Some basic ways to understand FIML

FIML practice first generates and then depends upon clear communication between partners.

When clear communication is established, FIML increases mental clarity and positive feelings. Another way of saying this is FIML practice reduces both mental confusion and neurotic feelings.

Thus, FIML can be fairly easily explained or understood by referring to these three basic outcomes:

  • clear communication
  • elevated or enhanced mental clarity
  • increased positive feelings

Stated in the negative, these same three basic outcomes of FIML practice are:

  • elimination of communication blockages
  • reduction or elimination of metal confusion
  • reduction or elimination of neurotic feelings

FIML practice does not emphasize a difference between private confusion (neurosis) and public confusion (irrational semiotics of a culture or society). We do recognize that there is a difference between the public and the private, but this difference lies on a continuum: a private neurosis is often shaped by cultural semiotics while cultural semiotics are often grounded in the neurotic feelings of many individuals. A good deal of psychological reasoning today is based on what is “normal”, what “most people feel”, and/or what deviates from that or interferes with an individual’s ability to function within “normal” ranges. FIML recognizes social norms, but partners are not asked to judge themselves on that basis. Nor are partners encouraged to label themselves with psychological terms. Rather, partners are encouraged (and shown how) to discover for themselves how to understand themselves based the three outcomes described above. We are confident that the high ethical standards required to do FIML successfully will show partners with great clarity that sound ethics are essential to human fulfillment.

FIML is a liberative practice because it frees partners from mental confusion, emotional suffering, and the hardships of unsatisfying communication. Since FIML works with real data agreed upon by both partners it avoids idealism and wishful-thinking.

FIML enhances traditional Buddhist practices because it allows partners to share their introspections while checking each others’ work. When we speak an inner truth to someone who we know will understand and who cares about us, that inner truth will deepen and benefit both partners.  Based on the three outcomes described above, FIML partners will be able to create a sort of subculture of their own founded on standards that they both (all) find fulfilling and right.

In most of our descriptions of FIML, we have tried to use ordinary words while providing clear definitions of them if they have a special meaning in the context of FIML. One word that is especially important is neurosis. By this term, we mean “mistaken interpretation” or “ongoing mistaken interpretation.” We use the word this way because it is a basic tenet of FIML that most, if not all, mental and emotional suffering is generated by communication errors. We proudly use the words error, mistake, wrong, erroneous, incorrect and so on when describing communication problems because communication problems almost always are grounded in mistakes: someone heard wrong, interpreted wrongly, spoke wrongly, and so on. FIML practice shows partners how to identify and correct these mistakes the moment they appear, thus forestalling the generation or perdurance of full-blown neurosis.

FIML is much less concerned with long explanations about the past and much more concerned with the dynamic moment during which partners communicate and react to each other based on real data that can be retrieved and agreed upon by both of them. The mental and emotional clarity that results from this practice is highly rewarding and within the reach of most people with the basic necessary conditions–a trusted partner, enough time to do the practice, mutual caring.

FIML and autism-Asperger’s spectrum

After explaining the basics of FIML to a friend, he replied: “Oh, so just pretend you are autistic.”

It was a good joke with a good deal of truth to it. The reality is, though, that no one knows all that well what others are thinking unless they ask and are told honestly. When people rely too much on “normal” intuition in their primary relationships, far too much ambiguity develops. And from that ambiguity neuroses arise or perdure. Neuroses can entail either unsatisfying clinging to conventional semiotics or disturbing idiosyncratic interpretations of interpersonal behaviors. Both ways of dealing with ambiguity are based on mistaken interpretations, and both of them lead to suffering. I don’t see how a “normal” person can escape this without FIML any better than someone with Asperger’s or autism.

The New York Times had an article the other day on Asperger’s, Navigating Love and Autism. The article is worth reading in and of itself, but it works especially well for me because FIML training has shown me that Asperger’s problems, though they may be more of a certain type, are problems all people have. Asperger’s people may be less able rely on conventional emotional packaging than “normal” people, but in truth I don’t think anyone should rely too much on conventions in their private life. A “normal” person can more quickly achieve the illusion of intimacy and sharing and more easily maintain this illusion, but without FIML or something like it, it will remain an illusion. As the years go by, all of those ambiguities and wrongly shared assumptions will lead to lying, harmfulness, and suffering.

