Category Archives: Inquiring Deeply Newsletters

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, July 2019

INQUIRING DEEPLY ABOUT HOW WE CHANGE

 Many – most — things that cause suffering are beyond our control.  But even those circumstances in which it appears we do have some choice may be stubbornly persistent, hard to manage, or intractable.  Life has a momentum which tends to carry our problems forward into the future for reasons both seen and unseen.   We suffer from the tendency to repeat old patterns over and over again, reenacting painful events or putting ourselves in situations where the same dreaded outcomes are likely to happen again.

Sometimes we bear our struggles and miseries with an added sense of shame and the perception of our own unworthiness.  Nonetheless, within us there is potentiality for change.  Freedom lies in the wise awareness of alternatives and of the ability to choose.  How can we cultivate this freedom?

In order to come to terms with our problems, it is helpful to have some place to “put them”:  a positive context/ frame of human understanding within which the situation can be held and integrated.   Problems entail any number of dysfunctional, ego-centered assumptions, but they also direct our attention to what we need to see.  When we can be deeply present with what is happening, we can see the situation more clearly and discern what is wanted and needed; what is wise.  Very broadly, we need to understand what we think needs to change, and probe the reasons why.   These dimensions of support allow us feel into the problem or difficulty.

In the framework of deep self-inquiry,  we can approach stubborn difficulties by “living in the question” of them. Somewhat analogous to the Zen idea of “koan”, this means that we endeavor to sit with the question; be with it; and repeatedly ask the question as a means of inviting a transformational shift of view. 

This idea first came to me in the form of an epiphany in which I recognized that the problem was the problem!  The very notion that there was a problem supported the idea that there must be a way out, a solution;  which in turn led me down a rabbit hole of trying to figure it out.   It was also clear that the process of struggle was counterproductive, distracting attention away from the feelings at the core of the emotional difficulty.  Moreover, getting stuck in trying to figure things out often turned into a problem in its own right.   In contrast, living in the question of something often revealed to me that “the problem” and “the solution” were two sides of a single coin.

Short of waiting for illuminations and epiphanies, there are strategies and practices that we can engage to cultivate change:

  • Clarify your intention. “Inquire deeply” within about what you are trying to change, and why.  What result are you trying to produce?   What are you trying to be, do, or have?   What are you resisting or avoiding?  Who are you trying to become?

       Endeavor to see your intentions clearly.

  • Clarify the obstacles. “Inquire deeply” about how you may be getting in your own way.  

 In addition to what seems to be in the way, notice especially how  you are being with whatever is happening.   What attitude(s) are you carrying?  How are you inhabiting yourself?   What are you embodying?

Endeavor to soften into your experience.

  • Contemplate: are you willing to be changed by change*?

Change is facilitated when we understand what is at stake for us.  The following questions are helpful:

  • How would you be different if life no longer contained this problem or challenge?
  • Who would you be if there were no problem to solve?

The ability to change rests upon our wise and compassionate awareness of the matrix of meaning in which we live and construct our personal experience.   We need to cultivate the awareness and self-reflection that will make this possible.

*Moffitt, Phillip    www.dharmawisdom.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, June 2019

               
 
 

                 INTENTION:  THE LEADING EDGE OF CHANGE

“If you look hard enough for something, eventually it will appear
  ….Ashleigh Brilliant

Dynamic psychotherapies tend to emphasize the causal role of the past in the present, with little emphasis on the shaping impact of awareness going forward. It has been left to “new age” spiritual psychologies to fill in that vacuum with various forms of “thinking from the end”, the fundamental idea that consciousness manifests that which it focuses on. Visualization, affirmation, positive thinking, and prayer, for example, are said to “create” whatever outcome is desired.

We can use the metaphor of pushing and pulling to explore these ideas of cause and effect. If we think of the past as a push and visualization as a pull, push and pull come together in the present moment by influencing how we interpret and respond to events in an ongoing fashion. In the act of bringing new awareness to the present moment, the next moment is already changed because of the alteration in view. In this way, awareness (or insight about) how something was brought about may become the beginning of what comes next.  In metaphysical terms, energy follows thought.

