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Phase I - Schema Awareness

The goal of Phase 1 of the Spiritual Self-Schema (3-S) development program is:

to become aware of the pattern of self-schemas (or cognitive "super-highway") that one accesses habitually in daily life, and to determine whether it is compatible with being on a Spiritual path.

Those habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, reacting, and behaving that characterize how we experience and express our "self" in daily life are like a well-maintained, multi-lane, high-speed, super-highway -- fast, convenient, and readily accessed -- moving us rapidly, automatically, towards what --- happiness? We may mistakenly believe that this super-highway of interconnected thoughts, feelings, and behaviors reflects our "true nature." We may even come to believe 'this is me; this is mine; this is my Self .' But is it?

It is so easy to lose sight of who we really are when we are being transported rapidly, automatically, mindlessly through each day ...

-- craving for and clinging to what we desire and do not have, and

-- aversion/hatred towards what we have and do not desire.

If we were to examine this cognitive super-highway more closely we would probably find that it leads only to further dissatisfaction. Yet, even with this insight, it is extremely difficult to exit.

Overview of Phase I: What to expect

In Phase I you will reflect on the questions:

What personal "super-highway" am I on? Does it lead to the experience and expression of my "true" nature? Does it cause or relieve "suffering" (i.e., a general feeling of dissatisfaction, or emotional distress, or any physical, emotional, or spiritual harm to self or others)?

As will be described fully below, in Steps 1 through 4 you will increase your awareness of the habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, reacting, and behaving (your habitual self-schemas) that were activated during the past week. Before taking each of these steps, it is recommended that you read over each step's self-reflections and corresponding guided visualization exercise. Then get comfortable in your chair, legs and arms uncrossed. Close your eyes and allow your thoughts to settle down by focusing your mental attention on the sensations produced around your nostrils as you breathe in and out normally through your nose. As soon as you feel centered and free from distraction, begin the self-reflection and visualization exercise. When you have finished, complete the indicated worksheet that is available by clicking on it when it first appears in the text, and proceed to the next step.

In Steps 5 and 6 you will use these skills to actually monitor the activation of habitual self-schemas as they occur in your daily life. You will also determine which of your habitual self-schemas is most incompatible with being on a personal Spiritual path.

In Step 7 you will prepare yourself for beginning the design and construction of your Spiritual self-schema by renewing your commitment to experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature in your daily life.

Do not be surprised if you find these first few steps difficult at first. This is normal. If you persevere and continue working the program, the benefits of these initial steps will become clear.

Before you begin make a commitment to yourself...

Click on 3-S Commitment, and indicate your commitment to constructing your Spiritual Self-Schema by placing an 'x' in each box. Print the form, sign it, and place it in your 3-S Journal. Review, revise (if needed), and renew, this commitment prior to beginning each phase of the 3-S program.

You are now ready to begin Step 1.

Step 1: Increasing awareness of how you typically experience and express your 'Self' in daily life

Reflect. What is it like to be me? How would I characterize the kind of person I am as I go about my normal daily activities -- what kind of person do I present to the world? What kind of person do I perceive myself to be?

In this first step, quietly reflect on what it is like to be you while traveling your high-speed "super-highway" in daily life. How would you describe yourself when you are on "automatic pilot" or "cruise control"? (In a later step you will be listing these attributes/qualities on your Worksheet.) Reflect on the past week. It is easier to identify components of the "super-highway" you take in daily life if you reflect on a specific period of time. By reflecting on the week prior to beginning the 3-S program you can identify patterns that occur across a variety of roles and activities (for example, you might find that you are "a worrier" or a "perfectionist" regardless of whether you are alone, or at work, or with family and friends). By reflecting on the week prior to beginning the 3-S program, you will also have a point of reference from which to subsequently examine any changes you make.

Rehearse (visualization). It is often easier to characterize other people than to characterize ourselves, so in order to gain the necessary psychological distance, imagine that you are seeing an image projected on a movie or TV screen. You see an actor playing the role of YOU as you typically were last week when going about your daily activities, thinking, feeling, and behaving in the way you typically thought, felt, and behaved last week. In general, what kind of person do you see projected on the screen? What overall impression is the actor making. Consider what the actor would need to look like, sound like, behave like, to play the role of YOU as you were last week? Is the actor smiling? frowning? Do you see a person who is calm, happy, compassionate? Or, do you see a person who is anxious, sad, selfish? How does this person respond to the environment (to other people, places, things)? When the actor speaks, notice the tone of voice, the use of certain repetitive phrases, and the body language, that are typical of how you communicate. What is the emotional tone of the actor's responses when things do not go as planned? Just allow any thoughts and images to arise without judging them.

