Identifying With

Recently I’ve been using the phrase “identify with” a bunch. As in, “I’m learning not to identify with my past self”, or “I try not to identify with my beliefs”, or “the ego is what, when accurately perceived, we stop identifying with”. When a friend of mine asked me what I meant by “identifying with”, I wasn’t immediately sure how to unpack how I was using the words. I said, “Well, when I identify with something it feels like me. It feels like part of my, uh, identity”. He was unsatisfied with this explanation, as was I.

(Prioritizing explaining myself is a heuristic that has served me well. I want meaning.)

Here’s my best one sentence version: When I identify with something, doing an original seeing on it is aversive. I don’t want to take a fresh look at the evidence and see if it really exists in the way I’m thinking of it. In other words, things I identify with seem like part of the territory, not just part of my map. I’ll expand a bit on what this means in terms of identifying with beliefs, emotions, and parts of myself.

Continue reading “Identifying With”

NVC/IFS in Action: Nausea

I’m a firm believer that physical sensations on their own do not create suffering—that suffering arises when there’s some sort of internal conflict. The book Nonviolent Communication includes a story of a woman resolving a migraine by connecting with her underlying needs, which, to me, was one of the less believable parts of the book the first time I read it. Experiences I’ve had since then have made me considerably less skeptical.  

I was experiencing a lot of nausea (presumably from eating lots of food not long after a long water fast) the other night, so, after sitting around being upset about it for a while, I decided to try to turn my attention to my experience and be curious about the internal conflict producing my suffering. Sure enough, there were two pretty distinct voices.  

Voice 1: You really shouldn’t have eaten that second bowl of food. You were already feeling crappy, so you decided to eat more? That’s transparently stupid, you didn’t really even expect it to work, and you need to remember not to ever do that again.

Voice 2: You were feeling crappy, and you wanted to do something to help. That’s not so bad.  What you were doing wasn’t working, so you wanted to try an experiment, and do something to make yourself feel better.  

My plan was to recognize the positive intent behind each one and feel gratitude. So Voice 1’s concern mostly seemed to be with truth. Even while feeling crappy, it wanted me to remember to keep my beliefs truth-tracking, and recognize that I had been engaging in motivated reasoning when I decided to eat more, thinking that it might help me feel better. Voice 2 was concerned about self-care, and wanted me to keeping working to alleviate my discomfort. Both noble motives, it was easy to feel appreciation for them, and, once heard out, they were no longer in conflict.  

And sure enough, the nausea pretty much went away. It seemed like there was some chance I might still vomit (I didn’t), so I made sure I was in prepared for that eventuality, but the above exercise nearly eliminated the relevant suffering. Powerful and practical stuff.

Brain burning

Here’s a thought experiment:

If you could burn ten claims about the nature of the world into everyone’s brain, so that they truly grokked them, which ones would you choose?  

My answers, stolen from all over the place, in rough order of perceived importance:
  1. Reality is not vague.
  2. The past is sunk.
  3. There is no failure, only feedback.
  4. The human mind is comprised of sub-selves.
  5. To communicate effectively with sub-selves, be curious about their deepest desires.
  6. Pain is an attention signal from a sub-self.
  7. When sub-selves compete for attention, suffering arises.
  8. Curiosity eliminates suffering.
  9. We exercise our agency by directing our attention.
  10. All judgments (including self-judgments) are alienated expressions of our unmet needs.
What do you think of my ten?  I want to hear yours because I like the idea of compiling and sharing the best of the basic principles that guide the actions of the people whose accomplishments and thinking I respect.

Parts, parts everywhere!

Once I started thinking in terms of the different parts of my mind, I started seeing references to them all over the place in books I was reading. Here are some examples:

“We are compassionate with ourselves when we are able to embrace all parts of ourselves and recognize the needs and values expressed by each part.” –Nonviolent Communication

“As soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time.” –Getting Things Done

“A part of your mind loves to be busy working on significant tasks that can really make a difference.” –Eat That Frog

“There is a part of Sara that recognizes her choice as a mistake and her current living arrangement as a brand of foolish consistency.” –Influence

Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming talks about “schemas”, which I think are basically the same thing: “Schemas with too little activation to influence any other schemas remain unconscious.”