Without resorting to metaphysics, the concept of intention in Buddhist psychology elegantly illuminates the complexity of this process. Intentions are an important dimension of thought because what we intend directs our energy and attention. Intentions frame our interpretations and determine how we hold things in mind. When we form a conscious intention, this then becomes an integral part of what unfolds next. Attention and intention light up experience and support living from the inside out.

Simple examples abound. If you are looking for someone to marry, everyone will be evaluated as a prospective mate. If you are angry and have the energy of ill-will, you will find someone to have a fight with. If you expect good things to happen, the quality of your attention will itself amplify possibilities of something good.

Because intentions are what ‘incline the mind’ in one direction or another, it behooves us to be conscious of what these intentions are. Having clear intentions is a soft form of “thinking from the end”. When our purpose is clear and coherent, we are on course towards a particular outcome. Moreover, intentions keep us centered in the moment by keeping our attention focused on what is important, and that helps us stay optimally responsive to what is unfolding.

Clear seeing and clear intention segue into strategies for action. Once we are clear about what the desired outcome is, we are poised to take whatever action is appropriate and indicated. (And conversely, our failure to see or understand important aspects of the current situation keeps us blind to important possibilities). Intention leads to constructive action in the spontaneous unfolding of the journey forward. It remains only to commit to what we most deeply value and stay on the path defined by putting one foot in front of the other.

By acknowledging the importance of intention, deep inquiry invites change. As the psychoanalyst Alan Wheelis put it, “something lies behind us, something goes before us, consciousness lies between”.    This blueprint for change is expressed in the following aphorism:

 First comes understanding, without which action is blind
 Then comes action, without which understanding is ineffective
 Finally, understanding and action become one 1.
 
[1] Source unknown

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter: May, 2019

                                        “We don’t know who discovered water,                                                                                                                   but we’re certain it wasn’t a fish ”                                                                                                                   ….. John Culkin

 

The Need To Know

Patterns of thinking are held in place, in part, by the need to know. 

In the face of any negative experience—when we are anxious or threatened or in pain— we instinctively try to think our way out of the situation.  For many people, this becomes a basic strategy for solving problems: “figure out” what to do.  Over time, we become reliant on this effort to know. This strategy solidifies into an unconsciously held and deep belief that knowing is essential to safety (or at least the illusion of safety).  We cling to knowing as a primary source of security.  It allows us to feel more in control.

Alongside this attachment to knowing, we can also observe the tendency to defend what we know (or what we believe we know).  We can notice that we cling to what we believe, and that we attempt to prove to ourselves that our views are right.   At deeper levels, we can also see the extent to which particular views and beliefs come to be invested with a sense of self.

At a yet more fundamental level, we can see how we identify with the faculty of knowing: we become the knower, never noticing, much less questioning, the assumption that who I am is the one who knows.  Indeed, the function of knowing is a basic aspect of the conscious mind, integrally involved in giving rise to the sense of self.  So, whatever it is I take my self to be, the ability to know is at the core of it.   

This kind of self-identity rests on several false assumptions.  Self-as-knower is based on what we have come to know in our lives along with all of its associated beliefs and assumptions.  It may readily become a closed circuit that limits our thinking, our relating, and our way of being in the world.  When we inquire deeply about what we know, we can begin to see that what we think we know keeps us from seeing what we don’t know, which is nearly everything[1]

When, in contrast, we are able to let go of needing to know and can relax into not having all the answers, we can begin to access a domain of deeper awareness that is based not in what we know but in the simple experience of being.  Such open and authentic experience of the present moment allows the emergence of insight and creativity.   As we learn to locate ourselves in the experience of not knowing, we can begin to transcend limiting identifications with the self as knower.

Not-knowing is the hallmark not just of this inquiry, but of any true inquiry.

As Socrates said, true wisdom comes to us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.

 

 

 

[1] Quote from Gregory Kramer, 2007   Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path To Freedom.   Shambhala Press, Boston.

