The phrase “return inward” is an instruction to go inward again. The word “return” logically implies that there has already been an inward focus. Then, that inward focus may have gone outward, with our attention attracted away from our inner experience. From that mode of outward focus, then it is possible for our focus to return inward.
In fact, when our attention is outward, there can be many competing attractions. When that happens, we may use labels like the distraction, the priority, or the preference. We can form habits of attention in regard to things that we regularly monitor or inspect. Eventually, we can also form presumptions and expectations in regard to subjects that we do not monitor or inspect. It is possible for our perceptions to match very precisely with the reality of things, or they may be a slight inaccuracy or even a total contrast.
When our attention is on outward things, we can notice contrasts, complexity, as well as possible patterns or orderliness within complexity. How about when our attention is inward?
Internal experience can be very simple. By focusing inward, we withdraw attention away from possible distractions or disturbances. We turn away from external perceptions toward the inner experience in general and even the particular capacity for perceiving (which we might label as “the perceiver”).
Not only can inner experience be elegantly simple, but it can also be complex. There are many types of sensation, such the different physical senses of sight and hearing and smell. There are many types of emotion, with some emotions for socially attracting others (as in pulling) and other emotions for repulsing others (as in pushing).
In some cases, there can be inner conflicts, such as conflicts between what we observe and what we expect to observe. For instance, imagine that I smell one of my favorite foods, but I look around and do not see that food.
If I was not expecting that smell, then I might be quite surprised to smell my favorite food. Then, beyond just surprise, I could be confused about where that smell is coming from. Maybe it is hard for me to see. Maybe I even see some other food instead, perhaps one that I find repulsive or disgusting.
Why do I smell one familiar smell and yet see something else that is also familiar, but not what I expected? Is my vision accurate? Is my brain properly interpreting my sight?
Note that we could say that sight is a function of the eyes while vision in a function of the brain. How is it that people can experience vision during their dreams or while hallucinating, even without any actual physical sight taking place? If someone was not born blind but then lost their eyesight several years ago, can their brain still remembers visual patterns? If so, when we know that vision is quite independent of eyesight.
In some ancient parables, we might be told that many people have eyes, but not everyone who has eyes will be able to see. Eyes cannot see in the dark, right? To be able to see, there must not only be eyes, but light. Further, closed eyes do not see even when there is light.
Next, simply seeing is totally distinct from properly recognizing whatever is seen. That recognition and identification of what is viewed is not a function of the eyes, but of the brain.
For instance, I cannot directly understand the meaning of the following sequence of Greek letters. I can see them. I could even copy their shapes. However, I have absolutely no idea what ideas might be encoded in those shapes.
I believe that the Arabic writing below could be a written code for the same human experience that I would label as “forgiveness.” I have no expertise in that language, so I do not reject the translation shown. Maybe it is a good translation and maybe not. I have no idea.
If we study the word vision, we would find that it has the same origin as the word video and many other words including witness, watch, wise, wizard, wicca, wicked, witch, witty, and even the words idea and identify. Vision is about the brain identifying something based on the sensations transmitted from the eyes. The eyes have sight (they see), but it is the brain that identifies or witnesses whatever is seen.
So, back to my earlier example, perhaps I smell something that my brain identifies as a food that I like, so then I look around (with my eyes), but all that my brain recognizes is some other food that triggers physical sensations in me that I dislike. I may experience confusion, which, if the issue seems important to me, can result in curiosity and exploration. Maybe I begin to wonder “has someone recently eaten my favorite food near here, so I cannot see it but only smell that it used to be here?”
External reality is never “in conflict” with itself. There can be mismatches or contrasts, but there is no actual conflict when there are red letters that spell the word “blue.”
We can even say that “I can see a conflict between the color of the letters and the meaning of the word spelled by those letters.” However, that conflict is *constructed* by the brain. The conflict is “out there” in the sense that many people can recognize it.
However, it is not “out there” in the sense that the letters do not have any inherent meaning. Though social training, some people learn to use those letters to encode ideas. So, if we have been trained to read that alphabet and that language, then the shapes of the letters are symbols that we can “decode” in our brain. In other words, we translate the code symbols in to an idea (which is not out there, but in the brain) and that internal recognition of the meaning of a word can conflict with the color of the letters (that is “out there”).
