Three Types of Cognitive Distortions


Waking up is a two-pronged process. You first need to have a path to awakening. That is what IDL supplies by interviewing emerging potentials to put you in touch with the priorities of your inner compass. Secondly, you need to wake up out of drama and cognitive distortions. We have addressed waking up out of drama elsewhere. To wake up out of your cognitive distortions you have to first be able to recognize or identify them. Then you have to interrupt or stop them. Third, you have to have a healthier substitution handy. In addition to having a method, you need to have motivation. The truth is that most of your cognitive distortions have survival value and adaptive function. They exist for reasons. They therefore are not going to go quietly into that dark night just because one day you decide it’s a good idea. You are going to need persistence, determination, and the support of others in addition to a methodology or yoga, such as IDL.

Three types of cognitive distortions

The three types of cognitive distortions that keep you asleep, dreaming, and sleepwalking your way through life are emotional, logical, and perceptual. Imagine you have three levels of filtering, opaque atmosphere constantly hanging over you, keeping the sun from shining through. The highest, thinnest level is composed of your perspectival distortions. Like the atmosphere itself, this layer creates the “color” of your life, analogous to changing the sky from black to blue. Like air itself, it is within the other two areas as well as within you; it is the basic life force that generates your sense of self. The intermediate level, composed of poor, non-rational thinking, is like pollution, including haze that blocks the sun. It involves not only an inability to think problems through, but to understand and appreciate the reasoning behind alternative points of view. It is also an inability to tolerate the ambiguity of living in a world of shades of grey with multiple right answers. If you can think straight you can avoid much confusion and error created by yourself. The third and closest level of atmosphere hanging over you is composed of the stormy weather caused by your emotionally-based distortions. Like clouds that obscure the sun, these are essentially confusions, delusions, and misrepresentations of your reality that you maintain because they feel right and true. You can take on the most wonderful, marvelous, and transformative perspectives, as you do when you fall in love, move to a new town, take a new job, or go on vacation, but their benefits are unlikely to contribute to lasting growth if you live within the atmospheres of emotionally-based, intellectual, and perceptual distortions. The combined filtration of all three of these types of cognitive distortions block transformation and keep you stuck in your same old, stale, limited mental prison.

Your emotionally-based distortions

 Most people are lost in the capricious weather of their emotional preferences. These show up as drama and statements that reinforce the reality of what you feel, even while those feelings are clearly irrational. Love and fear are true emotionally, but they generally have little or nothing to do with reason. Consequently, the first step toward multiperspectivalism is recognition and neutralization of the corrosive power of your emotionally-based cognitive distortions. This is a process of learning to observe your emotional preferences without becoming less emotional or repressing the presence, importance, or usefulness of your emotions. Emotions are good and important. The problem is when they take over your life. A good rule of thumb is that 90% of your anxiety, fear, and worry is unnecessary, based on a magical belief that emotionalism will somehow control the future. Anger is generally either a shallow attempt at manipulation or a defense against fear. When you get angry at yourself or others, ask, “If this anger were a defense against some underlying fear, what would it be?” If you succeed in answering that question you won’t be angry any more.

Emotionally-based distortions are both experiences as well as the things you tell yourself about your experiences. They deal with statements that feel true but are rationally false. For example, fear of a dream monster is a real experience as well as a conclusion that you tell yourself in the dream and perhaps afterward, even after you know that it was “only” a dream. That fear feels real and true even though you know it is rationally false. An example of an emotionally-based distortion is, “I’m a failure.” This statement feels true and you can point to life experiences to validate this belief. However, it is not a rationally true statement, and that’s what makes some emotional statements cognitive distortions. Such statements are easily demonstrated to be cognitive distortions by finding only one contradicting example, in this case, an example of success. The statement then has to be modified to something like, “While I feel I’m a failure, I’m not a failure because I’ve succeeded sometimes. I only feel like I am.” There are at least eighteen common emotionally-based distortions, including Black and White or Polarized Thinking, Overgeneralization, Filtering, Jumping to Conclusions, Catastrophizing, Personalization, Control Fallacy, Fallacy of Fairness, Blaming, “Shoulding” on Yourself, Emotional Reasoning, Fallacy of Change or “Waiting for Santa Claus,” Global Labeling, Always Being Right, Heaven’s Reward Fallacy, Negativity, the “Pre-Trans Fallacy,” and The Ranking Fallacy. You can read about these in Waking Up, by this author.

 Your intellectual distortions

Intellectual distortions are a type of cognitive distortion, in that they are also due to faulty reasoning. The difference is that intellectual distortions are primarily rational rather than emotional: “This is the way we’ve always done it; therefore, it’s the right way.” “Who would you rather have supervising oil drilling operations, me or someone who doesn’t care about the environment?” (Global warming increases in either case.)

