Archives For Daily Practices

This category includes simple and complex methods for cultivating certain qualities or overcoming certain kinds of issues. In general, this is about applying techniques that may be helpful in daily life. They are all things that one assumes will done repeatedly over a period of time to enhance personal growth.

Slow Down, to go Fast

February 24, 2013 — 2 Comments

Coping with the Pace of Modern Life

This is a great article about balance in a fast-paced world.

Those who have no mental vigilance,
Though they may hear the teachings, ponder them or meditate,
With minds like water seeping from a leaking jug,
Their learning will not settle in their memories.

Shantideva

Learning is consolidated and embodied through meaningful action. If you don’t tame the mind and point it toward worthwhile goals at best you will churn in place or get off course.  However, you will almost certainly suffer more and increase the probability of getting caught in the net of your own delusions about life and reality.  A disciplined mind is like a compass that points to true north.  Since you can’t escape your own thinking, why not dedicate yourself to a worthy purpose and commit yourself to staying aware of it during your waking moments?  When you are witnessing the mind rather than identifying with it, you have a choices.  When you are acting out of your conditioning without awareness, you lose your freedom. Don’t let you mind put you on autopilot… associate coming back to awareness of mind with something you do regularly like washing your hands, picking up a phone, hearing a certain sound or turning on a light switch.  In this way, you take your practice off the mat and into your daily life.

Another name for meditation is awareness.  When we observe what is arising moment-to-moment we enter the present moment more fully.  What we are aware of during meditation is the faculty that is aware.  What arises are objects with respect to this awareness.  In this sense, the witnessing consciousness is pure subject.  So instead of being identified with a stream of thoughts or sensations, we are able to create some reflective distance between what some call witness consciousness and the world of phenomenon.  This consciousness is roughly what is meant by Emptiness in Buddhism.

What I talked about above is the essence of the meditative experience.  It is as if your consciousness is a mirror reflecting what is going on, while remaining clear and spacious itself.  In other words, the witness or pure consciousness is reflecting back experiences as though they were clouds floating in a bright, expansive blue sky.  It remains untouched by what it reflects.

Again, this ever-present awareness is not affected by what it reflects ever.  In this sense, it also like the sky where various weather fronts just pass through.  If you have flown over clouds in an airplane, you get this perspective as you fly above various cloud formations that just seem to be passing through a vast space.  This space is analogous to your consciousness.  If you try to locate your consciousness, you can’t pinpoint it… however, it feels vast in a deep meditative experience because it is vast.

So, what you are trying to get at is a simple feeling of Being.  You are in effect loosening your attention from the various objects that could grab your attention in the way a scary movie can.  In other words, sometimes when we watch a movie, we are pulled in by the drama to such an extent that we forget we are just watching a movie.  This is a good analogy for how we step back from the contents of consciousness when we meditate.  We come to realize what we experience is like a movie and they we are a larger presence watching it from a mental distance such as when we consciously realize we are in a theater. The movie is relatively real… the theater experience is a frame of reference that is more real.

With these basic concepts out of the way, we are now ready to talk about two broad categories of meditation.  I will call the first pure awareness practices because the idea is to be like the sky and loosely hold the contents of consciousness.  In this type of meditation, your attention is opened up widely to take in the vista of consciousness without any one thing grabbing your attention and stealing it away from the big picture.  In the context of this article, I will call this calm-abiding.

The other general type of practice involves narrowing attention.  Here, you pick a very specific focal point and return your attention to it again and again.  If you get distracted you just gently remind yourself that thinking (or whatever) just occurred and return your attention to the breath.  The attitude that accompanies this mental labeling is gentle, loving and patient.  In other words, practicing  kindness toward yourself and paying attention to the tone and stance of your inner voice without judgment is one key to this practice.  If you want more information on this, watch the brief video on Maitri.

If you think about it, in any form of awareness, the field of attention moves around within the space of awareness.  Attention is like a search light and the beam can be set to be broad or narrow.  You as the meditator get to control the width and the direction of your attention.  This ability that comes with discipline will serve you at other times because when your mind is not disciplined, you will be pulled into drama, difficult emotions and the ups and downs of life more easily.  Rather than identifying with your peaceful. open awareness that is your consciousness, you will be overidentified with the contents of the mind.  A side effect of meditation is more general mindfulness in daily life.  This ultimately translates into more options and freedom to chose your responses more skillfully.