So, that is not a conflict that is really external. That is a conflict between the external colors and the internal meaning. Just because the same meaning is internally constructed by lots of people does not change the fact that the meaning is not inherent to the shapes.
<===== to the left
“Did you leave the leaves on the left like I asked or have you left them on the right again?”
The word “right” can mean the opposite of left or the opposite of wrong. The meaning is not “out there.” There is no “inherent” meaning to this sequence of shapes: “RIGHT?”
Clearly, my observations of external reality can include misinterpretations (or even dreams and hallucinations). Also, my perceptions may be accurate (as in conforming to external reality in the sense of being verifiable by other observers), yet be in conflict with my initial expectations or speculations. My direct perceptions may also differ from the claims or interpretations stated by others (or even conflict).
So, we can observe conflicts external to us, like between two animals or two groups of people. We can also observe conflicts between our own inner expectations and what we actually observe externally. Finally, we can observe inner conflicts, like conflicting emotions as in mixed emotions.
As noted before, some emotions involve socially attracting others to us, such as sadly moaning for help. Other emotions involve some type of social repulsion, such as wanting to push others away or wanting to flee from a particular possible threat (like an alarming, unexpected loud noise).
It is very common for emotions to have a social element, although from a medical perspective, it is also clear that emotions can also be measured as internal biological events, like through polygraph machines that can be used to identify phsyical distress and perhaps even distress from telling a lie. A person who is excited or delighted will produce different polygraph results than a person who is bored or a person who is disgusted.
So, emotions are physical events, although often triggered by social interactions. We can see that someone who is asleep and dreaming that they are standing alone at the edge of a cliff will experience biochemical hormonal responses even though there is no cliff and of course no one around. The fear of falling off of an imaginary cliff is not social, right? If the dreaming person was hooked up to a polygraph machine though, then there could be real physical indications of their real fear about an imaginary cliff.
Memories can also trigger fear, even though remembering a cliff is basically the same as imagining a cliff. If you have imagined a cliff at any time in the last few minutes, then your brain might have constructed visual hallucinations of standing at the edge of a cliff and looking over the edge. That is real vision, but not sight.
Vision is a neurological event in the brain and can happen during sleep. Sight, in contrast, is an independent process in the eyes.
Next, imagine someone with a certain kind of brain injury that disconnects one of their eyes from certain parts of their brain. People like that have been studied to establish that what one eye sees (like when they cover or close the other eye) can produce actual physical responses (as in emotion). All of that can happen without the brain actually constructing any conscious vision of the thing seen by the eye.
In those cases, people are literally blind to what one of their eyes is seeing. If they open the other eye, then they can recognize what they have been looking at (and thus explain any emotional response that they already had).
The experiments get even more interesting when the people are given special eyewear which allows the two eyes to be shown two different things. Perhaps they are given two different-colored lens or filters which allow them to see only certain words written in a specific color. In other words, each filter will block out (as functionally invisible) anything written in a certain color.
In that case, only one eye can see some emotionally-stimulating thing (like even a particular word), which produces a measurable physical response in the entire body. Further, the other eye is shown some other word or shape.
Now, what happens if the test subject is asked what their emotional state is? Of course they can typically identify their inner experience. But then what if they are asked to explain the cause of their emotional experience?
Note that these test subjects might not have been fully informed about the purposes and methodology of the brain research. Note also that only a small portion of the brain is involved in conscious awareness.
So, if the test subject is shown two different images (or words), but, because of their brain injury, they are only conscious of what is seen by one of their eyes, they can identify the emotion that is triggered by “what is invisible to their brain.” However, when asked to explain their emotiponal response, they will casually (and sincerely) CONSTRUCT an explanation that corresponds with whatever has been shown to the eye that is connected to the part of the brain that produces conscious awareness. They will rationalize their emotional response AS IF it was produced only by whatever they consciously perceive (as distinct from the different things that their eyes see). They will be just as sincere as someone dreaming.
