Pure Experience

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

leafsomov“I suddenly realize that at last after more than seventy years of looking I see things as they are – what a phrase, “as they are” – and not, as in all past years, wrapped in concepts, e.g. man, woman, flowers, trees.  I see them now as islands of black and white that move, or spots of color making a herbaceous border or a garden of flowers. […] If the adult gives oneself over to the pure sensation, then he [she] experiences a fusion of pleasure and sensory quality which probably approximates the infantile experience… The emphasis [of my looking] is not on any object but entirely on feeling and sensation.”

Joseph Lyons wrote this in 1974, in his book “Experience: an Introduction to a Personal Psychology.”

We don’t have to wait until we are seventy or older to suddenly discover this capacity in ourselves.  This non-conceptual way of seeing reality “as it is” is available more or less on demand, with a bit of practice.

What’s the formula?  What’s the method?  The process of getting there is not an easy one to describe.  To put it simply (and, thus, to run the risk of great oversimplification), you have to practice flowing with sensation and knowing how to disengage from the interpretive, labeling eddies of your mindstream.

Let me give you an example of how this works.  Last Friday I was waiting on my wife to finish her Pilates training session in the Market Square of Pittsburgh.  I had about an …

Comment Comments Off

A Common Sense Definition of Common Sense

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

shutterstock_121574566I’d like to offer you, arguably, an uncommon definition of common sense.  A definition that I myself refer to as “a common sense definition of common sense.”

Common sense is (literally) what can be commonly sensed. Not thought or felt but sensed.  If you and I are both sensing (seeing) a sunrise, that’s something that we are commonly sensing (by way of seeing). As for the rest of what we typically consider “common sense” – it’s really non-sense, i.e. non-sensible abstractions, not actual things we sense (by way of seeing, touching, hearing, or tasting) but the “thing-less things” we think (i.e. mentally envision, imagine, speculate).

“Sense” is the operative word here.

Redefining common sense in terms of the shared sensory experience (as opposed to defining common sense as the shared fund-of-knowledge or shared belief system or shared living wisdom) allows us to downgrade our assumptions about others’ mind-ware (others’ “operating system”) to a minimum.  This kind of un-presumptuous stance can be helpful in minimizing misunderstanding early on in the human encounter.

To sum up, we commonly share the sensory experience (the sensory input) but we don’t always share our interpretations of this sensory input. So, rather judgmentally, we conclude: “So and so doesn’t have a common sense.”  I think that’s unkind: the reality is that so-and-so does probably share the same sensory experience (same sensory input more or less) as we do.  What’s different is what they think about it, how they interpret the shared sensory data-set.  To think differently is …

Comment Comments Off

Excitement, Compassion, Not-Knowing

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

3As a parent I asked myself the other day (while falling asleep) – what am I modeling to my kid?

And here’s what crystallized in mind: “Only three virtues I know and stand for: Excitement, Compassion and Not-knowing.”

Sure, as a parent, there all kinds of things I need to teach and impart and model to my kid, but these three strike me as most essential in my own life.  So, let me un-pack these three words to help you see what I mean and why these three matter to me.

Excitement: we live once, and even if lived forever, we’d be still only living once; with this in mind, I want to model a stance of excitement about life, I want my kid to develop a sense of awe about this bewildering reality, I want to spare my kid that existentially-suicidal ennui and boredom that comes with losing interest and taking life for granted.

Compassion: we are all connected, in fact, life/reality/universe is one seamless oneness; a stance of compassion is about staying in touch with all that is, with that ant on the side-walk, with that fallen leaf under your feet (it too had a story of being born and dying!); compassion helps us slice through the illusion of self: all is one and one is all.  And I want my kid to also get it that compassion is self-care: if all is one and one is all, then whenever you are pausing to step over an ant on …

Comment Comments Off

A Grief Hygiene

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

shutterstock_175407059“The cup is already broken,” they say in Zen lore. Yes, we know: we get dogs knowing that we will most likely outlive them. We’ve learned to look at our fragile tech gizmos with that acquired acceptance of “it’s built-in obsolescence.” Impermanence is all around us: Heraclitus knew it, Buddha knew it. We all know it but we work hard to ignore it: we make assumptions of continuity and so we grieve post-factum – after the loss occurs.

What if we grieved in advance – the way Buddhists do – by accepting the impermanence as a fundamental condition of living? By recognizing the “ceasing” part of ceasing-and-arising? Living and dying, beginning and ending, arising and ceasing – are dichotomous word-pairs that describe one and the same seamless process.

What am I trying to say? Only this: “Meditation on impermanence is anticipatory grief work, a grief hygiene of sorts.”


Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. His books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the London Mindfulness Center (UK). Somov’s book website is www.pavelsomov.com and his practice website is www.drsomov.com

Broken cup image available from Shutterstock.

Comment Comments Off

There Are No Mistakes

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.


9781572247567I did my best… I did my best!

Dane Cook, comedian

The phrase “to make a mistake” implies purposive, conscious, planned action. That’s utterly inaccurate: there are no intentional mistakes, no one consciously sets out to fail.

When we fail on purpose, when we make a mistake by design, we are actually succeeding with some kind of covert plan. Therefore, even an act of conscious sabotage isn’t a mistake (to you) even if takes the form of a mistake (to others).

Bottom-line: No one makes mistakes because no one ever makes a mistake on purpose (sabotage notwithstanding).

And yet mistakes do take place. Indeed, now and then we all drop the proverbial ball. Not because we intend to but because there are too many balls to juggle with.

Understanding the difference between an intentional mistake and an unintentional occurrence is key to wellbeing and self-acceptance.

