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Here are my favorite insights, concepts, and frameworks that I explored in 2022.
1. Seeing through Materialism
Materialism is the belief that everything in reality, including consciousness, results from material interactions. This is a worldview I unconsciously held my whole life until I started to meditate and intentionally use psychedelics. At that point, I started to question whether reality was something more than just neurons firing off in my brain. This year I only wrote a few articles but my favorite was Seeing through Materialism which synthesized ideas from various books that oppose materialism.
In this piece, I explored why materialism is both pervasive and problematic. The stickiness of materialism can be attributed to it being the dominant worldview adopted by mainstream media and the intellectual elite. Once embedded in them it’s hard for us to see through the dominant views of our culture.
It’s also possible that materialism has become so dominant in part because we have come to prioritize the left brain’s view of the world. The left hemisphere of the brain allows us to categorize and manipulate reality contrary to the right hemisphere which allows us to discover meaning and see the bigger picture. This proposed left-brain dominance may be contributing to scientism the belief that we can only truth through science.
The hyper-commoditization, political polarization, increasing narcissism, environmental destruction, and war are all products of materialistic thinking. Materialism is the glue that holds our egos together and perpetuates our sense of separation from one another, from nature, and from the cosmos as a whole. The lack of meaning that many are experiencing today is a direct result of this kind of thinking and perceiving.
The surprising insight I came to through my exploration was that even those who don’t consider themselves materialists will find, if they examine diligently, that materialism pervades much of their thinking. I’ve come to realize that calling someone a materialist is a harmful and arbitrary distinction because to some degree materialism is embedded in all of our views. There’s also the paradoxical notion that no one is a 100 percent materialist atheist regardless of what they tell themselves. And this relates to the next insight.
2. Religion Never dies it just changes shapes
For a long time, I believed that religion was a dogmatic teaching and tool used to control and console people. This year I’ve really begun to expand my definition of religion. I’ve come to understand religion as that which is of ultimate concern and something we can never be free of. This idea was reflected by 20th-century theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich who said “Religion, in the largest and most basic sense of the word, is ultimate concern. And ultimate concern is manifest in all creative functions of the human spirit.”According to Tillich it is impossible for humans to not be religious because everyone has an ultimate concern.
The late great author Foster Wallace echoed this sentiment when he said ”here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship […] is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.” Religion never dies it just changes shapes.
I also ran across this insightful link with wide-ranging definitions of religion from many great thinkers.
3. The mind uses the brain and relationships to create itself
Whether we realize it or not we all have theories of how the world works this includes theories of the mind. One potentially useful theory of the mind that I came across this year was from “The Developing Mind” By Daniel J. Siegal. In this book, Dr. Siegal introduces a multidisciplinary approach which he calls Interpersonal Neurobiology.
Interpersonal Neurobiology is built on three ideas:
- “A core aspect of the human mind is an embodied and relational self organizing process.
- The mind, as an emergent property of the body and relationships, is created within internal neurophysiological processes and external relational experiences.
- The structure and function of the developing brain are determined by how experiences, especially within interpersonal relationships, shape the genetically programmed maturation of the nervous system.”
In other words, it proposes that the mind creates itself through the interactions of relationships with the brain. This starts from our earliest relationship with our caregivers and continues throughout the rest of our lives. The major takeaway is that we can improve both our mental health and the mental health of others by improving the quality of our relationships.
4. Transforming your relationships with Circling
I first came across the practice of Circling last year and instantly recognized that it was an invaluable missing piece in my life. This year I became a certified circling facilitator with Circling Europe which finally gave me the confidence to lead circles and to more consistently embody this way of relating. While I love being a part of Circling communities and getting to connect with people all over the world, I’ve come to realize that the true power of circling is in its ability to transform the relationships in our daily lives.
Check out my podcast with Transformational coach and circling leader John Thompson below.
5. The Social identity trap
Our social identities can trap us in beliefs and make it hard to change our minds for fear of being ostracized by the communities we respect. I got this insight from “How Minds Change” by David McRaney. Beliefs are related to identity and identity is related to our social relationships. Many of us stay embedded in outdated and ineffective belief systems simply because we don’t want to go through the pain of losing our current friends or community. Yet it is only by taking this risk that we can change our minds and evolve.
