In July 2017 I started frequent, deliberate contemplation of the source assumptions underlying particular behaviours or reactions. Completing my personal review of 2017, these bottom line contemplations stood out as having a more significant impact than any of the other personal data collection, reflection and revision of activities, tactics and priorities throughout the year.
The intention of my bottom line contemplations has been to get to the ‘bottom line’ of what drives or enables behaviours, such as being distracted, getting angry with a person, or even ‘positive’ behaviours such as journalling or expression appreciation for others. Personal bottom line contemplations included: being inconsistent, thinking too much, being casual, disengaging in social interactions, not practicing when no-one is looking, feeling tired, sleeping in, contemplating, journalling, falling in love, and wanting to control my experience.
Contemplating the source assumptions of those experiences, or beliefs that underly behaviour stands in contrast to thinking, planning, habit-changing, resolution-making, goal-setting or purpose-defining. While all those activities are useful, they are all in the context of underlying assumptions that allow them to even exist, and that in some way serves our survival and self-identity.
The image above tried to communicate this: while my aspirations (to climb mountains) may be motivational, the aspirations themselves and the desire to caret or achieve them must be acknowledged is not really ‘existing’ (objectively) but are created, fictional, personal and are only meaningful to my self-identity and survival because of the existential assumptions underlying them and frame within which I hold them. It’s like unless I believe I am something like an object, a professional, an innovator, a learner, a good person, and that it’s possible and desirable to improve that ‘something’ or ‘someone’ , then the aspirations aren’t meaningful and wouldn’t matter. On a more superficial level, two examples:
- Making New Year ‘re-solutions’ seems to require a problem (hence solution) and a future in which conditions or self can be better (hence a plan) and assumption that personal will can trump circumstances and make better choices (hence the commitment),
- Deciding not to sleep in past one’s alarm requires that waking up on time is important, meaningful, and that ‘sleeping in’ is something more than just a relative and personal judgement.
While there are many other examples and explanations, I think the significance is it can be far more productive to go deeper into contemplating the source assumptions, than making new resolutions based on the same patterns of mind, body, culture and context. Further, what could be even more productive than focusing on individual assumptions, is to spent the same time and energy doing inquiry and contemplations into “bottom lines” of behaviours and reactions across whole organisations, cultures and even humanity.
An interesting and fun equivalent, if you want a physical experience of this, is taught in Cheng Hsin Body Being practice, described in the book Zen Body Being and other courses. Summarised as ‘hand up – you down’. That is, any movement or reaching up should be associated with a feeling of ‘draining’ feeling-attention down into the ground. The effect of the physical principle in my experience, and the psychological equivalent, is that the higher you want to reach, the deeper you must dive.
So, in reviewing 2017 and making my (or you, for yours) plans for improvement and evolution in 2018, then these two things are worth considering:
- What’s the bottom line? What’s the underlying origin or source or existential assumption that leads to that reaction or is the motivating driver? If not, then consider tackling it, and seek to uncovering the underlying driver.
- Am I conscious of it? Do I really know, am I still wondering, have I really grasped what’s going on here, and I aware of it in the present moment? If so, then reaction of behaviour itself may become obsolete or at least something you choose to do rather than being unconsciously subject to.
- Can I go deeper and wider in my contemplation? Rather than being frantic in activity, am I making time to be mindful of what’s happening, what I am doing and why, and extending that inquiry with others? Contemplation can dramatically increase one’s consciousness, learning capacity and ability to discover and apply insights to the next iteration, immediately, and perhaps collaboratively.
Practically, for me, these bottom-line contemplations often took the form of a sitting contemplation and writing practice in the mornings, guided by specific instructions shared in books and courses (see links at end or article). Often, though, the same topics were tackled in diads with a partner, in a workshop or retreat context, or in correspondence with mentors, and almost all the time held as background questions through days or weeks. While the approach is different to contemplation of enlightenment questions about the existential nature of existence, similar principles are helpful (and described in the books and courses). Also essential, and worth mentioning here, is the decision to take personal responsibility for one’s behaviour, becoming more conscious of the drivers beneath them, and to do so in the present moment.
If you are interested in tackling such things recommend checking out these sources for how to contemplate, and specifically tackle bottom-line assumptions with the approach recommended by Peter Ralston.
And, a note here if this “bottom line” stuff sounds familiar. There are other methodologies I would say are similar, such as “Ladder of Inference”, or some of those presented “Immunity to Change”, and various psychological or psychometric approaches to uncovering our underlying motivations. But I’ve focused here the method and approach shared by Peter Ralston as it is, in my experience, more powerful. There’s something about the clarity about what contemplation is, how it is done, explicit context of increasing consciousness, sense of openness and possibility, that leads to insights beyond logic, and (it seems) beyond the mind generated by the foundational assumptions.
Book of Not Knowing http://chenghsin.com/book-of-not-knowing.html
Pursuing Consciousness http://chenghsin.com/book-pursuing-consciousness.html
Transcending Self eCourse – bottom line contemplations are also covered in specific lessons in subsequent eCourses such as Principles of Effective Interaction, and Power of Contemplation