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter: April, 2019

 

                  The Unfolding of Wisdom:  Going With The Flow

Wisdom is inherent within us but it takes a concerted effort to learn how to listen deeply for what life is speaking.   By following the thread of inner truth which is available in whatever we experience, we connect more and more deeply both with what is so and with who we are.  

Wisdom is not abstract.  It reveals itself in insights, both large and small, as well as in the answers we discover for our deep questions and in the resolutions we find for our most vexing problems.   Wisdom is a path. 

Wisdom is also a practice.  By bringing alert receptivity to what we experience moment by moment, we increasingly discover whatever we need to see in what is going on; the meanings implicit in what is happening.  In this way, we can endeavor to receive life:   to open to life instead of struggling against it. 

In cultivating wisdom, we attune ourselves to the simple truth of experience, including emotional experience.   Wisdom unfolds naturally as we inquire about what is happening, and why;  our deepening wisdom expresses itself in our ability to be increasingly present with ourselves and others.

In inquiry practice, we attune ourselves to finding the dynamic intelligence in the flow of awareness.  To ‘go with the flow’ of life as an unfolding wisdom process means to align ourselves with what is happening.   Literally, we aspire to be like water – to flow in and around the events of life.   Going with the flow is a kind of letting go in which we allow life to carry us downstream; surrendering to the currents of our life energy,   whatever they may be, we heed the intelligence of our body, heart, and mind.  

Ultimately wisdom reveals itself in a felt sense of the existential coherence in life, inclusive of all of its thematic complexities.   In the words of the famed Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, we learn not to push the river; it flows by itself.

Life has a mind of its own.

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, March 2019

 

Inquiring Deeply About Self-Reflection

 

Self-reflection may be broadly defined as the process of examining our own experience in order to become aware of our thoughts and feelings. The word “reflection” itself evokes the idea of the mind as a mirror.   We may become aware of many different kinds of images in the mirror of the mind: what we see and hear, what we feel, what we think.   And, we also have the capacity to turn our attention back to the surface of the mirror itself.  This is the self-reflexive capacity of awareness. 

Self-reflexivity is built into the very structure of the human mind.   At times self-awareness operates in the background of our experience, giving rise to a vaguely felt sense of being.  At other times, it may move into the foreground of our attention, amplified through intentional focus (as in meditation) or by virtue of emotional reactions (e.g. social anxiety; embarassment) or interpersonal events.   Regardless, we can never become aware of ourselves from outside of our experience, only from within.  So self-reflexivity is always both subjective and objective;   it weaves together mind and body, thoughts and emotion, as it integrates both the observational and experiential dimensions of awareness.

Although an inborn potential, self-reflexivity is not a fixed capacity, but rather one which expands and deepens along with other aspects of psychological development.  It is organized in relation to our understanding of our own minds as well as the minds of others.  Moreover, because some aspects of ourselves are essentially invisible except in the mirror of another, our capacity to know ourselves is a function of our connection with others.

Interpersonal experience is an important domain for the development of self-reflection.   Conflicts between ourselves and others call our attention to possible discrepancies between how we see ourselves and how we are seen. Such disruptions invite us to de-center from our own point of view and consider the impact we may be having on others. They also galvanize our attention to what would otherwise remain unseen in ourselves. 

For all of us, psychological defenses in the mind are engaged in order to obscure vulnerable aspects of ourselves.  We may deny or disavow realities which are painful, attribute qualities of ourselves to others, or find other ways to avoid knowing the truth about our feelings. 

What we are blind to in ourselves is the limiting boundary of our freedom. 

Self-reflection is arguably the central integrative element in psycho-therapeutic exploration and psychological growth.   Reflecting on our experience and behavior either by ourselves, or in conversation with others (including psychotherapists), can help us to become aware of how we are relating to our experience.  In seeing more clearly what we are doing, how we are feeling, and the way that we react to things, we create a greater capacity for choice.  In this way, self-reflective awareness may be likened to a “clutch” which allows the mind to shift gears so that new points of view can emerge.

