When I first studied at university many years ago I was fascinated by the concept of free will versus determinism.
Are we in control of our lives or are forces outside of our control running us?
Are our personalities determined by nature – genetics – or the environment we grow up in – nurture?
A man with the unusual name of Burrhus Fred Skinner, the architect of behavioural psychology, was someone whom I rejected completely.
He horrified me to my core.
Skinner elaborated on the work of Pavlov and his dog which illustrated that all of our behaviour is conditioned by previous events.
In short, he said, we have no control.
I’m thinking to myself, “I’m going to be a psychologist, I have to believe in nurture and not nature, otherwise how much impact am I going to have on people?”
Entropy vs Syntropy
I think the idea was also horrifying to me because I had so much anxiety and depression, that to believe this was determined by something beyond my control left me feeling that there was nothing I could do about it. No one told me about the concept of syntropy.
Entropy says that all systems become more disordered and break down.
Syntropy says that creativity and higher levels of organisation emerge too, which means we transcend our conditioning.
Creative and destructive forces are an ongoing part of reality.
Over the years I have slowly come to believe that indeed we are significantly determined by factors beyond our control.
I would like to share my reasoning with you.
Can We Choose Our Destiny?
I was recently engaged in a discussion with some friends where they shared the idea that one can choose to take responsibility for one’s life. So the argument that they are presenting is that we are free to choose our behaviour, our thoughts and emotional response to any given situation.
Just take a look at yourself.
Ask yourself how many of the issues that you have worked on mentally and emotionally over the years have you changed?
My experience says that maybe we are successful with 10% or 15% of these issues, but what of the rest?
Some years ago I made a list of all of the areas of my life where I was still a victim. There were about 20 basic issues in the list and believe me I had spent thousands and thousands of hours working psychologically and spiritually on these issues and they were still there, unchanged.
I jokingly called this my immovable block of pathology.
Which is not to say that I haven’t grown immensely in many areas.
I recently did a process, which I had first done 3 years ago, in which one checks the ways in which our parents still push our buttons.
I had none.
It was very gratifying.
What I am saying however is that there are certain aspects of my psyche that have been totally beyond my ability to change up to now.
I am sometimes misinterpreted as judging myself for this.
What’s really interesting is that nobody stops to ask me if I am judging myself. They just assume I am.
The answer is I’m not.
I’m simply stating a fact that many aspects of my being have been totally out of my control to alter and I would state that the same applies to you.
And then, outside of yourself, there is the rest of the world. Friends, your intimate partner, your kids, government, your genetics, nature and the general course of history. How much power do you have to control them and that?
We live in denial for much of the time in our lives. We are pretending to ourselves that a whole lot of negative emotions just don’t exist, which makes us feel like we are in control, when in fact we are not.
Take the idea of death.
Most people, tell me that they’re only afraid of the pain of dying and not the actual fact of being dead.
I will sometimes ask them if I were to put a gun to their heads and tell them that I’m going to shoot them and that they will die immediately without any pain, are they telling me that if I hook them up to a blood pressure machine and a galvanic skin response machine and to a heart rate monitor and an EEG maching, that when giving them this news of their impending death there will be absolutely zero reaction?
Of course not.
The reason I think that we are so frightened of dying is that we are so attached to the ego, our sense of identity.
Most people’s identities are locked into beliefs and values and roles that they play out in their lives.
So if you consider yourself to be an honest person or a reliable person, or somebody who has empathy, then if somebody criticises you and says you’re a liar or unreliable or that you lack empathy you are most likely to get very upset.
We have dozens of these qualities with which we identify.
At the most fundamental level we are identified with our bodies. So if you start to have a heart attack or you think you are going blind or the sensation in your legs disappears, the enormous anxiety most of us would experience is the ego, the sense of self that is being threatened.
To die probably means to lose the entire body and the contents of the mind and emotions. Which is why I believe this is such a frightening thing for anyone who isn’t spiritually Awakened.
The spiritually Awakened person is identified with spirit, not with the body or the mind or the feelings.
So the ultimate question around death and the loss of body and emotion and identity is, do I have control over my anxiety regarding this?
For most of us the answer is no!
Slaves To Conditioning
The conditioning which you have experienced around your identity, your ego, has predetermined your anxiety, it’s that simple.
You have almost zero choice in the matter.
In essence we are slaves to our conditioning.
Just about every anxiety and neurosis that you have was created by previous events in your life and if not that, then by genetics.
There is of course the field of epigenetics which says some genes can be changed through our environment and through the use of our minds, which limits this determinism to some extent, but how much can you access this ability?
Mothers And Their Kids
I cannot tell you how many mothers have brought their troubled kids to see me over the years and I have asked them when they first saw these difficulties in their child. The answers range from between the first week of birth, to the first three months of life. Which means that these kids were born with multiple challenges that they now have to manage throughout their lives.
They have no choice in the matter.
There are some writers and many motivational speakers who present the absurd notion that we can choose our thinking.
I find this utterly extraordinary that people can claim that they can control the thinking mind.
Of course some people can do this for a very short period of time. There are some meditators who can stop their thoughts and just become completely still with a very blank mind.
I think that’s about .01% of the population by the way – which is really fascinating because most people who have tried meditation tell me that they can’t stop their minds and so they give up meditating!
But those same meditators who can stop the mind while meditating lose this control as soon as they stop meditating, when the mind returns with a vengeance because the mind is a thought producing factory that functions 24/7 and is largely beyond our control.
