Cognitive Optimism Versus Zen Wisdom: A Buddhist answer to cognitive persuasion and control

This article by Andrea F. Polard Psy.D. got me thinking and feeling.

“Instead of trying to persuade ourselves to thinking positive, the Zen approach is to ask ourselves, ‘Who is it that needs persuasion?’ The idea is to question the way we experience ourselves and others before we even look at the particular negative thought or event. Zen questioning is there to find perspective. Usually we suffer unnecessarily because our perspective is very, very limited, namely the perspective of being a separate person. Our brain produces the illusion of separateness because it wishes to control the concrete world. While this is a fantastic survival strategy, it disconnects us from our community and from the expansive feeling of being related to everybody and everything. Once we get a sense of who we truly are, namely this being connected to the greater Being, we look at the particular, small experience with wisdom. We don’t have to take it so seriously anymore. Just looking at our inner experience from the perspective of Being causes us to relax and smile.”

I’m all for keeping my thoughts and feelings in perspective relative to the world around me. Where her article starts to give me pause is when she writes, “…there is no evidence that our thoughts are at the top of a hierarchy inside the brain.” They sure aren’t. Feelings of fear trumps logic when it comes to someone who fears flying. And, rage has no need for ideas. No matter where our thoughts reside within the brain’s hierarchy, these most troublesome feelings and emotions reside near the bottom but that doesn’t mean they’re not hugely powerful. That’s why a cat, even though it lacks a fully developed frontal lobe, can still be desperately fearful and amazingly enraged (sometimes all at once).

What Pollard seems to ignore is that most of the problems of the relentless pessimist flow from a relentless blending of negative thoughts and feelings. It’s very hard to have a thought that matters without an awareness of a corresponding feeling. In the same way, we are usually quite able to correlate a feeling to a thought.

Geez, I love a good massage.

Keeping realism from becoming runaway pessimism is a matter of managing thoughts and feelings.

Both are affected by the world around me, there’s no doubt.

But only I can find the balance point between the world and what I think and feel.

Cognitive Optimism Versus Zen Wisdom: A Buddhist answer to cognitive persuasion and control

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