In waking life, love of an abusive alcoholic is a real experience as well as something you tell yourself about the abuse: “But I love him!” It doesn’t matter that this conclusion is not only not rational but usually supports, validates, and encourages more abuse. This is how emotional cognitive distortions are different from intellectual distortions, which deal with statements that are relatively free of emotion and may sound true, but are logically false.  These could be actual statements, such as, “You make me feel…”, or they may be unstated rules of the game, whether it be the Drama Triangle, communication, or the roles we take on.

Uncovering intellectual distortions is a second step to getting clear. You can discover things that you believe to be true, not because of emotional preferences, but because they are facts or truths, that are then discovered not to be true. Such is the nature of science. Newton was accurate, based on his calculus, until Einstein. Neither truth had to do with emotional preferences but with the conditions of the methods employed to reach conclusions. Relativity theory provides a more objective level of intellectual analysis than does Newtonian physics. It represents an advance in the objectivity of scientific thought, reason, explanation, and justification.

Formal cognitive distortions of logic include:

Ad Hominem: Attacking the individual instead of the argument. “Because you are a Russian/Moslem/Jew/capitalist you are biased and therefore should be ignored.” “He’s a dreamer.” All name calling boils down to this type of formal cognitive distortion.

Appeal to Force: Telling the listener that something bad will happen to him if he does not accept the argument. “If you don’t fund this national security bill (that allows unlimited spying and takes away all your privacy rights) terrorists will overrun the country.” “Have sex with me or I’ll kill you.”

Appeal to Pity: Urging the hearer to accept the argument based upon an appeal to emotions, sympathy. “You don’t want to share your anger and fear about your cancer because it will alarm and disturb the other cancer patients in the group.” “You don’t want to tell the truth; it will hurt her feelings.”

Appeal to the Popular: Urging the hearer to accept a position because a majority of people hold to it. “The majority of people believe you live in a democracy, so you must live in a democracy.” “The majority of people believe in God, so it must be true.” “All the news outlets are saying Sadam Hussein has nuclear weapons, so it must be true.”

Appeal to Tradition: Trying to get someone to accept something because it has been done or believed for a long time. “It’s in the Bible/Vedas/Koran; therefore it must be true.” “The Constitution protects our rights to bear arms; therefore no one can keep me from carrying a sub-machine gun into MacDonald’s.”

Begging the Question: Assuming the thing to be true that you are trying to prove.  It is circular. “You told me you love me. You told me you would never lie to me. Therefore, you must love me.” “I told everyone I was sick all my life. The doctors told me I was a hypochondriac. But I died, proving I was sick and that they were wrong!” “The United States is exceptional because it is founded by exceptional men and created an exceptional document. Therefore, the United States has the right to do exceptional things, such as to hold itself above the law.”

Cause and Effect: Assuming that the effect is related to a cause because the events occur together. “Because the Malaysian Airliner got shot down over Ukraine while we were angry at Russia for taking over the Crimea when we wanted to put a NATO base there, Russia must have shot it down.” “Because you say things that make me angry you must cause me to lose my temper.”

Fallacy of Division: Assuming that what is true of the whole is true for the parts. “Because President Obama is a highly educated person who cares about people, his drone murders of civilians and defense of spying must be good, loving acts.” “Because Israel is run by Zionists like Netanyahu, all Jews must be Zionists.”

Fallacy of Equivocation: Using the same term in an argument in different places but the word has different meanings. “Include your children in baking cookies.” “Police begin campaign to run down jay walkers.”

False Dilemma: Giving two choices when in actuality there could be more choices possible. “Have you stopped beating your wife?” This is the reason why black and white thinking, an emotional fallacy associated with mid-prepersonal development, is also a logical fallacy. “You are either a dreamer or a realist, a socialist or a capitalist.”

Genetic Fallacy: Attempting to endorse or disqualify a claim because of the origin or irrelevant history of the claim. “Jews are exceptional because they are descended from Hebrew Semites, with whom God made a covenant.” (In fact most European Jews have been shown to be descendants of middle European caucasians, not Semites.) “He cheated on his wife, so he must be untrustworthy.” “She dies her hair, so she must be a plastic, phony person.”

Guilt by Association: Rejecting an argument or claim because the person proposing it likes someone whom is disliked by another. “Hitler liked dogs.  Therefore dogs are bad.” “Your friend is a thief.  Therefore, I cannot trust you.”

Non Sequitur: Comments or information that do not logically follow from a premise or the conclusion. “We know why it rained today: because I washed my car.” “Because she is pretty she must not be intelligent.”

Poisoning the Well: Presenting negative information about a person before he/she speaks so as to discredit the person’s argument. “Putin is pompous, arrogant, and thinks he knows everything.  So, let’s hear what Putin has to say about the subject.” “He’s from Nazareth. Has anything good ever come out of Nazareth?”.

Red Herring: Introducing a topic not related to the subject at hand. “I know you’re angry because you inherited your disease.  But, if you’ll listen to me, you’ll not be having these problems.”

