I have been reading about the development of human psychology lately. Initially, I started to read this stuff because I wanted to provide some context around the “why” of my actions and behavior. In knowing the historical milieu from which human decision-making came out, then I may be better capable of orienting myself to make better choices in my own life. I also wanted to know the role of my emotions and rationality as it applies to my own decision-making.
The Evolution of Consciousness by Robert Ornstein explores the evolutionary roots of the mind, how it is that the human mind came to be what it is, and where it is taking us. Central to his thesis is the notion that humans now have the unique capacity to direct biological evolution through the use of the mind.
I had a pretty visceral taste of this in real-time the other day. I was crossing a road at night, and an oncoming vehicle turned on the road I was crossing and didn’t see me. I leaped out of the way, pivoting onto the curb. I was an arm’s length away from getting run down. As I was crossing the street, I knew in my periphery that a vehicle was coming down, but I already pre-decided he was going to see me and give me the right-of-way. I didn’t consider the fact that it was night, and I was wearing dark clothes. When I realized he wasn’t stopping, my whole physiology kicked-up into flight-mode, causing me to leap for dear life. As he was driving off, he admonished me to start wearing bright clothes. This pissed me off. Moments ago, my life was endangered at the hands of his carelessness, and all he had to show for it was some cheeky advice. Shocked and disoriented, I plopped down into someone’s lawn, laying there for a while.
When I got home later, I read a similar account in the aforementioned book, demonstrating how one can move across various “selves” in a matter of moments, which happens all the time, but is easily demonstrated in the midst of a crisis. Upon reflection, I could detect at least four different selves that elapsed within me in a matter of minutes. This is a rather dramatic example, but it drove home the notion of how decentralized the self is, as opposed to the self as a consistent totality. He goes on to explain how these different selves emerged evolutionarily out of a need to adapt to an environment that has long since faded, drawing on the notion of the divided mind. Being conscious of these selves as they operate in a world they are no longer “fitted” to in an evolutionary sense gives us a chance to direct them, instead of being directed by them. This is, I take it, what the author is conveying when he puts forward the idea of conscious evolution.
I’m also reading Steven Hayes “A Liberated Mind”. I was introduced to Steven on an episode of the Stoa. He was a developer of the ACT therapy, which is a psychotherapy technique that builds on the idea that pivoting our attention to difficult experiences, instead of avoiding them, will help us grow into what is worth caring for, allowing those difficult experiences to be held within the container of awareness. Central to his work is the entrainment of situational awareness. This might be another way of speaking to the need to develop and train consciousness.
I arrived at a similar notion to Steven recently. I decided that moving forward in my life would be best by acting out what is most worth caring for. For me, what is worth caring for is wisdom, which I describe as the springboard affording us to make the most responsible choices. From that center-point, everything else worth caring for, like love, emerges and is nurtured. To be able to embody wisdom means to know what is worth caring about, and being a witness to one’s own experience. From observation, one can move into decision and action. It turns out Steven’s ACT model also uses the notion of the observer as the point of departure. Since I’ve been meditating and getting to experience my own observer, my own ability to pivot to what matters has not been inconsequential.
This pivot has taken me to the realm of relationship. As I wrote in an earlier place, my desire has been to expand the bandwidth of my caring in depth and in scope. I’m looking forward to how Steven’s accumulated wisdom will guide me through my orientation to act on what matters most.