Why do I suffer?

Why do I suffer? In asking and answering this question, I may be mistaken with respect to the reasons for my suffering–for example, due to lack of knowledge, or to clever ways of deceiving myself. Yet, I can’t doubt the utterance. It’s there, expressed and alive.

In the book Self-Knowledge and Self-Deception, the philosopher Hugo Strandberg analyzes what we mean when we ask the question, “Who am I?” This classical question opens up the potential for a critical self-examination that is also a moral examination. For me to know who I am, I take myself as the object of my investigation, knowing, of course, that both “I” as the subject and “I” as the object will change during the process of living. The “philosopher’s knowledge,” he writes, “is then self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is not knowledge about just another object in the world but about my alleged knowledge of the world.” In other words, self-knowledge is knowledge about my relationship with (or relationships in) the world.

Therefore, by looking more thoroughly at these relationships, I may discover that there are things I don’t know. I might become aware of my lack of knowledge.

“Self-knowledge is not one thing,” the author states” (Strandberg 14). It’s a concept related with many other questions that emerge during my life. “Self-knowledge is a moral question” (24) It is a matter of befriending myself, as Strandberg writes, referring to Seneca. In other words, getting to know who I am is an ongoing dance between the two concepts of “self-knowledge” and “self-deception”. Self-deception, according to Strandberg, is a moral phenomenon, a mixture of knowing and not knowing, but always in a moral sense. To emphasize this point, he relates the idea of self-deception with remorse; if things “should” be seen differently, then “this ‘should’ is given by the perspective of remorse itself.”

The correlation of self-deception with remorse is quite innovative because it helps Strandberg to illustrate how “self-deception shows that I am morally split.” For this reason it is difficult to answer the question “Who am I?” The whole book is a reflection about what it actually means to answer this question.

For example, one question related to “Who am I?” would be to ask whether the self is something fixed, or something created that changes as one lives? The problem with the fascinating idea that we create our selves is, as Iris Murdoch is quoted for saying, “man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then come to resemble them” (67). So, it may be morally good if the picture I paint about myself is good according to the consensus, but I may still deceive myself in the process. Perhaps I am just suffering from group pressure; i.e., I do not have the courage to live out what I already know about myself.

Self-Knowledge and Self-Deception, while well written and engaging, is a scholarly work filled with references and requires close attention on the part of the reader. This is nice in a time where many books try to popularize concepts at the risk of losing scholarly rigor or precision. The chapter “The True Self” could be useful to study for all those in the self-help industry who wish to improve people’s self-image and sense of self-worth. Arendt, Descartes, MacIntyre, Kierkegaard, and Sartre–among others–show up. Personally, I enjoyed seeing Sartre back and being incorporated into the philosophical dialogue.

I believe that, ultimately, one asks “Who am I?” in relation to another question: what does it mean to live. For Strandberg, the answer is related to my will to pay attention or not pay attention to something specific (for example, living up to certain moral ideals or not). Contrary to the state of not paying attention (and the lack of awareness that comes with this), a well-developed attention allows the self to dissolve or become “who one is” with the world.  This leads Strandberg to suggest that the answer to the question “Who am I?” is answered by the way we live–perhaps the question is not even asked.

To return to the topic of remorse, Strandberg argues that remorse is the distance between self-knowledge and self-deception that can be reduced by love. To put this into romantic terms, it is when I am not following my heart that I experience moments of regret.

I began this review by asking, “Why do I suffer?” To answer this properly– following Strandberg–I need to be open to others and befriend others and myself with love and compassion. I may then realize that my suffering is related with my relationship with the world. The point is that “goodness constitutes me in a way badness does not, and when I treat someone badly this does not mean that I become, or some part of me becomes, fully evil, for that would mean that full moral badness would be possible, that is, that badness would be possible without self-deception. This goodness which constitutes me in a way badness does not is non-determinable, is openness to others, and is love and friendship, whereas badness could be said to be an attempt at determining me and these relations to others” (180).

The lesson is to not presuppose, but rather to be open and curious in your interaction with life.

Self-Knowledge and Self-Deception deals with a classical question: who am I? At times it’s a difficult book due to the amount of theories discussed, but in general the author is quite good at guiding the reader by being very explicit about what he aims at, noting how he differs from Socrates, and so forth. Still, the book requires philosophical knowledge. Students who have a certain level of mastery of philosophy and its concepts will enjoy this book, as will other philosophers who are grappling with similar topics. It’s a rewarding read, and one that’s quite complex–I have in this short review only touched briefly on some key issues. I admit also that I found it rather encouraging to read a philosopher who brings philosophy back to the terrain of ordinary life, and dares to speak about “goodness” and “love”.

This review was published in Metapsychology (Volume 20, Issue 17).

Finn Janning, PhD in philosophy, is a writer.


Review – The Happiness of Burnout

Philosopher Michael Klenk has written a thorough and clear review of The Happiness of Burnout.

