Peter’s Correspondence on the Actual Freedom List
with Correspondent No 19
RESPONDENT: I am new on this mailing list, and the concept of Actual Freedom is also new for me, very interesting though. I have followed the debates with the highest interest and I have also read some of the texts on the Actual Freedom web. English is not my first language, so you might find some peculiar sentences and wordings. Please have some indulgence.
PETER: Welcome. It is good to have you writing on the list. No doubt if you persist in your interest you will not only discover more about Actual Freedom but your English will also improve. English is my first language but when I first read Richard’s Journal I had to go out and buy a good dictionary. At first I found his extended vocabulary use a bit frustrating but I soon found having to look up the meaning of certain words aided me enormously in understanding what was being written. It took me months of reading to begin to break through my inherent, and inherited, ‘blindness’ – as in cognitive dissonance – to the fact that there could be another human experience other than remaining normal or becoming spiritual.
RESPONDENT: I recognize major parts of the concept or method, described in Actual Freedom, from a book I read about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This book (only available in Swedish and not very scientific, more practical) also recognizes the phenomena of pure consciousness experience (PCE), as something important. Even more interesting is that the described approach to ease fear and psychological pain is almost identical compared with the methods described on the Actual Freedoms web site. Actual Freedom has as I see it a much more radical goal. What I find interesting is the similarities in method. CBT have a good reputation as a proven effective treatment method. This gives credibility also for Actual Freedom’s method, despite the methods different goals.
PETER: The similarities seem to be in the fact that both are pragmatic approaches and both address the issue of one’s immediate anxieties, emotions and behaviour in the world of people, things and events. The aim of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is to reign in the excesses of emotions so as to return the patient to normal – i.e. normally aggressive and normally sad. The aim of actualism is to eliminate the whole psychological and psychic structure – ‘who’ I think I am and ‘who’ I instinctually feel I am, as opposed to what I am – so as to completely eradicate the root cause of malice and sorrow. I know little about how cognitive therapy is used and applied by the hands-on practitioners in the field but this more practical approach to therapy does seem to be having more success than the previous approaches based on moral and ethical reconditioning, emotive expression, self-acceptance, self-love, shamanism and mysticism, chemical restraints, etc.
In order to explore the differences between the method of actualism and cognitive behavioural therapy, not only in intent but also in the processes, I have accessed a brief summary of CBT from the Net.
‘Negative or distorted automatic thoughts’ is simply another way of saying feelings and emotions. Close and constant observation will reveal that feelings are most commonly expressed as emotion-backed thoughts. Thinking, when freed of the automatic influence of the emotions that arise from one’s instinctual passions, is a benign functional activity. Eastern religion and mysticism has always laid the blame of evil on thinking per se, while giving full vent to the so-called good emotions to run wild, unrestrained by any sense whatsoever. It would appear that CBT adopts a similar stance and lays the ills of the patient at the door of wrong thinking. It is inappropriate in the real world to question the instinctual passions themselves, for human beings hold their passions dearly to their bosoms, stubbornly and deliberately maintaining their blindness to the fact that these passions are none other than savage and brutal animal survival passions.
Just a note about the feelings and emotions that one notices by running the question of ‘How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’
Many men in particular, because of their gender programming, have great difficulties in getting in touch with their feelings. As this is generally the case, then it may be useful to begin with observing what you are thinking in this moment of being alive. If you describe your thinking as a bit dull for instance, it may be that you are feeling lackluster. If you are thinking about what someone said or didn’t say to you, it may well be that you feel annoyed which is a mild form of anger. If you are thinking that someone has wronged you, then it is useful to label and identify the feeling that is happening in that moment – be it resentment, indignation, righteousness, envy, etc.
For women this process of investigation is identical, but given that they have usually been taught to identify more strongly with their emotions, their difficulty can be in sorting through a bewildering array of unrestrained input. Again, momentary awareness is the first thing – to catch the feeling while it is happening – and then to label the feeling is the next step. Then complete the investigation by finding the cause, the trigger, of the feeling or emotion that is ruining, clouding or standing in the way of you feeling good right now. This awareness is an experiential awareness of how ‘you’, as an entity, have been programmed to react to the world of people, things and events. This is 180 degrees different to practicing spiritual awareness, which is to either accept, ignore or deny one’s reactions to the world of people, things and events and retreat into an inner world of one’s own imagination. Spiritual awareness leads to the ‘self’-centred psychotic states of dissociation or the more extreme state of solipsism whereas the actualism method is an ongoing self-investigation that breaks the stranglehold the psychological and psychic entity, eventually leading to a ‘self’-less pure consciousness.
Again we have ‘negative or fearful automatic thoughts’ or ‘distorted cognitions’ that ‘stimulate painful emotional reactions’, as though it is wrong thinking that causes emotional suffering. It’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse but then again, CBT is concerned about treating and reducing the symptoms and not about acknowledging the source of emotional suffering, let alone finding a permanent cure.
