Coping with Raw Experience

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past,
worry about the future, or anticipate troubles,
but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

-- Buddha

Your future is bound to contain difficult and stressful events, and, generally, there is nothing you can do to protect yourself from the suffering that results from the things that happen. However, some suffering is caused by your emotional reactions to the things that happen. But how can you do anything other than react emotionally to the things that happen?

Strong emotional reactions distort state-dependent phenomena and drain the cognitive resources required for effective problem solving. The goal of this section is to learn how to keep your head during crisis rather than to continue to lose it as a result of strong emotional reactions.

Exercising will in an unpredictable and often cruel world is not for sissies. The ability to follow your path of greatest advantage rather than yield in the direction of least resistance demands that you develop the procedural skills and mental faculties to manage the emotional reactions of the creature you inhabit. Animals, and children have no choice but to follow the path of least resistance and react to the things that happen as they do.

The four paths described below have been developed over the centuries by some remarkable individuals who, like you, had to cope with the raw experience of being a mortal creature living in an unforgiving world.

If you are not currently in the midst of a crisis, take advantage of this opportunity to enhance the foundational skills and faculties that will enable you to cope with the crises you are bound to encounter. 

Paths of the Hero

Four approaches to preparing the bio-psycho-social creature you inhabit to cope with raw experience are outlined below. I recommend a two-phase strategy for exploring these paths: First use your Rational Processing System to appreciate the path at an intellectual level. Then, directly engage your Experiential Processing System in the Thought Experiment or Trance Formation Exercise. The goal is for you to mindfully influence your subjective experience and how you react to the things that happen.

  1. The first path involves understanding the distinction between process and outcome. Ironically, attachment to outcomes makes a good outcome less likely, because it distracts attention from good performance and increases emotionality. For more on this topic please visit: Attachment.

  2. A second path involves exploring the distinction between subjective experience and objectively reality. Children believe that there is no difference between the two. In fact, subjective experience is a creation of our nervous system. Our experience is composed of temporary mental events that are influenced by many things including our current emotional state. Motivation, perception, and other experiential phenomena are state-dependent  —  that is, they are different when you are furious than when you are feeling magnanimous, even though the objective reality may be the same. Meta-Cognitive Awareness refers to the realization that while our beliefs and perceptions seem to be true representations of reality, they are in fact state-dependent creations of a biological creature.. For more on this topic please visit:  Awareness.

  3. A third path involves awakening from the autonomous mind set of achieving goals and evaluating how you are doing. An alternative mind set involves simply being and accepting what is without trying to change it or evaluate it. Awakening involves shifting from the ordinary, problem-solving mind set [Doing Mode] to the mind set of "awareness of current experience with acceptance" [Being Mode]. When in Doing Mode you are trying to accomplish something, so you have to continually evaluate how successful you. When in Being Mode you are not trying to accomplish anything. There is no point to evaluating anything or making any adjustments; instead, you are noticing your experience and accepting whatever it is at the moment. There is a time for Doing and a time for Being. However, for most of us Doing Mode is so dominant that it has become autonomous and requires some conscious effort to awaken from. For more on this topic please visit Awakening.

  4. The fourth path is more active than the other three, and involves appreciating the distinction between intentional and unintentional trance formation. Hypnotic methods, including self-hypnosis can be quite powerful. Even poorly trained stage hypnotists can evoke remarkable changes of subjective reality; often in just a few minutes. Self-hypnosis is a direct method for the Rational Processing System to influence the Experiential Processing System. For more on this topic please visit: Intentional Trance Formation.

Suffering is all around, and the desire to escape it is universal. If you depend upon an external agent to free you from suffering, you will become dependent upon that agent whether it is food, alcohol, a treatment program, or medication. Each of these paths ahead offers a perspective and methodology that can free you from dependence on an external agent.

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