Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

 By

Cognitive Dissonance

 

Sometimes the greatest learning we can ever achieve comes from the process involved rather than the conclusions drawn. In fact I am surprised how often I actually disagree with the ‘answer’ provided by someone else, but still have learned so much from the thought process and logic path presented either by the author or utilized by myself. Even when I find no value in the presentation or the conclusion, there are times when I still find it very useful seeing in stark relief wrongheaded thinking being rationalized and presented as right. Sometimes the best lessons are learned from really screwing things up or from witnessing someone else doing it wrong right in front of our eyes.

Remaining in my comfort zone may be exactly where I wish to be but not where I need to be, a lesson I still relearn to this day. When in a reflective mood or just daydreaming about nothing in particular, it becomes clearer to me that my biggest steps forward have almost always been a function of psychological and emotional pain rather than pleasure. This isn’t to say there are no lessons to be learned while enjoying the pleasures of body and mind. But the significant leaps forward come not from individual baby steps of cognitive growth, but from giant leaps of intuitive puzzle solving involving complex and at times incoherent concepts, as well as disparate information interlinking………once I manage to overcome my own Cognitive Dissonance.

This is most evident to me when examining an article or analysis of an extremely controversial subject which has been polarized to such a degree that nearly everyone reading it, myself included, has not only already established a strong opinion (aka belief) about it, but the opinion is tightly intertwined with so many other opinions that to challenge one means we must challenge them all. Certainly this is a tall order by any standard of measure.

Many articles or other media which on the surface may appear to be tragically wrong, skillfully presented disinformation or just plain silly, can instead be seen as either an opportunity to learn a great deal about ourselves in order to continue our personal growth or (for many) the opportunity to reject everything we are reading, seeing or hearing because we are disturbed by some or all of its parts. I call this the David Icke effect since many who first begin to read or listen to Icke find themselves vigorously nodding their heads in agreement right up to the point the reptiles are rolled out, then everything previously affirmed as correct in the mind of the 'consumer' is violently vomited up and discarded regardless of its merit or validity.

Just because I may not like the subject or conclusion doesn’t mean I can’t gain from the information or analysis. There is nothing that declares I must believe in part, or in whole, what I am reading, seeing or hearing, other than my desperate need to do so in order to hold together my at times shaky connection to the consensus reality. Those who are thoroughly convinced they are righteously correct have little need to question themselves and even less desire to do so. Ignorance is bliss, and for many quite empowering.

However, if I am sincere in my desire to continue my personal growth as part of the continuing awakening process I must seriously consider everything, especially those subjects that emotionally or intellectually trigger me the most. If I quickly stop reading, become angry or disturbed, rush to the comment section to leave a disparaging remark or display any other emotional reaction out of the ordinary, this is clearly a loud alarm bell going off that identifies to nearly everyone else except me that my Cognitive Dissonance is screaming at me.

Where we are often tripped up, where our ego and sense of ‘self’ intrude to soothe the mind and quell any emotional outburst, is the blurring of the line between new ‘information’ that is not threatening and that which is. For example I have recently been conducting deep research into photovoltaic (solar panel) systems as well as emergency deep well pumps. While the information might be connected to something potentially disturbing, such as a long term power outage that renders my well useless and my family without water, the actual subject matter is nonthreatening and even quite interesting.

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In order to self affirm I confidently remind myself that new information is not a bad thing and in fact quite desirable. I exercise my prodigious intellect as I research alternative energy systems and submersible pumps, and while doing so might even consider myself somewhat superior to others who are not taking similar steps to ensure their survivability should disaster in any form strike close to home. Clearly my ability to cope with potentially bad news is remarkable.

This comforting self deceit works in several ways to reinforce my belief that I am right and everyone else is wrong. Since I create my own reality I know with absolute certainty there is no mind control or manipulation here because my reality is based solely upon unemotional analysis of just-the-facts Jack. So naturally I would get royally pissed off when some clown starts spouting off about stuff he knows nothing about.

Sadly the denial is both extremely subtle and glaringly obvious to everyone else but me. In particular, when the subject material is firmly entangled within my worldview it is not the new learning that is so difficult, but rather letting go of the old learning which has been thoroughly incorporated into my faith and belief system that is the problem. Since any one piece of ‘knowledge’, something we often call ‘facts’ in order to repel all challenges to our ‘self’, is deeply intertwined with every other piece, any examination of one requires a fresh assessment of them all. The easier softer way forward is often rationalization or outright rejection of the deviant thinking.