It may very well be that “normal” people have more to learn from Asperger’s people than the other way around. The couple in the article seem to have figured out a way to be together that relies on something similar to FIML–they know that they need to explain themselves to each other in ways that are anything but conventional. This frees them to see the wonder of their unique individuality and to share that with each other.

More thoughts on “Empathy”

It seems that many individuals who self-describe as “empathetic” think of empathy as a talent they have for “reading people”, or knowing what others are thinking without having to ask. I think this is a huge mistake that can actually lead such people to have less empathy over time. To me it seems much more appropriate to think of empathy not as a talent one possesses but as a desire to understand other people. If we think of it this way then the ever-problematic “I know” becomes “I want to know.”

If empathy is conceived as an interest or desire, it is more likely to be developed and pursued. If, however, it is conceived as a static quality or talent, it will be taken for granted, misapplied, and probably warped into just another form of hubris.

I wonder what a self-described “empathetic” might learn from FIML. I have a feeling many of them would find that they’re not so good at “reading” others after all. Perhaps they are just adept at getting along in some sort of professional capacity and have generalized their confidence about that to other social realms.

As FIML has shown me and my partner over and over again, we are comically substandard at knowing what the other is thinking. But I hope the fact that we want to know means we have empathy for one another.

Be sure to read or re-read our previous post entitled “Theory of Mind and FIML” for a much more comprehensive treatment of this subject.

The limits of non-FIML communication

It is almost universally true that our ability to convey (speak) interpersonal information is much cruder than our ability to think it or know it. Another way of saying approximately the same thing is our ability to introspect on our own psychological condition is greater than our ability to convey (speak) it interpersonally.

The root of this problem is language and how we use it. The trunk and branches are something else, which we will discuss later. At the root is language.

Not only are we less adept at speaking inner truths than thinking them, but so are our significant others. This compounds the problem so that both speakers and listeners are greatly impeded from full mutual understanding of personal, introspective information/knowledge/understanding.

Ignore for a moment deep truths. It is almost universally the case that we do not even know many shallow truths about each other because generally, without FIML, we have no way of being certain about what we are hearing or how we are being heard even by the people who are most important to us.

If even these people, or this person, cannot fully know us and we, similarly, cannot fully know them, how can we fully know ourselves?

We can’t. This is why everyone is so damn crazy. In place of crystal clear interpersonal communication (which promotes clear introspection), people are forced to import general standards from outside of themselves. Rather than know themselves and their partners and be able to mutually communicate and share this knowledge, they have to use imported signs, symbols, packaged emotions, fantasies, and so on.

Some of the signs and symbols might be religious, racial, ethnic, nationalistic, political, philosophical,  or even psychological. Shared general truths about subjects external to the self are not deep interpersonal truths. They may feel that way because there is nothing else, but they are not.

When two people who do not practice FIML (or something similar) speak together, they necessarily spend a lot of time guessing what the other person means. To make this easier to do, they establish ways of sharing general semiotics (ideas, feelings, symbols, stories, roles, identities, etc.); they agree to feel certain ways about their shared semiotics and largely ignore the rest.

How does FIML practice change all this?

More precisely, how does FIML practice consummate our ability to convey (speak) interpersonal information with as much subtlety as our ability to think it or know it? How does FIML practice allow us to convey (speak about) our introspection on our own psychological condition with as much facility as we can think about it?

FIML does this in two ways:

  1. It gives us complete control over every moment of any FIML conversation so that misunderstandings and/or ambiguities cannot gain ground.
  2. It draws a clear border between what a person wants to say or does not want to say.

By doing just these two things, FIML removes the need for partners to cling to semiotic elements that have been imported into their minds from the general culture(s) outside of them. And this allows partners to speak with great clarity and accuracy about what is actually happening in their minds while they are speaking. And this stops the formation and/or perdurance of both personal and general/semiotic neuroses.

In this context, neurosis is defined as an ongoing mistaken interpretation. Neuroses are formed during interpersonal interactions. When they are stopped from forming and/or perduring because a better/truer interpretation is clearly presented, they disappear rather quickly. When FIML partners succeed in conveying (speaking) interpersonal information with as much skill and accuracy as their ability to think it or know it, they will know a state of greatly reduced suffering and greatly increased enjoyment of themselves and each other.

