The mental/cognitive dimension (part 3)

“The mind reflect the worlds and the world reflects the mind.” James Pierce

A lot of our life experience happens in the mind. Experiences are heavily influenced by our expectation, our imagination, and the significance, importance or meaning that we attach to these experiences. 

It is not what happens from moment to moment, but our interpretation of what happens that qualifies our experience. This interpretation is dependent on so many factors, but primarily our mindset and our belief system as well as the expectation about how the world should be. 

We spend a great deal of mental effort to control our environment, and we see things not how they are but how we would like them to be. If events conform to our vision, we feel a sense of satisfaction, but when events do not conform to what we would like, we can experience discontent and resistance. 

This is when we start emitting value driven judgments about our experiences and name them as good or bad. Now I won’t get into the philosophy of value, of good and bad here, but it is important that we understand this process. 

The belief system:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Gandhi

I talk a lot about beliefs in other articles and will not expend here all that much. In the context of this article, beliefs are like the fences of the perimeter that we allow ourselves to have. For some reasons, we often limit our own enjoyment of experiences because of beliefs that total enjoyment is not appropriate. This often happens on a subconscious level. 

We may develop negative projections and associations with specific activities.We believe that we must feel a certain way when doing certain things. That it is just how things are. These limitations prevent us from enjoying all sorts of activities fully, if at all.
For example, beliefs may take the form of statements like:
“Work is not supposed to be fun.”
“I can’t play because I need to be responsible.”
“If I don’t try hard, fight, push, things won’t happen.”
“In life you just have to get on with it, even when you don’t want to”

“Relationships are hard work” 

“Households are duties and chores.”

“Studying is boring and frustrating”

etc 

In many instances, once we have made up our mind about an activity, it becomes difficult to extricate ourselves from its confines. In truth, we can develop the creativity to turn most situations into positive experiences. We can become lighter and more playful. The frame of mind that we come with in the first place, such as ease, positivity, openness, or, difficulty, negativity, fight, is determinant in how we enjoy activities. 

When it comes to beliefs surrounding enjoyment, a classic inner conflict is the utility vs enjoyment debate.Is the purpose of life to be useful, to contribute, and be productive? Or  is it to enjoy, to experience and be happy? 

This is often presented as a dichotomy, and we are led to believe that we need to choose one over the other. Enjoyment can be seen as selfish and we need a sort of sacrifice in order to be a good person. I believe it is the wrong way to think about it. It is really possible to enjoy ourselves while being productive, useful and to contribute?

I view positive and enjoyable experiences as the fuel that animate and inspire our spirit to be creative and productive. The more happiness and enjoyment we can allow ourselves to have, the more of it we can give back to the world. Of course this requires coming from a place of exchange and generosity. One can also consume enjoyment and leave it at that. But I believe these instances are more symptomatic of people who feel distressed inside and need to compensate. 

A lot of our belief surrounding enjoyment and pleasure comes from our sense of morale and ethics. What we believe to be right and wrong. There are many situations when we limit personal enjoyment because we believe it is not appropriate. This is true especialy for sex, and also other wordly pleasures. Sometimes rightly so, we should never enjoy ourselves at the expense and suffering of others. We should also refrain from pleasure as a form of escapism from ourselves and problems.  Also a lot of enjoyable things become sources of suffering if sought in excess. It is positive to determine to ourselves the lines of these excesses and stay safe. 

But other times, it is simply the result of our fears and negative conditioning. It is up to us to extricate ourselves from our own mental limitations, if we want to experience more. 

Developing a descriptive language:

Humans have been able to develop and grow through communication. Through communication we have access to more concepts, and to connect with the experience of others. 

In a lot of ways, our experience is bound by how we can describe it to ourselves. This is not entirely true, since we experience the unnameable, but having a wider, more developed descriptive language  allows us to distinguish more nuances and simply experience more.

I believe there is a kind of “experience literacy” that is all encompassing of; emotional literacy, sensorial literacy, and conceptual-cognitive-experience literacy, as well as meaningfulness.
The better we can describe to ourselves and others experiences the more we can take them in and appreciate them fully. 

