Meditation and Mediation

I read a book recently that has really fascinated me. It’s entitled ‘Mediated – How the Media Shape your World’, and it’s written by Thomas DeZengotita. It is a powerful demonstration of just how much the media influences our lives. One of the key points DeZengotita makes concerns authenticity. In a climate of ubiquitous mediation, nearly our entire identity is formulated out of snippets of representations which we have gathered through film, politics, reality television and more.

The premise of it all is this: everything around us, whether it be road signs, magazines, film, social media or advertising is all addressed at YOU. While you may be just one of millions, nearly everything you see is addressed at you directly – and me – and all of us. This is ultimately very flattering. The flattery becomes manifest when individuals are trying to decide which identity (or which collage of mediated identities) they intend to present to the world. In times past, such behaviour may have been reserved for royalty, or significant public figures. However now, everybody is trying to write out the story that is their life.

This is all well and good (well, maybe), until it hits crisis point. Until there are so many representations, so many identities, so many statements to be made, that an individual simply cannot handle it all. The tyrannous belief that one MUST be successful in this endeavour can throw many individuals in to a neurotic state. It becomes the source of a lot of anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness Meditation

It should therefore be no small wonder that mindfulness meditation seems to be the opposite of this carry-on in every way.

Mindfulness is a relatively new type of meditation, in which one seeks to become a passive observer of the situation around oneself. Thoughts, emotions and sensations are monitored by the individual so as to reach a state of detached awareness. A recent special edition of the New Scientist reviewed mindfulness and other meditation research, and talked about the way meditation trains people for improved emotional regulation.

Whereas all things mediated are addressed at you, meditation detaches you from that setting, and helps you inhibit the urge to pay homage to each stimulus you encounter. Considering that one of the approaches to cognitive therapy is to help clients stop processing the negative automatic thoughts, this helps piece together the picture of how mindfulness works.

It would be fascinating, with all the knowledge we have today, to go back to a pre-technological era and measure the relationship between psychological wellbeing and a far less ubiquitous media. However with DeZengogita’s ideas on media theory, and the principles of mindfulness based wellbeing converging together, it paints an ever clearer picture on the cognitive aspects of wellbeing.

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The Connectivist Riots

I’ve spent quite a lot of time recently thinking about things that aren’t real. I’ve realised, that actually, not a lot of things are real. Obviously there IS a lot of things that are real. The computer in front of me, and my car outside are both very real. However there is a vast array of things processed by the human mind, that have no physical form.

From a consumer perspective, consider the ‘Coca-cola’ brand. It has been said that if the entire infrastructure of Coca-cola’s operations were to be lost, it would be okay if the brand were preserved. Where does the Coca-cola brand exist? It is a representation in your mind.

The same can be said about psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioural therapists will help clients recognise that many of their beliefs and fantasies, and how stopping a certain thought can solve the problem.

Many of the thoughts we have concern the qualitative (attributes), quantitative (numbers) and connective factors of the things we interact with. For example, many things are red. You cannot create redness though, can you? You could produce red paint, or show me something red, however red only exists in your mind.

As you can see, the role of these thoughts is as a means to an end. The end is to buy Coca-cola, live more comfortably, or enjoy the knowledge that you own a red car. These ideas and norms only work because of social connections which tell us our ideas are in sync with the wider world, and thus, something more real is taking place.

This is the origin of connectivist theory, a new way to view learning, as a process which takes place across a network of people. It has come to light at this point in time, as we now live in a highly connected age, where we also have a lot of mediated-but-non-existant stuff to sift through. Connections are powerful, as they give us a new perspective on things like accountability and authority. Suddenly, large groups of people are able to communicate, unify, travel or effect change.

The 2011 riots which took place across England.

The 2011 riots which took place across England.

The rise of mediation and connection has improved access to education, living standards, democracy and freedom of speech. It has also made possible less desirable things, such as the London riots, and mass terror. I wish to dwell on this point for a moment, because I thing it really does put things in perspective. The London riots began with a small group of youths, discontented with a court decision relating to a member of their community shot by the police. As violence erupted, it was exacerbated as it was shared across twitter. There was no specific factor that unified all who rioted, other than their access to social media.

I’ve often thought that if the connected world has the power to do what it did in England in 2011, it should have the power to do enormous levels of good too. It is connectivism that has given much positive publicity to Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing. (I mean, you don’t think it came from the establishment do you?) The massive quantity of ALS ice bucket videos is another example of the power of networked activity.

There’s a lot of power here, which can be employed in problem solving or divergent creativity. The power of connectivism is decentralised, and virtually impossible to take away, And I don’t think that is a bad thing, because it empowers individuals. In fact, the only thing that could stop it, would be for the energy to run out.

Respecting the Phenomenology

Photo Credit: Jason Eppink (CC BY 2.0)

Photo Credit: Jason Eppink (CC BY 2.0)

I have been thinking this week about a component of humanistic (person centred) psychotherapy known as ‘client phenomenology’. I would not consider myself any more challenged with the travails of this world than the next person, however I have been considering the different counselling approaches that I learned about during my degree in relation to improved wellbeing.
Phenomenology stems from the word ‘phenomenon’, which means to be manifest of itself. Phenomenology thus becomes the study of subjective experience, or experiences which manifest themselves, of themselves. When I studied it in class, I saw it as little more than an offshoot from the need to show unconditional positive regard. However, now that I consider it more intricately, I now perceive it to be quite a profound attribute relating to human wellbeing.

