Once again, Bill answers his critics…
This post will be a quick response to some criticisms and misunderstandings about my last post about The Secret. Then, in a few days, I’ll post something new about levels of cognitive development as outlined by the great Jean Piaget. I think you’ll find this discussion to be particularly interesting.
Okay, onward. Someone posted a comment charging that Ken Wilber’s and my definition of magical thinking is “vague” and “not backed up by concrete examples.” It isn’t vague at all. First of all…
…you can check out Ken’s book, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, for 51 detailed pages about magical thinking, offering an academically rigorous description accepted by pretty much all developmental psychologists and based on research that has been accepted by the mainstream for at least 70 or 80 years, done by the great Jean Piaget (and others).
I don’t have the time here to go into the details of these 51 pages (plus quite a few pages of end notes), and most of you would not want to delve into this as deeply and in as academic a manner as Ken has done. If you are interested, though, google Jean Piaget, and get a copy of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and read it (it is a brilliant book, though quite a tome–about 850 pages).
The bottom line is that there is NO QUESTION that 1) all people go through a stage of magical thinking while growing up, 2) that some people, especially if traumatized during this stage, continue to think this way into adulthood, 3) that some societies’ entire center of gravity is at this stage, and that magical thinkers are part of all societies, including those of developed nations, and that 4) that this sort of thinking is definitely less functional and less resourceful than that of later stages.
My next post, which will describe development in what is called the cognitive line, should clear up some of the desire for “more examples.”
I was also asked about the difference between “putting it out to the universe” (which I have labeled as magical thinking) and “focusing your attention on what you want” (which I have strongly advocated). The assumption was that focusing on what you want is magical thinking, too, and that I’m being inconsistent in advocating it while at the same pointing out the drawbacks of magical thinking.
So let me clarify the destinction between the two. Magical thinking, in adults, involves 1) wishing for or believing that the normal laws of nature can be suspended, so that 2) one can get something (generally FOR HIM OR HERSELF, or someone in their immediate group rather than for the good of society as a whole) 3) with little or no effort, or without somehow paying any sort of price or doing something for it (in other words, getting something for nothing).
This way of looking at how to get something in the world is pre-rational, in the sense that it fails to see that to get an effect, there must be a cause–that to get something, you must DO something to get it, and that what you do to get something or create something is subject to the normal laws of physics.
This perspective is also narcissistic in the sense that it wants something for ME–but without actually doing something, paying some sort of price, being of service in some way, etc. It’s the idea that other people, or the universe in general, should provide you with whatever you want, just because you want it (as opposed to you doing something to get it). It’s the idea that you can or should get what you want without taking conventional actions or giving something in return.
In developmental psychology, narcissism doesn’t mean an unhealthy obsession with thinking only about yourself (the common pop psychology view). Narcissism actually means that you can’t think about yourself. The capacity for self-reflexive awarness doesn’t exist yet, so the world is seen as an extension of yourself. Because the distinction between me and not-me is still fuzzy, the narcissist is unable to take the perspective of another person. This makes it seem as if it’s all about them–and that when they put out to the universe a wish or desire it will be (or ought to be) granted. This is how a small child thinks–mommy and daddy will grant my wishes (and I’ll be plenty pissy if they don’t). This is a reasonable perspective for children, but not for adults.
Focusing your attention on what you want, on the other hand, is the first step in a much more mature process of taking action to achieve something in the world. It involves no suspension of the laws of nature, but rather is a cooperation with those laws. And though the outcome might involve ME getting something I want, it’s not totally self-centered because it realizes that 1) I must take action to get what I want (I can’t just wish for it, or assume that the universe is here to give me what I want whether or not I do anything in return), and 2) the action must somehow be of value in some way, or must actually have an effortful, cause and effect connection to what I want.
If I want to be an author, I must learn to write, I must spend time writing, and I must write something people want to read.
To get money, I must provide something to those who are (hopefully) going to give up their money, and it must be something they (not I) believe is at least as valuable as the money.
To get love, the giver of the love must also get something in return–it’s a circle, a relationship, not a one-way street. Yes, I know, real love is freely given, but if you want love and give no love in return, you’re going to have to find someone who is a saint in order to be loved, and most people aren’t saints. As the Beatles said, the love you get is equal to the love you give (or something like that).
To get someone’s time or attention, I must do something that makes the person want to give up that time or attention.
To get a better job, I must look for one, show up for interviews, show the prospective employer how I will benefit him or her, I must have skills that are wanted, and so forth.
Whatever I do must be of value or in some way have a cause and effect relationship to what I want in return. This is basic “Law of Attraction” stuff, and very different than just “putting it out to the universe.” The first involves the Wish Fairy. The second involves you doing something to get what you want.