6. Humans have evolved to argue because this is how we discover deeper levels of truth
This is another insight I got from David’s book “How Minds Change.” Confirmation bias is a double edge sword. It can cut us off from new ways of thinking and trap us in erroneous beliefs. But it also plays a vital role in sharpening the thinking of others. We are lazy in our own thinking and get stuck in endless loops of rationalizing. Yet we are great at separating the wheat from the chaff in another’s thought process. Humans have evolved to argue because this is how we discover deeper levels of truth. This insight is related to the idea of collective intelligence – humans are far better at solving problems in groups than alone. Two brains are exponentially smarter than one brain. This also explains why therapy can be so effective.
Check out my podcast with David below
7. Schema Therapy for overcoming limiting beliefs
This year I continued to be entrenched in mental health. One of the modalities I spent a lot of time learning is Schema therapy. Developed by psychologist Jeffrey E. Young, Schema therapy combines Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), object relations theory, attachment theory, and Gestalt therapy into an integrative approach for freeing ourselves from limiting beliefs.
What’s cool about schema therapy is that you can take a short questionnaire and discover which of the schemas are active in your life. Overcoming them is a whole other process but even becoming aware of the limiting beliefs that are hidden in our unconscious mind is a step towards greater wholeness.
8. The Education Crisis
This is an idea I got from educational philosopher and integral thinker Zak Stein. According to Zak all the emerging crises our civilization is facing are a product of an education crisis. He writes “An educational crisis occurs when the complexity of task demands outstrips the available capabilities.”
This idea is similar to what developmental psychologist Robert Keagan speaks about in his book “In over our heads.” As the world grows more complex there is an increasing demand for us to develop in mental complexity. Yet many of us are falling short of this kind of development.
You can check out my podcast with Zak below
9. Human development, cultural evolution, and metamodernism.
Human development and cultural evolution continue to be my favorite spaces of exploration. I first came across these ideas from reading Ken Wilbers books. I have since continued to explore these topics in “Developmental Politics” by Steve McIntosh, & “The Listening Society” & “Nordic Ideology” by Hanzi Freinacht.
Insights from developmental psychology show that humans tend to develop through a set of predictable stages, progressing up a spiral of increasingly complex meaning-making. The idea of cultural evolution says that cultures develop in a similar way. Society evolves from traditionalism to modernism to post-modernism to the most recent cultural paradigm known as Metamodernism.
These ideas are important to understand because they can help us make sense of an increasingly confusing world. Our ways of thinking/being really do fall in line with certain cultural paradigms. By understanding these patterns of thinking/being we can more readily correct societal pathologies and create cultures that hold more space for complexity.
In a way, we can think of Emptiness as a non-concept or the concept to end all other concepts. The idea of emptiness emerges from Buddhism and is perhaps one of the most difficult things to explain. To perceive the quality of emptiness is to see that things don’t exist how they seem to. This was exactly the insight that psychedelics first opened me to. People often mistake emptiness for nihilism which is the belief that nothing exists. But as the late great meditation teacher Rob Burbea points out “to see that something is empty is to see that it is beyond the categories of ‘existing’ or ‘not existing’.”
Emptiness is difficult to perceive because our typical mode of perceiving leads to reification. To reify our experience is to make things more solid and real. This results in the dramatization of life and ultimately suffering. To the degree that we can perceive emptiness is to the degree that we can be free of suffering. However deep insight into emptiness is rarely gained without a meditation practice. Admittingly my experiential understanding of emptiness is shallow yet I’ve had enough of a taste to know there is immense potential in realizing this quality of reality.
One of the best books for understanding emptiness that I have come across is “Seeing that Frees” by Rob Burbea”. Keep in mind that reading about emptiness is not the same as experiencing it directly. We need to realize it ourselves but there are teachers that can skillfully point us towards it. One of my favorite online meditation teachers is Michael Taft who releases an array of amazing free guided meditations and also offers in-depth meditation trainings/courses. I can also recommend the Pointing out The Great Way lineage which was originally brought to the west by meditation master Dan Brown (RIP) and is now headed by his top students.
That’s all for this year. Don’t forget to subscribe below to get more insights like these delivered straight to your inbox.