Special Pleading (double standard): Applying a standard to another that is different from a standard applied to oneself. “You can’t possibly understand me because you (haven’t been an addict/minority/poor/woman/man…)”  “International rules of conduct don’t apply to me because I am an American.”

Straw Man Argument: Producing an argument about a weaker representation of the truth and attacking it. “Because some sharks attack and kill humans all sharks should be killed.” “We know that evolution is false because we did not evolve from monkeys.”

Category Mistake: Attributing a property to something that could not possibly have that property. Attributing facts of one kind are attributed to another kind.  Attributing to one category that which can only be properly attributed to another. “Because of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and quantum physics show that psychic phenomena are possible, the teachings of the mystics, shamans, faith-healers, and energy channelers must also be true.”

Because humans are very clever and creative in their ability to find new ways to defeat logic in order to validate their prejudices, there are many more formal or logical fallacies. Here is a good source:

Why bother learning all these logical cognitive distortions? Transpersonal experience and consciousness lies on the other side of reason, doubt, and clear thinking. If you don’t know how to reason, but only how to believe on faith, if you don’t know how to ask wise questions, but instead simply gullibly trust what you hear, if you don’t know how to distinguish a logical fallacy from the truth, it is highly unlikely that your transpersonal realizations will ever turn into a stable, lasting state of higher-level awakening. Just because many people who can reason are self-important jerks who use their command of logic and language to manipulate others into submission does not mean that reason itself is not important, valuable, and necessary. To believe otherwise is itself a logical fallacy, guilt by association. Because intelligent and rational people are sometimes greedy and power-hungry, it does not follow that intelligence and reason are in any way opponents of wisdom, goodness, or growth. Beware of those who tell you otherwise.

Another important type of formal or logical cognitive distortion involves the generally unspoken “rules of the game.” The game at hand could be love, raising a family, running a business, running a family, or becoming “spiritual.” Everyone and every organization has written rules and then it has unwritten rules that its members are bound to defend. For example, every professional business group, from medical doctors to homeopaths, to veterinarians, have bylaws with written standards of conduct and then an unwritten code. The unwritten code is generally the same: minimize the  competition to maximize profits; when possible, change laws to guarantee preferential treatment. Never question the honorability, respectability, ethics, or motivations of a fellow member of the group. Families have spoken and unspoken rules as well, consisting of things like, “Don’t talk with your mouth full;” “Wash your hands before dinner;” “Waste not, want not;” “Obey your elders;” “Wait your turn;” “Don’t ask so many questions…”Not only are a lot of these rules contradictory, but different families have different rules. Since they are often automatic, people don’t realize that they are assumptions about how the game of communication is played. Then, when they end up with a partner who grew up in a family that played by other rules, accusations of cheating, lying, betrayal, and dishonesty ensue. A common example is the chaos that results when a person who grew up in a family that basically said, “In our family we are going to love each other,” falls for a person who grew up in a family where the rules of communication were basically, “In our family we fight with each other.” Each assumes that the other is playing by their rules when they aren’t. Unstated rules of communication create relationship disasters and are generally both based on and examples of logical cognitive distortions.

If people don’t agree to common rules of communication, then “formal” rules of communication left over from childhood will diminish respect and trust and destroy relationships. The rules are simple, common sense, and extremely useful, but despite their logic and reasonableness, rarely followed. There are not many rules, and if they are followed they will undermine a great deal of cognitive distortion in relationships.

No physical or sexual abuse. This means “no means no.” If somebody doesn’t want to be touched in a certain way, it must be respected. If not, there need to be immediate and powerful repercussions. The first consequence needs to be joint therapy. If that does not change the behavior, the abused has to be ready to terminate the relationship – unless they want to signal they will permit, and therefore deserve, more physical abuse.

No yelling. As in the first rule, yelling is determined by the recipient, not the other party. It is not to be argued with. If someone tells you that you are too loud, you are not to argue. You are to lower your voice. This is also not negotiable. Yelling is not only a manipulative attempt at intimidation; it raises the emotionality while lowering the rationality of the communication.

No talking in paragraphs. Unless you have permission to tell a story, be succinct. That means that if it can’t be said in two sentences, you haven’t thought about what you are saying. The longer it is the less likely you are to be heard. People don’t remember speeches. They will tune you out after the first sentence because they are either thinking about what you said or what they want to say to you in response. You are talking to yourself when you drone on. The other person will resent it and ignore you. Guaranteed. As if that wasn’t bad enough, talking in paragraphs is manipulative and controlling. It does not honor or demonstrate reciprocity and therefore is a sign of disrespect. If you show disrespect to your partner in communication, why should you expect them to show you respect?

No Interrupting. This is the correlate to “No Talking in Paragraphs.” If you talk in paragraphs you are asking to be interrupted, and you deserve it too. Interruption is also a sign of disrespect. If you think the other person is talking in paragraphs, don’t interrupt. Instead, signal with your hands that they need to shorten it so you have a chance to talk.

