At this point in history, each one of us is beset with deep-seated existential anxieties. Each one of us is trying hard to cope with fears emanating from the dramatic threats that the world's ethnic, gender, terrorist, climate change, "nano-bio-info-cogo," and globalization phenomena are bringing to our front doors. Regardless of whether we're aware of it, each one of us, in our own ways, is struggling with an emergent world that terrifies us.
This is the conclusion I ended last month's blog with.
The key difference between what I was thinking last month when I offered this conclusion and today is that last month I didn't realize the phrase "each one of us" included me. Last month, I used the phrase "each one of us" three times, but each time I did, I didn't understand the existential threats I was listing for you actually terrified me too.
Today, after rereading my three Natural Mind blogs ("Seduced by Kegan," "Our 'Natural Mind,'" and "Our 'Natural Mind' II"), I realize that all three of these blogs are contaminated by the existential anxieties I've been feeling in reaction to the ambient threats I've been writing about.
Simply put, while writing my three previous "Natural Mind" blogs I was a captive of my own autonomic nervous system. I was caught up in an "amygdala hijack," a behind-the-scenes threat response initiated by my own limbic system. In Robert Kegan's terms, I was offering you ideas and opinions that were strongly colored by denigrating stereotypes and harsh judgments that had originated in my threat-engulfed 2nd Order of Consciousness (OoC).
For example, take these propositions and observations:
- "I offer this assertion as a warning… the dominant discourse in the United States is now being driven by the collective impulses of a besieged and punitive President and by his aggrieved and angry followers."
- "[These are] Individuals who almost certainly are fully immersed in, if not captured by, the darker aspects of… an egocentric-ethnocentric worldview."
- "… President Trump and his supporters are being driven by their fiercely aggressive Natural Minds, and that as a consequence Trump's presidential powers and his followers' ferocious energy are working together in ways that are fostering throughout the U.S. an environment that's more prone to encouraging regressive reactions than it's prone to promoting progressive development…."
- "Each of us… is struggling with an emergent world that President Trump and his followers hate.…”
- “…fear and hate are the ambient background to our lives…."
This morning, while rereading these statements, I could actually feel the terrified, Natural Mind place from which I wrote these words.
The Surprising Thing
This morning I can see that I was, while writing these blogs, firmly anchored in and constrained by the kinds of hostile perspectives, adversarial stereotypes, and critical judgments that are characteristics of my own Natural Mind. A place that’s hypersensitive to the world's threats and dangers. A fight-or-flight place. A place from which I could not access the qualities of recognition, appreciation, and forgiveness that my better self knew was necessary if I was ever to fully and effectively understand the people I was talking about.
So, this morning, I'm clear that, for example, while writing "Our 'Natural Mind' II" I was not writing from a place where I was looking to understand Trump and his followers, recognize and appreciate them, and take a step towards creating a dialogue with him or them. I thought I was writing from a mindset that would let me initiate a dialogue with the people I was characterizing. I thought I was bringing to bear the kind of appreciation, recognition, and forgiveness I believe is necessary for a reciprocal relationship. I wasn't. Instead, I was anchored in the precepts and propositions of my 2nd Order of Consciousness
This new awareness has led me this morning to four important insights that I think might save this four-blog treatise of mine by making it more balanced, and more worthy of your time and attention. Here they are.
Proposition #1: Our Natural Mind is a real neurobiological phenomenon: It's the Order of Consciousness that relies on our brain's most primitive hardwiring, the neuronal components, networks, and linkages that tie the amygdala and the limbic system together into a unified threat-management system.
Proposition #2: This Natural Mind of ours is the neurobiological system that we use early in our lives to create our first beliefs and presuppositions—highly suspect beliefs like these:
- The physical and social worlds outside us are concrete realities.
- The physical and social worlds we're living in are governed by linear, short-term, cause and effect laws.
- Each one of us is a separate, autonomous human being, alive to protect and advance our own self-interests.