Record. Click on the Habitual Self-Schema Worksheet provided here and save it as an HTML file to your word processing program. Complete the first section: Enter 10 habitual self-attributes -- predominant characteristics that an actor would need to enact in order to perform the role of you as you typically experienced and expressed yourself in your daily life during the week prior to beginning the 3-S program. (Note: you will be completing the remaining sections shortly, so keep this Worksheet open).

Step 2: Increasing awareness of your daydreams, cognitive scripts, and behavioral action sequences

Reflect. Where is this "super-highway" taking me? Does it transport me automatically, mindlessly, through each day, or does it allow me to be aware, moment-by-moment, of my true Spiritual nature?

Typically, we are unaware of the discrete moments in our life because our daydreams, cognitive scripts and behavioral action sequences allow us to go on automatic pilot. Reflect on the nature of your daydreams -- when your mind wanders, where does it go, how long does it stay, how difficult is it to control? Can you detect any habitual paths that your wandering mind takes -- for example, do your daydreams trigger emotions that influence subsequent perceptions and actions? Is it a one-way path or is it bidirectional? Consider also your internal dialogue (cognitive scripts) -- those tapes that your mind plays repeatedly (e.g., your internalized "shoulds," "wants," and "don't wants"). What feelings do these scripts trigger that tend to influence your perceptions and motivate your behavior? Do these scripts encourage compassion for self and others? Do they encourage competition between self and others? Consider also your actions, what psychologists call behavioral action sequences -- those behaviors that routinely occur together in a set pattern such that they appear to be one seamless behavior rather than a number of discrete actions. Reflect on the previous week and identify an occasion when your mindwandering took you on a journey down a high-speed path, or superhighway, and activated habitual cognitive scripts, emotional reactions, and behavioral action sequences.

[Example: Pat becomes aware that while in his "professional identity" role, his mind habitually wanders to comparisons between himself and others, and triggers scripts that encourage criticism of self and others, perceptions of inadequacy, feelings of discontent, and specific behavioral action sequences in pursuit of what he perceives is lacking.]

Rehearse (visualization). Visualize the actor playing the role of you once again. What daydreams, scripts and behavioral action sequences are typically activated in your daily life that the actor would need to memorize, choreograph, and rehearse repeatedly in order to give a flawless performance of you as you experienced and expressed yourself last week? Imagine that this actor is able to research the role by gaining access to your daydreams and repetitive thoughts, by carefully observing your mannerisms, postures, and movements, and by experiencing your seemingly automatic, "knee-jerk," cognitive and emotional reactions to certain environmental cues (i.e., people, places, things). What behavioral action sequences would be activated by these responses? Is the behavior motivated by desire -- wanting something you currently do not have, or do not have enough of? Is it motivated by aversion -- dissatisfaction with something you currently have, or a desire to avoid or end something you find unpleasant? Is it motivated by compassion for self and others? By watching the actor's performance, simply allow yourself to become aware, without judgment, of the daydreams, the cognitive scripts, the emotional response patterns, and the behavioral action sequences that seemed to be linked interactively, one to another, and characterize how you typically experienced and expressed yourself during the past week.

Record. Return to your Habitual Self-Schema Worksheet, and complete the next section. Remember that this worksheet is for your personal use and you will not need to share it with others. Therefore, be non-judgmental, but honest with yourself.

First consider your mind wandering -- what was the typical theme of your daydreaming last week when your habitual self-schema was being accessed (was it worry, fear, desire for something you want, aversion towards something you don't want, fantasy, memories of the past, anticipation of future outcomes, ... ?) How would you describe the general theme of your daydreaming last week?

Next list one cognitive script -- what did you tend to tell yourself last week (was your inner-dialogue encouraging you, was it chastising you, ...?) Describe a typical cognitive script.

Then list a feeling -- how did you typically react emotionally to whatever was going on (would you characterize a typical emotional reaction as agitation, depression, satisfaction, ... ?) Describe a typical emotional reaction experienced last week.

Finally, list a typical behavior -- what behavioral action sequence do you associate with the habitual self-schema that was active during the past week (was it a sequence of behaviors for making money, providing care to others, self-improvement, ...?) What specific behavioral action sequence do you associate with the habitual self-schema that was active during the past week?

