I cannot will away pain, but I can will away a previous story by replacing it with a different one. Stories have a unique feature: they can be posited intentionally. An automatic story can therefore be replaced by a contrived one. This is CBT: replacing unhelpful stories with helpful ones.
Your life is one long series of doings. Consider that most of these are automatic reactions to unpleasant sensations. A biography is a series of reactions to, and avoidances of, pain.
Part of story telling is image making. CBT handles concepts and Vipassana handles feelings. But there is a third thing—the image. Whenever we tell stories, we also employ images. After all, language developed as a way to deploy predictive images based on rules. It’s more economical to have a single rule, say tiger, to cover all actual tiger images. It’s very hard to intend a concept without also seeing an image.
When we handle our pain, all of our predictive and emulative survival apparatus is activated. For this reason, when we are conscious of pain, we couch it in a heart-rending drama. We don’t just feel pain as pain with full awareness, we immerse ourselves in images and narrative. This is a survival strategy—pain is tied to full-blown perception and preemption. We don’t just feel pain, we feel pain while telling a story that schematizes it. This is what the organism does: it survives by predicting, and it predicts by making, and it makes by owning the language model of the object it intends to predict. And part of this schematism is the secretion of concern, which makes the pain persist.
Pain and anxiety are great survival assets. Anxious animals run away to survive again another day. The problem is, being continually immersed in an ink-cloud of drama and images hinders life-improvement.
Anxiety can throw you under the truck of debilitating fantasy. But it can also be your friend: it calls you to the challenge of being equanimous. See it as a game:
- A feeling arises.
- You react by craving unreality.
- You satisfy this craving by telling a story.
- And then you strive to make it real—by projecting an image while secreting concern.
So in addition to CBT and Vipassana, why not also attack images? The Vipassana training says nothing about image-making. One solution is to translate the pain into the image analog of “sensation as it is.” Ideally, we would dispense with images entirely. But if we cannot, then use an image that does not trigger a cascade of story telling and drama.
Let feelings arise as black masses without story-telling
- Look into a stranger’s eyes.
- A painful feeling will then arise. Be honest.
- A great craving will then arise—craving for an alternative to this pain, for its cessation.
- Let the pain arises as a black mass, just as LRH recommends. That is to say: let it arise as meaningless and allow it to be meaningless. Really be sensitive to your automatic meaning-making. Always suspect that it is at work, inventing fiction and then secreting the whatever chemicals are necessary to bolster its apparent reality and keep it in place. Let the pain arise just as pain as such, the image of which is a “black mass.”
- Pain intensifies. Now just do this: instead of telling the dark story, let it just be what it really is—say, abdominal feeling. Instead of projecting the usual narrative about what’s going on, let its corresponding image in the imagination be a black mass.