As for the trunk and branches of the general problem described above–when we cannot speak truthfully and with crystal clarity to our primary interlocutors (SOs, close friends, etc.) our ability to introspect is damaged. Rather than work with the liberating data that arises in FIML practice, we are forced to import into our deepest selves the same unsatisfying semiotics described above. And this will cause anxiety and depression because some part of us knows it just isn’t so.

FIML practice supports traditional Buddhist practice by giving partners a practical method for dealing with the delusion and suffering that constitute the First Noble Truth.

Advanced FIML

FIML is a method for generating crystal clear communication between participating partners. Once this has been achieved partners will notice a profound reduction in neurotic feelings–anxiety, worry, fear, suspicion, depression, boredom, anomie, etc.

Following this, many FIML practitioners will also notice that the practice has given them insights into cultural semiotics that parallel changes in art and literature. In designing FIML, we were not originally looking for this outcome, but it is there. Let me explain.

The “semiotics” or vocabulary of all art forms have changed throughout history, but especially since the 19th century. For example, in music the notion of what is dissonant or harmonic has changed from simpler classical forms, which demanded greater conformity between scales and chords, to jazz and modern music that allow for much greater freedom. Similarly, in the visual arts, the modern sense of color, balance, and perspective has changed to allow for much greater freedom of expression than in the past. The same kinds of changes can be seen in literature, chess, math, architecture, design, and many other areas.

We even see these changes in society as many more concepts and ways of living are now allowed than in the past–a more open sense of gender and sexual orientation, for example, are generally considered normal or acceptable in many parts of the world when just a few decades ago they were not. We also have a much broader and deeper understanding of race, culture, history, religion, ethnicity, and so on.

All of this relates to FIML in this way: FIML gives partners the means to understand and reorganize any and all levels of cultural semiotics they can become aware of. By semiotics I mean all signs, symbols, mores, taboos, beliefs, roles, impressions, memories, feelings, etc. that are connected to language and that thereby influence our use of language. That basically means everything in your mind, including language. Semiotics is the water the fish of language and communication swim in. Your mind is filled with a multifaceted semiotics that affects everything you do, say, and hear. Normally, we are only sort of aware of this.

FIML practice will lead many partners to realize that the semiotics–whatever they may be–in which their lives are embedded are as fully open to interpretation and reorganization as the artistic and cultural traditions described above. How partners decide to interpret their shared semiotics is up to them. FIML says nothing about that. What FIML will do is show you in a most intimate and convincing way that your capacity to fully understand your partner can also free you from traditional strictures in how you think about psychology, society, politics, history, art, and so on. If you want to play classical tunes with that knowledge, that is fine. If you want to play jazz or something you make up, that is also fine.

FIML will free you to do whatever you like with the semiotics you share with your partner.

In this way, I think that FIML practice can greatly enhance traditional Buddhist practice. At the same time, FIML may make traditional Buddhist practice more accessible or relevant to people today. FIML shows partners the emptiness of their semiotics in a way that may be more engaging than traditional techniques.

(As a side note, one great concern I have about FIML is ethics. I am quite convinced the ethics required to successfully practice FIML will convince partners that high ethical standards are essential for good living, but I cannot prove that. It does not follow logically and we do not have enough examples of successful FIML practitioners to claim that based on the numbers. No social or intellectual system, not even a strict legal system, can ensure that all members will behave ethically. I hope that FIML will be so powerful and transformational to those who do it, though, that high ethical standards will be a nearly inevitable byproduct of the practice. Time will tell.)

Cultural norms and FIML

I am fairly certain that most cultures (and subcultures) do not have a way to easily accept FIML practice or theory. This means that most individuals who are exponents of a culture (basically all people) will have trouble understanding what FIML is saying to them and how to do it.

The reason for this is cultural norms are established patterns that seek and respond to resonances in other people who share those norms. A person in a culture that requires humility will tend to see FIML as being aggressive or impolite. A person in a culture that honors pride will probably see FIML as an affront to their status, something that “questions” who they are.

Cultures are, in so many ways, lowest-common-denominator neuroses shared among groups of people. (By neurosis I mean “mistaken interpretation.”) For example, in a culture that requires humility, in many cases, our seeing a person’s behavior as being admirably humble may be correct, but in many other cases it will actually be a mistaken impression of a person who is only acting the part of being humble.

