A few days ago, I started watching a tv program that does debate. Each episode explores a yes-or-no question. Here are some of the questions:
- If there is a potion that cures “fear of marriage”, would you drink it?
- If there is a fire and you can only rescue either a painting or a cat, which would you rescue?
- If I don’t enjoy being in groups, should I change?
I understand that in real life, our daily challenges and scenarios are not so narrowly defined, so it is a bit unrealistic to construct such a black and white scenario with only two outcomes. But the structure of the debate only has two teams, so to determine which side wins, there can only be two outcomes. For me, the higher purpose and value of the program is to come to an understanding that there is no absolute answer, no correct answer, no one-size-fit-all solution, hence to cultivate within me an acceptance and respect for those who are different from us.
In the process of debate, we can discover some of our flaws of thinking. For example, what we think is not necessarily what we mean. Let me illustrate with the second question.
Most debaters use the value of either object as a metric to determine which is worth rescuing. Animal lovers or pet owners may be inclined to choose the cat, or another group of people–those who have no ability to appreciate art (like me) who would also choose the cat. They tend to articulate their argument by assigning more meaning and value to the cat, for example, by arguing that a life is sacred. However, if we were to explore that particular logic a little bit further, say, instead of a cat there is a cockroach, and by adhering to the same logic, would you still choose to rescue the cockroach instead of the painting? I think most people’s answer would be no. That’s what I mean by what we say or think is not necessarily what we mean.
This brings me to another question. What drives our beliefs and values? More importantly, are there competing or conflicting values and beliefs within us? I think our biases are caused by something usually unbeknownst to us. Because we don’t say what we mean, or we say what we don’t mean, communication and understanding tend to fail, hence miscommunication and misunderstanding.
What exactly directs our values and beliefs? What are the unknown forces that propel our thinking, principles, ways of life, goals, etc.? I am not 100% sure, but I want to postulate that it is intuition. You can argue that our experiences, desires, intentions, education, etc., drive our values and beliefs, but then I would ask, what drives your experiences, desires, intentions, education, etc.?
Some people would say religion, or some other collective values and beliefs. But what makes them accept and allow these external forces to influence and control their lives? There must be something within them that agrees to the importation of an external force. Their free will? That sounds a bit contradicting, using their free will to give up their free will to let someone or something external direct their lives. Or am I wrong to see religion as a tool for an institution to control the people?
What I notice about these questions is that they tend to focus on the choice of behaviors, rather than people’s inner forces that drive those behaviors. Things that are outside of us (visible to us), have too many interpretations, guesses, and arguments. Yet, things deep within us receive disproportionately little attention. No wonder we have so many mental health issues!
Another thing I notice while watching these debates is that sometimes my mind will drift (dissociation). I cannot latch on to the entire discussion from beginning to end. When I try to pull my attention down to the debate again, I feel a very thick and possibly stagnant energy. It’s like you are in a hot air balloon in the sky. You want to land, but somehow there is a strong buoyancy, your balloon cannot touch the ground. What can you do? You can’t pull yourself toward the ground, because you are not on the ground. And you cannot push yourself to the ground, because the only way that the act of pushing can actually exert a force is if you are already grounded. Quite circular isn’t it? That’s why when therapists or spiritual healers told me to try harder to ground myself, I felt like punching them instead.
Watching the program, my most astonishing observation is when I notice myself being sucked into a particular argument, even though originally I didn’t think much of it. That triggers a series of thoughts in me. Are we capable of individual and independent thinking? Or we are all susceptible to being swept away by other people’s energy? After being sucked into a particular argument—a particular psychological structure—do I have the ability to walk back to my initial psychological position? Am I drawn in because it is strong or because it is valid? Who decides if it is valid? What benchmark or criteria do I use to determine if it is valid?
For me, what’s important is that I can consciously feel the force and activities on my mental plane while different thoughts are flying around. The debate feels like martial arts on the mental plane, and I am perceiving the strength, direction, weight, texture, speed, etc. of the activities in my mental plane. Instead of training me how to think or what to think, it is training me to perceive energetic movements. Even though we all have thoughts and thought flows, but to feel the qualities of each thought and of the flow of a series of thoughts, that’s a completely new dimension for my perception! How exhilarating! And with the ability to perceive the qualities of the ebb and flow of my own mental activities, I also have the ability to perceive other people’s mental activities at the energetic level, which is entirely different from listening to them at an intellectual level.
An emotion has energetic qualities. A thought does too!
While some people have the habit to write a summary or essay about each book they read, I have been making random notes about each debate I watch. It is such an amusing and exciting topic that I can go on and on about it, but because I have a word limit to comply to, I can only invite you to experience the excitement for yourself!