Saturday, January 7, 2012

Correcting Attribution Errors of the Heart

It wasn’t until my early thirties, after my brain (according to neuroscientists) had supposedly maxed out its neuron count, that I met the first real love of my life, my soul mate, the woman I just knew would mother my children and I would be spending the rest of my life with. Every moment after meeting her was glorious. Big Magic flowed through every dimension of our lives. Miraculous healings took place; strangers smiled at me on the street; children crowded around us in the shopping malls; every song on the radio was “our song;” when I was away from her I could hear her heart beating everywhere. It was Kismet, a divine love fully ordained in heaven. Ha!

I’ve already briefly written “the rest of the story” here. Suffice it to say that when the poo hit the loo, neither one of us had acquired any tools whatsoever to allow us to skillfully navigate safely through each other's raging psychic storms, or to clean up the mess in the aftermath. All either of us could do was hit the Bail Trail. Decades later, hindsight shows up offering great compassion and understanding and reminds me that 30 years old is SO very young.

Darika and I made one fundamental mistake in our relationship - a mistake quantum physicists, neuroscientists and I call an Attribution Error of the Heart. The brain is first and foremost an association organ. Anything that happens in close sequence or proximity, the brain tends to make meaningful connections with - often an attribution error. The error with such meaning-making is that we attribute and assign false cause in ways that make us often believe things that are fundamentally not true, i.e. that the love energy we feel for our children or our partner originates from and is dependent upon them being in our life and keeping us well-supplied. Jill Bolte Taylor describes the brain's subtle and very skillful ability with misattribution wonderfully in her book, My Stroke of Insight.

Being a brain neuro-anatomist able to bear witness for eight years as her left hemisphere slowly came back online provided Jill (and us) with some really useful information. The experience of love's energies residing primarily in a minimally traumatized right brain, instantly came to the fore once Jill's left brain logic circuitry went offline. She sounds a lot like people sound after they return from an entheogen adventure or a Near-Death experience (They can rarely find adequate words. Which makes total sense, since it was the left brain's word-generating capacity that worked to suppress the awareness of love's ever-presence in the first place!).  As Jill's left brain circuitry began to return, it began to dominate and overshadow the energy experience we label "love" all over again. Except that Jill was now hip to Left Brain's workings. She could no longer be fooled into making the attribution error that love lives anywhere else but inside and all around each of us. So, might our own work as parents and people be to experiment with and practice finding ways to get left brain to relax and quiet down and allow us entry into love's always present right brain abode from time to time?

In order to get back in touch with the love energy that the left brain overshadows and dominates so powerfully, similar to Byron Katie, Jill realized we might be best served by starting from the point of not believing what we think! Better might be to feel our way through what we think, especially when what we think by itself catalyzes great suffering. Not believing what we think seems a necessary first step for avoiding attribution errors of the heart. Turning towards painful things that we would ordinarily turn away from and doing deep, compassionate inquiry into them, allows us to uncover love where it actually resides. Hint: it's NOT in some other person, place or thing.

Loving Our Enemies

Leah Green, founder of The Compassionate Listening Project has observed that, "An enemy is someone whose story we haven't fully heard." I would tweak her observation just a wee bit: "An 'other' is someone whose story we haven't fully heard" (Especially teenaged children?). And one reason we haven't heard it is due most often to what Einstein recognized as our conditioned left brain being trained to view people as "something separate, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness," an attribution error of the heart. This error quickly gets corrected in times of profound trauma, deep grief, experiences with entheogens, and often in the presence of young children.  Healthy, well-cared for children are born with and then naturally strengthen a compassionate heart. Their immature neurological development and undefended, innocent ways of being in the world naturally resonates with that remembered experience in our own lives. But few children escape childhood wholly unscathed. 

How to Get There From Here

Goethe realized that love does not dominate, grasp or demand, it cultivates. Love works to build the capacity for being loving. It cultivates patience, works to quell fear, and operates in the service of compassion and kindness. Love works by practicing doing small things with great love, as Mother Theresa instructed. It is in such doing and in such being that the barriers to the direct experience of love’s right brain energy often begins to emerge;  that “metaphysical gravity” becomes thinner and thinner, eventually dissolving many of our dozen defense mechanisms, leaving us raw, vulnerable and wide open to the mystery.

I have sat for hundreds of hours, simply present with people in the midst of agonizing grief, their customary, conditioned psychological defenses completely shredded. In doing so I am no longer surprised when suddenly the barriers to the subtle energies of love dissolve and I find myself immersed once again in their warm and tender glow. At those times the heart makes no attribution error. It is simply and fully available to love’s ever-present reality. At such times I find myself blessed and sitting in state of grace.

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