Book VII. Dynamic Indwelling
1. A useful philosophy of life should include a sensible philosophy of mind. We are what we think and we are obliged to get a grip on our own mind. This is a core self-obligation and a necessary task if we mean to engage in genuine self- authorship.
2. Philosophers from Marcus Aurelius to the Buddha have announced this as a top priority. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the modern way that this age-old message is delivered. But so far none have offered an accurate enough picture of mind.
3. The ways that we’ve been invited to get a grip on our mind, whether those invitations come from traditions like Stoicism or Buddhism or from cognitive- behavioral therapists, fall short because they do not accurately picture our inner dynamism.
4. A major shortcoming of past philosophies and psychologies is that they do not speak to what it really feels like to have a mind. We do not just “have thoughts.” Rather, we indwell dynamically in what we’ll dub “the room that is our mind.”
5. We live in the room that is our mind. That is where we live, rather than in San Francisco, Berlin or Bangkok. That is where we spend our waking and sleeping hours. Your mood is made there, your intentions are set there, and your life is lived there.
6. Descartes pictured that indwelling place as a stage where we play out our dramas. But Descartes’ image paints a picture of us more as observers than as dramatists and actors. In the room that is our mind, we create our own dramas and play them out.
7. Our mind is a “real” place where we dwell. It is sometimes a comfortable place and sometimes a tortured place. But it is first of all a place, amorphous, ambiguous, but real. We spend our time there and acquire or create our particular indwelling style.
8. That style then affects everything that we do and that we are, from the way we present ourselves in the world, called our personality, to the way that we experience inner states with names like “happiness,” “depression,” “mania,” and “anxiety.”
9. Some acquire a needling style, needling themselves as they think. Some acquire a critical style, creating criticisms rather than thoughts. Some acquire a muffled style, where thoughts never get fully formed. There are many indwelling styles.
10. Some people always rage in there, even if they aren’t raging in the world. Some are always sad in there, even if they put on a happy face in the world. Some are always meek in there, even if they manage to function in the world. In there, you are you.
11. The atmosphere in there may feel claustrophobic. It may feel murky. It may make you queasy. Imagine opening the door to a steam room, a boiler room, or an auditorium filled with third-graders. Opening the door to the room that is your mind is like that.
12. The metaphor of “the room that is your mind” serves us. It is a useful concept and suggests how fundamental change can occur. A major personality upgrade is “spring cleaning” that room by choosing and creating your preferred indwelling style.
13. Our metaphor helps us better understand the idea of persona and how personality presents itself. We may live in the room that is our mind in one way, say angrily, and we may present ourselves in the world in quite another way, say placidly.
14. We may look confident in the world but be weak-kneed inside that room. We may look cheerful enough but be despairing in that room. We may look opinionated but not really believe our own opinions. We are one thing outside and another inside.
15. Our metaphor also suggests the sorts of activities that you might want to engage in. For instance, you might redecorate your room, you might air it out, you might let in some natural light, you might add closets, you might refurnish it, and so on.
16. If we want emotional health and if we’re interested in self-authorship, our task is to make that room as comfortable a place as possible. If, say, our experience there is like living on a bed of nails, how can we have the kirist life we’re envisioning?
17. We can effect change there. A brain’s true brilliance is in its ability to chat with itself, to enter into self-conversation, and, as a result, to engage in dynamic, system-wide self-regulation. Is anything in the universe more amazing than that?
18. We can chat with ourselves and we can aim ourselves in one direction or another, toward, for example, calmness versus anxiousness, passion versus indifference, love versus enmity, and so on. We are amazing, dynamic, self- regulating organisms.
19. Sitting on the easy chair that we our ourselves decide to install, we can go about the business of making decent sense of the contradictions that come with being human. First, though, we must get off of our bed of nails and drop into that easy chair.
20. What happens more usually when we enter? We’re deluged with noise. Or it’s as if a fog machine has gone wild and turned our inner world opaque. Or we’re agitated in some way that renders it impossible to engage in smart self- regulation.
21. We typically do a poor job of self-regulation. We indulge thoughts that don’t serve us and may even prefer to think that we can’t self-regulate. However, that’s just a shame and not an argument against the possibility of self-regulation.