Don’t immediately launch into your response. To do so indicates that you really don’t care about what they have said; you only care about what you feel and what you have to say. But why should they demonstrate interest in what you have to say if you have not demonstrated that you have listened to them? Therefore, first summarize what you heard them say. Say, “What I heard you say is…” This will often cause them to realize that they were unclear or partial and they will launch into a longer clarification. Don’t let them; make them be succinct. But you need to get them to the point where they say “Yes, you heard what I said. This is extremely important, because the most common complaint in communication is the feeling that the other person has not listened to them. You want to be able to demonstrate that while you may disagree with them, that you have heard them clear enough that they have agreed that you could repeat what they said. Then you have a defense when they say, “You never listen to me!”

No changing the subject. If you change the subject to the other person’s behavior when they are talking about yours, you are being manipulative and dishonest. In addition, you are demonstrating that you haven’t listened and have no intention of listening, and don’t respect the agenda of the other person. Changing the subject is an excellent way to sabotage any conversation. Similarly, if you let another person change the subject on you, that’s about you, not about them. What you do is simply say, “I’ll be more than happy to talk about that as soon as we get some closure on this.”  I have never had an experience where a person has returned to the second item later on. Why? Because it really wasn’t important except as a manipulative strategy to avoid talking about the first subject.  Absolutely do not allow people to change the subject on you until there is closure. If you do, you will only feel frustrated, if not outright angry.

These few formal or logical rules of communication will undercut many cognitive distortions in communication. However, they aren’t going to happen just because you read them over. They must be explained to your partner and any children and discussed. They have to be understood in order to be agreed to. Once there is agreement, there has to be mutual permission given to call out each other when a rule is violated.

Emotionally-based distortions are generally due to faulty reasoning due to clear emotional bias. Looked at in depth, many intellectual distortions, whether logic-based or communication-based, are also due to emotional and preferential bias, either out of awareness or concealed by the speaker within a fog of facts. Notice that facts, while generally assumed to be true, can be used to generate whatever conclusion a person, group, or institution desires. A classical example is the Face on Mars movement, made possible by grainy first pictures of Mars’ surface features. Some people, many of them quite intelligent technical minds, had an emotional predisposition to find signs of life on Mars, and – eureka! – they found proof of advanced civilization! It was not until more detailed photographic surveys of Mars became available that these geological features where shown to be definitively and without doubt what they are: geological features. In another example, professional economists use econometrics, which are mathematical equations and statistics for economics, to justify austerity policies, which have been economically disastrous for most people but extremely lucrative for the top few percentile. This is an example of greed over-riding both intellect and ethics. Here is a third example. Depending on your own prejudices, the fact that some people prefer partners of their own sex can be used to prove the adaptability of the species, the sinfulness of humanity, or the injustice of exclusivity based on sexual preference. Consequently, rationality, education, and IQ are not good indicators of freedom from either emotional bias or cognitive distortion. While we all believe we are one of the few exceptions to this rule, it is wise to assume that you are as emotionally biased and irrational about your preferences as your opponents are. Consequently, the only way you can authentically distinguish yourself is to claim and announce your emotional biases and irrationalities, and either fight for them or be willing to have your mind changed by new information.

 Your perceptual distortions keep you stuck

Perspectival distortions, the third broad category of cognitive distortions, are different from both emotional and intellectual distortions. They are based on real experiences that feel emotionally true and are rationally and logically true, but are false because they are partial. We cannot see their partiality because they represent a context in which we are completely embedded. For example, to say, “the sun rises,” is emotionally and physically our experience, as well as a rational statement, but only within the context of a geocentric universe. Once you expand your context to heliocentrism and beyond, the idea that the sun rises is clearly seen to be a perceptual cognitive distortion. This is the nature and problem that perceptual cognitive distortions present. They are both useful and invisible, because we are embedded in them. Perceptual distortions don’t feel like distortions; they feel like reality. In fact, they function as our reality, to such an extent that to question them threatens basic assumptions about who we are and what are appropriate goals for living. While perspectival distortions exist for everyone, regardless of age, they are high-order cognitive distortions, in that they lie in the background and provide the context in which emotionally-based and intellectual distortions exist. They could be called “pre-rational” or “prepersonal distortions” because they deal with perceptual errors that are not primarily emotional, rational, intellectual, or logical, but function as part of an unconscious ground out of which your sense of self arises.

While perspectival distortions are not based on emotion or reason, they  contain emotional reasoning and logical fallacy. For example, the perception that the sun rises and sets is a perspectival distortion. It is not primarily an emotionally-based distortion because the perception of seeing the sun rise and set occurs regardless of how you feel. It is not primarily an intellectual fallacy because you can know all about Copernicus, yet experientially the sun still rises and sets. The sun rising and setting is a perspectival distortion because your conclusion, that the sun rises and sets, is based on a perspective that is partial, because it is an Earth-based perspective, and the conclusion that the sun rises and sets is based on Earth-based experiences and perspectives. This conclusion is experientially true and useful for life on Earth; however, it is not true for perspectives that are not geocentric.  So what?

