(Ok. I’m now done with the post!)
On a slight tangent from previous post addressing suspension of judgment…
Coincidentally, Just the other day I was pondering some thing that I teach in￼ Psycho-education groups that I often lead.
Note: for those who might be familiar with theories of counseling, or approaches to therapy, I am conflating probably more than a couple of them in what follows.
In more than one of the approaches to mental health￼￼￼, There is the notion that we have thoughts￼ and emotions. That Problems arise as a mental health issue as people are not able to discern the difference between a thought and an emotion.
This is to suggest that people tend to think that their emotions and thoughts are attached, or solvent in such a way to activity that they are “naturally” myself (one’s self). We can even probably go so far to say that identity is the fusion of thought, emotion, and action, And that mental health issues arise in identity or as identity.
However, this is not to say that there is a problem inherent in the notion of identity itself. But that a way to approach mental health issues is to be able to notice what is actually occurring in Ones self.
As a counselor, myself, I distinguish when I am involved with philosophy, and when I am involved with counseling, and then also when I am involved with a philosophy of counseling. ￼For, often enough, and me included, before I ever actually started counseling, it was much easier to sit back in ones proverbial idealistic mind and come to all sorts of ideas of why such and such should or should not be the case. ￼
However, When one, such as myself, enjoys to sit back in my philosophical mind and come to all sorts of great ideas about mental health and how it should be approached, and what it is, and how people should think and things like that￼… when a person such as this then takes those great philosophical ideas and encounters actual situations of mental health, actual situations of people wanting help in their lives, in the way they think about things, in the way they experience things, in the way that life is for them, One is faced with a certain dilemma. That is to say, if they have enough humility and introspection to see that indeed there is a dilemma…
The dilemma is this, and this is probably the furthest I will step into philosophy in this particular post:
On one hand I have my great ideas. And on the other, I have the actual situation. I can of course hang onto those ideas and attempt to apply everything that occurs in front of me and address them to those ideas that I know are so perfect￼.￼￼￼
Or, I can understand that those great ideas that I came to in my wonderful philosophical mind really have no relationship to what is happening with this person or situation in front of me.￼ In this latter instance, it is not merely that I challenge my ideas by the actual experiences of people, but more that I realize that my great ideas literally have nothing to do with helping this person.
I think this is what Slavoj Zizek refers to as a “revolution” in the true sense of being.
I teach this kind of cognitive approach to mental health: I try to work with the people in the group to give them not only a conceptual model of why this should be the case, but an actual model through their own experience of how it could be the case for them. ￼
And very practically speaking, what we mean in this kind of mental health context is not merely “thoughts” versus emotions. But the way that I teach it in the context of a few theories, is that there is judgment and then there is acceptance. And not only just acceptance, but what certain circles call “radical acceptance”.
It is radical because it’s a kind of acceptance that does not come intuitively. Most people think of acceptance as some thing like, I just got to accept the fact that my wife left me, for example. I just have to accept the fact that my tire is flat￼. I have to accept I am An alcoholic. Etc..
Radical acceptance has more to do with accepting things for what they actually are, and when it comes to mental health, particularly in the cognitive approaches, there is nothing that is actually happening except that you are having thoughts and you are having emotions and you are doing things, albeit about an event.
Now, most people in my groups I would say maybe 60% on average, are not familiar with mental health interventions and strategies and coping skills and things like that.
￼￼￼￼So, while intellectually it might make sense, In actual application it is very difficult at times. For most people, including myself.
Because what is radical about this kind of acceptance is that I can be angry and understand that that is exactly what I am at this moment. That there is nothing to be changed about it no matter how much my thoughts are telling me that something is incredibly wrong and that I need to go do something about this really fast, for example, punch a wall, or punch that person in front of me, or hurt myself, or go drive real fast, or drink a bunch￼.￼
What is radical about this kind of acceptance is that I can be sad, for example, and I don’t have to do anything about it. It doesn’t mean anything except that I am feeling sad. It doesn’t mean that something is wrong with me, or that sadness is telling me anything about myself except that I am sad.