He writes, “Janning’s book stands out because of its unconventional but forceful potpourri of philosophical, psychological, and literary anecdotes added to an emphatically written case-study of Jeppe Hein, a Danish artist of international acclaim, who was diagnosed with burnout at the age of 35. Janning’s focus and grand ambition is to draw a broader lesson from a Hein’s path to recovery. Beyond, say, a mere enumeration of syndromes or recommendations of efficacious therapies, Janning intends the book to serve as an inspiration for people’s “quest toward a happy and flourishing life.”

You can read the rest of the review at Metapsychology.

Wittgenstein and therapy

Psychotherapist John M. Heaton has written an interesting book about practical philosophy and the use of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s thoughts on psychology. The book is called Wittgenstein and Psychotherapy. From Paradox to Wonder. In a way, it moves from the paradoxes of the early Wittgenstein to the wonder of the latter, although the book addresses the paradoxes of many theories in psychology.

The aim of the book is to move psychotherapy away from its particularly Freudian doctrines and dogmatic norms toward the therapist acting “like a mirror.” An eventual cure, Heaton points out, doesn’t only depend on theories and techniques, but much more on the relationship between therapist and patient.

The therapist, therefore, doesn’t guide the patient toward what the therapist believes to be an accurate picture of reality; rather, he or she pays attention, and then mirrors how the patient makes sense (or fails to make sense). Therapy becomes a way of allowing the patient to see and hear what he or she is saying. Encourage the patient to express him or herself. Heaton is pleading for a more humble and curious approach. The author uses his practical experience to emphasize how the therapist will achieve a better result if one has a better understanding of language (e.g., how language can produce false appearances that may separate the patient from the world).

The book is scattered with illuminating quotes from Wittgenstein, just as it raises a serious and severe critique toward Freudian so-called scientific psychoanalysis. “A philosophical problem has the form: “I don’t know my way around,” says Wittgenstein.

The paradoxes in psychoanalysis are that a too rigid theory leads to less acceptable suggestions. Our relationship with life becomes limited. For example, “We tend to picture thought as representation that reality must fit or fail to fit. . . . It is assumed that what the analyst thinks must be true.” However, sometimes our capacity to use language is sufficiently limited. And yet, just because we can’t articulate it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. This experience can lead to wonder and how to make sense of these.

Unfortunately, “Our disease is one of wanting to explain,” Wittgenstein is quoted for saying. Therefore, the therapist’s ear and vision is clouded by the theoretical ideals. How does one open his or her senses?

“To recognize something as true,” Heaton writes, “is to make a judgment and this involves making sense.” Make sense of sense, that is. How? Heaton, in continuation of Wittgenstein, suggests that in order to understand people, we must be able to read and understand the context because then, we can better understand their intention of saying or doing what they do. His approach is based on compassion for the others’ form of life. For this reason, the relationship between therapist and patient is crucial, not the theoretical armor that a therapist hides behind. It’s the relationship that facilitates the possibility of living in the world with the patient.

A happy person lives in a happy world because of his or her form of life. Similarly, an unhappy person lives in a different world–so it seems, although the world is the same, due to his or her form of life.

The book is for everyone who is interested in psychology or practical philosophy (including therapists, students, and the many consultants who implement Wittgenstein’s teachings). Heaton encourages the reader to unfold the process of sense-making–that is, to see it as a process without an ultimate reference. If one can do that then the patient will be free to find or create the form of his or her life.

The book is a well-composed mixture of theory and practice with a slant in favor of theory. It doesn’t require knowledge of Wittgenstein, but it helps if the reader is familiar with Freudian theory and practice in order to qualify the critique that Heaton raises. It’s a highly welcome approach that challenges a growing tendency–perhaps due to a growing insecurity–to see psychological experts as infallible.

This review was first published in MetapsychologyVolume 19, Issue 47, 2015.


A Scientific Buddha?

”… this belief in essences that must be destroyed in order to bring an end to suffering and rebirth.” – D.S. Lopez, The Scientific Buddha

Donald S. Lopez has written a clear book on Buddhism called The Scientific Buddha. Although it aims to critically scrutinize the notion of “The Scientific Buddha,” it comes across as a positive and very stimulating read, placed somewhere between science and religion.

The Scientific Buddha is based on several lectures, which gives the book a cozy feel. It begins with an introduction to Buddhism and from there, it moves on to the birth of the scientific Buddha. The problem, for Lopez, is that “some even went as far as to declare that Buddhism was not a religion at all, but was itself a science of the mind.” The author tries to convince the reader that Buddhism really is a religion. Partly he succeeds.

The debate is not new, but due to the increased focus on Buddhism and mindfulness in the West, many are trying to locate the real Buddha. Perhaps to gain authority. Personally, I don’t share this need for locating an origin, so in part, I am not convinced that it is such a big problem. And perhaps for this reason, I don’t find his argument that effective. After all, Buddhism may or may not be a religion (many scholars agree and disagree), but it has never been a religion in a Christian or Muslim sense. For example, the Dalai Lama has beautifully stated, “My religion is kindness.” The Buddha responded to life, not some transcendent demands. Furthermore, science can become a religion for some as well. So for me there is plenty of room for the Buddha somewhere in the middle.