To this point, we looked at awareness vs. attention, the correct attitude toward yourself and the concept of manipulating your attention in different ways within the field of awareness.  At this high level, the other skill we need to cultivate is balance.  When you meditate, you can either hold our attention to loosely or too tightly.  If you are a nervous wreck that is an error in one direction and if you fall asleep that is an imbalance in the opposite direction.  The correct stance is being relaxed, but alert like a cat patiently waiting for a mouse to come out of a hole in the fence.  It’s like tuning a guitar string just right, not to tight and not to loose.

Now, we can bring in some additional points that can help you even further.  While you can meditate in a variety of postures or positions, you want to pick one that will support the balance I’m suggesting above.  Through many years, this has proven to be a posture where your spine is straight, you are well-supported by the ground or a chair, your chest is open and your chin slightly tipped downward.  For now, maintaining good posture while staying relaxed is a good starting point.  The eyes can be either open or closed or you can experiment with both methods.

Below, I will suggest a few different practices that will provide you with different kinds of experiences.  You may want to keep a notebook with your thoughts, impressions, feelings and observations you’ve made experimenting with them.  You can take a few minutes to write these things down when you are finished.  These ideas will come in handy down the road.  So, now we can just dive in to the meat of the article.

Calm-Abiding – In this type of meditation, you maintain a posture like I described above.  Generally, your eyes will remain open, looking slightly downward and about 4-6 feet in front of you.  The idea here is to relax your attention by simply counting your out breaths.  You only need to hold your attention lightly on the counting to the point that you don’t lose count.  You count from one to ten and then start over again from one.  While you are doing this, you remain aware of everything else that is going on, but each object of your awareness is being touched lightly like a feather touching a bubble.  You continue way for, however, long you decided to meditate.  Even 5 or 10 minutes is plenty, when your alarm goes off or you feel you are finished, stop counting and bring your attention back to the body.

Meditating on Sound – This is a practice I love to do outside with my eyes closed, but you can also do it indoors or with a recording.  This is another type of loose attention practice and the idea is to notice various sounds as they arise.  It doesn’t matter if the sound is near or distant, but by focusing on the sound you will be carried more fully into the present moment.  For me, this practice is very relaxing and being outside makes it easier to get in touch with the spacious quality of consciousness.

A nuance in this practice is that with your eyes closed, it will seem as though your awareness is this vast expanse where various sounds are arising.  This helps you to disidentify with your consciousness being located in the head.  This is actually a habit of how we pay attention because our eyes are located in our head.  In this practice, you may even lose awareness of the boundary of your body, which is good.  If you are a nature buff, you are likely to enjoy it and because of it’s focus on spaciousness, it’s a good practice for stepping back from strong emotions.

Now that I have introduced two types of loose attention practices, I would like to suggest a couple of concentration practices where you narrow your attention.  The first of these sounds very simple, but you can use it for the rest of your life and it will just keep getting deeper and deeper.  The simplest things done well are often the most advanced techniques!

Breath Meditation – In this technique, you pay attention to breath, but here the attention is more concentrated.  You start by simply noticing the sensations that accompany the breath as you breath in and out.  In the beginning, you can even say in and out mentally or rising and falling (referring to your abdomen).  Alternatively, you can focus your attention on the subtle sensation of air flowing in and out at the edge of one nostril (more difficult) or the expansion of the shoulder blades moving apart and coming together.

In this form of meditation, the idea is to not let your attention be carried away from the focus of the meditation.  In the beginning, it may get carried away hundreds of times, but you just gently return your attention to the object you have chosen.  Jack Kornfield has compared this process to training a puppy to go to the bathroom on a newspaper.  The puppy will wander off and you just keep gently bringing it back over and over again.

The value of the practice above is that you become aware of just how active and all over the place your mind really is.  Over time, you will also start to notice that the process slows down and you will even become aware of gaps between each thought.  The awareness of the gaps is like when you are watching a train go by, but you can see between the cars to the other side.  When this starts happening, you are making progress.  Don’t follow the cars down the track, keep you attention where it is.

Of course, you can also use other things as a focal point for meditation such as a sensation in the body, a feeling or even thinking itself.  If you choose to experiment with these methods, it is good to be proficient in breath meditation and then use your breath as an anchor that you can return to if you are overwhelmed with everything that is going on.  I will describe how to do it in more detail below.

