Going Beyond Our Biases

A friend shared this image (see below) that shows a list of our cognitive biases; and asked how mindfulness may help to overcome them.

Understanding and Awareness

In this list, some of them are just fundamental limitation and inherent part of our brain. Our brain architecture comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. Evolution process is about survival, not accuracy; and in life everything comes at a price. Often our survival strategies come at the price of our quality of life.

We are not only trapped in this inherent or genetic biases, we are further trapped by the reinforcement from the environment in which we grow up. Without clear awareness, parents and even schools trap young minds into many beliefs and biases. Often children stuck in this prison for their lifetime. As this prison feels safe compare to the freedom of total openness, we continue to perpetuate this slavery generation after generation.

Once we bring clear awareness and understanding of our genetic and environmental biases and traps, we can do something about it. In many cases bringing awareness itself is sufficient enough to come out of it.

Change and Transformation

When dealing with our cognitive biases or psychological problems, there are two broad approaches. Typically we use a psycho-therapy kind of approach, where we dive into each problem to understand it and try to untangle it. The main difficulty here is that when we are deeply stuck in our biases and problems, our mind is already distorted to see things clearly to come out of it.

In mindfulness based approach, we create a proper distance, a higher perspective from the problems – from all the contents of the mind: thoughts, emotions, etc. So non-attachment, non-identification, not holding on to our beliefs, ideas, concepts, views, opinions… is the key. That's why Buddha instructs: Be diligent, mindful and clearly knowing, not clinging to anything. Mindfulness is a wakeful, non-judgmental and compassionate way of being. Just like learning to bike, it takes a practice to get a knack for it. Meditation is the best method to cultivate mindfulness.

The first approach is about gradual change; the second approach is about transformation, though it includes gradual changes as well.

To see things as they are

It does not matter what our belief system is, it is a trap, a prison! But people prefer it, because they do not like unknown and uncertainty. Their belief system gives them a false sense of safety and security. But we pay a heavy price. Nothing has inflicted more suffering than our dogmatic beliefs, views and opinions. As Pema Chodran puts it: All the wars, all the hatred, all the ignorance in the world come out of being so invested in our opinions.

When Buddha was awakened he recognized how people are trapped in their narrow and limited world-view of our tiny little corner: their race, country, religion, caste, gender, etc. As they are not fully aware of this ignorance, they are equally self-righteous and arrogant. With their ignorance and arrogance, they inflict so much of suffering to themselves and others.

"Blind is the world; here only a few possess insight. Only a few, like birds escaping from the net, go to realms of bliss." — Buddha.

Buddha referred himself as Tathāgata which indicates "suchness", "as it is". This about seeing things as they are -- without any biases or prejudices. The moment we attach and cling to anything, we are trapped -- we cannot see things as they are. When we strongly identify with anything (country, religion, race or any beliefs), we are trapped. As Buddha says: Nothing in the world is worth clinging to. It is not only possible to love and care without attachments, true love and care is only possible when there is no attachment.

Going beyond our biases

  • Bringing clear awareness and mindfulness.

  • Being totally open -- not clinging or attaching to anything; not identifying with anything.

  • Regular practice. It takes diligent and continued practice to come out of our habitual tendencies.

Click on the image for a bigger version where each item is clickable to see the descriptions and further explanation.