- Other people are extensions of us, in this world to serve our needs and interests.
- The social worlds we're living in are hierarchical structures, with one person on top who's ultimately responsible for what's decided and what's done.
- The world is a dangerous and threatening place that demands from us nothing less than constant vigilance and instantaneous responses.
Proposition #3: Our Natural Minds learn to create these first dubious beliefs and presuppositions through three distinct neurobiological processes:
- The Physical World's Imprints: These are the neuronal lessons about linear, short-term, cause-and-effect dynamics that we absorb from birth as immutable laws of reality for our physical and our social worlds.
- Our Family-of-Origin Mindsets: These are the pre-suppositional beliefs that we absorb at our mother's breast, in her lap, clutching our father's hand, and wrestling with our siblings. In all our most intimate micro-moments, we introject our family-of-origin's beliefs about the world.
- Community-of-Origin and Societal Worldviews: These are the larger, more cosmological beliefs systems that, from birth onwards, surround us as we go through life. They're the macro belief systems that support and magnify our personal and familial predispositions, imprints, and mindsets into the epistemological and ontological propositions we need them to be for us to accept them as unquestionable truths.
Proposition #4: Our Natural Mind, through the primitive neuronal networks and linkages that we start developing the moment we're born, firmly anchors us in our 2nd Order nervous systems. Over time, these early predispositions, imprints, mindsets, and worldview develop into sets of hardwired cognitive and emotional heuristics, action-logics, and interactive rituals. Over time, our Natural Mind networks bind us into and constrain us with habitual modes of thinking and routinized patterns of action.
Questions That Need Asking
Last month, I ended my "Our 'Natural Mind' II" blog with this question:
"If… it's true that President Trump and his supporters are being driven by their fiercely aggressive Natural Minds, and as a consequence…are…fostering…an environment that's more prone to encouraging regressive reactions than…to promoting progressive development, then shouldn't we at least be as concerned with…becom[ing] aware of the regressive pulls towards our more impulsive, egocentric, and punitive instincts as we are with helping…sophisticated learners move toward their 4th Order of Consciousness?"
I still think the answer to this question is yes.
But, this morning I think it's more important for me to suggest that it's not enough for us to simply be aware of these regressive pulls. Last month, I was aware of the regressive pulls that the existential threats we’re facing could exert on us. But I wasn't aware of how anxious I was about what President Trump and his followers were saying and doing. I didn't feel the existential depths that were attached to the threats I was experiencing. And so, I didn't recognize the negative stereotypes I was prone to, or the denigrating statements I was making.
Most importantly, though, is that, with all this awareness, I still didn't come close to seeing that I wasn't writing "Our 'Natural Mind' II" from a solid 4th and 5th Order place. I wasn't writing from a place that offered President Trump and his followers my respect, recognition, and appreciation for the things they were experiencing, and were trying to communicate, however frighteningly.
Without doubt, I was, and am, truly anxious about having a president in the White House who seems to have very dark, even apocalyptic visions of the world we're living in. And I know that because of this, I unwittingly infused last month's blog with an adversarial color and tone I didn't want.
So, to close this four-blog treatise, let me ask these questions:
- To write the kind of Natural Mind blogs I've been aiming for since February, do I need to be standing firmly inside some kind of “existential trust” force field?
- To write the kind of 4th Order blog I want to write, do I need to be in touch with my existential anxieties yet firmly situated inside a 4th or 5th Order of Consciousness?
- Do I have to be aware of the specific ways in which I am unconsciously anchored in the stereotypes and cognitive biases favored by my Natural Mind?
I don’t as yet know the answers to these questions.
What I do know is that the next time I open my computer to write about our Natural Minds, I’m going to do my best to be aware of the existential anxieties that, for me, are linked to this issue, and recognize that, like everyone else, I am in subtle ways inevitably anchored to the power of my Natural Mind. Accordingly, no matter what, I need to edit whatever I write at least twice from inside the kind of infinite game mindset that James Carse writes about in his book, Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility.