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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd

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Awareness Exercises


Awareness is characterized by contact, by sensing, by excitement and by gestalt formation. For awareness, being fully in contact with the reality is indispensable. Sensing determines the nature of awareness: whether distant (e.g. vision or sound), close (e.g. touch) or internal (e.g. muscular sensations or mental phenomena such as dreams and thoughts). Awareness is heightened by the arousal of interest and emotion, towards excitement.

Always accompanying awareness is the desire to form a gestalt: to focus attention within a field of information such that a meaningful organized whole emerges. In this searching process a foreground item or figure stands out in its context or background. Greater awareness results from a free embrace of different possible relationships inherent in a field, so more and more meaning is integrated towards a realization of truth, most often a simplicity; lessened awareness results from fixation on any one aspect.

The following Awareness Exercises are based on those taught by Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt psychotherapy.

Exercise 1: Here-and-Now

Over the next few minutes describe at each moment what you are aware of. Begin every sentence with: 'Right now...' or 'At this moment...' or 'Here and now...'.

Note difficulties and resistances that arise. Why did you cease the exercise just when you did? Were you tired? Had you gone blank and ceased forming sentences? Did you daydream or wander off? If so where did you tend to go? (Some people find that it is as if they were in the past or in the future, without awareness that it is here and now that they reminisce about the past or anticipate the future).

Repeat the exercise again, utilizing all your senses, describing everything that is happening and that you are feeling whether distant, close or within. Then consider: What is your actuality? Can you actually feel it? Can you feel that it is yours?

To the extent that your feeling of actuality, of contact with the present moment, has been obscured by wearing a personality mask, the effort to experience actuality will rouse anxiety (masked, perhaps, as fatigue, boredom, impatience or annoyance) - and what specifically rouses your anxiety will be the particular resistance by which you throttle and prevent full experience..

With practice, you will no longer need to verbalize in this way to maintain the discipline of Here-&-Now consciousness. To re-acquire the full feeling of actuality is an experience of tremendous impact, of moving to the core. The sense of fear at the realization of the actuality of being alive is overcome. It is no longer necessary to alter or suppress the truth. Practice the exercise in many different circumstances.

Exercise 2: Opposing Forces

For anything to be noticed at all, it must be distinguishable from its background. Similarly we would not be aware of many phenomena if their opposites did not also exist: if day were indistinguishable from night, no such distinction would ever have been made and we would lack the corresponding words.

Think of some pairs of opposites in which neither could exist if it were not for the real or implied existence of its opposite.

With some pairs you may have found that there were additional phenomena that fitted intermediate positions. For example, 'beginning - end' has an intermediate term, 'middle'; 'past - future' has 'present'; 'love - hate' has 'indifference'. This constitutes a 'neutral-' or 'zero-' point on the continuum. On a numerical scale values diminish until zero is reached; beyond zero they increase again but as negative values. At the zero-point of a continuum (or dichotomy of alternatives) one is aware of and interested in the potential situations that extend in either direction. One feels the beckoning to action but is not yet committed to either side.

Situations in which you encounter blocks in carrying out tasks that you have set for yourself are conflict-situations - conflicts between one part of your personality and another. You are aware of the part that sets the task and tries to carry it through, such as the first exercise or, say, to give up smoking. But you are less or not at all aware of the other part, the resister. To the extent that you run up against resistances they frequently seem, far from being of your own creation, to be imposed and inflicted on you from outside.

Work on the exercises in this book is intended to make you aware of conflicts within your own personality, and what situations reactivate them. The aim is to reintegrate these disintegrated parts, thereby to increase your choice of viewpoints and potential actions. A benefit of developing your ability to see things in reverse, to be uncommittedly interested in the opposites, is the power to make your own truly self-determined evaluations.

For the most part, our 'obvious' preferences and 'natural' ways of looking at things are mere hand-me-downs. They become routine and 'right' because we hold back from even imagining the opposite. Where people lack imagination it is because they are afraid to even consider the possibility of something different from the matter-of-fact to which they cling for dear life; for these are charged areas of counter-intention that they cannot confront.

Imagine yourself in a situation the reverse of your own, where you have wishes and inclinations contrary to your usual ones. If, for example, you said 'no' instead of 'yes'; or if you were a woman instead of a man (or vice versa). Observe objects, images or thoughts as if their function or meaning were the opposite of what you habitually take them to be.

Be amused by your customary evaluations of good or bad, desirable or repugnant, sensible or silly, possible or impossible. Be satisfied to stand between them at the zero-point, interested in both sides of the opposition but not siding with either. Discover the circumstances or the persons that make it difficult for you, even in fantasy, to make reversals; where anxiety, fear or disgust comes to the foreground.

