Feeling of Contentment

In the last post we looked at satisfying our desires. We noticed as soon as one desire had been satisfied the contentment resulting from satisfying that desire did not last very long, soon another desire appeared which also needed to be satisfied otherwise we risk being unhappy and discontented. We found ourselves in a vicious cycle of desiring and satisfying the desires because our need for desire never ends. In a way more we satisfy them the more hungry we get for more. We spend a lifetime trying to satisfy all our desires and in the end we die without experiencing real happiness and being content. I witness this all the time in patients with terminal illness. Very few people are content at the end of their life. In this post I hope to explore the sources of this elusive contentment.

In the previous posts I also looked at how we react when we feel threatened. How we are wired to deal with treat and desire has evolutionary benefits. We would not be here as a human species without these systems. They help us to satisfy our basic needs. We humans, however, have the potential for much, much more than just having our basic needs satisfy. We have the ability to be happy, lovingly compassionate and content.  We do this by our ‘emotion regulation system’ that helps to balance the other two systems, of threat and desire, and it’s a major source of our feelings of well-being and connectedness. This system uses natural chemicals in our brains called endorphins and opiates; that enables us to have a sense of well-being and being at peace.

The question is how do we enhance this system in our brains? The answer seems to lie in the certain type of exercises and trying to adopt a certain lifestyle.

 

We will look at the exercises and the life style in the future posts but for now lets look at how we feel safe by creating positive feeling in the minds of others. Most people have had the experience of feeling soothed and content, safe and at peace when they feel valued, cared for and cared about. We spend a lot of our time thinking about other people’s feeling towards us and trying to earn other people’s approval, appreciation and respect and be accepted in our group. We want to be valued, seem desirable, helpful, talented and able. Paul Gilbert writes

 

If you can create these sorts of feelings in the minds of others, three things will happen. First, the world will be safe and you will know that these people won’t attack or reject you because they value you. Second, with them you’ll be able to create meaningful roles for mutual support, sexual relationship and / or sharing. And third, receiving signals from others that they value and care for you will have direct effects on your body and on your soothing/ contentment.

 

Given that this kind of behavior towards us by others makes us feel good, and given that other people have the same needs as us, then doesn’t it make sense that compassion and kindness should be at the centre of our relationships and engagement with the world? In this way we improve our quality of our thoughts in our consciousness. The thought would no longer be fear based but rather be based on trust, caring and being valued. Paul Gilbert writes…

When our brains are in a caring mentality pattern, this brings on-line certain feelings and ways of thinking and certain behaviour e.g. concern and kindness for others and working for their welfare. However, it’s a brain pattern and so the feelings and behavior it supports and encourages can be lost when either the incentive/ resource-seeking system or the treat/self –protection system becomes dominant and regulates feeling and thinking. By learning compassion, we learn how to activate a particular state of mind and brain pattern in us associated with caring and nurturing that have soothing qualities. We can learn certain exercises that will stimulate this system, a kind of physiotherapy for the mind.

Resources:

The compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Did you know people on the other side of the world are patterning our minds.

Can we live without being influenced by our surrounding and be an island to ourselves where no outside influence can affect us? I don’t think so. If we believe that we cannot  BUT be influenced by our environment, our culture, our neighbours, our leaders, our religion, our family, our friends  by the media than doesn’t it make sense that we conduct ourselves in such a way that its beneficial to both our society and ourselves? ( or if you like ourselves and our society?).

In my previous posts I mentioned how by interaction with others we are patterning our mind to react or behave in a particular way. But our quality of interaction and the kind of relationship we have with each other is dependent on the kind of cultures and societies we live in. This means our cultures and social structures can activate and pattern our minds, too. In our fast paced , competitive society we are going to be interacting and stimulating different patterns in each of us than if we were in slower , more contented societies.