Any culturally defined virtue or term can be the cause of a mistaken impression.

For most professional interactions and encounters with strangers and acquaintances, rough cultural terms are sufficient for our understanding and theirs. For close friends and loved ones with whom we spend a good deal of time, FIML practice is all but required. The problem is how to get it.

Some people will see FIML practice as confronting the very roots of their culture itself. Others may see it as an attack on the very roots of their selves.

This is ironic since all FIML seeks to do is improve communication between participating partners. It threatens nothing and dictates nothing. FIML does not tell anyone how to be. It is designed simply to help partners be clear about what they are saying and hearing at all times.

My guess is some people reading this blog will get the idea of FIML and want to practice it. If they are lucky, their partners will understand. In many cases, though, readers will find it incredibly difficult to make clear to their partners what the hell they are talking about. Cultural blockage will be formidable because people are used to speaking to each other in limited ways that obscure deep meaning.

FIML is designed for couples or small groups who want crystal clear communication and a reduction of neurotic and thoughtless responses. It may seem threatening, but it is not. It is liberating.

Some other more mundane cultural norms that FIML, when first proposed, may appear to violate are:

  • Talking more than your fair share
  • Bringing the same thing up again
  • Not accepting your partner’s reasoning
  • Not accepting “equal input” into the conversation
  • Insisting on a point
  • Being too pointed, specific, or detail-oriented
  • Not respecting others’ feelings, status, pride, etc.

FIML practice does not actually in any way violate people’s feelings, cause disrespect, or lead to the dominance of one partner over another. On the contrary, FIML does the opposite. It is a liberative practice that allows partners to achieve much greater understanding of each other.

The problems described above can, and probably will, be encountered in the beginning when one partner tries to explain FIML to the other, or tries to convince the other to do it.

The ideal way to learn FIML is together with your partner(s) in a class from a qualified teacher. Before too much longer we hope to be able to offer such classes.

Relational Frame Theory and FIML practice

This video gives a good, brief explanation of Relational Frame Theory (RFT).

FIML practice can be understood in terms of RFT. What FIML practice does is give partners immediate access to their neurotic “relational frames” of reference, their mistaken interpretations. When we see a few times with great clarity that our neurosis is based on a mistaken interpretation (a mistaken relational frame) of what our partner actually means or meant, we will be able to change our relational frame (correct our mistaken interpretation) without much trouble.

FIML works especially well for making this sort of change in relational frames because it deals with those frames the moment they arise, while they are still just starting to be accessed. FIML also works well in this respect because it is based on real data shared and agreed upon by partners who trust each other.

Here is another article on Relational Frame Theory.

Examples of FIML Practice: Tomato Sauce

It’s less than a week before the winter solstice and our vegetable garden continues to support a few hangers-on such as cabbages, arugula, and leeks. But the bounty of summer is a distant memory. And so we are now starting to dig into our pantry of home-canned goods.

I have only been gardening for a few years and canning for even less. I have not yet gotten to the point where I can reliably produce the very high yields I desire. My insecurity about this is what primed me for a neurotic reaction the other night.

In an effort to conserve our limited supply of homemade tomato sauce from our own homegrown tomatoes, we occasionally use store-bought sauce instead. This is what we did the other night. When we sat down to eat, my partner almost immediately began commenting on the dinner. “Your sauce is so much better,” he said. And then a few bites later, “This store-bought sauce just doesn’t make me feel as good as yours does…there’s just no substitute for homegrown tomatoes.”

Neurotic human that I am, I could not help taking these comments as a reminder of my failure to grow enough tomatoes so that we could have homemade sauce as often as we wanted, which turns out to be pretty often. I was pretty sure that he wasnt intending to remind me of my failures as a gardener. But not being totally sure, I responded by growing a little bit sullen and wishing he would stop making those comments.

“Yes, yes, I know homemade sauce is better. Don’t worry, I’ll grow enough tomatoes next year. What else can I say? For now, can’t we just enjoy our dinner?” I said, probably somewhat sharply.

At this point we commenced with a FIML analysis, during which I learned that my partner had only been trying to compliment me when he made those comments. The rational part of my mind had suspected this, but FIML gave me a way to make sure, so that I wouldn’t leave the table believing that I might have been indirectly scolded. The exchange went something like this:

Him: OK, stop. What is in your mind right now? Why do you sound upset?