Exercise 3: Concentration

In enforced concentration we 'pay' attention where we feel we 'ought to', at the same time withholding attention from other interests; as more and more energy is devoted to suppressing surrounding 'distractions', we become tired and bored, and daydream or stare fixedly in hypnotic trance.

In spontaneous concentration one's interest is attracted, exciting fascination and absorption as one's needs and desires are aroused. Whether the situation is one of sensing something, making a plan, imagining, remembering or practical activity, the mind spontaneously attends specifically to a foreground item and differentiates it from background information that fades away, creating a vivid figure/ground gestalt. With free-flowing play of attention, the contents of figure and ground do not remain static (as with enforced concentration) but change in the course of a dynamic development, as new items of interest are drawn into the figure from the ground.

By selecting a meaningful stable datum from a confusing chaos of information, then moving to others and relating them, progressively some order and meaning may be introduced to the whole situation. With full awareness of the here and now, what could be frustrating or boring, like handling the In-tray or waiting for the bus then becomes more pleasurable. Challenging situations at work can be dealt with effectively and a wider understanding may be derived from a mass of conflicting viewpoints.

So, the two obstacles to spontaneous awareness are: the too-fixed figure and the too-charged background. The best context against which to differentiate inner conflicts is your actuality - your present-day situation, its needs and aims. The more complete the felt-contact between you and your environment, and the more honestly you feel and express to yourself feelings of desire, loathing, coldness, boredom, disgust, admiration, etc. with the persons and things you come in touch with, the more you will have a relevant context in which to bring into awareness hidden (charged and suppressed) counter-intentionsv may result in fixed ideas and evaluations

Let your attention shift from one item (object, person, aspect, situation) to another, noticing figure and background of the item and of your emotions. verbalize the emotions each time, such as: 'For this I feel disgust', 'For this I feel hatred'.

Exercise 4: Assimilation

Spontaneous (rather than forced or divided) attention is contact with the environment. Objects simultaneously become more unified but also more detailed. In this exercise, while maintaining here-and-now actuality as your context, you are to let your attention freely play around an object. For an illustration, consider an ordinary object such as a chair. Notice first that the chair is a unique thing. There are other chairs, but they are not this unique thing. Say its name, 'Chair', and realize that the thing is not the word. The chair as thing is non-verbal. Notice all the various component parts and details that go to make up the whole. Note in detail how they go together or cohere as a structure.

Although the thing is non-verbal, nevertheless its significances (its assigned name, qualities, properties, functions, importances, associations, etc.) can be verbalized - these are abstractions, and as words, cover many cases besides the present unique thing.

Next, notice the qualities and properties that constitute the chair - the shape, color, weight, hardness, smoothness and so on. Review its functions and possible roles in the environment - for sitting on, standing on, for sale as merchandise, etc. as well as some unusual uses - use for firewood or to jam under a door knob.

Now reflect on other items that you associate with this chair. What goes with a chair? Maybe a table, a meal or a tired person, etc. Finally consider what characteristics it has in common with other objects, i.e. what classifications does it belong to - furniture, man-made objects, wooden items, sculpture, things that stand on the ground, four-legged objects, etc.

Now try this out on many items of your own choosing. If consideration of an item should lead to a fantasy, keep the fantasy always returning to and connected with the present contemplated item. Make everything you have observed come together and cohere in the present experience, which should now be much broader and more aware than the original cursory observation.

The next part of this exercise is to differentiate and then unify your perception of art and music. Firstly, observe a painting that you like. Notice the lines and the drawing, apart from the painted objects and the colors - trace the edges and outlines of the main figures and observe the pattern they form. Examine the pattern formed by the empty spaces between the outlines of the main objects. Then observe the pattern produced by each color in turn - abstract the patch of red, of blue, of green and so on. If the picture gives an illusion of three-dimensionality, observe the separate pattern of the foreground, the middle-ground, and then the background. Trace out the pattern of highlights and shadows. Note the way materials are indicated by the pattern of brush-strokes. Finally, look at the scene portrayed and the story implied - this is where one normally begins to look at a painting and becomes transfixed. You will find that the painting has a new beauty and fascination, and you will partake of the constructive joy of the artist. This grasp of the differentiated unity means that you are truly in touch with the painting, just as the artist was.

Now try the same approach with a piece of music. Play a single piece several times. Each time, abstract the appearances of a single instrument. Then pay attention to the rhythm only; then differentiate the melody; then the accompaniment. Often you will find that there are 'inner melodies' and contrapuntal lines that you were not aware of. Abstract the harmony as you feel it, i.e. notice when the chord progressions seem unresolved, and when they seem to resolve and 'close' the piece. If you develop this skill, music will have a new depth and enjoyment for you.