Does it not than follow that we have to think about ourselves radically differently than “island among ourselves.” It would be more accurate to think about ourselves as “mutually influencing beings” ? So on individual level, our irritation with each other will raise our stress and increase our vulnerability to range of health problems and to social discord, while our kindness to each other will lower our stress and impact positively on our well-being and increase our social safeness. At a societal level mental illness and criminality are born from complicated genetic, social mentality and cultural/ social interactions. At international level , the ways in which our societies operate, seek goods and services, secure trade agreements and enable international companies to extract huge profits from stock markets will greatly affect the lives and pattern the minds of people far away. Clearly we are all connected , even to those we have not met and are far away on the other side of the world.

So we have a choice of either encouraging selfish tribal behaviour in ourselves and try to be an ” island among ourselves” or we can choose a compassionate approach that’s more thoughtful of others.  Ideally, of course , we want to  blend our interest and interest of others. We will have to reflect and think carefully about our values and try to be the ‘best we can be’ but at the same time, not ruthlessly exploitative.

 

Resources:

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert.

http://www.flickr.com

Competing to be Attractive

Why is that we humans are not naturally predisposed to sharing basic necessities of life. Surely there are enough resources in our world for everyone to at least have their basic needs satisfied. Yet there are millions without the basic needs. How are we to make sense of this? If we look at most species on this planet they all compete for basic needs, for food, nest sites, sexual opportunities etc. I suppose the only way to avoid this competition would be ether to live in isolation or learn to live with others without harming or killing each when acquiring these basic needs. Living and evolving in isolation is more difficult. It is more likely that a group will solve a given problem rather than those living in isolation. There are benefits to living in groups, and for those to evolve, evolution had to come up with a way to remove the potential for constant fighting between the group members. In animals this is achieved by submissive behavior by the less powerful animals and for the dominant animals to accept this behavior as evidence that their rule is not challenged. This kind of behavior is called ” ranks of social deference” and it has allowed animals to live together without continual warfare.

In time the behavior in humans has evolved to allow greater close proximity and hopefully more cooperative behavior as well. So how do we humans avoid the constant warfare? I am not sure if we have exactly stopped the warfare, all we have done is to become subtler, instead of using out right aggression we are subtly competing with each other. Our behavior can be understood by  “social rank mentality”, which are a way of thinking about our social relationships and ourselves and a way for us to organize the distribution of resources.

We have come a long way from using aggression and physical threats to compete for goods. Instead we have become sophisticated and use our experience, knowledge, age, authority, tradition, power, talent and beauty to gain that competitive edge. We want to compete by being seen as talented, desirable and worthy: we want to impress. We like to be patted on the head; it makes us feel valued, wanted and safe. With regards to being cooperative, and sharing knowledge, we like recognition and the awareness that we’ve been helpful.

Although there might not be any aggressive intent here because we’re competing to be attractive to others, we can still display irritation, anger and even threats of or actual violence if we feel that the competition has been unfair or that our ‘position’, ‘status’ or ‘power’ is being threatened.

We humans are very social rank aware and motivated. We pay attention to out social position in our social hierarchy, we think about our relationship in terms of hierarchies and social comparisons – strong/ powerful v. weak/ powerless. Winner v. loser, superior v. inferior etc. We behave in ways appropriate to hierarchies: competing for status, trying to impress those in powerful positions, submitting, showing deference, subduing subordinates or competitors.

So this social mentality involves motives to win competitions and conflicts for resources and social position and to subdue competitors. The competitive social mentality will also orient us to think in terms of envy and of undermining other people, because this can advance our own interests. From the world trade talks to street gangs, maintaining one’s competitive advantage dominates thinking.

The drawback of competitive social mentality is that it also tends to turn off the patterns in our minds that facilitate caring. It also puts people who are anxious or depressed at a disadvantage because they believe themselves to be of low rank- inferior or inadequate. Narcissist on the other hand, is highly competitive, seek high rank, want to impress others and be seen as superior.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

http://flickrhivemind.net/

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Jungian Archetypes – another way to understand ourselves.

