Saturday, April 27, 2013


In contrast to most of my writings of late, which are usually complaints or critiques, this post is about something I'm being proactive about in my own life.  As I had alluded to in my post in November, I am conducting some thought experiments in an effort to counteract some of the negative patterns in which I have gotten stuck over my lifetime.

As discussed in my post about depression, I take issue with the assumption that if you are depressed, then this means that there is something wrong with your brain.  However, perhaps somewhat contradictorily, I also believe that reality is subjective and that regardless of ones circumstances, people can fall into a compounding cycle of negative thinking due to a type of confirmation bias.

The pessimists among us (and I say this being a recovering pessimist myself) tend to expect the worst.  For example, if you are a pessimist it would not be unusual for the following type of dialogue to pop in your brain during your morning commute: "Traffic is so slow today; I bet you I'm going to be late."

Now, if the worst actually doesn't happen and you make your destination on time, you will likely think something to the effect of "huh, well, I lucked out," then slough it off and never think about it again.

However, if you are late, as you had predicted, you will go "ah ha! I knew it!" and your mood for the next few hours will be affected and the event will stick in your mind. If it happens 3 more times you will say to yourself: "See! This always happens to me, no matter how early I leave!" — yet, had you actually taken time to record every time you rode the subway and how many times you were late you'd probably find out that you were late an awful lot less than you think.

As stated before, I recognise that reality is subjective; a simple example of this would be how a bunch of people can witness the same event and have wildly varied accounts of what happened when asked.  We all have organs in our bodies that have to translate reality in a way that our brains can process, and given we aren't infallible computers there is bound to be a difference in how each of our brains process the same data. So what we often call "reality" is really only a personalised reflection of but a sliver of the whole truth, and therefore we really are responsible for shaping our own reality.

So, for a while I had been considering a way to deal with this propensity for negative confirmation bias within myself and trying to rewire my brain to look at "reality" a different way.  I've certainly been introduced to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by psychologists and counselors in the past; unfortunately I have not yet been disciplined enough to stick with the journaling and reflection required by the program.  To make matters worse, I would feel shame and disappointment at not being able to stick with it, which would do nothing but make me sadder... Damn those vicious circles!

After concluding that my anxiety about not being able to catch my negative thought patterns before they happened was only making things worse, I realised I needed a different approach.  Thinking back to the confirmation bias mechanism, I wondered if there was a way to make the good times stick in my mind — the times when I lucked out, the times when everything fell into place, when everything worked out in the end, or simply the times when things worked out the way they should have.

One day when I was feeling particularly down, I decided to revisit a philosophy called Ho'oponopono — a philosophy I had been introduced to on the blog of Mary Elizabeth Croft, whom I have mentioned in my post about the Freeman/Sovereign/Natural Person awakening.  Ho'oponopono is an ancient native-Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, and I first heard of it in relation to psychologist Dr. Hew Len.

Now, this was my first introduction to Hew Len, and while what I read seemed intriguing, I couldn't get past the new-agey lady that was trying to share Dr. Len's ideas and entreating one to accept a free download.  I don't have any interest in finding out, but something tells me that this download would include info on seminars that you can pay to attend, etc... Hew Len and his practices were also apparently featured in a book called Zero Limits by Joe Natale (of whom I am unfamiliar).  From what I've read in web-reviews of that book, it would seem the overwhelming majority felt that the underlying theories of Hew Len were of interest and inspiration, but the book was spoiled by Natale's constant promotion of his other books and seminars, so I don't think I'll be reading any of Natale's work anytime soon either.

However, from what I have gathered via the web, the claim is that Hew Len worked as a staff psychologist for Hawaii State Hospital from 1984 till 1987 in a ward for the "criminally insane".  Allegedly, after 3 years of working there, he was able to turn the ward around to the point where wrist and ankle restraints were no longer used and violence almost ceased to exist.  Eventually there were so few patients remaining that the ward was closed. It is claimed that Hew Len achieved this without actually meeting with any patients to conduct therapy or counseling. He claimed this happened because he worked on cancelling within himself whatever it was that he was experiencing as problems with the patients in that ward.  He does this by thanking "the Divinity" and by asking it to erase in him the negative thoughts and feelings that his mind produces and that make him experience things negatively; he also refers to this as erasing "bad data." 

I feel I should qualify here that the idea of communicating with some sort of higher being or power and asking them to take away one's negative thoughts, in order to fix the problems of other people, does sound a little strange, to say the least.  I am firmly on the fence about whether or not there is a "divinity" (or divinities) out there in the universe, or outside of our dimension, or reality or whatever; I am also not so sure that we would be able to communicate with such a being, or that it would even give a shit.  I also read Dawkins' God Delusion and loved it — I couldn't help but smirk to myself as I read the arguments that he so deftly presented about why and how the arguments for the existence of a God are based on logical fallacies or faulty reasoning. 

Conversely, I also feel that there is a conundrum in us humans trying to decide for ourselves if we are the end-all-and-be-all or not.  It's kind of like an ant looking at his ant hill and its miles of interconnected tunnels, as well as his colony, who work tirelessly and in beautiful unison, not giving a second thought to sacrifice themselves for the good of the colony, and he might think to himself: "Look at what we've accomplished! Why should I think there is anything out there better than this?  Who could possibly hold more control over ones destiny than us?"  Yet that ant has no idea of what we humans do, feel, think and accomplish; they are completely unable to conceptualise the world at the human scale, and what goes on at our level. of existence.

