04/24/2013 11:32 am ET Updated Jun 24, 2013

Mind Whispering: Modes and Mind Whispering

This post is excerpted from Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits and followed by an exclusive blog post from the author below.

My stepson, Hanuman, went on a vacation with a girlfriend some years ago. A longtime musician who likes to write songs, he had gotten accustomed to bringing a travel guitar along on trips to take advantage of the open time when inspirations might come.

The smallish guitar, a bit beaten-up, had never been a problem fitting into overhead luggage compartments wherever he has gone in his travels.

But this one time the guy at security refused to let him take it through, saying, "The rules don't allow it -- you'll have to check your guitar as baggage" -- a recipe for disaster since the guitar had no case.

Hanuman tried to explain that he'd always been able to take it aboard and store it in the overhead with no problem. But the guy wouldn't budge.

This triggered a rebellious streak in Hanuman and the two locked horns. Neither of them would give in, and their encounter was spiraling downward.

Hanuman was angered by how the security guard was so fixed in his attitudes that he couldn't be open to considering other possibilities. But for his part, Hanuman, too, was feeling so reactive that he couldn't, either.

Just at the low point, his girl friend stepped in, and with utter calm and lots of charm politely said to the security guard, "I have a suggestion. How about if we take the guitar to the gate, and ask them if we can take it on board? If not, we'll check it."

Completely disarmed, the guard responded, "Well... I guess that would be all right."

They got the guitar on board and stowed with no problems.

I asked Hanuman what he took away with him from that encounter. He said he was amazed that in the grip of his reactivity he saw absolutely no solutions -- and how his girl friend saw right through the bewilderment to a simple answer, coming up with a creative alternative. The critical difference lay in the mode from which each was operating.

If ten different people confront the same difficulty, you'll see ten different responses. How we react to any given situation depends on our outlook, our attitudes and assumptions, and our emotional habits -- our modes.

Our mode of the moment organizes our entire state of being, shaping what we seek out and notice. Modes dictate our feelings and even what we can most readily bring to mind from memory. Some are toxic ruts, others let us flourish. In either case they fuel our drives and determine our goals, just as they dictate our moods.

Copyright Tara Bennett-Goleman, excerpted from Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2013)


Modes that Separate and Connect

For a while I had been developing and writing about a new model of the emotional mind and its habits of thinking, feeling, acting and interacting - or "modes" of being -- and how our emotions are a force that either separate or connect us.

My horse and I were also studying horse whispering with Bob Sadowski, who calls his work "horsemindship." I saw how what I was learning about in the corral was similar to the patterns of connecting and disconnecting I had been exploring and writing about in my own work.

What is usually known as "breaking a horse" in some training methods -- based on the predator-prey dynamic -- may temporarily allow control over the horse's behavior, but can harm the connection.

The horse whispering approach sees horses as herd animals, who are willing to learn and collaborate -- which improves the connection.

There's a bonding resonance in what's called 'joining up' with a horse, where you invite your horse to collaborate and connect with you while you learn together. There's magic in this bond, and when you experience it with a horse, it makes you wonder, Why am I settling for less in any of my connections?

This wisdom tradition of horse whispering had a powerful effect in my work and in my understanding of how there are patterns that connect and patterns that disconnect. The emotional habits in Mind Whispering illustrate how we have a choice between negative and positive modes of being.

I've drawn on modes from a wide variety of sources. Developmental psychology tells of the modes of avoidance or anxiety, which manifest in our relationships and our emotional lives. The choice here is between these distorting, disconnecting ways of relating or the secure mode, where we connect more authentically, feeling stable and confident.

In Eastern traditions, there are the attachment and aversion habitual modes, and the underlying mode of bewildered confusion. We can choose between these or a mode of insightful clarity and empathic connection.

Neuroscientists saw that the brain is arranged around approach/avoid. I realized that this is the basic organizing principle for modes, too: they all have underlying patterns of approach/avoid in common.

When it comes to our mind, we can either try to control and force it where we want it to go -- or we can join up with our natural awareness, acknowledging and discerning these unseen forces of habit and choosing wisely with understanding, rather than perpetuating these habitual modes of being.

This extends to our connections to others and plays out in the social dimension as well. We see how there are two parts of us, and of others. One that is influenced by the negative modes, and the other that is free of them and attuned to our more wise and compassionate nature.

I sometimes see the world as one big dysfunctional family. At the collective level we can see the Us and Them dynamic at work -- unless we make the choice to join at the heart and emphasize the ways we are connected rather than the ways we are separate, revealing the natural principle of interconnectedness.