Meditation on Sensation – In this meditation, you start by meditating on breath.  You keep doing this for one third to a half of your meditation time in the beginning.  However, at a certain point when you feel you are ready, let go of the breath and focus your attention on whatever sensation in the body is most apparent to you.  This sensation may grow stronger, weaker or go away entirely, just notice this the whole process.  If another strong sensation arises, follow that in the same manner.  If no sensation is strong, return to meditating on the breath.  The breath is your anchor for your awareness in this practice and others like it.

In my next article, I will discuss other forms of meditation and provide some additional tips for your practice.  In the meantime, please experiment with these methods with openness and curiosity.  When you are learning, more frequent short periods are better than forcing the process.  Rather than forcing, simply let your practice unfold naturally.  If you are not looking forward to your next meditation session, consider the possibility that you might be moving forward to fast.  Less is more at the beginning!

One last tip, is when you get the hang of these techniques, consider alternating between calm-abiding and the breath meditation or some other form of practice.  This will give you the experience of experiencing your consciousness in different ways and manipulating your attention from moment-to-moment.  It gives you an opportunity to experience your consciousness from different vantage points, which will help you latter.  However, it is really the process itself that is important, NOT the contents of your experience on any particular day.  In other words, the path itself is the destination!  The HOW is more important than the WHAT.

In my next article on meditation, I will also discuss some finer points of breath meditation, provide additional tips to deepen this practice and introduce the practice of choiceless awareness, which is a more advanced technique, but naturally follows from practicing meditation on sensation.  This will help you to experience your mind and consciousness at an even deeper level.

If you can, it always good to attend workshops, retreats or work with a good teacher. The beneficial effects of meditation on the body and the mind are now well-documented.  In fact, in long-term meditators there is even a thickening of the prefrontal lobes of the brain that occurs as a result of new neurons forming and connecting.  That is a staggering finding with far reaching implications.

In future articles, I will also take up the topic of the various heart-centered practices.  Just as you can cultivate the mind, you can cultivate the practices of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.  There are others as well and they all require some degree of proficiency with the techniques above.  As in sports, playing music and other skills, the basics are critical.

If this article was helpful or you have any feedback, please leave a comment.  Also, consider subscribing to my blog if you haven’t already.  My calling is to help people to lead a more meaningful life.  If this resonates with you, I would love to hear from you and hope you come back regularly to share your own experiences.

By: Patrick D. Goonan

In modern times, it seems as though many people have lost a sense of something transcendent.  In other words, organized religions and other forms of spirituality have lost their meaning or ability to connect us to something larger than ourselves.  While this isn’t true for everyone, it is certainly symptomatic of a general attitude of our times.

lovers alex gray

As a result, the closest most of us come to an actual felt experience of transcendence on a regular basis is sexual intimacy.  For many, other forms of connecting to some sort of higher power feel empty.  This partly due to the rise of modernity with the enlightenment and subsequent abandonment of ways of knowing outside of the scientific method.  In other words, we privilege science to the point of ignoring nonverbal means of connecting with reality.

Interestingly, those things that are most personal and important can’t be thoroughly explained or even looked at by the methods of science.  For example, love, a thought or our own consciousness are beyond the reach of the senses or their extensions – telescopes, microscopes and instruments of various types.  This situation leaves many of us feeling empty and some of us try to fill this void with distractions or looking for something deeper in other places.  For many, we look for that mystery, charge and deep fulfillment in sexual expression.

This situation is a double-edged sword, it could be good if it leads to deeper intimacy.  However, it could become unhealthy if it’s driven by a compulsive search for more intensity because other areas of our lives are lacking.  This can lead to sexual addiction or acting out in an attempt to fill our emptiness or need for connection in all the wrong places.

On the other hand, the bedroom is also a place where one can have an authentic transcendent experience, connect to something larger than oneself through love and deepen a significant relationship through a highly charged experience.  An interesting acronym, S.E.X. could be translated Sensual Energy Exchange or Spiritual Energy Exchange.  Often, both of these acronyms could be applied to our sexual experiences because in them we come to know ourselves and our partners in a deeper way.  We also somehow connect with life on a deeper level.

