Thursday, July 11, 2019

Core Transformation

Core Transformation was invented by an NLP practitioner (I know, stay with me) who eventually realized that the semantic content was kind of besides the point and started experimenting with defusing the classic NLP taxonomy of 'helplessness,' 'hopelessness,' and 'worthlessness' through working with felt-senses rather than words.

Self work in general is about finding patterns, understanding their causes, and modifying those patterns to get better outcomes. The farther upstream a broken pattern is the more downstream fixes it can affect. Core Transformation is about altering a deceptively simple pattern with large ramifications.  The pattern is that when you desire something, you make a contract with yourself to suffer until you get the thing. The motivation this generates creates the activity needed to go out and get the thing. This is already a poor strategy even when dealing with concrete needs like food and socializing. It really turns nasty when you use it to try to get intangibles like 'justice,' 'safety,' 'esteem,' etc.

People very often object to this idea. Their strategy for life is so entangled with this method that their strong belief is that if they don't suffer they will become homeless vagrants or some other such ineffectual person. Several points:
  •     1. We know from animal training methods and incentive experiments in psychotherapy and professional incentive management that aversion based behavioral modification doesn't actually work. It tends instead to create a general avoidance field around whatever is associated with the punishment. Hence, akraisia.
  •     2. We know from surveys of practitioners that people who instantiate a positive motivation based schema typically don't see strong changes in their productivity and conscientiousness (least impacted personality factor by this sort of work).
  •     3. People in the left tail of neuroticism become more functional, not less. Their fears of becoming even less functional is a stability defending meta-aversion to modifying things they think are keeping them alive. In the high-threat mode, everything is flagged as a potential threat, including exiting the high-threat mode. It's also worth noting that this becomes a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy in that people living in this mode will be drawn towards situations that reinforce the narrative (covered in more detail in Opening the Heart of Compassion).
  •     4. This stuff is mutually reinforcing with ego's 'forever' identity based narratives. 'If I relax then I become the sort of person who is just relaxed all the time and never does anything AHHHH!' Whereas what actually happens is that given the ability to choose which stresses to take on, rather than it being an involuntary process, we choose a lot better in apportioning our efforts to the things we care about. One of the noticeable changes is that people take on fewer projects, but put more effort into those they do take on. Most of us, if we were taking a rigorous accounting, would be forced to admit that our project start:project finish ratio is quite bad by default. Core Transformation puts us directly in touch with these and potentially lots of other objections. The point isn't to sweep them under the rug but to identify the true content of these objections and figure out how we want to engage with that while letting the non-true parts drop away once all objecting parts are actually satisfied.

I don't think Core Transformation will work very well for those unfamiliar with Gendlin's Focusing, so you'll need to run the guided audiobook of that a few times until you feel like you can lock onto felt-senses. It's also similar to the Bio-emotive framework talked about by Culadasa for those familiar with that. Core Transformation basically takes focusing and makes it recursive in a single session. Instead of stopping when we reach a felt-sense, we continue to use prompts to dive under that felt sense to arrive at deeper intentions that those feeling parts might have. The basic idea is that mental, emotional, and somatic content are all downstream of strategies you are following to try to take care of yourself. As we continue the dive process we eventually arrive at the hoped for reward that that process is trying to get us. Then a funny thing happens.

This next part feels a bit tricky to talk about because language itself tends to be based on the intentional stance that we all habitually inhabit. We find that the reward isn't actually out there in the world, in the related objects of our goal. How could it be? Obviously the good feelings associated with the goal are states that our nervous system is capable of generating. (more wireheading objections are coming, please just stay with this for a bit). In fact, to be a useful motivating scheme, we have to have access to at least *some* of the state in question. A verbal description or a mental picture without the associated felt sense wouldn't actually be motivating. We have to 'know what we're looking for.' During this process, as we uncover layers of strategies and dive down closer to the original motivation, we'll experience bits of these states. Connierae found that people pretty consistently label them in just a few ways. Things like 'peace,' 'feeling loving/loved,' 'okayness' etc. As we experience these felt-senses, objecting parts jump into the picture. We're not supposed to feel these positive states unless we've done our homework and eaten our vegetables.' The process then recurses with these objecting parts to discover *their* goals etc. I've both facilitated and run personal sessions where this goes 4-5 levels of objections deep. The cool part is that when parts discover that they have the same goal, they are way more willing to coordinate/cohere. There are probably some echoes of Lippmann's Folding here as well (for those familiar with that framework).

What, ultimately, is the answer to the generalized objection that without this aversive motivation scheme we won't be able to pursue goals? The key question that Connierae has us ask ourselves is:

What would it be like to pursue [some goal in the world] already having full access to this state?

This isn't just replacing the stick with the carrot, a shift from running away to running towards. We just already have the carrot. The answer to this question isn't really shareable because it isn't verbal. But I've never seen the answer cash out as 'sit around doing nothing.' That the strategy used to pursue your values changes doesn't eliminate the fact that you have values. It doesn't seem to be the case that you were pursuing your goals only to feel a certain way. Rather, feelings were an available method that the organism seized.

I think it's quite useful that with Core Transformation, relative to other integration schemes, you experience the rewards during the session. It's not predicated on some future benefits. Once you get a genuine taste of integration there's a lot of motivation for more as your parts start getting along better.

