The psychological anatomy of a stance

Dancer taking a peculiar stance

Each stance, or basic attitude toward meaningness, is a transient pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting. The Meaningness practice involves learning to recognize these patterns. Then you know what stance you are in at any moment, and ways to shift from any confused stance to a complete one.

I describe each stance in terms of a series of aspects. This page explains what the aspects are, and how noticing them is useful.

In the main part of this book, I provide a “schematic overview” page for each dimension of meaningness. The overview includes a table, with rows corresponding to the aspects of the different stances for relating to that dimension.

The discussion on this page may seem unhelpfully abstract. It will probably be useful to go back and forth between reading it and looking at an example schematic. You can see one here, covering eternalism and nihilism—the two most basic confused stances.

If you haven’t already read my introduction to eternalism and nihilism, it would be good to do that first.

The mistaken metaphysical assumption

A confused stance is based on an underlying mistaken metaphysical assumption. The assumption is usually unthought: not understood, or entirely outside awareness. Typically the assumption draws a distinction that is a false dilemma; so confused stances mainly come in pairs, which share the underlying assumption but take opposite sides of it.

Surfacing the assumption, and seeing how it is wrong, makes it possible to understand and adopt the corresponding complete stance.

What it denies and what it fixates

Each confused stance wrongly denies something about meaningness, and fixates something else. Stances allied with eternalism deny the nebulosity of a dimension of meaningness, and fixate a pattern. Stances allied with nihilism deny the pattern and fixate the dimension’s non-existence.

Recognizing how nebulosity and pattern work together moves one into the complete stance for that dimension.

Pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting

When you adopt a stance, a characteristic texture of thinking, feeling, and acting comes with it. The stance makes that way of being seem sensible. Also, that way of being makes the stance seem sensible.

For example, nihilism usually dulls your thinking, makes you feel depressed, and inhibits productivity activity. Likewise, when your brain is fogged, you feel hopeless for whatever reason, or you can’t seem to get anything done, nihilism may seem obviously right.

Sales pitch and emotional appeal

The “sales pitch” is a slogan that encapsulates the language used to promote the stance.

A confused stance’s emotional appeal is the reason it is attractive. Each confused stance plays to some need for security, excitement, or self-aggrandizement.

Noticing that you are getting sucked in by the emotional promise made by a confused stance, and knowing that it cannot deliver on them, helps free you from it.

The complete stances are, unfortunately, less emotionally appealing. (Otherwise, we’d adopt them easily.) However, they are more realistic.

How a confused stance causes suffering

Confused stances distort experience by fixating and denying particular sorts of meaningness. When these mistaken perceptions collide with reality, emotional pain results.

Each confused stance produces a characteristic pattern of misunderstanding and misery.

Obstacles to maintaining a stance

The confused stances constantly collide with reality. It is impossible not to see this, and impossible not to suffer the consequences. This makes it impossible to remain consistently in a confused stance; they are always unstable.

A confused stance’s patterns of collision with reality—the obstacles to maintaining it—are resources for switching into a complete stance.

Unfortunately there are obstacles to adopting the complete stances, as well. Generally, complete stances are conceptually obscure, and appear emotionally unsatisfying.

Likely next stances

Because stances are unstable, we frequently stumble from one to another, without being clearly aware that we are doing this. In fact, all of the confused stances described in this book will be thoroughly familiar to every reader.

When a particular obstacle to maintaining one stance arises, there are typical routes into likely next stances. Knowing this, one can recognize an upcoming transition into a confused stance, and re-direct oneself into a complete stance instead.

Antidotes and counter-thoughts

These are ways of getting yourself out of a confused stance.

Simply recognizing that you are caught in one, and remembering that there is a better alternative, is often most of the battle.

Beyond that, one can notice particular confused patterns, and cut through them with specific counter-thoughts.1 Counter-thoughts can work in two ways. Some move from a confused stance to the complete stance. Others destabilize the confused stance, to make it less attractive so that you are more likely to jump to the complete stance spontaneously. (In those cases, though, one needs to guard against simply moving to a different confused stance.)

Intelligent features of a confused stance

Each confused stance is intelligent in some way. If it did not have a powerful logic to it, an almost-truth, we would not get stuck in it. Each approximates a complete stance, which is actually correct.

Noticing how the confused stance you have adopted is nearly right is helpful in several ways:

  1. 1.This is similar to “cognitive shifting,” a psychotherapeutic approach. Apparently its development was influenced by Eastern religion—as Meaningness also was.