Mind and Beyond Mind [4/9] – Principles and The Power of Now: On Fear

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“Fear seems to have many causes …but ultimately all fear is the ego’s fear of death, of annihilation. … In this mind-identified state, fear of death affects every aspect of your life. For example, even such a seemingly trivial and “normal” thing as the compulsive need to be right in an argument and make the other person wrong – defending the mental position with which you have identified – is due to the fear of death. If you identify with a mental position, then if you are wrong, your mind-based sense of self is seriously threatened with annihilation. So you as the ego cannot afford to be wrong. To be wrong is to die. Wars have been fought over this, and countless relationships have broken down.” – The Origin of Fear, Chapter 2. Consciousness: The Way out of Pain, THE POWER OF NOW (Eckhart Tolle, 1999), p36

Once you have disidentified from your mind, whether you are right or wrong makes no difference to your sense of self at all, so the forcefully compulsive and deeply unconscious need to be right, which is a form of violence, will no longer be there. You can state clearly and firmly how you feel or what you think, but there will be no aggressiveness or defensiveness about it. Your sense of self is then derived from a deeper and truer place within yourself, not from the mind. Watch out for any kind of defensiveness within yourself. What are you defending? An illusory identity, an image in your mind, a fictitious entity. By making this pattern conscious, by witnessing it, you disidentify from it. In the light of your consciousness, the unconscious pattern will then quickly dissolve. This is the end of all arguments and power games, which are so corrosive to relationships. Power over others is weakness disguised as strength. True power is within, and it is available to you now.” – The Origin of Fear, Chapter 2. Consciousness: The Way out of Pain, THE POWER OF NOW (Eckhart Tolle, 1999), p36

“So anyone who is identified with their mind and, therefore, disconnected from their true power, their deeper self rooted in Being, will have fear as their constant companion. The number of people who have gone beyond mind is as yet extremely small, so you can assume that virtually everyone you meet or know lives in a state of fear. Only the intensity of it varies. It fluctuates between anxiety and dread at one end of the scale and a vague unease and distant sense of threat at the other.” – The Origin of Fear, Chapter 2. Consciousness: The Way out of Pain, THE POWER OF NOW (Eckhart Tolle, 1999), p37


 

The most important thing for our growth and self development is probably to learn what our weaknesses are, why they are such, and how to get over to reach the next stage.

In Principles, these subjects are extensively discussed in Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, where Dalio shares insights on what our barriers are in realizing our full potential, why they are such, and how to rise above such limitations. And he stresses these are the most important discussions in Principles.

Out of many valuable discussions in both life and work principles – spanning from philosophical contemplation to pragmatic guidance to innovative ideas and occasionally to radical perspectives -, in my opinion, the discussions in this chapter leave the most repercussions because they cover issues that nobody is free from yet are very hard to notice and get over in real practice.

I believe that important insights provided in this chapter are something only an enlightened person can perceive and act on. The reason is, to borrow Tolle’s description, most of us are living ‘unconsciously’ without knowing why we are behaving in certain ways.

This recognition about Dalio was also the reason why I couldn’t help but to take Tolle’s book again from my bookshelf! You might notice from this series that much of Dalio’s insights and wisdom overlap major discussions of Tolle.

What’s also astounding about Dalio is his ability to translate his level of awareness into a practical application in business: Bridgewater’s rigorous culture where people are encouraged to push their limits, grow and thrive as a better version by striving to find truth and confront if truth is not there.

Where can one’s spirituality lead him/herself both in personal life and business? As far as the person’s awareness can reach. I believe this is how we can observe a greatness of a leader. To confess, I haven’t read any book written by a business leader who is showing and sharing this rare quality yet.

According to Tolle, a rare example from history is Marcus Aurellius, whom he  describes as ‘one of those exceedingly rare humans who possessed worldly power as well as wisdom.’ By wisdom, I believe he means one’s spiritual understanding on ourselves and the world. And Marcus Aurellius’s Meditation proves that.

In this article, I would like to develop my discussion firstly by defining what our weaknesses are, followed by how our unconscious fear manifests as our weaknesses and how our mind behaves to our detriment, and lastly how we can get over and rise. Then, I will conclude with an idea of what we become after we successfully go through our self growth process.

  1. What Are Our Weaknesses?
  2. How Our Weaknesses Are Manifested As Personality Traits
  3. How Do We Get Over and Rise Above? A Few Suggestions
  4. Closing: What Happens Next?

