An intentional structure of pathology

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 5 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: Comments on the comments on your papers, or things you want to bring up?

Student: I was going to say that last year I took some time off. When I came back here one of the things I really noticed was the satisfaction I feel because the interaction in this school feels very different from an intention point of view. Most times when one’s interacting here it really feels like there’s good intention going back and forth and that somebody’s listening. And I discovered that I have really missed that and that I wasn’t getting the same dose of it anywhere else.

CTT: Yes. I think that’s part of the ITP educational strategy. There’s a lot of attention floating around that you could nourish yourself with. To some extent you can get attention from other people, but the main thing you need to learn to do is to be more attentive yourself, and then the “ordinary” impressions that come in nourish you more. You don’t have to have a fancy car and expensive works of art on the walls and going to the symphony every other night or something like that if you really know how to pay attention.

One of the Gurdjieff groups I was in used to meet two or three nights a week in somebody’s commercial garage to work on rebuilding an old car. By ordinary social standards, what a grimy, unattractive place! But paying increased attention to it and what you were doing, it was a fascinating place! Being actually present, being there, was very nourishing. It didn’t have to be some fancy kind of place. Lots of ordinary places, lots of ordinary situations can be very nourishing when you’re present. And also that will tend to call out presentness in other people.

Student: I was working with an ADHD kid, it was more of a friend’s kid, and so I was trying to create a relationship with him, have a conversation. So I asked questions that people ask kids. How was school today? What are you playing now? And he had so much trouble with it and I realized he was already connected.

CTT: Remember not to look fixedly but to shift your gaze every once in awhile. Go ahead.

Student: But he seemed really connected. He was present. He was presently exploring this object, and he wanted me to shut up and join him, right? I was talking at him from a more removed place trying to establish connection and he was already connected. So I just stopped the conversation and got more present and it was great. It was like all of the sudden there was a connection.

CTT: Arms and legs.

Student: But it was interesting. I wonder if some people are misdiagnosed or misunderstood because of that. Because we walk around separated. They’re not behaving as society does because maybe they’re more connected.

CTT: They’re walking too slow or too fast.

Student: Yeah. They’re really in the present.

CTT: Yes. But think about the issue you raised there. You know we do have… I wanted to call them “classical” diagnostic categories but I guess they’re not old enough to be called classical yet… We have fashionable or currently popular diagnostic categories. But if you think about what people do with their attention and intention, you could come up with a lot of sets of categories applying to all people, not just people labeled odd in some sense, based on how they deploy their attention.

So, for example, it could be possible to be too much in the present. If you were always caught up in the fantastic qualities of stimulation and could never abstract yourself from the situation and plan ahead and learn something as a result of past experience, that would be very maladaptive. If, at the other extreme, you never noticed what’s in the present, you’re always caught up in your internal story and plans, that’s pathological too. It’s a different style of pathology. There’s a range in the middle where you tune in enough to present time, ongoing reality, to be adaptive.

You know what you need to know to function adaptively in that situation, and the adaptive range can vary. Sometimes it can go more toward the kind of, what should we call it, the sensory enjoyment, the sensory nourishment thing. You know? So if you’re stuck at a boring lecture and you’re not going to be tested on what the speaker is saying, maybe really noticing the fabrics of the clothes people are wearing would be a really cool thing to do. Much more amusing and nourishing than listening to somebody drone on and on about something boring.

When you are in a protected situation, a safe situation like formal meditation, it’s fine to go way toward that sensory awareness end of things. I mean there is no external situation you have to cope with. So you know you don’t have to worry about the intentions of the people around you. You can trip out on the sounds, the sights, the body sensations, what have you. When you’re in a normal life situation, you want to be sensorily mindful and bodily mindful, but not so caught up in just the sensory level of things that you don’t come up with any ideas about people’s intentions.

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