How can we gain freedom from the conditioning of the mind – a conditioning that creates negative thought patterns and beliefs? And how can we learn to think in ways that are more beneficial to us?
Ultimately, if we can teach people to think well, we could heal most of the ills of individuals and most of the ills in society… “Once a mind is truly stretched, it never returns to its former dimensions”Peck: The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, 1997, p. 61
By ‘thinking well’ Peck refers to the ability to juggle opposing ideas without denying or rejecting the reality of the ideas. This involves looking beyond the surface and open our minds to embrace change. Looking for the broader qualities that doesn’t necessarily fit our former conclusions. It can mean questioning the co-existence of good and evil in the world. It also implies slowing down and actually thinking about what we believe, acknowledging the gabs in our knowledge and confront our simplistic thinking about what “normal” means (Peck 1997). This type of deeper thinking implies facing the illusions, half-truths and lies that have been part of our individual and cultural conditioning.
The view of Peck on learning to “think well” has resemblances to Krishnamurti’s view on what it takes to free our minds. Krishnamurti claims that our minds can only be free and live a life that is free from fear if we are able to observe non-judgmentally. This means that we become able to free ourselves completely from the self-centered conditioning of the mind that was brought about not only by our upbringing but also by the culture we were brought up in. Put in another way the magnifying glass in the approach described by Krishnamurti is non-judgmentally observing ‘what is’ – free from analyzing, judging and making conclusions about good or bad:
You know, sir, to look at actually ‘what is’, without the censor, it doesn’t mean that you become callous, indifferent, on the contrary, you become extraordinarily sensitive. And sensitivity is part of intelligence. But the moment you condemn it, condemn ‘what is’, then begins all the trouble. But just to look at it, that you have told a lie, that one has been angry, one has been afraid, just to observe. Look sir, you depend, don’t you, on people psychologically. No? You depend. Why do you depend? Not that you should not or should. Why? Because the other gives you comfort or sustains you psychologically. Inwardly one is poor and the other gives you a feeling of well-being. One is lonely therefore you depend on another. You can’t stand alone therefore you depend. So, there it is. Just to be aware that you depend and not cultivate detachment. But to be aware that you are dependent because you are lonely. And find out what it means to be lonely. Is it an acknowledgement of isolation? You understand? Loneliness is a fact of isolation, isn’t it? Completely isolated from everything and one is afraid of that loneliness. Therefore, you escape and therefore you depend. If you see this thing, see actually, non-verbally the fact that the moment you depend you are afraid, you are jealous, you become aggressive, you lose all sense of affection, love. When you see this whole thing very clearly then the mind is free from all dependencyJ. Krishnamurti: Observing without the ‘me’, Public Talk 1 Brockwood Park, England, September 5th 1970.
The method of non-judgmental observation where the mind openly, honestly and independently frees itself from any previous conditioning as described by Krishnamurti is not an easy exercise since our cultural conditioning is often both unconscious and highly judgmental with lots of do’s and don’ts. However, like Peck puts it:
If we dare to seek growth, we have to dare to think. It can take a lifetime for many people to come to terms with the freedom they truly have to think for themselves. But this path to freedom is obstructed by societal myths, one of which would have us believe that once we have completed adolescence, we can’t change much. In reality, we are able to change and grow throughout our lifetimes – even in the subtlest ways. But it is a choice. Often it is when we meet the crises of midlife that our thinking takes off in new and independent directions. And for some, independent thinking evolves only when they are about to die. Sadly, of course, for many it never happensPeck: The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, 1997, p. 45
The qualities in Pecks ‘thinking well’ and Krishnamurtis ‘non-judgmental observation’ and awareness of ‘what is’ has some clear parallels with that of the philosophical inquiry as conducted by Socrates in Plato’s dialogues and further expanded by Aristotle in Protrepticus and operationalized by Copenhagen Coaching Center. Philosophical inquiry provides a method to train our minds in having an open, free, honest and non-judgmental observational approach.
This non-judgmental observational approach gets trained when we philosophically examine the do’s and don’ts that is part of our cultural conditioning.
In the philosophical protreptic coaching conversation that I conduct as part of my services I will asks questions and encourage you to define, examine and broaden your view upon various concepts such as goodness, courage, responsibility, aggression and expectations just to mention a few.
Please contact me if you have any questions or want to book a session either virtual or in the greater Los Angeles Area.
My next Blog Post will be expand further on the difference between a psychological and a philosophical approach in coaching.
One thought on “How can we learn to ‘think well’?”