To give something great weight or consideration does not mean it must be believed. The crisis arrives when we find the new information is threatening the old information, a condition that might not exist when reading about solar panels but might exist when reading about the petrodollar and our coddling of the despotic Arab oil states who we proclaim are the bastion of forward thinking and civility.

We do ourselves a terrible disservice if we do not keep this in mind whenever we are introduced to a different point of view or conclusion. The last thing we should do to ourselves is reject (nearly) everything because we don’t like something. In reality, when we do this we are activating an already implanted mind control meme, the ultimate goal of which is to keep us narrowly confined within mind and body and most certainly devoid of pertinent new information or a different point of view.

The key to breaking from this self imposed mind control is to admit we are human and therefore quite fallible and not always right, something we are taught from grade school we must always be. Plus we must fully accept that much of what we know as ‘fact’ or ‘opinion’ is often carefully disguised cultural or political conditioning and/or little more than blind faith and belief. While deeply immersed in our righteous indignation over whatever it is that has emotionally or intellectually triggered us, the absolutely last thing any of us wishes to experience is knowing deep down in our hearts we are wrong, itself a deeply implanted mind meme designed to keep us deaf, dumb and blind.

Personal growth and spiritual development is all about taking two steps forward and on occasion a needed step or two back. The devil is not in the details, but in our ever present ego and the denial it inflames within our ‘self’. If there is one thing I always try to remember it is the following. I am not my ego and my ego is most certainly not me. That voice, that narrator we hear in our head is not us, but most often our ego. Once we recognize this universal truth we can begin to take a few extra steps forward before the inevitable step back. Progress, not perfection is the order of the day!

12-04-2014

Cognitive Dissonance

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7 thoughts on “Two Steps Forward and One Step Back”

  1. Very nice article CD but I must say I personally disagree with this:

    “While deeply immersed in our righteous indignation over whatever it is that has emotionally or intellectually triggered us, the absolutely last thing any of us wishes to experience is knowing deep down in our hearts we are wrong, itself a deeply implanted mind meme designed to keep us deaf, dumb and blind.”

    Emotional triggers: anger, sadness, fear or guilt for example are, ultimately, the greatest gifts rarely appreciated. They are the direct doors to the path of escape. They point one to the areas of focus. Just as pain focuses one to an injury. Yes, you may anesthetize yourself with drugs to mask the pain of a broken bone but no one would consider not fixing the break as the pain subsides. It is the same with emotional pain. People tend to anaesthetize themselves with various means but never address the underlying problem. Unfortunately the source of this problem can be difficult to see but sometimes after great effort, it is elucidated. In my experience, I have found I often play a part in this pain through my actions or non action. In short, I am wrong. There are several responses to this discovery. Righteous indignation, denial and maintenance of self delusion is one. This is unsatisfactory because suppression of truth is often the source of great stress. The other choice is acceptance and or reparation. While, initially quite unpleasant, in the end admittance of ones fallibility and error unburdenes the soul and there is no more pretense to maintain. You become lighter in spirit.

    Perhaps it’s best in life to walk with a bit of healthy skepticism. If you cling tightly to what you are taught and internalize these as core beliefs, contrary information will often be ill received. I remember once a friend was absolutely furious the Krebs Cycle, foundational in biochemistry, was slightly edited. How could something so basic be wrong? I told him the one thing you can be sure of is change is here to stay.

    Miffed

    1. Miffed said,

      “Emotional triggers: anger, sadness, fear or guilt for example are, ultimately, the greatest gifts rarely appreciated. They are the direct doors to the path of escape. They point one to the areas of focus. Just as pain focuses one to an injury. “

      Couldn’t agree with you more. Clearly my article was not directed towards you, but others who do not share your insight or appreciation for what most people either run away from (I know nothing) or roll around in like a cat in catnip (triggered anger or fear).

      In fact the article was directed toward those who don’t wish to look around themselves, let alone within.

      Thanks for the feedback Miffed. Always enjoy hearing your point of view.