What initially twigged my interest in CBT was a television program, which showed a patient being treated for agoraphobia. The treatment was very matter-of-fact and not at all esoteric or airy-fairy. The patient, at her own pace, was allowed to experientially discover for herself that her psychological and psychic fear was nothing other than a feeling, i.e. while it may have felt very real it was not a fact. By becoming aware of her fear, labelling it, discussing it, and thinking about it she was gradually able to desensitize herself to its influence. In her case the fear was not eliminated but it was reduced to tolerable levels such that she could function reasonably normally. Another patient had a fear of a particular insect and by increasingly prolonged contact he was able to become desensitized to the fear, thus replacing the feeling of fear with the fact that he was not being hurt. I don’t see this as a triumph of rational thinking over irrational thinking, I see this as a triumph of fact over feeling.
This is where terminology tends to be confusing. ‘Templates, or basic rules, for interpreting information from the environment’ or ‘core beliefs’ seems to be referring to our instinctual ‘self’-centred survival programming. If so, these are not beliefs, this is a genetically-encoded neural program. This is where all therapy comes up against a brick wall and any ‘modifications’ can only be fiddling with the controls, or rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Breaking ingrained habits was another of the features of CBT that made sense to me.
Are they saying that success breeds success? If the success is tangible, then confidence grows which leads to a change in behaviour that happens almost without one noticing it.
Is this a disclaimer? Obviously the successes are limited but the success of such a pragmatic down-to-earth approach to therapy can be seen as more evidence of ‘the good sense of actualism’, as No. 13 put it. I know in the early days it was this good sense that lead me to establish a prima facie case in favour of actualism.
RESPONDENT: One problem raised by Mr. No 12 is if it really is possible to extinguish ‘self’. If it is possible to exist without ‘self’ as a human being. I have to investigate the concept ‘self’ more before I can decide if this idea is sensible or not.
PETER: May I suggest that running the question ‘How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’ will put you in touch with your ‘self’ and then you will find that ‘self’ is not a concept but a reality – it is none other than ‘who’ you think and instinctually feel you are. You may well discover that it is ‘he’ who is running and ruining your life and standing in the way of perfection and purity.
RESPONDENT: Another problem is the schematic descriptions of our brain works. The origin of instincts and their effect on our perception of our self and the world we all live in. I have to do some more studies in this area.
PETER: And I would welcome more discussion in this area for actualism is non-spiritual and down-to-earth, which is why I enjoy exploring what facts the scientists are discovering and what methods really work for the real-world practitioners of therapy.
If in your studies you find any inaccuracies in the schematic diagrams or have any comments about them I would appreciate you letting me know as I am a layperson, more than a little stretched in purely scientific areas.
RESPONDENT: I find though the ideas interesting and one thing I have experienced during the last weeks is that it is almost impossible not to ask oneself the question ‘How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’, perhaps not all times but often. The thought gives some perspective for sure.
PETER: I have just realized I have assumed from your name that you are male and that was why I commented about feelings most commonly being expressed as emotion-backed thoughts. Anyway, for either sex it is useful to be aware that our feelings are most often cunningly disguised as, or described as, thoughts – unless you are overcome with rage, gripped by fear, overwhelmed by nurture or beset by desire, in which case the feelings are obvious as the chemical surges are so intense.
Well enough for now, it’s dinner time. I just wanted to say hello, reply to your comment about CBT and to have a bit of a dig around in that field.
Good to hear from you.
PETER: Something you recently wrote to Richard has twigged my curiosity –
RESPONDENT: My first objection is the pseudoscientific description of the brain and how we all are functioning.
PETER: Given that I am the author of the diagrams on the web-site that schematically represent the functioning of the human brain, I am interested in any feedback as to their factual accuracy. I personally find that a lot of scientific information is difficult to access because it is not specifically my area of expertise and the jargon and terms can be quite confusing. It was for this reason that I presented what I understand to be an accurate description and representation of scientific fact into a form that lay people might more easily comprehend.
Given you have used the word pseudoscientific as an objection, is there something wrong in fact with either the descriptions or the diagrams? In other words, is what is presented pseudo as in ‘false, counterfeit, pretended, spurious’ or are you using the word pseudo as in ‘intellectually or socially pretentious insincere, affected; meaningless’ because you are objecting to a layman representing scientific discoveries in a simple schematic form?
As I said, I would welcome any feedback as to the factual accuracy, or inaccuracy, of what is presented.
PETER to No 38: It is no little thing to question such ideals as pacifism – to not only understand that they fail but to also understand why they fail. It is only by thinking about why conflict is the norm within the human condition that you start to become aware of your own genetically-encoded contributions to the well-spring of malice and sorrow in the world.
This way you move from having an ideal about peace on earth to being interested in actually doing something about peace on earth – in other words, you resurrect your naiveté and take unilateral action.
RESPONDENT: Thank you Peter for writing the above. Some things click into perspective and your writing here did for me. I’m glad that action takes the stand ahead of ideals. And that there is something to do.
PETER: Yes, it is quite extraordinary that everybody who is subscribed to this mailing list has an opportunity to do something practical about peace on earth.
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