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Perception Bias. How “Pursuit” Can Sabotage Your Happiness and Spiritual Journey

How Seeking Results In More Seeking

Donna Barton


It’s not uncommon to be on the spiritual journey in a way that reinforces a sense of pursuit. We can be on a hamster wheel of seeking — as if something will click into place after a new workshop, teacher or healing modality. But the western mind is conditioned to try hard, and effort is the opposite of allowing and surrender. Something innately peaceful in us already “knows,” but is lost in the noise of our seeking. Until we return to this inner knowing, we can’t be met here, now, right where we are.

The spiritual marketplace is daunting. There’s no end to products, books, practices, teachers and courses — which reflects the problem. I feel anxious … is this Feel Better Now workshop right for me? Should I see a therapist? Am I doing this right? As John Kabat-Zinn said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

The Tao hints at the paradox of effort and seeking, “Stop leaving and you will arrive. Stop searching and you will see. Stop running away and you will be found.”

In other words, seeking gets more seeking.

What’s going on … could we be going about this the wrong way? Are we bringing our affection for forecasts and achievement to our nonlinear ripening, our maturation, our spiritual journey?

We are more likely to encounter the perspective that spiritual progress is effortful than effortless. Consider how Eckhart Tolle has a spiritual school — yet his own awakening occurred spontaneously without practices or teachers. Also, there are awake folk quietly living life with no desire to teach. They’re not in the public eye; they’re not influencers. They’re not selling anything, so we’re not influenced by them.

So what is true? Can we look at this objectively?

To look at something objectively means to see it as it would appear to an observer who’s free of bias about what s/he observes. But — gasp — that’s not possible! We know from quantum physics that we can’t observe reality without changing it — Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle tells us that what we focus on becomes more apparent.

What does that mean — becomes more apparent? Here’s a hypothetical example:

I have a dislike of all dogs. I don’t know why though and I don’t think about or question it — it’s always been a part of me. I don’t know that a baby-sitter’s dog attacked me when I was an infant. As an adult, I’m unaware that on my daily walks, waaaay more of my attention goes to dogs more than butterflies, smiling people or sunsets. My unconscious mind keeps me safe — it makes dogs more apparent … but at the expense of my freedom and happiness to enjoy ALL of life on my walk.

There’s a twin concept to the Uncertainty Principle (in the field of sociology) called, “self-fulfilling prophecy.”*

Here’s a definition from britannica.com, but feel free to skip to the next paragraph for an example.

Self-fulfilling prophecy … process through which an originally false expectation leads to its own confirmation. In a self-fulfilling prophecy an individual’s expectations about another person or entity eventually result in the other person or entity acting in ways that confirm the expectations.

Here’s an example from my practice sessions for intuitive development. A group of us are in a zoom meeting. After a bit of instruction, we’re to be paired randomly into break-out rooms. If, before being paired, I have the thought … “Oh no, there’s Suzy Q … I hope I don’t get paired with her,” — yes, you guessed it. I’m paired with Suzy Q.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is when our beliefs and ideas — right or wrong — impact the way we think, and cause them to become a reality. We influence reality with our perception, and our perception also influences us. Yet it contains a hidden bias.

Try this one minute perception test. (And please comment about your experience.)

So … perceptual bias impacts our life, not just our spiritual journey. Zen philosopher Alan Watts told a childhood story that gives an example of how ones inner sense of self becomes entangled with exterior reality.

Back then it was widely believed that irregular bowel movements had dire health consequences. Little Alan was influenced by the fear and vigilance of those around him; pooping became a scary matter and Little Alan became constipated.

Flawed perception like this hides within our thoughts and replicates into a false identity— I believe I am flawed, shameful, or something is wrong with me. The layers self-perpetuate, and then, to paraphrase Carl Jung, I mistake [the layers] as myself and call it my life.

What is the solution?

Change is the essence of life, but we must be willing to surrender who we think we are. Thought sucks the life from direct experience, replacing intimacy with worry, replacing vulnerability with logic and reason.

“O for a life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!” ~John Keats

We misunderstand what what thought is. David Bohm (collaborator with Einstein and J. Krishnamurti) described thought as “like a system, a machine”, that prevents us from feeling/knowing the depth, the wisdom of our own heart, “Thought runs you. Thought … gives false information that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us,” he writes.

Innovators know this. Carl Jung said, “We should not pretend to understand the world only by the intellect; we apprehend it just as much by feeling. Therefore, the judgment of the intellect is, at best, only the half of truth, and must, if it be honest, also come to an understanding of its inadequacy.”

Thought runs the hamster wheel of seeking. To paraphrase Einstein, problems can’t be solved at the level of the problem. There is a way to transcend limitations of thought. There is a way to surrender habitual thinking for freedom, creativity and possibility. Although all change of habit feels counterintuitive at first, breaking the habit of how we think is a step toward a more embodied or intuitive way of knowing.

Stay tuned for posts about transcending that limiting, annoying voice in your head. Stay tuned for posts about a return to the knowing of your true nature.

“Every living organism is fulfilled when it follows the right path for its own nature.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Life is a self-full-filling prophecy. https://entrepreneurscommunicate.pbworks.com/f/Merton.+Self+Fulfilling+Profecy.pdf



Donna Barton

Under the influence of Possibility. Removal of that obnoxious voice in your head at AReturnToKnowing.com