by Ovidiu Brazdau
I have described here some of the processes and the patterns of inner transformation, which I have researched and observed both in myself and in other people with whom I have connected. Some of these patterns are already mentioned by other researchers on human development (Terry O’Fallon and Susanne Cook-Greuter), or they have been mentioned in some spiritual texts (e.g. Satprem). For some of them, I could not unearth any findings in the literature that were in alignment with my ideas; I thus introduced them with adequate labels, which provide a little description of them.
Table of contents
II. PERSPECTIVE-RELATED PATTERNS
.Opening to the unknown
.The linguistic bias: using old language to describe new perspectives
.Building perspectives through automatic contrasts and associations
.Polar opposites and integrating polarities in a new perspective
.Differentiating and prioritizing patterns: choosing the new perspective
.Triggers: the conscious and unconscious anchoring of the perspectives
.The cognitive answering machine
“Automatic life review” is an automatic process that offers new perspectives on past events by reframing and reinterpreting our memories of past experiences, thus providing new meanings. Its outcome is a kind of automatic “memory reconsolidation”. The process can be generated by the first activations of the non-conceptual self, when the witnessing awareness becomes available, or by a conscious choice to change one’s life values.
This is a process described in Yoga Sutra by Patanjali, where he mentions that the imprint of “enlightenment” would rewrite all other imprints.
In my opinion, this rewriting is being done by adding a “truth mirroring” program into each memory imprint and letting it reorganize by itself. The process not only happens consciously, but also in unconscious or semi-conscious states such as during flashbacks, dreams or daydreams. It is a flow of reorganizing information about our past in a harmonious way.
During this process, various data from our past experiences are being revealed to the self via conscious awareness. There may be gestures, images, actions or feelings, all of which are elements of perspectives that were not taken into consideration when the memory imprint was first stored or reanalyzed in the past. This process does not select between positive or negative life situations. People can re-observe themselves in a past situation in an amazing light, or they may face their shadows.
In the book “Neural Plasticity and Memory: From Genes to Brain Imaging”, Carlos J. Rodriguez-Ortiz and Federico Bermúdez-Rattoni propose that, instead of using reconsolidation, the proper term would be “updating consolidation”:
“For a long time, consolidation was seen as a process achieved only on newly acquired memories aimed to store them for the long term. However, pioneer and recent studies have demonstrated that after retrieval, long-term memories may once more undergo a consolidation-like process referred to as reconsolidation. Mainly, reconsolidation is sustained by the now widely reported observation that after a memory trace is activated by means of retrieval and is susceptible to disruption by the same treatments that disrupt memory during consolidation. However, the functional purpose of this process is still a matter of debate.
Recent evidence indicates that reconsolidation is indeed a process by which updated information is integrated through the synthesis of proteins to a memory trace. Hence, the so-called reconsolidation seems more like an updating consolidation intended to modify retrieved memory by a process that integrates updated experience into long-term memory. Through this process, previously consolidated memory is partially destabilized. By the infusion of disrupting agents, it appears as if the process is intended to consolidate memory again. In this chapter, we discuss this issue and propose that updating consolidation is a more descriptive term for this process.”
It may be that the functional purpose of this process is inherently the evolutionary drive. As an observation, I see this process as similar to the life movie that sometimes reported by people who have had near-death experiences (NDE). In fact, NDEs are temporary moments during which the ego is cut off, and a wide array of information becomes available in a non-judgmental way. The life review that takes place in NDEs in intense flashbacks happens slowly throughout the inner growth process, over months or even years. But essentially, it is the same drive that pushes the transformation: evolution.
The life review process happen in steps during our inner growth journey, until the entire content of our memory has been reorganized.
This is an associative mental process that indicates the start of a deep transformation; it is sometimes generated by the emergence of systems thinking, sometimes by a traumatic life event and sometimes by other causes. During this process, all the elements in the inner and outer worlds begin to connect in various symbolic ways. It is a natural process that will eventually lead the journeyer to their own “theory of everything”, a kind of personal map that charts the known territories of their life.
In this process, a person may see that a cup of tea is the primary vortex of the universe. They live deeply inside these symbolic connections, and this process activates many cognitive-based emotions. The systems begin to interrelate and the mind is constantly in a state of cognitive seduction. It is like a continuous flow of “aha”, which may go on for years. The logical connections are extraordinary and can induce a state of hyper-agitation. It is a “new” type of energy that creates the sensation that the person is an explorer, journeying continuously through a miraculous, uncharted territory.
