Questions I have spent a lifetime trying to answer
I am in the throws of choosing a topic to research for my doctorate in Psychology. i personally am interested in a number of areas. One interest regards the Oriental and Western mystical notions of elevated states of consciousness or mystical states. Such states are clearly referred to in Patanjali's Sutras and in the Cloud of Unknowing. Some Psychologists in the humanistic tradition, from William James to Maslow and more recently Robert Kegan claim that adults are capable of higher orders of consciousness. I would especially like to research the following two questions: Is there any empirical evidence for higher order consciousness besides anecdotal evidence?; is there any evidence that higher order consciousness can be taught?
Your thoughts and suggestions
First I would like to ask what your opinions are regarding my two principal questions. Have you or anyone you know exprienced higher order states or something similar. If so how did you or they do it? How doe you know that it wasn't just siggestion and wish fulfillment fantasy? I would also appreciate your comments and suggestions regarding any books, essays, journal atricles etc that you feel could help answer my 2 questions.
Lots of Yogis
I just got back from the International Yoga Congress in Germany. It was held at Yoga-Vidya headquarters in the spa resort town of Bad-Meinberg. There were over 600 people attending. Yoga personalities from most European countries and the USA came to contribute a lecture and workshop.
I decided to offer my views on how contemporary Psychology can complement and enhance what many practitioners of Yoga want to achieve - personal change and well being.
My workshop was on how we can make changes in ourselves in spite of our own usually unconscious resistance to changes. I was happy to see that many of those attending the workshop gained new insight into their own resistance to change. I didn't have the time to assist the workshop participants with their practical change process. Many asked me afterwards if i could come back and give a longer set of workshops on "How to overcome our immunity to Change". However for now, I hope, many will continue the process on their own.
Many were mothers or fathers who wanted to change the way they communicated with their children. This was very close to home for me. I have also faced this particular personal change challenge. i wish them big success.
My lecture was on Positive Psychology and what it may contribute to the Yoga community. I told everyone that Swami Vishnuji always made fun of psychology. He repeated a 1000 times the joke: "A neurotic builds castles in the air. A psychotic lives in them. A psychiatrist collects the rent." I got a lot of laughs.
My challenge was to show that these mindsets which are apparently contradictory, are just different filters of reality. No single worldview is sufficient. Psychology is a resource that can be a gold mine for those Yogis who want to understand and accept themselves better while learning how to live a fuller life.
DSM V Future Manual
We are expecting the latest word about whether we are mentally well or ill - DSM V. A preview version will appear tomorrow. I am talking about the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders created and published by the American Psychiatric Association. I am a member of the American Psychological Association so I am biased. Psychiatry and psychology represent two different perspectives on human behaviour and the mind. Psychiatry favours a biological model while psychology favours a multiperspectival model. The authors of the DSM hold to a disease model. This "medical model" has its strengths especially when there is consensus as to what is a "problem" in simple cause-effect relationships.
Which model should we use - the medical?
However, the "medical model" has many limitations. Some of the more obvious ones are:
- relying on "categories", "ideals", and "objectivity"
- not recognising sufficiently internal (subjective) experiences
- insufficient importance given to the role individuals play in their own development
- lack of recognition for the contribution of culture or context in behaviour.
Or the psychological?
Psychology, on the contrary proposes many models of human behaviour that attempt to consider multiple influences from genetics, development, psychodynamics, cognition, culture and society, just to name a few. The resulting perspective is much more fluid and does not consider behaviours as normal or diseased. Human behaviour seems to be too complex to contain in one simple model.
Hope and trepidation
Because of the importance that the DSM has in the psychiatric and pharmaceutical fields, I await the publication tomorrow with hope and trepidation.
Mind in Indian Buddhist Philosophy
No other classical tradition, East or West, offers a more complex account of mental phenomena than Buddhism. Buddhists do not associate mental phenomena with the activity of a substantial, independent, and enduring self or atman. Buddhist theories of mind center on the doctrine of no-self (anatma), which claims that human beings are reducible to their physical and psychological constituents.
1500 years of analysis
Indian Buddhist analyses of the mind span a period of some fifteen centuries, from the Buddha (ca. 450 B.C.E.) to late Mahāyāna Buddhism (500–1000 C.E.). Philosophical accounts of mind emerge from the Abhidharma traditions (150 B.C.E. to 450 C.E.), while their roots are found in the Buddha's teachings of the no-self.
See things as they really are
The Buddha declared that we ought to regard any sensation or form of consciousness, “past, future, or present; internal or external; manifest or subtle...as it actually is...: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am’” (Majjhima Nikāya I, 130).
The denial of a permanent self, and the refusal to treat persons as referring to anything real or permanent, is an integral part of the Buddhist view of consciousness.