The historical Buddha was a prince born into wealth and decadence, until he one day left his castle and experienced life in its full, that is, as suffering.He then began a journey, that was either religious or scientific, to create a way out of suffering. This journey he later shared as his teachings. Thus, the Buddha as scientist requires that the Buddha really was once a man called Gautama Siddhartha before he woke up under the Bodi tree.

Lopez shows how some have tried to place Buddhism in various scientific contexts, for example, evolutionary theory. While I agree that these contexts don’t make much sense, it doesn’t make the Buddha more religious either. However, once Lopez started talking about the problem with karma, mediation and the contemporary use/misuse of Buddhism, it became obvious that he knows his Buddha from the depth of his heart to the tips of his fingers writing this book. This embedded knowledge of Buddhism makes the book a very enlighten read.

From the third chapter onwards, Lopez goes more directly into the heart of Buddhism. ”The cause of the world is karma.” He discusses about the four noble truths, the cultivation of seeds, the three forms of sufferings, how nirvana is the end of rebirth, and how truth is something we have lost and now must find again. He mentions this to emphasize his point that the Buddha is religious, not a scientist, and yet it seems like the real Buddha is neither of the two extremes. There is an element of experimentation in Buddhism. Whoever the Buddha was and is – real or abstract – there is something in the practice related to his name that makes both religion and science too rigid or limited to grasp. He appears to more like a philosopher, for example, like Pierre Hadot understands “philosophy as a way of life,” not some abstract exercises.

Regardless of the debate whether Buddhism is religion or science, there has been a tendency to overemphasize the positive elements of Buddhism without paying enough attention to the role of suffering, including the suffering caused by some Buddhists. For example, the process of cultivation also means that creation goes hand in hand with destruction. Recently, the Buddhist majority in Myanmar has been critiqued for discriminating against the Muslim minority. Thus, perhaps not all Buddhists show loving-kindness and compassion.

Still, the reader may ask: Was the Buddha a scientist or a God? This either-or thinking is what causes suffering, I think. Following the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, I would rather ask, “What does the Buddha make possible?”

Let me give an example. If mindfulness is the heart of Buddhism, then, at least, it shows that the heart of the Buddha was pure. That, however, does not suggest that all teachers of mindfulness are pure rather than strategic business consultants; it just means that such forms of “mindfulness” only leads to mindlessness. A few rotten apples don’t cause a heart failure. In light of this, then, I am most comfortable with the Buddha being neither a scientist nor a God, but an extraordinary human being. He, or his followers, showed what the human being is also capable of doing. That’s enough.

What kind of book is it? The Scientific Buddha debates the role of the Buddha, but it also serves as a very clear introduction to Buddhism. And it does so exemplarily. It opens a debate further. Yet, although Lopez tries to convince me wrong, I am not converted. I think the problem with extraordinary human beings being put into categories is that so many have a need for a God or a Guru in their life. There are no God’s only different forms of life.

Earning to Give

In The Most Good You Can Do, philosopher Peter Singer tells us how we can all do better through “effective altruism”, which he describes as a solidly ethical way of living.

For those who are unfamiliar with Singer, he is a prominent ethicist, a utilitarian who has written about animal liberation and practical ethics, which is the practice of applying ethics to our daily decisions.

Singer describes “good” as a world with less suffering and more happiness. If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands…the more people clappinimages-1g, the better.

In The Most Good You Can Do, Singer takes on the roles of preacher, salesman and philosopher. The book is not about philosophy; instead, Singer writes to inspire people to become more qualified philanthropists. He wants to convince us that we should earn more money so we can donate more money. The premise is that living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.

What is the most good? Effective altruists think more about the number of people they can help than about helping particular individuals. The numbers are reflected in their donations; they give money to those organizations which they believe will do the most good. Effective altruism is ethical investment where the return on investment is the greater good of the many.

Singer mentions several individuals who are effective altruists and lists organizations that can help one decide where and how much money to donate. His message is that it is ethically good to earn to give, and one should use one’s reason more than one’s emotions when deciding where to donate.

“Earning to give is a distinctive way of doing good,” Singer writes. When I read that I can’t help thinking of the Catalonia region of Spain. Around 50 percent of the voting Catalans seek independence from Spain because, for example, the region pays 10 percent of its gross national product to the rest of Spain. Few mention that the rest of Spain is less fortunate compared with Catalonia, with its attractive Costa Brava coastline, numerous museums and frequent great football games. Sharing with non-Catalans doesn’t seem to be an attractive option.

Another way of illustrating this involves different forms of empathy, such as:

Empathic concern– the tendency to experience feelings of warmth and compassion for other people.

Personal distress– feelings of personal unease and discomfort in reaction to the emotions of others.

Perspective taking– tendency to adopt the point of view of other people.

Fantasy– tendency to imagine oneself experiencing the feelings of other people.

The first two terms refer to emotional empathy, or one’s manner of feeling about others. The last two refer to cognitive empathy, or “knowing what something is like for another being.”

Emotional empathy can be related to Catalans who want to become an independent country; they still seem traumatized by the Spanish Civil War, and define themselves negatively, as not Spanish. They feel warm toward full-blooded Catalans, but have varying degrees of discomfort about the rest.

