Why you can’t fix it with generalities

Psychological, cognitive, emotional, or communicative problems cannot be fundamentally corrected by using general analyses or generalized procedures. You can teach someone to think and see differently, even to behave differently, by such procedures, but you cannot bring about deep change by using them. The reason this is so is change through generalizations does little more than substitute one external semiosis for another. The person seeking change will not experience deep change because all they are essentially doing is importing a different explanation of their “condition” into their life.

This happens with Buddhists who remain attached to surface meanings of the Dharma as well as to people seeking mainstream help for emotional problems. Any change will feel good for a while in most cases, but after some time stasis and a recurrence of the original problem, or something similar to it, will occur. You cannot become enlightened by importing someone else’s ideas. You cannot achieve deep transformation by replacing one inculcated semiosis with another. You cannot find your authentic “self” by using the static ideas of others.

The way around this problem is to use a technique that is at its core entirely dynamic. Buddhist mindfulness, which stresses attentiveness in and to the moment, is a dynamic technique. The problem with this technique in the modern world is it is not well-suited to the cacophony of signs and symbols that surround us almost all the time. Mindfulness too often entails being mindful of a cultural semiosis that is itself a tautology, a trap that does not contain within itself an obvious exit.

Mindfulness coupled with FIML practice overcomes this problem because the interactive dynamism of FIML gives partners a tool that strengthens mindfulness while at the same time affording them the opportunity to observe in the moment how their habitual semiosis operates, and why it operates that way. FIML gives partners the means to create a rational leverage-point that they can both share and use to grapple with neurotic issues that have always eluded generalized treatments.

FIML does not tell partners how to be or what to think. It describes nothing more than a technique that gives partners access to their deep “operating systems.” If you hack your “operating system” with FIML practice, you will find that you are able to eliminate neuroses (kleshas in Buddhist terms) and replace them with a semiosis (subculture) of your and your partner’s own choosing. To do FIML, partners must have a deep ethical, emotional, and intellectual commitment to each other, but it is important to recognize that these are not static or generalized ideas. They are dynamic principles upon which the transformational behaviors of FIML are built.

Do antidepressants do more harm than good?

Link to study (Primum non nocere: an evolutionary analysis of whether antidepressants do more harm than good).

I have seen a good deal of criticism leveled at this paper, but its reasoning seems sound to me and worth considering.

From the paper: “Ultimately, we come down on the side that the benefits of antidepressants are generally outweighed by their costs, though there may be specific populations where their use is warranted.” (Emphasis mine)

Most of the criticisms I have read of this paper are based on anecdotes (they worked for me) or attacking the journal that published the paper or that they didn’t do any studies of their own. Note that the authors’ argument is not based on a particular experiment but rather on the “…principle of evolutionary medicine that the disruption of evolved adaptations will degrade biological functioning.” Note also that their conclusions are qualified: “Because serotonin regulates many adaptive processes, antidepressants could have many adverse health effects.” And: “We conclude that altered informed consent practices and greater caution in the prescription of antidepressants are warranted.”

I tend to agree with this conclusion and though I have seen anti-depressants do much good, it is almost certainly true that they are over prescribed and very unlikely that they do no harm at all. Thus, the conclusion “…that altered informed consent practices and greater caution in the prescription of antidepressants are warranted” seems well-justified, even if some of the reasoning leading to that conclusion may prove to be wrong.

For Buddhists, there are many other practices to try before resorting to anti-depressants. For FIML practitioners, we would hope that in many cases partners will realize that depression is a symptom of living in a crazy world.

The Truth of Rebirth

And Why it Matters for Buddhist Practice

by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

“…For the moment, however, we can focus on one of dependent co-arising’s most obvious features: its lack of outside context. It avoids any reference to the presence or absence of a self or a world around the processes it describes.