Above, I talked about sexually “acting out.”  This refers to trying to use sex for power, like a drug or to fill some void in ourselves.  However, if we do this we pollute a potential channel for love to come through us.  In this sense, our behavior becomes like a lie rather than a deep expression of who we are that we share with another human being.  When we do this, we may feel a strong physical release, but sometimes at the expense of intimacy and our ability to connect.

My hope in writing this article is to have you consider how more than ever the expression of sexuality is important and one potential way to experience oneness or be carried beyond the normal bounds of self.  It is also a indictment of a purely scientific and modern perspective that excludes phenomenon that defy the scientific method.  That is to say that we are creatures who crave meaning and science alone can’t give that to us.  Lastly, I hope what I wrote gives you some encouragement to seek out other spiritual avenues or interpretations that do have meaning for you and not stay stuck in a belief system that isn’t enriching your life.

Since sex is all around us and something we reach for when we want a transcendent experience, I hope this posting raises your awareness around the danger of hurting others by treating sex too casually or as mere recreation.  Because of the ability of sex to be so powerful and deep, there is an equal potential for doing harm through the inappropriate expression of your sexuality.  It is your own values that will determine exactly what that means.

Although we call this a modern age, there seems to be more ignorance, guilt and shame around sex than many other periods in history.  This leads to suffering for oneself and others and often makes it difficult to have a good and transcendent experience.  Therefore, if you are having issues in this area, I encourage you to reach out to a therapist, personal growth coach who does work with sexuality or other avenues to address the issues.  Life is too short not to make the most of your sex life.

Interestingly, my mother compared sex in relationship to putting oil in a car.  She said within the context of a marriage or intimate relationship, sex is like oil in that it keeps all the other parts running smoothly.  At the time she said this, I didn’t realize just how wise these words were.  However, now I realize they are true and there is also potential for so much more.

By: Patrick Goonan

In the first article of this series I talked about an unconditional attitude of friendliness toward yourself as a condition for deep transformation.  In the second, I talked about skillful means, gave some examples and spoke  about working with our past conditioning.  In this last post in the series, I will talk more about working on all levels of your being and across various life domains together in order to increase the probability of a transformation taking place.  If you haven’t read the other two articles, you can go back to my blog and read them first.  I recommend doing this to get maximum benefit from this more complex discussion and in-depth discussion.

In Part 2, I mentioned that in order to move up a level along a line of development you need to first disidentify from the level you are at and then identify with the new higher level. In other words, you have to transcend, then include the lower level as you move up.   As I explained earlier, you will have to pass through a transitional period of discomfort because you have separated from a lower level, but haven’t fully stablized the next level as part of self or your identity.  In other words, this desert period may provoke anxiety because it will seem to threaten your ego.  This point is very important and the attitudes I discussed in Part 1 of the series will help you cope with the discomfort.

This going up in steps is called a stage conception of development and you can talk about the upward path as a developmental line.  Some examples of developmental lines are cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual.  I also talked about conditioning and how to work with it in this series.  Besides reading this earlier post, I suggest looking at the 3-2-1 shadow process video also posted on my blog.  You may also find other useful material under other various categories on my blog.

Here in Part 3, I want to elaborate on a helpful map of reality that is particularly suited for personal growth.  This model is known as the Integral Model and was developed and popularized by Ken Wilber.  I believe it’s a an excellent map of the territory of deep change because it includes all the irreducible aspects of reality inherent to the human conditon.  In other words, it looks at the interior of things (e.g. your own thought process, feeling life, etc.) and the exterior (your body, observable effects in the world).  It also considers interactions between individuals and single objects, which is to say the collective aspects and the emergent properties of  systems.

Emergent properties can’t be explained away in terms of just looking at the parts that make up a whole.  Two good examples are life and intelligence.  You can’t explain life completely by just considering the large molecules that constitute a living organism.  Similarly, you can’t explain consciousness and intelligence in terms of the sum of physical structures that make up the brain or the electrical impulses occurring within it.

In simpler terms, the Integral Model takes into consideration individuals and how they interact in collectives such as a group, organization or society.  The model also assumes that collectives have interiors and emergent properties.  For example, a society has shared values, beliefs and other qualities that can’t be observed via the sense or their extensions.  Also, a collective has  emergent qualities that can’t be explained in terms of the sum of the parts.

