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Thinking Beyond The Boxes You Make

Life is hard. Anything involving other people and gravity is hard. As Sartre said, hell is other people. And as Martin Amis said, the centre of the earth wants you there. The physical world drags us down; so does the emotional world.

The Cartesian idea of reality is the one most of us walk around with in our heads without really realizing it; we see ourselves as an independent object in a world of objects - 'je pense donc je sues' (I think, therefore I exist). We are a world of observable 'facts', one of which is each of us.

This way of thinking and seeing ourselves is woven into our society to where we don't see it anymore. So we don't question it. There is no question to question.

As a separated entity, we set (and have set for us) limits and boundaries; contained within is our image of ourselves: who we are, what we believe in, etc. We are separate from others and nature. We isolate and alienate ourselves. In effect, we shrink to the size of an object observing other objects. This is considered 'normal'.

Whatever shakes our isolated self-image will make us shrink those borders further, to the point where one might obsessively start to think things like, 'I wonder if so-and-so likes me', or 'I wonder if my boss thinks I'm working hard enough', or 'I wonder if I'm doing the right things'. A smaller, limited self-concept leads to anxiety, stress, depression, paranoia, and, in some cases, full-blown mental illness.

But what would happen if we could go beyond this image of ourselves? Not just intellectually but existentially? Dr. Leo Matos, the renowned psychologist, has said a person would feel the interconnected patterns of energy described in high energy physics, and experience the one-ness with the universe described by William James.

In a wonderful talk in the 1980's, Dr. Matos and Dr. Ronald Laing take up these themes and questions and apply them to a new way of thinking of the self. High energy physics, they say, offers an answer for seeing past the personal boundaries of self-concept we all have - which can result in so much personal misery. This psychology was dubbed 'Transpersonal'; Trans meaning 'to cross' or 'go beyond' - so essentially crossing the border beyond the personal. You can watch here:

Sometimes, says Dr. Matos, you imagine you're in a place called Oslo. But you're in the cosmos all of the time.

What high energy physics shows us is the old boundaries were never there.

So, if the cosmos is actually not bound by anything close to our traditional western world views of separation, why do we still carry these self-concepts around with us? Why do we let ourselves be limited by our society, others and, eventually, by ourselves? How is it that these false concepts are still trained into us given what we now know about the nature of the physical universe? These enclosed images of ourselves, outside of which is everything else, is not how the world is. Yet thinking this way has created whole societies of weakened, alienated people, limited by artificial self concepts of separation. Under these conditions, a condition we all share, how can anyone thrive?

Our Cartesian world-view, Matos and Laing point out, also makes an enemy of nature in the Baconian sense of having to master 'her' - and who ultimately knows how that affects our collective psyche, given we are also nature?

In effect, we are at war with ourselves. To change deeply ingrained behaviours and attitudes that go back to the time of Shakespeare and before will take more than following a few Top Ten lists for living a more creative or better life. It's a mammoth shift in thinking. But one that seems to hold answers for truly thriving outside of the boxes we make for ourselves.

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