Me: I just wonder why you keep making those comments. I think the sauce tastes good.

Him: It does taste good. I was only commenting in that way to emphasize how much better yours is.

Me: But we know that homemade sauce is always going to be better. I guess I’m wondering if maybe you’re subtly grousing about my not having made enough to fully stock the pantry?

Him: No, not at all.

Me: So, there’s no part of you that’s criticizing me for not having grown enough tomatoes last summer?

Him: No, there’s none of that whatsoever. I was simply trying to say, “Honey, your tomato sauce is far better than any commercial sauce and I really appreciate it.”

Now, this is not just some typical make-up session where the offending party says what s/he thinks the other person wants to hear in order to smooth things over. This is a FIML exchange in which I have the opportunity to find out whether my suspicions are true about what my partner is thinking. Prerequisite to FIML are mutual agreements to tell the truth and to believe the other person. So, I can be confident that my partner is telling the truth (“No, I was not criticizing you”) and he can be confident that I believe him (“OK, then I guess I was just being neurotic”).

In that particular exchange I was shown that what I had reacted to was a phantom in my own mind. It had nothing to do with what my partner was thinking.

A theory of FIML

FIML is both a practice and a theory. The practice  is roughly described here and in other posts on this website.

The theory states (also roughly) that successful practice of FIML will:

  • Greatly improve communication between participating partners
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate mistaken interpretations (neuroses) between partners
  • Give partners insights into the dynamic structures of their personalities
  • Lead to much greater appreciation of the dynamic linguistic/communicative nature of the personality

These results are achieved because:

  • FIML practice is based on real data agreed upon by both partners
  • FIML practice stops neurotic responses before they get out of control
  • FIML practice allows both partners to understand each other’s neuroses while eliminating them
  • FIML practice establishes a shared objective standard between partners
  • This standard can be checked, confirmed, changed, or upgraded as often as is needed

FIML practice will also:

  • Show partners how their personalities function while alone and together
  • Lead to a much greater appreciation of how mistaken interpretations that occur at discreet times can and often do lead to (or reveal) ongoing mistaken interpretations (neuroses)

FIML practice eliminates neuroses because it shows individuals, through real data, that their (neurotic) interpretation(s) of their partner are mistaken. This reduction of neurosis between partners probably will be generalizable to other situations and people, thus resulting a less neurotic individual overall.

Neurosis is defined here to mean a mistaken interpretation or an ongoing mistaken interpretation.

The theory of FIML can be falsified or shown to be wrong by having a reasonably large number of suitable people learn FIML practice, do it and fail to gain the aforementioned results.

FIML practice will not be suitable for everyone. It requires that partners have a strong interest in each other; a strong sense of caring for each other; an interest in language and communication; the ability to see themselves objectively; the ability to view their use of language objectively; fairly good self-control; enough time to do the practice regularly.

Theory of mind and FIML

The following paragraphs are from a pretty good Wikipedia article on theory of mind.

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own.

Individuals who experience a theory of mind deficit have difficulty determining the intentions of others, lack understanding of how their behavior affects others, and have a difficult time with social reciprocity.

As far as I understand the term, theory of mind is generally used to assess autism spectrum disorders and behavioral problems that result from brain injuries, drug abuse, and alcoholism. I have no problem with that.

Here’s an interesting response to the theory from someone with Asperger’s Syndrome: Empathy, Mindblindness, and Theory of Mind. The author of this piece, Lynne Soraya, mainly objects to the characterization that she does not have empathy for others. She wonders if the problem is one not of a lack of empathy but of understanding.

I agree with her in more ways than one. Misapplied, theory of mind can become a high-sounding defense of conformity and the status quo. Beyond basic levels of reasonable manners and appropriateness, theory of mind can lead us to draw many false conclusions about the people we are with. If FIML has taught me one thing with great certainty it is that, while I may have some sense of what my partner is thinking or feeling, I am very often wrong in important ways and almost always sort of wrong in many subtle ways.

Look into your own mind. What do you see? Is there some solid state there? Are all of your intentions clear even to you? Why do you say what you say? What else are you thinking right now? As soon as you answer any one of these questions, the multifaceted dynamism of your mind will change again. Can you remember what was in your mind–remember with good, clear accuracy–one minute ago? I bet you can’t. How about two minutes ago? If even you cannot know what was in your own mind one minute ago and restate it clearly, how can you expect another person to really ever know what is in your mind unless you tell them while you are still able to remember yourself?