Singer contrasts emotional empathy with cognitive empathy. This is where numbers affect us more than the individuals with whom we identify. For example, a cognitive empathizer would recognize that during the Spanish Civil War, the entire country suffered. The war was not a football match. Spain bled, not just one region.

Singer quotes psychologist Paul Bloom: “Our best hope for the future is not to get people to think of all humanity as family–that’s impossible. It lies, instead, in an appreciation of the fact that, even if we don’t empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value as the lives of those we love.”

Singer argues convincingly in favor of reason over emotion, but reason and emotion are not necessarily contradictory. Let me use Catalonia again as an example. Communism did not work worldwide because it was not based on compassion and love; it was based on class struggle and dictatorial control, which in the end failed, as the Dalai Lama once pointed out. Similarly, the Catalan project is based more on financial greed than compassion. If the Catalans were effective altruists they would still be proud of their industrious attitude, but only because they could do good with their money, for example, donating to regions in greater need. More developed empathy–all four varieties–combined with reason would make Catalans less protective. More generous.

Altruism, Singer writes, is contrasted with egoism. However, altruism does not require unrealistic self-sacrifice. One may realize that it is possible to share one’s fortune with those less fortunate. Perhaps, one might even realize how everything is interconnected.

Thomas Aquinas was quoted as saying “It is not theft, properly speaking, to take secretly and use another’s property in a case of extreme need, because that which he takes for the support of his life becomes his own property by reason of that need.”

In that vein, Aquinas would not likely have thought it wrong of anybody to take what they need from Singer’s book, particularly if it meant learning how to help others. If you would like to see whether Singer’s book has something in it for you, visit these homepages:



Mindfulness: A movement?

“Thirty years ago, ‘mindfulness’ was a Buddhist principle mostly obscure to the West,” Jeff Wilson writes in Mindful America. Today, however, it has managed to reach nearly every institution of American society (a tendency that is growing in Europe as well, although more slowly). How did this happen?

In Mindful America, Wilson explores the origin of the mindfulness movement. The book offers one of the first critical descriptions of the movement, which is focused on more that the movement’s practices. A key point is that mindfulness could only grow by distancing itself from Buddhism as a religion. This process took place in the 1980s through magazines, films, TV programs and, in particular, through bringing mindfulness into a medical context, where it later would open up a completely new field of research. Whether Buddhism really is a religion is something that has been debated before the era of mindfulness, but it is true that mindfulness (or the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR-program of Jon Kabat-Zinn) would probably not be a part of more than 700 medical schools, hospitals, and health care programs worldwide if it were “sold” as religion.

Wilson wants to be neutral in his study, but this is difficult for him. “I do happen to be a Buddhist but am drawn to study mindfulness because of its prominence in the United States,” he writes. Being a Buddhist is both an advantage and disadvantage in his work. Wilson knows what he writes about, but it colors his perception at times. For example, he can’t help but see mindfulness as a second-rate Buddhist practice. He sees the maneuver of bringing mindfulness from Buddhism into a non-Buddhist context as problematic—a purely business practice; he fails to notice the extent to which it actually has contributed to something such as wellbeing.

Wilson favors a certain kind of origin of mindfulness as if there were only one right way to practice Buddhism. A bit similar if one were to criticize contemporary American pragmatics like Robert B. Brandom or Cheryl Misak because they diverge from the founding fathers Charles Sander Peirce and William James. Evolution is creative. Furthermore, the Dalai Lama looks positively on the matter of how Buddhism or aspects of Buddhism may contribute to reducing suffering in the West.

Having said the above, I still believe that Wilson has written a book that was highly needed. As with all things when they become popular, mindfulness attracts people who are mindful for the sake of money, not for the potential liberation of one’s mind. For example, one so-called mindfulness author writes, “mindfulness helps you fall in love,” while another writes, “what can that moment-to-moment awareness do for our sex lives” and “another bonus of eating mindfully is that it improves self-esteem.” Of course, by targeting sex and food, mindfulness is stretched to fit a need among white middle-class people. In addition, the focus on self-esteem (and worse, on identity) is problematic since among the more serious teachers of mindfulness, the “self” is a process. After all everything changes; everything is impermanent.

The critique that Wilson raises can be raised for the majority of the self-help industry. It targets people who seem to be existentially frustrated, perhaps even bored, rather than those that suffer socially or financially. A title like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, for example, tells us all we need to know about whom the book is targeting.

Mindful America does a very good job in exploring the mindfulness movement. In its transition from a Buddhist practice strictly for monks to a practice for mainstream Americans, it has had some ups—but mostly downs. The book is not an introduction to mindfulness; rather, it locates this transition in a sociological and cultural setting. It that sense, the need for mindfulness tells us more about the times we live in than about the actual practice itself. Sometimes it can be attractive to become what you’re not.

As Wilson says, “Today mindfulness is, quite simply, everywhere.” This assertion is both true and false. As a commercial concept it is indeed everywhere, but as a practice, it is not. If it were, the world would be a little bit more caring. Actually, if people were mindful then they wouldn’t buy books about mindfulness and sex and shopping and accounting, but simply be mindful.