“Instead, it forms the context for understanding “selves” and “worlds.” In other words, it shows how ideas of such metaphysical contexts are created and clung to, and what happens as a result. In particular, it shows in detail how the acts of creating and clinging to metaphysical assumptions about the existence or non-existence of the self or the world actually lead to birth and suffering. This means that dependent co-arising, instead of existing in a metaphysical context, provides the phenomenological context for showing why metaphysical contexts are best put aside.”

 

A study that supports FIML

This study–Preventing the return of fear in humans using reconsolidation update mechanisms–supports FIML practice, which works by having partners volitionally interfere with neurotic responses as they occur, thus preventing reconsolidation of the neurotic memory (habitual response).

Truthful data supplied by a FIML partner provides much better (updated) information to the partner inquiring about their incipient neurotic reaction than that partner has had up to that point. This new non-neurotic information that is “provided during the reconsolidation window” results in neurotic responses “no longer [being] expressed”, often within just a few sessions.

The linked study is about fear, but I bet the findings will apply to all sorts of neurotic responses. In FIML practice, we have defined a neurotic response as a “mistaken response” or one not based on good data or evidence.

The technique used in the study produced “an effect that lasted at least a year and was selective only to reactivated memories without affecting others.”

Since most FIML partners will continue doing FIML practice for more than a year, the effects of FIML sessions and follow-up sessions dealing with neuroses should last as long or longer. If an old neurosis regains its power, skilled FIML partners should be able to deal with it rather quickly.

FIML posits that neuroses are very often the result of nothing more than mistakes in listening or speaking. This means that we can expect proto-neurotic mistakes to arise with great frequency (several per hour in most conversations). And this means that FIML partners will want to continue using basic FIML practices whenever they interact.

Another point: the linked study concludes that the effect of their technique is “selective only to reactivated memories without affecting others.” This seems to be the case with FIML practice as well. Memories are not being erased by drugs or other kinds of physical interference. Rather, they are being upgraded during the crucial “window of reconsolidation”. This upgrade does not directly change other memories, though in FIML practice since core neuroses are being confronted, effects will be widespread throughout the organism, causing beneficial changes in personality, behavioral strategies, autonomic responses, ancillary neuroses, and so forth.

I, for one, do not see any other way than FIML practice to deal with the plethora fundamental mistaken interpretations that occur in all human minds and with great frequency. Traditional talk therapy or the more common drug therapies used today can only deal with very general aspects of the fundamental cause of neurotic suffering–humans tend to make a great many mistakes when they speak and when they listen and these mistakes tend to compound and turn into ongoing mistaken interpretations (neuroses) of the self, the world, and people around us.

Big Five

My partner and I were discussing the Big Five personality traits this morning and decided they didn’t work for us. The Big Five are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. We decided they don’t work for us because the definitions are slippery and based on poorly grounded assumptions.

One big aspect of FIML practice is partners are encouraged to create their own subcultures. So we wondered how would we define the basic personality traits that are important to us. In a fairly short time, we came up with the following:

  • the ability to think independently and interdependently (or not)
  • having ethical standards (or not)
  • co-forming or conforming or non-conforming
  • intelligence/sensitivity/awareness/aesthetics/curiosity/wonderment/etc. as directed toward wisdom/self-improvement/mutual transformation (or not)

We may want to add more or refine this short list, but for now it is good enough. Just above, I mentioned that we came up with this Big Four in a fairly short time–took ten minutes to outline followed by a more detailed discussion that lasted another 40 minutes or so. What I want to say about this is it is fairly easy to make your list of personality traits because lists like this are not necessarily based on all that much.

I even wonder if there is such a thing as personality, but that can be a subject for another post. Suffice it to say that all of us are raised by other people and from those people we learn Language, Semiotics, and Mirroring (LSM). We learn culture(s) and our “personalities” are the individual, functional  aspects of that culture(s). The Big Five is very much based on a normal personality in a normal (probably Western) culture as assessed by a doctor of the mind in that culture.

The most glaring omission in the Big Five is ethics or ethical standards. That’s what got us started this morning. As mentioned all of us are born into our cultures and are taught LSM by other people. Some of us develop or learn ethics (or want to) and some do not. In the subculture my partner and I are creating, ethics is important. FIML has taught us that ethical integrity is pure gold, but even before FIML, we both wanted to live lives that were ethically sound.

