A Peak Performance weblog

Three levels with border

Three views of the same scenario

The practice of reframing is commonly used these days to change something about yourself that you don’t like.  Reframing is a method of changing your perspective, or the way you frame or look at an undesirable event, situation, or object.  Despite its popularity, however, the range, power, and usefulness of its application are not widely known.

The first basic principle of reframing is that “events or situations do not have inherent meaning; rather, you assign them a meaning based on how you interpret the event. . . . Even when something seemingly horrible happens to you, it is only horrible because of the way you look at it.”  –Mikey  D., http://feelhappiness.com/reframing-your-thoughts-make-yourself-happier/

Tarthang Tulku, a Tibetan Buddhist master, makes a very similar statement:  “our problems do not lie in what we experience, but in the attitude we have towards it.”   p. 51, Openness Mind

So we may have considerable freedom in the way we can view and interpret our experience. The practice of reframing usually involves identifying negative thoughts or beliefs and replacing them with more positive or beneficial ones.  Thus reframing is very often an intellectual or cognitive process used in order to change one’s undesirable feelings or emotions about something.

Someone else  on the web wrote about those who use reframing to ‘chip away at beliefs’ that mistakenly support a negative conclusion:  “Chances are you have a limiting belief that is encouraging you to think negatively about your situation. This limiting belief is based on assumptions you have made that probably are not true. Find reasons why they aren’t true, and you chip away at the beliefs causing the negative thoughts [assuming that other thoughts somehow cause the troublesome beliefs]. This is the most powerful long term reframing technique . . . .”

This ‘chipping away’ at supporting assumptions is common psychological analysis, and may be somewhat helpful.  But is it true that this last method is the most powerful?  The least powerful techniques would probably make the most superficial changes to the  original content, event, or situation.  And the most powerful techniques would probably change aspects of the original content, event, or situation the most.

Deeper or more effective methods?

Are there even ‘deeper’ methods that more profoundly change the original content or scenario?

Instead of thoughts or beliefs, what about changing these:

  • Space within and between thoughts
  • Gravity, or momentum of thinking

Ownership and ‘conducting’ (by the subject or ‘doer’) of thinking and feeling

One might challenge the inclusion of the above on the list, and there might be other candidates as well.

Space within and between thoughts

We usually are concerned only with the content, or meaning of thought.  However, suppose we shift our focus instead to the ‘space between thoughts’?  Did you ever think of doing this?  What might result?  (See pp. 58-60, Time, Space, and Knowledge, Tarthang Tulku.)

The Time, Space, and Knowledge (TSK) discipline actually suggests that we experiment at length with this shift in focus.   People who do generally find more openness, peacefulness, silence, freedom, greater openmindedness, and greater relaxation.

Gravity, or momentum of thinking

As another example, suppose we shift our focus instead to the ‘gravity’ or ‘momentum of thinking’?  “Some thoughts loom large and others small, exerting a different ‘gravitational’ pull accordingly.” (p. 65,  Love of Knowledge, Tarthang Tulku)  What might result?  People who do this exercise a while  generally experience less pressure from anxiety, driven thinking, and time pressure.

Ownership and ‘conducting’ of thinking and feeling

As a third example, suppose our focus in thinking were shifted from the content to the ‘thinker’ who organizes, observers, interprets, and ‘owns’ the situation and the content.  What might happen?  (p. 41,  Love of Knowledge)

People exploring this exercise find a new kind of ‘knowing’ or nonverbal awareness can arise in contrast with a less ‘driven’ ‘train of thought’.  This different type of knowing is not affected by the usual distortion of the self, subject, or thinker and its kind of motivation, desires, and concerns.

Mind and the source of thought

Is there anything else to reframe, or to leave out of the frame?

What about the mind from which thoughts seem to arise?  Are thoughts limited to coming from our minds, or can they arise in some other way(s)?  TSK asks, when observing directly how thinking occurs, do we really see any ‘mind’ at its source?  Is there any ordinary source or ‘generator’ of thinking and experience in general?  What if the presumption of mental generation of experience is challenged, and the presumption of ‘an ordinary mind’ is dropped?

Time and the events of our lives

What about time itself, that presumed ‘medium’ that is thought to ‘carry’ or present the events of our lives?

TSK shows that the feeling of time passing from past to present to future can be reframed in many different ways.   Suppose you think, “I don’t have time to get everything done today.”

You might try to reframe the sense of not having enough time by (1) affirmative self-talk, saying to yourself, “I have enough time for everything I need to do today.”  Most people who try this find it doesn’t work very well.   “Replacing conventional constructs with new ones . . . will still leave us in the realm of descriptive knowledge and the narrative.” (p. 257, Love of Knowledge)  Self-talk and affirmations don’t seem to strongly affect the level at which our temporal experience is actually ‘operating’.

However, suppose we observe time flowing “from moment to moment in a way that makes available, on an ever ‘smaller’ scale, moments ‘between’ moments”?  After some awkwardness or confusion trying to ‘figure out’ how to do this, people usually find it quite effective.  Add extensive practice, and then you’ve got an amazing way to really start dismantling the time pressure in your life.   (p. 119,  Love of Knowledge)

Challenging our usual presumed frame of reference of the self

What about the usual ‘frame of reference’ itself that we try to maintain throughout our lives, holding a fixed point of view and referring all our experiences back to our self?  TSK notes that “Throughout history, we have been maintaining a fixed and limiting ‘focal setting’ without even being aware of doing so. Yet, although our familiar world seems to depend upon this ‘setting’, if we become able to change the ‘setting’, fantastic new knowledge and appreciation of life can be gained.” (pp. 4-5, Time, Space, and Knowledge)  “For example, it may be possible to discover a kind of space in some intimate connection with each thought, each sensation, each surface, and each conceptual category which constitutes our lived world. The availability of such discoveries is entirely a matter of the particular ‘focal setting’ or perspective we use.” (p. 4, Time, Space, and Knowledge)

Unframe Yourself

We are not limited to the comparatively ineffective conventional way of reframing just the mental contents of experience.  A far more encompassing and powerful version of reframing is possible.  We can include all  the apparently fixed framework of experience–including our mind, the self, as well as our sense of limited time and space.  Although these mental structures may seem inherently fixed, limited, or limiting, “The basic, absolute, or opaque character that some things have for us is [just] due to our unwillingness to change this ‘focal setting’ point of view, or to our assumption that it cannot be done. . . .” (p. 4, Time, Space, and Knowledge)


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