Towards a contemplative psychology

Basically, the object of study of psychology lies in consciousness. All human behavior, mental or physical, has its origin in the sensory, perceptual and cognitive capacity of the human mind, as a phenomenological manifestation of what we call consciousness, which is more like an activity or a function than a to an object in itself.

It seems paradoxical that something so familiar and inherent to the human being is at the same time something so mysterious. Although science has discussed the correlates of consciousness and the brain a lot, it fails to answer why consciousness exists, what is its origin, why something like this exists. We can raise all these questions because there is awareness, but we have not been able to determine why this is so.

    Consciousness and models of knowledge

    The materialistic scientific model seems insufficient to apprehend consciousness beyond the observable and measurable physical correlates, discarding with that all introspective knowledge to consider it as subjective.

    We are then left with the fundamental dilemma of knowledge, which values ​​the objective over the subjective, when the aspects are intrinsically linked. If we consider that objective observations are altered by our measurements as a participatory act, which also always coincides with the subjective; there can therefore be no absolute objectivity, but rather a network of interactions that manifest themselves in a phenomenological dynamic (Wallace, 2008).

    In this case, the two forms of knowledge are correlated, which allows broaden the panorama and the depth of the knowledge of consciousness, valuing objective information with analysis and subjective introspection, taking this introspective knowledge as a form of pragmatic empiricism, which allows, from the first source, knowledge of the qualities and nature of consciousness, which presents itself as an empirical model that can give us perspective and a serious line of research.

      Consciousness and cognitive potentials

      It may be that the probability of consciousness in the universe is not so rare, but it is the capacity that we have as human beings to be aware of ourselves, to be aware of ourselves , which brings us to another even more rare and extraordinary quality: the possibility of realizing that we are conscious. It is through this ability that we can deepen the introspective knowledge of our consciousness, transcending the layers, structures and content of it to discover the fundamental nature that underlies conditioning.

      We can understand this as a cognitive process that involves particular states of attention that regulate our experience and perception to guide our cognitive ability to simply observe the qualities and functions of consciousness, not its structures and content. .

      In psychological terms, the cognitive process occurs because there is awareness, and it is through sensory and perceptual experience that knowledge occurs. This experiential treatment this will largely depend on our state of consciousness, our attentional disposition and our cognitive level.

      In short, the different levels of reality can be experienced or experienced differently depending on the direction and amplitude of attention and the associated states of consciousness (García-Monge Redondo, 2007). With this premise we can assume that in our experience with the environment there is always consciousness, although the states of consciousness and the directionality of attention are not always the same, these two aspects interact and s closely influence, thus directing our attention in a certain way in which we influence the states of consciousness; in the same way by influencing our states of consciousness we also influence our cognitive capacity.

      By developing our cognitive abilities we develop our knowledge to metacognitive applicationsthat is, realizing what we know and having the ability to do something with that ability and the way we know, thereby enhancing our cognitive abilities and awareness.

      In this sense, knowing is the development of consciousness, but not in the sense of accumulating knowledge, but of understanding consciousness itself. From this point of view, consciousness develops by knowing itself. This could apply to other forms of evolution, not only biological, but also psychological, such as knowledge concerning the capacity and potential of consciousness and its implication in the development of the person. This development is done through the experiences that occur throughout our lives, from the notion of existing.

        Existence and Identification: The Conditioning of Consciousness

        Existence, ex-sister, etymologically refers to “being outside”, which refers to a separation, which can well be understood as a phenomenological aspect of the manifestation of being, a manifestation of the immanent and transcendent Principle of all that exists (Benoît, 1955). Existence implies a dichotomy in this sense, being, as a state of being, but apart from, what in human existence is perceived as well-being and discomfort at the same time, on the one hand we we have something, but on the other we lack something. This duality manifests itself in the feeling of the human being as anguish or existential angst, which includes a transcendent emotion of anguish for life which implies hope.

