Posts Tagged: breaking bad habits

Mar 11

INNER DECISION: Excerpts from a Book that Helps the Self

[for several years, I've been working--between fiction-writing projects--on a new nonfiction book. My only nonfic book so far is Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas, published by the Tarcher imprint of Penguin. INNER DECISION hopes to be a self help book to help people find a new, or anyway refreshing, approach to setting oneself free from bad habits, addictions, and the oppressive vicious circles of the mind. Here's a short excerpt from the book, a work in progress.]

Just suppose…

Just suppose there’s a society which is prejudiced against handicapped people, even more than ours is, to the extent that it sends paralytics away to live on an island somewhere. You lost the feeling in your legs when you were, say, a year old, and you have grown up on this imaginary island, just you, alone with people in wheelchairs, all of them paralyzed from the waist down, and you’ve never seen anyone else. As they understandably want you to accept your condition so you will work around it, learn to compensate for it, they rarely talk about people with the use of their legs, and, somehow, you have come to think of your legs as more or less simply ballast, a way to keep you balanced in your wheelchair. Nothing more. But one day, the accidental obstruction that in your case caused the paralysis is jarred loose, and feeling begins to return to your legs.

There’s pain, and warmth and other sensations and you start, little by little, to use them, and you’re able to walk again. Suddenly you feel the lower half of your body—and you fully understand what it’s for. It’s not just so you can sit up straight in the wheelchair!

Most of us are like that—with our inner selves. Our inner selves are like that paralyzed lower half. We’re so used to being out of touch with our inner self, that we believe it naturally numb, naturally unavailable, not an active part of ourselves. We mistakenly think it is inaccessible.

The “obstruction”, though, in our case, that causes the numbing, is the habitual direction of our attention, which typically is turned away from our inner self.

When I talk about inner selves, it has a mystical ring to it I don’t like, an odor of murky spirituality, of vague talk of spiritual bodies, contemplation of the soul, or some such. What I’m actually referring to is the interlocking mechanism of the mind and the body. The spiritual component is there too, but we’re after other game, for now. We’re after the mechanism of habituation—and that is a structural, integral, part of our inner selves.
Our hypothetical paralytic, on that isolated island, may be at first frightened by the sensations he’s experiencing. Anyone who’s had a limb “fall asleep” knows that when it wakes up it can be painful at first. Our exploration of our inner world may make us a little uncomfortable. But only at first. Since it’s a whole new world we should find it fascinating.

In fact, the reason we’re “numb” to our inner world is partly because we tend to wall ourselves off from whatever is uncomfortable, disturbing, inexplicable, confusing. This is perfectly natural, even to some extent necessary, so we can function, but it becomes excessive, so that we tend to orient ourselves to the path of least resistance, with the consequence that confusing inner feelings are entirely shut off.

To some extent there’s wisdom in that ressponse—we can’t be wallowing in every little inner impulse and reaction we have. Comedy writers like to make fun of people who are “getting in touch with their feelings”. “I feel a negativity in myself when you say that…your energy is making me want to cry…Makes me think of my mother, the way she’d say…” People who wallow in every feeling that comes up are tiresome–we need to sort through our inner lives and have an adult capability, a capacity for good judgment, allowing us to select out what really matters in our “inner world”. We need to develop a discipline of observation to find our way around in there.

Mostly, people who are “getting in touch with their feelings”…aren’t. They’re blaring whatever emotion or reaction that has superficially arisen. But they aren’t really looking at what’s going on with them, inside. We’re not going to get terribly touchy-feely with our inner feelings, not in that sense. Instead, we’re going to look for them, and we’re going to see them. We’re going to create a kind of holographic image of them—and we’re going to redefine our relationship to them. And we’re even going to alter them through a certain method I’ll be getting into.

When I say looking and seeing, I’m saying it more literally than someone else might, in talking about our inner world. Therapists tend to get caught up in general patterns based on word identifications. “How do you feel?”


