Even when we are alone, we are always experiencing ourselves as part of an interpersonal field. From our earliest age, we have internalized “scripts” of how the world (especially the human world) works. These sets of unconscious expectations can be brought into consciousness and amended or revised, most obviously through therapy or education, or interpersonal conversations that sensitize us to the impact we have on others and their effect on us.
Consider the way that an external experience (such as a political event, a high decibel level, the smell of garlic and onions or cinnamon and apples) impacts us, compared to how it affects someone else. In this way, we become aware of when and how our responses may be universal, common to a cultural group, or unique.
Any experience is filtered through the lenses of the culture(s) that we have known and to which we are exposed at the present moment. As basic an act as eating a meal takes on a different meaning depending on the culture in which it is experienced. In France, the act of eating is meant to be about far more than nutrition or hunger. From the earliest ages, schoolchildren are trained through government-sponsored lunch programs to see meals as opportunities to learn, share, discriminate, and above all experience pleasure. Just watch this video.
Is your breakfast experience about feeding your cells? Filling an empty stomach or nourishing your brain? Fueling your digestive system? Providing sensory stimulation and perhaps pleasure? Offering an opportunity to share early moments during your day or to savor solitude before relating to others? A chance to engage in a cultural ritual, perhaps coffee from a favorite shop or barista? Or sacred moments with which you begin your day?
Many people believe in a transcendent level of being, one in which nonmaterial reality is the greatest truth, enveloping all others. Many religious perspectives, especially those grounded in mysticism, share at least a semi-transcendent and sometimes a radical transcendent assessment of reality.
These world-views, which contrast dramatically with materialism, are documented brilliantly by the Canadian psychologist, Imants Baruss. He has shown (reference below) that these world-views not only exist in empirical reality but are each subscribed to by substantial numbers of people. Any phenomenon can be reconstrued as conveying an abstract message or even a mystical meaning.
Now that the pyramid of perspectives Is explained, why might it be useful?
Here are three major applications of pyramid of perspective
1. Further Understanding.
Setting an experience in a particular language, examining research and data relating to that level can further our understanding of that experience.
2. Guiding Intervention.
If the problem is seen as one of hormones or neurotransmitters, then pharmaceuticals (more chemicals) might be called for; if the problem is seen as a muscle sitting on a nerve, then a structural repair (surgery, massage) might be chosen. At a biological systems level, perhaps acupuncture or yogic realignment might be tried.
In a psychological approach, thoughts or emotions, or behaviours associated with the pain might be examined. At the social-psychological level, relationship triggers and remedies would be sought, using learning techniques to change behaviour. The triggers in the media messages or expectations could be identified on the cultural level; prayers or chants or hymns or a search for meaning might signal a spiritual assessment of the situation and ways to respond to it.
3. Offering Alternative Ways Of Thinking About The Situation
When we can move between and among the different levels of analysis, our resources expand accordingly. Is love about dopamine and oxytocin, or better grasped as an attachment, passion, caring? Maybe another sense is even more useful. The theologian Paul Tillich saw it as “the ground of being.” Perhaps love is the ground all along, rather than the figure, and we do not “fall into” love as much as we can remove protective, although often necessary, barriers to loving.
Then again, perhaps we love across all seven levels of language.
Copyright 2020 Roni Beth Tower
References: Baruss, I. (1990). The Personal Nature of Notions of Consciousness: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination of the Role of the Person in the Understanding of Consciousness. New York and London: Lanham. Rose, S. (1976). The Conscious Brain. New York: Vintage Books.
Written by: Roni Beth Tower
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today
Republished with permission