      Cognitive Dissonance

      1. Dear CD,

        Thank you for the kind reply. Coming from you this means a lot because I respect your perceptions and willingness to share them. I find many people today are repressed and reticent revealing themselves in any manner. I have often wondered why this is. As children, we are so naturally open and free. Sometimes too much ( Mommy, look at that man, he is so fat!). Then comes societal domestication and the resultant armament to survive this artificial creation. But, then again, I have been criticized for being too open. Perhaps in doing so I touch a wire in others that they would rather lay dormant and hidden.

        My biggest problem when I identified many of my internal demons was the way to extract them. Unlike a surgeon who could operate and remove a tumor, I had to do this myself. I had the fortune ( or maybe Devine intervention) to have found a person to help me do this self surgery. I asked her later why I made such astounding progess while others, though improving, never achieved a life changing result. She smiled and said one word ” duress”. So all the pain and suffering were actually my path to freedom. I learn from her to appreciate the pain in my life ( though I will never say I could relish it!) as a vehicle to explore things I’d rather not face instead of running for a perceived safety which really was an illusion and construct of my mind.

        In respect and gratitude,

        Miffed

  2. A wonderful essay CD. Please never stop…….

    But an even more wonderful following exchange between you and Miffed, with MM’s description of her own personal use of emotions as identifiers of issues that probably needed her own internal work and efforts on resolutions of some sort based on her own perceptions of herself.

    I sincerely hope she comments more on these pages.

    The most difficult place most of us will ever attempt to look into is into ourselves. And how can we see into ourselves properly unless we have good self-diagnostic tools that we can use to determine our own real and true state of being?

    One issue I almost never see discussed in this recovery process is the issue of personal change and how it effects a person’s perception of their own internal balance as they grow in the ‘recovery’ process. I think it is vital that a person has a method of really assessing what they have done with themselves and where they have come and how far they have come in fixing themselves. It’s easy to know that a person has to do something when there is no place lower for them to go. Every action must be ‘up’. But once a person is making positive changes in themselves do they have the internal mechanisms to really see and credit those positive changes for what they are and how helpful they have been, or do they still see themselves as stuck in some very weakened damaged place that in fact no longer exists inside themselves? I think real positive and accurate self-assessment is vital to the process of continual growth (recovery).

    I’m not talking about some silly self-righteous personal internal aggrandizement because a person is no longer wallowing in misery. I am talking about a person really being aware of what they have done and using that awareness to build on for their continued growth. In my world a person never ‘gets there’, they are always walking toward where they want to go, on a trail that is infinitely long. How do they get anywhere unless they can give themselves credit for what they have done and build on those strengths and take lessons from the failures as means towards creation of further positive changes that result in further growth? It seems to me that it does no good to stay stuck in some weakened mental state when that place is actually not a part of the person any more. Perhaps it is fear that keeps the person from properly giving themselves credit for what they have internally accomplished? Fear of falling back into the state they have managed to overcome. I think a person must be able to give themselves credit for their strength even in the face of these fears.

    Duress is a potential wonderful motivator for growth. But I think we must really give ourselves credit for doing that growth so we can properly build on the growth to create more and better inside ourselves, continually. This does not necessarily even make the duress go away, but it does give us more strength to deal with even more duress.

    I hope readers will understand that I am not really talking about a ‘recovery’ process but a way of life.

    Please be gentle with yourselves. We are all so damaged here now.

    1. Duress is a potential wonderful motivator for growth. But I think we must really give ourselves credit for doing that growth so we can properly build on the growth to create more and better inside ourselves, continually. This does not necessarily even make the duress go away, but it does give us more strength to deal with even more duress.

      Hmmmm… as I read your words, OtB, I couldn’t help but think about how I am actually preparing to set a goal to endure my fourth Black Belt test, possibly as soon as April, if I can keep my courage up. The first such test, which I endured just prior to my 40th birthday, I can credit to the fact that I had no idea what I was getting myself into; for the ones I have taken since I have no excuse but that only in extremis can I see the strength of my spirit and my true commitment to growth.

      The test, the new rank, and even the discipline of martial arts itself, are all ultimately meaningless, but together they cast a beam of light back through the choices I have made, the changes in my character, and the ways that I have become a different person in the eyes of those around me. These crisis events in my life story help me see how I have changed, and overcome my fear of returning to the person I was before. Perhaps that is their true value.

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