Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,
Lecture 4, Part 7 of 17 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.
CTT: Now this point you bring up about state of being is really a very important one, and it’s very hard to talk about adequately. We can talk about, say, personality. We can say this person has an aggressive personality, or that person has a generous personality, and we mean that there is an overall pattern to the way they live their life, and it’s a unique enough pattern – or distinct enough pattern – that it’s useful to know that kind of thing.
And you can talk about states of consciousness, where the mind can operate in a particular way, and so we talk about an altered state like dreaming, we mean the mind is operating in a different kind of fashion. But then consciousness goes back to its usual baseline. Altered states are transitory things.
But a state of being – well, first off, the abbreviation is not good, right? Because you start talking about SOBs and it’s going to be hard to get research grants to work it out. 😉
But there’s very little formal recognition that people might be at different qualities of being, but – well, I’m just adding to the confusion, so I’ll shut up.
Student: I think that what happens is that there is a default state of being for most people, which is their preconditioned, cultural, hypnotized beliefs about themselves and what they deserve, and who they are. That’s certainly my default state of being. So in practicing being there, what happens is that my life unfolds in a way in which that perpetuates.
But then when I become more aware of the deeper truth about myself, then I have more choice in what I am being. And so what I choose to be in this moment, in terms of how I feel or how I perceive the world, then manifests – then becomes real – as I move through the world, and my actions flow from that state of being.
CTT: I mean, suppose your state of being is indeed a peaceful one. Then you can be in situations where people are agitated and aggressive and angry and in a lot of conflict with each other and not overreact to it, and sometimes have a calming influence just by being there. Whereas if you don’t have a peaceful state of being – if your normal state of being is kind of excitable – then you go into a paranoid situation, you get paranoid too, and you get into an aggressive situation, you get aggressive too.
Developing a peaceful state of being is an important aspect of a lot of spiritual paths. Partly it’s a practical one. If you’re highly agitated, you’re not going to learn many spiritual skills. Your mind’s too jumpy and caught up in things. You’re not going to learn meditation or prayer, or any kind of practices that require focus. Partly it’s simply because most of the time we like to feel peaceful rather than agitated, although once in a while, feeling agitated is really neat! There are some built-in pleasures to that kind of thing.
So you can work on spiritual development techniques to develop peace, but there’s a tricky part here. You can overdo it. You can develop peacefulness when you really should get agitated by a situation. You can develop a kind of forced suppression of your feelings so that you feel calm and peaceful, but it’s really not appropriate to feel that way in a situation.
Recall the example I gave you the other day of John Lilly, being deeply hurt as a kid and so deciding he wasn’t going to feel any emotions, and managing to pull it off for another 20-30 years of his life. It made him very calm and able to handle a lot of stress in a calm way, but eventually he realized what a terrible price he’d paid for basically not feeling anything.
Student: What was the price?
CTT: The price? Aliveness. Joy. If you’re starting to suppress all your feelings because you don’t trust the negative ones, it’s pretty hard to suppress just the negative ones and let the positive ones go. You tend to keep a damper on everything, and that means the positive ones don’t start either.
Student: Also you can’t really fully suppress them anyway. Because if I was always trying to be peaceful, and I was actually resentful or angry, then that would come out as passive aggression, and then that would manifest in my life.
CTT: That would be our particular Western psychological contribution to spiritual development, I think – that we know that when you suppress things like this, there’s going to be other kinds of prices paid for it, and things are going to come out in other ways.
It’s like in the early days of psychotherapy, when they discovered that hypnosis would cure hysteria. A hysteric would come in with a paralyzed arm or hysterical blindness or something like that, and with a hypnotic session or two, they get a complete cure. Then some new symptom would develop a week later. That was what led to the idea that if a person has a particular kind of symptom, that’s expressing a dynamic, a deeper process. They’re getting something out of that, and if you just cut it off, you may make this dynamic find some other kind of outlet.
Now I don’t think that turned out to be universally true, okay? I mean, the Freudians particularly carried this all the way. Every single thing you did carried tremendous psychodynamic meaning that needed to be ferreted out. But some things are relatively nothing when it comes to psychodynamics.
What was Freud’s famous saying? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It’s not a symbol for anything.
So are we focusing on being the way I’d like us to?
Student: Yeah. Thank you. I’m going to be in the bathroom.