Thinking not Feeling

March 4, 2006

Ran’s putting up some great stuff at the moment. I have yet to follow the ‘thinking mind cannot feel’ link but it makes a lot of sense. I’d go one step further with that idea and say that most of us move on to using thinking as an excuse not to feel – as an excuse not to confront the emotional demons lurking beneath the surface – the longer we do it the greater the build up of suppressed emotion and the greater therefore the need to keep thinking and to keep busy. I know Ran has said in the past that most people’s goal in life is to get to their death without ever having to change themselves (something along those lines anyway) and I think that ties in there somehow.

He seems to be getting some flack for this. People are sniping around the edges of what he is saying – unable to actually argue with the main thrust of his argument they pick away at the edges hoping that will get rid of it – a sure sign that he is onto something. In our society people with thinking jobs are rewarded more than people with physical jobs, there is a myth that the intellectual is somehow superior and we’ve probably run up against this belief. All I can say is; if our society values it then almost by defintion it must be a dangerous thing.

Personally I think it makes perfect sense. This is The Fall we’re talking about. We ate from the tree of knowledge and have been banished from Eden and the more knowledge we have the less Eden-like our world gets. Just look out your window if you don’t believe me. Actually; just look at your window. You can see the world outside but you’re safe from actually having to relate to it thanks to that window, and thanks to the amazing amount of knowledge that went into making it.

Another link he has is entitled Toddlers eager to assist clumsy scientist. Why is it that people are surprised when children are kind? Our culture really does believe that children are born sinful (i’ll behaving more to say about that at a later date) but really the misbehaviour we see when they reach they age of 2 years is either a response to our coerceive parenting trechniques or the acting out of trauma from infancy, be it trauma from being carried inside a messed up civilised person for their first 9 months, or trauma from modern birthing techniques, or from being seperated from their parents each night, or from not being able to have skin to skin contact with their mother because they were bottle-fed, or … I could go on – and on – but you get the picture.


One comment

  1. Yes, excellent post. I’ve come to understand the mind/body (thinking/feeling) dichotomy as the root of what is wrong with civilization. Alan Watts captures it well: “We have been taught to neglect, despise, and violate our bodies, and to put all faith in our brains. Indeed, the special disease of civilized man might be described as a block or schism between his brain and the rest of his body.”

    I was on the phone with my friend Howard for four and a half hours the other day, and we talked about two contrasting paradigms — the linear and the systemic. The linear paradigm is clearly represented by a line, and the systemic paradigm is represented well by a circle (although we definitely liked the yin yang symbol better). The linear paradigm is built on positive feedback loops alone while the systemic paradigm integrates both positive and negative feedback loops into a systemic view.

    We both observed, repeatedly, that the linear paradigm led to the creation of false dichotomies. Howard has maintained for quite awhile that the goal of health is to reconcile these false dichotomies, a conclusion I came to recently.

    To add even more synchronicity, I was reading in Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting the other day how conditional love was a vicious cycle. And then he links that vicious cycle to a false dichotomy of raising kids with love vs. raising them to be successful — and now things are really clicking. The insight that I got from that, putting all of this together, was that a false dichotomy is an example of a positive feedback loop that tends to polarize or “split” interconnected things.

    From psychology we can understand the root cause of this splitting as trauma. When humans undergo a traumatic experience such as molestation or abuse our conscious “selves” dissociate from our body as a defense mechanism. This mind-body splitting so prevalent in modern civilization is the result of traumatic experience. This dissociation from oneself effectively transforms what was previously a system of interaction between the mind and the body into the mind acting in a purely linear fashion on the body. Trauma cripples the system and makes it linear.

    There’s more. The more we focus on that positive feedback loop in an attempt to counter it, the more we contribute to the polarization, the more we contribute to the false dichotomy. This is an example of what Howard has called the “problem-based” mindset, where people are focusing on and even building an identity around problems. We see this all too often in revolutionary groups that subconsciously sabotage their own efforts in an attempt to avoid change.

    What Howard has called the “appreciative mindset”, then, we can see in terms of completely reframing “the problem” in an attempt to find what works and build on that. I linked this to the concept of focusing on an alternative “virtuous cycle” to counter the vicious cycle that is already in place due to the trauma. This will resolve the splitting that the trauma caused in the first place, reconciling or unifying that false dichotomy. This is how we become healthy and balanced.

    Once we recognize civilization as traumatic, as splitting connected things (such as the mind and the body) into false dichotomies, as being a positive feedback loop (vicious cycle), then we start to see the incredible power of this insight. We have gotten to the core of the issue here — and it comes down to the disconnect between a linear paradigm and a systemic paradigm. This is the ultimate false dichotomy that we must reconcile, and to do it we must get at the trauma that caused it.

    It is then no wonder that people are being defensive about Ran’s post on thinking versus feeling, because this is getting into the realm of the trauma that we have personally gone through. We use our thoughts and our intellect to stay away from or repress our feelings because they are so painful. This is the very essence of the mind/body split — when the trauma occurs during our childhood, we’re trapped and the only release we have is through dissociation. As an example, the trauma could be being punished by a controlling or manipulative parent, often the father, for doing something that was a part of our identity.

    From this dissociation or disconnection we have the linear paradigm, where the mind, the subject, acts in a top-down way on a world of objects. Denied the balancing feedback of the world connected to the mind, the world is seen as something we own or control — or at the very least, something we act on in a single direction or line.

    As we learn to repress our feelings and emotions more and more (we call such a process ‘maturity’), we gradually learn to think of our entire story as one of linear progress. We rise up from the depravity of childhood and become adults, coming to understand what was a traumatic experience as being for our own good.

    We then project this story onto our society as a whole. While we originally conceived of civilization as a traumatic experience or a fall from grace, wherein we were punished by God (the Father) for our innate curiosity, we gradually learned to think of the entire story as one of progress. We rise up from the depravity of savagery and become civilized, coming to understand what was a traumatic experience as being for our own good.

    Inevitably, then, questioning the story of civilization questions our own stories on a subconscious level. Rather than talking about our emotions and our feelings, however, we play out this discussion symbolically and intellectually, preferring to discuss such abstract concepts as “primitive” versus “civilized” rather than the closer-to-home child versus adult or body versus mind.

    As I mentioned earlier, the way we get release from the trap of the false dichotomy (or vicious cycle) is by reconciling it. This means reconnecting things that appear disconnected to a split mind. What we must come to see, then, is that the mind and the body, thoughts and feelings, the child and the adult, the primitive and the civilized, are strongly connected. When we are mindful and look deeply, we can see that the mind and the body are one and the same, thoughts and feelings are closely connected, the child and the adult are both equally human, and that the “primitive” and the “civilized” are both equally human as well.

    Ultimately, it comes down to applying what we know in our own lives. As M. King Hubbert wrote, “Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know.” By reconnecting with lost pieces of our selves and connecting new pieces to that self, we heal our trauma and are able to finally feel release.

    This feeling of release or freedom is what I think most people are looking for, above all else. Indeed “freedom” is one of our highest values (because of and despite its absence), and “escape” (as you wrote about) and “salvation” are both almost universally longed for.

    But pain is the way to the truth, as Alice Miller says. And for the moment we are not empowered enough to feel our pain. So we deny it and run from it, preferring to shift the burden and develop “quick fix” defense mechanisms, an example of which being nitpicky intellectual discussion that goes nowhere.

    That is what I think is happening here. This is perhaps the most important understanding I’ve ever come to. Thanks for giving me the space to write some more about it.

    – Devin

    Posted by: Devin | 03/04/2006

    This post inspired a post on my blog.

    Posted by: sara | 03/24/2006

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