Step 3: Increasing awareness of the consequences of your habitual self-schema(s)

Reflect. Does my habitual path relieve, or contribute to, suffering? Mine? Others?

Sometimes when we go on "automatic pilot" -- after our mind wanders and our cognitive scripts, habitual emotional responses, and behavioral action sequences are activated -- we inadvertently harm ourselves or others. Consider the consequences of your own habitual ways of experiencing and expressing yourself last week that could potentially cause harm.

Rehearse (visualization). Visualize the actor once again, this time engaged in one of the automated behavioral action sequences that was triggered in the past week by one of your frequently used cognitive scripts or emotional response patterns. By observing the performance as it unfolds on the screen, you are able to see the potential and actual effects of this behavior -- both on you (as portrayed by the actor) and on others involved in the scene. What do you see? Does suffering arise, or have the potential to arise? In you? In others?

Record. Return to your Habitual Self-Schema Worksheet, and indicate by checking the appropriate box whether there were any potential harms, to yourself or others, in taking this habitual path last week, and in maintaining its associated daydreams, cognitive scripts, emotional response patterns, and behavioral action sequences.

Step 4: Increasing awareness of the (in)compatibility of your habitual self-schema with the experience and expression of your Spirituality

Reflect. Does my habitual path lead to the experience and expression of my spiritual nature, or does it create a barrier to its expression?

Rehearse (visualization). Visualize the TV screen once again. Now a second actor is also visible playing the role of YOU as you are, or have the potential to be, when experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature. What do you see? Imagine you are viewing a split screen so that the actor taking your Spiritual path and the actor taking your habitual path can be observed, side by side. Don't worry if you cannot get a clear image of your Spiritual path right now; you will be able to work on filling in the details of this image in Phase 2 of the 3-S program. At this point, simply allow any similarities and differences to emerge between the characteristics being enacted by the two actors. Do both actors appear to be playing the same or different roles? Are the paths the same or different? Are the paths accessed the same way? Are the paths' destinations the same or different? By observing the differences and similarities between the roles being played by the two actors, estimate the percentage of the time last week that you were able to experience and express your Spiritual nature while you were engaged in your habitual, automated, patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. An honest and careful assessment will allow you to progress more rapidly.


(a) Return again to your Habitual Self-Schema Worksheet and enter the percentage you just estimated that you were able to experience and express your Spiritual nature while your identified habitual self-schema was being accessed last week. Save your completed Habitual Self-Schema Worksheet to disk and/or print a copy and file it in your 3-S Journal.

(b) Now click on Reflections on the 10 "Perfections" Worksheet provided here, save it to your word processing program, and rate the extent to which the self-schema that was habitually activated during the past week (i.e., prior to beginning the program) enabled you to experience and express the 10 qualities that are listed on the form (from 0-100%). In Buddhist traditions these qualities are called the 10 perfections (Pali paramis); however, they are qualities that are viewed as ideals in most spiritual/religious traditions. They are provided here as examples of qualities or characteristics that might be used to describe an individual pursuing a moral, ethical, or Spiritual path, and to help you keep track of personal changes you make during your participation in the program.. Use them to examine the compatibility of your habitual self-schema with your highest ideals, feeling free to add to, or modify, the 10 qualities presented. When you have completed the Worksheet, be sure to print and/or save a copy, and keep it in your 3-S Journal (or folder).

Step 5: The Self-Schema Check-In: Observing self-schema activation

In Steps 1 through 4 above, you tried to identify the habitual patterns of an entire week. Most people find this very difficult. Indeed, the more one is on "automatic pilot" through life, the more difficult (and the more necessary), the task of self-monitoring will be. This next step will be somewhat easier because it will allow you to monitor your habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving as they actually occur in your daily life. However, this process requires commitment and diligent practice.

This step is extremely important not only because it will help you become more aware of the different self-schemas that are habitually activated in your daily life, but also because monitoring habitual self-schemas, as they occur, helps to interrupt their automaticity, which can provide you with the opportunity to turn off the "automatic pilot" and interject conscious choice. As described below, you will observe the automaticity of these self-schemas and their dependence on context, and you will determine the extent to which you are able to experience and express your Spiritual nature when they are activated.

You will be stopping very briefly three times each day simply to identify the habitual "path" (the self-schema) that you are currently accessing. We call this a Self-Schema Check-In. Before you begin, it is important to identify the most convenient time to do your check-in consistently, and to create at least two different "cues-to-action" (i.e., such as beepers, meal times, post-it notes in conspicuous places, and so forth) to remind you to stop and check-in with yourself.