And, by the way, as a person moves to higher levels of development, one’s focus moves more and more to what can be done for others, rather than what one gets for oneself. To do this, one’s developmental perspective must move to a place where you can take the perspective of other, something magical thinkers have trouble doing. This other-oriented perspective is what I described as being at work in my own life, where my needs are now met to such a high degree that my own needs, while of course important to me, are just no longer what I focus on (you don’t focus on finding food when your stomach is full).
Instead, I focus on meeting your needs. As a result, my needs are automatically met (again, the Law of Attraction at work). Any fear of whether or not my needs will be met is gone, and my focus is now about helping others–which also makes my life very fulfilling. This is the stage Maslow describes as “self-actualization.” In order to reach this stage, other levels of need fulfillment must first be met: physiological needs, safety needs, love/belonging/social needs, esteem needs, cognitive needs, and aesthetic needs. Because these needs are met in my case, I no longer focus on them. I am, however, as a teacher, endeavoring to help people who have not yet been able to handle these lower levels of need fulfillment, and one of the roadblocks to doing so is often magical thinking.
It was also pointed out that I endorse The Sedona Method, which the writer claims to be magical thinking. The Sedona Method, the writer claims, says that “releasing wants” causes the objects of one’s desires to manifest. This is, however, not at all what the Sedona Method says. The Sedona Method is a way of letting go of attachments (or aversions) and the emotions that go with them, and is based on a thinking perspective at the much later Integral or Transcendent level of development. It’s a quick way to get yourself out of what I have often referred to as The Game of Black and White, where the main game rule is “White Must Win.” Your ideas about good and bad, and the emotions that such ideas create are, according to the Sedona Method, illusion, and releasing them leads to freedom.
Hale Dwoskin, the main teacher of the Sedona Method, has never said that releasing is a way to manifest your desires–though he has said that people who release are happier, and ironically such people do tend to get more of whatever they need. Someone who sees the Sedona Method as a way to “get stuff” is looking at it, in fact, from a magical perspective, and then thinking that their projection is intrinsically part of the method, when in fact the magic is coming from them.
In fact, Hale asks people to release not just negative emotions (aversions), but positive ones, too (attachments). I don’t have room here to go into the genius of The Sedona Method, but it’s really just a skillful way to experientially demonstrate a non-dual perspective, based on the same point of view expressed by all enlightened individuals throughout history. Behind the actual methodology, the Sedona Method is based on the point that all ideas about anything–and the emotions generated by those ideas–are illusory, and that when you drop all of this mentally generated conceptual stuff, you see that everything is pure happiness, bliss, and perfection. At some point I will go into this much more deeply. There is, however, nothing magical about it.
Confusing the Sedona Method with magic is a great example of the pre/post fallacy I mentioned in my last post, where post-conventional and preconventional views are confused because both are “not conventional.” However, there is a huge difference between pre- and post-conventional.
I was also asked if I think shamanism is a legitimate pathway to transcendental consciousness, since I have said that magical thinkers want to revive “ancient ways” as a solution to modern problems, and have said that this is not a solution. In fact, I cited this as an example of regressive thinking (see my discussion of the “pre/post fallacy” in my last post). First of all, I didn’t specifically mention shamanism. But for your information, I know several shamans and I participate, actually quite regularly, in several very powerful shamanic practices. I don’t see these practices, though, from a magical perspective, but rather from the perspective I’m currently living from. In fact–and this is really the key to all such questions asked by many of you–everyone sees whatever they are experiencing from whatever perspective they are at.
Shamanism, in general, DOES come from a magical perspective, though it’s very possible that some modern shamans are operating at perspectives beyond preconventional (I know at least one who is). Here is the key: if a person is coming from a preconventional, magical point of view, they will interpret whatever they experience, whatever they see, from that view. If a preconventional shaman drinks Ayahuasca (a powerful plant-based brew that creates mystical experiences), for instance, they will interpret the experiences they have from that perspective, that point of view. If they heal their clients, that healing will be interpreted from that preconventional point of view.
It’s the interpretation that is magical, not whatever they are doing, per se. If a shaman gives someone sacred plants in order to put them in an altered state, their interpretation will be that certain spirits in the plants created the person’s experience (a magical view), whereas I might say that certain chemical substances in the plants created certain profound shifts in consciousness (all of which can be explained in a non-magical way), and that these shifts in awareness are similar to those attained when someone meditates many hours a day for many years.
