Wednesday 18 September 2013

#400 Do I Have a Choice? - the Jar of Soil & Water Metaphor - Part 3

     Experience tells us that our attention habitually focuses & "clings to" whatever we find most attractive or aversive. This is a subjective, emotion-driven, survival-based reflex. Psychologists talk about "approach-avoidance dichotomy" - see: 
      The vast majority of potential "objects of consciousness" (tiny particles of soil) never reach our conscious awareness because they simply aren't interesting enough, positively or negatively. Extremes (larger particles of soil) grab our attention, while the infinite shades of gray in between don't.
     The power of attraction or repulsiveness of an object can be likened to magnetic pull or push between poles of two separate magnets. It's as if this power were inherent to, was within, the object. Wild tigers - avoid; ripe berry - grab & eat; attractive potential mate - capture & drag back to cave. This primitive binary reflex was appropriate, yet remains functional (brain stem) so we continue to feel jolts of attraction or aversion. These jolts can feel so powerful, that we can feel overpowered by objects of desire or aversion - "I couldn't help myself!"
     Yet, none of these jolts are absolute imperatives to approach or avoid - there are infinite shades of gray even withing each object, as well as the context of each object. In this light, each object approaches zero charge, opening up many nuanced appropriate choices & behaviors. None of these "objects of consciousness" (soil particles) are inherently, by nature irresistible nor horrific - the felt "power" is from within - our selective focus of attention (eg "love is blind" or "blinded by hatred") creates the apparent attractiveness or aversiveness we have towards the object. Most importantly, from a practical standpoint we CAN up- or down-regulate this entire process.
     If we spend a lot of time (selectively) focused only on how wonderful it would be to own a particular luxury item (ignoring all negative & neutral aspects of the object itself, as well as the context of how our life would differ if we owned it), the power of attraction of this item will progressively grow more surely than if we had spent an equivalent amount of time watching the best professionally-produced ads for this item. For the power of aversion, the exact same holds true for time invested selectively focusing on the aversive aspect of an object (eg catastrophizing). Habits of mind are made powerful through our own powerful, predictable mental training. If we don't like the resultant power over us, we clearly can & should stop building it up - let the object-specific process (eg craving a BMW) undergo disuse atrophy ("what you don't use, you lose") and change the focus of our mental training towards different, healthier preferred goals. The power is literally in us (clear water) not in the objects of consciousness (soil particles). Specifically, awareness (clear water) is inherently equanimous, balanced ie does NOT have to STICK to the soil particles, which can freely sink to the bottom of the jar.
     Smoking-cessation is logical, healthy & beneficial for all concerned, YET to free themselves, most smokers need to participate in effective smoking cessation programs. We are so bound to our habits, the "momentum" & direction of our lives is so challenging to alter, that most of us need to participate in effective, systematic training programs - like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) - to achieve this evolutionary change in our consciousness & behavior.

Fence and Silo by John England

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