It is easier to understand this model if you can see it visually.  Here is a simplified diagram that will help you grasp the points I have made so far.  Notice, the horizontal axis separates the individual dimension from the collective and the vertical axis separates the interior from the exterior.

simple_integral

Again, one quadrant of this model can not be reduced or completely explained in terms of another.  That is to say that you can’t completely understand the nature of consciousness (Quadrant 1) in terms of measuring physical correlations such as neurons firing in the brain (Quadrant 2).  You also can’t completely explain the dynamics of a society (Quadrant 3) by looking at the sum of observable behavior of the individuals that make it up (Quadrant 2).  In other words, all phenomenon have these four irreducible aspects and many of the irreducible complexities in systems correspond to emergent properties of collectives or systems as I explained.

Therefore, when we look at our own behavior, we must consider what is going on inside of us in terms of thoughts, feelings and other Q1 parts of ourselves.  At the same time, we need to deal with our outer behavior Q2 and also consider the systems we are embedded in such as our families, work environments and society.  These of course are all Q3 areas and then each of these external systems has it’s own value system, worldviews, etc. (Q4).  This is a fancy way of saying that everything is interconnected or interrelated.  In other words, to understand something you must look at the inside, the outside, the parts, the whole and how they all interact.

This model can be helpful with respect to personal development because it is largely  the systems we are embedded in and their interior aspects held as unexamined assumptions that keep us stuck.  In general, systems resist change and when an individual in a system tries to make a change, the interconnected nature of the whole system tends to pull the individual back to the status quo before any personal development work was attempted.

However, by examining an issue against the four quadrant model, you get an awareness of the systems you participate in, how they effect you and your unconscious cultural assumptions.  This allows you to overcome the almost magnetic pull of the systems dynamics and cultural beliefs on your values, beliefs and behaviors.  With this increased awareness, you have increased freedom via the process of disidentification as I explained in Part 2.  If you think about it, conditioning is a cultural phenomenon.  It is a belief or value or system of beliefs and values programmed into you by a group.  This is another reason why it’s so difficult to make a permanent change.  There are many forces you are mostly unaware of acting to preserve the status quo.

Another dimension of the model is developmental lines which I discussed above.  Since this article is about personal growth, one of the Q1 lines such as cognition, morals or emotions are what you are most likely seeking to change.  You can consider these various lines like spokes on a wheel originating from the center and moving outward in a stepwise fashion.  Since we are considering a stage conception, each step will look like a rung in a ladder. Moving up a stage is not like moving along a continuum, you are either alive or not, have self-reflective capacity or not.

Certainly, evolution follows this stepwise progression from fish, to reptiles to mammals.  Depending upon your personal beliefs, you can also consider a progression like matter, life, mind, soul and spirit as a stage progression.  Certainly, the worlds great wisdom traditions agree on this basic progression and you can consider these worldviews as part of the model.  Specifically, as organized religion or worldviews they belong in the fourth quadrant.

You can also see this type of progression in a collective such as a societal progression from hunter-gather to agrarian, agriculture to industrial, etc.  Interestingly, you will also observe a correlative developmental line in each quadrant for each of these stages!  Therefore, in Q4 or the interior of the society, you will see belief systems corresponding to each stage a civilization goes through i.e. magical beliefs will be found in hunter-gatherer societies and mythical beliefs in agrarian ones.  The quadrants are all related and we can use this knowledge to help us overcome the resistance of systems to changes and create some reflective distance between us and our shared beliefs.

Here are two diagrams, one simple and one more complex that will give you a deeper sense of how this all works together.  In the first one you can see developmental lines without a label and understand each as having steps like a ladder.

aqal_quadrants w lines

In this diagram, the yellow concentric circles represent levels, the green lines the various lines of development in each quadrant and you can see how each quadrant relates to but is not reducible to the other.  That is, each quadrant requires skillful means unique to this aspect of reality.  For example, a microscope (Q2-instrument) won’t help you to study love (Q1).  Studying social interactions (Q3) won’t help you to understand the underlying religion or worldview (Q4) that drives a lot of social behavior.

At this point, you probably have a good feel for the Integral Model.  However, it could get very complicated and while it’s good for self-development work, it also lends itself to extremely complex studies of organizations, living systems, etc.  If you think about it, it has the potential to integrate the arts, science and morals into a comprehensive unity and it has the same power for integrating the different aspects of a human life.