Self-reflection is an evolving dimension of our subjectivity which can be intentionally cultivated in practices such as meditation.   Mindfulness meditation amplifies self-reflection through the intention to notice what one is aware of from moment to moment and through the ability to shift awareness from the content of experience to the context of background awareness which surrounds and contains it.  This enhances the clarity of what is seen in the mirror of self-reflection and creates greater access to somatic, psychological, and relational layers of the mind. 

Last but by no means least, with the cultivation of mindful attention we can become aware of awareness itself.  This transcendent dimension of self-reflexivity is conveyed by the statement that mindfulness is the state of mind in which you realize that you are more than your state of mind.   This deepening of self-reflexivity allows us to see more and more deeply into the body/heart/mind and into the nature of self.   

In the words of the Sufi aphorism, What you are looking for is who is looking”.

 

 

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter February 2019

Meditative Listening

There is a kind of magic in the experience of feeling deeply heard. A special set of relational moments, “moments of meeting,” are those in which there is a profound sense of mutual connection.  Such “moments of meeting” occur in conversation when something is said and received in such a way that the speaker feels deeply seen, felt, accepted, and understood.    The prototype of this experience is the moment that occurs immediately after birth, when the new baby looks into the eyes of a mother who is looking back.  Such moments of mutual deep contact are what the philosopher Martin Buber understood to be the essential meeting of “I-and-Thou.”   The descriptive term “intersubjective” is also broadly useful, carrying the general meaning that two (or more) minds come together in a space of shared thought and feeling.

In addition to what is said in moments of meeting, equally important is the felt sense of connection.  Regardless of what is being said aloud in a particular conversation, we likely have a felt sense of one other and some idea of where the other is “coming from.”   This felt sense is the “relational moment”.   Of course, not every experience of being-with is mindfully known; we may feel many things, including our connection with others, implicitly — i.e., without conscious awareness. 

Moments of meeting vary in level of depth.   The conscious experience of being-with is a capacity which is enhanced by mindful attention.   Such moments often feel replete with Presence.  Along with the felt sense of connection or intimacy there is a deep sense of being oneself.  Connection may be so profound that the boundary between self and other momentarily disappears.   Wisdom arises in such moments as the compassionate and intuitive knowing of the other’s experience, and sometimes as the experience of a heart-to-heart connection between us.

We can also engage a similar quality of deep meditative listening within ourselves by turning inward to explore what we are feeling and sustaining an attitude of receptivity towards what may be emerging.  This may be called meditation, contemplation, prayer, or by other names.  I call it INQUIRING DEEPLY.  In this inward turn, we come to an inner threshold where we are in the presence of the unknown.  At this threshold, deeper wisdom has a chance to break through.
 
The hallmark of emergent moments, whether listening to another or listening to our inner experience,  is that they simply arrive:  what arises can be neither predicted nor controlled.  The emotional impact of emergent moments is amplified and the experience more vivid when they are experienced against a backdrop of deep stillness and Presence, as in meditation.  Meditative listening deep within oneself opens space for things to unfold at the living edge of our experience.
 

When experienced against the backdrop of a focused mind and a heart-centered, receptive listening field between two people,  the impact of relational presence resonates between us, deepening the experience of us both.

When you feel heard a silence falls.
In that silence more may come
Often it is something deeper: you can feel it
Just now forming at the edge of being."
...Rob Foxcroft

 

 

*More about emergent moments may be found in Schuman, M.  (2017) Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  Inquiring Deeply.  Routledge Press, New York.    https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01N24V17T

 

 

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, January 2019

CONTEMPLATING THE NEW YEAR

“I call the moment when you fully know that a change is achievable realizing the imaginative possible.  When you are able to envision that an alternative is real, you experience a sudden energetic surge toward actualizing it, which becomes self-reinforcing.”

……Phillip Moffitt  (2012)  Emotional Chaos To Clarity

The New Year holiday is a natural time to reflect on the cycles in our lives – the beginnings and endings, the losses and renewals, the ongoing narrative themes that weave in, out, and through our life story.    In the ritual of new year’s resolutions,  we also have an auspicious opportunity to contemplate our aspirations and intention as we go forward into the unfolding future.  

