Phase 6 - How Deep Are Schema?
Pause for just a moment to notice where you are right now. . . . Also notice how you are feeling. . . . . Look around and notice elements of your environment and reflect on your immediate circumstance. (Pause) Got that? There are probably no big surprises in this moment. It feels familiar—your familiar self, your familiar emotional atmosphere, the familiar circumstances, the familiar feeling of holding a book, the familiar feeling of sitting or standing. This is the familiar world of schemas. This moment you are experiencing is actually unprecedented. You have never been at this point before. Yet the moment is familiar because your conceptions are familiar. You are conceiving your circumstance and your conception feels like a perception. This is schema awareness. Thus, you feel you are perceiving reality when in fact you are mostly conceiving. The proof of this is the sense of familiarity with this moment.
Notice too what you do not readily acknowledge: the fact you are not at ground level, the suspended floor that holds you, gravity and artificial light. You are missing all this. It is not important, you think. You and I are selectively perceiving and conceiving. The dismissal of information in your environment is also a function of schemas. While reading these words for instance the fact they are formed as ink marks tends to escape you. Your attention to your environment is almost completely utilitarian. But of course; all this is not news. However, it is schema.
You see a wooden stool. No need to analyze its structure and function. You’ve already conceptualized it. This conceptualization is a schema construct. It is not the wooden stool “as such.” In other words it is not the thing itself but its useful representation. Even as you touch it, it unfolds as a representation in your mind. It is the same as you reflect on your existence. You do not readily see your own life but its schema representations. We are functioning through schemas.
You are dreaming that you are on a street corner. It feels so real. You think to yourself: “Am I dreaming or am I awake?” So you decide to read a license plate on one of the cars thinking that if there is no plate number you’ll know your dreaming. You check the plate and sure enough it’s a New York plate. You then wake up and realize that the license plate, the street corner, the cars, the guy you passed, the sense of time and distance and even you were all a dream. Dreams are completely subjective yet it all appeared objective and tangible. In the dream you think that you perceive reality however you indisputably conceive it. So we see that your mind is inhabited with images of people, animals and plants. There is the sense of matter, distance, sound, time and space. The two worlds, subjective and objective, dreaming and awake, feel alike because both are formed in schemas.
Consider the implications. How far does this go? Are you able to truly perceive anyone or anything or is every perception immediately conceptualized? Is there a world beyond schemas and their conceptualizations? And why is this important, anyway? Well here are some thoughts on what is a highly significant matter: Schemas are indeed crucially important and recognizing they exist is enlightening and therapeutically valuable.
Schemas are part of the evolutionary plan. These representations are evolving with the organisms of the earth. An infinite amount of information is coming into your senses at multiple levels of your being. This is literally true. Let’s remember you are not only a nice person you are also a cosmic event, an activity of a living universe. Under these conditions there needs to be an inborn mechanism to sort through this vast input to select useful information. That sorting mechanism is formed by our drives and our needs-- Freud was indeed on to something.
If the information coming in is of no use and no service, we let it go. We build our internal representations of the world in terms of their utility. These representations are schemas in the broadest sense of the word. We then project and live through these schemas conceiving our experience. These mental constructs lead us to form a self-concept, establish values and conceptualize the world with the intent to fulfill our needs. Though schemas form our individual grasp of life they may function in a greater context. The underlying collective in existence may be supporting a law of attraction.
Thus schemas may also operate within the collective unconscious forming as meaningful coincidences that connect us with people, places and activities that resonate with our plans, values and affections. If a collective unconscious is a stretch for you, remember evolution. The biosphere was here first. It functions like an organism and a womb that has developed manifold life forms like you and me. Our minds are as much a quality of the inclusive biosphere as they are a quality of each of us. Secondly remember that all life forms as interdependent existence. Nothing has independent existence—everything a manifestation of the whole. Thus larger, more inclusive organizational forces operate in our lives and throughout the universe. We are connected to everything. The representations in our minds may be organizing socially or globally.
Our schemas are determined by evolution. Nature has provided for our survival and well-being. You might say our schemas are human schemas. Schemas are innately self-orienting. Schemas form through the converging of our life experiences with our needs and our drives. Thus schemas form from exposure to environmental factors like mother’s cuddling and attention, seeing other children, day and night. Schemas and their conceptualizations orient us to human life yet also tend to ensnare us by veiling a greater context. Schemas make new experiences and perceptions feel familiar for they lead us to interpret new experiences in established ways. This may be human bondage in its broadest sense, what philosophers call relative existence, the Hindus call Maya, Buddhist call Samskara and the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart called images —the gift from nature that both, promotes our good yet limits us.
Which brings us to the other question: Is there a world beyond schemas and their conceptualizations? The answer is an unequivocal yes. We can see past our schemas by varying degrees because consciousness is distinct from our drives and needs. We can for example defy our primitive drives, inquire and direct our awareness rather than letting it run on auto-pilot. We draw upon this flexibility to heal our schema complexes. Schemas may be defined as organizational or conceptual patterns in the mind. When consciousness is melded to our drives and needs, as our evolutionary instincts might dictate, we run on automatic pilot. Day to day norms, our conceptual world and even our emotional complexes go unquestioned. Thus, there needs to be an awakening to the fact that schemas exist and that we can work with them to modify and transcend them.