For your own edification and curiosity, here is a more complete four quadrant model diagram that fills in even more detail.  You don’t need to learn it at this level, but having an appreciation of it will help you understand its potential integrating power at the individual level and for analyzing complex modern day problems.  Just look over this diagram and move on unless you have a deep interest in the theory or applying it in a more complex context.

Integral Model

Integral Model

The most interesting thing about this diagram is the levels are represented by different colors and you can see some specific developmental lines and how a particular line in one quadrant corresponds to another line in an another quadrant.  I talked about this above, but here you can see specific examples in a visual context.

However, you may be asking yourself what does this have to do about be making a change in my life.  The answer is that by choosing growth practices for each quadrant and expressing them in each quadrant, you are more likely to have a transformation that is long lasting.  That is, if you work in this way you are more likely to stabilize the things you are working on into a permanent trait rather than a temporary altered state.  This integration also implies embodying your insights by expressing them deeply in each quadrant – self (Q1), culture (Q4) and nature (Q2 and Q3).  In other words, with this approach you get synergistic effects and integrate the new capacities into all the domains of life.  In this way, you get the systems working for you rather than against you.

On a practical level, this means picking one or several developmental lines to work with, choosing practices that help to develop those lines and finding ways to exercise the developing capacities in each of the four quadrants.  I realize there is a lot of new vocabulary and concepts here, so again a diagram might help.  This diagram is where the rubber meets the road in terms of applying and benefiting from the theory.

ILP_matrix

With this matrix, you can take advantage of the Integral Model without having to do a deep dive on all the theory because by your choices, you are working on different lines across quadrants and in all the domains of your life.  The specific instructions for using this matrix are in the diagram’s caption.  You simply pick one practice for each of the four core modules.  This gets you working in both your interior and your exterior dimesnions.  Then you add auxiliary practices which are collective by their nature and involve both interior and exterior dimensions too.  The point is that by working across all quadrants and on various lines, you are more likely to grow and stabilize that growth into permanent change.  This method of working also encourages and integration of your various capacities and intelligences.  As such, it is a holistic approach that touches you and your relationships in a very deep way.

The specific approach to transformation practice above is called an Integral Life Practice or ILP.  The model that comes from the diagram is a simplification of applying Integral Theory and is called the Integral Life Practices Matrix.  However, you can substitute your own practices, areas you wish to emphasize and specific means.  Technically, you can call these ILPs or whatever you wish.  The model is a useful guidelines, but when push comes to shove, you are the expert on how to apply the theory. The diagram above, however, is a very useful starting point for experimenting with this type of integrated approach.  What counts in the end is transformation or a permanent level change in one or more developmental lines.

I know this was a long article, but I hope you got a lot out of it and that you consider trying the approach I recommended.  As I said in Parts 1 and 2, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences working this way and I invite back to leave a comment or subscribe.  If you would like further information on the integral model you can see some of my other postings including a video with Ken Wilber on Integral Life Practices.  He developed this model over decades and now has over 20 book titles in continuous print.

In my opinion, the integral model is a very important tool for understanding and working with differences across various disciplines and solving complex real world problems.  The Integral Institute is dedicated to applying the principles of this model in education, politics, business, psychology and other areas.  My experience is that it is a powerful and effective way to work on your own personal growth or a group in any domain of activity or interest.

If there are any critical aspects of this work I left unexplained or you have any questions, please leave me comments.  I will be writing more on integral theory, but if I have your input I can target my blogs to your interests more precisely.  If you would like to contact or work with me, you can find my contact information under the contact information menu heading.

By: Patrick D. Goonan

The first part of this series looked at general attitudes and the the high level view of making changes that last.  This second part will talk about the value of a disciplined mind and skillful means to achieve your goal.

If you read Part 1, you will know that I advocate an attitude of compassionate self-discipline.  No one has ever gotten better from a good beating whether it was administered from the outside or self-inflicted.  However, we beat ourselves up daily via our largely unconscious voices in our head.  If you have meditated or even if you haven’t, you probably know from your own personal experience what I am talking about.

