Hello. You, yes you…in there. That free-floating ‘self’ and beating heart within a consciousness on this journey. I’d like to talk to you about that thing. You know what I’m talking about–that thing that haunts you just beneath the surface. No matter how much you talk about it, smoke, eat, drink, exercise, cry, sleep, have sex; it’s still there. Pervasive and unrelenting. You can dim its light, chill its heat, but you feel it everpresent. It is like low-level dread.
You are not alone. Our system is beautifully adapted to warn of us of danger–perceived or real. And if we are unable to tend to that threat, we never come back to equilibrium with a sense of ecological safety and control. It may be something in our environment: our relationships, our work. And if we can’t take action, or are caught in distorting beliefs about or self-worth to do so, we come up with very debilitating results. Ultimately, it rests in our broken relationship with ourselves. We identify with the feeling of not being ‘ok, ’ and create some kind of meaning out of it (usually negatively self-directed). That is the survival function of what makes us uniquely conscious as human beings; even a dysfunctional meaning is still something to hang on to. And yet that same capacity for self-reflection and nuanced understanding and distress tolerance in the world knows the threshold is too low. In other words, we know we could be on more of an even keel, that there is something better for us.
So what gives? There is an entire discussion to be had from a mindfulness awareness point of view, advanced by the buddhist psychological understanding of how we struggle between avoiding pain and clinging to desire/comfort. Here though, I wish to simply address that we all have what I call blind spots–the areas of our psyche and behaviour/reactions, just outside of our conscious ‘sight.’ And I use the term ‘blind’ in the true anatomical sense. Most of us understand our ‘sight’ awareness to be the interpretation of visual input through the eyes. But the processing of that data is done in the occipital cortex in the back of the brain. And, most interestingly, research experiments show that when that area is damaged, which results in cortical blindness, subjects may actually still be able to register visual input (see) even though their brain doesn’t register the information! This is a stunning phenonmenon, and tells us a great deal about how we perceive and create meaning. It also provides a very real and metaphoric insight into how we function from ‘blind spots’ in our awareness.
Traumatizing or overwhelming events in our past may embed skewed perceptions and cognitive distortions about our role in the world that severely hold us back, and keep us ‘seeing’ the world in this way–even though we consciously know we are in the present. Why is this? Simply put, during overwhelming events or dynamics in our early past, when our social/emotional development was still limited, our limbic or mid-brain overrides our rational mind. This is noted as the fight/flight (and freeze!) response. It is an evolutionary adaptation to kick us into survival mode when threat is present. The problem is, if those events are never processed out of our system, then we are left still functioning from that limited response, as if the threat never subsided. Worse, if we are caught blaming others for our plight, it further enables the sense of powerlessness.
In short, if you are aware of that ‘thing’ lurking under the surface, or even rearing its ugly head and sabotaging what would otherwise be your conscious choice in the moment, you are very likely falling into these blind spots. In my vocation as a psychotherapist (http://www.mindfulyoutherapy.com) and as a teacher of the art of Aikido (http://www.senshinkiaikido.com), everything is oriented towards neutralizing this limited response, taking conscious control to be calm and confident. As the Zen saying goes, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”