For any kind of creative re-construction to occur there must first be a de-structuring of what exists. The present parts of a given object, activity or situation must be recombined to meet the requirements of the here-and-now actuality. This does not necessarily involve a de-valuation of the component parts, but rather a re-evaluation of how they best go together. Apart from detailed analysis and taking apart, there cannot be close contact, discovery and intimacy. This, of course, applies to personal relationships as well. And similarly, without conscious awareness an experience is not assimilated; the experience is swallowed whole and is not one's own, unless at a later time it is remembered and experienced fully.

Exercise 5: Remembering

The preceding exercises are intended to increase and sharpen your contact with the environment. You and your environment (including other persons) together constitute a functioning, mutually interacting system. For you as a living, composite being, contact with your environment is the ultimate reality. What people are usually only dimly aware of, is that their seeing and hearing is a reaching-out, an active stretching towards whatever is interesting and likely to fulfill their needs.

The human being and his supporting world must be in intimate contact for growth, development and life, but if the person, due to fears and trepidation acquired in previous experience, does not dare initiate and take responsibility for the necessary contacts, then since they must occur for life to go, the initiative and responsibility are thrust on the environment - parents, society, the government or God. Such agencies are supposed to 'supply me with what I need' or 'make me do what I ought to do'.

What must then be re-acquired, is the realization that it is you who are seeing, hearing, moving, and that it is you who are focused on the objects of life, whether they be interesting or dull, desirable or hostile, beautiful or ugly. So long as you take your environment as something foisted upon you and to be 'put up with', you tend to perpetuate its present undesirable aspects. Helpless acquiescence in the status quo, staves off the necessary de-structuring and reconstruction.

The barrier to full experiencing is the tendency to accept as one's own only what one does deliberately and 'on purpose'. Of all one's other actions, one tends to be studiously unaware. Thus modern man isolates his 'will' from both his body and his environment, and talks about 'will power' as if this could be invoked without contact through flesh and worldly circumstance. This is the Mind-Body split.

The Indian tries to overcome suffering and conflict by deadening sensation and feelings, and thus insulating himself from the environment. Let us, on the other hand, not be afraid to enliven feelings and stir up such conflict as may be necessary, in order to achieve a differentiated unity of the whole person.

In doing these exercises forced relaxation is as unhelpful as forced concentration. The muscular tensions that prevent relaxation are part of the very resistances that we want to attend to, so we must not drive them out of the picture to begin with. The following exercises are designed to strengthen your ability to fully experience a memory.

Select a memory that is not too distant or difficult - for example, recall visiting the house of a friend. Close your eyes. What do you actually see? The door? Somebody opening it? Furniture? Other people? Do not try to ferret out what is in your mind - what you think ought to be there - but simply stay in the remembered place and notice what is there, as an observer. If you stick to the selected memory context, the figure/ground will form, without your deliberate intervention. Do not think or reason like this: 'There must have been chairs - where are they?' Simply see. Treat the images as if they are present here-and-now to your senses, and observe them with detailed abstraction as you did the painting. Very soon forgotten details will appear quite naturally.

With respect to visual memory, few of us retain the eidetic (photographic) memory we had as a child. The conventional demands of our education that we abstract only useful information from situations and verbalize it, so suppresses our eidetic powers that most people experience it only in dreaming. We need to practice, so that we can re-view situations vividly, with figure and ground easily shifting.

If you have little visual memory -the ability to see vividly in your 'mind's eye' - this is probably because you have erected a wall of words and thoughts between yourself and your environment. The world is not genuinely experienced, but is contacted only to the extent necessary to activate your previously acquired verbal abstractions. Intellect has superseded active participation. Meantime you must persist as if you were in fact visualising. You may for the most part experience merely the shadows of the events you remember, but now and then flashes of vision will occur. This resistance is largely held in place by tension of the eye muscles, as in staring. It may help to cover your eyes with the palms of your hands, and let your eyes look into the far distance of the blackness.

The same sort of training can be applied to the auditory and other senses. Notice your resistance in trying to recall the voices of people. If you fail altogether in this, you can be sure that you never really listen to other people when they speak. Perhaps you are preoccupied with what you are going to say when you have the chance, or perhaps there was more dislike of the speaker than you realized.

Smells, tastes and movements are not so easy to re-experience in this vivid way, because these close senses are charged with emotion. Seeing and hearing, because they are 'distant' senses, can with relative ease be disconnected from alive participation with the body and become feelingless - except in our responses to aesthetics, which tend to get through our muscular blocking.

Now recall an experience as before, but this time integrate as many senses as possible - not only what you saw but also what you heard, smelled, tasted, touched and felt in your movements - and notice also the emotional tone and changes of tone that went with the experience. Do you avoid recalling any particular person? Does the situation remain static or is there movement? Is there drama in the scene? Do you get quick glimpses only or can you follow up the details without losing the whole?