This review was published in Metapsychology (Volume 19, Issue 32).

Kan vi se vores liv med nye øjne?

”Når vi udvider kapaciteten til at regulere vores opmærksomhed, vores aktivering og vores følelser, øger vi vores evne til at være opmærksomt nærværende i mere udfordrende situationer.” – Salvesen & Wästlund, Mindfulness og medfølelse

Mindfulness og medfølelse er en træningsbog skrevet af de to norske forfattere Katinka Thorne Salvesen og Malin Wästlund. Den handler om hvordan mennesker, der har været udsat for traumatiske hændelser, kan træne deres opmærksomme nærvær, hvilket kan have en healende effekt. Det er en praktisk bog. Ifølge forfatterne henvender bogen sig til mennesker med traumer, men den er også nyttigt for alle de mennesker, der arbejder med at forstå, hjælpe og lindre den smerte, som er forbundet med traumatiske hændelser.

Der er to naturlige egenskaber, som forstyrres ved traumatisering. Den ene er evnen til at være opmærksomt til stede. Den anden er at kunne behandle sig selv med omsorg og venlighed. Mindfulness og medfølelse. Præmissen for bogen er, at vi alle har en iboende evne til selvhealing, det vil sige der findes naturlige processer, som læger vores psykiske og fysiske sår. Og her tænker de to forfattere ikke på at tiden læger alle sår, hvilket den ikke nødvendigvis gør, men at vi kan ændre vores forhold til vores tanker og følelser.

Mindfulness handler om at forstå og anerkende ens følelser, hvorved man bedre kan regulere dem. ”Kunnskap gir makt til å forandre, og det kan gi mot til å prøve noe nytt,” skriver de. Sådanne ændringer tager.

Der findes to former for traumer. Den ene med stort T, den anden med lille t. Traumer med stort T er hændelser, der aktiverer vores overlevelsesinstinkt, fx overgreb. Det er et spørgsmål om liv eller død. Traumer med et lille t er den slags, som dagligdagen desværre er fuld af: mobning, følelser af utilstrækkelighed, manglende hjælp eller synlighed, etc. Det menneskelige overlevelsesforsvar kommer til udtryk i flere varianter, fx tilknytningsråbet (barnet der skriger på sin far), flugt (når vi møder bjørnen i skoven), kamp (når bjørnen løber efter os, og vi til sidst vender os om med knyttede næver), underkastelse (når vi spiller død, og håber at bjørnen vil lade os være i fred).

I bogen anvender Salvesen og Wästlund billedet ”tolerancevinduet” til at tydeliggøre biologiens og psykologens overlevelsessamspil. Tolerancevinduet repræsenterer muligheden for at reflektere og føle, mens man lærer nye måder at engagere sig i det, som sker. Udenfor vinduets rammer, er man enten overaktiveret (kamp, flugt, panik, høj puls, angst), eller underaktiveret (underkastelse, handlingslammelse, håbløshed, skam). ”Vi må være innenfor vinduet for å kunne lære noe nyt,” skriver de.

Udenfor vinduet fjerner vi os fra healingsprocessen. Det er her mindfulness eller opmærksomt nærvær kan hjælpe, da denne evne kan gøre os bedre i stand til at rumme og håndtere vanskelige føleler i stedet for at undgå dem. ”Evnen til å regulere følelser og aktivering må da bygges opp over tid.” Sagt anderledes: Så kan mindfulness hjælpe en med at gøre ens tolerancevindue større. Man kan bogstaveligt talt rumme mere uden at stikke af eller ”spille død.”
Det er med afsæt i dette vindue, at bogen forvandler sig til en træningsmanual fuld af simple, kortvarige og konkrete øvelser, der henvender sig til personer udsat for traumatiske hændelser.

Øvelserne falder i 15 sessioner. De ti første har til hensigt at træne ”opmærksomhedsmuskelen.” Når man træner, skriver de, bevæger man sig rundt i en opmærksomhedscirkel: 1) opmærksomhed på et valgt fokus, fx et stearinlys eller ens åndedrag; 2) sindet vandrer (distraktion); 3) opdager at sindet har vandret (selvobservation); 4) giver slip (på distraktionen; 5) orienterer sig tilbage til ens valgte fokusobjekt. Efter lidt tid – tager de fleste sikkert en tur mere rundt i cirklen.

Kropsskanning eller ”kropsrejse”, som det kaldes her, er et eksempel på en måde, hvorpå man kan styrke ens opmærksomhed. Det er måde at ”flytte hjem til seg selv på.” En kropsrejse svarer til at tage et langsomt S-tog rundt i hele ens krop. Fra storetå til hoved og tilbage igen. Her, som i andre steder i bogen, udviser forfatterne stor nænsomhed, idet de hele tiden understreger, at øvelserne er invitationer, ikke krav. For nogle, fx voldsofre, kan der være dele af kroppen som det kan være svært at dvæle ved. Det er generelt en af bogen store styrker, at Salvesen og Wästlund skriver ud fra en erfaring med at arbejde med mennesker, der er hæmmet eller føler skam på grund af traumatiske oplevelser. Det, som alle mennesker deler, er vores sårbarhed. Dette understreges flere gange.

