Pretense with Presence

by Christopher Lovejoy on December 16, 2021

Presence, pretense; pre-sense, pre-tense. With pre-tense, I tense my way into meaning; with pre-sense, I sense my way into meaning. The way of pretense is a fork in the road: pre-tense at the expense of another (dark pretense) or pre-tense to the delight of another (light pretense).

While the first type continues to bury the heart and soul of humanity under a mountain of lies, the second type is slowly but surely being stifled and sucked dry under that same mountain of lies. The point of this post, then, is to help us to remember what it was like to “play pretend.”

You Can Believe Whatever You Wanna Believe

In the heat of argument, in reaction to a perceived threat to survival, safety, security, satisfaction, or significance, a common rejoinder that we often hear goes like this: “you can believe whatever you wanna believe, but the fact is . . .”. As rejoinders go, this one is pretty serious.

Facts are often recalled to support a conclusion or position, but the most notable (the most noble?) feature about a fact is that it can set us free, provided we have what is called a respect for facts, in view of the fact that facts are all too easily dodged or dismissed by “true believers.”

What I wanna know is what do I believe about those facts?

For is it not true that beliefs are more charged than facts?

believe you me!
believe it or not!

don’t you believe it!
would you believe it?
I just can’t believe it!

do you believe me or not?!

I can hardly believe my ears!
I can hardly believe my eyes!

I can hardly believe my luck!

As I said, more charged than facts.

But wait, I can’t just believe whatever I wanna believe, can I? Actually, yes, you can, but not without consequences, and with this caveat: not all beliefs are worthy of belief. Now let’s find out why.

Barmy Beliefs for Smart People

It is said, by sheer force of reason and logic, that “we are all prone to entertaining irrational thoughts” and, more often than not, without ever being aware of their influence, these irrational thoughts keep us from experiencing the happiness we desire and the success we deserve.

Unfortunately, many an irrational thought has taken over the mind, posing as a belief.

By way of reaction, one school of thought would have us “dispute it! break it down! replace it!,” and while many of us can appreciate the wisdom in this heartfelt prescription, I nevertheless think that we can make some room for a more creative approach to dealing with barmy beliefs.

Before we even go there, I’d like to introduce, by way of reference for what is to come, a dozen barmy beliefs for your consideration, ones that have been known to stymie even the smartest, most rational among us:

from the past

what is done is done; there’s nothing I can do to change it
I do not deserve success; I don’t even deserve to be happy

in the present

I’m sorry, I just can’t help it; my emotions are out of control
it’s so much easier to avoid problems than to deal with them

if you criticize me, there must be something wrong with me
I’m sorry, but I must please others to feel good about myself

into the future

I must be good at everything I say and do or I’ll never succeed
I can never ever make a mistake or else I’ll be seen as a failure

I must never ever take risks, just to make sure I never ever fail
I’ll never measure up to others, so I might as well give up trying

if I continue to do things for myself, I’ll surely be seen as selfish
if everything’s going right, then something will surely go wrong

I’d be surprised if people talk like this; I take these confessions more as silent assumptions.

These beliefs ~ and they are beliefs, not facts ~ indicate to me, in no uncertain terms, a complex case of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from more primitive times when human beings lived in tribes, fighting for their survival, safety, security, satisfaction, and significance.

I invite you to review those barmy beliefs in the light of this complex case.

If you resonate with even one of these barmy beliefs, I would invite you, encourage you even, to do what it takes to find a better belief by getting really creative with the words you use to hold onto that belief.

The Way to Better (not Bitter) Beliefs

In tribal times, primitive peoples likely had little time to reflect, especially under stress or duress, and so, the evolution of tribal life must have favored those who could think reflexively (quickly, effectively, efficiently) even if this meant suppressing (and surpassing) those who could think reflectively, and so, if a tribal leader proclaimed, in no uncertain terms, by word or deed, that . . .

what is done is done; there’s nothing we can do to change it

You listened, lest you be menaced, punished, ostracized, or even exiled.

To say that this response pattern is deeply ingrained in the human psyche would be a gross understatement. Thankfully, we’ve since developed our cognitive prowess, our capacity for reflection, our appetite for truth, and our distaste for deception, manipulation, and exploitation.

Still, human beings remain notoriously in favor of reflexive thought over reflective thought.

But what does this mean, exactly? Consider . . .

  1. facts and feelings tend to be fused, if not con-fused;
  2. false pretenses tend to be overlooked, even favored (“fitness trumps truth”); and
  3. facts and feelings tend to be thrown under the bus!

Let’s draw on these insights in view of this barmy belief:

what is done is done; there’s nothing I can do to change it

By way of rejoinder, we could summon tough love and say to ourselves . . .

What is done is done. Granted, this is a fact, but in my frustration and exasperation (hopelessness? helplessness?), there is, in fact, absolutely nothing I can do to change it because, well, for whatever reason, I’ve actually chosen not to make the time to reflect on my options.

I’ve done a good job of conning myself into fusing fact with feeling.

To wit:

“I feel this, and because I feel it, I have every right to treat it as fact!”