Why don’t professional psychologists use ethics as a metric of personality? Are the many scandals in the psych professions due to their not including ethics (or the will to have ethics) in their standards? I don’t know. You might say that ethics have to be taught, but so do all of the Big Five. No feral children display the Big Five. Everything is taught/learned. Why leave out the one trait that makes us able to develop rational and rationally functioning personalities?

My partner and I probably would be classified by most psychologists as introverted. To us, within our own subculture, however, we assess ourselves as being very extroverted, open, agreeable, conscientious, and confident with each other. I am certain that we spend more time deeply socializing with each other than the classic extrovert spends socializing less deeply with a broad range of many people. Which kind of socializing is better? Why should we (or you) allow someone else to decide this for you? Culture and culturally defined traits (like the Big Five) can act as an aggressive tautology if you are not careful. Don’t become a victim of other people’s definitions. Decide for yourself.

My partner and I are interdependent; we can think for ourselves (together or separately); we have shared and mutually agreed upon ethical standards (Buddhist plus FIML); we co-form our own subculture and do not thoughtlessly conform to the larger cultures around us; we use our intelligence/awareness/etc. to mutually transform each other, to make ourselves better, wiser, etc. to the best of our understanding.

I am definitely not trying to toot our own horn here, but rather to show that FIML partners (all people, really) have the power and capacity to define themselves as they see fit. FIML provides the tools that help partners eliminate mistaken interpretations and unwholesome semiotics from their lives. With FIML tools, partners can create the kind of culture for themselves that they both want. And if you want to make some changes to that culture as you go along, do it.

FIML partners have the means and the practical tools to be truly open to the new experience of recreating their own personalities in their own ways according to the cultural standards they  have chosen for themselves. They can use their reason, ethics, wisdom, feelings, perceptions, curiosity, and more to create lives for themselves that lead to greater understanding, contentment, and ethical efficacy with each other and the world. Now that’s what I call personality, damn it.

Non-FIML Bonding Phenomenon, #1

Non-FIML Bonding can be well-intentioned, but is not practiced with the specific aim of fostering clear, conscious, honest communication with another person.
 
The kind of Non-FIML Bonding I’d like to introduce here will tentatively be referred to as “Shallow Insight”.
 
Shallow Insight may be defined as the open, recurring, and oftentimes eager admission of some perceived character flaw, weakness, deficiency, or habit that is never accompanied by any real intention to change. The mere recognition and acknowledgement of the flaw is seen as being socially appropriate or even indicative of deep self-knowledge, and is therefore considered sufficient, poetic, possibly heroic.
 
This phenomenon can be variously interpreted:
 
As a cultural vestige of Christianity, with its emphasis on humility, confession of sins, penitance, etc.
 
As revealing of a human tendency to see ourselves in terms of dramatic narratives. It is an age-old device in drama to present a character as having a tragic flaw or as making a fatal error in judgement. This is a quick and easy way to turn a plot, make a point, elicit sympathy. We have all had so much exposure to this kind of thing – not only in drama but film and literature too – it is no surprise that we might tend to mimic the form in our own autobiographies, casting ourselves as tragic heroes with a sorrowful secret as a central feature of our being.
 
As an easy way of generating feelings of closeness with another person. By entrusting someone else with highly personal information about yourself, especially if it is embarrassing and/or unflattering, you create a private world with them.
 
From a modern psychological perspective, as a defense mechanism, whereby admitting to a problematic behavior or thought pattern paradoxically allows it to continue. An alcoholic, for instance, may be able to forestall abandonment by repeatedly admitting to his interlocutor(s) that he is aware of his drinking problem and is disgusted with himself.

As a socially expedient gesture of submission. The psych-stream underlying this might sound something like: “You are right and I am wrong. I am always wrong. You are so much smarter than I am. I admit it. I give you the gift of dominance. Okay? Now, please like me and accept me.”