Their mistake (or delusion) will not register on a polygraph exam. They believe their rationalization with absolute confidence.
We began with the idea of turning attention inward (such as to the internal processes of the brain to construct visual perceptions and rationalizations and other ideas or interpretations). We have gone in to some detail about the contrast between outward focus and inward focus. Next, we will explore the issue of why there would ever be relevance to an instruction or reminder to “return the attention inward.”
So, why would this turning inward ever be an issue that could require the need for an instruction or reminder? Why doesn’t the outward focus naturally return inward?
Well, sometimes focus does naturally shift back from outward orientation to inner experience. However, in social contexts of lasting stress, we can form habits of outward focus in which we may ongoingly target social validation rather than inner clarity.
We become alarmed about the possibility of social threats and so we seek social confirmation of the idea that there is no threat present. However, we may be so alarmed or paranoid that we are very cautious about someone who says that there is no threat. “Are they naïve or perceptive? Are they attempting to trick us or are they sincere?” Even as we may attempt to hide our own experience of social distress, we may resist the idea that there is no imminent social threat.
Think of the research mentioned above relating to brain injuries and using a colored lens to filter out what is visible. Some words are selected to trigger the physical emotion of distress in the test subject, but those are only visible to the eye that is not connected to the part of the brain that creates conscious awareness.
Think of the sincerity that the test subjects display when unconsciously constructing a connection between an emotion of distress and an unrelated word (which they honestly presume to be the cause of their distress). They believe that their claims are accurate. The portion of the brain that makes conscious perception is not connected to the eye that can see the actual words triggering the distress.
But what if the colored lenses were removed? Then, both eyes could see all of the words, so the conscious part of the brain could perceive all of the words. There would be no filtering or “unconscious” denial. The person would recognize that their sincere rationalizations from a minute in the past were wildly inaccurate. They might be very surprised, then briefly confused perhaps, but they would eventually understand which words were actually related to the emotional reaction, at which time they would discard their past misunderstanding.
How long would it take for them to update their understanding to match with their new conscious observations? It might be nearly instant. Or, for people with very severe obsessions with social validation, they might be very embarrassed and panic. Typically, test subjects would anxiously emphasize their prior sincerity and basically apologize to the researchers (as if the researchers were going to condemn them for their prior errors or accuse them of insincerity).
What would such anxious apologies evidence? It is proof that there was a background of pre-existing social paranoia in the people tested. Note that not everyone tested was embarrassed (as in anxious about avoiding criticism). Some simply said “wow, I am very surprised at that!”
However, even if a test subject got upset and harshly condemned the researchers for deceiving them, what happens to their old sincerity? Can they still be sincere about their first claim about the source of their emotional response? Once their brains are conscious of the words that were previously “invisible,” their past sincerity is no longer present. Yes, they were sincere, but there sincerity about their prior explanation is over.
So, the normal tendency to “confirmation bias” only is active when people are conscious enough to avoid actually respectfully studying any contrary evidence. If they know in advance that some evidence is contrary to a bias that they hold tightly with deep social paranoia, then they just avoid that evidence (and unconsciously rationalize why that evidence “must be invalid”). But if the “good eye” is suddenly able to see words that previously were filtered out (blocked) by a colored lens, then their prior sincerity is instantly “ruined forever.” Their inaccurate fabrication has been “betrayed.”
They may panic or explode in outrage, but they cannot ever sincerely deceive themselves again. They have been “tricked” in to facing the truth. They may repeat many times that “I cannot believe it!” However, their initial resistance to the new clarity (their “disbelief”) cannot last. They no longer believe what they now directly recognize as invalid. They are conscious of a much more reasonable (rational) connection then their original rationalization.
So, let’s explore the issue that there is commonly an unrecognized background of social paranoia (obsession with social validation). While denying their own emotional state of social paranoia, people may also resist the idea of actually testing whether or not there is any cause for their paranoia. To them, it really does not make sense to test for danger (or safety). To them, there “cannot be” any danger. They are unconscious of their own filtering. They are “in denial.” More precisely, they simply have not yet perceived a connection that they may later perceive.