 

1. What Are Our Weaknesses?

In the previous article (Mind and Beyond Mind [3] – Principles and The Power of Now: Mind-Identified Egoic State of Consciousness versus Pure Consciousness), I have discussed about ‘why we are not our mind’ as compared to our conventional belief represented by Descartes’ famous philosophical contemplation: I think, therefore I am.

I have shared a deeper understanding of ourselves that is far greater than our mind – ‘pure consciousness’ that is revealed only when we rise beyond our current ‘mind-identified egoic state of consciousness.’

Can consciousness itself evolve? If we consider it can do so, the current level of consciousness which most of us are residing in at this stage is ‘the mind-identified egoic state of consciousness,’ that is to evolve to a higher level. We had a glimpse of what the next level is.

Tolle asserts that this egoic mind is a main cause of pain – in the form of fear and suffering – in our age, and argues that they are unnecessary. Hence the need to rise beyond.

Is pain unnecessary? Isn’t pain inevitable as long as we live our life on earth? If the answer is the former as Tolle suggests, what does it mean? Is our egoic mind working more toward our detriment? Is it our weakness?

Certainly, Dalio has a clear understanding on this matter, too. He considers our ego is our weakness. He asserts that both our ego barrier and blind spot – which is exactly our egoic mind – are what stand in our way to achieve a good decision making, our growth and our living in full potential.

“The two biggest barriers to good decision making are your ego and your blind spots. Together, they make it difficult for you to objectively see what is true about you and your circumstances and to make the best possible decisions by getting the most out of others. If you can understand how the machine that is the human brain works, you can understand why these barriers exist and how to adjust your behavior to make yourself happier, more effective, and better at interacting with others.” – 3.1. Recognize Your Two Barriers, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p183

Dalio identifies ‘two-level yous’ in us that fight and struggle for control: higher-level you and lower-level you. The ego barrier can be considered as lower-level subconscious mechanism while higher-level consciousness mainly occupies itself for executive function with its logic and reasoning.

“When I refer to your “ego barrier,” I’m referring to your subliminal defense mechanism that make it hard for you to accept your mistakes and weaknesses. Your deep-seated needs and fears … reside in your primitive parts of your brain such as the amygdala, which are structures in your temporal lobe that process emotions. Because these areas of your brain are not accessible to your conscious awareness, it is virtually impossible for you to understand what they want and how they control you. They oversimplify things and react instinctively. They crave praise and respond to criticism as an attack, even when the higher-level parts of the brain understand that constructive criticism is good for you. They make you defensive, especially when it comes to the subject of how good you are. At the same time, higher-level consciousness resides in your neo-cortex, more specifically in the part called the prefrontal cortex. This is the most distinctively human feature of your brain; … This is where you experience the conscious awareness of decision making (the so-called “executive function“), as well as the application of logic and reasoning.” – a. Understand your ego barrier, 3.1. Recognize Your Two Barriers, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p184

The Two Yous (higher-level you and lower-level you) according to Dalio, can be the equivalent of ‘conscious mind’ and ‘unconscious mental-emotional reaction pattern’ as per Tolle.

‘Logical and conscious higher level yous’ are our ‘conscious mind’ that can see ourselves from a higher perspective while ’emotional and subconscious lower level yous’ are our ‘unconscious reaction pattern.’ Tolle explained this unconscious level as a state where there’s no presence of watcher or observer. (We have discussed about this in the previous article: Mind and Beyond Mind [3] – Principles and The Power of Now: Mind-Identified Egoic State of Consciousness versus Pure Consciousness)

“Once you understand how your a) logical/conscious you and b) emotional/subconscious you fight with each other, you can imagine what it’s like when your two yous deal with other people and their own two “thems.” It’s a mess. Those two lower-level selves are like attack dogs – they want to fight even when their higher-level selves want to figure things out. This is very confusing because you and the people you are dealing with typically don’t even know that these lower-level beasts exist, never mind that they are trying to hijack everyone’s behavior.” – b. Your two “yous” fight to control you, 3.1. Recognize Your Two Barriers, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p185

2. How Our Weaknesses Are Manifested As Personality Traits

It’s worth recalling the meaning of ‘the mind-identified egoic state of consciousness,’ a notion described by Tolle. It’s a state of mind-identified ‘false self.’

In this state, you are your mind or your mental position, so finding your ‘self’ being wrong means the death of the self, i.e. mind-identified you. In this state, fear and conflict is inevitable. Dalio describes this aspect:

“Let’s look at what tends to happen when someone disagrees with you and asks you to explain your thinking. Because you are programmed to view such challenges as attacks, you get angry, even though it would be more logical for you to be interested in the other person’s perspective, especially if they are intelligent. When you try to explain your behavior, your explanations don’t make any sense. That’s because your lower-level you is trying to speak through your upper-level you. Your deep-seated, hidden motivations are in control, so it is impossible for you to logically explain what “you” are doing. Even the most intelligent people generally behave this way, and it’s tragic. To be effective you must not let your need to be right be more important than your need to find out what’s true. If you are too proud of what you know or of how good you are at something, you will learn less, make inferior decisions, and fall short of your potential.– b. Your two “yous” fight to control you, 3.1. Recognize Your Two Barriers, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p185

This ‘identification of yourself with mind’ is typically found from closed-mindedness (For more details of typical traits, check out my previous article: [3] – Principles and The Power of Now: Mind-Identified Egoic State of Consciousness versus Pure Consciousness). Dalio’s definition of ‘blind spots’ lie also in this context.

“In addition to your ego barrier, you (and everyone else) also have blind spots – areas where your way of thinking prevents you from seeing things accurately. … Naturally, people can’t appreciate what they can’t see. … If you are like most people, you have no clue how other people see things and aren’t good at seeking to understand what they are thinking, because you’re too preoccupied with telling them what you yourself think is correct. In other words, you are closed-minded; you presume too much. … This failure to benefit from others’ thinking doesn’t just occur when disagreements arise; it occurs when people encounter problems that they are trying to solve. When trying to figure things out, most people spin in their own heads instead of taking in all the wonderful thinking available to them. As a result, they continually run toward what they see and keep crashing into what they are blind to until the crashing leads them to adapt. … Differences in thinking can be symbiotic and complementary instead of disruptive.” – c. Understand your blind spot barrier, 3.1. Recognize Your Two Barriers, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p185-6

Dalio argues these two barriers – ego and blind spots – are the fatal flaws that keep intelligent, hardworking people from living up to their potential. Then, what to do about it? Dalio’s suggestion: To ‘become RADICALLY open-minded.’

“Mental pain often comes from being too attached to an idea when a person or an event comes along to challenge it. This is especially true when what is being pointed out to you involves a weakness on your part. This kind of mental pain is a clue that you are potentially wrong and that you need to think about the question in a quality way. To do this, first calm yourself down. This can be difficult: You will probably feel your amygdala kicking in through a tightening in your head, tension in your body, or an emerging sense of annoyance, anger, or irritability. Note these feelings when they arise in you. By being aware of such signals of closed-mindedness, you can use them as clues to control your behavior and guide yourself toward open-mindedness. Doing this regularly will strengthen your ability to keep your “higher-level you” in control. The more you do it, the stronger you will become.” – To practice open-mindedness: a. Regularly use pain as your guide toward quality reflection, 3.6. Understand how you can become radically open-minded, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p198

The feelings such as annoyance, anger, or irritability that Dalio describes here are ‘unconscious mental-emotional reaction’ that are caused by our mind-identified ego. I will elaborate more on this in the subsequent article on emotion.

What’s noteworthy is Dalio exactly points out how we can deal with emotions when they come. He asks us to notice! He asks us to feel and observe the emotions when they come. He asks us to be a watcher of those emotions by becoming calm. This is exactly what Tolle highlights in dealing with our emotional and psychological pain be it fear or suffering.

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3. How Do We Get Over and Rise Above? A Few Suggestions

Dalio’s recommendations to get over fear or emotional pain follow the same context suggested by Tolle: Notice the feelings and know they pass away soon. (Amygdala Hijacking) Tolle states that those negative thoughts and emotions – which are transitory – disappear upon the presence of a watcher just as darkness disappears upon the presence of light. Tolle and Dalio are in fact sharing the same insight with simply a different language and context. Noticing and recognizing that Amygdala Hijacking is playing tricks on us just means we are present! Here I notice again Dalio’s spirituality shines.

Dalio suggests several ways to get over pains that we inevitably encounter. A few are outstanding for sharing.

First, ‘build into habit.’ He suggests that we consistently use feeling of anger and frustration as cues to calm down, slow down, and approach the subject at hand thoughtfully, so that over time we’ll experience negative emotions much less frequently.

“The life that you will live is most simply the result of habits you develop. If you consistently use feeling of anger/frustration as cues to calm down, slow down, and approach the subject at hand thoughtfully, over time you’ll experience negative emotions much less frequently and go directly to the open-minded practices I just described. Of course, this can be very hard for people to do in the moment because your “lower-level you” emotions are so powerful. The good news is that these “amygdala hijacking” don’t last long so even if you’re having trouble controlling yourself in the moment, you can also allow a little time to pass to give your higher-level you space to reflect in a quality way. Have others whom you respect help you too.” – To practice open-mindedness: b. Make being open-minded a habit, 3.6. Understand how you can become radically open-minded, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p198-9

Second, ‘contemplate’ with time, and consistently ‘practice to improve’ yourself by asking, writing a list, tacking it up on the wall, and staring at it, if any bad decisions were made due to closed-mindedness.

“When you are closed-minded and form an opinion in an area where you have a blind spot, it can be deadly. So take some time to record the circumstances in which you’ve consistently made bad decisions because you failed to see what others saw. Ask others – especially those who’ve seen what you’ve missed – to help you with this. Write a list, tack it up on the wall, and stare at it. If ever you find yourself about to make a decision (especially a big decision) in one of these areas without consulting others, understand that you’re taking a big risk and that would be illogical to expect that you’ll get the results you think you will.” – To practice open-mindedness: c. Get to know your blind spots, 6. Understand how you can become radically open-minded, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p199

Third, ‘meditate.’ Even if he suggests this casually, what I perceive is different. It seems meditation is what made Ray Dalio hence Bridgewater as they are today. I will discuss a few benefits that we may potentially gain from meditation (or rather, any practice of mindfulness) in the subsequent article. (Mind and Beyond Mind [6] – Principles and The Power of Now: The Relationship between Inner Stillness and Creativity)

“I practice Transcendental Meditation and believe that it has enhanced my open-mindedness, higher-level perspective, equanimity, and creativity. It helps slow things down so that I can act calmly even in the face of chaos, just like a ninja in a street fight. I’m not saying that you have to meditate in order to develop this perspective; I’m just passing along that it has helped me and many other people and I recommend that you seriously consider exploring it.” – To practice open-mindedness: e. Meditate, 6. Understand how you can become radically open-minded, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p200

Fourth, acknowledge the workings of deep-seated subconscious mind and ‘be fact and evidence-based’ for that reason.

“Most people do not look thoughtfully at the facts and draw their conclusions by objectively weighing the evidence. Instead they make their decisions based on what their deep-seated subconscious mind wants and then they filter the evidence to make it consistent with those desires. It is possible to become aware of this subconscious process happening and to catch yourself, or to allow others to catch you going down this path. When you’re approaching a decision, ask yourself: Can you point to clear facts (i.e., facts believable people wouldn’t dispute) leading to your view? If not, chances are you’re not being evidence-based.– To practice open-mindedness: f. Be evidence-based and encourage others to be the same, 6. Understand how you can become radically open-minded, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p200

Lastly, be ‘calm and reasonable.’ Acknowledge that it’s not argument but an open-exploration of what’s true.

“Being calm and reasonable in how you present your view will help prevent the “flight-or-fight” animal/amygdala reaction in others. Be reasonable and expect others to be reasonable. Ask them to point to the evidence that supports their point of view. Remember, it is not an argument; it is an open exploration of what’s true. Demonstrating that you are taking in what they are telling you can be helpful. – To practice open-mindedness: g. Do everything in your power to help others also be open-minded, 6. Understand how you can become radically open-minded, Chapter 3. Be Radically Open-Minded, Part II. Life Principles, PRINCIPLES (Ray Dalio 2017), p200

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Closing: What Happens Next?

What happens when we finally learn what our weaknesses are and get over our weaknesses?

We have become radically open-minded. We rise from our compulsive and unconscious level of mind-identified egoic state to the higher level of consciousness. We seek to find and see truth in all occasions knowing we are not what our mind (both thought and emotion) dictates us to be.

Enlightenment doesn’t have to sound very heavy and serious – as Tolle says it’s not indeed -, but we become enlightened who is gone beyond mind at the same time. We recognize how our mind plays tricks on us and control rather than be controlled.

In the next article, I would like to discuss more about our emotional pains that inevitably follows in time of disagreement and conflicts and about how to deal with them.

Jay

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