This Buddhist view is very attractive to modern Psychologists who tend to consider the Self as a construction, not an essence taht is in any way permanent.
The posit¡ve thinking debate
The debate about the value of positive thinking rages on in the USA, the land of Norman Vincent Peale and Mary Baker. Positive Psychology, the latest entrant into this debate here receives a well deserved rebuttal from Ms. Ehrenreich. She rightly points out that defensive pessimism and critical thinking are just as necessary, and perhaps more so, for human welfare than optimism. What do you think? Read her comments with care.
One of the most prominent skeptics of positive thinking is Barbara Ehrenreich, whose best-selling book “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,” claims that thinking positively does little good in the long run, and may do harm. I feel that her comments are important to consider if we wish to understand what actually happens in the area of positive psychology.
Happier people are more likely to believe anything
A study in the November issue of Australasian Science found that people in a negative mood are more critical of, and pay more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who are more likely to believe anything they are told.
Negative moods trigger more careful thinking
“Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world,” Joseph P. Forgas, a professor of social psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, wrote in his study.
Positive thinking did not prolong their lives
In the September 2007 issue of the journal Cancer, Dr. David Spiegel at Stanford University School of Medicine reported that although group therapy may help women cope with their illness better, positive thinking did not significantly prolong their lives.
The field of positive psychology began in 1998 when, Martin Seligman, the president of the American Psychological Association at the time, looked for reliable scientific research on positive emotion. Dr. Seligman concluded, “it’s certain you can change pessimism into optimism in a lasting way.” Dr. Seligman is not pleased with Ms. Ehrenreich’s book and says “Where Ehrenreich and I agree — we’re both trying to separate wheat from chaff... We just differ on what we think is wheat and what we think is chaff.
Optimism and improved recovery?
James C. Coyne, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in his recent study, found no correlation between optimism and improved recovery. he said, “Being optimistic is secondary to having health and resources.” “It’s easy to show an association between optimism and subsequent health,” he said, “but if you introduce appropriate statistical controls — if you take into account baseline health and material resources — then the effect largely goes away.
Positive emotions vs positive thinking
Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina and researcher in positive emotions considers positive thinking and positive emotion as two distinct phenomena. “Positive thinking can sometimes lead to positive emotion, but it won’t always,” she said. “It’s like the difference between wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Life is Good’ and actually feeling deep in your bones grateful for your current circumstances.
Ms. Ehrenreich wants to encourage realism by, “trying to see the world not colored by our wishes or fears, but by reality.
Even to Ourselves
The stories we tell about our mental processes are logically appealing but fatally flawed more often than not.
We all have our own theories about how our minds work. Unfortunately evidence based psychology demonstrates that our theories are often wrong. The differences between how we think our minds work and how they actually work can be quite startling, especially when we try to judge others. What we think are important factors in others often are not at all, while what we think is unimportant can make all the difference.
Social Psychology Study
In their classic study Nisbett and Bellows (1977) asked 128 women to judge if a person called Jill matched the requirements to work in a crisis centre. 'Jill', was a creation of the investigators, consisting of 3 pages of information: an interview transcript, answers to a questionnaire and a letter of recommendation.
The information presented to the women about Jill was the same except for 5 crucial factors which changed amongst the participants. The women were told that:
- Jill has an attractive appearance or nothing about her looks
- Jill's academic qualifcations are good or nothing about her studies
- Jill had had a car accident before or not
- Jill spilled coffee on the interviewer's desk or not
- Jill would meet the women subjects soon or not
This meant that each woman saw a different combination of items in Jill's profile.They were then asked to judge Jill on how much:
- sympathy she would have for others,
- the women would like her,
- flexibility she would have in problem solving,
- intelligence she had.
The women were then asked to rate how much each of the above factors influenced their rating on a scale of 1 to 7. The experimenters wanted to see whether the womens' judgements were controlled by factors they thought influenced them. In other words, do people know how their own minds work?
The women turned out to be surprisingly poor at predicting the ratings of sympathy, likeability and flexibility and the effect of each on their own judgements. For example the women thought if Jill was good-looking she would be more sympathetic to others. But, it had the opposite effect; if Jill was described as good-looking the women thought others would find her less sympathetic.
They thought that the car accident would make Jill more likeable, but it made her less likeable. They thought the coffee-spilling would make her seem less flexible in problem solving; but those same women rated Jill as more flexible. And so on.
The interesting thing
All the women were wrong to the same degree. All the women probably used similar 'common sense' theories about how the mind works, which were mostly wrong. The results suggest that most of us have similar 'theories' about the way the mind works, from our culture or we worked it out from 'common sense'. The only area in which the women were accurate was intelligence. The women thought they could rely on the academic records to judge Jill's intelligence and, they could.