Is appearances and current fashion important to you? Do you need social approval ? Are you open to being loved and cared for or do you feel anxious about losing the love of others and need constant reassurance; or do you avoid close relationships ? These and many other questions of our behaviour may be better understood in terms of Jungian archetypes.We have already discussed how evolution has shaped our mind , brain and behaviour. The archetypes are further refinements in trying to understand ourselves.

The idea of archetypes have been around since the time of antiquity, in the days of Plato; but Carl Gustav Jung used the term ‘archetype ‘ in a particular way. He suggested that our behaviour towards different themes in our lives is directed by  special systems in our mind, which organizes our motives, thinking, feelings and fantasies. He called them archetypes. They are like inner guides that orientate us towards certain things and motivate us in certain ways. They have evolved over time and helped us navigate through the basic tasks of life. These tasks include children becoming attached to parents and obtaining care, adults forming relationship with peers, becoming sexually interested and engaging in procreation, caring for off spring, growing old, seeking meaning, becoming wise and coming to terms with death.

Lets look at some examples. Mother archetype represents a caring figure and makes us respond to being cared for or mothered. The sexual archetypes, anima in the man and animus in the woman, gives us sense of the desire and behaviour towards the opposite sex. The persona influences our social orientation and tries to keep our reputation clean so that we will find acceptances socially. The shadow represents those aspects that exclude information from consciousness about our true intent or motives. the hero archetypes motivates us to take risk, excel in the eyes of others and propel ourselves forwards. It can be linked to social motives such as helping others or  to darker motives such as wanting power to control others.

Jung suggested that archetypes can over or under develop in us. For example people with over developed persona organize much of their behaviour around the need for social approval. They think only of current fashions and their appearances; often losing sense of their own individuality. A person with deflated Persona care not at all for what others think; they either become courageous changers of the world or anti-social.

 

 

 

 

Jung suggests that the way an archetype matures and functions is affected by both our personality (genes) and our experiences. For example, we can have a stunted mother archetype if our relationship with our mother didn’t work out; we would not have been inspired and guided towards love and comfort in the arms of our mother when we were infants. As adults, we might spend a lot of our life searching for mother or father figure who will love and protect us like a parent. Or we can completely shut down our need for care and love and not want anything to do with close caring.

Like all archetypes, hero archetype can also develop in different ways that could be either good or bad depending on your perspective . The point is the archetypes are just a ways of describing and thinking about different aspects of ourselves. Because the archetypes are evolved predispositions, they are shared with all human beings and , in this sense , are  our ‘collective consciousness‘. They are largely unconscious but we feel them in us when caring for others, our desire for sex, our desire for friends and to belong to groups or our desires to destroy our enemies.

Resources

The compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert

http://flickrhivemind.net/

Being Good

I like to think that basic nature of humankind is goodness. This is a complete opposite to Hobbes view of humankind’s nature. He described man’s natural condition as “war of every man against every man“…he writes:

“In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

I find this view so alien to my experience of other fellow humans that it is inconceivable for me to imagine that this kind of world, even under the harshest conditions could exist. Would humans be humans if there was no love, caring or trust; do we display these qualities contrary to our nature? I choose to believe Hobbes was and is wrong. Hobbes it seems believed that humans are basically nasty but I believe humans are basically good; but under harsh conditions nastiness shows its ugly head. That’s why we have law enforcement and wars.

So how can we “be good” and avoid the ugly head of the nastiness? As Dalai Lama says …..”All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness,the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”

There are only one way to be good but many ways to be vicious; we have to know and act with the right attitude in all interactions with others. We all know what being overtly vicious and causing pain to others is and how to avoid it. What we often overlook is when we are indifferent to others in pain and mistakenly think that it doesn’t matter. How many times I walked past a beggar or poor person in the third world country or in the city and thought it’s not my problem….far too many time, more than I care to remember. I was too distracted or in too much of a rush….. it is easy to be indifferent.

