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.