Maybe they will even passionately resist some idea or exploration for a few seconds (or years). Maybe they will condemn it. However, once the color-filtering lenses have been removed, the conscious part of the brain did not need to be looking at the words to remember them, right? The brain can still remember the words that it recently did perceive… even if the lights are turned off or the eyes are closed. Conscious perception is totally distinct from sight. Prior sincerity is totally distinct from current acceptance.
They will remember their prior sincerity, but they will never return to that sincerity. They recognize that their brain simply “made up” a connection between the emotion that was triggered and the words that “their good eye” could see.
Next, back to the terminology of returning to an inward focus, how easy is to return focus inward? If someone has been effectively trained to have a fixated external focus on social validation, then a socially-delivered permission to return inward might be relevant. Lots of ongoing encouragement might be relevant (especially then is a constant social pressure and bombardment with information, like in many schools).
In fact, as noted already, there may be even a resistance to returning attention inward. Why exactly?
If there is an experience of ongoing alarm, then there may be an intense fear of allowing the attention to relax away from possible external threats. We might only relax after extensive soothing and comforting and reassurance, or even only after making some precise measurements to confirm that there are no imminent external threats.
Eventually, the suggestion to turn inward might be received and explored. However, a possible complication is that there may also be a sense of repulsion toward the actual inner experience, which involves a kind of tension or conflict. When there is shame or panic in the background, then turning inward puts that background into focus or even in to the foreground.
The more repulsion that someone experiences towards their own inner experience, the more passionately we can expect them to resist the suggestion to turn inward. The more likely it is that they would distract themselves by projecting their self condemnation toward others, possibly including those who are inviting them to turn their attention inward.
We may seek to test others by witnessing their response to criticism or invalidation or even our own withdrawal from them. Are they really just inviting us to turn in word, or requesting it, or pushing us aggressively, or what? If we do not turn inward, even if we promised to do so or claim to be doing so, how will they respond? Will they harass us or gently tease us or simply ignore us?
So, because we can be quite tangled in our habits of presuming that there is a social threat and yet hiding or denying that experience, it can be valuable to have social confirmation of the eventual value of going through whatever challenges may be present when turning inward. We may want to know more about the people who are recommending the value of turning inward, although we might not want them to know that we are investigating and evaluating them.
In some cases it may be essential to have some transitional assistance to allow for cautiously-paced baby steps in the direction of turning inward. If we have a pattern of reflexive habitual distrust, then we still may be willing to trust in very small ways at a very relaxed pace that is comfortable for us.
One practice that may be notably productive of valuable results is the studying of the pattern of outward focus and obsession over social validation (or perfectionism). The more clear that we are about the practice of perfectionism, the more repulsed we may be about the perfectionism that we observe in others. However, we may also develop a sense of humor in regard to The hysterical ironies of perfectionist hysteria. That sense of humor can even include our own practices of perfectionism.
At first, we may be more likely to make fun of general patterns of perfectionism or specific cases of perfectionism (and other distant targets that we may criticize or ridicule). However, eventually we can see directly the practice of perfectionism in our personal lives as we observe others and as we observed ourselves interacting with others or even just contemplating how we might interact with others.
Even without planning to look inward, by looking at the common practice of perfectionism, as in the obsession with social validation and the reflexive invalidating of direct experience, we eventually begin to notice that it is not just other people who compete for social approval and panic over concepts that they find threatening.
Why do people ever find a concept to be threatening? It is unusual to consider that just an idea or concept would be enough to cause panic or upset or disturbance in someone, yet that is what we can observe in others and in ourselves. We can even measure the process biochemically.
When many people all are presented with a particular concept, it is not unusual for the different people to have remarkably different experiences in regard to the presentation of that concept. Some people may experience curiosity or fascination while others experience boredom or a lack of concentration or interest. Finally, some people may even experience distress or shame or disgust simply in response to the presenting of a particular concept.
Concepts trigger experience, just as observation of some event or development can trigger experience. When we witness a particular occurrence or idea, we may experience a conflict in relation to our own self concept, as in who we think we are or how we believe that we should be. If we have an experience that we relate to as how we should not be, then there will be repulsion and resistance to that experience.
