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Psychological dissociation is a situation in which one distinguishes oneself from what is true. In several ways, the attention of psychology has been drawn to negative events and life facets that appear to isolate people from actual happenings. There is evidence, however, that directions that human beings deem meaningful, such as selflessness, enlightenment, and kindness, can also contribute to certain types of dissociation in psychologically stable individuals.
Enlightenment can be described as having a better knowledge and understanding of a particular topic. An individual is considered enlightened if they have a relatively more informed insight on a specific issue compared to that of others or they're previous state. There are specific neurological mechanisms that are associated with the concept of enlightenment. The mechanisms involve the grasping of new information. As this information occupies the brain, an individual becomes less prone to other factors such as stress and bad habits. The dissociation between the human brain and the negative aspects is aimed at creating more space that can facilitate the improvement of the individual’s ability to collaborate with creativity skills and be able to live better and more satisfying lives.
Enlightenment produces dissociation in healthy people. The person is able to dissociate with negative aspects of life that are likely to undermine their physical and mental wellbeing. Enlightenment enables an individual to discover the flows in their previous thinking. An enlightened person follows the same path as Buddha and becomes of more relevance to the society. Individuals fear enlightenment because they understand that it is tied to dissociation. “When people respond negatively to these terms, it’s often because they’re worried that the words imply they are going to die, disappear, or go crazy in their attempts to seek enlightenment,” (Thurman n.p). Enlightenment is described as reality in this scenario. The author insinuates that individuals who are not enlightened live under falsehood and this becomes the norm. They fear that by dissociating from the falsehood and becoming enlightened, they will lose their selves and become non-existent.
The Buddha is used as a perfect example of a being who harnessed the dissociation in enlightenment to the advantage of humanity. He pondered for some time and realized that there was a flaw in his thinking. Normally, this feeling precedes a thought that one is useless and irrelevant. However, the path to enlightenment helped the Buddha realize that there is no way he can cease to exist, even in death. He harnessed the power gained through enlightenment and worked for the good of humanity over many years, sharing various teachings that related to the process of his enlightenment.
Selflessness involves an individual orienting their being away from their self. The self-centred view of an individual and the world loosens and an individual initially has a sense of emptiness. This feeling is always accompanied by the fear that a person’s initial being will go into oblivion, thus losing themselves to the whole experience. According to Thurman (n.p), an individual develops a pseudo-self as a result of the happenings in their lifetime. This self is unrealistic and full of pretence. In order to defend itself from extinction, the pseudo-self resists any ideas by the person to find freedom. Thurman (n.p) compares this idea with having a terrorist in one’s own brain. This ‘terrorist’ was radicalized by one’s instincts and culture. It creates commands within the brain that seek to make individuals remain loyal to it. The pseudo-self dominates human being through fear. A person fears losing their current status quo. For instance, a person who has been dishonest and has attracted a lot of friends this way fears losing their friends when they become honest and starts standing by the truth.
Dissociation creates fear among individuals. However, this fear is dillusional. Thurman notes that “You cannot disappear into your own blissful void, because you are part of everyone and they are part of you.” According to Thurman (n.p) individuals feel secure when they hold onto certain information about phenomena that they feel is right. Therefore, an individual’s perception of oneself is viewed as the right one. The mind will stubbornly insist that it is sure about its perception of the self even if it is flawed. Shedding of the pseudo-self creates a feeling that one is challenging the self-defence. Therefore, an individual becomes indignant when they become selfless. The transformation is seen as a way of challenging the self. There is an internal conflict that may result in self-righteousness and eventually lead to rage with oneself.
At the beginning of his essay, Thurman (n.p) describes how his old teacher’s insights on becoming unbound made him nauseous when he tried to fight it. The revelations by the teacher were creating a feeling of reorientation away from oneself. Thurman narrates that “I felt like I was slowly but surely loosening my self-centered perspective on life and the world.” This feeling is similar to that of Julia, Martha Stout’s patient, when she was discovering that other people had a better ability to remember their past compared to her.
At our third session, she asked me an astonishing question, “Do other people remember those things, about their teachers, going to their graduation……….?” When I told her that, yes, they usually do remember, at least to a greater degree than she did…………………...she was quiet for a few minutes. Finally, she leaned forward and asked, “So, what’s wrong with me?” (Stout, 661).
The above conversation between the author and Julia shows that individuals have the fear of losing the memories that define their self. Though Julia’s mind does not have a clear idea of what her ‘self’ is due to the absence of her past memories, it still fears the emptiness created. This is due to the fear described by Thurman as an implication of death, disappearance or insanity.
Compassion refers to the concern and pity within an individual as a result of misfortunes of others. Dissociation either drives an individual into feeling too much or too little than the current situation solicits. A person who sticks to the self is less likely to be compassionate because they feel less pity and concern for other people’s issues. This is because they are so preoccupied with themselves that even their inner creativity on their living self is supressed. Thurman notes that even in the contemporary western psychology, scholars have started realizing the damage caused by self-centred thinking. This type of thinking is positively correlated with prevalence of stress-related health complications such as heart disease.
According to Thurman (n.p), the voidness created after realizing selflessness and compassion is typical dissociation. Once a person is void, their original self-sense regenerates within the people or things that surround them. This self is different from the previous one and is infinite. The major difference between the old self and the new one is that while the former was bound, the latter is not a fixed entity. It is changeable and can easily be utilized in transforming the life of the individual and those around them. The dissociation associated with the path of enlightenment, selflessness and compassion increases the conscious of an individual from their own self. Before an individual takes this path, their focus on their self is self-destructive and is of little use to other people around them. Once an individual takes the path, they become more conscious about themselves, the people and the things around them. They thus become of greater use, just like in the case of the Buddha.
Stout, Martha. The myth of sanity: Divided consciousness and the promise of awareness. Penguin, 2002.
Thurman, Robert. "Wisdom and compassion--the sacred art of Tibet." (1997).
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