Proximal Self

There are a couple of medical terms which I hope will help to clarify the mix of perceptions and choices. These are the terms distal and proximal. They have to do with the relative positions of two parts of the same thing, the two sides of the same coin. One is closer (proximal) and the other is farther away (distal). When I smile, the part of my tooth you see is the distal side, the side my tongue rests on is the proximal side. A shoulder is proximal to the elbow, but the elbow is proximal to the wrist.

The more we move our awareness toward our own center, the more power we have to create a positive effect on ourselves and others. We will see many examples of this as we move forward but I hope this is a premise that is simple to understand. When we are off balance, we fall over.

It is essential then that we find our center and we come from a place of being centered. Our life circumstances can easily knock us off balance so we need to be good at restoring our center. We have to have mastered certain centering skills.

This is clearly true for us physically as material beings with bodies, but it is also true for us in our non-material aspects. We have an emotional center, a relational center, and even a spiritual center. Each of these different centers is available to us and we do well to seek them in the four realms we have already described:

  • my physical center and the place of my body (the personal or material),
  • my place in my family, community and culture and my sense of belonging in my primary relationships (the interpersonal or relational),
  • my awareness of my own sensations, emotions, thoughts, wishes, intuition, and imagination (the intrapersonal or internal), and
  • my awareness of my place in the grand scheme of creation, awareness that I am an insignificant nothing and the most precious and powerful being in the universe (the transpersonal or spiritual).

Our capacity to be conflict resolution masters depends completely on our ability to find and hold each of these centers. Indeed, we are at our best when all of these centers are in alignment.

In each of these realms there are two things we need to do to restore our center. We have to know what is happening--where we are and where the center is--and we have to have a choice we can make which will move us toward the center. Thus, we must have accurate perceptions not contaminated by cognitive distortions and we must have skills we can call upon to construct the qualities we need so that we can restore our ability to be centered. We have perceptions and choices by which, as we give attention to them with proper intention, we build awareness and mastery.

I am trying to make this as simple as possible but this really is a very complicated reality. We will need a somewhat detailed map if we are going to find our way. This map will be a framework which helps us know where we are, where we are going, and give some guidance about how we might get there.

Where we are going is toward a greater mastery in the face of the inevitable conflicts which arise for us. To create that mastery we must be centered in our selves. This is the self which is closest to my center, that is, the proximal self. So this is a map for finding the proximal self and restoring our ability to be centered there.

This self is not the distal self which we show to others or which we hope others will see. This is not about how we hope to be seen, this is about who we know ourselves to be. This core Self we will distinguish by capitalizing the spelling when we speak of it.

This Self arises in our physical being, our relationships, our feelings, and in the awareness we have of the ultimate. So we have one center in each of four realms and we seek to find that center by attention to both our perceptions and our choices. We thus end up with one map with four parts each divided into two parts, or eight aspects. These eight are each a unique state of mind.

The state of mind I am in when I am trying to figure out what is upsetting my partner (interpersonal - perception) is different from the one I am in when I am practicing my jump shot (personal - mastery). We have a theoretically infinite number of states of mind so we are greatly simplifying things here when we limit them to only eight.

As we look for a way to organize these eight States of Mind, we discover that they are not just random. They are actually a developmental sequence. It is this quality of our map--that it is developmental--that will help us discover how we can act to foster our own transformation and the transformation of our relationships and indeed, the whole creation of which we are a part.

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