The Small in the Big and the Big in the Small

“ should try to show the small in the big, and the big in the small, and provide for the real in the unreal and for the unreal in the real…”

Shen Fu (1763-1810) from ‘Six Records of a Floating Life’

Friday, February 5, 2010

We Do Not See Things As They Are!

"We do not see things as they are.  We see things as we are"
                                                        -Anais Nin

Reality – what we see and what we experience - is subject to our interpretation.  The meaning of an experience depends entirely on our perspective.  What determines our perspective?  Our prior experience, our state of mind, the state of our health, the conditions or context we’re in, our expectations and, above all, our attention and focus determine our perspective on ‘things’.  At the same time, our response to the world around us is, more often than we know, subject to choice.  We usually respond -- we react -- unconsciously, automatically, and without awareness regarding the role we play in our interpretation of things.
Is the glass half full or half empty?  This is basic CBT really – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Our cognitions – our thoughts – determine our behaviour.  Most thoughts are the product of our beliefs.  Those beliefs are often automatic and unexamined and
developed out of our past experience.  We take on beliefs about the world, via osmosis, from message received from our family of origin, from our social group and from our culture’s view of the world.

Experience also shapes our beliefs about the world.  We often come up with our own interpretations of why and how things were as they were and, whether accurate or not, they shape our reality.  For example, children will often blame themselves for difficult events, like a divorce.  The internal, albeit unrealistic, assumption is, “I’m a bad person and it’s my fault they fight”.    This, often unconscious, belief can linger well into adulthood resulting in a basic ‘core’ belief that one is a ‘bad person’.  It’s pretty easy to see how that belief would colour lots of interpretations of how things are, e.g., “it’s all my fault”.

Our state of health has a tremendous effect on our state of mind.  Research tells us that a depressed person tends to recall mostly negative, unhappy experiences and, in turn, predicts a dismal future. Clearly, our moods colour our interpretation of things.  Feeling tired, ill, or in pain affects how things look. Our bodies are the medium through which we interact with ‘reality’ and that medium can be clear and finely tuned or dull and out of synch affecting how we sense and how we interpret the world.

Whether you think you can or think you can't - you are right
                                       --Henry Ford

We see what we expect to see.  We rise to (or lower to) the expectations of others and ourselves.  We are particularly vulnerable to lowering our expectations according to any ‘failure programming’ we’ve received from powerful figures in our history:  punitive parents, critical and discouraging teachers, terrifying school yard bullies.  Feel like a failure, and you are far more likely to fail.  Convinced of your own strength and talent, you are more likely to succeed. 

 The chains of habit are too light to feel until they are too heavy to break.”
                                            - Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet, speaking at the University of Washington, was clearly referring to the fact that we can get so ingrained in the way we do things, how we see things, and what we expect that we don’t realize our habits have actually narrowed our way of thinking and how we see the world.  (from Steve Miller’s account at The Adventure LLC

Our interpretation of reality is largely based on what we pay attention to!  This is such an important concept re: seeing things how ‘we are’ that it will be the subject of my next post.  Please tune in for some real-time examples for you to experiment with regarding how what you focus on and what you pay attention to determine how you ‘are’.   Whether you see the glass half full or half empty depends on the kind of glass you’re looking at and the context the glass sits in and the effect all that has on -- your central nervous system.  Please, catch my post on Focus and Attention!

Finally, we do have a choice in all this.  We can choose to become self-aware, recognizing our role in creating the reality we experience via our beliefs, formed from our history and our experience, coloured by our expectations and fuelled by what we spend our time and energy paying attention to! 

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
        --Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, Apology (469 - 399BC)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We Teach What We Need To Learn

As a psychologist in clinical practice, I find myself providing clients with bits of ‘psycho-education’. That is, I ‘suggest’ what might help. I am careful never to tell anyone what to do. At the same time, the implication is clear…’this could help’. The approach is highly humanistic, right? Therapists never intend to tell people what to do. “Advice” is couched in suggestion and/or facilitated such that clients ‘discover’ answers for themselves. Discover what? The implication is that they discover what the therapist thinks is good, important and helpful. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz describe it this way, from their brilliant article, “The Neuroscience of Leadership”.

…the humanistic approach leads to an emphasis on persuasion. The implicit goal is to “get people on board” by establishing trust and rapport and then to convince them of the value of a change…. The power of changing behaviour by asking questions goes back to Socrates, but even the Socratic method can backfire when it is wielded by someone in authority who is trying to convince others of a particular solution or answer….When someone tries to politely tell people what they are doing wrong and phrases the criticism as a question (even one as seemingly innocuous as, “What made you think that would work?”), subconscious alarm bells ring. People can detect the difference between authentic inquiry and an effort to persuade them.
A friend has asked me whether or not, as a practicing psychologist, I do what I tell others to do. In other words, do I walk my talk? Do I exercise daily, meditate, eat broccoli, speak
for myself and not others and reframe my negative self-beliefs to enhance my own self-esteem? My answer was, in brief, “we teach what we need to learn”. I believe this wholeheartedly, no matter what your vocation, or avocation. Our drive to engage in any activity is always motivated by our soul’s longing for fulfillment. We are curious beings seeking meaning. That’s the big picture. The ‘small’ in this is: We pursue what ‘interests us’. And what do we find interesting? What we are lacking, needing and seeking. Particularly in the “helping professions”, we helpers are essentially attempting to help ourselves. We look for our own answers and healing in our efforts to teach and, thereby, help others find their own answers and healing.

“To teach is to learn twice.”
~Joseph Joubert, Pensées, 1842

So what do I need to learn and why am I teaching it over and over again? I am a seeker. Like many, I am looking for answers in my own experience and in others’. And, like most of us, I want to feel safe, secure, understood and valued. I am on a quest for connections and understanding.

The Small in the Big
We are our experiences and our choices — most of which seem quite insignificant. Paradoxically, each ‘insignificant’ present moment is the gift of our existence. William James, considered the father of modern psychology and a thinker way ahead of his time said, “All of life is but a mass of small choices – practical, emotional and intellectual – systematically organized for our greatness or grief.”

The Big in the Small
In therapeutic conversations we share a common mystery and we reach for transcendence – in the transpersonal experience that emerges when two people get honest and real and work to figure things out.

William James also said, “…we must never forget that it’s not only our big dreams that shape reality. … it’s the small choices that bear us irresistibly toward our destiny.”

The Small in the Big and the Big in the Small

Gandhi said, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.” Despite this truth, many of us look to the ‘big picture’ for answers and for meaning. At the same time, in science and technology we plumb the depths for answers and for truth. There is a paradox in quantum physics. The smaller you go looking for the source of it all – to the smallest subatomic particle – the bigger things get. All we find is space – the ultimate ‘big in the small’.

As a big picture thinker, I’m always looking for what connects the ‘big’ and the ‘small’. I invite you to join me in an exploration of insignificance. We will find that it is embedded in the grand design. Rather, those bit of ‘insignificance’ are the grand design – the big picture. I will report here on efforts to determine what connects the big and the small.