Udover at træne opmærksomheden, åbner de ti første øvelser også vejen for medfølelse. Eksempelvis er det vigtigt, at den enkelte ikke fordømmer sig selv, hvis man let distraheres (og bliver rundtosset i opmærksomhedscirklen). Derimod er opmærksomhedsøvelserne også øvelser i at blive venlig mod en selv. ”Det observerende selvet er en form for dobbel oppmerksomhet som gjør oss i stand til å være vitne til det som skjer i sinnet og se oss selv i perspektiv.” Pointen er selvfølgelig, at vi skal være i stand til at rumme vores egne tanker og følelser – også de ubehagelige – hvis vi skal kunne blive bedre til at rumme de andres smerte.

Selvom bogen er mere praksisorienteret end teoretisk, så formår de to forfattere at redegøre fint for mindfulness og medfølelse. Eksempelvis understreger de, hvordan empati er grundlaget eller forudsætningen for medfølelse. En ting er at have kontakt med de andres smerte, træde ind i den anden (empati); en anden er et ønske om at lindre denne smerte (medfølelse). Psykopater er ofte ganske empatiske mennesker, men de anvender sjældent denne evne til at forstå den andens smerte – eller hjælpe dem. Tværtimod.

Temaerne for de 15 sessioner er følgende (hvoraf jeg kun har berørt enkelte):

1. Opmærksomt nærvær
2. Tryghed først
3. Våbenhvile
4. Nærme sig kroppen
5. Første skridt mod venlighed
6. Stabilitet
7. Tro ikke alt du tænker (slet ikke, hvis du tænker: jeg er selv skyld i det)
8. Styrk det gode
9. Øvelse gør mester
10. Tilbageblik
11. Medfølelse
12. Blokeringer for indre medfølelse
13. Medfølelse og den indre kritiker
14. Medfølelse uden at miste sig selv
15. Vejen videre.

Et sted citeres den franske forfatter Marcel Proust for ordene: ”Den sande opdagelsesrejse består ikke i at finde nye landskaber, men at se med nye øjne.” Dette citat mindede mig om et fra Herman Melvilles Moby-Dick: ”It is not down on any map; true places never are.”

Igennem hele bogen anvender de to forfatterne billedet af kaptajnen. At vi hver især skal blive kaptajnen i vores eget liv; ham eller hende, der formår at navigere gennem de storme, som ethvert liv rummer. Som Proust og Melville siger, så findes der intet kort, som til fulde kan beskrive, hvordan vi hver især oplever og erfarer livets vanskeligheder. Erfaringen er det afgørende. Den enkeltes erfaring. Af samme grund er øvelserne også tænk, som en måde hvorpå den enkelte kan afprøve disse teknikker, tålmodigt og vedholdende, for at se om erfaringerne er gode.

Kan vi se vores liv med nye øjne?

Der, hvor Mindfulness og medfølelse har sin styrke er, at der ikke er tale om terapi, hvor man prøver at ændre måden, som den enkelte ser verden på. Snarere er det vores forhold eller relation til det, som vi føler og tænker, der ændres. Her rummer mindfulness også en masse interessante berøringsflader med eksistensfilosofien, men dette er en anden historie.
Salvesen og Wästlunds bog er yderst vellykket. Det er ganske rart at vide, at deroppe i Norge er der nogle, som arbejder på at fremme medfølelse, det vil sige aktivt stimulere relationer baseret på nærvær, venlighed, omsorg og kontakt.

Er du opmærksom?

Fornylig var jeg i Zürich for at undervise i sportspsykologi og mindfulness. En regnfuld eftermiddag, søgte jeg på vej tilbage til mit hotel i læ i en større boghandel. Denne modtog mig med en stabel af bøger om mindfulness. Mindfulness og sex, mad, opdragelse, stress, parforhold og så videre og så videre. Der var flere end 50 titler.

I USA er mindfulness alle steder; i Europa synes tendensen at være den samme, om end udviklingen er lidt bagefter. Det er på sin vis forståeligt, da der er tale om en attraktiv måde at være i verden på, men det er også en udvikling, hvor noget populært kommercialiseres. Men selvom mindfulness nok er alle steder, betyder det langt fra at alle er fuldt tilstede. Det ville svare til at alle, der går rundt i en Messi fodboldtrøje, spiller fodbold ligesom ham. Moralen må være: brug din sunde fornuft, når du orienterer dig i dette felt.

