Our Comprehension of Reality Is Always Incomplete
The blind wise men struggled to comprehend the reality of their first experience of an elephant. The first, standing next to the creature’s massive front leg, confidently proclaimed, “Ah, it is clear that the essence of elephant is very like a tree, with its trunk firmly rooted in the ground.
The second wise man, leaning against the elephant’s side, thought for a while. He opined, “You are wrong! An elephant is more like a large hut, with strong plastered walls.”
The third (and senior) wise man had grasped the animal’s strong tail. “You are both wrong, as usual,” he said. “This great animal is but another kind of snake.”
This oft-told fable reminds us that our comprehension of reality is always incomplete; it is a fallacy to assume that the part of reality which we perceive is equivalent to the whole.
Experience Is Complex
Our approach to understanding human problems draws upon the recognition that reducing human existence and psychology to either thoughts or feelings or physical sensations is too restrictive, and does not begin to capture the complexity of our psychology.
Many psychological theories make the mistake of promoting a unidimensional approach, saying, in effect, that anger problems are essentially emotional problems; or primarily behavioral, or problems in thinking.
We believe all three domains are valid and important arenas for intervention; the best results will come from an approach that integrates all three.
We Cannot Control Our Emotions
It’s important to be realistic. For example, an enraged person who is out of control cannot “decide” to get over it in that moment. A depressed, lethargic person can’t summon a sense of physical energy and leap out of bed. Nor can an anxious person think their anxiety away.
We cannot control our emotions: they are like the internal weather, passing through us. We can however learn how to tolerate strong emotions; to express them appropriately; and to “metabolize” them, integrate them usefully into our lives.
We Cannot Control Our Body
We cannot control the sensations we feel in our physical bodies. We are gifted with a stunning array of nerve receptors for the sensations of touch, taste (4 flavors), smell, sight, and sound – kinesthesia, perhaps others. These receptors are linked together in an electrochemical network far more complex than the Internet, providing the brain with petabytes of information to be processed every second.
We Can Learn to Calm the Mind
We can, however, learn to relate to these sensations in ways that serve us. We can use meditation and focus on the breath to calm ourselves; we can exercise and stretch, eat well and sleep enough, and care for the body so its condition is optimal. We can learn to play among the bodily sensations that are available to us in any moment, orchestrating a symphony of intense pleasure or modulating the intensity of pain or discomfort.
Interestingly, we can control the mind: what we think, where we place our attention, what we choose to believe about the world and ourselves. But the mind is slippery: rather than take this radical stance of responsibility, it wants to blame everyone else. It’s the other person’s fault; I wish I didn’t feel so badly; if only I could be happier, have more energy, not be so sleepy and tired, etc.
“But –,” you might exclaim, “I can’t just decide to feel better, or like myself more…”
You’re right. It’s not that simple. But we propose to show you practical ways to develop the skills you need to begin to calm your mind so that you can play a much more active role in developing the life you want to have.