Exercise 6: Sharpening the Body Sense

Our strategy for developing awareness is to extend in every direction the areas of present awareness, including parts of your experience you would rather stay away from and not accept as your own. As long as you are awake, you are aware of something. When absent-minded or in a trance state, awareness is very dim; figure/grounds do not develop and precipitate strong experiences in the form of memories, intentions, plans, actions. Many persons live in permanent trance so far as non-verbal experience is concerned, and verbal thinking dominates their subjective reality. Our attempt is to recover awareness of all experience as a whole - whether it be composed of spiritual, mental, verbal, intuitive, physical, sensory emotional or environmental aspects (all abstractions) - for it is in their unitary functioning that the lively figure/ground emerges.

The greatest barrier to awareness is the tendency to falsify the unitary flow of experience by inhibition (censoring) or enforcement. It is like trying to drive a car with the brakes on. Forcing oneself to do anything could not take place unless there co-exists the counter-intention to hold back or inhibit, and this counter-force is equally of oneself.

So when practicing one's awareness, maintain the following formula:

  1. Maintain the sense of actuality - the sense that your awareness exists in the here-and-now.

  2. realize that you are living the experience - acting it, observing it, suffering it, resisting it.

  3. Attend to and follow up all experiences, whether internal or external, the abstract as well as the concrete, those that tend towards the past or those that are directed towards the future, those that you 'wish', that you 'ought', those that simply 'are', those that you deliberately produce and those that seem to occur spontaneously. Take responsibility for them all, including your blocks and symptoms.

  4. With regard to every experience without exception, verbalize: 'Now I am aware that...'

Notice that processes are going on and that you are involved in and concerned with these processes. The notion that thoughts enter your mind of their own accord must be replaced by the insight that you are responsible for your thoughts. To realize such continuous involvement is not easy, and most persons escape by accepting as their own - by identifying with - only those processes that are deliberate.

Now, still accepting and encompassing all your awarenesses, begin to differentiate as follows: Firstly, attend mainly to external events - sights, sounds, smells, movements, etc. - but without suppressing other experiences. Secondly, in sharp contrast, concentrate on internal processes - images, muscular tensions, emotions, thoughts. Thirdly, one by one, differentiate these various internal processes, concentrating on them individually and noticing their functions, qualities, nature and component parts, and the way they change and respond to the context surrounding them.

Next, concentrate on your body sensation as a whole. Let your attention wander through every part of your body. How much of yourself can you feel? Notice aches, pains and twinges usually ignored. What muscular tensions can you feel. Attending to them, let them continue and do not attempt prematurely to relax them. Try to shape their precise limits. Notice your skin sensations. Can you feel where your head is in relation to your neck and shoulders, etc? Where are your genitals? Where is your chest, stomach, back, arms, legs, etc? Most people, lacking adequate proprioception of parts of their body, merely know where their legs are and so visualise them there, rather than feeling them there. Extend the exercise by walking, talking, standing up and sitting down: be aware of the proprioceptive details without in any way interfering with them. If it’s difficult to get outside and walk, you may want to do some research on walking treadmills.

To the extent that there is a discrepancy between the verbal concept of the self and the felt awareness of the self, there is neurosis, i.e. a split between left and right brain. So notice the difference as you slip from one to the other, and do not deceive yourself that you actually feel more than you do. It is worth spending many hours on this exercise (in moderate doses!). It is the basis for dissolving the muscular tensions in which resistances are anchored, and it is also a means for resolving psychosomatic ailments.

Exercise 7: Experiencing Emotions

When the deliberate dichotomy between 'internal' and 'external' is un-made, then you experience the differentiated unity of you-in-your-world. This ever-changing gestalt is of vital concern to you, for it is your life in the process of being lived. The evaluation of this experience is what constitutes emotion. Emotion is a continuous process, since every instant of one's life caries with it a feeling-tone of varied degrees of pleasantness or unpleasantness. However, in modern man, this continuity of emotional experience is largely suppressed - emotion is regarded as a kind of volcanic eruption, which unaccountably emerges in one's behavior at the precise moment when one would like to exercise control.

Emotion is always in the background as long as one is alive, but becomes figural when there is interest and concern in what one is experiencing. That is, the nature of the felt emotion is determined by one's evaluation of events. As such the emotion Energizes appropriate action, or the search for what is appropriate.

In primitive undifferentiated form, emotion is simply excitement, the heightened metabolic activity and increased energy mobilization, which is the organism's response to experiencing novel or stimulating situations. In the newborn this response is relatively undirected. Then as the child gradually differentiates parts of his world - the constellation of events from within and without which it confronts on various occasions - it correspondingly differentiates its early global excitement into selective incitements to action. These acquire names as specific emotions.