Siden firserne har der været et stadigvæk stigende fokus på mindfulness i en vestlig medicinsk sammenhæng, der dog først for alvor kulminerede i 2000’erne. Den amerikanske biolog Jon Kabat-Zinn har været en katalysator for at fremme mindfulness i en ikke-buddhistisk kontekst. Han er skaberen af Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR-program) tilbage i 1979. MBSR er i dag institutionaliseret på mere end 700 medicinske universiteter, hospitaler og sundhedssystemer rundt i verden. I Danmark kan man eksempelvis uddannes i MBSR på Århus Universitet. Dette program er udførligt beskrevet i Kabat-Zinns bog Full Catastrophe Living. Det handler blandt andet om at genskabe en balance mellem ens krop og sind, hvilket sker gennem kropskanninger, yoga og meditation. I de seneste år har der været flere psykologiske forskningsresultater, der viser at mindfulness har en healende effekt på stress, smerte og andre mentale lidelser. Faktisk er Kabat-Zinn så populær (sammen med en voksende skare af mindfulness-forskere og alverdens mindfulness-programmer), at buddhistiske munke refererer til ham, når de skal fortælle om meditationens lyksaligheder.

Mindfulness er en psykisk- eller mentalintervention, hvor den enkelte træner sindet. Den vigtigste del af mindfulness er meditation. I Waking, Dreaming, Being refererer filosoffen Evan Thompson til flere studier, hvor EEG skanninger viser, at meditation kan forandre hjernen. Sådanne EEG skanninger siger selvfølgelig intet om selve kvaliteten heraf, blot at der sker nogle elektroniske aktiviteter i hjernen, når vi gør forskellige ting. Ens hjerne ændrer sig også, hvis du tømmer en flaske gin.

61uJ7oDfQJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Meditation er en unik form for mentaltræning. Der findes forskellige former for meditation, men indenfor mindfulness opererer man ofte med to former – og gerne en kombination. Den ene fokuserer på at styrke ens koncentrationsevne. Her fokuserer man på et objekt, fx hvordan ens åndedrag passerer ens næsebor. Ind og ud, ind og ud. De fleste vil her opleve, at ens tanker lige så stille (eller hurtigt) driver væk fra ens næsebor. Distraheret af mere interessante tanker eller følelser. Når personen, der mediterer bliver opmærksom på at han eller hun ikke længere er fokuseret på vejrtrækningen, er vedkommende instrueret til at bringe sindet tilbage til åndedraget. Dette sker venligt og – meget vigtigt – uden at dømme ens manglende evne til at forblive koncentreret for mere end et halvt minut. Gradvist styrkes ens koncentrationsevne. Den anden form for meditation forsøger, at kultivere ens generelle opmærksomhed. Denne praksis kaldes bl.a. ”valgfri opmærksom”, ”åben opmærksomhed” eller ”åbent nærvær”. Her er den mediterende opmærksom på det, der nu engang måtte dukke op. Vedkommende accepterer dette, fx tanker og følelser, hvorefter vedkommende giver slip og vender tilbage til en åben opmærksomhed. Der er ingen forventninger. Den, der mediterer er åben for alt.

Ideen med at give slip er vigtig, da mange har en tilbøjelighed til at fastholde tanker og følelser, fx at identificerer sig med sine følelser, selvom følelser aldrig er andet end gæster i ens liv. Grundpræmissen i buddhismen er, at intet er permanent. Ofte lider vi, fordi vi krampagtig prøver at holde fast i en illusion, fx den at vores kroppe ikke ældes, at vores forældre ikke dør, at vi ikke selv dør, at vores mave ikke er slatten, osv. Dette skyldes bl.a. at vores sind ikke ældes proportionalt med vores manglende hårpragt.

I Waking, Dreaming, Being beskæftiger filosoffen Thompson sig med hjerneforskning, meditation og filosofi. Han er en befriende guide i dette skæringsfelt, idet han er vidende om alle tre felter, men han oversælger ikke en meditationspraksis som løsningen på alle verdens lidelser. Snarere forholder han sig åbent til de erfaringer, som mere end 2500 meditationspraksis har generet. Men han konfronterer også disse med de sidste 100 års vestlige hjerneforskning og psykologi. En simpel, men vigtig pointe er, at hvordan vi er opmærksomme konditionerer, hvad vi er opmærksomme på. Vi kan eksempelvis være opmærksomme på, hvordan vores gerninger her og nu, påvirker vores fremtidige handlemuligheder. Min skjorte lugter rigtig sløjt, fordi jeg ikke har været i bad i tre dage, end ikke skiftet tøj. Et andet eksempel er miljøet. Hvordan vi behandler naturen i dag har betydning for næste generation. Så såre simpelt. Ikke desto mindre er der mange, der ikke er opmærksomme på, hvordan de er opmærksomme, fordi de blindt fokuserer på, hvad de mener, der er værd at være opmærksom på, fx titler, status, prestige, magt og, selvfølgelig, penge.

Tilsvarende hænger vores måde at være opmærksomme på også sammen med tidens opskruethed. I dag har ingen tid til at læse David Foster Wallaces Infinite Jest. Dette er en synd (såfremt ikke-religiøse kan anvende denne term?)! Af samme grund skal man selvfølgelig også være påpasselig med ikke at gøre mindfulness til en del af kapitalismen vækstlogik, hvor vi hele tiden føler skyld (et andet religiøst begreb!), fordi vi ikke mediterer nok (ligesom vi måske heller ikke dyrker nok motion, spiser nok salat, drikker nok vand …). Pointen er, at ingen bør meditere, læse Wallace eller noget tredje på grund af skyld, men fordi de er motiveret af en kærlighed til livet.