￼Now, the next time you have a strong emotion, try not to do anything. Try to understand that the thoughts that you’re having are not necessarily true, but are actually informed by your emotional state, but more by the fusion that you view as you. Try not to act or have the thoughts that you are having.
(It’s a trick: you cannot not have the thoughts you are having.)
Some people call this “practicing mindfulness￼”, but I don’t really like that kind of label. To me it is just cultivating an awareness of what is actually occurring.
Still, many people in the group will not really understand what I’m talking about. I mean, they will understand conceptually, but when We sit down and we start to actually try and do it, they simply cannot make the translation…
So coming back to suspension￼￼￼￼.
We will then move into emotional intelligence. Which is, me being able to identify the exact emotion that I’m feeling. Because, chances are I’m not just sad. Or, I might be sad, but a better way of explaining it is that I feel alone, or I feel neglected. Sad, then, is imprecise and is, here, a misidentification of what is actually occurring.
Or in the context in which I am usually working: I am feeling anxious.
And I tell them, being anxious is a feeling, an emotion. Being sad is an emotion. The thoughts that tell me that now I need to go drink some booze, or that I am a worthless person, or that I need to run away, or that I need to hurt myself: those are thoughts, but actually they are judgements.
￼￼￼ The key to this kind of practice is non-judgment. To suspend one’s judgment in order to see what is actually occurring.
If when I get angry the thought is that I have to break some thing. The emotion is anger, the judgment (thought) is that I have to break some thing.
So this is an observation of the difference between noticing my emotions and being aware of them, and then also the thoughts that come up around them. Regularly, in a persons identity the emotions are fused with the thoughts — at least in problematic mental health we are able to view the situation in this manner.
— But I would argue in most cases of identity, the problem that we find which culminates in social being is because people do not have an awareness of what is actually occurring; and this is to say, that people automatically assume that their feelings and thoughts go together in a natural way that is themselves being, and there’s nothing wrong with it because that’s just what human beings are ￼.—
Now, the suspension. ￼
One could say that in the context of which I’m speaking, that there are emotions, and then there are thoughts, one could make the argument that when I identify my emotion to a term I am therefore having a thought, and that therefore I am really having a judgment upon my state of being. Which is to say that when I identify my particular state of being as being “happy”, I am imposing a thought upon that emotional state￼.
And I would have to say, yes, that’s true, but only in a philosophical sense.
Because in the actual practical application of attending to someone with whatever kind of issue, what is ironic about subjectivity is that there can be an identification of a situation (to a thought) that does not equate with judgment (with thought) and necessary action.
There are thus two types of Being, two ways or orienting oneself to what is happening.
I think this is the point Kant was making, which he, ironically, could not see of his own philosophy. Lol.
If we can accept what is actually occurring, then things change.
But to take this situation as it is, that is, Without first being able to notice what is actually occurring, without being able to grasp and accept the truth of the situation (what is categorical) and attempt to apply some sort of correction to what only appears to be real (what is hypothetical) of myself, there do we have only a perpetuation of problem: no change.
And back to philosophy…
This is exactly what the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard talks about and refers to throughout his works, when he says “the ethical is the universal”. He is saying that the equation that thinking and emotional state is someone’s true being as it conveys a judgment which leads to necessary action￼￼￼, is, in his words, despair.
Or what he calls sin.
It is to be in despair to will to be oneself￼￼.
And then he goes into all the philosophical permutations of the various types of despair, and that’s the various types of sin — which, if we translate out of the Christian Canon:
what he is saying is that where I view my being as a willfullness towards action, as a sort of necessary or inherent feature of this self that is this totality, this soul, this being in the world that I am, thereby am I always acting in despair, thereby am I always in sin￼. Inauthentic.
Now 70 or some years later the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre would make everyone confused about Kierkegaard even more and make ‘existence’ into a kind of institutionalization of being, by suggesting that what Kierkegaard is saying is that this despairing ontological situation is naturally human and that we can’t escape from it.
But that is an incorrect appraisal of Kierkegaard, and I would have to say Sartre also.
…But, I would say it is the correct identification of the situation of the modern subject, for sure.