Problems arise when otherwise smart, rational, and loving people have distorted perceptions. These are often based on very genuine and transformative life events, such as falling in love, failures, major achievements, near death experiences, facing long-term disabilities, and being surrounded by a culture of Wise Men who all speak for a particular point of view. For example, many people return from near death experiences with the conviction that the basic purpose and meaning of life is love. There is no doubt that this perspective reflects experiential reality for some people. It is also true that it is immensely more useful and beneficial than many other world views that people can assume. Is it possible to qualify such a wonderful perspective without the reader hearing it criticized, made wrong, or discounted? This depends on how invested you are in any perspective. The more your sense of self depends on the belief in some perspective, the less likely you will be open to alternative ways of looking at the world. However, the more transparent your sense of self becomes the less dependent you are on any one perspective. Therefore, a better measure of near death experiences, mystical experiences, and growth is to ask, “As a result of this experience am I able shift perspectives more easily? Is my sense of who I am “lighter” and more transparent?” Does it stay that way over time?

Making love the foundation of healing, life balance, and transformation is another example of a perceptual cognitive distortion. It is not so much that love is not the answer as that love is one facet of the diamond of life. It can also be accurately said that wisdom is the answer, or acceptance or inner peace. For example, science is very clear that objectivity is the answer, and in many ways, it has proven that belief to be extremely valuable and worthwhile. To define love as the perspective that contains all perspectives, the context which contains all contexts, or the value that contains wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and objectivity, is a perceptual distortion because any value can be made the context which contains the others. This is naturally demonstrated through Integral Deep Listening interviewing. Some interviewed emerging potentials emphasize one value, such as confidence or wisdom, more than the others, depending on what perspective it personifies.

Reducing all values to love usually does not work for individuals because they invariably mean their definition of love. Love is different for a teenager, a democrat, a nationalist, a mother, or mystic, so whose definition of love is the “right” one? Reducing all values to love and loving has not been a successful strategy for religions. The conflict between a belief that love is the answer and the historical record is so great as to cause many objective, reasoning people to distance themselves from religion. Religions would do much better to encourage a multi-perspectival approach to life, meaning, and happiness by teaching that love is one of a number of different valuable and useful approaches to the sacred.

We can find similar problems with making wisdom or objectivity the core life value. Science makes objectivity, primarily through using the tool of quantification, as the core life value. How has that turned out? It would be generous to agree that success has been partial, and that is because objectivity is only one of at least six co-generating qualities.

Another example of a perspectival distortion is to assume that cultivating loving relationships is more important than personal development, which can be selfish and narcissistic, or understanding relationships, which can be manipulative and controlling. Wilber describes these three ways of experiencing the divine, or ultimate meaning, as three faces of the divine. The “We,” or “I-Thou” face is interpersonal and experiences oneness in the context of relationship. The “I” face is interior and evolves consciousness.   The “It” face sees the divine in nature, mathematics, behavior, and systems.  An integral, or multiperspectival approach, such as Wilber takes, does not give primacy to any one of these three, but instead points out that all are necessary in different circumstances, and that the point is to be able to switch among them according to need. Some people, such as advocates of A Course in Miracles or some students of near death experiences conclude that the “I-Thou” face has primacy over the other two, that one perspective is the context which contains all others. This betrays an allegiance to one perspective over others; the result is often a facade of acceptance over a hard core of rejection. Such people are True Believers who neither understand nor desire multiperspectivalism. Instead, they misperceive it as a descent into relativism.

Another example of a perspectival distortion is the assumption that “All is well.” This is a version of Leibniz’s famous argument that, “This is the best of all possible worlds.” The problem is not that this is not true; it is, particularly from the perspective of mystical experience. The problem is that it is partial, because it does not address injustice and therefore tolerates what can and should be fought. The solution is not to rail against the injustice of the world, because that would be to generate an equal and opposite perspectival distortion. Instead, it is to cultivate the wisdom to know that both positions are partial and the discernment to use the one that works better than the other in any particular situation.

The worst, most abused, and most destructive perspectival distortion is built into language and is therefore almost inevitable and unavoidable. That is the assumption that you are an existing self. Every time you think or say, “I,” you reinforce an emotional preference, a cognitive belief, and an intellectual certainty that it is true that you exist and are real. It assumes that consciousness orbits around the agenda and development of waking identity, which interprets almost all experience. It is due to this monopoly on interpretation of experience that both causes and justifies this cognitive distortion. In the absence of competing sources of information – it all comes from the interpretations of waking selves – the delusion that waking identity is the center of reality exists uncontested. With the arrival of processes like Integral Deep Listening that provide interpretations from sources that are clearly not waking selves, that perspectival distortion is challenged. While the interpretations of gurus, scripture, experts, channeled entities, and dream figures are interpretations from selves, it is difficult to argue that the interpretation given by a toilet brush is that of a “self.”