It is all a matter of perspective. We don't have the benefit of a third-party perspective on our own reality.  We are burdened with our own biases and our own self-built realities, therefore we can never see the "bigger picture" as it were.  As the saying goes: "there's your side and my side and then there's the truth."

Having said all of that, what attracted me to Ho'oponopono is the idea that what happens in your reality is your responsiblity.  Like I said in the third part to my Government, Shmovernment post, "You can't control outcomes and you can't control others; the only thing you can control is your reaction to them," and Ho'oponopono is very much in line with these ideas. 

This blogger described Ho'oponopono as follows:

Simply put, Ho’oponopono is based on the knowledge that anything that happens to you or that you perceive, the entire world where you live is your own creation and thus, it is entirely your responsibility. A hundred percent, no exceptions.

Your boss is a tyrant? It’s your responsibility. Your children are not good students? It’s your responsibility. There are wars and you feel bad because you are a good person, a pacifist? The war is your responsibility. You see that children around the world are hungry and malnourished if not starving? Their wont is your responsibility. No exceptions. Literally, the world is your world, it is your creation. As Dr. Hew Len points out: didn’t you notice that whenever you experience a problem you are there?

It’s your responsibility doesn’t mean it’s your fault, it means that you are responsible for healing yourself in order to heal whatever or whoever it is that appears to you as a problem. 

It might sound crazy, or just plain metaphorical, that the world is your creation. But if you look carefully, you will realize that whatever you call the world and perceive as the world is your world, it is the projection of your own mind. If you go to a party you can see how in the same place, with the same light, the same people, the same food, drink, music and atmosphere, some will enjoy themselves while others will be bored, some will be overenthusiastic and some depressed, some will be talkative and others will be silent. The “out there” for every one of them seems the same, but if one were to connect their brains to machines immediately it would show how different areas of the brain would come alive, how different perceptions there are from one person to the next. So even if they apparently share it, the “out there” is not the same for them, let alone their inner world, their emotions. 

This message really hits home with me.  Responsibility.  If you see a problem, it is truly your problem.  If you see a problem, whether or not you feel you have any part in causing it, it is your responsibility to do something about it.  And given our reality is subjective and just a projection of our own mind, then it only follows that the "problems" that we see around us are projections of our own minds as well — it is the way that our brain has chosen to interpret the data that was fed into it, and so this idea of "erasing the bad data" makes sense to me.

These ideas have all lead me to the little experiment I have been undertaking. (It took me long enough to get to it, right?!) Nowadays, whenever something good happens to me, even small things, I take a second, I look up to the sky and I say "thank-you."  Every time I'm in a rush and find my car keys in the very first place I look, every time I just make a green-light while driving, whenever I assume the worst and the worst doesn't happen, I express gratitude.  And I think it's working.

The mechanism of why this might be working also made me think of a medical study (unfortunately I can't find anything about it on the web, otherwise I would have linked to it here), where they were treating people suffering from PTSD by having the patients take some sort of drug that elicited pleasant feelings, (probably an opioid of some sort or maybe MDMA) while the patient verbally recounted their traumatic trigger event.  After repeated sessions, eventually when the patient would think of the event, they would no longer feel the symptoms of their stress disorder because their body now associated pleasure with the memory.  It tells me that there maybe something to the idea that the problems we see in life are our responsibility to erase — that if someone or something is bothering you, it is really your problem.

Somewhere in my endless web surfing I came across discussions about a book, which I've added to my "like to read" list, called The User Illusion, by Tor Norretranders. From what I've read from the reviews of others (such as here, here and here) in the book Norretranders postulates that our conscious mind is but an illusion that we believe is ourselves; that truly there is much more processing happening in our subconscious mind and that but a fraction gets pushed to the conscious mind.  Not only that, but our subconscious is aware of things before our conscious mind, but somehow our conscious mind tricks us into believing we were "conscious" of something occurring the very instant that it was happening, when in fact we were not.  The consciousness also tends to get in our way — like when we "over think" things.  Anyone who has ever mastered a skill — be it making the perfect pool shot, or playing a flawless piece of music — knows what it is like to be in "the zone", where things just seem to "feel" right, where you almost feel like it isn't really you making the decisions, your body just kinda does the right thing, because you are working from your subconscious.  Yet the times when you consciously think "okay, so I'm going to have to move my hand this way and apply this much pressure at this rate" you actually flub it. 

Norretranders postulates that our consciousness can only handle 20 bits of data per second and yet via our various senses we are actually taking in about 12 million bits/second and all of this gets processed by our subconscious; and to make this 12 million bits processable by our conscious mind it compacts the data into chunks that our consciousness can handle. So it gives us objects, or symbols (the chunks) to work with; it works much like a graphical interface on a computer - presenting us with physical icons and buttons that we can  use to interface with a computer, which is actually processing through millions of 1s and 0s in the background.  So given my brain can only throw a fraction of the data it is presented with towards my conscious mind, it only makes sense to try to get rid of those negative chunks.  Why waste time on that?

So my thankfulness experiment seems to be working. I don't know if it is so much the act of thanking a "divinity" who then smiles down on me and makes things better, but that the simple act of being thankful and truly feeling the emotion of gratitude actually does "clear the data" as it were or that "chunk" that the subconscious tends to throw at me when certain situations arise.  And maybe, in the end, that is all that prayer or demonstrating reverence and gratitude to a "higher power" does.  Maybe we've just built all of these religious stories about some power outside of ourselves, when all we are really doing is speaking to our own subconscious.

Which makes me think of the first thought-pattern experiment I conducted on myself, that seems to have helped me with anxiety, but I'll save that for another post.