Multiplicity of Mind: Taking the Red Pill in Psychotherapy

I love this bumper sticker: “Don’t Always Believe What You Think.” In many ways it sums up the main goal of the kind of psychotherapy I do. Are you aware of all the stories that you tell yourself about yourself, about the people in your life, about the world around you, about God or the universe? Are you aware how many of these stories are false? Have you considered the possibility that they are all, to some degree, an illusion?

If these thoughts scare you, welcome to Mindful Mountain! It is an exciting time in psychotherapy, when numerous fields of study are converging: psychology, neuroscience, quantum physics, spirituality, even linguistics. Modern psychotherapy is evolving rapidly, and my way of practicing is becoming less and less about focusing on the old Freudian model of Ego, in which we fortify the notion of a united, coherent Self.

Welcome to Multiplicity of Mind, or the notion of the Modular Mind. These concepts, based in neuroscience and neuropsychology, explore the idea that Self as we know it is obsolete, and that to truly understand ourselves we have to begin observing our thoughts and emotions from a much greater distance in order to see how many different stories are competing for attention inside our skulls. When we do this—when we observe our thoughts and emotions mindfully—we generally find a lot of chaos, clutter, and confusion, as well as competing narratives. We also find that we are often living are lives listening to the loudest or most domineering of these voices, when in fact the loudest voice is often not directing your behavior in a way that leads to health, happiness, wisdom and love.

To borrow a term from the film “The Matrix,” I am talking about taking the Red Pill in your life. Begin questioning the stories around which you have constructed your world. This takes tremendous courage because it requires you to consider that the very notion of who you are may be an illusion. It means giving up the kind of control you have become used to in your life, i.e. living according to narratives that were programmed into you from the time you were a baby.

Taking the Red Pill means considering that to live according to your Ego construction is essentially to live without true freedom, for if your thoughts and emotions were largely programmed into you by others and by society at large, how can you be sure that anything you think or feel is original, truly free, truly you?

Most people will read this and immediately reject it or glaze over, because the Ego is in control and doesn’t like to be challenged. This is called Taking the Blue Pill, or going back into your comfort zone. It’s living within the constructs of Ego. And, I would argue, it means living your life without the true freedom and liberation that is possible for us once we begin to break down the walls of the prison of Self and Ego.

Buddhism’s First Noble Truth is that life involves suffering. The second is that we suffer because we are attached. The third is that cessation of suffering involves letting go of attachment. From a psychological perspective, we suffer largely because we are so attached to our stories of Self that we are generally not even aware of the limitless possibilities of our lives beyond this limiting way of seeing reality.

If these ideas compel you, I highly recommend Robert Wright’s book “Why Buddhism is True.” But beware, reading it may blow your mind, which will be either compelling or terrifying, depending on whether you’re inclining your life toward the Red Pill or the Blue.

Colin Chisholm