22. We can do better. We can use our available freedom to indwell in ways that serve us. You can enter the room that is your mind not as a victim of consciousness but as a talented creator equal to defining and designing what goes on in there.
23. Consider. Maybe you’re drinking too much alcohol. Your cells adapt to your drinking habits and now they crave alcohol. You certainly have a “biological problem” and you may even have been born with a genetic predisposition. Biology plays its part.
24. Your unregulated mind likewise craves the anxiety relief of alcohol. You now have a “psychological issue” with respect to drinking and words like dependence, obsession, compulsion and addiction come into play. Psychology plays its part.
25. Maybe you also self-identify as a hard-drinking, passionate, rebellious type, revel in that identity, and see your drinking as a personality fit. Your self- identifications and formed personality help maintain the problem. Personality plays its part.
26. Maybe most of the adults in your family love to drink and you are caught up in a social dynamic that supports your drinking. There is alcohol everywhere, at every meal, at every party, at every function. Social dynamics play their part.
27. On top of all that, maybe your job is stressful, your children are acting out, your marriage is on the rocks and you drink to relieve all those stresses. Maybe your circumstances have worsened recently. Your circumstances play their part.
28. It’s clear how these five—biology, psychology, personality, social pressures, and circumstances—are contributing to your problem drinking. If that were the end of the story, we would have to say that those five were determinative. But they aren’t.
29. That isn’t the end of the story. If that were the end of the story, no one would ever get sober. But people do. They step to one side and engage in a self- conversation about sobriety. They consciously decide to self-regulate and to indwell differently.
30. A dynamic self-regulation model does not reject the biological, psychological, personality, social and circumstantial causes of thoughts, behaviors, moods and emotional distress. Rather, it rejects that we are just those things and not also conscious.
31. In that room, we can be conscious of consciousness. There we can be self- aware, if we cultivate an aware indwelling style. This odd feature of consciousness, that you can stand to one side, defines our species. There is a “you” that can know “you.”
32. Seated comfortably in your easy chair, your room redecorated and your indwelling style improved, you can reduce your sadness, halt pestering thoughts, calm your nerves, eliminate unnecessary dramas, and improve your mental landscape.
33. But in order to pull off that feat, you must get rid of that bed of nails, install that easy chair, clean out those closets, let in some air, and all the rest. You must make a serious effort at spring cleaning and at redesign and redecoration.
34. Maybe even just adding some windows would help with those states with names like “depression, “anxiety,” “obsessive-compulsive disorder,” “mania” and even “schizophrenia.” Who knows how beneficial it might be to just let in a little air?
35. How many times have you thought that same stale thought? How many times have you had that same tiring conversation with yourself? How much airless repetition can you possibly endure? Install some windows and throw them wide open!
36. What if you installed two windows, threw them open, and let a in cross breeze? Wouldn’t some regrets waft away? Wouldn’t some disappointments dissolve and disappear? Wouldn’t you find a little peace without having to open another beer bottle?
37. The phrase “get a grip on your mind” suggests work. But how much heavy lifting is involved in installing a few windows? No trips needed to the hardware store. No chance of the glass not fitting the frames. Just picture them added and they are added.
38. Wouldn’t everything change for the better, just the way that life changes for the better when a cloud passes and we see the sun again? Wouldn’t a balmy breeze make you feel happier? Can you begin to see how you might employ this metaphor?
39. Who wants claustrophobia? Don’t you want airiness, a breeze, and a blue sky? Don’t you want concentration but while rocking in a hammock? Don’t you want focus but while gazing out to sea? Doesn’t adding windows sound like, well, a breeze?
40. Let’s go a step further. Rather than just installing a few windows, let’s picture your mind as a room with one side completely open to the sea breeze. In that mind of yours, the air is always circulating. Your thoughts are always fresh.
41. In that mind, stuffiness never accumulates. In that mind, new thoughts occur every day and old thoughts just waft away. Your formed personality created a room with no windows. Now you use your available personality to inaugurate a real remodel.
42. Your indwelling goals are to move from self-unfriendliness to self-advocacy, from self-opaqueness to self-awareness, from a learned passivity to a more native aliveness. Passive indwelling is the rule. Dynamic indwelling is the exception and the goal.