When the process is active, it sometimes gives rise to an agitated style of speaking, usually cognitive, and the person is in a state of cognitive amazement most of the time. Many people start to talk about resonance, symmetry, Fibonacci, etc. They begin to see patterns and connections between the components of various systems. When they discover a pattern, they apply it to everything they experience. This is good: it is the evolutionary force in action, acting to promote integration.
A side effect of this symbolic journey is that people tend to become stuck in their mind during this process due to the cognitive and emotional excitation generated by the knowledge gained by seeing connections and patterns. The worst side effect is to remain stuck in this symbolic world, attracted by these connections. When this configuration is interfering too much with usual activities, many people are hospitalized and they are labeled as psychotic, schizophrenic or as suffering some kind of related condition. In some cases, this process can trigger ego inflation. It is all about the capacity of the individual to allow this interconnectedness to happen while maintaining at least some ability to carry out daily activities.
To facilitate this process and to keep the ego in a relatively stable state, doing activities involving the body is necessary, for example, art, dance, massage, running, walking, climbing or sports. Doing this means that the energies generated by the process will not all go into mind processing.
The symbolic journey is the natural way for the mind to rebalance itself and to reconnect with the deep meanings. It may take years for this reorganization to happen, but it can also become a permanent way of experiencing life. People can get stuck in this process, hypnotized by the infinite numbers of connections between meanings. In Zen, it is said of the process of awakening that: “In the beginning, mountains are mountains, and woods are woods. Then mountains are no longer mountains and woods are no longer woods. Finally, mountains are once again mountains and woods are once again woods.”
For transformational counselors, creating a visual map of these new ways of thinking is helpful. This new perspective may also be discussed as a “personal theory of everything”, linking everything in a big picture. When the individual sees the big picture, then their mind can jump to the next perspective and take the entire symbolic world as a system that reaches beyond the mind.
The symbolic journey is a kind of fractal journey through the mind: we can see that everything relates with everything, and that every part is simultaneously contained in every other part and in the whole. This journey through never-ending circles of connections, seeing parts that form a whole, before then seeing this whole become a new part of a bigger whole, and so on, is related to a range of processes described by Susanne Cook-Greuter and Terry O’Fallon: the “hall of mirrors” and the “polar opposites iterating pattern”.
In my opinion, the completion of the process by designing a personal theory of everything allows for a vertical shift: the entire mind can become the “object” (as in subject-object theory), the result being the activation of a larger perspective with a more inclusive experience of being present in the here and now.
This process is about awakening from the spiral of continuous patterns that persist from generation to generation. It requires an understanding of transgenerational schemes of thinking, feeling, sensing and behaving. Growing up is not just for ourselves; we grow up as a part of a collective evolutionary process and each individual person has to update their transgenerational flow in order to become free.
I have seen this process happening in all of the people I have worked with. Usually, it happens automatically as a part of the life review process, when people are reframing their childhood experiences. It can take months or years until the family patterning is revealed and reviewed. In other words, I would say that people do need to disconnect from their personal flow of transgenerational family conditionings for a while, in order to connect to the larger family of humankind.
This process is now facilitated by psychological games known as “constellations”. Even if this exercise is not scientifically proven to really do what it is said to do, in my opinion it provides good experiential moments for a larger audience, giving people the opportunity to talk about their transgenerational connections. For some participants, this could motivate them to enter an in-depth self-reflection/counseling process, in order to explore these connections and to see how transgenerational patterns have unconsciously influenced their lives.
This is an experience where a person begins to see that new perspectives are possible. A new content and structure is available, but the person is still interpreting according to the old configuration. People have described their experiences using words such as, “everything is new”, “I’m seeing details I have never seen before” and “I’m having thoughts that I didn’t have before”.
These new insights are blowing up the mind and some people interpret them according to their fears, ascribing to them a meaning that might be, for example, “the new thoughts are from angels, demons, extraterrestrials or disincarnated beings”. This can lead to delusional thinking.
When this experience first happens, usually during the earlier stages of inner development, people do not realize that this is a way of life and that the perspective-taking process is a fluid one. It other words, it is a transition to a postmodern way of meaning making. I would say that one of the key skills of the post-modern mind is to accept that other perspectives are possible and that there is no good or bad perspective, just an increasingly global perspective.
It looks simple for most people who are already involved in personal development, but for a person with a conformist ego, this skill is an amazing discovery. The end of this pattern is the permanent awareness of the present moment, when the person just lives constantly in the ever-changing flow of “now”.