It is no point in increasing ones own pleasure after a certain point because it doesn’t add any more value to pleasure one already has; it doesn’t bring more or lasting joy. However, if we were to take sometime to be compassionate it would bring joy both to us and to the person in need.

Cynicism can also be an ugly trait and one should try to avoid it. A cynic think world is a bad place. He doubts or despises human sincerity or merit. He thinks most people are basically selfish, their apparent concern for others is only a show, while the few genuinely unselfish souls are exploited, so only the bastards thrive. So far the cynic is being pessimistic, and mere pessimism isn’t a vice. But cynic goes further, instead of being saddened by people’s selfishness, he secretly delights in it, he wants the world to be bad and by wishful thinking persuades himself that it is. A cynic denies human goodness because he hates it and wants it not to exist, and that makes his cynicism a simple vice…..just like Hobbes’s….not conducive to being good.

So where is the problem? It’s not the lack of material goods, there is enough of that around. Its not the lack of knowledge. Maybe we have not yet learned to live well. Maybe we are still in the early stages of learning. Some commentators on human condition have said that we have come a long way with technology but not very far in wisdom. That maybe so, but we are loving and caring beings…..still evolving and learning. Let encourage each other to be good and speed up the natural process!

Resources:

The Best things in Life, by ThomasHurka

http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-c.html

Family Life – love it or fight it – it will shape your future.

Family is the most important mode of association in our life. We can love the family or hate it but like it or not it will shape our future. It is hard to ignore or neglect the central role family play in our life. It is the matrix of life where our journey begins and in this matrix we share a bond of common experience  and love that is unique in its strength and depth. It is this beginning which leaves in us a psychological imprint of our family and influences our future relationships. Sometimes without us even knowing that our family experience is influencing us. At times I see patients who know that  the way they are conducting themselves doesn’t make any sense but they still continue repeating the same destructive behavior because they don’t know how to stop it and it makes no sense to them that they are doing it. It is not until we examine the early childhood experiences and the patterns of behavior that got established, that we fully start to understand the present behavior. The family is such a rich source of information about ourselves that some therapist don’t even want to work with the patient directly until they interviewed as many family member as they can to understand the family dynamics because that’s where the best hope lies for helping the patient.

We don’t get to choose our family, like we do our friends. We are born in a family , we have no choice of the parents and no choice of our siblings. If our values and outlook on life differ from those of our family we still have to get along with them until we are of an age we can leave home. Family, therefore can be a demanding training ground for learning how to live with our fellow human beings. Generally speaking if we “graduate” with flying colours from the family life then we will do well in life outside the family. If we had a difficult time of it in the family, experienced little love and support, didn’t feel safe and secure; were unable to resolve the problems with our parents and our sibling then we will take these issues with us when we leave the family and then recreate them in our relationships with others outside the family until we learn our “lesson”. Many of the problems that are reenacted result from suppressed feelings stored from incidents that happened when we  were children. The same unresolved conflicts we had with our parents always seem to ” mysteriously ” reappear to affect our current adult relationship.

Most people’s experience of the family is as a loving support system from which we can live our lives, venture out into the wider world to explore and interact with confidence; and then come back to a loving family at the end of the day. The family also act as a mini-society where we can test and put into practice all the ideas about the sort of life one wants to lead. If we want peace in the world, we can try to create peace in the family; if we want a loving life we can practice building loving relationships within the family. Our family will give us very accurate feed back on our performance which can be valuable information for our own personal growth. It is hard to overestimate the influence our families have on us and some people believe it starts even before birth.

Importance of the Family  may also be one of the important ingredient for creating a positive future for the world according to sociologist Elise Boulding. She writes….The truth is that the home is the training ground where people first learn to live with one another, where they learn to love , to hate, to get angry, to fear , to forgive. Unless they can learn in their homes how to love and work with other people, how to handle hate, anger and fear so that it does not destroy themselves or others, and unless they can experience the full depth of forgiveness in the give and take of family life, they are not going to be able to go into the world and help….

Resources:

Chop Wood Carry Water

By Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci.

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