The problem with this perceptual distortion is not that you do not have a self; you most certainly do. The problem is that your self is an experiential reality generated by your point of reference or your perspective, just like the experiential reality that the sun rises and sets. Move away from that psychological geocentrism and you discover that you are a legend in your own mind, no longer the center of everything. Your sense of self is seen to be dependent on a number of experiential and conceptual distortions that you are addicted to. When you have experiences which are no longer self-centered you awaken to the awareness that your sense of self is a perspectival delusion that is continuously being validated emotionally, linguistically, and experientially. The fact that Siddhartha had this awareness about 800 BCE is astonishing.

This self-sense, when viewed from the perspectives of different interviewed emerging potentials, is experienced as having the same conditioned reality that they do. Is an interviewed toaster real or fantasy, or does it carry characteristics of both? What is real are the values that are assumed by the toaster rather than some underlying existential beingness. This realization is difficult to avoid if you do enough interviews with dream monsters, clouds, toilet brushes, and rocks that score higher than you do in confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, or witnessing.

You might get clever and attempt to avoid the delusion of “I” by trying to remove all references to “I” or “me” from your speech or thoughts. This is not only functionally difficult; it doesn’t eliminate this distortion, because your sense of self is fueled not only by the conventions of language but by strong emotional attachments and experience. You need a self to function in a geocentric perspective. Gautama’s solution, anatma, or “no self,” is not quite right, because that in itself is a perspectival distortion, since it emphasizes one particular perspective, that of no self. The truth is that “no self” is partial, because we need not only both perspectives, but polyperspectivalism, or a number of alternative perspectives. For example, an alternative third perspective is Nagarjuna’s fourfold negation, which denies the reality of any perspective at all while refusing to affirm that non-reality or non-existence is real. He points out that there is neither self nor non-self, nor both self and non-self, nor the absence of both self and non-self.

The transpersonal is trans-self; the trans-rational transcends conceptualizations of all kinds, including “self.” Personality, “Self,” “I,” and “me” are, by both definition and experience, dualistic concepts of separateness. Either you are one with everything, in which case there is no self, Self, “I,” or “me,” or you aren’t one with everything.  Which is it? You can and should have it both ways, however, because you need both perspectives and because both are true. You can do so by owning that both are cognitive distortions, lies, and dangerously partial perceptions, and communicating this awareness as clearly as you can, so that people don’t conclude your support of one means your denial of the other.

You have good alternatives to staying stuck in limiting perspectives

 While your perspectival distortions can be reduced, it is doubtful that they can ever be eliminated entirely. All perspectives are partial; you will always be enmeshed in a context that distorts your perception, regardless of how much you grow or how broad that context is. You can verify this by reading accounts of near death experiences, in which spaceless, timeless experiences are still distorted by the perceptual framework of the individual perceiver. The solution is to first recognize and own your favorite perspectives for what they are: simple preferences, not facts or truths. Your goal is flexibility and balance, meaning the ability to shift among perspectives based on which ones are most effective for the circumstances or, as Buddha put it, most “conducive to enlightenment” moment to moment. For example, “all is love” is useful for communicating life and goodness to some people but not others. For those others, you need other ways of communicating and other perspectives. You have to learn to practice taking alternative legitimate perspectives without allowing that practice to degenerate into a bland soup of relativism. You do not take alternative perspectives to demonstrate your autonomy or intelligence, because such motivations are neither autonomous nor intelligent. Alternative perspectives are allowed to emerge through deep listening. Instead of taking “them,” you allow them to take you. 

Perspectivalism fights for the legitimacy of perspectives in different circumstances and denies that this is contradictory. For example, it fights for the truth of “All is well,” and “This is the best of all possible worlds” when advocating the benefits of mystical experience and life informed by them. However, it also fights for justice, equality, and human rights when those values and the perspective they represent is ignored or under-represented, as it has been in the history of mysticism, religion, and humanity itself.

Most adults change perspectives in ways that are calculated to make them feel good or adapt to social pressures. They are out of touch with their inner compass and the potentials that are attempting to be born through them. As a result, they fertilize weeds instead of roses; they grow garbage instead of food.  They do what needs to be done instead of those things that produce life. The good news is that there is nothing inevitable about this; you can learn how to become perspectives that support a path to wholeness that works for you, regardless of who you are or what your problems are. While that path will not lead to the absence of problems, sickness, or life challenges, it can lead to an ability to meet them with confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and objectivity. As a result, you inhabit perspectives in which you embrace the opportunities for growth that exist for you right here, right now, in your present life circumstances.

While your everyday way of looking at the world is very useful, it is such a habit of mind that it stifles the creativity that other perspectives offer. When you take on another perspective to a degree that involves a surrendering of your own you can experience not only liberation and creativity, but transformation. For example, consider the perspective of the air that you are inhaling and exhaling right now. Imagine you are that air; become it. Experience life from its perspective. Can you experience the amazing shift in focus, priorities, and awareness that results?