Presence and focus:

Experiencing moments fully requires us to be present. In a way, it means being outside of our heads. 

We spend a lot of our time thinking about the past and the future,  in mental fantasies and projections. While, it is not necessarily a bad thing, this prevents us from experiencing moments fully, in the now. 

Choosing to put our focus and attention on what is going on around us, to notice and become an observer of the present, to let go of thoughts that are not geared towards the current reality unfolding, permits us to be more in touch with these moments. 

This means learning to recognise when we are distracted. Being distracted is a state that we practice all the time. Think of the state of mindfulness as the opposite.  Being mindful means to reclaim our attention, and place it where we want. 

We can still imagine and have an internal language while being mindful, but we are well aware of ourselves and the now while doing so. Being distracted simply means that we have left the here and now, and that we are not thinking or being purposefully but are carried by our thoughts. 

It is impossible to access the full scope of our experience without being mindful. It is like drinking from a tap that is heavily blocked, and only a trickle comes through.You need to be an open tap for full experiences to flow through you. 

Slowing down:


“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” John De Paola

One of the primary reasons we are distracted simply is because we are going too fast. We try to keep up, do a million things at once, and think about too many things as a result. 
The world is going so fast, and there are so many things that require our attention that it is hard to let go of everything to just focus on one thing at a time, in the now. Old mental processes go on and on at the back of our heads, preventing us from really noticing what we are doing and experiencing.

Similarly, we can be so absorbed with our goals and tasks, that we automatically go on from task to task, trying to go as fast as possible, always focusing on the next thing. This time scarcity leaves us stressed and distracted. 

A lot of enjoying a full experience is to accept taking the time for it. To put everything else aside, for the time that it takes, accepting that things take time and not trying to rush through, but instead enjoying the ride.

In a world with so many options, we can be tempted to look outside of the now, to see if there is anything better we could be doing that’s  more fun, more productive, more rewarding…

With the fear of missing out and/or the fear of a better option, we are trapped in a state of dissatisfaction and anxiety. We need to let go of the what ifs and be happy about what is happening now. How we feel is not so much about what we experience, but how we experience it. 

Mental pacing:

Mental pacing is a technique I came up with that I love to use to be more present, if I am “in my head”. It works well for me because I am auditory oriented and a very cerebral person, so if that sounds like you maybe it can work for you to. 

Basically, the idea is to describe to yourself mentally everything that you are doing. This forces you to be in the here and now, instead of being distracted by other thoughts. You can also add on a sensory experience. 

For example, if I was going to drive to work, I would say to myself, in my mind something like:

“I am walking towards the car, [looking at sights and listening to the sounds]”

“I am opening the car door, [feeling its texture]”

“I am sitting down, [feeling, hearing, looking]”

“I am putting on my seatbelt’

“I am turning on the car”

etc, you get the jest. 

Sometimes, our inner language is pervasive and disrupts our mindfulness. When we cannot access a place of thoughtless consciousness straight away, it can be an helpful alternative.

Mantra:
Similarly, mantra works well for an auditory person like myself. It helps me be more in the present and pay attention to what I am doing. It simply consists of repeating words or sentences over and over in your mind, such as:

“I am present and mindful”
“I contemplate this beautiful world”

or If I wanted to do an activity mindfully like eating:
“I am slowing down and tasting my food”

I would call both mental pacing and mantra a form of focused mental noise. If you are going to have thoughts anyway, you may as well have them geared toward your current experience. 

Lived experience, remembered experience:

We can recognise that our ability to recall experiences are imperfect at best. The way we form memories is heavily biased and personified. That being said, It is not because memories are inaccurate that they do not matter nor have an impact. 

The remembered experience is an essential component in our sense of identity, in our learning, and the meaning that we attach to our lives. Imagine if you could not remember anything after experiencing it. Beyond being extremely distressing, it would seriously impede your ability to find any meaning for your own existence. 

The remembered experience is therefore a determinant part of how we do experience. The experiences that are more memorable are more impactful to us, because they offer us value, not only in the now, but for as long as we can remember. 

Furthermore the remembered experience changes overtime, for better or worse, enabling us to keep “making sense”, drawing lessons from the past, and re-experiencing them when positive and heal when negative, which are all positive functions.

Does that mean that by having a better memory we increase our capacity to experience? I don’t know, but the effort of trying to commit experiences to memory is likely to increase our focus and mindfulness of it. Being able to remember shared experiences can allow us to deepen our relationship with others. Increasing our capacity to memorise moments is certainly worth a shot in increasing their quality.  

The impact of experiences:

One aspect of experiences to understand is that their impact on our lives is not directly apparent.

An experience that may have happened years ago may come up and suddenly influence a behavior today positively or negatively.

As we have seen previously in part 2, how an experience is felt in the moment is not necessarily indicative of its overall impact.

Having a pleasurable experience does not necessarily mean this experience is positive. One can enjoy themselves through addiction,. substance abuse or unethical behaviors.

Similarly, an experience may feel difficult or painful at the time, but becomes positive because of its impact. A hard challenge, a loss, and hurdles can bring lessons, resilience, wisdom and shape us into who we are. It can also allow us to connect with others on a deep level.

This is important because we should not aim to seek pleasure and avoid hardship all the time.

Pleasurable experience can become a form of escapism from life problems and difficulties and be negative as a result.

Understanding that suffering is universal and part of life, allows us to move forward with courage and also enjoy the good moment more deeply and with gratitude.

Moreover, we can choose to be impacted and influenced. We cannot have our lives changed if we are not open to change. This is the positive version of being impressionable. We can consciously decide while living a strong experience to capture it, saying to ourselves “I will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life.”

Imagination:

“Live your imagination, not your history.” Stephen R Covey

I like to say that imagination is the magic wand of experience.

Imagination is also an essential component of our experience. What comes into our lives is dependent on what we imagine for ourselves as possible. A lot of our actions and reactions to events come from our expectations. 

These expectations are made from inferences but also from our imagination. All of human endeavours and experiences are born twice, once in the mind and once in the physical realm. 

When we imagine what could be, we open new doors to the behaviours we manifest and the experiences that lay therein. Our imagination is also determinant in what we infer from reality and our read on situations. 

In some ways, our imagination is influenced by previous experiences as a feedback loop, the more we experience the more we infer about similar experiences in the future and reinforce them.

A lot of what we experience is about what we imagine we should feel and experience with different stimuli and what is an appropriate behaviour. 

Having a vibrant and open imagination allows us to look at the world in different ways, being creative and experiencing the world as a child. It allows us not to have a set reaction for everything, but create space for multiple interactions. Imagination breeds opportunities to open up our experience to the extraordinary. It is intrinsically tied to a sense of wonder, knowing and projecting that there is always more than what meets the eyes, a pull toward the mysterious and beautiful.

Humour, fun and playfulness:

There are plenty of mindset that contribute positievly to having positive experience. Just like part 2, I would like to mention one in particular. 

Humour and playfulness begins in the mind. It is about being able to take distance from our current sense of self and view a situation a new way. It requires a lot of creativity. 

It is a great state to operate from to have a good time and experience fully. The older we become the more prone we are to become too serious, purpose driven and achievement oriented. This narrows down experiences to their usefulness and targets. It is very reducing.

The fact is that we can achieve a lot while being playful and having fun. By taking a step back and not being to serious, we can bring lightness to most experiences. Gamificaton of boring task can make life more pleasant. Sharing and laughing through adversity helps us pull through. 

We often believe that we have to be serious, responsible, and adult to make the world go round, but is is often a false image, resulting from a status and fear-induced posturing. 

I hope that you enjoyed reading about mind take on this dimension of our experience and that it was valuable to you. I’d love to hear from you and read your comments if you have any feedback. 

All the best 

Vince

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“believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” William James

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