“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Marcus Aurelius
A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate to “Pause Salon, Power of the Mind” where I had the pleasure to share my thoughts with like-minded individuals. Knowing that the participants would be well-read about wellness and keen to expand their knowledge about personal growth, I prepared a crash course to move their attention from their outer world to their inner world. It is not just a change of perspective, it is a change of world as we know it. Here it is:
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My personal path and my approach based on affect and meditation
All of you are unique and you all have something unique to contribute to make the world a better place. The problem is how to realize your potential. The title of this talk is “The power of the mind”, but the real question is it not “how to be happy?” The first thing would be to have a guideline to how your mind works, like a user’s manual to our mind and what you can do to improve.
My path to personal growth took me to the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where I did all my education and worked for 17 years. There, I taught clinical psychology and trained master’s students to give psychological exams to public school children, as introduced by Jean Piaget a long time before. I worked at the developmental unit set up within the university to monitor children reported by their teachers or their parents for functioning disorders. I also worked at the psychiatric children hospital where they can get long-term follow-up.
I first specialized in child clinical psychology, which is the best school to understand any individual problematic as personality structuration happens then. In addition, it is very rewarding working with kids, as children still have a supple psyche that can easily be put back on track with a few sessions. At that time, affect became my main research theme and I began to use meditation with my patients. After that, for family reasons, I lived in Canada and in Korea for some years.
In Korea, they have very few psychologists, so I began to work with a lot of young adults and professionals, as well as with couples and families within the expat community, developing my expertise with all kinds of populations and problematics. I feel grateful because it gave me the opportunity to develop my approach based on affect and the use of meditation, as I did a lot of formative seminars with renowned Buddhist masters like master Soebol or Jawoo Sunim of the Joggye order.
At that point, you may wonder “what is affect?” Affect is a transitory feeling induced at any instant by the whole ongoing situation, including internal and external stimuli. Put end to end, affects are the fabric of your very life. Affect is an elementary process, accessible to consciousness in terms of activation, tension and valence.
Activation is the level of energy of your body, of readiness like to fight or to flight, of arousal. Tension is the continuum of your body tension between tense and relax. Valence corresponds to the fact that it is globally pleasant or unpleasant, you are at that instant feeling good or bad. Valence is already a proto-representation as good or bad.
At the birth of psychology in 1879, Wundt already postulated an affect structure with these three dimensions base on introspection. Today’s more refined research methodology shows the same affect model with a bipolar three-dimensional structure.
There are 3 points of interest here:
There are bipolar dimensions: so if you keep a positive mind, you will stay away from being depressed. There are different methods, laughter yoga is a good one.
Meditation demands that you keep these three dimensions as low as possible: to enter meditation, you have to relax, you have to stay still, and to let the flow of your thought dry up. Then, with practice you can meet you true self in a serene void, that patches your ego, consolidates your self-esteem, and gives you confidence.
Your only freedom, your freedom of choice, is your influence to choose positive or negative, as you have a fleeting instant before the affect settles as good or bad. Or you can deliberately choose to remain before this choice settles and keep an open mind.
A person is in and in-between affects at all times, a fleeting state that can be illustrated as a region within the three-dimensional space as on the following illustration:
Here I have drawn the three vectors of the affect: Alert, Serene, and Good with the projections of their references on the three dimensions of Activation, Tension and Valence. It marks the position we occupy when we are experiencing these affects. Indeed we live in three dimensions, but not the ones we generally considered.
Affect is central in our experience of the world. It is a subtle knowledge that rises from the feeling rather than the reasoning. It is an immediate mode of apprehension different from the mediate mode of understanding that allows the organism to cope in real time with various situation, positive or negative, or even lethal.
How powerful is the mind, and how can we control its health?
Reflect with me on the fact that every day, I change lives, even sometimes save lives, with the power of words. I would like you to understand that we create the world around us with projections of our mind and that the representations we use to structure it have an incredible impact. For this, I invite you to consider the following well-known images:
What do you see? How do you describe these images?
At the top left, do you see the top line as shorter that the bottom line? But they both are the same length. Top center, does the vertical line look longer than the horizontal line, even though they are both the same length? On the third drawing, the top line appears longer that the bottom line, even though they are both again the same length.
Then below, we see a white circle in the middle where in fact there is none. And for the last two, the middle circles are both times the same size, but the ones on the right look bigger.
Then what do you see on the next illustrations?
On the left, some of you see two faces in profile, some of you see a white vase. And on the right, some of you see a young lady, and some of you see an old lady.
It is of particular interest here that even if we saw both versions in these drawings, that we can only see one at a time. It is how the projection of our mind structures the real around us (to become our reality). For example, it is interesting to note that the vertical doesn’t exist outside of the construct that we created in our mind and projected on the world.
Concerning our mind’s health, I believe the first step would be to understand our functioning. And in this direction, the concept of affect is the missing link between mind and body. Affect is also the bridge between the unconscious and conscious levels. Meditation where we can let go of the flow of our thought and of the flow of our fleeting affects, being still in the now. It is as a shower for our mind. If we have the time for a body shower every day, we should be able to similarly find 20 minutes for our mind shower.
TO BE CONTINUE…NEXT WEEK WITH