Emotions are as sharply differentiated in structure and function as is the person who experiences them. When emotions were not differentiated but suppressed, he continues into adulthood with inadequate awareness of his emotional make-up. He maintains a precarious 'maturity' by the false face of conventional 'self-control'. The external world and its demands are considered real, while the promptings of organismic needs, as made aware by proprioceptions and manifested as emotions, are to a great extend derided as being 'only in the mind'.

The next exercise asks you to seek awareness of painful emotions - ones that we seek to avoid. Such unwanted emotions must however be brought to awareness and discharged before we become free again to enter situations where we have previously experienced them. For example, a person is afraid to speak in public because on an earlier occasion the audience was unresponsive. A man may be afraid to fall in love because a previous girlfriend walked-out on him. Or a woman may be afraid to get angry because she was humiliated as a child for showing such feelings. All of us have had innumerable experiences that may now be reactivated and cause anxiety - we have still not confronted the painful feelings we had and suppressed at the time. By recalling these experiences over and over until the point where we can fully re-experience the blocked emotions, they no longer cause anxiety because we can see the incidents in perspective.

In your mind, relive over and over again, each time recovering further detail and depth of feeling, experiences that have carried for you a strong emotional charge. What, for instance, is the most terrifying experience you can recall? Feel it through again, just as it happened. And again. And again. Use the present tense. When words come up, your decisions or somebody else's commands, say them over and over aloud, listening to yourself say them, and feeling yourself forming and expressing them. On what occasion were you most humiliated? Relive this experience repeatedly. As you do, notice when you become reminded of a similar, connected experience. If so, shift to it and work through it time after time.

Do the same for many other kinds of emotional experience. Do you, for instance have an unfinished grief situation? When someone dear to you died, were you able to cry? If not, can you do it now? Can you, in fantasy, stand beside the coffin and express farewell? Similarly, when were you most infuriated, most ashamed, most embarrassed, guilty, etc? Relive the experiences now. Can you feel the emotion fully? If not, can you feel what you do to block it?

Note that we tend to view traumatic experiences in a child-like manner - we were too upset and lacking in consciousness at the time to be objective but nevertheless we stick with the decisions made in this state. By fully re-viewing the experience we can re-evaluate from the mature adult point of view and re-make the decisions more rationally.

Exercise 8: verbalizing

To verbalize means 'to put into words'. Healthy verbalizing takes off from what is non-verbal, such as objects, conditions, the state of affairs, and terminates again in the production of non-verbal effects such as feelings and actions. When one fears contact with reality - with flesh and blood people and with one's own sensations and feelings - words may be interposed as a screen.

The 'intellectual' (and many of us to a lesser extent) attempts in compulsive and obsessive ways to be objective about his personal experiences, which in practice means to theorise in words about himself and his world. But by this very approach, he avoids contact with the feelings, the drama, the very soul of his life and those he shares it with. He lives the substitute life of words, isolated from the rest of his personality, contemptuous of his body, and concerned with the verbal victories of arguing, rationalising, making an impression, propagandising and, in general, making himself right. All of this is fuelled by fears, but the real problems of his life go unhandled.

When a child first learns language, speaking aloud comes before inner speech, but later the child puts this outwardly acquired language to private use as 'thinking'. Most adults look upon thinking as something that comes before speech and is independent of it. 'It is easy to think but hard to express thoughts'. This is due to fear of how others will react to one's thoughts if they are voiced. Once a person warms up to his subject, loses the fear of committing himself and stops rehearsing his statements before uttering them, it becomes clear that when there is nothing to fear, thought and speech become identical. In order to integrate our verbal and thinking existence, we must become aware of it.

The means of orientation with regard to speaking is listening. Listen to your own production of words when you are speaking. Have your voice recorded. The more your concept of your self differs from your actual personality, the more unwilling you will be to recognize your voice as your own.

Now recite a poem out loud, and once again, listen to yourself. Repeat the recitation over and over, however it sounds, until you can feel the integration of speaking and listening. Next, recite the same poem subvocally (under your breath) until it is easy for you to mentally hear yourself saying it.

When reading a book, listen to yourself reading subvocally. At first this will slow you up and make you impatient but before long you will be able to listen as quickly as you can read - and the practice will improve your memory by increasing your contact with the material read. Having objectively identified subvocal speech, you will find that you no longer even need to subvocalise the words and can read at many times the speed, by simply duplicating the words.

Next, begin to listen to your subvocal thinking. At first, when listened to, you as the subvocal speaker will go dumb, but after a while the babbling will start up again. You will hear incoherent bits of sentences floating around. Notice the way you speak internally - is it angry, complaining, childish? Does it go on pedantically explaining matters even when the meaning has been grasped? Notice its rhythm, tone and catch-phrases you use. To whom are you speaking? For what purpose? Do you turn the phrases as if you were holding back something? Are you trying to impress? Is your thinking tentative and bewildered?