As a badge of genuineness. “Everything is a mix of good and bad, including me.”

Some notes

  • Retroactive revision is a tool that allows partners to clear elements of a conversation that has already occurred. Pre-emptying is a tool that allows partners to clear, or preclude, elements from entering into a conversation that is just starting.
  • The origin of many neuroses and misunderstandings is our unavoidable tendency to speak and listen from a self-centric point of view. Experienced FIML partners should find it fairly easy to clear this sort of mistake quickly and as it is happening.
  • Another major initiator of neurosis is our need to guess about the fullness of what others are saying to us. Without FIML tools, communication–even between loving partners–is too vague to promote mental clarity and emotional security.
  • I wonder sometimes if socially awkward people appear that way because they lack greed or the need for self-aggrandizement. Without greed, or strong self-interest, they don’t use other people or groups of people because they don’t particularly want anything from them. This can make them appear unfocused or awkward.
  • Wonderment is an aspect of wisdom. It opens the emotions and allows us to use all of our senses and faculties in pursuit of understanding.
  • In deep wonderment the neocortex and limbic system work together to gain deeper understanding. It is one of the finest and most productive states of mind/brain/body.
  • FIML provides partners with the tools to describe and discuss their different frames of reference while they are being accessed. It allows them to deepen their understanding of each other without becoming lost in poses, excuses, or appeals to outside authority.
  • Ideally, FIML discussions should be largely unemotional and not employ histrionic tones of voice, except occasionally to further understanding. There should be no posturing or arguing, but rather a shared attempt to fully understand what each partner had been thinking at the moment in question.
  • Our morality should sound like this: “This is the way to be and I am trying to do it, too.” Rather than: “I am moral. Be like me.”
  • A great deal of what we call temptation is fundamentally neurotic (based on mistaken interpretations).
  • Temptation can be user-defined or defined by the larger culture.
  • Since FIML practice removes neuroses, FIML partners will find it easier to control temptations than many other people.
  • FIML practice shows partners the value of honesty, integrity, mutual helping, and mutual harmlessness. FIML partners will see for themselves the rewards of following the basic moral principles described by the Buddha in the Five Precepts.

Sizes of social groups

Social groups can be said to be of five sizes:

  • One person
  • Two people
  • A few people
  • Many people (all of whom know each other)
  • Many people (many of whom do not know each other)
  • New groups based on new definitions

Social groups can be defined in many ways. In this post we will loosely call something a group if it has some effect on the individual member. Comments will relate to Buddhism, human psychology, and how these relate to FIML practice.

One person

A “one person” group is one of the ideals of Buddhist practice. Milarepa is an example of a single person who lived alone for years until he became enlightened. The Buddha himself also spent years in solitary pursuit of enlightenment. Some monks and some recluses today live in one person groups. From a FIML point of view, a single-person group can work only insofar as the person doing it is able to reflect on FIML interactions they have done before or if they are unusually self-aware and honest. The problem with one person doing FIML alone is they do not have a second source of information; there is no one to check their work, and so they can easily delude themselves.

A single person working alone on anything will still have some sort of relationship with the semiotics of a larger group–be it Buddhism, some other religion, science, literature, music, etc.

Two people

Two people are the ideal number for FIML practice. Two people can still delude themselves, but this is far less likely than a single person practicing alone. Two people who care about each other and who care about what is true will have the flexibility and focus needed for successful FIML practice.

Two people will also be exposed differently to the semiotics of the larger culture(s) in which they live, providing a sort of parallax view of the society beyond them. This gives each of them a second pair of eyes and ears and a second opinion on what they encounter.

In the Buddha’s day monks generally traveled in pairs and gathered in large groups during the summer. Why did the Buddha have them travel in pairs? Is it not because this small unit is best for profound interpersonal communication and sharing?

A few people

Three or even four people could do FIML together, but in most cases it would probably be more difficult than just two people because it would take more time and be more difficult to balance all views.