        This situation causes a state of imbalance, and therefore the drive to seek complementarity, to fill the void, to neutralize or to seek balance, driven by a feeling of lack or insufficiency. This anxiety is compensated by identifications, with which the individual seeks to gradually reaffirm the coherence of his existence in an identity, which is consolidated in advanced stages of development, so that change is interpreted as a threat of annihilation. , limiting the recognition of transcendental qualities of beingto which Benoit refers in the following terms:

        “The human intellect develops progressively, so that it is able to procure in an illusory, and always temporary, appeasement of egoic affirmations, before being able to perceive in its fullness the “sister”; that is, before being able to perceive the emanation of the Principle, to which he is linked by a direct filiation, and which confers on him the very nature of the Principle and its infinite prerogatives (Benoit, 1955).

        The Principle to which Benoit refers corresponds to the natural state of things, in this case, to the basal state of consciousness, the natural basis of conscious potential, from which emerge and merge all the contents, constructions and states of consciousness. When the human being is able to identify the Principle or his basic consciousness, his identity is already firmly rooted and conditioned to the egoic affirmations of his personal history, which makes it difficult to recognize his natural state or the origin of the sister, the being. The valorization of existence is then consolidated in the relative conditions of the self, its personal and individual existence; ignoring its common relationship with the origin, the Principle, which gives it a universal and anonymous existence.

        “The acceptance of the relative reality of existence, makes possible the identification with the Principle or the natural state that founds the being, recognizing then as a microcosm that is the result of a universal macrocosm. This recognition is what Zen refers to seeing in one’s own nature” (Beniot, 1955).

        This is possible in a process of development in the expansion of consciousness which begins with self-knowledge, evolving from the disidentification of the primary states to the identification which involves wider and wider strata; as well as the consequence discernment of conventions and the reality that transcends them. It is the recognition of the ultimate and undifferentiated reality underlying the reality of the conventions which condition the individual. In this case, the individual can recognize his existence as the primary cause of all his actions and his phenomenology, and can recognize at the same time the base of origin from which it comes.

          The contemplative model

          Contemplation is a conscious activity that allows knowledge of deeper aspects of experiential reality. The word “contemplation” has been used in various ways over the years. There is a reference to the Latin term contemplatio, which comes from contemplari, the act of attentive observation. The Greek term theory is homologous to the Latin contemplatio, referring to the knowledge and clarification of the truth, which it sends us back to the action of observing and knowing.

          The act of contemplating can be defined by the following reference:

          “It means the action and the result of looking at something with attention and admiration, for example an interesting sight. In this way, the original meaning of the term to contemplate contains a triple content: to look, but to do it with attention, with interest, what it implies an affective dimension of the person. This interest comes from the intrinsic relationship with the contemplated reality. This gaze implies a presence or an immediacy of said reality” (Belda, 2007).

          We can understand the gaze of contemplation as a cognitive process that provides a direct and intuitive knowledge of reality, this being a natural quality of consciousness in which it becomes fully receptive and clear in relation to immediate reality.

          The first element of contemplation, according to Pieper, is the “silent perception of reality” that starts from intuition, being this, without a doubt, the perfect form of knowledge. By intuition, one knows what is, in fact, present (Pieper, 1966). It is a form of perception which passes through the awareness of the immediate present, without conceptual interpretation, which refers to silence, and which enables receptive and experiential knowledge.

          This form of knowledge is developed primarily, but not exclusively, by contemplative traditions. We generally think of organized religions or philosophies and evoke a cloistered life; however, contemplative discipline does not necessarily include a connection of this nature. Contemplation being a form of perception and knowledge, it is also practiced in secular life, without being linked to a particular philosophical or psychological current.

          The foundation of contemplative traditions is the methodological orientation in a process of development of the individual through stages aimed at the realization of human values ​​and ideals. However, the development of human capacities transcends ideologies and philosophies, settling in human work within the framework of its experiential life, where our attitudes are determined by the way we interpret and perceive, but above all by our awareness of being, which is understood through contemplation. The contemplative process starts from a sense of self that it involves a sense of responsibility for one’s own existence and its correlationsorienting the individual in a natural way towards the realization and updating of human values ​​and their potential.

          It is through contemplation that consciousness transcends the demarcations of our usual mind – interpretative and conditioned – to access a way of knowing, or knowing, in direct connection with our immediate reality. The knowledge that is generated in contemplative states is not static or conceptual knowledge, nor can it be said to be an accumulation of data, rather it is dynamic and strictly experiential knowledge, which bears the knowledge at deeply meaningful levels, because it is a form of conscious connection with contemplated reality.

