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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Matters of the Mind: Conscious cognition

We cry not over the attack or conflict, but the meaning we attach to it.

Written by Dr Shwetambara Sabharwal | Mumbai |
February 6, 2021 7:15:23 pm
consciousnessConsciousness is awareness. (Source: pixabay, image designed by Gargi Singh)

Part I

When we find ourselves hurting over an incident, pouring our eyes out to what was said (or not said) to us, we are so fused with the event, entangled with the other person or with the conflict that we fail to recognise the real cause of pain. The truth is we respond not to the event, but to our view or perception of the event. We cry not over the attack or conflict, but the meaning we attach to it.

My studies, training, science, experience and practice taught me to believe in cognitive theory which focuses on our thoughts. This school of thought helps us recognise the voice in our head–our intrusive, incessant compulsive thinking, which is conditioned, prejudiced, rigid and irrational due to previous learning. Once we identify our self-dialogue and replace it with effective thinking, we feel and behave in healthier ways.

As a child, I was a very well adjusted kid who grew up in a boarding school, with performance and survival at the centre of my universe. I could swear I was happy. It was in adult life when I faced a major crisis–several feelings tore through my being. I recognised abandonment, rejection, and betrayal and knew that there was a reason why I chose these perceptions of the current crisis and not others. My baggage lay exposed, leaving me fragile and frail, anxious about never having a safe home again.

I fought hard for many months with all my might to remind myself of the basic paradigms of cognitive therapy. I set reminders on my phone, wrote post its, put up print outs on my mirror, to “be in the present”, to think or have rational self-talk, to dispute cognitive errors, and replace irrationality with rational and effective philosophy every chance I got. This helped tremendously with functionality, productivity, focus, drive, and choices, but I wasn’t healing.

It was my turn to practice what I had been teaching for so many years. Rational cognition just wasn’t enough for relief and I started to dig deeper.

My childhood, strongly rooted in spiritual and religious teachings made me turn to spirituality, while still diligently practicing self-awareness and disputation in the cognitive sense.

I read many spiritual books, took courses in spiritual studies, practiced yoga, and turned back to many hobbies I enjoyed as a child. My supportive family and friends stood by me. I had goals, purpose, reason and the means to survive and be well. But I wasn’t healing.

With consciousness explained as early as in both the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, its practice was eclipsed and the idea shunned as non-scientific and it remained so for many decades. Measurable cognitive coordinates such as memory, perception, and language comprehension took the front seat with the rise of behaviourism and cognitive psychology and consciousness became a neglected and unexplored strength of human beings.

Consciousness is awareness. This awareness helps us stay in the “present”, which Sir Eckart Tolle states, is “all we have.” Thoughts in the moment about the past or the future is not being in a conscious state. Being in the present–still enough to experience a silent, spiritual state outside the reach of our minds that propels us to feel–we can experience a connect with our true being. In this space, we are too vast, too tiny, too connected, and too detached.

My belief that our mind and spirit while separate in functions can be brought together as a potent healing salve, got more concrete with my practice of it. I started relying on conscious cognitive practices, both for myself and my patients.

The gap that existed in intellectually knowing, trying, maybe even seeing it on the horizon and actually being, feeling, and living with consciousness, awareness, and presence became more and more clear.

I knew there was work to be done. I knew the journey would take me there. Patience, failing and persevering, staying optimistic amidst my internal chaos, and resilient practice finally helped.

You might be ready for a thundering, profound, and enlightening climax here. To tell you the truth, for climax, something needs to end. The strength and beauty of the journey of conscious cognition is that it never ends nor concludes.

The process continues, empowering one in bits and pieces, soothing and healing and at the same time igniting new fires. Connecting the two practices, consciousness involves not just cognitively letting go of the past, the future, other people and their choices, but actually feeling the disconnect as we choose to breathe the rejuvenating and restoring present. It is about seeing what we bring on our shoulders into every situation, recognising the role of “me”, our choices in perceptions and decisions not just in our minds, but stepping out of that rational space and into truly being that person and finally feeling authentic and liberated.

*Stay tuned for tools on the practice of conscious cognition next week

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