We make use of mental models to grasp things mentally. It gives meaning to our experiences; it allows us to interpret the happenings in the world. However, our mental models are conditioned by our personal focus. Hence, our perceptions are subjective and prejudiced. To have genuine insight, we have to first clear up our perceptions.
In this article we show the process of this clearing by considering three kinds of learning: No Learning (what happens when we disregard the feedback on our actions); Ordinary Learning (as in science); and Quantum Learning (what happens when we can change the level of our perceptions).
Copyright © 2010, Prashant S. Shah; http://www.spiritual-living.in
- The two levels of our consciousness
- How do we grow spiritually
- The role of our mental models
- The process of learning: No learning habit; Ordinary learning and Quantum learning
- Place of purification in spiritual life
There is mortal part of us, the mental-self, which runs our outer life. It is selfish and self-centred, and we all know it. However, there is also an immortal part of us, a soul, which gives us a sense of our conscience and the spirit of unity. We can consider these two parts as the two beings within us. Both of them are reflected in our mind, but individually they function at two separate levels of consciousness.
We can understand the two levels of our consciousness by COMPARING our life to the life of a tree: A tree has a trunk and leaves. The leaves come and go according to the seasons, but the trunk sustain longer. Further, the consciousness in the leaf is essentially the same as the consciousness in the trunk. However, when the consciousness is confined to a part, the powers of consciousness are contracted. Then the part experiences itself as an individual that is separate from the whole. Thus, the leaf experiences fear in the fall season with the thought of extinction, but the trunk does not experience this fear since it grows over the years.
In the same way, the level of our perception and our insight into life depend on how we regard and consider ourselves. If we consider ourselves to be just a body with a mind, we experience ourselves as separate individuals with selfish interests. Then our consciousness is confined to our mind and body, and we live to mainly satisfy the desires in the mind and body. Thus, we only think in terms of comforts, sensual thrills, money and prestige.
However, if we consider our identity to be a soul, the in-dweller, then we regard our mind and body as our possessions, like our car or house. Then our consciousness begins to expand, and we experience the spiritual qualities and higher values of life. Then we regard the forms of life and the conditions we are passing through as something temporary, like the leaves that come and go. Then the focus of our life shifts from outer growth to inner growth. Just as the trunk of a tree grows over the years, our inner life matures through our experiences on earth. Thus, the experiences of our mortal life are said to mature the seeds of our immortal life. What we have developed within us stays with us, and we experience it as the STATE of our being.
How do we grow spiritually?
The two beings in us, the mental-self and the soul, function through separate faculties. They are the ‘outer mind’ and the ‘inner mind’ respectively. When we function with the outer mind we know things indirectly, by figuring them out through the process of inference, study and experimentation. When we function with the inner mind we can know things directly, by making an inner contact with the ‘mind of things’. In this way we can know the inner quality and the motives.
Once we know the nature of the two beings within us, we understand that to grow spiritually we have to assert the soul and subdue the mental-self. In other words, we have to learn to function with the inner mind and overcome our preoccupation with the activities of the outer mind. However, to be able to function with the inner mind first we have to do the inner work of clearing the impurities from our mind that bind our attention to the outer mind.
This inner work is more concerned with un-learning our mental habits and less with learning new things. To do the work effectively, we have to understand the ‘subjective nature’ of the instrument (mind) through which we perceive. We have to clearly see how the ‘contents of our mind’ influence our thinking and perceptions. Then we can undertake the task of clearing the impurities and get access to the inner mind. The inner mind is a calm, open, sensitive and free-flowing portion of the mind.
Here we try to understand the nature of the inner work that we have to do in terms of the role played by our mental models in the process of learning.
When we look at the world we do not see it factually like a camera picture. Our mind receives only some impressions of the object and tries to form a mental image of it. The mental image is usually incomplete. So the mind tries to complete it by filling in the missing elements from our memory. This act of ‘filling in’ is the first source of error.
Further, the mind does not register this ‘completed image’ into our memory. It allows us to interpret the mental image with the help of our mental models. Our mental models are our stored assumptions, concepts and beliefs. Thus, what we record in our memory is not the original mental impression of the object, but our ‘psychological remake’ of it. This is the second source of error.
How do we acquire the mental models? We subconsciously process our personal experiences and the experiences of from the people we identify with (like our family, society, country, etc.) and build our mental models. We use these mental models to grasp things mentally, to give meaning to our experiences, and to interpret the happenings in the world. However, since our mental models are conditioned by our personal focus, they make our perceptions subjective and prejudiced.
Now we illustrate importance of clearing our perceptions by considering three kinds of learning.
The process of learning
Let us consider the process of learning through feedback. We are using feedback when our present action utilises our past experience. That is what we do now is made after considering what happened the last time it was done. In this way we correct our mistakes and make improvements.