          The contemplative attitude and attention

          It may seem complex to approach contemplation from what is described in a text, and I think it would not be the most appropriate, since what is described here is still conceptualization. This is only an indication, not the contemplation itself. But let’s talk about experience and common sense; we have all, at some point, had a contemplative experience at some level, where the mind experiences openness, receptivity and clarity. It can happen spontaneously or induced.

          We can refer to experiences where we felt delight, awe, or amazement at what we observed. For a few moments there is no internal dialogue, we are only in the experience in a significant way, it can be when we admire a landscape, the stars, the birth of a baby, witness a work of art, find a solution to a problem, understand a reality , in some creative process; or it can also be, in the most ordinary and routine situations of our life, because contemplation is not limited to circumstances or environmental factors, but arises from an attitude of mind, where it becomes open , receptive and clear, like an open window that allows the wind to enter a room that has been closed for a long time.

          To access contemplation, we need a primary disposition to observe. It is enough to see what is happening, for that it is necessary to detach oneself from the prejudices of the observer, to remove the veils and to observe clearly; it involves more difficulty than it seems, for we soon find that our mind is constantly interpreting. This is one of the main obstacles to contemplation.

          The interpretative mind is not a skillful medium to contemplate, because we will interpret reality and project preconceived and conditioned knowledge onto it, with beliefs and preferences, to end up making a reflective attempt that instead ends up being an eternal dialogue internal.

          In this process we can observe what is going on in our mind without encouraging it or rejecting it, but knowing what happens there; we begin to generate a contemplative attitude towards ourselves and the way we behave. It involves essential characteristics such as stillness and openness to experience, where there is an absence of interpretation and conceptualization, where the act of thinking does not predominate, but conscious presence. It is necessary to direct our attention in a stable and precise way, which involves an important and primordial part of contemplative formation, since it is in the attention that contemplation is founded.

            The Implications of Contemplation in Psychology

            Contemplation, being a quality of consciousness through which the perception and knowledge of our personal reality is favored in a particularly deep way, is a form that involves a connection with being and its being, resolving to a large extent the conflict of anxiety that involves the existential condition.

            The understanding and knowledge generated by contemplation manifests itself in life and the meaning one has of it, which is called Weltanschauung (De Witt, 1991) the development of a vision or attitude towards life in its entirety and its relationship to our own existence, or what Yalom sees as an existential responsibility, where the perception and appreciation of the nature of our existence, its impermanence and its relationships allows for a deep evaluation that involves a responsibility towards us . In this sense, the psychological implications are vast, but it brings us back to the question posed by De Witt: Can contemplative psychology be called “scientific” in an academic sense?

            “In accordance with the experience of contemplative traditions, we can assume that the psychology described by contemplation contains knowledge that is accurate and confirmable by introspective experience. Human intelligence and forms of knowledge and understanding do not refer only to scientific methodology, they also include the empirical order at the personal level” (De Witt, 1991). This involves several planes of personal experience, such as the sensory, the intellectual and the affective. Contemplative psychology is concerned then to knowledge and development in the experiential layer of the person, to how we can intelligently understand human life from an empirical and sensitive perspective.

            This state of consciousness goes through several sensori-perceptive and cognitive psychological processes. that generate ideas about ourselves and the nature of our consciousness, its interrelation with the environment and our behavioral impulses.

            Contemplative psychology arises from the study of these processes and of the states of consciousness related to the contemplative experience and the possibilities of development that it implies.

            Bibliographic references

            • Benoit, Hubert. 1990. Zen and the Psychology of Transformation.
            • De Witt, Han F. 1991. Contemplative Psychology. Duquesne University Press.
            • González Garza, Ana Maria. 1989. Collision of Paradigms. Ed. U. Iberoamericana, Department of Human Development.
            • Groff, Stanislav. 1988. The Evolution of Consciousness. Ed. Kairos
            • Manuel Belda, Professor of the Pontificia Universidad de la Santa Cruz, Rome, 2007.
            • Rodríguez Bornaetxea, Fernando. 2007. Psychology and Consciousness. Ed. Kairos
            • Velmans & Schneider. 2007. The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Ed. Blackwell.
            • Wallace, Alain. 2007. Contemplative Science. Ed. Colombia.
            • Wallace, Alain. 2008. The Science of Mind. Ed. Kairos

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