This is where real speech lives. In the moment. Speech often comes forth from us for mysterious reasons. And our partners hear our speech in their own mysterious ways. We can know these ways, but only by talking about them, only by asking. Theory of mind can help us form some general ideas, but only FIML can give us access to what our partners are truly thinking when they speak to us or listen to us.

If I say let’s go for a walk, I probably will be able to tell from your expression whether you want to go or not, and maybe even how much you want to go. But if as we leave the building you glance at a bush beside the walk, do I know why you looked there or what you are thinking? Very unlikely.

Similarly, if you speak a sentence to me, do I know the fullness of the state of your mind from which that sentence issued? No, I don’t. Hardly ever. If the sentence is at all ambiguous or even slightly emotionally charged, I may not have the slightest clue why you said it. I can guess, but the only way I can know for sure is to ask you.

Theory of mind is OK for making crude determinations about some people in some situations, but worthless for most speech or communicative acts between equal partners.

We do not know what is in other people’s minds. We are not mind readers. We can only know with certainty what they are thinking and feeling if they tell us. And that can be difficult even for them to do because even they may not know what is in their minds or why.

This is why I say that theory of mind can be sorely misapplied to become a defense of status quo conformity, status quo semiotics.

Humans are primitive beasts with poorly functioning speech capacities. If they are not attributing status quo interpretations of others to them, they will be making up their own and those will probably be neurotic (mistaken, as we have been defining that term).

Our options as people who speak and interact are not either we are autistic or we are “normal” (have good theory of mind). There is a huge other area of human speech and interaction (and this area includes both autistic and “normal” people)–no matter what you do or say, you cannot speak to another person without employing unfounded assumptions about them unless you ask and they answer honestly.

For most exchanges with strangers and acquaintances, we don’t need to know what they are thinking and feeling. We just follow the basic rules–professional or otherwise–that govern the exchange. For intimate partners and friends, however, those rules will not work. If you want real communication with your partner, you will have to do FIML or something like it. I can’t think of any other way to know their feelings and intentions.

Brain scans

Brain scans are getting better every day. One day, I am pretty sure, we will have inexpensive brain scanning devices that can be purchased by consumers and used at home. When that day comes, we will need a new way of talking with one another, a new way to assess how we understand each other.

Imagine two people hooked up to a brain scan device that gives very accurate readings of what is happening in their brains while they interact. Imagine also that all instances of embarrassment, lying, flattery, fear, not understanding while pretending you do, and so on show up on the brain scan device. How will people deal with that?

I think FIML will help. It surely won’t do everything, but basic FIML training will probably help people deal with the many areas of our minds that we are now used to hiding but will no longer be able to when connected to brain scanning tech.

Here is an interesting study based on data from brain scans: Extraversion Is Linked to Volume of the Orbitofrontal Cortex and Amygdala. This article says some interesting things about neuroticism versus extroversion. Basically, extroversion is not the opposite of neuroticism, but a “protective factor” that seems to guard against it. This does not make extroverts more right about things; it just makes them socially more effective in most circumstances and less liable to doubt themselves.

But FIML practice (or a lot of good introspection) shows us that being effective socially and having fewer doubts may actually indicate a “positive neurosis” in that the extrovert’s understanding of themseleves and others is based on mistaken interpretations. The mistakes may work well enough in many situations, but they are still mistakes.

My guess is that brain scan tech of the future will show these mistakes. My guess is also that society will be far richer for that. Ideally, consumer brain scan devices will allow much greater truthful lateral communication; a much greater sharing of interpersonal realities as opposed to the widespread conformance to public semiotics that is the rule now.

Of course, I am very mindful that brain scan tech could be used for horrific social control. The best way to avoid that is have a lot of people understand the technology and put it in the hands of consumers as soon as possible.

Problems with FIML

FIML is not perfect. Here are some of the problems or difficulties with it:

  • It takes at least two people to do it
  • These two people must care about each other deeply
  • It takes a good deal of time
  • It requires the formation of new mental skills
  • It is hard to learn without instruction
  • It requires that partners have at least some interest in language and how they communicate
  • It goes against much or most cultural conditioning
  • It requires high ethical standards

One or more of these difficulties will stop some people from doing FIML. There is not much we can do about that.