In internal dramatic situations, much of what you feel as evaluation and moral judgment is the Superego part of you speaking subvocally - all the shoulds and shouldn'ts, musts and oughts that you have taken on-board and identified with.

Persist until you get the feeling of the integration of listening and talking. Your thinking will become much more coherent and expressive. Meaningless, redundant and random thoughts will tend to disappear, leaving your speech smoother and to the point - and the Superego is progressively absorbed into conscious, self-directed thought.

Notice that your speaking is a part of you, but there is more to you than that - that the larger, non-verbal you is that which is aware of being aware. When you have mastered internal listening, proceed to the decisive step: the production of internal silence. Do not mistake internal silence for blankness, trance, cessation of consciousness. On the contrary, awareness persists, with an enhanced clarity.

Keep internally silent; refrain from subvocal talking, yet keep aware and awake. At first you will probably only be able to do this for a few seconds at a time, for the thinking will obsessively start up again. So, to begin with, be content to simply note the difference between internal silence and talking, but let them alternate. An effective way to do this is to coordinate them with your breathing. Be without words while you inhale (this corresponds to right-brain consciousness); then on the exhalation, let whatever words have welled-up (in left-brain consciousness) speak themselves subvocally, or softly whisper them.

If you persist with this exercise, your visualization will become brighter, your emotions clearer, your body sensations more definite, for the attention and energy used up in pointless subvocalising will now be invested in these simpler and more basic functions. Furthermore, you will find that no longer subvocalising opens up awareness of your non-verbal intuiting and conceptualising. This is the Higher Mind that does not need language, and of course, you are then in touch with the unlimited spiritual aspect of yourself - the Higher Self.

Exercise 9: Retroflected behavior

To retroflect means literally 'to turn sharply back against'. When a person retroflects behavior, he does to himself what originally he did to other persons or objects. He stops attempting to manipulate changes in the environment in order to satisfy his needs, because he has met insurmountable opposition. He was frustrated and maybe punished. So instead - since he still has the need to behave in that way and in order to give some satisfaction - to hold back the effort he redirects activity inward and substitutes himself in place of the environment, as the target of behavior and feelings. Self-aggression can always be sure of its victim! To the extent that he does this, he splits himself into 'doer' and 'done to' - an inner conflict. Part of his energy remains in the repressed impulse (held as muscular tension), whilst further energy is retroflected back to hold the outgoing part in check (by tensing muscles antagonistic to the outgoing impulses).

When a person is not aware of his underlying needs and impulses, and not aware of the retroflections he is suppressing the impulses with, the conflict becomes habitual, chronic and out of control - a deadlock perpetuated in the personality. He forgets both the need and the inhibiting retroflection - that is repression.

Frequently a child loses out against a hostile or stronger environment. But we are not children. We are bigger, stronger, and have rights that are denied children. Surely in these improved circumstances it is worth having another try at getting what we need from the environment!

Once a person discovers his retroflecting action (which as an aggression against the self is usually within fairly easy reach of awareness) and gains control of it, the blocked impulse will be recovered automatically. It may then be expressed and discharged. Unaccustomed feelings and aggressions may be resurrected - the person may then gradually learn to tolerate and use them constructively, though he may rather retreat into his deadened state of unawareness. But until one can become aware of what one's aggressive impulses are and learn to put them to constructive use, they are certain to be misused.

One can, to start with, discover and accept the fact that he does 'take it out on himself'. He can become aware of the emotions of the retroflecting part of his personality and the underlying outward impulse will emerge. Then he can redirect it into healthy expression, as it is differentiated and allowed to catch up with the more grown-up parts of the personality

Retroflections also include what one wanted from others but was unsuccessful in obtaining, with the outcome that now, for want of anyone else to do it, one gives it to oneself. This may include attention, love, pity, punishment or other interpersonal needs that cannot realistically be gratified by oneself.

Try to get a clear understanding that when you 'ask yourself' something, this is retroflected questioning. You don't know the answer or you wouldn't have to ask. Who in your environment does know, or you feel ought to know? If you specify such a person, can you then be aware of wanting to ask that person your question? What keeps you from doing so? Is it shyness, fear of a rebuff, reluctance to admit your ignorance?

When you 'consult yourself' about something, can you be aware of your motive? It may be a game, a teasing, the administering of consolation, or the making of a reproach. For whom are you substituting yourself?

Consider self-reproach - a mere pretence of guilt. To whom are you really levelling your reproach? Whom do you want to reform or criticise? In whom do you want to rouse the guilt that you are pretending to produce in yourself?

