Most Buddhist practitioners will immediately understand and agree with the results of a recent study that shows that people feel better when they tell fewer lies. The study (Telling fewer lies linked to better health and relationships.*) is modest but worth considering.
Notice that the improvements found in the study come from refraining from lying.
“We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health,” says lead author Anita Kelly. (Same link as above.)
A good deal of Buddhist practice involves refraining from unwholesome thoughts and behaviors and ultimately eliminating them. Refraining from lying, or “false speech,” is the fourth of the Five Precepts, which are the basis of Buddhist morality. Lies cloud the mind and hinder clear thinking.
Buddhist mindfulness gets us to slow down and question how sure we are of our thoughts, feelings, and judgements. It helps us refrain from willfully lying, and it can help us refrain from unconsciously lying if we have the help of a trusted partner.
Another term for unconscious lying is self-deception. Self-deception may make us feel good for awhile in some circumstances, but in the long-run it is much the same as any other kind of lying. It’s not true. It constitutes inner false speech and causes serious intellectual and emotional contradictions that will almost certainly lead to wrong thoughts, behaviors, and interpretations.
Michael S. Gazzaniga in a recent online essay has this to say:
The view in neuroscience today is that consciousness does not constitute a single, generalized process. It involves a multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes, the products of which are integrated by the interpreter module….Our conscious experience is assembled on the fly as our brains respond to constantly changing inputs, calculate potential courses of action, and execute responses like a streetwise kid. (Source)
It is our “interpreter module,” to use Gazzaniga’s words, that can and does unconsciously lie to us or allow us to engage in self-deception.
In the same essay, Gazzaniga also says:
In truth, when we set out to explain our actions, they are all post hoc explanations using post hoc observations with no access to nonconscious processing….The reality is, listening to people’s explanations of their actions is interesting—and in the case of politicians, entertaining—but often a waste of time. (Source: same as above)
FIML practice may not be capable of giving us access to “nonconscious processing,” but it will give us access to what is/was in our working memories while showing us that what we said or heard may have been vague, ambiguous, muddled, or wrong.
With the aid of a trusted partner, FIML helps us catch our minds on the fly. Partners are encouraged to refrain from long explanations and just stick to what they remember having been in their minds during the few seconds in question. This forestalls long, self-deceiving explanations.
Beginning FIML partners will likely be amazed at how often their interpretation of what their partner said is completely wrong.
FIML emphasizes using trivial incidents because partners will be much less likely to self-deceive when the incident is minor. A minor mistake is easier to change than a major one. If partners keep working with minor mistakes and clear them up as soon as they arise, how can major misunderstandings even develop?
In the future, we may have brain scans that can help us separate fact from fiction in our minds, but for now, I know of no better way to do it than with a trusted partner in FIML practice. Your partner will help you see the minutiae of your mind as it actually works and impacts them. This leads to a large reduction in lying and self-deception and an increase in feelings of well-being and mutual understanding.
*Sorry, could not find the actual study online.
This essay was first posted August 6, 2012