This is a natural phenomenon during the early stages of transitioning to the new perspective, when the feel of the perspective is different from the person’s previous experiences. If the person is in a creative environment, they will adapt and update their language. If the person is transitioning and the old ego is still holding on, then all of their new perceived reality will be translated using their old language.
One of the tasks when transitioning to a new configuration is learning to use words in a new way. There is a YouTube interview with Susanne Cook-Greuter – “How Language Creates Your Clients World”, where she explains the importance of choosing our words.
In the earlier stages of development, the new perspective is automatically (unconsciously) created by comparing it with previous experiences. Full letting go is impossible – it has to be done in incremental steps. Until our psyche can allow us to fully immerse ourselves in the new reality, the mind uses contrasts and associations with already known experiences. This new perspective is “felt” through its association and comparison with previous feelings, and not by using an out-of-the box interpretation.
For example, we could go into the mountains and experience a wonderful landscape with forests and lakes, and we could enjoy a blissful “here-now experience”. The content of the experience is new. However, the structure of the experience is not. Our emotions are generated not only by the real actual landscape, but also through contrasts and associations with our past “here-now” experiences.
We have a built-in “configuration for new landscapes”, a configuration that is unconsciously labeled as “this is how the present moment is in nature”. This configuration has a specific way of paying attention, a specific way of creating a visual image inside our mind that reflects the outer landscape, a specific configuration of the “time” and “space” filters. All of these filters combine automatically with each other and gave birth to the experience of being “here-now in nature”. These configurations are dependent on elements in the environment and those within our inner psyche, which trigger the activation of some configurations. Observing the configuration of the perspective, and how the perspective is created by our mind through associations and contrasts, it is an action that produces a relaxation of the emotional structure. It is necessary to go beyond bliss and beyond using the perspective-taking system to really connect with the here-now experience.
A case of this pattern was identified and described by Susanne Cook-Greuter and Terry O’Fallon, which they called the “Polar Opposites Iterating Tier Pattern” .
Observing both sides of a story and accepting them is a key element in conscious decision-making. This is the first step when moving to a new perspective. There is a paper available online entitled “Polarities and Ego Development: Polarity Thinking in Ego Development Theory and Developmental Coaching”, by Beena Sharma and Susanne Cook-Greuter, in which they wrote:
At each stage of development, we can again discern how human beings navigate the phenomenon of polarities and their dynamic. Whatever the stage we are at, we might consciously or unconsciously hold on to one pole, unaware of what we exclude. The current perspective provides us with a sense of self and certainty and with a set of clear values. When we grow beyond the confines of the current stage, we can begin to sense the value of a pole that becomes salient at the next stage of development. Once we have entered a new stage, we often consciously reject the pole we embraced at the previous stage because we are now aware of its limits and downsides. We are naturally drawn to the benefits of exploring the newly discovered perspective and to privilege the new insights into what is important”.
… As human beings, we are always subject to blind spots, areas where we don’t even realize there is a ‘there’ there. Subtler and subtler pole-preferences show up even at ego transcendent stages.“
This pattern is described by Terry O’Fallon in her paper “Stages: Growing up is Waking up – Interpenetrating Quadrants, States and Structures”:
“In the early stage of a person perspective, the new person perspective quality is apprehended. Those moving into any new person perspective (Expert [early third-person perspective], Individualist [early fourth-person perspective], Early Construct Aware [early fifth-person perspective]) are so naive to the unique quality arising at this new level that they cannot prioritize it easily. They tend to spend time familiarizing themselves with this new person perspective and its quality, rocking back to a more interior exploration of the quality. The incapacity to be able to prioritize with the new quality sometimes represents itself by shying away from categories, including developmental categories.
When individuals mature and are in the later person perspective stage, they are then able to prioritize the quality, thus the rocking back and forth between the inability to prioritize, and the ability to prioritize the quality at successive person perspectives.”
Working with polarities may include also working with subpersonalities, as in some cases, a preferred pole might give birth to a subpersonality. Integrating the poles means integrating the subpersonalities. Some examples of polarities could be order vs. disorder, autonomy vs. connection, masculine vs. feminine, doing vs. thinking, discernment vs. intuition, being vs. doing, appreciative vs. evaluative, knowing vs. mystery or seeking vs. non-seeking.
In my experience, this pattern is about selecting perspectives from multiple options. During the stages of inner growth, we realize that each perspective is a new configuration with a certain “quality”; this may be an emotional touch, a larger spaciousness or a special mixture of past-present-future. It is as though we can play a part in many internal movies: we can be in “The Terminator” configuration for some years, whereas last year we discovered “The Titanic” perspective and we have just now discovered a new one that we cannot yet label with anything but “The new one”.