I was also asked about esp and paranormal abilites. First of all, as another poster said, magician James Randi has a foundation (the James Randi Educational Foundation), one goal of which is to support research into paranormal claims in controlled, scientific experimental conditions. The foundation offers a prize (currently one million dollars) to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities under controlled, scientific conditions. Though the size of the prize has grown over the years, Randi has offered some sort of financial prize since 1964. No one has ever demonstrated anything that allowed them to claim the prize. You can google James Randi, or look him up on Wikipedia to learn more about this.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that there are paranormal abilities out there. Maybe there are, though it’s interesting that no such claims have ever passed the peer-review process (where a study showing such abilities is shown to be repeatable). There are plenty of people claiming that there are studies proving paranormal abilities, but none of them have been accepted by the general scientific community, because they have not been demonstrated to be repeatable (and, many of these studies are clearly ill-formed).
But again, let’s say that paranormal abilities exist. Just as with shamanism, any such abilities will be interpreted from the developmental level of the person who is observing them. A magical thinker will see them as evidence of magic. A conventional thinker will probably think they are bullshit, unless there is some evidence, in which case they will see, or at least begin to look for, a rational explanation. A post-conventional or integral thinker will see these abilities in still other ways (which we don’t have room to go into here). And so forth. Whatever developmental level a person is at, that perspective will determine their interpretation of what they see.
ANYTHING that happens, any experience, anywhere, will be interpreted from the point of view of the interpreter’s perspective (ie, their developmental level). If what people call paranormal abilities exist, they aren’t proof of magic, or of the suspension of the laws of nature, any more than electricity or magnetism or the aurora borealis are evidence of magic. All of these were, at one point, seen as magic (and still are by cultures with a magical center of gravity). Now we know what causes them–and it ain’t magic.
The claim was also made that Ken Wilber is “biased” against earlier levels of development. When people say something like this, it leads me to believe that they either haven’t read him or, if they have, they didn’t understand what they read. Levels of development are perspectives. By definition, a wider, more inclusive perspective sees things more clearly. Such a perspective isn’t better in an “I’m better than you” sense, but it is more resourceful and more complete. It’s a wider view. It takes into account more of the existing interrelationships. This particular writer sets up a straw man (in other words, argues against something I never said) when he says, “…are adults “better” than babies, and if so, should be throw them out?” Neither Ken, nor I, have ever said that someone at a higher level of development is “better,” and no one is saying that a child’s perspective is WRONG. It’s just the perspective they have, given their experience of life, so far. It is, though, less complete, less inclusive, less broad–and less functional.
Neither have Ken nor I said that people at lower levels of development should be “thrown out.” In fact, everyone (as both of us have said many times), starts at square one and must go through each level, in order, just as an embryo must go through certain physiological developmental stages, in order. Many people stop at lower levels of development either because that’s where their culture’s or family’s center of gravity is or because they suffered some sort of trauma which arrests their growth. But because everyone starts at the beginning, there will always be people at every level of development.
We don’t condemn children for being at their particular level of development, but we do help them to move on to the next level when they are ready (which is when the previous level stops working as a way of making sense of their world).
And, as an aside, while someone is at a certain level of development what we’re really hoping for is a healthy manifestation of that level. There are healthy and unhealthy versions of every level of development. Life can fail to work at any developmental level if a person is exhibiting a pathological version of that level. Or it can fail to work because their environment changes and their current level no longer works or makes sense in that environment (for instance, when a young child goes off to school, or an college graduate enters the work force). Either way, something needs to be done either to create a healthy way of being at the current level or, if necessary, to get the person to the next level.
This is, in fact, very much what my work with you is all about. I’m helping you become more functional at your current level, or helping you move to the next level in your growth. The first is called horizontal development, while the latter is called vertical development. Both are valuable (and both are strongly facilitated by Holosync, and by the knowledge products we offer at Centerpointe).
The same writer said that “infantile desires (for security, for stimulation, etc.) are at the root of all adults’ rational thoughts,” and that if we eliminate magical thinking we eliminate everything that’s built upon it, including rational and post rational thought.
First, infantile desires are NOT at the root of all adult thought. Infantile desires are at the root of the thoughts of adults who are at an infantile level of development. Some adults actually have moved on to more mature, more highly developed, ways of being in the world. That’s what development is all about. It’s true that each level builds on those that went before, transcending and including, to use Ken’s terminology. Transcending, though, means that the unworkable aspects of the previous level are transcended, while the parts that are necessary building blocks are included. Belief in magic isn’t a necessary building block, so it is (hopefully) transcended as the move to the next higher level is made.
Consider this in terms of development in the physical world. At some point some amount of time after the Big Bang, atoms developed into molecules. Molecules transcend atoms, in the sense that molecules have attributes atoms do not and cannot have. They also include the atoms as building blocks, but at the same time they have jetisoned some of the ways of being in the world that were common to atoms. Those ways are gone, even though the atoms are still there as parts of the molecule (oxygen in a water molecule does not behave in the same way it did when it was free oxygen).
