Starr and the wisdom traditions, the first step is to become an observer, or witness, to daily moment-to-moment experiences. Once we can observe an emotion or a belief and not identify with it we are less likely to be managed or driven by it. This is an important step towards self mastery. Awareness helps us learn to manage or regulate emotions rather than be driven by them.
It is important to observe without making judgment. Self judgement and being self critical entrap you in your emotional soup. Self-awareness enhances self mastery by letting us see or witness our repetitive patterns. This allows us to intentionally choose our direction and experience . Self-mastery helps us be more effective in our work or vocation as well as other areas of our lives.
Emotions are states of mind, and we are always experiencing some state of mind, so we are always feeling an emotion – whether we are conscious of it or not. There is a relationship between thoughts and emotions. With each thought, there is an emotional trigger or an emotional association. We think about something, then comes an emotional association, and this, sparks another thought with its emotional “baggage”. The process continues as the emotions resonate or fuel each other and increase in intensity. We have all experienced being upset or angry about something (or someone) and by continually thinking of the situation, we become increasingly agitated. This called “awfulizing”. We can awfulize or “catastrophize” about anything: fellow workers, managers, clients, policy, finances, relationships, family, self-esteem, and so on. The patterns are very similar. Being aware of this, makes it is fairly simple to master.
The most important part of self-mastery is awareness, (Starr) so when you start to notice the awfulizing, reward yourself for experiencing this. You are then associating a positive emotion with the act of becoming aware. This is a lot more beneficial then getting upset about awfulizing again.
When we experience negative emotions, it is usually because we are experiencing something in our environment or our mind that is not in harmony with what we want. Think about this being an opportunity to discover what we do want. The starting point is first knowing what we do not want. The steps are simple:
1) Reward yourself for becoming aware of your awfulizing, or negative emotional state.
2) Notice what it is that you do not want, and ask yourself “If that is what I don’t want, then what is it that I do want?”
3) Consider what you want and imagine, feel, experience what it would be like to have what you do want.
This third step is very important, for you are now choosing an emotional state, and developing self-mastery. (Again, which is better, being in a negative state, or choosing a positive one?) With this exercise we “shift”, from conditioned patterns to more effective and productive emotional states which allows us to better handle stressors and frustrations.
Making this shift, requires waking up to what is happening to you in the present, and by choice or intention, consciously turning your attention from what you do not want to what you do want. Wherever you put your awareness, that will expand. According to William James considered by many the father of psychology – we become what we think about. Neuroscience has shown that by thinking regularly of the virtues and strengths we want to adopt – that our brains actually start to rewire synapses which helps us embody these qualities.
Happiness is a by – product of having purpose, meaning, healthy supportive relationships and feeling like we are making a difference. Psychological maturity comes from knowing who we are, being responsible for our behaviors knowing our strengths and weaknesses accepting and loving ourselves thus being able to accept and love others. (Marian Williamson) Affluence in the fullest sense is knowing what matters, going for what is truly important and meaningful and feeling or having a sense of being connected to something larger than ourselves. We each have a summons to living our own lives and to wake up from the trance.
The world needs you.
What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do The Opposite, David Disalvo
The Essential Ken Wilber; An Introductory Reader
The Middle Passage From Misery to Meaning in Midlife; James Hollis