So, how do you deal with a harsh inner critic?  First, you must be aware of these negative voices, which means creating some reflective distance from them.  A good starting place is simply catching yourself in the act of beating yourself up.  When you make these kinds of nonjudgmental observations, you can eventually pause and decide what to do.  In other words, when you can hold the negative self talk more as object than subject, you are less likely to go on autopilot and therefore, can exercise more choice in the moment.  This process is called disidentification because what was previously unconscious and identified with self is now held at a reflective distance from the consciousness that is observing it.  In other words, it becomes an object in the stream of thought.

In order to make this process more effective, it helps to quiet the mind through exercise, relaxation practices or meditation.  It’s a matter of becoming more mindful of what is going on in the moment so that your higher or deeper self can intervene.  In fact, keeping a journal of your automatic thinking is a good way to raise your awareness.  By raising your awareness, you raise your control.  Over time, this could develop into mastery, but in order to get there you must have a clear vision and a deep commitment to yourself and this process.

It is not surprising that most of this automatic thinking is the result of conditioning and is now an engrained habit.  In addition, the effects are amplified by various types of cognitive distortions.  In other words, not only is the thinking off the mark, but there is other thinking going on about your own thoughts that makes the situation worse.  Some examples of this are tunnel vision, exaggerating particular aspects of an issue, over generalization and selective attention.  There are many more, but the principles are the same for working with all of them.  These distortions are a type of filter that you unconsciously apply to your already negative self-talk!  In general, these patterns go unnoticed until you really start paying attention and slow it down via something like the methods I mention above.

Now, you are more aware of what is going on from your journal entries or other practices.  If you review these written entries daily, you can ask yourself, is this really true?  How do I know it’s true?  In many cases, you will pick up on the underlying assumptions of that negative voice and how the emotional content is exaggerated just by slowing the process down via journal work.  This increased awareness will help you catch yourself in the act more often, leading to more insights and more confidence in your ability to recognize these tendencies.  You may also notice where these ideas came from and at what age you adopted them.  When you read them back, it is often useful to ask yourself how old you feel after reading one off.  This will give you a clue as to what age you might have been when you adopted this pattern.

It is also helpful to do a written imagined dialogue between your adult self and the wounded child part or inner critic.  In other words, you can write a few sentences to your inner child and then write a few sentences as the inner child.  Working back and forth this way, you open up communication between your healthy adult self and the disowned part of yourself.  This will help you to integrate this disowned part of yourself back into the larger you that is capable of holding a space for this other wounded aspect of your personality.

There are many ways to work with your inner critic or other disowned parts of your personality.  However, in all cases it’s just as important to keep in mind how NOT to work with them.  Beating yourself up doesn’t work nor does blocking these things from consciousness.  Certainly, a compassionate stance toward yourself is helpful and I would add an attitude of openness and curiosity.  I like to call this general approach being an Indiana Jones of your own mental processes.  This attitude alone will help the issues come to the surface and start to unravel on their own.  Don’t believe me, try this attitude on for a few days along with my suggestions from Part 1 and leave a comment below.

Your mind is a lot like a stormy lake and to see deeper, it helps to calm the waters.  This is why I suggested some practices above.  To get good at this, especially where you can notice what is going on in the moment, you have to practice every day or at least often.  Tiger Woods did not become a great golfer by hitting a few shots, more likely he made thousands of shots with awareness and openness.  The idea isn’t much different here and it requires patience and dedication.  If you can look forward and visualize success, it will make the whole thing easier.

In Part 3, I will talk about dedication and making ones intention sharp like a sword.  This crystallization of intent will get your passion behind your purpose.  If you have a good boat (stable mind), a rudder (a specific intention) and wind in the sails (passion through intent coupled with commitment)… you will arrive at your destination.

For some people, this process is more difficult than for others.  If you have very dark thoughts or are overwhelmed by anxiety then I would consult a qualified professional to help.  However, for average people with average negativity, these guidelines should help.

In general, it is wise to have a sense of humor realizing your will never be perfect.  Your not alone, neither is anyone else including me and I work with this stuff everyday.  However, you will be much more at peace if you can become a connoisseur of your own remaining neurosis rather than requiring yourself to be perfect before you give yourself permission to be happy.  The time to be happy is this moment, don’t postpone it… the future never comes!  Happiness is a STATE of consciousness, not a destination to arrive at in the future.

This practice is very useful for working with the sides of your personality you find difficult to own.  It is simple and powerful.