April 20, 2023
A yogi asked me if processes and attitudes were the same thing. The simple answer is “no.” But a full response is more nuanced. They are one in that they are tied together — when you have one you are likely to have the other. They often co-arise. But they aren’t the same.
Processes are actions. They can be external actions like walking down the street or drinking a glass of water or telling a story. But other times — particularly in meditation — they are internal “actions” like thinking, explaining, ruminating, day dreaming, etc.
Attitudes, on the other hand, are feelings and moods that may give rise to actions.
It’s not clear to me if feelings, moods, and attitudes even arise in simple creatures. All living organisms have homeostatic processes that must be kept in balance if they are to continue to live. We all need a balance of nutrients, water, air, body temperature, etc. if we are to remain healthy. When those go out of balance — not enough food or warmth, for example — organisms must do something about it — engage a process — or they die. But I’m not certain an ant or spider or earthworm contemplates its actions or if it moves out of a simple reflex. They hardly have enough neurons to cogitate in any meaningful way.
But complex organisms like humans, giraffes, and dogs have so many homeostatic needs to balance that they often conflict. The creature must decide what to do next.
So rather than automatic reflexes, more complex creatures have feelings which motivate them to act but leave a certain amount of free will. Just because we are thirsty or cold doesn’t mean we have to do something about it immediately. We may decide to run away from that bear and attend to the other drives a little bit later
So rather than automatic reflexes we have feeling tones. And when feeling tones hang around for a while, they may become moods or attitudes which motivate us in a certain direction but allow us some choice.
However, I have observed that when people have a lot of energy, the amount of time they observe their feelings, moods, or attitudes diminishes.
More energy than we can manage wisely can result from strong desire, aversion, fear, anger, caffein, and more. We may become less tolerant of unresolved motivations. Behavior becomes more impulsive and less thoughtful. In these situations, process (what we do) may become less distinct from attitudes (what we feel).
This is not to say that knee-jerk reactions are necessarily bad. If the building is on fire, it may be better to act now (get out of there!) and worry about it later. If a car swerves in our direction, acting before contemplating the dilemma may save our lives.
In these situations, process and attitude become so tightly yoked as to seem like the same thing.
However, if our days are filled with one reflex after another, it will feel like an on-going crisis. No fun!
To live a life of kindness and wisdom, it helps to have the space to reflect on our attitudes. Part of the current degeneration of civility in society today is the constant feeling of crisis, danger, and grievance that impede quiet reflection.
The art of therapy and meditation may be learning how to tolerate feelings and attitudes so that we give them the space to deepen and mature before acting. As we say, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”
Copyright 2021 by Doug Kraft
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