Here's a handy summary of the Core Protocol. It is highly useful to read the book though. Especially the first half. The second half is more like optional add ons to the core process. I'm probably leaving out a lot of detail that I don't think about very often as some of the mental moves become habit.

Amazon link to book

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

What is suffering?

This one is so easy even non buddhists know it. Suffering is desire. Right? But what does this actually tell us? To stop desiring? This sounds

  1.     equally as intractable as 'stop suffering'
  2.     doesn't even sound good? if we take this super literally wouldn't buddhism just be some sort of stoicism strategy?
  3.     even worse, at the limit it sounds like we would be totally non functional, maybe we'd have to live at a monastery and be fed by the other monks because we can't even desire to eat or something

This frame on things is highly misleading for most people until you are *well* into the buddhist paradigm, have some practice experience under your belt, and realize that both 'suffering' and 'desire' have very specific meanings with non-obvious implications. Let's try again from a different side of things. Suffering is a strategy for the whole organism to coordinate action. Some sort of common currency in the motivation system, directing us away from harmful things. Suffering exists because it is useful to you as you are currently wired.

The obvious question becomes: is it possible to get all the same benefits by wiring things differently? If so how do we get from here to there? The brain has built a lot on top of this basic foundation, so it's not surprising that it throws an error flag when you contemplate throwing it out wholesale with no preparation or ideas of the consequences. Which relates to people's ideas about buddhism. Even if you intellectually know that buddhism isn't magic, on some level a belief is lurking that you do some mysterious practices and then one day, likely far in the future, you somehow don't suffer. Maybe all at once after a ton of very boring practice.

But buddhism accords with the rationalist agenda. There is no magic moment. You carefully investigate the causes of suffering and figure out how to end their inputs and/or rewire things so that the same inputs no longer lead to the activation of suffering as a motivation program. (Okay, some of the moments feel slightly magical, though they always make sense after you get a bit of distance from them ime.) Back to rewiring. The idea is emphatically *not* to take it on faith that there is some better thing and you better work diligently for it, sight unseen. Instead, you learn to rewire and start with areas of experience that are mostly safe on fail. Once you catch on to the tricks, even the mild versions, you're invited to try them out and see how they go. Notice you are suffering in a moment, apply technique, suffer less. Now check, are you responding better or worse to the situation at hand?

What if there is a literal panther? who am I to second guess hard wired evolutionary responses, maybe panic is good? Maybe so. We do have two different paradigms of effective people in life or death situations, the berserker and the calm collected samurai. Which one wins might very well be a matter of the battlefield at hand. But I strongly suspect the samurai wins more, given random battlefields. And I think even if I practice hard for a very long time, I'd still get adrenaline if I encountered a tiger. I bet I'd put the adrenaline to better use too.

We could go into more exploration of the utility of fear, and I just want to point out that this, right here, is untangling some of the loops of meta-fear. and object level fears often strongly resist being engaged with until meta level fears are disarmed. That's a lot of what Internal Family Systems is about, gaining the trust of protector systems that help protect more vulnerable fearful parts. The difference between buddhism and psychotherapy is that in buddhism you're invited to do more jumping out of the system and recognize that many mind created problems are best dealt with on a level other than more mental chatter and imagery. (namely somatic and/or ways of shaping attention/awareness that tend to dissolve problems rather than 'solve' them. consider, for example, relaxation as an antidote to tension. Did someone teach you to relax? Would a finer mental model of the physiological aspects of relaxation help all that much? Have you ever considered that relaxation is a skill and maybe you get way better at it really fast if you deliberately practice it?)

All of this gets at what people think is supposed to be happening during meditation. Aren't I supposed to feel better? Shouldn't meditation get easier over time like any other skill? It will get easier in the sense that you'll gain some more familiarity with the mental moves in question. But it stays about the same in the sense that your system surfaces whatever it thinks you're ready for, usually slightly before you really think you're ready for it. Meditation can be a lot more like being a garbage ma-ahem-a sanitation technician than it is like being a blissful lotus god. Even once you get tuned into the unlimited free pleasure circuits a bunch of your attention goes to all the ways in which this experience is unstable. In fact each of the words 'unlimited', 'free', and 'pleasure' could have asterisks leading to whole books. And has. They're about as boring as you might suspect.

And this is why you might have heard me talk about why I sometimes think we should just throw out the entire edifice of 'meditation' and start over, because the half that isn't busy telling you to be mindless is telling you about all sorts of experiences you then think you're supposed to be having. And yes, obviously people have weird experiences. And yes, those experiences cluster in such a way that comparing notes winds up being useful. But all of that has to operate on a backbone of paying very close attention to what is happening moment by moment. Not what's supposed to be happening.

And what is it that's actually happening? All you did was sit down in a quiet spot with an intention to pay attention to something simple. And you're failing completely. You're failing about as hard as you imagine it's possible to fail at something this simple. And you're suffering. And all sorts of bullshits about your life are flying around hitting each other and you. Why are you wired like this?



Good, now we can begin at the beginning. Better get used to it because spoilers: you start from the beginning just about every time you sit down to wrestle with whatever the hell this is. Just like every time you warm up in the gym you start with the empty bar. In a scientific experiment we isolate variables so that we can examine them individually. In meditation we dampen all the obvious sources of suffering by creating a controlled environment, and then:

Hello suffering, what exactly are you?