This is not always easy. I am reminded of a mother and a grandmother I recently did interviews with. The mother had lost a child to cancer almost a year before; both were devastated and were still deeply depressed. They had great resistance getting into role. The roles that they accessed were transformational, healthy, and wise, but so removed from the drama of their current grief that they could not relate to them. Both women felt that if they let go of their grief they would be letting go of this child they so dearly loved and missed. They needed the memory of him to bring meaning into their lives, but that memory was now so coupled with grief as to be toxic and destructive. When they became emerging potentials – a wave and the sky – they felt no loss. They felt one with this deceased child without drama. However, they were not only unable to hold on to this awareness, they actively fought it when they were back in their waking perspective. This is why one interview is not enough. It is by inhabiting transformational perspectives again and again that we slowly let go of the constriction of self.

You can have all the love, wisdom, inner peace, acceptance, and confidence in the world, but if you do not learn how to separate who you are from what you do, how you feel, what you think, and your world view, these categories of your experience will define not only who you are but who you can become. They will determine how you grow and how far you will grow. Do you stay a stunted bonzai, a miniature of your potentials, fashioned in the image of your parents, your friends, your career, and your culture, or do you find and follow your inner compass? These two women are living their lives over a cemetery, as a funeral, singing funeral dirges. Funerals have their place; they are to provide people with closure. The goal of life is not to go live in the cemetery.

 Using alternative perspectives to free you from your cognitive distortions

Your first step has been to dethrone emotional distortions by learning to substitute rational statements for irrational emotional beliefs that make you depressed, anxious, or perceptually misled. Your second step is to learn to think logically, creating rules for life that are based on reason. Your third step is to dethrone rationality without regressing into a prelinguistic experiential here and now. This is about not confusing the trans-rational with the pre-rational or oneness with nature with unconscious subjectivity. The goal is to stay awake and aware, yet transparent and open. It is to use reason as a filter that discriminates between the pre-rational and the trans-rational, without allowing reason to become an end in itself. This is where identification with multiple alternative perspectives is important.

Most people think they already do this because they empathize with people, animals, and all sentient beings in all dimensions and realms. The problem is that they haven’t become a skate board or a kitchen stool, their breath, or earwax. They haven’t learned to turn the secular and profane into the sacred, because they still believe there is a real distinction between the imaginary, on the one hand, and the real, on the other. They still believe there is a real distinction between the meaningless and mundane, on the one hand, and the sacred and divine on the other. Consequently, they still operate within these dualisms, which prevent them from grasping what multiperspectivalism is and is not. Finding and holding this continuously shifting balance among various perspectives is a primary function of Integral Deep Listening. The identification with multiple perspectives from dreams and the personifications of life issues is advanced training in multiperspectivalism. You learn that the perspective of a teaspoon or bottle may not only be as legitimate as your own but more beneficial than your own, as it is when it scores itself higher in core qualities of enlightenment – confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing – than you yourself do.

How do I learn to witness my perspectives?

A fourth step is to become perspectives that are authentically trans-rational. This thins self through identification with world views and points of view that transcend and include your own. This is functionally a meditative state, because it is post-linguistic and post-rational, yet inclusive of language, reason, emotion, and sensory experience. In Integral Deep Listening, such becoming is meant to be practiced while eating, drinking, working, showering, driving, dreaming, and breathing.

To actively empathize with multiple alternative perspectives is a form of objectivity, or witnessing. Meditation teaches this skill, but is often limited in its effectiveness because it takes an indirect approach to objectifying both emotions and reason.  It generally teaches students to either observe or ignore both, or substitute something for them, such as a mantra, image, or observation of breath. The result is the cultivation of detachment, while remaining wedded to both emotionally-based and intellectual distortions, often resulting in objectivity within emotional and irrational perceptual frameworks. For example, Japanese samurai warriors were fierce fighters and yet practiced meditation. They had no problem killing while maintaining peace of mind; in fact peace of mind was cultivated partially to make them better killers.  Buddhist meditation itself has traditionally taken place within a cultural context that assumes the reality of karma, a belief system that supports and maintains social inequality, which is itself both an emotional and intellectual distortion. There may be emotionally-based thinking that combines detachment and distortion, including Black or White Thinking (“You are either a member of my group, nation, or religion and my friend or not, and therefore my enemy.”),  Overgeneralization (“Maintaining peace requires violence.”), or Filtering (Emotional and experiential evidence that supports my position makes it through my cognitive filters; everything else is automatically filtered out.)

Limitations of meditation

In practice, meditation generally does not free people of their emotionally-based, intellectual, or perspectival distortions. The history of mysticism is largely a history of self-expansion, not self-transcendence. The ego is transcended, only to be replaced by a “super” ego, called Atman in the Hindu tradition, and soul or spirit in many others. Buddhist meditation, however, is a significant departure and exception.