For more than I decade, I have had a personal new year’s practice of reflecting on and then writing about my goals and intentions for the new year.   I distinguish between goals and intentions.  Goals express our preferences for future;  what we want to accomplish;  what we want to bring into being.  They provide inspiration and direction as well as determine how we allocate our time and resources.  Intentions, on the other hand, are statements about how we would like to actually think, act, and speak in any given moment as we move forward towards our goals.   Together, goals and intentions describe our purpose—  the forward thrust of our energy going forward.  They can function as a blueprint for the “imaginative possible” (to use Moffitt’s phrase from the opening quote).

Because intentions are what ‘incline the mind’ in one direction or another, it behooves us to be conscious of what our intentions are. Having clear intentions is a soft form of “thinking from the end”: the fundamental idea that consciousness has a shaping impact on awareness going forward.  In new age psychology, this idea is captured in the phrase “energy follows thought”.   If we think of the past as a push and visualization as a pull, push and pull come together in the present moment by influencing how we interpret and respond to events in an ongoing fashion. In the act of bringing new awareness to the present moment, the next moment is already changed because of the alteration in view.

Without resorting to metaphysics, the concept of intention in Buddhist psychology elegantly illuminates the complexity of this process. Everything that happens, the Buddha taught, begins with our thoughts; for good or ill, our thoughts are the foundation of what arises. Intentions are an important dimension of thought because what we intend directs our energy and attention. The back and forth movement of attention lights up the process of ‘minding’ that is the unseen background of experience as it arises. Intentions frame our interpretations and determine how we hold things in mind.

When we form a conscious intention, this then becomes an integral part of what unfolds next. Attention and intention light up experience and support living from the inside out.

When our purpose is clear and coherent, we are on course towards a particular outcome. Moreover, intentions keep us centered in the moment by keeping our attention focused on what is important, and that helps us stay optimally responsive to what is unfolding.

Clear seeing and clear intention segue into strategies for action. Once we are clear about what the goal is, we are poised to take whatever action is appropriate and indicated. (And conversely, our failure to see or understand important aspects of the current situation keeps us blind to important possibilities). Intention leads to constructive action in the spontaneous unfolding of the journey forward. It remains only to commit to what we most deeply value and stay on the path defined by putting one foot in front of the other.

Wishing us all a safe, healthy, and vital new year.

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, December 2018

Mindfulness of Conversation: The Dance of Speaking and Listening

Since we spend a large part of our lives talking to people, engaging in conversation can itself be a dynamic and fully engaged mindfulness practice.  Just as we can explore the internal world of the body and thoughts in sitting practice, we can explore the external world of language in vocalized words, gestures and spoken interaction.   This focus of attention helps open the senses, heart, and mind to receive the present moment more fully. 

Mindfulness of conversation begins with the embodied experience of speaking and listening. However, far more than simply denuded  ‘present moments’ of mindful awareness, there are many other layers of the experience of conversation that reflect what is happening in the ‘relational moment’.  Some of the layers have to do with what is being conveyed— communication— and others with the how— the connection between us conversation.    In the framework of Buddhist meditation practice, all of this falls under the heading of relational mindfulness.  

The experience of conversation provides a window into the relational moment, a stage for observing the theater of the mind.   Mindfulness of conversation allows us an up-close and personal experience of basic psychological phenomena and relationship patterns enacted in real time.   We can observe how we show up in the relational world and we can discover a great deal about who we take ourselves to be.  We can investigate what we enact with others (and what they enact with us);  we can inquire into the psychological sources of those relational patterns; and we can reflect on the narratives we use to frame our experience.  In all of these ways, we can gain understanding of our relational dynamics:  our interpersonal reactions and their emotional roots*.   

Each of these dimensions provides a variety of opportunities to observe how we relate to others in the dance of conversation.  We can observe what happens at the intersubjective intersection:  the intimacy or distance we experience moment by moment; our comfort or discomfort; whether we lead or follow;  the energy, tempo, and flow of what we say.

In addition to the interpersonal domain, we can mindfully observe the conversation that takes place within our minds.  Inner speech may manifest in words or phrases that catch our attention; at other times, it can be elaborated into ideas we want to express.   We may notice replays of actual conversations we have had with others.   Our minds may host soliloquies or arguments, or fantasize entire interactions.     These narrative themes shed a lot of light on our actual interactions with others.  

To summarize, there are at least three interwoven strands in mindfulness of conversation: communication with others, our inner narratives,  and the felt sense of our symbolized experience.     Through mindfulness of conversation we can discover many different voices, many different layers of knowing and cognizing within.   There is value in becoming aware of the entire process. 

Most importantly, mindful attention to the process of communication entails potential for change in both participants.  This is especially true because communication reflects the underlying stories we tell ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) about self and other.  It provides an opportunity to observe both our biases and our intentions.  And, it creates an opening to practice the Buddhist principles of wise speech.

 One of the most exciting aspects of the dance of speaking and listening is the realization that communication is a generative act;  no one knows in advance what will transpire.  It is as much (or more) an event that happens to us as it is something we ‘do’.  Conversation invites something to “emerge” between ourselves and another.   This potential is what the writer Ursula Le Guin “the calls beauty and terror of conversation, that ancient and abiding human gift.”   

 


A longer version of this essay appears in Wise Brain Bulletin,            vol. 12.5:     “Speaking and Listening:  The Intimate Dance of Communication”.                                                http://www.wisebrain.org/tools/wise-brain-bulletin/volume-12-5

REFERENCES

** Schuman, M.  (2018) Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  INQUIRING DEEPLY

Picture credit  Edgar Degas,  The Conversation.

 

 

 

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, November 2018

INQUIRING DEEPLY NEWSLETTER
November 2018

 

Inquiring Deeply About Emptiness

There is a not uncommon experience people allude to as “emptiness”, meaning a deep sadness, yearning, or inner sense of something missing.  It often connects to a felt sense of deep deficiency or unworthiness.    This psychological emptiness is quite different in meaning from the Buddhist concept of the same name, which refers to the reality that things do not exist in the way we suppose that they do;  that life is empty of anything which is inherently substantial or permanent enough for us to hold onto. 

A good way to think about the psychological experience of emptiness is in terms of parts of us which have been lost from awareness.   What has been lost from consciousness leaves a vacancy, a place which feels empty.  Sometimes emptiness is a hole in our lives which comes from the loss of someone or something.  It may arise in relation to something we want very badly but despair of ever finding/having. Psychic holes in the mind may also come about as a result of traumatic experience or something else barred from memory.  

We can begin to explore emptiness by inquiring into the holes we find in our own lives.   What is missing?  In what way(s) do we feel insufficient?  What emotions do we not want to feel?  What in the balance of mind, body, and heart gets too little of our attention?   

We can also explore emptiness by paying attention to what we do to ‘fill’  the holes we feel within:  our addictive attachments to substances, activities, and people.  Ironically, our improvised ‘solutions’ to pain most often result in new, worse problems!  By exploring the strategies we use to block the feeling of what is painful,  we can deepen our awareness of the underlying feelings.

When we turn our attention to exploring empty places within,  often we may find memories of hurt feelings and conflicts that block our natural ability to connect to others.   Our most habitual and powerful feelings and thoughts define the core of who we think we are.  When we are caught up in a sense of being unworthy, the universal sense that ‘something is wrong’ turns into the feeling that ‘something is wrong with me’.  This felt sense keeps us on the run, driven by desperate efforts to get away from these bad feelings.

In a different vein, the experience of emptiness can sometimes be illuminated by contrasting it with its psychological opposite, aliveness.  We can inquire about the experiences in which we have felt most whole and complete, most authentic, most at peace with ourselves and with our world.   What has blocked these channels of vitality and aliveness?

In my view, our empty places, our ‘holes’, can ultimately only be filled by connection: both connection with others and better connection to ourselves.   Healing relationships (including psychotherapy) help us through deep listening both to what we say and what we don’t say (and may never even have thought!).   Deep empathic listening connects us heart-to-heart and cultivates our ability to extend compassion and tenderness towards what is wounded within us.

Mindful awareness of the experience of emptiness is a useful place to begin on the path of healing.  If we have the inclination and/or interest, we may also find it useful at some point to contemplate the nature of emptiness itself.  In a philosophical/spiritual sense,  emptiness is the Everything/Nothing from which all manifestation arises.   From this perspective, paradoxically, emptiness is a vast reservoir of unrealized potential. 

In the words of the Taoist sage Lao Tzu, it is the emptiness within the cup that makes it useful.

Picture Credit:  Farshad Sanaee

 

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, October 2018

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter,   
October 2018

 

Inquiring Deeply About Praise

The famed German novelist Thomas Mann apparently experienced quite a bit of anxiety about how his work would be received.  He quipped that he suffered from a  “P vitamin deficiency”:  chronic hunger for praise.  

I personally resonate with the idea of P vitamin and its implied meaning: that approval fills deep needs and is an essential psychological nutrient.  It is quite evident that the need for approval is a driving force in human behavior, as well a basic regulator of self-esteem.  We are motivated to be seen in a myriad of different forms.  Praise and approval— as well as its close cousins mirroring, recognition, validation, and positive evaluation—   are all very high in Vitamin P!   Praise is an upper.   On the other side of the coin, the failure to receive praise which is wanted, needed, or expected is emotionally upsetting.

So, what is this about?  When we look into how the need for praise shows up in our experience, we confirm what Heinz Kohut postulated in psychoanalytic Self Psychology:   recognition and approval are self-delineating and life-affirming.  We seek validation for who we take ourselves to be and in order to feel a vital connection to our core experience of self.    In Buddhist psychology, the primal motivation is thehunger to be; to exist.

When we do not get sufficient Vitamin P from important relational others—when we fail to be affirmed as valuable, special, worthwhile, and/or lovable— our incapacity to sustain a coherent sense of ourselves shows up as emotional turbulence.   While each person’s experience is somewhat idiosyncratic,  the general tenor is usually anxiety, depression, or similar.    What I find in my own experience is a sense of deflation: negative mood and self-critical ideation.  The general idea of contraction seems to capture it.

The hunger to be seen is a primal relational desire:  the need to exist in the eyes of the Other.  This deep relational need stems from the fact that humans need other humans to survive.  To be abandoned as a helpless baby means certain death.  Psychological survival, too, depends on being seen.  This reality was dramatized in the classic novel of the late 80’s, “Clan Of The Cave Bear”, in which a female character was psychologically exiled for nonconformity to the tribal rules of her Neanderthal brethren.  No one was to make eye contact with her.  This was a brutal form of punishment.

Self is brought into being in relationship.  The prototypical moment is the one that occurs in the first moments after birth, when the new baby looks into the eyes of a mother who is looking back.  As Kohut put it, the self at birth is a virtual self, a self which develops in the process of being seen and responded to by(m)other. This is true in earliest psychological life and remains so throughout the life span. What is not validated by others will tend to be repressed or will simply fail to come into being.  In other words, if we are not seen, we cannot be fully alive.

So, the wish to be seen is quite understandable.   But how can we understand thefear of being seen? In psychological terms, we find at its core the fear that we are not worthy of being seen.  In Buddhist terms, this too is connected to a fear of non-being.  

Our fear of being invisible connects both to our elemental fear of death and of existential emptiness. The fear of not being seen joins together with the fear of being alone.   This can become a futile quest to fill our empty places with other people.

So it is useful to inquire deeply into both the wish and fear of being seen.  We need to find within our own experience all the ways that, directly and indirectly, we seek P vitamin;  all the constructive as well as dysfunctional ways we seek attention and approval.  A compelling example from contemporary life is how people relate to getting “likes” on social media, which can assume the proportions of an actual addiction!  According to some, ‘thumbs up’  stimulates little bursts of dopamine in the brain.  (Maybe that is Vitamin P!)

In any event, when we inquire deeply, what we can also find is that recognition is not love. Our deepest desire is not for praise or approval, but for connection with others. 

* Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  Inquiring Deeply
Routledge Press, 2017.     https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01N24V17T