Your Life, Your Choice
I’ve reached a conclusion.
All the great intellectual and spiritual leaders of the past two millennia offered basically the same advice — breaking cycles of suffering requires enlightenment. The path toward enlightenment historically fell into two camps: that which advocated a closer connection to God and the more Eastern thought (though quickly adopted in the West) that enlightenment necessitated a freed mind. I advocate for both.
A good friend of mind recently reminded me what a freed mind meant when she bought me a copy of How to Take Charge of Your Feelings, Your Actions, Your Life. Her therapist, and the book’s author, Philip Ross (Ph.D) recently retired. She may have bought the book because she was feeling nostalgic over having had the chance to work with someone so insightful. Or maybe she knew I needed it.
The book promises to “destroy the robot” that is controlling you. Fittingly, the second chapter asks, “Are you a robot?”
“No. I. Am. Not,” was my robotic monotone response. (Joking)
The metaphor equates our unconscious choices with that of a robot. Fair enough. I hope most of us recognize that our minds are often on autopilot. Ross argues that this pattern leads to a false belief that our emotional state is out of our control.
“When people keep repeating feelings and actions that don’t work, one might suspect them of stupidity or of some weird self-destruction complex,” he writes. “Not so. Most individuals who do this are neither stupid or self-destructive.
Phew, it turns out that most of us are susceptive to these unconscious whims. Automated responses are bad. Reflective, self-aware decisions are good.
“The brain is often described as a complex computer,” the third chapter reads. “Although this analogy may not be technically correct, it is a useful metaphor. However, we operate as if we had not one, but two computers. Each of them has its own programs and its own store of beliefs.”
Ross isn’t a polished writer, but his ideas are novel and approachable. Each chapter ends with calls to action, a summary, and a pre-answered Q&A portion. His approach to robotic analogies reminded me of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene, in which Dawkins compares our bodies to “survival machines” that only serve our DNA. Both are useful metaphors. And catchy.
Our thoughts, Ross concludes, remain only thoughts. They don’t always equate to reality. But the more closely our thoughts reflect reality, the more enlightened we can honestly claim to be.
Or so the Eastern thought goes.
Edward Brown is a writing tutor and piano teacher. He is also an award-winning writer for the Fort Worth Weekly and volunteers for numerous Fort Worth nonprofits.