Our Models of Reality

In my perpetual pursuit of trying to understand depression, this text taken from “The Untethered Soul,” by Michael A. Singer, resonated, made sense to me.

If anything happens that challenges how you view things, you fight. You defend. You rationalize. You get frustrated and angry over simple little things. This is the result of being unable to fit what’s actually happening into your model of reality. If you want to go beyond your model, you have to take the risk of not believing in it. If your mental model is bothering you, it’s because it doesn’t incorporate reality. Your choice is to either resist reality or go beyond the limits of your model.

 In order to truly go beyond your model, you must first understand why you built it. The easiest way to understand this is to study what happens when the model doesn’t work. Have you ever built your whole world on a model of life predicated upon another person’s behavior or the permanence of a relationship? If so, have you ever had the foundation pulled out from under you? Somebody leaves you. Somebody dies.. Something goes wrong. Something shakes your model to the core. When this happens, your entire view of who you believe you are, including your relationship to everyone and everything around you, begins to fall apart. You panic and do everything you can to hold it together. You beg, fight, and struggle to try to keep your world from collapsing.

 Once you’ve had an experience like that, and most people have, you realize that the model you’ve built is tenuous, at best. The entire thing can fall apart. The whole model and all that it’s built on, including your entire view of yourself and everything else, can start to crumble. What you experience when this happens is one of the most important learning experiences of your life. You come face-to-face with what made you build the model. The level of discomfort and disorientation you experience is frightening. You struggle just to get back some semblance of normal perception. What you are really doing is trying to pull the mental model back around you so that you can settle down into your familiar mental setting.

 But our whole world doesn’t have to fall apart in order for us to see what we’re doing in there. We are constantly trying to hold it all together. If you really want to see why you do things, then don’t do them and see what happens. Let’s say you’re a smoker. If you decide to stop smoking, you quickly confront the urges that cause you to smoke. These urges are the reason you smoke. They are the outermost layer of cause. If you can sit through these urges, you will see what caused them. If you can get comfortable with what you see, you will face the next layer of causation, and so on, layer upon layer. Likewise, there’s a reason why you dress the way you do. If you want to see why you care so much about what you wear and what your hair is like, then just don’t do it one day. Wake up in the morning and go somewhere disheveled with your hair a mess, and see what happens to you when you don’t do the things that make you comfortable. What you’ll see is why you’re doing them.

 You are constantly trying to stay within your comfort zone. You struggle to keep people, places, and things in a manner that supports your model. If they start to go any other way, you get uncomfortable. Your mind then becomes active telling you how to get things back the way you need them to be. The moment somebody starts behaving in a way that is outside your expectations, your mind starts talking. It says, “What should I do about this? I can’t just ignore what he did. I could confront him directly or ask someone else to talk to him.” Your mind is telling you to fix it. And it doesn’t really matter what you end up doing, it’s all about getting back within your comfort zone. This zone is finite. All attempts to stay within it keep you finite. Going beyond always means letting go of the effort to keep things within your defined limits.

So there are two ways you can live: you can devote your life to staying in your comfort zone, or you can work on your freedom. In other words, you can devote you whole life to the process of making sure everything fits within your limited model, or you can devote your life to freeing yourself from the limits of your model.