43. When you indwell dynamically, you get in the habit of not taking the thoughts that bubble up at face value. You stand in new relationship to them, inquiring of them, asking them to explain themselves, and learning to understand yourself.
44. For example, even a simple-sounding thought like “This café is crowded,” is likely the culmination of a complicated internal conversation about which the thinker may be only half-aware or even entirely unaware. Many thoughts are like that.
45. Say that the thought “This café is crowded” is thought by a would-be writer who is struggling to write his novel, who doubts his ability to write his novel, and who most of the time finds excuses and reasons not to write his novel.
46. For him, the thought “This café is crowded” is not really a bit of objective appraising about the café but rather an excuse to not sit down and write. He thinks that thought, refuses to examine it or converse with it, and feels justified in leaving instantly.
47. When he gets to the next café, the thought that arises might be “This café is noisy,” which will have arisen for exactly the same reasons. When he gets to the third café, the thought might be, “Oh, I know too many people here!” Again, he leaves instantly.
48. Soon he may find himself drinking Scotch instead of working on his novel or hunting for sex instead of conjuring up answers to his novel’s plot problems. By the end of such a disappointing day, isn’t he likely to be filled to the brim with fury and despair?
49. Each of those thoughts about the cafés on his route sounded plausible enough: too busy, too noisy, too filled with familiars. But they were actually weaponized thoughts, weaponized by the thinker against himself. They weren’t innocent at all.
50. It would have much better served that would-be writer to not react reflexively to the content of those thoughts but rather to ferret out their real significance and his underlying reasons for fleeing. We wish he’d stepped to one side and reflected.
51. That kirist step to one side allows consciousness to apply itself to consciousness. It transforms a passive indwelling style, where thoughts are accepted without reflection, to a dynamic style, where thoughts are treated as worth understanding.
52. Kirists use consciousness so as to be conscious. They say, “I intend not to live in the dark, as if no one had installed a bright light in my mind. I have turned on the light. I will not live in an unconscious or half-conscious way. I intend to know me.”
53. We employ the metaphor of “the room that is our mind” to help us apply consciousness to consciousness. Our metaphor encourages us to see ourselves as active investigators and lively creators of our mindspace and not as mere passive observers.
54. The very notion of entering that room implies activity. It suggests that there is a place we can visit where we can carry out smart conversations with ourselves. We do not need to live victimized by our thinking. We can take better charge than that.
55. You open that door and enter with energy. You look around. There is plenty to see and you see it all clearly, because you’ve installed overhead lighting, atmospheric lamps, and good-sized windows that allow in natural light and a soft breeze.
56. Our metaphor is at once serious and playful. It is serious in the sense that it allows for improved self-regulation and more dynamic indwelling. It is playful in the sense that you can be as whimsical and imaginative as you like in the way that you use it.
57. How whimsical and imaginative? You could install a speaker’s corner where you speak your truth. You could install a safety valve that you use to reduce mental pressure. You could install a calmness switch that, when flipped on, produces instant calm.
58. You could add a resilience mat where you do your resilience exercises and recite your resilience vows. You could repaper those drab walls with cheerful wallpaper. You could add a fireplace and a blazing fire, for those cold days of the heart.
59. You could create a dresser with a deep hat drawer, fill it with hats of all descriptions, and pull out the hat that you want to wear next. Maybe it’s the hat that matches the mental task at hand or that helps put you in the mood you intend to nurture.
60. In that same dresser, you might create the drawer where you keep your corrective lenses, the ones you put on when your view of life seems fuzzy or distorted. You have other dresser drawers available, too. What might you put in those?
61. You might create a hope chest that you fill with objects, ideas, mementoes and talismans that help you keep hope alive. On hopeless days, you’d visit there, pluck out a postcard or a shining ideal, and feel at least a little bit more hopeful.
62. You might hang up a painting of a bowl filled with apricots, some of the apricots perfect, some bruised, and some rotten. Your painting is there to remind you how process works, that process comes with real messes as well as masterpieces.
63. Maybe you’ll have some mattering t-shirts hanging in your closet, each emblazoned with a slogan like “I matter” and “My efforts matter.” Maybe you’ll include a grandeur corner, the spot you visit to remind yourself of the availability of grandeur.