When “The new one” is just being born, we need time to explore it so that we can use it by choice. We need to see “what is different” in this new perspective and then we can “prioritize” it, that is, use it as a primary filter. This process is related with the neuroplasticity of the brain. I think the inability to prioritize it is a natural process until the synapses related with the new configuration are formed.
Each perspective has its own triggers, or anchors. Anchoring is an important process: an anchor is a trigger or stimulus that retrieves a desired emotional state. Here is how Amit Sodha describes anchoring:
“We are constantly creating anchors. Every day all the time anchors are being formed through the repetitive actions we are doing and associated feelings we are having. E.g. you might have anchored yourself to feeling motivated for training by hearing a particular song. When I want to get ready to play a badminton match or go to the gym I might put “Eye of the Tiger” on my iPod because I have automatically associated success to that song through watching the Rocky movies”.
During inner development, I recommend paying attention to the triggers related to the perspective and to patterns of global interaction. From a vertical development outlook, when observing our transition to a new stage of development, we are unconsciously connecting to filters (space, time, life values, etc.) in a specific way. However, this can be de-automatized: we can consciously set anchors for the perspective we want to prioritize, and disconnect the anchors from the old perspective we do not wish to use anymore.
This is a pattern of communication style, which shows when if a person is not flexible in their thinking and when they are blocked to a specific perspective. This pattern of communication is visible in dialogues. A person who is locked into this pattern will respond to everything through just one filter – their actual perspective. For example, say their fixation is on “love”. When asked about food, they will respond with something related to love; when asked about dogs, they will talk about love; when asked about their friends, they will talk about love. No matter what they are asked, they will respond like an automatic voice message. The fixation may be love, but it may also be awareness, mindfulness or the view that “we are all one”.
This can easily be seen in cults and spiritual circles, where local dogmas are observed as universal solutions. This is also valid for some nonduality teachers. Jeff Warren describes this pattern in an article about “The Promise and Peril of Spiritual Belief”:
“I know a man, a Buddhist vipassana teacher, who lives in emptiness. When he walks down the street the world gushes like a fountain, emerging from and disappearing into emptiness, which for him is everywhere and nowhere. It is the great reassurance of his life. I know another man, an Advaita non-dual teacher, who lives in awareness. From moment to moment he is connected to the unshakable sense that everything is awareness and only awareness – solid, undying, unchanging. It is the great reassurance of his life. I know a woman, a lapsed Catholic, who lives with God. As she goes about her day there is a continual and vivid sense of presence, of being in relationship with an alive and loving Other. It is the great reassurance of her life.
The strange thing is, I kind of know what they mean. When I go on long vipassana retreats, my sensory experience of the world begins to thin. Everything pixelates; the whole sensorium seems increasingly dreamlike. I get a taste for emptiness then – but only a taste. I can understand how this is a direction I might take.
When I immerse myself in nondual teachings, my own awareness becomes vivid and spacious. I begin to see how there are no problems with awareness, only in awareness. I realize that even my desire to change the world is, in its way, complete. I get a taste for awareness then – but only a taste. I can understand how this is a direction I might take.
When I participate in plant medicine ceremonies, I get the sense that the whole world is alive and secretly winking to me. Everything is meaningful – the crow flying across the sky, the shadows in the trees, that person’s voice, right there, at that exact moment. I get a taste for God then – but only a taste. I can understand how this is a direction I might take.”
This is a pattern of experience whereby, after a moment of pure awareness, the resulting energy is captured by the ego and consumed by its passions, instead of just being allowed to change the structure and facilitate the transition of the ego to a new configuration. I found this description in a book by Satprem, describing the Aurobindo’s teachings:
“Because it is always the same: the moment we are clear… The moment it appears, it is instantly snatched up by the vital, which uses it for its own brilliant flights of exaltation, its own “divine” and tumultuous emotions, its possessive loves, its calculated generosities or gaudy aesthetics; or it is corralled by the mind, which uses it for its own exclusive ideas, its infallible philanthropic schemes, its straitjacketed moralities – not to mention churches, countless churches, which systematize it in articles of faith and dogma. Where is the psychic being in all that? It is there, nonetheless, divine, patient, striving to pierce through each and every crust and actually making use of everything that is given to it or imposed upon it. It “makes do” with what it has, so to speak. Yet that is precisely the problem: when it comes out of hiding, if even for a second, it casts such a glory upon everything it touches that we tend to mistake the circumstances of the revelations for its luminous truth.”