A Mistake is a Difference Between What Is and What Should Be

When we think of a mistake, we think of a difference between the real and the ideal, i.e. of a discrepancy between what is and what we expect to be (or is expected to be). But any expectation is fundamentally generic. Whether the standard is set by you, your boss, you parent, your partner, legal system or social norms, it fails to reflect the specifics of any given moment and the specifics of any given mind.

Rules and laws set the ideal expectation of conduct that is aimed at everyone but is based on no one in …

Comment Comments Off

Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen, and Mindful Smoking to You!

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

smokesomovThin mists and light clouds waft imperceptibly;

The friends who have gathered here pass the pipe around.

I know that there is no constancy in what is possible and what is not,

Yet I do not believe that fire and ash are only fragments of time.

—Wang Lu, a Japanese seventeenth-century “gentleman smoker” (quoted in Smoke: A Global History of Smoking)

Marla and I are big fans of Leonard Cohen. A weekend or so ago he turned 80 and decided to resume smoking: “too young to die, too old to worry,” summarized NYT Jason Karlawish.  Cohen himself said the following: “It’s the right age to recommence [smoking].”  Indeed, why not, if it gives you “the pleasure of the present”?

We are not being rhetorical.  In our 2011 book Smoke-Free Smoke Break we have made a harm reduction case for mindful smoking as well as for the idea that we have more than one kind of health – the health of the body and the health of the mind.  A risk-taking behavior (be it rock climbing or smoking) is an existential choice to pursue the wellbeing of the mind while consciously accepting possible costs to the body.  So, with this in mind, we congratulate Leonard Cohen not only on reaching the age of wisdom but also on remaining the rascal sage that he’s been – and teaching us the existential calculus of controlled recklessness. Mindful smoking to you, Leonard!

What follows is an excerpt from our book – its …

Comment Comments Off

Noosphere: You Are a Part of It

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Noosphere – a beautiful concept. You are a part of this human whole. A conscious or an unconscious part?

The noosphere is the sphere of human thought. The word derives from the Greek νοῦς (nous “mind”) and σφαῖρα (sphaira “sphere”), in lexical analogy to “atmosphere” and “biosphere”. It was introduced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1922 in his Cosmogenesis. Another possibility is the first use of the term by Édouard Le Roy (1870-1954), who together with Teilhard was listening to lectures of Russian philosopher Vladimir Vernadsky at the Sorbonne. (source: wiki).


Comment Comments Off

Impermanence and Permanence

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Every life-form that passes in front you also passes in front of itself.

(I’m talking about every and any life-form – a neighbor, your kid, an ant on the sidewalk.)

Namaste to it all: to all that is inside and outside, to all that passes in front of you and in front of itself.

To all that passes, internally and externally, inter-objectively and intra-subjectively – namaste.

360 degrees of Namaste!

And to all that remains the same – in me, in you, in everything – to You too – namaste!

It’s curious, isn’t it, that not only do we pass (change) in front of each other but that we also pass (change) in front of ourselves.

The you that you were a moment ago has now changed.  And if there had been someone to notice how you changed, the two of you would have been sharing a similar reference point of permanence.

The Buddhist psychology of impermanence of form is half the story.  The Vedic psychology of permanence of essence is the rest of the story.

We are always changing and yet there is always something in us (something ineffable) that remains the same.

Notice what changes and notice what remains the same.


Comment Comments Off

Mindful Emotional Eating – a Humanistic Harm Reduction Approach

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

MeeHere’s a question that’s a lot on my clinical mind: “What do clients want and how do I help them get what they want?” This very question is at the core of humanistic harm reduction (HHR).

When my client presents with concerns about “emotional eating,” I ask myself the same question. When you, as a clinician, get in the habit of asking yourself this question, the answer becomes rather self-evident. What emotional eating clients want is obvious: they want to eat when they feel bad and they don’t want to feel bad about eating. They want to feel in control during this coping, self-soothing episode (both during and after emotional eating). But they have come to believe that eating to cope and feeling in control are somehow mutually exclusive.

Not so! We can help our clients have exactly what they want. Yes, they can eat to cope and, yes, they can feel in control (both during and after the emotional eating episode). How? With the help of mindful emotional eating (MEE).

Mindful emotional eating satisfies two self-regulation fantasies: To eat and to feel in control. Mindful emotional eating allows your client to pursue change without sacrificing what they want. To clarify, I am not talking about emotional eating. I’m talking about mindful emotional eating.

The book that I have coming out later this fall is not about how to stop emotional eating but about how to eat emotionally in moderation, more effectively, and without self-judgment and self-loathing. Here’s the …

Comment Comments Off

An Evolving Text of Self

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Mind is a living, evolving, self-correcting, self-editing, self-serving text of survival.

What you say to yourself matters.  And what you don’t say to yourself matters too.

But, as important as this self-narrative is, we are not it: we are not this mind.

This mind, this narrative is but writing on the ever-changing water of consciousness.

Neti, neti – meaning: not this, not this.


Comment Comments Off

Reinventing the Meal
Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment
The Lotus Effect The Smoke-Free Smoke Break
Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. is the author of The Lotus Effect, Present Perfect, The Smoke-Free Smoke Break, and Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time.

Subscribe to this Blog:

Or Get a Single, Daily Email (enter email address):

via FeedBurner

Recent Comments
  • Joan Winifred: Hand stitch…or machine? Seamless (yet not meaningless) Nice needlework aka poetry:)
  • best honeymoon resort: Cancun has got several golfing clubs with scenic locations that are considered to be a few of...
  • Garage Remodeling: Omg. Great style. Exactly how did an individual make absolute sure it had sufficient place and...
  • Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.: I follow. Well said. Thank you.
  • oldblackdog: This is a reaction to A Snapshot of Self” I used to “do” a lot of photography, old...
Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code

Users Online: 12240
Join Us Now!