Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,
Lecture 4, Part 7 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.
Student: I just want to tell you to go back to the broader conversation about thought and thinking. In the Buddhist context, as well as in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction version of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, the concept of nonjudgment about what we’re thinking, or that we are thinking, is very important. And I just think that’s important, especially as a clinician, because not everyone’s going to necessarily have that goal of becoming enlightened. A lot of times people are just struggling to work with a particular issue and you get them to understand how to work with the mind as a tool instead of having it control them.
CTT: You could think about that in terms of disidentification too. That normally every thought that comes along, it’s ME!, and how could I go against me? But if you create the larger container in which thought is one activity among a number of activities, then it’s not such automatic identification. Then thoughts don’t have quite so much power.
You’ve probably read about it at this point in Living the Mindful Life, but did you read about the exercise I gave people with the milk carton to see identification at work?
(A chorus of “Yes” “The cup.”)
CTT: OK. I’ve done it with a milk carton too, but milk cartons are messy. You tend to get old milk splashed all over the place. (Laughter) But it really is amazing how just by a simple request of telling people to identify with something for a minute, and then stomping on it, it literally hurts some people. That identification process can be so powerful.
Student: If we know how to do that so well, do we know how to disidentify well too?
CTT: I don’t think so. For most people the identification process is automatic. It’s not like, “Here’s a skill. I want you to use it now.” Identification just keeps happening as a result of your particular life history and conditioning. If you tell them to disidentify with something, most people would probably be skilled, able to do it, if it’s an unimportant thing you tell them to disidentify with. But if I tell you, “John, did you see that kid with the sledge hammer working over your motorcycle?”
(Laughter) (John rides a motorcycle to ITP)
That’s a little harder to disidentify with, isn’t it?
Student: Yeah. I think that’s the problem with disidentification. The problem that people have with it is it’s a spiritual practice in some sense. You know, “That is not me. That’s not me.” But the problem is people get to a point where if you try to keep disidentifying yourself from all these things that you think of as parts of yourself, you get to a feeling of, “Then, what is it?” You know, “What is the self?” or “What is me?” And that’s scary, and difficult to figure out.
Student: Well, I think there’s no description once you get to that point, which is the problem. Because what you are is going to unfold next, and it hasn’t happened yet.