Rehearse (practice) and Record.

Three times each day for the next week, STOP whatever you are doing and conduct a Self-Schema Check-In. A self-schema check-in is rather like stopping to check your map periodically while traveling on a complicated highway system to make sure you are going the right way. What you will be doing when you stop three times a day will be to identify the habitual self-schema that was active just before you stopped -- in other words, what "path" were you taking and where was it taking you?

Once you have identified the self-schema that was active before you stopped, give it a brief descriptive name (for example, it may be your professional identity, or your role as parent, spouse, friend, caregiver, or patient, or it may be a habitual thought or behavioral pattern, such as victim, aggressor, failure, addict, critic.

Then, using the Self-Schema Check-In Log available here, enter the name you gave this self-schema in the space provided on the Log, and rate (from 0% to 100%) the extent to which you were able to experience and express your Spiritual nature while this particular self-schema was being accessed.

If you find that you forget to do your self-schema check-ins three times each day, examine and modify your cues-to-action, and try again. Do not proceed to the next step until you have been able to conduct Self-Schema Check-Ins three times a day for at least one week.

Step 6: Week-End Review

Reflect. At the end of the week, review your Self-Schema Check-In Log and reflect on the following:

  1. What self-schema was most frequently activated during the week?
  2. What self-schema was most incompatible with the experience and expression of your Spiritual nature?

When you reflect on the self-schema that was most incompatible with the experience and expression of your Spiritual nature, try to identify those daydreams (patterns of mind wandering), cognitive scripts, and behavioral action sequences that were associated with this self-schema during the week, together with the internal or external cues that activated them [for example, perhaps a habitual emotional response pattern, such as anger (an internal cue) activated a particular cognitive script (e.g., angry thoughts) as well as potentially harmful verbal or behavioral action sequences (e.g., angry words or actions].

Rehearse (visualization). Visualize the screen once again, this time imagine that you are viewing the actor enacting the self-schema that was most incompatible with the experience and expression of your Spiritual nature last week. As you watch the performance, imagine picking up the remote control device and rewinding the tape, stopping as soon as you can identify what triggered the activation of this self-schema. Next, allow the tape to continue playing until you can also identify both the cognitive script and the behavioral action sequence that ensues, seemingly automatically from those internal or external triggers.

Record. On your Week-End Review, record the self-schema that was activated during the previous week that was most incompatible with experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature. Record the habitual patterns of mind-wandering, cognitive scripts, emotional response patterns, and behavior action sequences associated with it, and identify the internal and/or external cues that triggered it during the week.

Step 7: Strengthening your commitment to your Spiritual path

Reflect. Reflect once again on the habitual self-schema that prevented you from experiencing and expressing your Spiritual nature during the week and consider how much you identify with, and are attached to, this habitual path. Does this path lead to the experience and expression of your true nature, or does it take you in another direction?

Rehearse (visualization). Visualize the actor on the screen once again enacting the self-schema that was typical of you last week. The actor is convincing the audience that this habitual self-schema with its cognitive scripts and behavioral action sequences is taking the audience to the real you. The actor concludes the performance by saying "I am [.... your name...], and "I am ... this professional identity ... I am ... this role as parent, spouse, friend, caregiver, or patient ... I am these habitual thought patterns of victim, aggressor, failure, addict, critic ... and so forth]. Imagine now that you are using your remote control device again this time to freeze the action. As you do, you shout to the actor "STOP! THAT is not me. That is not my TRUE nature." As you observe the actor frozen on the screen before you, you realize that what the actor is actually portraying is actually not your "true self" -- it is merely a path accessed habitually in your daily life, an expedient means of being in the world, that may actually be preventing you from fully experiencing and expressing your true nature.

Record. Review the Commitment you made prior to beginning Step 1. Are you still committed to creating for yourself an ethical Spiritual path (a Spiritual self-schema) that will help you experience and express your Spiritual nature in all your daily activities. Having now had the experience of completing Phase 1, you may wish to modify or add to the commitments you made previously on this worksheet.

In your 3-S Journal (or folder):

Print out and file your Habitual Self-Schema Worksheet, the 10 "Perfections" Worksheet, Self-Schema Check-In Log, Week-End Review, and 3-S Commitment. Refer to them as you monitor your progress through the program.

This ends Phase 1. In Phase 2 you will begin the process of constructing and/or strengthening your personal Spiritual path so that it is readily accessible throughout your daily life.

Click to continue to Phase II