In the same way, some aspects of how you see the world are building blocks for the next level, the next perspective, but some of what went on at the lower level is lost, gone, ditched. It is transcended by better ways of existing. We don’t need to keep magical thinking in order to develop, so it is (in a healthy person) transcended. Little bits of it remain in the way we cross our fingers or carry a lucky charm for good luck or wish upon a star, but few people really believe that such things actually are the cause of what happens.
Again, I’ve never said that we should get rid of magical thinkers. I didn’t even say that people should necessarily give up that sort of thinking. I said that no one goes to the next developmental stage until the previous stage doesn’t work for them any longer. So, let me be clear here. I am saying–to those who read this and are hoping that some sort of magic, some sort of suspension of the laws of nature, some sort of narcissistic wishing for your needs to be met without you doing anything in return is a good way to succeed in the world–IF you are struggling to get by, if you can’t make enough money, IF you cannot get a fulfulling life going, IF you are frustrated about your ability to create a good relationship, get a good job, make enough money, or in some way are having trouble succeeding in the world…it may very well be that magical thinking isn’t a very resourceful way to be in the world, and you might consider giving it up in favor of a way of being in the world that works better.
So, with that off my chest, with my next post I’m going to go into Piaget and his model of cognitive development (rather than flogging this dead horse any longer). MANY peoples’ comments have argued against things I never said–which is one reason why I’ve ignored most of them–and I suspect that such comments will continue, no matter how careful I am to be clear about what I say. I will strive to be more clear, so as to diminish the possibility that people will misunderstand, but I don’t have room to write a book about each topic, or to cover every possible contingency, exception, or possible misinterpretation.
I hope you’re all finding this interesting and helpful.
On a completely different note:
Genpo Roshi (the highest ranking Zen master in the world outside of Japan) and I will be presenting a two-day workshop in Los Angeles on February 9th & 10th. Working with Genpo in person is AMAZING. Though he probably wouldn’t toot his own horn, I can: Genpo is a true enlightened master. At the same time, he’s also a regular person. He’s an American, rides a Harley, drinks beer–and I’ve never met anyone who is so comfortable in his own skin and so naturally embodies what enlightenment is all about.
He’s also an amazing teacher. His Big Mind process is, in my opinion and in the opinion of a lot of other people (including Ken Wilber and the incredibly highly evolved people that hang around with him) the biggest innovation in spiritual growth of the last several hundred years. (And that’s saying something.)
Why do I say this? Because this process allows you to directly experience transcendent states of oneness and enlightened awareness that ordinarily take decades of meditation to attain–but in less than three hours! I’ve even seen hardened reform school kids do this process, and in doing it speak from this transcendent state, saying the same things the Buddha said, in the same words. When you go into this state, everything is obvious, and you report the same insights that come with enlightenment–because you’re there. (Admittedly, this is a peak experience of Big Mind, and to fully embody this state you must do some sort of daily practice–such as Holosync–but a peak experience of this sort is REALLY a peak experience!)
Genpo and I share a desire to take what has been esoteric and share it with as many people as possible, so though Genpo still leads some traditional Zen trainings, he’s moving toward teaching to a broader group of people. What we’re doing is taking the essence of the wisdom of enlightenment and presenting it, without any unnecessary cultural trappings, so everyone can benefit from it.
So in this seminar I’ll be providing the context, the explanation. I will be providing the frame that allows you to make sense of the experience, while Genpo will provide the experience.
The Big Mind process does more than show you enlightened states, however. How could there be more than that, you ask? As part of the Big Mind process, Genpo will ask you to speak from certain internal voices, certain aspects of yourself. Speaking from these voices, what a psychologist might call “sub-personalities,” heals any shadow material in these aspects of yourself. This creates huge shifts, huge positive changes. And, quite frankly, I’ve never seen anyone more skillful at working with people than Genpo.
So, I’d like to invite you to be at this workshop. It will be February 9-10 in Los Angeles, and it will be, I promise, a truly life-changing event. Anyone who has been to a Centerpointe retreat knows that my events are life-changing, and I can vouch for the fact that spending two days with Genpo Roshi will give you (and I really mean this) years of growth in one weekend.
To find out how to sign up for a 25% discount, please visit our registration page while your thinking about it by click on the following link.
If this link doesn’t work for some reason, type www.centerpointe.com/bigmind directly into into your browser.
And, after Thanksgiving, I’ll be sharing a new post about levels of cognitive development. This is, I promise, some fascinating stuff.
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