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Turning Inward

As usual, BD00 is delusional and frustratingly confused. Just about every spiritual book I’ve ever read says that one has to turn inward and leap into “the abyss” to experience lasting peace. The implication is that no matter how valiantly hard one tries, an individual can’t find peace, joy, and gratitude “out there“. Thus, frequent calls to “stop the search!” can be found in many spiritual teachings.

On the flip side, several “soft” business and psychology books that I’ve read proffer that turning inward too often may not be such a good idea. Here’s a confirming snippet from Theresa Amabile’s (wonderfully written  and highly recommended) “The Progress Principle“:

A 1995 study out of the University of British Columbia showed how research participants who encountered problems in their quest to achieve goals that were personally important to them focused more attention on themselves and spent more time ruminating on those events. Since self-focused attention has often been linked to depression, such findings suggest that people’s emotional well-being can be damaged in the short run when they face discrepancies between goals that are important to their identity or sense of self-worth and what they actually achieved.

A First-Rate Madness” author Nassir Ghaemi also touches on the downside of turning inward by describing the “depressive realism” hypothesis that can be attributed to tortured leaders like Churchill, Lincoln, and King:

This theory argues that depressed people aren’t depressed because they distort reality; they’re depressed because they see reality more clearly than other people do.

Zen Buddhism is loaded with paradoxical teachings and koans. Ironically, the “logic” is that when the mind can’t resolve two opposing concepts being held in the mind at the same time, at some point the mind eventually gives up on “logic” – providing an opening for peace, joy and gratitude to rush in and fill the void.

So, what do you think? Does turning inward facilitate depression, or peace/joy/gratitude? Is there a half-way point?

  1. January 20, 2012 at 3:00 am

    I enjoyed your blog. In Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, he says much the same thing about depressed people having a much more accurate view of reality than optimists do. I am inclined to agree however I aim to be an optimist but not disappointed when things don’t turn out that way 🙂


    • January 20, 2012 at 5:06 am

      Hi Lorraine,

      I’m a “pessioptimist” (mostly “pessi”). I’m an optimist when it comes to individuals, but a pessimist when it comes to groups. The larger the group, the more pessimistic I am. At institutional sizes like government, I’m hopelessly pessimistic but I set my expectations really low so that it doesn’t hurt that much when I get disappointed.

      Thanks for listening.

  2. don't-swim-in-a-school-fish
    January 20, 2012 at 9:14 am

    The new york times had an article this weekend about solitude and creativity:


    “…Solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said. A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community…”

    They quote the Woz as well…

    “…“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.” ..”

    I think the action of ‘living in your own head’ is both a benefit and a problem at times. Since you’re only talking to yourself, the answers you come up with to your own questions are always fundamentally one-sided. And since your mind is just an echo-chamber of your own thoughts, the pessimistic tendencies are magnified.

    I also think that the optimism you express towards individuals vs. your pessimism towards groups is reflected in the ideas about GroupSpeak that this article brings up. Particularly the dysfunctionalism of ‘brainstorming’…

    “Virtually all American workers now spend time on teams and some 70 percent inhabit open-plan offices, in which no one has “a room of one’s own…The reasons brainstorming fails are instructive for other forms of group work, too. People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure. ”

    On a slightly different note, some of the items here might be of interest…


    • January 20, 2012 at 9:53 am

      Oh man, thanx for the great comment “dont-swim-with-the-fishes”. You shoulda submitted it as your second “Fish On Fridays” guest blogger post (which I’m still waiting for)!

      “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” – Great quote. It really sux that most institutions are set up structurally and behaviorally for interruption filled days and for inhibiting periods of “sustained immersion”. On top of that, asking for daily “status” reports and micro-watching every penny double-destroys productivity in those orgs where, ironically, intellectual capital is what’s required for suxcess.

  3. Jesus Saves!
    January 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Luke 9:23: “Then he said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.'”

    • January 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

      I don’t think cool hand Luke said that. Well, he might have…. after becoming delusional from eating 50 eggs.

  4. box-o-chocolates-fsih
    January 20, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Forrest Gump: [voice over] Anyway, like I was saying, I had a lot of company. My Mama always said you got to put the past behind you before you can move on. And I think that’s what my running was all about. I had run for three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours.
    [Forrest stops running and the group running behind him stops waiting expectantly]
    Young Man: Quiet. Quiet. He’s going to say something.
    [Forrest pauses for a moment before speaking]
    Forrest Gump: I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.
    [Forrest turns and the group parts for Forrest as he walks down the middle of the road]
    Young Man: Now what are we supposed to do?
    Forrest Gump: [voice over] And just like that, my runnin’ days was over. So I went home to Alabama.

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