At the same time, these same difficulties can be an advantage. As is said in Buddhism, they may constitute “negative conditions that lead to progress.”

For example, FIML practice not only requires high ethical standards, it also shows us how to get those standards and why they work.

If you have at least some interest in language and communication, FIML practice will hone and increase it.

FIML does take time, but it is time well spent. You will enjoy many intriguing conversations with your partner that would not have been possible without FIML.

While FIML does require that we form some new mental skills, those skills are very beneficial and will work in many other situations.

FIML practice does pull partners away from subconscious cultural conditioning, but in doing that it also liberates them to form a subculture of their own, based on conscious choice.

Since it employs mindfulness, self-control, and rational analysis of thought and feeling, FIML practice greatly supports Buddhist practice and mental clarity in general.

We are aware that not everyone will be able to do FIML, but we hope that those who have good conditions will try it. The basic technique and purpose of FIML are described on this website. It is difficult to learn FIML through reading, but it can be done. Eventually, we hope to offer classes in FIML, which should speed up the process of learning the basic techniques.

A few interesting links

  • This story has been out for a few days: Empathetic Rats Help Each Other Out. Comments I have read from people who have cared for rats say that the points made in the study are obvious–rats are wonderful little guys with complex social sensibilities and generous emotions. The purpose of the study, of course, was to prove the matter according to the rules of science. In teaching and sharing FIML, we sometimes feel like one of those rats who got out of his cage. All we wanna do is show other people how to get out.
  • This study from Yale, Tuning out: How brains benefit from meditation, shows how widespread the value of meditation can be. Note that the study finds that experienced meditators have “decreased activity in areas of the brain called the default mode network.” In ways somewhat similar to meditation, FIML practice should change what our default interpersonal mode is because by doing FIML we learn to monitor and discuss default responses from a “meta” point of view. This has a profound and profoundly beneficial effect on FIML partners because not just their own minds, but their interactions with each other also benefit greatly from increased awareness and decreased default responses. FIML practice has the added benefit of both partners being able to confirm with great confidence their mutual understanding.
  • This article is about widening our understanding of psychopathy: Psychopathy: A Misunderstood Personality Disorder. This subject may not seem to have much to do with Buddhism or FIML, but there are some parallels. Good Buddhist practice does eventually produce a sort of distancing from the rough-and-tumble of ordinary emotions. This is not the same as being emotionless, but I do know of at least one famous Buddhist master who tells people it’s best to “have no emotions.” That is a challenging idea that I have rejected for years but am more inclined now to see as a valuable guide in many situations. In FIML practice, it is essential that partners have enough self-control to hold their feelings in abeyance until they can check them with their partner. None of that is psychopathy as we usually understand that word, but the linked article does provide some indication that some aspects of what we call psychopathy may actually be desirable.
  • This article–Is Doing Harm the Same as Allowing It to Happen?–touches on Buddhist morality in that it shows us that it requires extra thought to see the value in preventing harm. A “sin” of omission is as bad as a “sin” of commission, if you think about it. In FIML practice, you can see this truth happening right in the moment and right in your own mind. With FIML you can see how real data plays out. If you feel a bothersome interpretation forming in your mind and you say nothing about it to your partner, you will leave them with the mistaken impression that everything has been understood and all is well with you. This omission may then lead you to further engage in a longer private series of thoughts and additional interpretations. From a small omission, a large and long stream of selfish and probably erroneous consciousness may follow.

Being misunderstood

One of the worst things about being misunderstood is that very often the more you try to be understood, the worse the problem grows.

Most societies have strong proscriptions against too much talking, and Buddhism is no exception.

I want to discuss three people to whom I have tried to explain FIML with little or no success—a close friend, a Buddhist nun, and a close relative.

The close friend, who was a very knowledgeable and conscientious Buddhist, was never able to hear what I was saying. He always seemed to think that I was making excuses for something I said or prying into his thoughts with the intention of tripping him up. At the time, this person was a very close friend to whom I spoke almost every day, often at great length. We could talk about everything else in the world—politics, Buddhism, atheism, history, people, whatever—but he could not or would not talk to me about how we talked to each other. Admittedly, I was not skilled in talking about FIML in those days. I could only see the basics and had little idea where pursuing them might lead. Nonetheless, no matter how much I tried to explain what I wanted to say, my good friend never heard it and often would get mad at me for persisting.

The Buddhist nun was sort of similar in that she always thought I was making an excuse for myself or looking for some way to make her look bad or wrong. No matter how I introduced the subject, she never seemed to understand the meta-perspective I was going for. This person was a skilled meditator and deeply conversant in virtually all aspects of the Dharma. My feeling then, and now, was that what I was saying seemed to her to go too far outside of Buddhist teachings; it seemed to her to be a nutty idea her friend had, not an interesting discovery someone wanted to share with her.

The close relative is not a Buddhist. Since she knows I care about her, she does listen to me, but I don’t know if she is only being polite. I can see that doing FIML practice sometimes pains her and that she has trouble stopping her emotional reactions from taking over. She has done several successful sessions with me and she has said that it is helping her in other areas of her life, but I have yet to see the light really go on in her head.

These three examples showed me that it can be difficult to get friends or family to see or understand the meta-position that is essential for successful FIML practice. The best way to avoid these problems is to focus on trivial incidents and explain beforehand what you are going to do. You have to make your prospective partner understand that a new perspective is called for. FIML actually requires that a new sort of consciousness—an emergent trait—be generated in the minds of both partners.

I provided the examples above because I hope they will help you avoid similar problems. FIML is not that hard to do or explain, but it can seem confusing or difficult because the subject matter of FIML is each person’s dynamic self/speech in the moment and people are normally not used to thinking that way, let alone talking about it.

What is FIML? Part 1

FIML is different from anything you’ve done before. Our society, as well as probably every other society that has ever existed, offers no real encouragement or training in this type of communication. Consequently, when you first read about FIML you may struggle to fit it into some familiar category. Well, here are some:

Science – FIML can be conceived as a sort of interpersonal scientific method.

Like science, the process is rational and can be explained to, and practiced by, anyone. It is not the exclusive property of some esoteric priestly class.

FIML is based on data. In this case, the data is the contents of your mind and that of your partner. You and your partner will attempt to be objective about these data and check your interpretations against each other.

FIML does not ask the practitioner to banish his/her emotions, just as “science” makes no such request of the scientist. Rather, the point is to “hold your emotions in abeyance” while data is gathered, i.e., while you ask your partner what they meant.

It is considered good science to test a hypothesis and find out that it’s wrong. Likewise in FIML, you will find that your interpretations about what the other person said/meant will many times be proved wrong, or at least partially wrong, when you “test” them, i.e. query your partner.

FIML inquiries are not scientific experiments that can be replicated by others. We are dealing with the unique dynamics between unique individuals. However, the general results of increased interpersonal understanding and decreased neuroticism should be replicable by anyone, if FIML is practiced correctly.

Romance – This may be hard to see at first, but FIML is indeed deeply romantic. By querying your partner, you will gain insights that are simply impossible under the constraints of ordinary communication. You will come to know him/her better.

But at the same time, you will become more aware of how little you know.

You will find over and over again that your neurotic interpretations – about what the other person meant when they said this or what they were thinking when they did that – are wrong. The self-centered tales you’ve woven will unravel as neurotic “certainty” is replaced by doubt. You will be filled with a most pleasant sense of disorientation.

You will begin to see your partner as a continually unfolding, tantalizing mystery. And that’s exactly what they are. What could be more romantic?

Entertainment – Humans spend lots of time and money to be entertained. Movies, TV shows, concerts, art galleries, sporting events, strip clubs, restaurant meals, vacations… Friends, couples and family members commonly engage in these kinds of activities together, activities that almost seem designed to supplant real communication between people.

I would love to better understand why we’re like this but that’s a topic for another post.

What I want to say here is that FIML is not just to be thought of as some serious endeavor. It is also a lot of fun. The little dramas you uncover/create with your partner will be much more interesting than anything on TV or in the movies. Don’t be surprised if those dramas start to appear cartoonishly simplistic by comparison.

You will gradually acquire a more appropriate sense of your own ridiculousness.

Perhaps most significantly: Insofar as FIML is a form of entertainment, it is one that you and your partner actively engage in. You will not just be sitting there, passively absorbing someone else’s ideas.