Gradually you will begin to see the role you play in your interpersonal relations, and to see yourself as others see you. If you are forever making demands on yourself, you are also, either implicitly or explicitly, making demands on others - and this is how you appear to them. If you feel angry with yourself, you will feel angry even with the fly on the wall. By being 'Yes-man' for every Tom, Dick or Harry, we retroflect the negative and say 'No' to ourselves - to what is important to us. In retroflective suppression one dissociates from the suppressed behavior and identifies with the suppressing behavior. Since this is done in an unconsidered way, with rationalized motives, you will not be aware of the suppressed behavior continuing to be manifested. It must be made aware and accepted before it can be developed into aggression that is rational and healthy. Reproach may then turn into approach.

Pity is feeling for another, weaker or inferior, person's suffering or distress. It is disguised gloating or condescension. By pitying them we emphasize the discrepancy between their lot and ours - this attitude motivates much so-called charity. When concern for the sufferings of others is genuine, it entails the urge to help in a practical fashion and to assume responsibility for changing the situation. Tearful pity is mostly a masochistic enjoyment of the misery. When this is retroflected we have the situation of self-pity.

Examine an instance of self-pity in your own life. Whom do you want to pity in this way? Whom do you want to pity you?

When a person demands, 'How can I make myself do what I ought to do?', he is really saying, 'How can I suppress the strong part of me that doesn't want to do it?', and rationalising the retroflection ('ought to'). In the compulsive, the 'I' identifies with rigid objectives and tries to ram them through - the 'ruler' and the 'ruled' are thus in continuous conflict.

Reverse a situation in which you compel yourself. How would you set about compelling others to perform the task for you? Would you bully, bribe, threaten, reward or otherwise manipulate? How do you react to your own self-compelling? Do you turn a deaf ear? Do you make promises you do not intend to keep? Do you respond with guilt and pay the debt with self-contempt and despair?

Another firm of retroflection to consider is self-contempt - compulsive self-evaluation, dwelling all the time on the discrepancy between actual performance and those that would meet an ideal. By reversing the retroflection, a person will let up on himself and start evaluating the persons in his environment. He will soon see the futility of it and stop. He'll realize that his retroflected evaluations were merely a mechanism for dwelling on himself.

What do you doubt about yourself? Mistrust? Deprecate? Can you reverse these attitudes - who is the person you doubt? Who makes you suspicious? Who would you like to take down a peg?

Retroflections are manipulations of your own impulses and body as substitutes for other persons and objects. Retroflection becomes self-abuse when you have once and for all censored a part of yourself, throttled and silenced it, so that it may no longer lift its voice in your aware personality. But no matter how clamped down this censored part may be, it still exerts its pressure. The struggle goes on - you have simply lost awareness of it. Because the muscles match mental conflict, the end-result is inevitably psychosomatic dysfunction: impairment of coordination, aches (such as headaches), weakness or even degeneration of tissues. They are produced by muscular tensing against a swelling impulse.

The only way of solving the problem of chronic muscular tension - and of every other psychosomatic symptom - is not to deliberately relax and cut off from it, but rather to become vividly aware of the symptom, to accept both sides of the conflict as you. This means to re-identify yourself with parts of your personality from which you have dissociated. Thus for your headache it is better to take responsibility than aspirin. The drug temporarily dulls the pain but it does not solve the problem - only you can do that. The suppressed impulse must find expression and satisfaction. Given attention and allowed to interact with the rest of your behavior, it will find its place in the integration of your personality.

When expression of the unblocked impulse is overt, there is normally a release of pent-up energy. For example, the lethargy of depression will be replaced by what it concealed and held in check: raging or sobbing. Or if you concentrate on a headache and permit development, you may sooner or later become aware that the headache is produced by muscular tensions in the neck. You may then realize that you are sad and very much want to cry; then loosen the muscles and let go of the tears. Sensations of numbness may similarly be opened out. If the suppressed impulse is enacted physically, in a meaningful way with the appropriate persons or situation in mind, and with the sense that it is you who are doing it and responsible for it, discharge will occur.

Exercise 10: Discovering Introjections

An introject is a 'lesson' that you have swallowed whole without comprehension, perhaps upon authority, and that you now use as if it were your own. Because introjections are so often forced on an individual, hostility is felt first of all against the coercer. Because this conflict is given up before it is resolved, the hostility is retroflected - this is the situation normally referred to as 'self control'.

To the extent that you have cluttered your personality with introjections, you have impaired your ability to think and act on your own determinism. The 'I' that is composed of introjects does not function spontaneously, for it is made up of concepts about the self - duties, standards and views of 'human nature' - that are imposed from the outside. This is the typical 'Superego'. Proper assimilation of ideas, felt aggressions and experiences, to make them your own, requires objective analysis (de-structuring) with the rational parts absorbed according to needs. This is in contrast to glibly dubbing something 'anti-social', 'wrong' or 'bad' on the basis of an introject.

