Ted Slocum

Absurdity, gambling, mindfulness, programming, golf, well-being, and my opinions.

23 Nov 2021

The Four Distortions of Mind

Buddhism is full of lists. Lots and lots of lists. I learn this one on retreat and find it quite illuminating and, hopefully, helpful

The Four Distortions of the Mind (paraphrasing here):

  1. Perception. We make mistakes regarding sensory information (i.e. a rope on the ground as a snake).
  2. Thought. We elaborate on perceptions with patterns of thought. And if the perceptions are distorted, then the thoughts could be distorted further.
  3. View. Thoughts can become habitual or internalized into our identity or world-views. Once formed, updated or better perceptions/thoughts might not shake our views.
  4. Unlovely as Lovely. To be honest, I don’t really understand this one.

The first three are interesting because they each touch on different level of cognition. And viewed (no pun intended) in this way, it is clear how cyclical the distortions can be. We have a mistaken perception that is then elaborated into thought and eventually hardened into a view. That view changes how we perceive things in the future.

We think Sally winked at us in the lunch line when she just had a twitch in he eye. “She must have the hots for me”, we think. We form the view that she would like us to ask her out for chocolate milk. She politely rejects our request. But still now every time she fails to make eye contact with you in the future, you perceive it as her being off-put by your chocolate milk request.

Side note: The above example is a trivial example of a misperception. I believe in the Buddhism this notion of the first deception goes very deep. For example when you hear a car coming down the road. That is actually a misperception. What a truer perception would be the only the sound being heard. The addition to the car in the a part of cognition. And very neatly you can see this when you meditate. You can have a clear enough mind where you “see the image” of the car and “hear the sound” as two distinct phenomena. And even neater, I am told, that you can quiet the mind enough to experience only the sound without any “car-ness” while meditating.

Anywhoooo, I thought this list is cool.