What do you see?
If you are like most people, you see a checker board with a green cylinder. Would it surprise you to know that the squares A and B are the same color – or more accurately the same shade of grey? Don’t believe me? print out this page and cut out the squares and line them up side by side.
Advances in neuroscience have shown that everything we experience is actually a figment of our imagination. Yet, our sensations feel accurate and truthful, so how can that be? As it turns out, our sensations cannot reproduce the physical reality of the outside world, they are simply representations. Of course, many experiences in daily life reflect the physical stimuli that enter the brain. But the same neural machinery that interprets actual sensory inputs is also responsible for our dreams, delusions and failings of memory.
In other words, the real and the imagined share a physical source in the brain. Enter Buddhism’s concept of Pratītyasamutpāda. Pratītyasamutpādais a Sanskrit term that has been translated into English in a variety of ways. The most common translations are dependent origination or dependent arising. But the term is also translated as interdependent co-arising, conditioned arising, conditioned genesis, etc. The term could be translated somewhat more literally as arising in dependence upon conditions.
In his 1992 book “The Meaning of Life,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote:
In Sanskrit the word for dependent-arising is pratītyasamutpāda. The word pratitya has three different meanings–meeting, relying, and depending–but all three, in terms of their basic import, mean dependence. Samutpada means arising. Hence, the meaning of pratītyasamutpāda is that which arises in dependence upon conditions, in reliance upon conditions, through the force of conditions.
In the picture above, the color you see is dependent on your brains desire to make the external world fit into a neat little box. After all, from an evolutionary point of view quick assimilation and integration of external information ( like external threats ) would be rewarded with longevity. So what has all this got to do with happiness?
If something as straightforward as a picture can be so misinterpreted by our brains, – as the addage goes “seeing is believing” and as has just been shown this is demonstrably false - how then can we trust our reaction to other sensory input? I think the question is a lot less interesting than the practical implications on our own personal happiness. Happiness is something that each of us is capable of, and is a byproduct of how we assimilate and integrate the flow of external sensory inputs.
I think we can all agree that living beings have the same basic wish to be happy and avoid suffering. In general most people tend to believe that external material conditions generate a sense of happiness, and as a result we devote a good deal of our time and energy trying to satisfy our material urges. Superficially it seems that these things can make us happy, but, like the illusion above, if we look more deeply we shall see that they also bring us a lot of suffering and problems.
Happiness and suffering are (for most sentient beings) opposites. It stands to reason, therefore, if something is a real cause of happiness it should not give rise to suffering. If external material conditions really are causes of happiness, they can never be causes of suffering; yet we know from our own experience that they often do cause suffering. Stop and consider that Happiness and suffering are both states of mind, and so their main causes cannot be found outside the mind.
This is a very liberating idea.
The real source of happiness is found as a result of inner peace. If we take steps to ensure that our minds are peaceful, we shall be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions. Inner peace allows us to more carefully assimilate and integrate external sensory input from the world around us. By being present in the moment of assimilation and integration we can make a conscious choice about how best to “react” to these inputs. Our care will give rise to more evenness of mind, especially under stress, and this is known as equanimity.
If we can deal with all of the people in our lives, family, friends, strangers, and yes enemies with loving kindness and compassion we will be creating a better world. Love is the wish that all beings be happy, and compassion is the wish that all beings be free from suffering. Now that you know your perception of the world is a dependent arising that you share with all other sentient beings, show others the love and compassion you would hope for yourself.
Those of you who have dealt with a narcissistic family member, or have been hurt by a narcissistic business partner know very will that such people are alive and well. Think about a difficult, self centered and self promoting person, who claims to think about others but almost always does what’s good for themselves. Does anyone come to mind? For me, I just got out of a business relationship where I totally misjudged the person I had chosen to go into business with in the first place.
How is it possible to so miss judge someone? For me, as someone who has a hard earned reputation identifying very talented people and creating very long lasting relationships, it gave me serious pause. In order to reconcile my mistake, I began to research the disorder, and how Narcissists manage to dupe their victims.
To understand the Narcissist, and why identifying them isn’t easy, we’ll start buy looking at disease in general and build up from there.
When your Dentist looks as a diseased tooth she has a relatively simple task. There are a limited number of things wrong with your tooth and or mouth. A physical examination often makes the diagnosis obvious. A simple dental x-ray confirms the diagnosis in most cases. Relative to the mind, teeth just aren’t that complicated.
Disorders of mind do not have the diagnostic reliability of a cavity, or of a broken bone throat or of cancer. Each of these enjoys proven laboratory tests that can verify the signs and symptoms. While the diagnostic tools can have false positives, for example the lump turns out to be benign, there is solid heuristic value to each label. Narcissistic Personality does not have this kind of diagnostic certainty and in part, that makes it very difficult for the rest of us to spot and understand with certainty that this is in fact what we are dealing with.
After all, to label someone a Narcissist is pretty damning.
The human brain has hundreds of billion of neurons, and an order of magnitude more connections between each of them. As a result each brain is individually unique. Think about a fingerprint. Fingerprints are classified by general shape, (arch, loop, or whorl) position within the finger, and relative size. Sounds simple; yet with some minor variations you find that no two fingerprints are exactly the same. Each brain has an unlimited number of differences that help to make a person what he or she is to become. Couple that with environmental triggers, and you can easily see how the normal medical model of diagnostics does not do well with this problem.
Psychiatric diagnosis can classify disorders in a manner that in some cases is highly reliable. Most people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Schizophrenia or Panic Attacks have much in common with each other. Mental status exams and psychiatric evaluations come closer to the oncologist and cancer diagnosis every day. Neuropsychological testing reveals consistent pattern of thinking that indicate whether a person is say, psychotic or just obsessively anxious. Here psychiatry approaches the oncology standard even if it still falls well short of the mark.
That’s ok because these are diseases of a system with hundreds of billions of moving parts.
What about Narcissism?
According to the experts, narcissism fits in a psychiatric category we call Personality Disorders. Narcissists have a maladaptive style of functioning in the world that can be hurtful to them or to others. Here is an abbreviated view of narcissism:
Interestingly, all of us have elements of these traits. People have argued that this list beautifully describes most healthy teenagers! Yet, if an adult is trapped in this personality set it can spell trouble for them and those who are their spouses, their business partners and their children.
Caution: Not every hurtful person is a Narcissist. Sometimes they’re just an asshole. There is a difference.
Once you have figured out you are dealing with a Narcissist you need to plan appropriately to avoid personal injury. If you are the Narcissist, you will ultimately benefit from understanding why you go from failed relationship to failed relationship. I’m going to look at this from the perspective of the person who must deal with the Narcissist because telling a Narcissist there is something wrong they need to fix is largely a
waste of time (and can cause them to slip into a Narcissistic rage against the person offering advice…).
Know that it is highly unlikely that the narcissist will ever find the need to change. If anything is to shift, it will have to come from you. Your first step is to realize that you deserve to treat yourself in a worthy manner. Apply the following:
Bottom Line: Narcissists miss out on much of the subtle beauty of life. If you are close to one protect yourself. If you can get away, do.