The weakness of introspection
This study shows how poor we are at understanding what will affect our judgement of another's personality, besides intelligence. People might know what they like, but they usually don't know why they like it. Similar results are repeated in other studies showing our lack of understanding of who we're attracted to, how we solve problems and where our ideas come from.
These results are a real challenge to psychologists like myself. The most important decisions in our lives, like choosing how we spend our time and with whom we spend it, are challenged. The stories we believe about ourselves are appealing, but are wrong more often than not.
We or I and You?
A recent study about the significance of using we vs. separateness pronouns, such as "I" and "You," among married couples has some interesting suggestions. The couples in the study were asked to have a conversation about their marital conflicts. Their emotional experiences during this quarrel were evaluated, and each partner was asked how happy they were in their marriages. The results showed that using we-ness pronouns was associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of negative emotions, and low levels of cardiovascular arousal. When one spouse used we-ness words, it was soothing to both. The results suggest that using "we" can be healthy and emotionally comforting. Older couples showed greater levels of we-ness usage and a greater sense of shared identity than the younger couples. Among older couples, the wives were more affected than their husband by the use of separate pronouns.
Use 'we' for more positive emotions
What would happen if families consciously used "we-ness" in conversations? Might this create more positive and relaxing moments, emotional closeness and compatibility?
Are We Essentially Good or Evil?
i thought that you would like to read what one of our most important primatologists has to say about empathy among animals and how he believes it is a behaviour that has evolved in mammals. He echoes his earlier hypothesis that we are good (altruistic) by nature and not just kindly mannered on the surface. Many believe, what Frans de Waal calls the 'veneer theory' of human behaviour, that we display an altruistic behaviour on the surface but that we are actually evil in our core. He is convinced that we are innately good. How encouraging to hear this from a biologist and zoologist.
We took my daughter and her friend to see the recent film by Richard Geere called "Hachiko: a dog's story" based on a real dog that lived in Japan in the 1930s. The film helped us remember, as the Yoga and Buddhist traditions do, that we are part of the same family of creatures called mammals. Today, thanks to Darwin, we call this common heritage, evolution. Nevertheless, we all cried uncontrollably when the dog Kachiko, displayed devotion and attachment that compared to the most touching of human devotion. How can it be that he has such deep attachment to someone not of his speicies? Perhaps we are not so separated from other species as we have been led to believe by our Judeo-Christian tradition!
Animals also Display Empathy
Frans de Waal's latest book "The Age of Empathy" illustrates the mounting evidence for not only the six basic emotions as Darwin proposed but much more - empathy and sympathy; emotion and cognition. Not only do many animals feel empathy but they exhibit behaviours that suggest that they are capable of the cognition of empathy. De Waal 'shows us that many animals are predisposed to take care of one another, come to one another’s aid, and, in some cases, take life-saving action'. Here is an excerpt from his new book which was published in the September 2009 issue of Natural History magazine.
An Excerpt from "The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society"
"Apes will groom and hug those in distress. There is also evidence of that behavior in dogs. Belgian biologists watched more than a thousand spontaneous fights among dogs released every day onto a meadow at a pet-food company. After aggressive outbursts, nearby dogs would approach one of the combatants—usually the loser—to lick or nuzzle, play with, or simply sit with him or her. Doing so seemed to settle the group, which quickly resumed its usual activities."
"As for its origins, empathy probably started with the birth of parental care. During 200 million years of mammalian evolution, females sensitive to their offspring out reproduced those that were cold and distant. When a pup, cub, calf, or human baby is cold, hungry, or in danger, its mother needs to react instantaneously. Females that failed to respond did not propagate their genes."
"Descended as we are from a long line of mothers who nursed, fed, cleaned, carried, comforted, and defended their young, we should not be surprised by gender differences in human empathy. Two-year-old girls who witness others in distress treat them with more concern than do boys of the same age. And in adulthood, women report stronger empathic reactions than men, which is one reason why a “tending instinct” has been attributed to women."
Frans de Waal
Frans de Waal is a psychology professor at Emory University with a Ph.D. in biology. He is the author of many books, including Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape. The director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, de Waal was ranked among the World’s 100 Most Influential People of 2007 by Time.
The other day a Yoga student mentioned to me how she had been hurt by her mother and how difficult it had been for her. Until now, (her mother passed a way many years ago), she continues to feel the pain of the injustices done to her by her mother.
Forgiveness is for you not the one who hurt you
We spoke for a while and I suggested that perhaps she could find a way to forgive her mother. She answered that she did not want to forget how unjust her mother was to her. I tried to explain to her that the process of forgiveness was for her - to find a way to heal her wound. It did not mean that she would forget that her mother's actions were unjust.
Forgiveness is not forgetting
I don't know if I got through to her. Forgiveness is not about forgetting the wrong or about denying that anything hurtful happened. It is about finding a way to heal your own wounds. I have written more about this on my psychotherapy page.