I had the good fortune recently of working with my friend, Lucy Ryan, teaching Positive Psychology to a group of teenagers. Lucy focussed on the Western academic approach and I introduced a contrasting Eastern contemplative approach.
I introduced the idea of the relationship between your emotions, the moods you experience and the impact this has on your outlook and style of thinking. Starting with a clean sheet of paper a complex diagram was developed illustrating how each of the following influences the other:
An emotion, a mood, a thought, a sensation, an internal visualisation, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch, a vision, an action, an external action, intent, word
I’m not sure if the kids understood. What you think makes you feel differently. What you smell makes you feel differently and think differently. What you hear makes you feel differently and think differently. What you say makes you feel differently and think differently and makes other people feel differently and think differently. What you think today makes you think differently tomorrow! And on and on and on and on.
Western Psychology often seeks to explore and magnify one interlinking aspect of this never ending fusion of events. Through deep observation of one element academics hope that profound insights will arise. Buddhist and Vedic Psychology approaches are more holistic. In the Vedic tradition all emotions, thoughts, sensations and actions are seen as fundamentally illusory. This is because they are viewed as shifting, changing and impermanent. For example, the view that one takes of an event in your life is coloured by your experience to date. With time the firm views that were once held change. They may soften and mellow or become hardened and brittle.
No emotion is permanent. No thought is permanent. No view is permanent. No relationship is permanent. No body is permanent.
There are never any clear facts, only the hazy impressions of events that have already occurred. From the Vedic perspective there is no fundamental difference between art, works of fiction and works of fact. There are only ever blended perspectives on moments that have passed and therefore to hold rigidly to a point of view is folly.
Despite our best intentions enhanced knowledge can lead to greater uncertainty and uncertainty; as knowledge is broadened and perspective gained doubt may grow. This is an area of great synthesis with Western Psychology. The more one studies one area of the chain of emotions, thoughts and actions the more one realises the infinite complexity of human relationships. With further study, the realisation may grow that you know that you don’t know the solution to a problem. This is partly why some Buddhist Psychology techniques explore paradox. Circular thinking promotes realisation that one cannot solve human problems through thought processes alone. A Zen saying compares thinking your way to a solution with washing a bloodied article of clothing with your own blood. You are not your thoughts or your emotions and cannot solve your problems through thinking alone. You just feel and think in a particular way today. Great human thinkers have echoed this idea of impermanence and not becoming hung up or obsessed by what you think you may think at a particular time.
“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn. ”
So does this mean that Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Positive Psychology and all the other ologies are a waste of time? Perhaps….Evidence suggests that in therapy and coaching it is the warm, trusting relationship between people that results in positive change rather than the intervention applied. In-deed spending time dwelling in and exploring problems can make us magnify the extent of these problems. You become your thoughts, words and emotions as you dwell in them. Why do we become addicted to thinking and acting in ways that may be incongruent with our true, authentic nature? Why do we continue to think in destructive patterns? Because once a thought is experienced it is seared onto you. If you think, act or speak in a repetitive manner it becomes an automated unconscious process resulting in a scripted emotional and physiological response. Reliance on these scripted responses may limit our potential.
“The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken”
Attachment to thoughts, emotions and actions may be an attempt to hold on to a fleeting view of the world which at the moment of experience was only ever a narrow interpretation. It was never the truth. So how do we detach and continue to keep ourselves refreshed and our thought processes open?
The Buddhist and Vedic approaches to breaking habitual thought patterns stress the importance of the realisation of the impermanent nature of the ego. Through mindful observation of sensations and feelings, in the present, the power of habit energy is diminished.
All that we are surrounded with is impermanent and evolving. Human beings attempt to grasp moments in time and hold onto these images like pictures in a gallery. As time passes the gap between the changing nature of reality and ones fixed view of that reality leads to ignorance and pain. To begin the process of detaching from your habits, take yourself to a natural setting and spend some time listening to the sound of nature. Tuning in to a natural rhythm brings your thoughts and emotions back to a balanced state. By sitting and looking at nature as it constantly evolves and flows you re tune your experience and become absorbed in the true nature of reality.
“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.”