Let us be philosophical for a moment. Is there such thing as a right answer? Strictly speaking, nothing can be proven. The scientific method has verified certain relationships such that there is little need to dispute them, but even so, it is strictly a process of knocking out the alternate explanations. Then there are religious and ideological directions too. These are far more subjective. The choices of how one lives can come from a variety of situational cues and philosophies, as well as the scientific evidence. There is not a right answer concerning how to live.

People learn to supress certain feelings and thoughts. A child may supress the urge to cry, so as to attain respect from our peers. An adult may supress thoughts of an employer may taking advantage, in order to be viewed favourably for a job. This suppression inevitably leads to crisis, and draws us away from what Goldstein (1936) described as self-actualisation (Rogers, 1951).

Self-actualisation is the point in your being that you are at one with your ‘organismic self’ (Rogers, 1951). It really means being as close to your true self as you can get. Your organismic self is the origin of your phenomenology – the root of the things that manifest just because they do. Rogers described this this experience of self-actualisation as ‘the good life’ (Rogers, 1961).

I would say that the real meaning of respecting the phenomenology of oneself and others is not to punish that being for the challenges or questions they have. Whether they be mental or physical, they have occurred as a phenomenon, with a reason for which we know not why. There are those who believe that individual experiences and convictions ought to be swept aside to make way for the social norms society has come to accept. In fact, I would say that it is this belief that contributes to wilful blindness and the evil talked about by Zimbardo (think: Stanford Prison Experiment).

Whether on a large, social or political scale, or on a small and personal scale, it strikes me that not respecting the phenomenology (or conscience?) of any individual will ultimately lead to subdued happiness and wellbeing. This makes me wonder how much happier schools or businesses could be if we stopped subscribing to traditional schools of thought and began to re-empower the individual?

I know that it often makes me feel better to address, rather than repress. I regard it compelling that a major school of thought in psychology and psychotherapy also advocates this principle. It seems to me that this principle is perhaps more global than just being a neat trick to support the worried well. If personal self-exploration leads to improved wellbeing, should this not be allowed also within peoples’ occupations? Of course, pragmatically speaking, there is a big force opposing that, namely the hierarchical structures of today’s world. But the humanistic evidence implies to me that people were never intended to be ordered such.

References

Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory.
London, UK: Constable.

Rogers, C. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London,
UK: Constable.

Goldstein, K. (1934). The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from
Pathological Data in Man. New York, US: Zone Books.

Freud and Faith

200px-Sigmund_Freud_LIFEI did something this week that I’ve always wanted to do. I picked up a book and started reading Freud. Now many people have chosen to disregard Freud, because he rejects the scientific method and talks openly about taboo topics.

I believe though that Freud peaked exactly in his time. There is rich symbolism in Freud’s theory, which people cannot understand until they pursue some real depth of thought.

I wonder about the interaction between Freudian psychology and religion. I am not talking about whether Freud had a religious conviction himself, but the more salient role of symbolism driven by religion in his time.

Carl Jung as a lecturer referred to Christian teachings during his elaboration of certain psychoanalytic concepts. Indeed, due to increased engagement with religion, and the symbolism found in the biblical account, the church of England, and of course the growing field of philosophy, I believe people understood (at least if they wished to) what Freud was trying to do.

And the theme of digging into your past and looking for repressed issues is prevalent in all sorts of program today that hold high repute. Alcoholics Anonymous invite their attendee’s to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves’. It helps people delve into their subconscious, understand themselves and find closure to past experiences.

I’m going to go into some very unscientific territory here. If certain therapy does or has involved seeking a connection with God, then surely the success of that therapy depends on whether that faith is true. Since the nature of faith is that it is placing confidence in something without empirical evidence, science will never establish cause and effect. But if there were a spiritual principle at play, those who embrace it would surely find success in the treatment.

Freudian theory was devised in a time of more religious excitement than we find today. Psychoanalysis has strayed away from that, in order to seek to acquire more scientific reputate. But if the religious principle were true then the therapy would have greater use for those engaged in practising those principles.

I believe there is some worth of Freudian theory. Is it empirical? No. Is it even in anyway medical? Not really either. But they are interesting.

Psychotherapy Wars!

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Photo Credit: @RobertFrancis (Flickr)

I’m also enrolled in a counselling psychology course during this final semester, and shortly we will have to conduct a critical review on a type of therapeutic counselling. Since everybody thinks that as psychologists all we do is try to analyse people for deep down childhood injustices, I thought it might now be worth actually looking in to that

So I’m going to share a brief commentary on a paper I have just been reading. It’s an introductory journal article covering a special edition dealing with evidence based therapeutic relationships (start with the basics right?) The authors inform us that there is a divide within psychotherapy, between whether the relationship determines the success of the treatment, or the technique

Norcross and Lambert (2011) explain that this dichotomy is a counterproductive notion as once a theorized therapy enters practice a number of contextual factors determine whether it can really work. Surely a therapy centered approach would take some root from behaviorism, something which the research on education disagrees with, since a one size fit’s all paradigm does not account for the variance of processing on the part of the individual

That is the reason why Norcross and Lambert (2011) advocate an evidence based relationship, as an attempt to marry the theory with its equally important application. This makes sense, as the pure theory provides principles from which to work, however an empirically documented relationship lets the application be pragmatically guided that it may function effectively.