Imagination is the divine force, the great healer, the transformer.Many people view their problems as solid “things” they can capture, diagnose, label, and target with a “medicine”. This is an illusion. It’s a strategy for pushing them out of one’s awareness instead of understanding their true nature and purpose. A problem isn’t a “thing”—it’s an intangible, fluid process driven by meaning. It originates in the deeper layers of your psyche where your subconscious imagination dreams up ways to communicate its contents to you. It sends you negative thoughts, depressed moods, panic attacks, doubts, fears, and nightmares. These bad experiences feel as real and solid as can be, but, in fact, they’re dreamlike processes. You can fabricate whatever psychological diagnostic label you want, but this has nothing to do with the process itself. Rational explanations & solutions will never help you truly understand and transform your problems because they’re just subjective interpretations. To find out what’s really going on you have to use the same currency your problems use—your imagination. You have to speak their language. Imagination is the bridge between your conscious and subconscious mind, and it’s the royal road to healing and growth. It can help you unfold your static, stuck problem into a process that reveals its meaning and purpose for your life. A simple start: 1. Focus on your problem. 2. Make a picture of it in your mind but don’t include yourself in the image—just visualize the problem itself. For example, your depression might look like a heavy boulder you drag around—just look at the boulder. Your anxiety might look like a scary monster—just look at the monster. Your inner critic might look like one of your parents—just look at your parent. 3. Let the image unfold into an inner movie and follow where it goes. 4. See if your movie reveals something that helps you learn about your process. Life is real but it’s driven by dreams!
Changing your life starts with naming your experiences.To change and grow you have to become aware of what’s happening within you. You won’t be able to heal your problems if you just unconsciously swim in your moods and thoughts. You have to step outside of them and observe yourself. Then you have the possibility of intervening in a way that can create change. Consciously notice what you feel and think, and name these experiences. “Anger is present.” “Hurt is here.” “I see you, anxiety.” “Depression is happening.” Rather than identifying with your problem, identify with your awareness of the problem—the part of you that can observe and label it. But don’t interpret it—“It’s my mental illness,” “It’s my childhood trauma,” “It’s because I’m a bad person,” etc.—just name the feeling or thought—“Hopeless,” “scared,” “frustrated,” etc. By doing this you attain the objectivity you’ll need to process your problem instead of being caught in a subjective swirl of energy and emotion. And even if you just do this, it will give you some distance from your issue, which can be helpful in itself.
When meditation was introduced to the West from Asia, it was translated from Asian languages.Language translation is much more complex, nuanced, and fraught with errors than you might imagine—especially when trying to bridge Eastern and Western linguistic concepts of reality. The word translated from Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, and Hindi as ‘mind’ doesn’t mean mind as Westerners think of it. In the West, we assume mind=thinking, but in Asian languages it means feeling, heart, spirit, essence, psyche, vitality, vigor, mood, and state of awareness. It doesn’t mean having thoughts! So, you’re mistaken if you think mindfulness practice aims to quiet your thinking. The original texts say the aim is to observe your inner life, transcend your illusions, free your heart, and connect to the deeper reality of life. They don’t say anything about getting rid of or quieting something, especially thinking. A whole self-help subculture in meditation and yoga has grown up around the idea that thinking is bad, neurotic, and pathological. You can find whole sections in bookstores packed with books on thoughts about not thinking : ) (a self-refuting concept because the more you explain it, the more you demonstrate its falseness). This attitude makes people marginalize their own intelligence and creativity. Do you really want to live in a world where people don’t think much? We’d have no science, no technology, no modern medicine, no modern transportation or communication systems–no guitar amps! We’d be a society of zoned-out zombies with no ability to engage in critical analysis, including of ourselves. We’d live in caves, and if you’re older than 30 you’d be dead. If you stopped all thinking you wouldn’t be able to take care of yourself, and you definitely wouldn’t be interested in personal growth. If your thoughts race around in circles, it doesn’t mean you think too much; it means your process is trying to communicate something to you. Trying to quiet it down just represses it. Observe, listen, dialogue, visualize, and unfold its meaning and message; don’t just quash it!
Mindfulness meditation originated 5000 years ago.The word, ‘ego,’ didn’t exist until the late 1800s, but meditation teachers in the West often the term “egolessness” to explain the state of mind that meditation aims to achieve. It’s supposed to mean that we make an error of perception by thinking we consist of a lasting, solid, separate self. The ego-self is portrayed as a neurotic, nervous, scheming, evil creature we need to eliminate. But when psychologists hear of these attacks on the ego, they shake their heads in disbelief, because in psychology the ego isn’t viewed as being evil at all. It’s not even a singular “thing” you can attack; it’s a cluster of activities–a set of highly important functions in the mind. When you mediate between your raw desires and what you know you should do in a given moment you’re using your ego function. It’s a mental strategy for attaining happiness in the midst of all the conflicting demands shouting in your mind. It enables you to say no to your desire to have sex with your neighbor’s spouse, to punch someone in the face, or take a crap in the street, in the interest of your greater happiness : ) A healthy ego enables you to learn, and gives you a consistent awareness of priorities, responsibilities, and sense of right and wrong. From this perspective, egolessness would be a disaster! A person devoid of ego functions would be a self-destructive beast with uncontrolled impulses, a non self-reflective robot with no mind of his own, an infantile monster with no psychological development, unable to become a mature, responsible, trustworthy adult. The reason it’s common for meditation, yoga, and personal growth teachers to reject the ego is because they want to get rid of its problematic parts–jealousy, greed, anger, hurt, neediness, passion—but in doing so, they throw out the baby with the bath water. You need your ego! Your ego’s problems aren’t something to just get rid of; they’re expressions of what’s going on in your psyche. They’re trying to alert you to what you need to work on to grow and evolve. Don’t just try to eliminate them; process them!