In the Sam Harris Podcast Is Buddhism True? A Conversation with Robert Wright, Robert Wright noted “thoughts think themselves”. It’s a great conversation and I can’t pretend I can explain it better than he did, but here is my takeaway:
“Who is the enemy? Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources? Who is responsible for the mediocre performance of so many of our institutions? Who is standing in the way of a larger consensus on the definition of the better society and paths to reaching it?
“Not evil people. Not stupid people. Not apathetic people. Not the “system.” Not the protesters, the disrupters, the revolutionaries, the reactionaries.
“Granting that fewer evil, stupid, or apathetic people or a better “system” might make the job easier, their removal would not change matters, not for long. The better society will come, if it comes, with plenty of evil, stupid, apathetic people around and with an imperfect, ponderous, inertia-charged “system” as the vehicle for change. Liquidate the offending people, radically alter or destroy the system, and in less than a generation they will all be back. It is not in the nature of things that a society can be cleaned up once and for all according to an ideal plan. And even if it were possible, who would want to live in an aseptic world? Evil, stupidity, apathy, the “system” are not the enemy even though society building forces will be contending with them all the time. The healthy society, like the healthy body, is not the one that has taken the most medicine. It is the one in which the internal health building forces are in the best shape.
“The real enemy is fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people, and their failure to lead, and to follow servants as leaders. Too many settle for being critics and experts. There is too much intellectual wheel spinning, too much retreating into “research,” too little preparation for and willingness to undertake the hard and high risk tasks of building better institutions in an imperfect world, too little disposition to see “the problem” as residing in here and not out there.”
— Robert Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader
I’m gonna rewrite a bit by Seth Godin: Living with what happens next. His context is self-awareness to improve business; his principles apply to relationship too. So here goes:
Most people are okay with living with the consequences of what happens.
When I moved in New Age circles, and someone was going through something difficult, the typical response was that difficulties were lessons for us. I heard comments like, ‘we all choose what lessons we want presented to us before we are born’ or ‘the universe sent you this as a lesson.’
Meaning we assign to situations is our own creation; not some absolute truth. 1Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Richards J. Heuer, Jr., Center for the Study of Intelligence, pp. 7, “People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses.” Notice when assessments become debilitative. Re-shape them to facilitate outcomes you want.
Or, “We tell ourselves stories about our perceptions, then mistake them for absolute truth.”
The positive thinking mindset/strategy/life philosophy I outlined above has hints of Buddhism; To quote His Eminence Choje Togden Rinpoche:
“What a yogi or yogini strives to do is to put an end to the suffering that exists in cyclic existence. In order to do that, a yogi or yogini has to train his or her mind. Simply stated, a yogi or yogini will strive to counter all the negative emotions and try to generate positive energy.” 2His Eminence Choje Togden Rinpoche, Yogis Of Tibet
Notice positive thinking is a bit of a misnomer; generating positive energy does not require constant positivity so much as it requires an understanding of the basis of our own thoughts.
Regarding my definition above, the hardest concept to internalize is the first one: that we assign meaning to situations; that meaning is made up by us. When people say ‘positive thinking doesn’t work’ it is usually because they couldn’t grasp that first bit.
To my surprise, the best book I’ve read that articulates the notion that we create our own reality was written by and for the CIA—Psychology of Intelligence Analysis— and I talk about it in my post, The CIA on ‘Your Thoughts Create Your Reality’.
More like this:
What I Learned After 6 Intense Years in ‘Positive Thinking’ Training
What Invisible Gorillas Tell You About Your Future
‘The Power of Negative Thinking’ Misses The Mark
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Richards J. Heuer, Jr., Center for the Study of Intelligence, pp. 7, “People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses.”|
|2.||↑||His Eminence Choje Togden Rinpoche, Yogis Of Tibet|
New Age mystics say the world we perceive is a self-generated illusion. I agree, and the answer to this ponderous notion is simpler than you think. Here are some of the illusions we create around ourselves:
Let’s say a steaming pile of shit shows up in my life.
Alan Lightman begins his article, “Nothing but the Truth; Science’s and Greatest Weakness Is Also Its Greatest Strength” (Popular Science, May 2015) with an anecdote about Richard Feynman. “40 years ago, the legendary physicist Richard Feynman gave the commencement address at my graduation from the California Institute of technology… Feynman told us that before we went public with new scientific results, we should consider every conceivable way we might be wrong. It was a tall order.” 1Alan Lightman, “Nothing but the Truth,” Popular Science, May 2015
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Alan Lightman, “Nothing but the Truth,” Popular Science, May 2015|
In 1999, the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence published Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards J. Heuer, Jr. The book opens with the obligatory caveat, nullifying my headline:
My close friends know that in the 90s my wife and I spent six very intense years involved with a small organization called WonderWorks Studios. I started by taking their weekend-long Prosperity Workshop, which was a crash course in concepts popularized by the New Age movement— intentions, affirmations, ‘your thoughts create your reality’— focused primarily on one’s personal relationship to money. The teacher was Toni Stone, and the curriculum was her own blend of Landmark’s The Forum, divinity school, and New Age; an interesting and potent mix. Being young and impressionable, the concepts in this workshop impacted me greatly and I wanted more.