The Pitfalls of a Thought-Driven, or Cognitive, Approach—and the Only Alternative

What follows is a dialogue between me and Mary, a teacher/coach/change worker who was in the audience of my most recent talk. It reveals the danger in pointing toward one’s thinking as a path to improved feelings and behavior. Plus, it reveals the single alternative that initiates ethical and productive behavior. I hope, like Mary and me, you find this dialogue to be of value. G —

Dear Garret,

I work in a home for teenage girls. Prior to their placement there, the girls have often lived through neglect and/or physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Now in a residential setting, they’re looked after by child-care workers such as me.

Yesterday, there was a significant incident in the home. A number of the girls attacked a care worker. Today, I was talking about it with one of the girls. She was full of remorse, self-loathing, regret, and guilt. I suggested that perhaps she had less personal responsibility/choice than she thought. It was her thinking in the moment that caused her turmoil and wayward actions. If she’d seen things differently or other thinking had been available to her, she would have acted differently. I put these ideas to her as suggestions; as things for her to ponder. It was a quiet and gentle conversation. However, in the midst of it, I was overcome by despair. I thought: “If she (and the rest of us) is somehow at the mercy of thought in the moment, how then can she find better thinking that doesn’t lead to her abusing herself or others, smashing up property, and putting her at risk for being sent to a maximum-security placement?” I used to think that if we experience a “rise in our level of consciousness,” we would have access to “better quality thought.” But in your talk you pointed to the folly of levels of something that is in essence One. Still, can we access different quality thought? Where is the hope for people whose thinking or misunderstanding takes them to such destructive places?

Thank you for your time to consider my question, Mary

Hi Mary,

I’ll briefly explain here, then I welcome you to reach out to me via FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom so we can explore further.

In short, what you’re speaking of reveals the pitfalls of pointing toward one’s thinking as a means to helping. “If other thinking had been available to her” simply leaves folks wondering, ”Why don’t I have better thinking?” Or “what’s wrong with me?”

Interestingly enough, you were actually on the right track when you suggested that she had less personal responsibility than she had been led to believe; since removing burden from one’s shoulders provides the freedom, or escape from isolation, from which everyone’s behavior improves. But then you brought her thinking, the personal, back into the conversation and in doing so YOU became confused, and your connection to her and your ability to guide her were lost. This will always occur when a coach or change worker gets personal—or tries to get to the impersonal (Love) through the personal (one’s thinking). It simply cannot work.

Rather, the only understanding that brings moral, ethical, productive, and loving behavior (what you must grasp and then teach) is this: We share One eternal/infinite Being. And when this shared Being is veiled by thought, the feeling of isolation or separation, and thus immoral behavior, becomes more and more likely. Again, when pointing toward thought as a cause and cure this is what tends to occur. This is why cognitive therapy is a failed approach. This is why telling others that recognizing that their reality is thought created is a failed approach. This is why suggesting to others that when thought is improved or dropped they will feel and do better is a failed approach. These thought-centered (personal) approaches require more thought, more intellectual exertion, further veiling the One Being we share.

On the contrary, Mary, merely remind others that they are not truly “others.” We are seven billion refractions of One Being. The One Being we intermittently, and then ultimately, return to. This understanding represents the absence of the personal, the sensation of comfort or relief, and the realization of our true essence—happiness, freedom, wisdom, and love. From there, excellence is effortless and morality is automatic.

Thank you for reaching out to me. Love, Garret