One way to discover what within you is not part of your self, is by recovering the original (suppressed) sense of disgust and the accompanying urge to reject, or spit out what was swallowed. If you wish to unburden yourself of introjects in your personality, you must intensify awareness of the 'taste' of the moral rules, opinions, prejudices and attitudes you accept as normal, and if they 'taste bad' then spit them out! This material can then be de-structured and the best parts re-absorbed, to reclaim an autonomous Superego.

To eliminate introjections from your personality, the problem is not, as it was with retroflections, to accept and integrate dissociated parts of yourself; rather, it is to become aware of what is not truly yours, to acquire a selective and critical attitude toward what is offered you. Above all it is the ability to 'bite off and chew' experience, so as to extract healthy nourishment.

Neurotics talk much of being rejected. This is for the most part, a projection onto others of their own self-hating - the repressed disgust with what they have incorporated in their own personalities, the literally thousands of unassimilated odds and ends, lodged within themselves as introjects. They are both undigested and, as they stand, indigestible. Digestion would require the process of bringing them up as 'unfinished business', working through them, and then at last assimilating them.

Exercise 11: Discovering Projections

A 'projection' is a personal trait, attitude or feeling that is not experienced as such; instead it is attributed to another person in the environment. It is experienced as directed toward the person projecting. For example: the projector, unaware that he is rejecting others, believes that they are rejecting him. Like retroflection and introjection, it is a defense against conflict and tension that is unconfrontable. Although the person is aware of the issue (such as a sense of rejection), since he cannot contemplate expressing it openly he assumes it must be coming from others - he loses the sense that he is feeling the impulse. In this way he can, without feeling any responsibility in the situation, regard himself as the passive object of unkind treatment or victimization.

Suppose one has an appointment with a person and he is late in arriving. If, without further evidence, one jumps to the conclusion that this is a sign of contempt, then one is projecting contempt (an outward projection) or one's contempt for self (an inward projection).

In your own case, by whom do you or did you feel rejected? On what grounds do you reject them - how do they fail to measure up? Do you feel yourself lacking in the same way? Do you reject in yourself the very same things you think others reject you for?

Now picture some acquaintance. Do you like or dislike this or that trait or behavior? Speak to him or her aloud - tell that you accept this characteristic or mannerism, that you can't stand it when he does that, etc. Do you feel what you say? Does anxiety develop? Do you feel self-conscious, or afraid that you might spoil the relationship by speaking so frankly? Are you rejecting on the very same grounds that you believe yourself rejected?

Often the projector can find 'proofs' that the imagined is the reality. Such rationalizations and justifications are always available to the person who wishes to find them, perhaps by finding some genuine but insignificant grievance and then exaggerating it. The flimsiest evidence will do, and if proved wrong, the situation will repeat itself with other flimsy evidence.

A common case of paranoid projection is the jealous husband or wife. If you are prone to such jealousies, see if you yourself are not repressing the wish to be unfaithful in the same way. Sometimes the jealous partner represses his or her sexual impulse and therefore imagines that the partner is attracted to another man or another woman, and fantasises them together.

An extremely dangerous class of projections is prejudice - of race, class, age, sex, etc. To the vilified groups are attributed traits that really belong to the prejudiced person, but which he represses from awareness. See how many of your own prejudices are projections. Such irresponsible attitudes are embedded in our language and institutions. In a world of projections the self seldom does or expresses anything; instead 'it happens'. Instead of thinking, a thought 'occurs'. His troubles 'worry' him, when in fact he is worrying himself and anybody else he can. Institutions are 'to blame' because they control us - as if men did not themselves lend to institutions whatever force they may have. Alienated from his own impulses, man makes 'things' out of his own behavior so he can disclaim responsibility for it, try to forget or hide it, or project it and suffer it as coming from the outside.

Examine your verbal expressions: translate those statements in which 'something else is cause and you are effect, into statements in which 'I' is the cause, i.e. taking responsibility. E.g. 'It occurred to me that I had an appointment' translates into 'I remembered that I had an appointment'.

The aim is to come to realize that you are creative in your environment and are responsible for your reality - not to blame, but responsible in the sense that it is you who lets it stand or changes it.

Move on to Creative Communication

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Awakening of the Human Being

Rose Henry interviews Peter Shepherd about the book, Transforming the Mind

Life is all about the decisions we make, good or bad. We can't go wrong with love as our guide, however sometimes we'll forget or be distracted or veer from that path and make inappropriate decisions. But all is not lost, it never is. These are the times we can learn from and then return to our true selves, our true nature. Read more...

Raise Your Vibration
This is something Peter put together that is close to his heart. It's a free daily meditation program to help you make the state of unconditional love an integrated part of your life, which is key to lasting joy and fulfillment.
Plus check out Your Inner Truth, a phenomenal range of journaling tools to help you find the truth of your situation. You may feel stressed, or confused, there may be a lot going on and choices to make that seem a bit overwhelming. Or you may simply need time with yourself, to decide what is it you really want... and just who are you, really?