Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Way to Stop Wobbling

Having outlined a fairly broad range of topics I'd like to start with a contrast between the worlds of western psychologists and mediators, monks and the like from the east. Alan Watts amongst an absolute amazing amount of other things has brought us a nice analogy to illustrate this point which I would like to elaborate on. A Centerpede with its numerous legs and sections does not 'think' about moving each leg in turn, to do sure would surely cripple the Centrepede as it would make movement require a torturous amount of mental exertion.

Similarly a person with numerous thoughts, should not think about, thinking about, thinking and so on. To do so would be to 'wobble'. This analogy is given to show how to keep a serene mind, one must not think about thinking, but must merely think and observe those thoughts. Moreover, one must come to the realisation that there is no thinker, the thoughts just happen as spontaneously as the Centrepede's movement. Better still one must learn to let go and not grasp to things, in this case one's thoughts, either as they happen or generally about one's self.

For persons suffering mental discomfort such as anxiety or depression, understanding this concept provides relief and a means for recovery. Unfortunately, what is truly meant by this is not immediately apparent and worse, even harder to employ when suffering such mental discomfort. This is where meditation comes in and literally takes care of the rest.

Now these claims I am making have the rare distinction in all psychology, eastern or western of actually being proven. Studies have been conducted scanning the brains of bhuddist monks and they really are happier than other people.
In our society a very effective way of obtaining similar benefits to this meditation practice, or just even temporary relief from these mental discomforts without drugs and their side effects is through brainwave entrainment technologies. Much has been written about these and there are different companies’ offering these so I don't need to go in to these now.

We have a way to offer relief to these people, so why don't our psychologists embrace these things and use them to help our many, many fellow citizens on prescriptions to anxiolytics, antidepressants, antipsychotics and the like? The first response is always lack of controlled trials (like the one showing monks are happy) and literature published in the 'right' sort of journals. Having said that, all these perfectly acceptable drugs and journals admit themselves that they are not effective in all cases (or even most cases) and have in some cases horrible side effects.

There are also no controlled trials on whether people treated by those who read these journals, get better than others who don't, in this sense actually less controlled trials than those for the controversial brainwave entrainment technology. There can't be as it's unethical to withhold treatment from those who need it for more than a prescribed amount of time such as a short study.

They also very infrequently deal with the qualitative side of their patients discomfort i.e. their fathers suicide, their rapist, abusive relationship or ex or whatever. So we really choose to go for the thing we now for 'certain' is not always effective, even in providing mere temporary relief over something that many, many people say makes them feel better and they can do themselves, without ongoing fees.

This raises in my mind a serious question, just why is it all results supposedly proven by tests of significance are so significant, even after repeatedly being proven wrong, and all information given to us by the sufferes themselves, about how they feel and what works for them, so insignifanct? Think about it, we have peple who suffer from anxiety disorders and prescribed medication doing something that makes them relaxed, they feel better to the point they need to to say it, they would desrcibe it as being a significant improvement and we respond "Erm, well just don't tell anyone and keep taking those tablets!". Now psychologists will say, hang on we don't prescribe drugs we do therapy, we listen. Yes, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which means thinking about your thinking and thinking about what that means and how to stop it. Then conditioning yourself, like a dog to salivate to a bell, to somehow Stop! When you are 'wobbling' believe me this is not what you want someone to tell you. You need a way to let go, you know so it doesn't upset you nay more. So CBT is based on this we are ‘certain’ about (I realise that some more explanation may be required here, please check CBT and Pavlov, or classical conditioning on Wikipedia). It's true that you can condition a response, we've seen 'A Clockwork Orange', but this is not the way to a serene mind.

It is a procedure that raises a second important distinction between the two schools of thought. The eastern which seeks to remove the ego and the western which seeks to support the ego. In the eastern school, you, I and thoughts all just are. they are just the universe happening and no one deserves any special credit or has to suffer. In the western school 'I' tell 'you' what 'thoughts' 'you' should think so you will feel better (presumably) and then 'I' get 'money' and am 'correct' and help 'you' become 'correct'. My highly excessive use of the inverted commas is to help illustrate concepts taken for granted in our society that upon some further reflection remain highly dubious.

I always found the behaviour of some of the mature age students I studied with an interesting illustration of this (my apologies to mature age students). They always insisted on sitting in the front row, right in front of the 'correct' psychologists and upon any opportunity to answer a question or raise a comment they invariably repeated back (almost exactly) what the particular lecturer had just said. I wondered why at the time, but now I can see that this is precisely how the whole thing works. Through 'correctness', usually granted via tests of statistical significance we westerners presume can have the ego and none of the suffering that invariably goes with it. We can even become super 'correct' it's just a matter of repeating back enough 'correct' stuff and have a great ego which will no doubt bring us satisfaction and money and all we have to do is take all these sufferers and Stop! their suffering through conditioning, and then have a good argument with all the other 'correct' people about just what exactly 'correct' is and put up a defense to the more 'correct' discplines like physics. Unfortunately there is no real 'I' or 'me', these are just concepts we cling to. It is precisely through letting these go that real inner peace is achieved.

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