64. You can design your room so that visiting there reduces your stress. You can design your room so that visiting there brings you some peace and quiet. You can design your room as a place where even the knottiest problems get unraveled.
65. Most people cultivate a passive indwelling style where thoughts arrive and are allowed to be thought uncontroverted. Out-of-sight, unexamined psychological processes create those thoughts and the recipient passively accepts them as gospel.
66. Kirists, on the other hand, make the conscious decision to live in the room that is their mind more energetically, dynamically and thoughtfully than that. They learn how to be silent there, how to be calm there, and how to be productive there.
67. The room that is a person’s mind is not some sort of optional accessory. It is the exact way that human consciousness is experienced. Kirists are obliged to concern themselves with its specific features, features like its airlessness or its spaciousness.
68. If it’s hard to breathe in there, if it’s hard to think in there, if it’s hard to create silence in there, how well can we meet our self-obligations, champion our causes, make use of our potential, or author our story? How we indwell matters.
69. It may matter far more than we know. Our own significant contribution to any so-called mental disorder or other distress or disturbance we’re experiencing may include the indwelling style we’ve cultivated over time and thoughtlessly adopted.
70. Cultivating an unfortunate indwelling style can turn that room into a painful place of conflicts, worries, fears, and other sufferings, so painful a place that we strenuously avoid going there and rarely do, rendering us dull and uncreative.
71. Or we may spend time there without quite noticing how miserable we feel when we’re there. Our misery may go undetected and uninterrupted, supported by an indwelling style that produces pain and then defensively muffles it.
72. Kirists understand this. They know that they have to take charge of cultivating an indwelling style of their own choosing if they are to have the life they want. They use their human-sized freedom to create right mindspace.
73. You can consciously design the room that is your mind, the place where you go to think, muse, imagine, problem-solve, daydream, and do everything mental. You can design it and you can make decisions about how you’ll be when you visit there.
74. You can decide that you will be calm there. You can decide that you will be thoughtful there. You can decide that you will be brave there. You can decide that you will be passionate there. You can decide that you will be present there. You can decide.
75. You can be intense when intensity is called for, you can be calm when calmness is called for, and, with practice, you can be simultaneously calm and intense. Mightn’t a calm-and-intense indwelling style serve you nicely?
76. You can lounge in your easy chair, as relaxed as can be, and at the same time tackle the intellectual intricacies of even the most challenging thought problem. Mightn’t a relaxed-and-thoughtful indwelling style serve you nicely?
77. You can begin to make excellent sense of how you arrived there. Did you arrive of your own volition, which is a kirist goal, or instead because you were pulled by the nose by some internal conflict, pressing worry, or unproductive obsession?
78. You can likewise make excellent sense of how you want to leave. You can leave all in a rush, hardly able to catch your breath, or you can leave in a more measured way, prepared to tackle some absurd rebellion or other self-obligation.
79. You can learn to discern when your mindspace has become overheated, when mania is threatened, when the activity of indwelling has become dangerous. You can learn to announce “This is getting dangerous!” so clearly that you hear yourself.
80. You can learn to spot when your indwelling style has darkened your mood. Maybe you’ve been conjuring up the idea that life is a cheat or that the past has ruined you. You throw open the back door and usher those thoughts right out.
81. You will have to deal with a lot, with strange musings, with insults not forgotten, with secrets that you’re keeping from yourself, with whispers about impermanence and mortality. That you have installed an easy chair will not make this easy.
82. It requires real mind artistry to deal with all of that. Maybe you want to write novels or paint paintings and think that that’s your main artistry. But mind artistry comes first. It’s the talent that allows you to manifest your other talents.
83. As robust as the metaphor of “the room that is your mind” may be, it hardly captures everything that we might want to say about self-regulation, self- awareness, dynamic indwelling, and how consciousness can effectively oversee consciousness.
84. Still, it’s a useful device. Kirists embrace the idea that their mind is a place that they can design and stylishly inhabit. They replace the too-small idea that they are merely a thinker of thoughts with the larger idea that they can wisely self-regulate.
85. The activity of forthrightly dealing with one’s inner reality in a now brightly- lit room is what we’re calling dynamic indwelling. Dynamic indwelling is the number one self-regulatory tool that human beings possess and a centerpiece of kirist living.