Avoidance, Comfort, or Reality Check?
What is your worldview, your philosophy of life?
How do you relate to this most fundamental of all concerns?
Whether we realize it or not, we all possess a worldview. Our worldview tells us more about ourselves than any other part of our personal history, and influences both how we perceive, and how we respond to the world. Armand M. Nicholi Jr. MD in: Josephson AM, Peteet JR, eds. “Handbook of Spirituality and Worldview in Clinical Practice.” American Psychiatric Publishing Inc, Washington, DC, 2004.
Many of us, including people I've known for decades, feel intensely uncomfortable even thinking about, never mind actively exploring such matters. They feel the topic is "way beyond" them, "too deep". They have no background, no training, no skills, not even the vocabulary to approach this, to them, mysterious & frightening topic. So they avoid it to the best of their abilities. More about avoidance: http://mindfulnessforeveryone.blogspot.ca/search?q=avoidance
Seeking comfort or shelter from this scarry stuff is really a subset of avoidance - much like managing fear by hugging a teddy bear, a blankie or keeping a lucky charm in one's pocket. Our world contains an endless supply of distractions - and most of us ride this merry go round our whole lives. This song is worth a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZfj2Ir3GgQ
Belonging to a religious group for social support, without "taking it too seriously" is very common. "The comfortable pew" infers that "comfort", rather than spiritual transformation, is the primary objective for many churchgoers. It's understandable, but isn't it like "going skiing" every weekend, but never actually leaving the ski lodge? More about comfort: http://mindfulnessforeveryone.blogspot.ca/search?q=comfort
A less common subset of seeking "comfort" is when, instead of obtaining psychiatric help, people become religious zealots. This is also known as "spiritual bypassing."
“Patients whose spiritual convictions are based solely on neurotic need usually show two patterns of behavior. First, their behavior is grossly inconsistent with what they profess. Perhaps we have here a psychological explanation for the many ungodly acts throughout history that have been performed in the name of God – even acts of terrorism. Second, when the neurotic conflict of these patients has been resolved – in therapy or by other means – their faith often disappears.” Armand M. Nicholi Jr. MD in: Josephson AM, Peteet JR, eds. “Handbook of Spirituality and Worldview in Clinical Practice.” American Psychiatric Publishing Inc, Washington, DC, 2004.
We have to discover, directly experience, how rational thought goes round & round in nightmarishly frustrating circles whenever it bumps up against topics it cannot manage eg worldview: Who am I?, What is the meaning of this life?, Why is there suffering? Why does everyone die?
"Death is an inescapable fact of life that, nonetheless, most people avoid contemplating too directly. When mortality is salient, it can arouse experiences varying from distress and anxiety to a sense of urgency and a search for meaning. Although there are various ways to cope with this existential concern, ranging from hopelessness, to denial, to seeking symbolic immortality, it seems clear that the consideration of death affects people intensely, whether or not such contemplation is made consciously." Niemiec CP, et al. "Being Present in the Face of Existential Threat: The Role of Trait Mindfulness in Reducing Defensive Responses to Mortality Salience." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2010; 99 (2): 344–365.
So these "elephants" follow us everywhere, yet the one tool we know & trust - rational thought - is frustratingly useless for this task. Can we intentionally, gradually, wisely - and yes, bravely - learn to use a more appropriate tool of inquiry?
“Atheists, materialists, and many agnostics believe that rational thought is the highest form of human consciousness and, therefore, the arbiter of truth or falsehood.” Allan M. Josephson MD, Irving S. Wiesner MD in: Josephson AM, Peteet JR, eds. “Handbook of Spirituality and Worldview in Clinical Practice.” American Psychiatric Publishing Inc, Washington, DC, 2004.
Interestingly, even militant atheists like Sam Harris are beginning to realize that rational thought has limited applications to the realm of science, while contemplative practices, such as meditation, allow us to access post-symbolic levels of consciousness. These practices have been used continuously for thousands of years by the world's wisdom traditions specifically to address life's most meaningful concerns. See: http://jglovas.wix.com/awarenessnow#!blog/c1y6e/tag/postsymbolic