Psychological Exercise 1: Experiencing Opposites

This exercise, like many that require introspection, is best done at night or in the evening when inactive and when it is quiet. The first part of the exercise is to pick something, anything, and then focus your attention on it.

As an example, I might focus on a discomfort in my abdomen.

The second part of the exercise is to ask yourself, "Is this mind or body, mental or physical?"

And the third part is to allow the possibility that it is both.

This is a three part exercise.


In this day and age, where psychologists are very excited about brain research, we can ask the question in another way: "Is this something going on in my brain or is it going on in my mind?

And, again, the third part of the exercise is to allow the possibility of it being both. That discomfort in my abdomen is something going on in my brain and also something mental.

This three part exercise can be done with other questions.

For example, say we start the exercise by focusing on a sound or on something in the visual field. In this day of technology, many rooms, even at night, have little lights, maybe red, maybe blue. If you wear glasses and your glasses are not on and it is the middle of the night, these lights can be blurry, or a single light can look like more than one. So if this exercise is begun by focusing on one of these lights, the second part of this exercise would be to ask questions such as, "Is this red light mental or physical?", "Mind or Body?", but also to ask other questions such as "Is it Inner or Outer?", "Is it Real or Unreal?", and, again the third part would be to allow the possibility that the light is all of these.

We are used to thinking in terms of Either/Or. Something is either mental or physical, in the brain or in the mind, in the world or in ourselves, real or unreal, and so on. The thrust of the exercise is to see if we can adopt a different way of thinking and to experience what this other way of thinking might be like.

There are still more opposites that can be used in the second part of the exercise. Focus attention on anything at all and ask, "Is it Me or Not Me", "Is it Sacred or Profane", "Past, Present, or Future", and so on.

If we are outside and focus on a tree, we can ask ourselves, "Is that me or not me?", and then we can try to allow the possibility that is both, a tree and something in my mind. "Is it of this world or a divine manifestation?" and then, "Is it possible it can be both?" "Is it Present or Past or Future or perhaps, all three?"

If we have tension in the chest: "Is it an emotion or a feeling (of anxiety) or a bodily sensation or a thought or in our imagination or a memory or filled with meaning or meaningless or all of these at once?"

If we focus our minds on our country — in my case, the U.S. — what we are focusing on can be taken as a country, as a thought, as an image, as a feeling, as an ideal, as a hope, as a memory, and so on.

What we experience can be understood as inside and outside us, real and unreal, mind and body, inside and outside of our brains, past and present and future, ordinary reality and from the divine world.

This certainly does not make sense from a rational, logical point of view. But many thinkers torture themselves (and waste their time) and can even drive themselves crazy trying to decide what is mental and what is physical, what is real and what isn't, what is divine and what is mundane, when it might be easier and more practical and psychologically safer to relax the requirement of logical consistency when it comes to experience.

I should add that the exercise does not suggest we can say anything about anything. If we focus on a bright light it is not both light and dark. Depending on the specific experience, there are some contradictions that do not apply.