An expanded self is freedom from a narrowly-defined self; it is not freedom from the core distortion that your sense of who you are is real. Another reason why meditation, as traditionally taught and practiced, has not generally freed people from their “three polluting atmospheres,” is that it is largely interior. It changes consciousness, in the belief that doing so will “trickle down,” or “trickle out,” as good karma, acts of kindness, less drama, responsibility, and better decision-making. While both assumptions are correct, because meditation does change consciousness and the results do externalize, the history of meditation demonstrates that the many personal and interpersonal benefits of meditation are no match for the grinding groupthink of the cultural context in which meditation occurs, whether it is the group consciousness of a Zen monastery, traditional Tibetan culture, traditional Hindu culture, or contemporary world culture. Meditation has not brought freedom or human rights to cultures, but only to separated subcultures, which can be and easily have been swamped by larger cultural forces. Examples range from a lack of familial support making meditation difficult, if not impossible, to the Islamic invasion of India, which in a few short decades crushed Buddhism in all of India, and with it, destroyed almost a thousand years of the strongest meditative subculture the world has ever seen. Another example is the Chinese invasion of Tibet, which in a few short years extinguished 2500 years of meditation-based culture there. That extremely sophisticated understanding and practice of meditation did nothing to stop or counteract the larger perceptual distortions of Chinese invasion and cultural dominance.

Meditation is supposed to cultivate objectivity from life dramas, but you probably spend most of the time you assign for meditation thinking, daydreaming, problem-solving, wool-gathering, dosing, imagining, feeling, or sleeping. This is because you are addicted to your thoughts and your feelings. Meditation becomes much easier and effective if you first recognize this core addiction and address it. Integral Deep Listening teaches the importance of naming whatever arises in awareness as a way to break the train of thought, neutralize emotional preferences, and move into the here and now. You can do so by learning to name your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions. Naming keeps you present and aware in the here and now, without regressing into pre-linguistic realms of nature consciousness. Most people who take a vacation from language regress or else go into trance.  You practice by naming whatever comes into your awareness, preferably out loud, until you are aware enough to be able to do so consistently without speaking. When spaces come into your awareness, that is, times when you are not aware of any thought, feeling, sensation, or perception, name that: “I am aware I am aware,” and then observe your inhalations, the pause at the top of your breath, your exhalations, and the pause at the bottom of your breath. Continue until you are aware of the next thought, feeling, sensation, or perception; then begin naming again. This procedure, which is powerful and effective, is explained in detail in Waking Up.

Learn to take a multiperspectival approach to meditation

A multiperspectival approach to meditation discovers that it does not have to be interior, as demonstrated by action approaches to meditation that emphasize its integration into everyday relationships and decision-making, such as Zen Buddhist martial arts and the sport of winter olympic Biathalon.

It also discloses that meditation does not have to involve self-expansion, as both Buddhism and contemporary scientific research confirm. A multiperspectival approach to meditation also demonstrates that it does not have to be subject to any particular metaphysic, such as the Buddhist teaching of Two Doctrines.  When meditation is practiced within a multiperspectival framework you avoid some of the limitations and problems that have been associated with the history of meditation. However, even with these freeing, expansive understandings of meditation, it still remains subject to the control by the surrounding dominant culture. What can be done about that?

Multiperspectivalism provides objectivity that translates into wise and loving solutions that address distorted and toxic contexts. For example, you can and will access perspectives that insist those with power respect human rights. You can and will access perspectives that require justice, accountability, and transparency from authority, in the understanding that to not do so invites not only abuse, but the undoing of lifetimes of careful and selfless contributions to humanity. To seed this process, both the naming of the contents of awareness, objectifying emotions, thoughts, sensations, images, and states of consciousness, and becoming the core processes and values associated with the cycle of breath are very helpful. These exercises are explained in Waking Up. 

While multiperspectivalism has many benefits, the most important is its open-ended nature. It cannot be outgrown, because there always exist contexts and perspectives that transcend and include those you have attained. To inhabit such perspectives at will, in response to dreams, nightmares, and pressing life issues means growth is organic, directed from within by your inner compass. Such multiperspectivalism transcends and includes nature, devotional, and sage mysticism, which are both states and developmental stages. As such, they represent categories of perspective, each broader and more inclusive than the last, but not therefore necessarily superior. For example, faith healing may be broader and more inclusive than surgery, but there are circumstances, such as the treatment of a compound fracture, that one is wise to leave to a surgeon instead of a faith healer. This is why multiperspectivalism is not simply a pluralistic, egalitarian mush. Some perspectives are superior to others but can only be employed if they are available and you have permission (or the training) to use them. In those cases where you do not, another aspect of multiperspectivalism is the employment of complementary perspectives that you do not own, as you do when you consult an accountant or an attorney. In Integral Deep Listening this is known as triangulation, which is the ability to access both internal sources of objectivity and external experts, combining both sources with your common sense to arrive at decisions that are more likely to stand the test of time.



Leave a Comment

For more information, contact While IDL does not accept advertising or sponsored postings, we gratefully accept donations of your time, expertise, or financial support.