Many people (all of whom know each other)

A group of many people who all know each other is becoming rare in the industrialized world, though it has probably been the most important group size in human evolution and history. Bands of hunter-gatherers all knew everyone in the group, as did (and do) peasants in small villages across the world. Small religious groups or communes in an industrialized society today might be able to do FIML very well if they divided into working pairs or small groups of a few people. These small divisions could easily share information with the whole group formally at meetings or informally as conditions allow. I would think that a commune or small Buddhist temple of 80 people or less might do very well with FIML practice.

Many people (many of whom do not know each other)

This is how most people in the industrialized world live today–within a huge group of people, most of whom are not known to us. Some examples of groups of this type are nations, religions, large religious groups, political groups, unions, professions, etc. People in groups like this can have varying degrees of attachment to the semiotics of their group. TV and news media create an illusion of group cohesion that can be, and often is, manipulated by the small groups that control these media. Economic, ethnic, and religious interests also determine the semiotics of many large groups. I don’t think that any large group would be likely to undertake FIML practice today. The day may come when FIML, or something like it, is taught in schools, but for now it is hard to imagine how any nation or large organization would decide to have their members all take up FIML practice.

Buddhism as a coherent tradition is a large group with many millions of members, most of whom do not know each other. This should tell us that all we can expect to get from “Buddhism” is its basic, or general, semiotics. The same will hold true for the large Buddhist traditions that are sub-groups of Buddhism. We can learn a good deal from Chinese, Tibetan, Theravada, or American Buddhism, but will always be limited at those levels to abstract semiotics. When and if we interact with smaller groups of Buddhists, the story changes to be roughly in line with what has been said above about smaller groups. It would be quite possible, and I think highly desirable, for a small Buddhist group to undertake FIML practice by breaking into smaller working groups of two or three people and discussing the findings of these groups as conditions permit. FIML is grounded in Buddhist ideas, and my guess is that partners would quickly begin to see many of those ideas in a new light. Emptiness, attachment, delusion, Buddhist ethics, and so on will take on new meaning when grasped with the dynamic tools of FIML.

New groups based on new definitions

The Internet has spawned a good many new groups that many people seem to be able to identify with in a way that was not possible in the past. Some of these groups with which members identify most strongly seem to be those that are based on medical diagnoses. There are many online groups centered around the diagnoses of autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, cancer, etc. To join a group like this you need the diagnosis or at least a strong suspicion that you have one of these conditions. Since these groups are pretty new, I don’t know enough about them to say how one of them might approach FIML practice. Personally, I tend to think these sorts of groups are a good thing. It is quite natural for people who perceive themselves as somehow different from the mainstream to want to band together and share their experiences. Notice how profoundly different group allegiance is in an online group formed around a medical diagnosis compared to a traditional ethnic, regional, or religious group. This comparison can tell us a great deal about the semiotics of all groups, how group identification happens, what it is based on, what loyalty to the group entails, etc.

Conclusion

From this short outline, I hope readers will see that as individuals we can understand and gain a good deal of control over how group semiotics influence our lives. If you are living in a huge anonymous group (a nation state, say), notice how much of your semiotics comes from TV and the news media. If you work in a large company, notice how much of your semiotics comes from the company. If you feel a strong allegiance to an ethnic group, notice how your group understands its own history and defines group traits. If you are a Buddhist, how do you see yourself as part of that group? How do you understand Buddhist semiotics? The ideal way to deeply understand all of your group attachments is to probe them with your FIML partner(s). FIML partners have the tools to grasp and discuss semiotics in ways that non-FIML couples do not.

Note: One reason I did this post is I want to show that some aspects of FIML practice are that way because that’s how people, language, and groups are. We form groups. One of the best group sizes for rapid and profound interpersonal interactions is two people. This condition can be used by larger groups to good effect if the large group is broken into smaller groups of two (or three) people. A very large group is not likely to undertake FIML practice. A single person living alone is unlikely to make rapid progress in FIML because they have no way to check what they are doing with someone else.