My first post comes as a result of an email from someone exploring whether thought really does come before emotions. I thought & felt(!), that this would be a good subject to start my blog.
When I talk about thought, it doesn’t just mean rational and conscious thought. In fact most of the time the role of thought is invisible to us, because it is intangible and unconscious. I look at it as the bridge between the intangible energy of life, and the creation of the personal realities that we all live in.
Fight or flight – a powerful illustration of thought
Emotions cannot occur without thought. The emotion of fear, which is triggered in the limbic system in the brain, is a good example of someones reaction being individual and personal to them, i.e., what triggers the limbic system varies from person to person. I’ve seem an example of someone suffering from PTSD who experienced the fight or flight response being triggered by the sight of a Mars bar wrapper. He was a British soldier who fought in the Falklands conflict. He was on the Sir Galahad ship which was bombed by the Argentine airforce. He had a memory of being on the ship and his next memory was of waking up on the shore in excruciating pain and the first thing he saw was a Mars bar wrapper. A long time after the traumatic event, a Mars bar wrapper could still trigger a panic attack and anxiety. The only way this could happen is with a mental representation (thought) of the wrapper associated with danger and pain . It wasn’t the wrapper causing the emotional response it was a deeper aspect of thought creating his reality and emotions in that moment.
This illustrates the way that the limbic system works, which is through pattern matching against neutral data coming through the five senses. This pattern matching is an aspect of unconscious thinking, that can trigger an emotional response. The limbic system evolved to keep us safe in a dangerous environment, responding instinctively without conscious thought. It was meant to be fast acting, and to burn itself out quickly in dealing with the danger – fight or flight.
For most of us living in the Western world, our physical safety is no longer a day to day issue, although the limbic system in the brain is still in operation. However, for many people their limbic system is being inappropriately triggered as a result of the broader orientation people have to life, and the way that they are inadvertently trying to live their lives from the outside in (more on this below), e.g., trying to cope/change/influence the people they think are difficult, creating unrealistic expectations of themselves, trying to manage all their emails, trying to control events/people out there in the world, etc, etc.
‘Outside in’ vs ‘Inside out’
The mental health crisis we are experiencing in the UK at the moment is to my mind being caused by an ‘outside in’ view of life. That the ‘stuff’ going on out there is causing the stress and anxiety that people are feeling inside themselves.
Now clearly we are living in a physical world of objects and other people. However, our senses have no ability to discriminate. They are controlled and informed by our personal power of thought. Without thought our fives senses would be of no value.
The key shift in understanding is that our experience actually works ‘inside out’. Our experience is created in our minds, and thought is what creates our moment to moment experience. To quote Sydney Banks – “Our thoughts are the camera, our eyes are the lens. Put them together and the picture we see is reality”. Our experience is personal to us and we all live in separate realities because no two people have exactly the same thinking.
The challenge with this understanding is that these principles are intangible, which can make it difficult to see how they are creating our moment to moment experience. The world of form is much more enticing because it represents things that we can see, touch, and get our arms around. However, if the world was ‘outside in’ then the effect of the world out there would be consistent and constant. We know that this is not true. The same physical circumstances can be experienced by us completely differently from one day to the next. We can be really bothered by someone doing something one day and the next day it goes completely over our heads and hardly registers.
Understanding this ‘inside out’ nature of life does not mean that all our troubles go away. Life is a contact sport and as far as I can see, living a physical existence involves its fair share of pain, difficulties and frustrations. It cannot be played perfectly, however seeing this truth has the potential to transform the way that we relate to and understand life.
A paradigm shift in psychology
From my understanding the ancient roots of psychology were the logic of the psyche. In Greek the psyche meant life, spirit/soul. Unfortunately in the drive to become more like a science, psychology shifted its focus around the turn of the 20th century to behaviourism. Therefore the focus shifted from the intangible (spirit, soul) to the tangible (behaviour). The 600+ schools of psycho-therapies indicate that psychology is still missing the underpinning principles that will describe the workings of our mental lives. I believe that the three principles (mind, consciousness and thought) as articulated by Sydney Banks are these underpinning principles and represent a true paradigm shift – Our reality is created from the inside out (100%).
The development of our mental system is incredibly clever because most of the time thought operates in the background creating our moment to moment experience. Our emotions are a brilliant part of the design, because they operate as a barometer of our thinking. And in the case of an amygdala highjack in the limbic system, they generate a fight or flight response to keep us safe.
From my perspective it is a shame that people don’t understand how the system operates and the crucial role of our emotions. People waste a lot of time and effort trying to manage their emotions rather than seeing that they are simply the flip side of thought. They are wonderful at giving feedback on the way that thought is playing out for us moment to moment. The feeling of an open heart is an indication that thought is flowing through us freely and naturally – opening up the possibility of fresh insights.
I love the quote below by David Bohm who was one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century. He said that when you start to understand the true nature of reality there is no tangible objective reality that is independent of the person observing that reality, e.g., one famous experiment considered whether light was a wave or a particle. They found that when they tried to observe it as a wave it was a wave, and when they tried to observe it as particle it was a particle.
“…the general tacit assumption in thought is that it’s just telling you the way things are and that it’s not doing anything – that ‘you’ are inside there, deciding what to do with the info. But you don’t decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us.
Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally. This is another major feature of thought: Thought doesn’t know it is doing something and then it struggles against what it is doing. It doesn’t want to know that it is doing it. And thought struggles against the results, trying to avoid those unpleasant results while keeping on with that way of thinking. That is what I call “sustained incoherence”.
Hope for the future
Thought is creative
It does seem to me that the human race is being constantly challenged to see the true nature of reality, and the fact that we all live in separate personal realities. When you step back, you can see and hear all the time, how two people/groups of people can experience the same physical circumstances but have a very different perspective on those circumstances. From the Arab – Israeli conflict to a wife and husband going through a difficult time.
On the face of it, it can look like its just down to interpretation, but on closer examination you see that it is a different creation not interpretation. This is an important distinction because if you feel that its just down to interpretation you get into arguments about right and wrong. When you see that thought is creative, it opens up possibilities for greater sense of collaboration and a sharing of perspectives. You get more interested in how the other person is thinking, and you are open to being influenced by them. This type of interaction means that the collective quality of thinking goes up.
“Nobody in this world possesses absolute truth. This is God’s attribute alone. Relative truth is all we know. Therefore, we can only follow the truth as we see it. Such pursuit of truth cannot lead anyone astray.”
The same thoughts and feelings
So even though the circumstances of peoples lives are different, the thoughts and feelings we experience as human beings are the same. There is no type of thought or feeling (happy/sad, positive/negative, stressful/calm, etc.) that you have had that I will not have had at some time in my life. That to me is what binds us together as a human beings.
Maybe the current challenges we face are provoking a shift in consciousness and understanding.