In my opinion, ego hijacking may be the primary cause of the bipolar mechanism: after a moment of inspiration, the available energy is consumed by various activities (either regular activities or “divine missions” or “change the world missions”). During the “consumption” phase, the high availability of energy looks like a manic episode; after it is consumed, depression ensues. The key skill in this process is not to consume the energy by performing activities and not to engage in big projects, but to use the energy internally and to allow it to transform internal mechanisms of being. In other words, the energy should be interiorized and transformed in a similar way to how erotic energy can be transformed into ecstatic energy.
This meme contains a set of ideas and behaviors related to the “I am awake” idea. People start to relate to mystic literature and “awakening” movements. I consider this a very good meme, but only for a certain period of time. After an awakening happens, the new ego configuration has to change accordingly.
If the person remains stuck in the awakening meme as their preferred emotional way of living, this then blocks the integration of awakening and the person stays in the early stages of transition. It is a sort of addiction to the awesome emotion of awakening. In the communities that have formed around this meme, the topic of discussion gravitates towards awakening. A good step would be to change the feed of information to blogs such as Beyond Awakening.
After the blissful high of the awakening, a person’s energy level decreases and some people think that they have lost their awakening configuration. If they move in religious circles, they may feel like God has abandoned them. This is just an illusion created by the old configuration that wants to maintain its grip on this way of being. Instead of searching for ways to return to the awakening configuration, the task is to see that the awakening configuration is in fact flexible; the awakening can only happen by abandoning the configuration in each moment. In a way, abandoning is the configuration that most resembles awakening. In the Christian tradition, kenosis is a concept worth exploring, as it relates directly to this transition.
In Vedic texts, Maya connotes a “magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem”. In Indian philosophies, Maya is also a spiritual concept referring to “that which exists, but is constantly changing and thus is spiritually unreal”, and the “power or the principle that conceals the true character of spiritual reality”. In human development, the “Maya pattern” reflects progressions in the way we connect with reality.
It is described by Terry O’Fallon as a pattern through the stages of development, in the following steps:
“This pattern appears to iterate through the floors (tiers) as people gradually recognize finer distinctions of illusion: first concrete objects are seen as real; then concrete objects are seen as an illusion (That I am only a concrete entity is an illusion); subtle objects arise; subtle objects are seen as an illusion (That I am merely a subtle entity is an illusion); causal objects arise; causal objects are seen as an illusion (That I am merely a causal entity is an illusion)”
When people first realize the amplitude of Maya, it is especially dramatic for the social-relational perspective: observing that many people are living in a kind of “internal movie” and that they are not really connected to the outer world. This insight that “we are the robots” is followed by the development of a new skill: the ability to observe people’s patterns of thinking-feeling-sensing and being.
The dark night of the soul is another name for the experience of ego deconstruction, when the individual ego ceases to exist and the connection with the collective is felt. Terry O’Fallon, in her research on stages of development, describes this dark night experience as a pattern:
“This pattern has been described in Christian traditions but seems to hold resonance with many people’s experiences. In this pattern, there is a series of dark nights in each tier or floor.
E.g. Concrete floor
1 . Dark night of the senses: This can be seen as “the night of correction where the senses’ appetites are curbed”.
2 . When one stops identifying with the senses and the concrete as the self, one becomes empty of that self, and experiences a hole or a pit where that self used to reside. That experience of not identifying with the senses as “me” is the Dark night of the soul.
3 . When one sees that the mind that makes concrete distinctions is not the self, and stops identifying with that mind, a vacuum exists where the concrete mind used to be- this is the dark night of the concrete self that leads to union with God.
This pattern repeats with the subtle floor and the causal floor, engaging, rather, with the subtle and causal mind and objects rather than the concrete senses”
In my opinion, this pattern connects well with the experience of the void, or emptiness, as seen in oriental spiritual traditions. My personal experience was similar to those in the descriptions: when I first arrived in the void, there was a void I was feeling, an empty void. I took the decision to throw myself into this void to see what would happen. I asked a friend to read me the last sutras from the Kaivalya chapter of Yoga Sutra. While she was reading, I allowed myself to be carried deep into the meaning of her words. However, my journey was short and I fell back into myself, but this time, as an awakened human being. When I told this story to my students, some of them told me that they had had similar experiences. Instead of being absorbed by the void, their journey took them back to the present moment, but with a new witnessing ability.
One person told me that his visual, when his ego crashed for the first time, was that of a frozen body-form breaking down on the floor into hundreds of little pieces.