What do you connect that anxiety to? What is the first picture that comes into your head?”

“My mean Aunt Linda.”

That procedure can be useful for therapists—they know what they’re doing–but we’re going to do something very different. We’re mostly not interested in labeling in the usual way what we’re going to see inside ourselves. One or two, maybe three labels, yes, for certain things. And we’ll take account of feelings. We will notice if a feeling is related to anxiety, or is a good feeling. But mostly we’re going to look at the sensations, the phenomena, of our inner world, as pictures that are part of a structure. I’ll be providing some diagrammatic art, later in the book, to give a sense of what we’re after.

We’ll be locating, through this process, the mechanism of decision making, and we’ll see what it looks like when we apply it to our habits. And we’ll see, then, what happens—and what doesn’t happen, when we try to make a decision.
We’re going to learn a new kind of decision making: conscious inner decision. Some conscious inner decisions may come more easily than others, because we may be able to modify the background conditions that make the inner decision necessary. If you’re self medicating with alcohol because you have a tendency to be anxious for no apparent reason—or anyway no fixed reason—and then if we are able to seriously modify, even remove the anxiety, then we can remove the need for self medication. The inner decision then becomes more quickly decisive. Through the process of self discovery I’m going to describe, there is less inner pressure for the behavior that prompted the need for the inner decision. So the inner decision in that case is something we can establish more quickly.
Other habits may be so integrated into our physical selves, so much a part of our bodies, our brains, that we have to really focus, repeatedly, to see the resistance that keeps us in those habit patterns, and then more repeated focus is necessary to get into a state of new orientation so we can use the “inner lever” of the mechanism of authentic decision for change.

Resistance to change is, of course, of the essence. Where does it come from? How do we deal with it without having to resort to “white-knuckling” it? We’re going to learn how to deal with resistance through a kind of inner judo. Through a shift in the way we direct attention, we’ll change our inner center of gravity, almost exactly the way you’d shift your body for judo leverage–and what was formerly difficult or seemingly impossible will suddenly become relatively easy. The process for some inner decisions may take longer than others, but it’s never really difficult, as we’ll see. It’s just a matter of getting the real lay of the land. If you have to move a boulder and, for some reason, you think the boulder is on top of the ground when in fact it’s half buried, of course it’s going to be harder for you. You won’t be using the proper leverage. You have to really see the boulder, realize it’s half buried, then find a lever you can push underneath it; you have to see what the real conditions are.

We’ve already established that most of us tend to think we know ourselves–but we don’t know ourselves at all. We probably have some inkling of this already. But we’re still far more alienated from ourselves than we know. People who suppose themselves to be sensitive and introspective are usually just as out of touch with their inner selves as anyone you think of as being clueless.

Almost any person motivated to read this book has, for example, an alarm going off inside, most of the time—for some people it’s all of the time—and they are entirely unaware of it.

When I say an alarm I don’t mean like a clock alarm going off two rooms away. I mean it’s like a clanging alarm for a major fire and it’s right there within reach. I mean like a foghorn an inch from your ear. It’s ringing, it’s blaring…

And yet you’re unaware of it.

You must have noticed the unnecessary muscular tension you have, at times. Why is it there? Is it always because of “stress” during the day? Suppose it’s there because you have stress all the time—because that “alarm” is going off inside you? Your body hears it but your mind doesn’t. And the ordinary stress of the day is aggravated in its impact because you’re already stressed due to the blaring of an alarm that your body is aware of but your mind has turned away from.

Something happened at some early, vulnerable time, a traumatic event—or something that was not even so very traumatic. Just anxiety producing. But the alarm, for reasons we won’t digress into, got “stuck on”.

It is possible to turn that alarm off—and once it’s turned off it will be possible to make a real, lasting decision, with genuine long-term effect.

[Excerpt from the book, which is still in development, ends there]