There is in addition a price to pay for this shutting down of the mind. Many of these people repress a lot of negative emotions which then return big time.
One of the most important elements in being able to use psychotherapy is one’s capacity to grow. Over many, many years what I realised is that the people who do best in psychotherapy are the ones who want to grow the most.
And here’s the kicker.
Is the character trait of wanting to grow within your control or is determined?
I have the most extraordinary need to grow. For the last 40 years I have endlessly worked on myself psychologically and spiritually.
I think it’s just my personality I don’t think I chose it at all.I think it chose me and I think it’s the same for most people. I’m not saying that people cannot learn to grow or develop that trait and other traits, it’s just that this is not that common.
Brainworking Recursive Therapy (BWRT)
I was recently trained in the most revolutionary and powerful technique for working with specific incidents of trauma and stress that I have encountered in 35 years of practice.
The technique was created by a British man named Terence Watts. He had read about a piece of research from one Benjamin Libet a psychologist at the University of California in the US.
Libet received the virtual Nobel Prize for this work.
In 1983 Libet proved that we do not have free will in the way that we usually think of it. He asked people to note the moment that they decided to move a finger to mark the position of a moving dot on a clock face, while he recorded their brainwave patterns.
He discovered that the decision was made by the brain about one third of a second before the subject was consciously aware of it. In other words when the conscious mind decides to do something the brain has already made that decision beforehand.
In summary we do not have free will.
Conditioned patterns are set up in the brain that create decisions over which the conscious mind has little control. In this technique the therapist starts working with the most intense moment of emotion, before the thinking mind runs its story.
My first client was a woman of 60 who was sexually abused at the age of 10.
In 20 minutes we transformed the experience! I know that sounds unbelievable. But there you have it.
The effect on her life was immense. She said that she felt lighter and calmer than she had in years and hadn’t felt as warm and loving toward her husband in the last 7.
All of this in 20 minutes!
I worked with another woman who had never spoken previously to a large audience. She had to do a business presentation to 1,000 people. I watched the video of her presentation. She was unbelievably confident, relaxed, authentic and spontaneous. As her husband said to me, “She smashed it!”
Another client had been abandoned by women in two of his previous relationships. He had constant nightmares about his present girlfriend abandoning him. We did the process, again in about 20 minutes.
He had 2 dreams after the work, which were completely neutral i.e. none of the anxieties were there. Thereafter the dreams stopped completely. The anxieties dissipated.
I worked with the CEO of an IT company. He was very stressed by his work. We took his biggest stress, being deeply insulted by one of his major suppliers. Again this feeling of hurt and rejection was dissolved in about 20 minutes.
A month later he most fascinatingly told me that this supplier had started to be much more respectful toward him and said, “She is now ‘liking’ my Facebook posts!”
The process is also extraordinary in dealing with grief.
What’s fascinating about this work is that one of the reasons why we can’t change deep-seated emotional stress and trauma and pain is that we are trying to change it with the conscious mind, with the cerebral cortex, while the brain is already producing the negative emotions before the conscious mind is able to influence them.
With this technique we go right to the moment where the worst trauma or stress occurred and transform it from there. It’s truly astonishing.
Control and Self-Esteem
You might be asking at this juncture, “So what is the point of this discussion. So what if we have or do not have control”
My response to this is that the issue of control is fundamental to our well-being and happiness, to our Self-Esteem.
Well, you might have noticed how often I talk about how much we want to control the world, ourselves and our environment, 500 to 1,000 times a day in fact. If we are wanting to control everything so much and the reality is that we can’t, then an enormous amount of our energy is going into trying to do something which is bound to fail. That is going to have a devastating impact on our lives, yes? Failed attempts at control lead to stress, anxiety, loss of Self-Esteem and ultimately depression.
We do on the other hand appear to have come degree of choice. The world looks very different now from the way it did 400 years ago.
That is due to creativity.
Where did that creativity come from?
My sense is that it is Pure Consciousness that naturally and spontaneously creates ‘newness’, undetermined by the past. It is syntropy in action.What I am therefore recommending is that we honour the ways in which this creativity expresses itself while simultaneously surrendering to that over which we have no control. My experience in doing this is that it is liberation into freedom.
I recently created a process called Celebrating Helplessness.
Every client I have worked with using this process feels a lightness and a Stillness when they surrender to that over which they have no control.
I worked with a man whose wife had just left him.
He tried everything he could to get her back. I helped him to see that he was completely helpless in the face of her abandoning him. When he was trying to get her back he was lost in his desperate and helpless story of pain and anguish and trying to understand why she had left him. I helped him to acknowledge the complete helplessness he faced in trying to get her back.
He had tried everything he knew to get her back by the way and he had failed.
I then asked him to surrender to the helplessness that he was feeling around this issue and his entire energy transformed, the desperation disappeared. At times, out of habit, he would go back into the agony of his story of why she was doing this or that or not responding to him and I helped him to see that every time he left the sense of surrender he would freak himself out.
In other words as soon as he was trying to control something that was beyond his control he became desperate. When he surrendered to his lack of control he became peaceful and energised and still.
And so we get to the core of this blog.
When we surrender to our lack of control, what emerges is a great Stillness and the Stillness is not passive.
It enables a spontaneous and creative movement that is vital and alive and deeply spirited. And that Spirit is creative and is not determined or controlled by anything.
It is a great paradox.
To reach and connect with this energy requires a deep surrender to what is.
If you would like to pursue any of the issues raised in this blog in a face to face or Skype consultation, please contact mail me at email@example.com