Ewans skriver et sted, at Vispassaná meditation (også kaldet insight meditation) kan ændre den rytmiske måde, hvorpå hjernen organiserer sansninger. Intensiv vispassaná meditation kan ændrer hjernens hang til at fortabe sig – ”mind wandering”. I stedet for kan den fastholde koncentrationen i diskrete erkendelsesøjeblikke. Hjernen bliver bedre rustet til at kunne rumme, hvad der end måtte komme i næste øjeblik. Pointen er, at meditation styrker den enkeltes sansemæssige erkendelse, ligesom meditation styrker ens evne til at fastholde ens fokus på et givent objekt – fra det ene nu til det næste. For nogle er det motivation nok. For andre er den kolde Estrella øl endnu ikke væltet af pinden.

Waking, Dreaming, Being kommer vidt omkring: drømme, død, bevidsthed og en masse personlige anekdoter. Selvet er en proces, ikke noget statisk. Når jeg drømmer, er “jeg’et” i drømmen mig, men ikke desto mindre er “jeg” en anden. Alt sammen er ganske glimrende fortalt. Det er svært ikke at blive lidt klogere sammen med Evan Thompson. Apropos bøger, så er det for mange kutyme, at købe en bog i en boghandel. Jeg købte nu ingen bøger i Zürich, da ingen kunne fastholde min koncentration. I stedet for købte jeg en ny stor notesbog, som jeg skrev disse ord i.


”Det 21. århundredes samfund er ikke længere et disciplinærsamfund, men et præstationssamfund,” skriver det tysk-koreanske filosof Byung-Chul Han i Træthedssamfundet. Den franske filosof Michel Foucaults disciplinærsamfund, der talte om biopolitik og lydighedssubjekter, hører en anden tid til. I dag er politikken blevet psykisk eller mental. Vi er blevet ”præstationssubjekter” i en fangelejr, hvor vi er både fange, fangevogter og gerningsmand. End ikke det en anden fransk filosof Gilles Deleuze kaldte for kontrolsamfundet, kan favne samtiden. Fælles for både disciplinær- og kontrolsamfundet er, at de rummer for meget negativitet.

Samtidens neoliberale præstationssamfund præges af ”et overmål af positivitet” – befriet fra det negative. Der er tale om en bevægelse væk fra det disciplinerende forbud: du må ikke, henover det mere kontrollerende påbud: du skal, frem mod præstationssamfundets motiverende: du kan. En konsekvens af denne terroriserende positivitet er stress, burnout, depressioner og fiaskoer. Der ligger et enormt pres i ”at kunne”, fordi logikken synes at være: hvis du kan, så skal du! ”Depressionen er først og fremmest en træthed i henseende til at frembringe og at kunne.” Depressionen er en narcissistisk sygdom.

Byung-Chul Han har de seneste år udgivet flere essayistiske bøger, der kritisk og originalt belyser samtidens neoliberale forfald. På dansk er udkommet Træthedssamfundet; en bog, som for alvor gjorde Han populær. Han tænker i forlængelse af den kritiske tradition i tysk filosofi. Dog er han ikke en del af Frankfurterskolens mere normative projekt. Snarere er han mere beslægtet med filosoffen Martin Heidegger, om hvem han også skrev disputats, især, når denne er mere poetisk i sin tænkning.

I Træthedssamfundet forsøger Han, at overskride tidens dominerende positivitet, hvilket blandt andet sker med reference til Buddhisme. ”I zen-meditationen forsøger man eksempelvis at nå frem til den rene negativitet i ikke-at, dvs. man søger tomheden, idet man befrier sig selv for det fremmasende noget, der trænger sig på.”

Præstationskulturens store problem er den omklamrende positivitet, der altid er knyttet til det ens, hvorved det negative, det fremmede, det andet eller anderledes, fx det ”ikke at gøre noget” fortrænges. ”Det er en illusion at tro,” skriver Han, ”at man er desto frier, jo mere aktiv man er.”

Når Han taler om et muligt Træthedssamfund, er det primært fordi ”den fundamentale træthed” rummer en livskraft. Den fundamentale træthed er ikke lig med den udmattelse, som præger præstationssamfundet. Tværtimod. Den er inspirerende. ”Den lader ånden genopstå,” skriver Han.

Med reference til forfatteren Peter Handke, som er fast følge i flere af Hans bøger, plæderer Byung-Chul Han for en ”inspirerende træthed”, ”en træthed i negativ potens, nemlig ikke-at.” Det er den form for træthed, som gemmer sig i fjumreåret, som danske politikere er så bekymrede for.

Han efterlyser en mellemtid, en tid til leg og fordybelse. Desværre har mange alt for travlt til at tænke, hvorved samtiden præges af åndeligt dovenskab. Han efterlyser at mennesket finder sin takt med livet, ikke kapitalens vækst- paradigme. Træthedssamfundet er stadigvæk aktuel. Mange forsømmer at være tilstede i livet, fordi de konstant føler sig tvunget til at gøre noget and at leve.

Trykt i Atlas Bogtillæg, maj 2015.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