Gaining Real Mastery Over Emotional Reactions
“It took me a little while to understand the NEUTRAL Technique. I got the idea of unplugging the power cord or shifting to neutral. That made sense to me. But remembering to do it was the challenge for me. What made the difference for me was when I was able to get some help from an Inner Greatness Centers Coach who guided me through the OUT Technique for my habit of criticizing myself. Before, I would just be really down on myself for not living up to my own expectations. After doing the OUT Technique it was just like Tom said. I was now much more aware of my tendency to be down on myself. Then when I would feel the old tendency to have those kinds of thoughts it was really easy to unplug from them. Now they just don’t come up anymore. I feel great about me pretty much all the time.”
– Michael Harlow
[Although Michael passed away in 2008 he told me sometime before his death that his life had been deeply enriched by learning and practicing the Pure Awareness Techniques.]
The NEUTRAL Technique is for helping you stop doing things that are driven by conditioned responses. When you are caught up a conditioned behavior your thinking and actions are not coming from Pure Awareness. They are coming from your habits of thinking and behaving in that old conditioned way of being. The NEUTRAL Technique is also very helpful for helping to break habits that you no longer want. It involves noticing the old behavior when it is about to happen and then instead of allowing it to happen, simply stop giving energy to that particular thought or action. However, in order to do this, you have to have enough awareness that you can notice that you are about to think or do the conditioned behavior.
The key is to first have enough awareness to notice that the old behavior is about to happen, and then to choose to stop giving that behavior any energy. The result is that nothing happens and instead of automatically doing the old behavior of the conditioned response you can simply settle back into Pure Awareness. If your access to Pure Awareness has been lost you can use one of the other Pure Awareness Techniques to regain the direct experience of of it.
The NEUTRAL Technique is one of the Pure Awareness Techniques because it quickly brings you back to the experience of Pure Awareness on the fly, in the moment. Doing the NEUTRAL Technique is like taking a very quick plunge into the QUIETNESS.
The NEUTRAL Technique is also known as “unplugging the power cord” or “shifting to neutral.” These analogies capture the essence of this technique. Imagine you are driving a car on a level road and you shift it into neutral. What happens? You coast to a stop.
If you are using a vacuum cleaner and unplug the power cord while it’s running, what happens? You hear the motor wind down and stop. In both of these analogies the principle concept is that you stop feeding energy into the system. When there’s no energy nothing the pervious action comes to a stop.
If cultivating a state in which you live from Pure Awareness all the time is starting to sound appealing to you, then learning and practicing the NEUTRAL Technique is going to be another great tool to help you to do just that. Remember that the two primary barriers to enjoying the presence of Pure Awareness in our lives all of the time are our habitual conditioned responses (our habits) and our disruptive emotions. Using the tools of the Pure Awareness Techniques and the QEO you can eliminate both the unconscious aspect of your habits and resolve your disruptive emotions. Then the NEURAL Technique becomes a great tool for really breaking your habits.
We could also consider NEUTRAL to be the starting point of most of the other Pure Awareness Techniques because you have to be aware enough of the old way of being (conditioning) so that you can unplug from it and do whichever of the Pure Awareness Techniques that best dismantles the disruptive emotion at the basis of your old conditioned response. We bring our awareness to the present moment. Being aware is the key. Being aware of something is much different than simply reacting automatically from conditioning which is more of an unconscious, unaware process.
The NEUTRAL Technique is the process of disallowing energy to be fed into thoughts and actions that would normally occur by default, by habit, as learned conditioned responses. For example, when someone cuts you off on the freeway, a common conditioned response is to swear at the other driver or have some other related reaction of upset. Or, any time that you are impulsive, like purchasing something that you really don’t need or want but you are doing it under some kind of pressure like a sale or some urgency created by a salesman, when these kinds of things happen, you are reacting out of a conditioned response.
It is also important to know that the more you do the IN and OUT Techniques the more you will have enough awareness to be able to unplug or shift to neutral. The NEUTRAL Technique is very useful for situations where all that is needed is to “unplug,” to return to neutral, to Pure Awareness.
How to do the NEUTRAL Technique
Think of it like this. When you are about to do something that is an expression of a habit that you want to eliminate it begins with the inception of a thought. Nothing can happen without having a thought to do it. So the mechanism of any habit is always Thought followed by the Action of the habit. But with habits, you have typically lost the first step of being aware that you are about to engage in the behavior of the habit. This is the nature of conditioning after all. It makes you unaware that you are having the thought. That’s the part of the process that has become unconscious.
In the case of conditioned responses and habitual thoughts and actions, you have become so skilled at doing that particular action that you have become unconsciously competent at doing it. You’ve become so good at it that you aren’t even aware of the thought part of the formula any more.
There are four stages to the process learning to do something to the point where it becomes a thoroughly conditioned response. Whether it is learning to ride a bike, tie our shoes or play the piano the basic conditioning process is the same. Before you learn to do something, like tying your shoes, you don’t know how to do it and someone has to do it for you. You don’t even know that you can’t do it. It’s not even an option for you. This stage of the learning process is called unconscious incompetence.
At the point at which we begin to try to tie our shoes it takes a lot of concentration and effort. We may not even get it right for a while. While you are still working on trying to tie your shoes but you don’t have it down yet, this is the stage of learning called conscious incompetence. You know that you can’t do it but you are practicing and working towards the next stage.
When you are successful at tying your shoes you have reached the stage called conscious competence. Now you know how to do it but it still takes thought and paying attention in order to do it properly.
The fourth stage of the learning process is when tying your shoes becomes so familiar and you have done it so many times that you no longer have to think about it. It has become automatic. It’s as if your shoes just get tied. It’s almost like they tie themselves now. It’s effortless and you don’t even think about it. You have now reached the stage of learning called unconscious competence.
So habitual behaviors are the ones we have become unconsciously competent at. Feeding energy into the habitual behavior is so deeply conditioned in us that we don’t even realize any more that we are the ones who are feeding the thoughts and actions of the habit with energy. If the habit no longer serves us as is the case with our habits that are based on the 12 Causes of Human Problems, then we have become the victims of our own unconscious competence at doing that habit.
One of the ways you can use the NEUTRAL Technique is to target each individual unwanted habit that you have become unconsciously competent at. You can start by making a list of all of the habits that you want to dismantle. It’s unlikely that you will remember to do the NEUTRAL Technique for all of them at once. Do when you make your list, prioritize the list and start with the highest priority habit or type of conditioned behavior and adopt one or more of the strategies described below. These strategies will help you be aware that you are about to engage in that old kind of thought or behavior and then you can unplug from it.
In order to be aware enough of the habit so that you can change it, you have to interrupt the thought-action mechanism to give you time to make the decision to NOT feed the old thoughts and actions with energy anymore. After all, if you don’t give them energy they simply don’t happen anymore. The trick is to get good at noticing the inception of the thought that is about to rear its ugly head out of nothingness and sweep you away into automatic pilot habit land.
By practicing the other Pure Awareness Techniques regularly and often you deepen your experience of Pure Awareness so that you are more and more aware all the time. When you increase your natural capacity to be aware, you can unplug from any habitual or impulsive type of thought or action easily.
You can also think of the NEUTRAL Technique as a clean up method once you have done the IN Technique or the OUT Technique for a given incomplete experience or emotional reaction. If there is any residual reactivity left, you will then very likely have enough awareness of the issue after doing the IN and/or OUT Technique, that you will be able to successfully notice the old habitual behavior about to happen and unplug from it.