The no-learning habit:
Let us consider what happens when we DISREGARD the feedback on our actions. Then we repeat our actions without regard to the result. We usually justify our actions by saying, “I’m like this” or “This is how I do things”. However, when we act like that we are not being intelligent; we do not make our actions more appropriate to the situation. Then we do not learn from the past experience and we do not improve our performance. When people act in this way they make recommendations without first trying to understand the issues or situation; they make prescriptions without first trying to diagnose the problem; and they make replies without really listening to the question.
In most of us the ‘no learning habit’ continues in some form. That happens because it takes a lot of effort to act intelligently.
However, when we use the feedback on our actions we make improvements and do not repeat our mistakes. In this way we make our actions result or goal oriented. Then we act intelligently and we can learn from our experiences. This is the method of ordinary learning that we are taught in our schools.
However, this method of ordinary learning has a LIMITATION. If we are searching for a solution in the wrong places, we cannot use feedback and logic to make improvements. The feedback becomes become irrelevant and the logic does not guide us to the solution. Thus, ordinary learning cannot be used to alter the directions of our search. For example, if a mistake or error has arisen due to a fault in our perception, then we cannot correct it with logic. The reason is that our perception comes first; it sets the direction for our search — where we look. Then subsequently we use logic to organise our thoughts around the perception. So, when our perception is faulty we search for the solution in the wrong places! Hence, we cannot find it.
There is an interesting Zen STORY that relates to this point: A monk was searching for a needle and some people joined him in the search. Then a person asked the monk, “Where exactly did you drop the needle?” To which the monk replied, “I dropped it over there”, pointing to a spot in a distance. Hence, the person remarked, “You should be looking there; why are you looking for it here?” To which the monk replied, “I am looking for it here because the light (lamp post) is here”. This story shows that we instinctively look for our solutions in the places we are familiar with; but if the solution lies in a different place, our feedback and logic will not get us closer to finding it.
To put it differently, if there is a mistake in our perception due to a fault in our mental models (that is in our attitudes, assumptions and beliefs) then we cannot correct it with ordinary learning. We can use ordinary learning to correct a mistake only when the cause is on the ‘object side’ – that is on the outside, as in others. We cannot use it to correct a mistake when the cause is on the ‘subject side’ – that is on our inside, as in our perception. When the cause of the mistake is within us, ordinary learning can only help us in making some small improvements like increasing our efficiency.
When we get into stuck situations or when our problems keep on repeating, we must understand that a part of the cause lies within us, in our mindset. Hence, we cannot solve such a problem or situation by trying harder in the same direction. We have to scrutinize our mental models and find the fault in there. Then we have to go further and correct it. And that will alter the direction of our search. If we ignore the mental models, we continue to work with the wrong assumptions. Then we look for the solution in the wrong places!
To solve repeating problems or to get out of stuck situations, we have to scrutinise our mental models and try to VALIDATE our assumptions, attitudes and beliefs. It will show us the part of the problem that lies within us. First we have to correct this, and then we can begin to solve the problem.
Our mental models subconsciously dictate our choices. Hence, by correcting the faults in our mental models, we also clear our perceptions. It alters the ‘lens’ through which we see the world. It changes our experience of the world, our assumptions, and how we regard everything. Then we begin to look for our solutions in the right places. Once we have the right direction, we can use ordinary learning to make our actions result oriented and improve our performance.
Spiritual learning is not limited to correcting the mental models. We can scrutinise the entire ‘subjective nature’ of the mind through which we see the world. It will raise the ‘quantum level’ of our insight – from where we see. Then we can function with the inner mind; we can correctly diagnose the cause of the problems; and we can generate lasting solutions.
In spiritual life we talk of growth in terms of clearing the ‘impurities’ from the mind. The impurities are the personal thoughts, desires and emotions that generate our personal motives and maintain errors in our perception. They create a fog in the mind that does not allow us to see with the higher faculty. Hence, we cannot know the true nature of things. Through purification we clear the fog and begin to see things clearly without distortions.
The problems that we experience in our life, individually and collectively, are largely due to the faults in our mental models. The apparent causes of the problems are in the situations of the outer world, but their deeper cause lies within us. Hence, we cannot generate lasting solutions to our problems by merely overcoming the apparent causes. Sooner or later we have to deal with the deeper causes. And to do that we have to look in the right places with the right attitude.
However, there is a LAZY SIDE to all of us: There are many forces within us that do not want us to change our ways. Hence, we seek external solutions to our problems. It is similar to asking for ‘a pill’ to solve the problems created by our faulty eating habits.
Most of us do not want to make the effort to change our mind-set; and we don’t want to accept the responsibility for how we conduct our life. Hence, we blame our fate or our circumstances; or we hope that our problems will disappear in time. However, the faults in our mental models do not autocorrect. They keep pushing us into stuck situations and some problems keep on repeating. To overcome these problems we have to undertake the task of purification. If we postpone the task, we can wait for a lifetime.
If you want to implement the ideas contained in this article, please read our Course-4: Advanced Spiritual Practice (Sadhana) under the tab of ‘Correspondence Courses’ on our site http://www.spiritual-living.in