If a parent observes that their child is angry, they may be upset and say “I did not raise an angry child.” Depending on the tone of that statement, it could be an expression of distress. If the statement is made directly to the child, then it could be made in a tone of criticism or in a tone of reassurance, even though implicitly discouraging anger. However, interrupting another person’s anger could be someone’s target or interest in a particular moment, like saying “oh honey, just snap out of it!”
But what is the background issue? Is there a primary concern for the experience of the child first and foremost, or is there a distress relating to one’s own self concept? Is there an inner experience of inner conflict between one self-concept and one’s current experience of oneself?
Is there a way that I should be and then a contrasting experience that violates how I supposed that I would be? If so, then a simple response would be to update my supposition in order for it to conform to my actual experience. However, when there is an inner experience of enough distress or panic, then I may dismiss or devalue my any problematic observations in favor of maintaining my supposition about how I should be, even if that supposition is a distressed pretense.
I might say to myself that I must be overreacting. I devalue my experience and my observations and rehearse my Familiar self-concept. I may use affirmations about what kind of person I am as a coping mechanism to deny my actual observations and experiences.
I say “I am supposed to be a certain kind of person, so therefore I am that kind of person.” But who is it that supposes that I am that kind of person? There may be many people in my midst that say that I should be or am supposed to be a certain way. However, the most important and influential person to me might simply be me.
I am the one who supposes how I am supposed to be or how I should be. I am supposed by me to be a certain way. I suppose that I should be a certain way.
Which way should I be? I suppose that I should be whatever way that I suppose that I should be.
I am the one at the foundation of the practice of supposing how I should be. What if I stop supposing how I should be? What if I turn inward and simply observe how I am? Would I notice that sometimes I am a certain way, but not always? What I may notice is that it is very rare for me to have certain experiences, yet I can find those experiences in my past if I ever wish to do so.
I can notice what habits I formed and why. I can notice that I had a certain social context in which it was useful for me to form a particular habit. Within that context, the habit that makes sense and works well. However, what happens when that social context changes? How effective is the habit in a social context in which some other result is relevant (other than the typical results produced by that habit)?
One problem with habits is that they can be so habitual that we become inattentive to them. We may think that they are who we are. We may say “that is just how I am.” However, what if that is just what we are used to doing? What if that is just one of our strengths or skills? What if we could always learn other skills or develop other strengths?
In addition to various behavioral habits that do not involve interaction with other people, we may also form habits of speaking in certain ways. Speaking is a social behavior which can be useful for influencing the attention of others that’s influencing the interpretation and perception of others, as well as their behaviors.
If we are sheltered within a certain stable social context and do not have sufficient transitional time to form new skills, then we will develop certain practices even in our use of language. We also use language to focus not just other peoples attention, but our own. We develop habits of interpretation and we habitually use certain conceptual models, meaning that we use them inattentively.
What happens if I use a model that is not a fit for a particular context? It is likely that eventually I produce the result of frustration or even exhaustion and despair or desperation.
From my ritual habits of attention and interpretation, I produce certain habitual perceptions or experiences. Those habitual perceptions or experiences will almost always trigger the behaviors that are most familiar to me, at which I perceive myself to be the most skilled.
I habitually create perceptions that trigger behavioral responses in which I am confident of my abilities. However, even after I observe that the results that I’m producing are disappointing to me, I may still have a habitual neuro-linguistic model that is guiding my attention and my investigation and my interpretation and my perception. All of those habits are still present even as I notice that my habitual response to that perception is not working producing results that disappoint me.
Because habits are reflexive or inattentively practiced, it is not likely to occur to me to question my own perceptions. Again, if I have a habit of obsession over social validation, then I simply seek social interactions that validate whatever habitual perceptions I have been constructing. I might avoid completely any social interactions in which there is attention to the fact that all perceptions are constructed.
The entire idea of turning inward is inherently humbling. At least for somebody who has been operating in social distress (while habitually pretending want to be in social distress), that it can be embarrassing or upsetting to even consider one’s own power. Instead of experiencing empowerment and freedom when confronted with the idea that perception is constructed, it is not unusual for a person to react and panic and say “do not blame me or condemn me or guilt trip me.”
