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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd


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Attention


Imprinting any new pattern (helpful or harmful) depends on the frequency, intensity and duration of the stimuli or information, and on the vulnerability and willingness of the person to receive the stimuli or information.

The ability to attend to the environment is crucial to learning and fundamental to intelligence. If a person's attention is introverted into keeping traumatic material repressed, or if the attention threshold is lowered in order to filter the possibility of threatening perceptions, little attention is available for the tasks in hand and for analytical decision making. Without the ability to focus attention recall of data will be minimal. If a person is not paying attention at all, his intelligence is effectively zero.

A certain degree of alertness is necessary before conscious selective attention comes into play and the person can select appropriate stimuli from all that is going on around him and maintain focused excitement on them until the task is done. Intelligence requires a set (indeed a hierarchy) of workable mental adaptations or 'tools' with which one can handle lower level tasks with minimal attention, so that the maximum attention can be placed on solving current problems, which often involves a large attention span, keeping several streams of thought active simultaneously. A person who can do this will be field-independent and well in touch with reality.

With mal-adaptive tools (or 'un-skills') this isn't possible; thinking becomes slow and he cannot respond to changing circumstances and challenges quickly enough. He does not have the resources (sustained attention span) required to learn new skills and will resort to fixed ideas to try and resolve this confusion, causing further mal-adaptation. He may be fixated on an old habitual pattern and not be able to follow the sequences of a new learning situation. Existing well-adapted responses and behavior patterns will continue on automatic, they won't be updated and may soon become redundant, or they may be applied inappropriately. Such a person will tend to field-dependency, where he may be adapted socially but be unable to get anything constructive done in life.

“It takes energy and activation to keep the gates shut against feelings, to prevent full consciousness of them, and this energy is not then available as a reserve.”
Control of attention is also required to exercise the complementary capacity to withhold a response, to selectively inhibit an internal reactive response, compulsion or habit for example, or to shut down background noise so that focus can be retained on a selected element in order to concentrate (sustain attention span). Being able to obtain a large enough body of data in one's mind, including various viewpoints and dimensions, and to inter-relate them, eventually enables a completed picture to fall into place, a gestalt. With a large enough attention span, across all sides of the brain, a traumatic experience can be examined and its charge erased in one pass through.

It is possible that information coming into the brain is stored holographically, so that each scene is represented in different areas all at the same time. Each area however would process that representation differently: the limbic would represent feelings, the reticular system the amount of energy, and the cortex would process the left and right specializations of symbolic fantasies or emotional context, and so forth. It would take the entire brain with all its representations to make a complete picture - consciousness. For a disconnected person, then, it would be possible to know about his deprivations, say, but feel nothing; or to be tense and anxious from those deprivations but not knowing why.

There may be a tendency to think that the right-brain is unconscious and the left is conscious, but in practice real consciousness requires an integrated left-right brain, just as it requires the limbic system to be connected. For when feelings are buried, the realistic ideas about those feelings (rather than symbolic fantasy) will also be buried, probably on the left side. A right-brain dominant person is not feelingful, he is impulsive. He cannot properly analyze events and cannot evaluate the consequences of his acts. He is left-brain deficient. It takes two to tango.

It takes energy and activation to keep the gates shut against feelings, to prevent full consciousness of them, and this energy is not then available as a reserve to help prevent telic arousal becoming unpleasant or to enter a high-arousal paratelic state. A truly stable person has fluid access to all parts of the brain and body so that the system does less work and can be specific, knowing what the underlying feelings are at all times. The ability to be specific is what stops the generalization process. So long as consciousness does not know the specific time and event related to felt pain, it remains disconnected and unconscious, exerting a force that mobilises the system in a diffuse way, producing inappropriate ideas, compulsions and physical symptoms in an uncontrolled, mechanically reactive, stimulus-response manner.

When such blocks have been cleared however, using methods that allow an acceptable gradient of increasing confront of the original experiences, painful feelings are able to have access to those higher centers that represent feelings into awareness; when that happens consciousness and awareness are indistinguishable (it is possible to be aware of the existence of pain without being able to be conscious of it, i.e. to really experience it).


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