Thursday, June 07, 2007

Preconceived Notions

If you’re like me you have a large stock pile of preconceived notions about things. These are the ideas and standards we have for judging people, events, places, etc. For example, we have preconceived notions about what makes a person a good person, which is broken down into countless categories depending on a person’s role such as what makes a parent a good parent, what makes a friend a good friend, what makes a teacher a good teacher, what makes a leader a good leader, etc. We have these preconceived notions about everything from what foods taste good (or would taste good if we have not tasted them yet) to what careers are worthwhile to pursue. These notions (conceived in the past) are influenced by our upbringing, social and cultural environment, as well as our own egoic drive to have an opinion or view point about everything (i.e. our own identity).

We feel that these preconceived notions are our survival tools that keep us safe and happy, and we can rationalize hundreds of ways in which our lives have been made better by having them. The truth is that we are clinging to them out of fear, the fear of losing ourselves without them. They make up our ego, our perceived identity, which is a mind made self that separates and differentiates us from the world around us. But this perceived separation is actually what leads to various levels of suffering or discontent in our lives.

These preconceived notions control how we see the world around us. Since they are the yardstick by which we judge other people and situations, they keep us stuck in the past and cloud our judgement of the present (in effect they have become our judgement). The past then perpetuates itself through this dense filter made up of past experiences (our mind) into the future. This is why we continue to manifest repetitive patterns in our lives or still feel the same after something in our life situation changes (i.e. a new job, a new home, etc.). In effect, our judgments and preconceived notions are creating our future to be just as it was in the past.

Judging others based on our preconceived notions is one of the major obstacles we have to obtaining happiness, but it is what we have relied on our whole lives to bring about just that. So how do we overcome this habitual practice of judging everyone and everything that comes into our lives and break free of the past? Well, it doesn’t happen overnight, at least not for most, but there are some basic practices you can start right now that make it happen.

First, start becoming aware of your own judgements when they occur. Realize that they are based on preconceived notions that you still hold to be the truth. Then, realize that not everyone sees the world the same way you do. In fact, there is no limit to the level of differentiation among people. We are all as unique as our fingerprints. And no two life situations (past or present) are the same even if you are brought up in the same household as another. However, if you look deeper than the outer layer you will see that we are all exactly alike. We have all created our way in the world with the hope that we will find true happiness. That’s all anyone wants. And we do what we do, say what we say, act the way we act because our preconceived notions (and ego) tell us that is the best way to bring about happiness. Therefore, the judgement you place on someone else could just as accurately be placed on yourself (i.e. “Look at that fool, he/she thinks what they are doing will make them happy.”).

This practice will help you eliminate judgement and unlock the door to true happiness. However, there are a few other pointers that might help here. It all starts with this: practice being the watcher, or listener, of the thoughts in your head. Pay attention as often as you can to the thoughts in your head. At first you can use key events as reminders to pay attention to your thoughts. For example, when you find yourself judging a person or event, or you find yourself formulating an opinion on a subject, or when you find yourself defending an opinion or getting upset, just pay attention to the thoughts. Don’t judge yourself for having the thoughts, just listen impartially. If you find yourself just having internal conversations about random things (as I find myself doing a lot) just bring your awareness to the thoughts and don’t beat yourself up for having such trivial thoughts. They are not trivial when you are shed the light of your awareness on them.

You can also do this when engaged in conversations with other people. Instead of constantly thinking of what they are saying has to do with you and how you are going to respond, just listen to them with your full attention. All of this can be called practicing presence or mindfulness and is the first step in awakening, which releases you from the control the past has over you. I think you will like the results, but I’d love to hear how it goes.
All the best,

PS - If you are interested in space photos, this link has some great pictures taken from the Hubble telescope. These images are truly humbling and magnificent. Once you realize how tiny our galaxy is compared to the size of the universe (full of 100s of billions of galaxies, each with billions of solar systems like ours), it might make your mind made problems seem pretty insignificant after all.

1 comment:

Casdok said...

I try and do as you say! I wish more people would.
Some very good points.