But when someone suggests that perceptions are constructed, does that invalidate any particular constructed perception? Back to the example of several people who all witness a presentation of a particular concept, then each of them may have a slightly different interpretation of the concept and their different interpretations will produce a different perception and experience.
Does the existence of multiple possible interpretations invalidate any particular habitual interpretation? In a mode of distress, someone can interpret a particular concept as a threat (as blame or harassment or ridicule or antagonism or competitiveness).
Maybe they accuse another person and then observe how the other person responds to the accusation. Or, maybe they make an accusation and immediately retreat (with no delay to observe whatever reaction there may be to the accusation).
So, we may form habits that we call our self perception or self-concept. Those ideas or interpretations are not our innate consciousness, but are learned.
Some self concepts are highly precise, such as in regard to our actual skills and the actual results that we consistently produce. Other self concepts are coping mechanisms for social distress. They are not constructed for purposes of accuracy, but for purposes of in accuracy, as a pretense or deception.
What happens if we practice a new model of attention? Does that alter what we notice and how we interpret what we notice and how we respond to what we interpret and the results of those behavioral responses?
What happens if we practice a new model of interpretation, like while maintaining our existing pattern of habitual focus? In that case, then it it will not change what we notice, but it will change how we interpret what we notice and thus our experience or perception will shift. If that produces an unfamiliar experience, then we may have no skills and whatever behavioral response we deem to be relevant. We recognize that a new behavioral response would be relevant, but we may be very hesitant to attempt to experiment with that pattern of activity on our own. We may be very interested in an instructor or mentor or training program.
We have a new experience and we may even say I have no idea what to do about the situation. For some people, that will correspond to curiosity or motivation, although other people may practice resignation or cynicism as social behaviors which they display in response to a particular new experience.
Also, it is possible for us to maintain our existing patterns of attention and interpretation, yet develop new skills and expertise. We May recognize that a particular method does offer the hope of results that are more favorable than whatever method we have habitually developed. maybe the method is more efficient, more reliable, faster, or some other quality that is so attractive to us that it motivates us to explore that new method.
Over time, people form habits and that ability to form habits does not end. If I formed a habit once, then can I do it again?
If I am in a consistent life circumstance, then it is predictable that I will form habits. In periods of time in which there is less stability or consistency, it is likely that I will be interested in releasing some of my old habits in order to develop new skills or to obtain the existence in order to develop new skills or to obtain the assistance of people who are already skillful in some way that I am not.
I shift from habitual inattentiveness toward adaptiveness. I return my focus inward in response to my respect for changing circumstances. First I return my focus inward and then explore new adaptions, by myself or with the input of others that I trust to assist me and adapting efficiently. After I explore the new adaptions that might be relevant for me, then I may turn my focus outward again and began to experiment or take initiative or respond differently to existing opportunities and invitations.
I do not return inward as a permanent state or as a solution to confusion or frustration or distress. I return inward as often or as rarely as fits for me.
At any time, I can return inward, so there’s never really any issue with turning my attention outward. I can do that in shallow brief episodes or metaphorically take a big leap. I can even relate to turning inward as a new habit or practice, such as in the case of meditation or the regular introspection that can occur and men touring or various kinds of counseling.
I may start to get interested in the quality of my turning inward. I value tangible results from whatever methods of turning inward that I use.
I value clarity about my motivations and about how those motivations correspond to my patterns of attention. My motivations also Guide my patterns of interpretation, although I am probably also conditioned socially to use certain patterns of interpretation and also to focus my attention and certain programmed ways.
I am conditioned to construct certain perceptions, but the constructing of any perception is a skill. And some contacts, a particular skill will be useful and another context a different skill will be usable and so I may be interested in the skill of constructing a wide variety of different perceptions or experiences. Instead of relating to certain experiences as inherently shameful, I may relate to certain experiences as deserving unusual caution.
I get interested in how attentive I should be to what. I may generally lose interest in how I am supposed by other people to be (unless I am a celebrity or high-profile public figure). Or, I may be only interested in how certain specific people suppose me to be.
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