If the matter at hand is trivial, my reflexive thinking has done its job ~ I can move on. If, however, the matter at hand is not so trivial, I still have an opportunity, as it were, to “step up and step out.”

Let’s revisit that barmy belief . . .

What is done is done. Fine. Next. And there’s nothing I can do to change it. Wait. Stop! Nothing? If I make the time to think about it, is it really, really true that I have nothing I can do to change it? Nothing at all? If the matter at hand is as important to me as I know it is, then . . .

Let’s loosen up that craving for nothing with a little something . . .

what is done is done; there’s little I can do to change it (tweak!)

Here, I’ve opened up a little crack of possibility in my perception, and with it a tiny opening for opportunity; that’s all I need to get the snowball rolling. In facing up to my savage leader, by stepping up and stepping out, even at the risk of censure, I’ve given myself some wiggle room.

In stripping “nothing” of its subservience, I strip this barmy proclamation of its sense of finality: “Ok, what is done is done, but you know what? There’s still something I can do to change it; I just haven’t thought of it yet.” But then I get these nagging doubts that come out of nowhere . . .

I do not deserve success; I don’t even deserve to be happy

Of course I don’t deserve success. Why? Because “whether I think I can or can’t, I’m always right.” We have Henry Ford to thank for that one. By extrapolation, “whether I feel I deserve it or not, I’m always 100% right.” So why fight it? I simply surrender, thus: “I don’t deserve this.”

To wit: “I simply don’t deserve to come up with any great options for myself.” And so, with presence and patience, I sit with this to be with this; I feel what I feel in response to this undeservingness. No rush, no hurry, since there’s no one coming to beat me over the head with a club.

At least not yet.

Now suppose, just suppose, there’s a tiny voice inside you that peeps up: “hey, maybe I do deserve to be happy, if only a little.” For you, a major revelation; at least it’s a start, if only a tiny start, one that can expand over time with a confirmation bias that feeds into “I am deserving.”

Imagine waving happily at the tribal leader while making such declarations. Now imagine that tribal leader going ballistic. Narcissistic rage! Narcissistic abuse! And all that primitive crap coming up for processing. He’s coming at you full force, but you’re laughing your head off.

That hairy beast is just a phantom, remember?

Barmy beliefs, indeed!

Let’s Consult the Belief Meister

The hairy beast is a frightful phantom; this much I concede.

The hairy beast, however, is no match for the belief meister.

the belief meister says: face up to the phantom beast by stepping up and stepping out

The belief meister says, let’s take another look at that belief: what is done is done, and there’s nothing I can do to change it. In calling attention to this belief, the belief meister is calling attention to that primitive tendency of the reflexive human mind to think in extremes in extremis.

in extremis: in an extremely difficult situation or at the point of death (real or perceived)

dichotomous thinking: the primitive tendency to think reflexively in terms of extremes (in terms of black or white, all or nothing, always or never, et cetera) without taking any time to reflect on nuances

The belief meister invites me to pause and consider: “there’s nothing I can do to change it.” In reflecting on this assertion, I must concede, at least at first, that it could be very well be true! That is to say, it could very well be true that “there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change it.”

I need not dispute it; by the same token, I need not not question it.

Maybe there is something I can do. Maybe. Maybe there’s little I can do to change it. Upon further reflection, maybe there’s something I can do to change it. Come to think of it, maybe there’s a lot I can do to change it. I won’t know, of course, unless and until I pose the questions . . .

Is there something I can do to change it? And would that be a little or a lot? But wait, I feel as if there is little if anything I can do to change it, but then, I recall: my feeling is not a fact; it’s just a feeling, not a knowing; I can ~ indeed, I must ~ defuse feeling from fact if I am to act.

Upon reflection, the belief meister says, you always have options: (a) this matter is not worth my while; (b) this matter is worth my while, but not here, not now; or (c) this matter is not only worth my while, it’s worth my while here and now, and so, I will now consider my options.

Nothing? Let go, let be, let God. A little? Accept, and give thanks. A lot? Explore and expand. Keep in mind, though, that one school of thought tells us: “with enough presence and patience, anything is possible.” A shrewd intuition is worth at least a thousand stinkin’ thinkin’ minds.

The belief meister now says, let’s take another look at this belief: I do not deserve success; I don’t even deserve to be happy. In calling attention to these beliefs, the belief meister is calling attention to the primitive tendency of the reflexive human mind to overgeneralize in extremis.

overgeneralization: the primitive tendency of the reflexive human mind to draw broad, sweeping conclusions that go far beyond the evidence used to support them, while bypassing any evidence to the contrary (can you think of any situations where this reflex might be beneficial?)

Overgeneralizations are reflexive conclusions derived from reflexive premises:

I do not deserve success because . . . I don’t even deserve to be happy because . . .

I do not deserve success (or, at the very least, I do not deserve to be success-full) because . . .

  • I feel much more comfortable playing it small and safe (fear of what success might bring)
  • I simply don’t wanna take any more responsibility than I already do (fear of responsibility)
  • I’m quite lazy, and because I’m not really all that good at what I say or do (poor self-image)
  • my success is based on luck, timing, or other factors beyond my control (imposter syndrome)

I don’t even deserve to be happy (contented, fulfilled, enchanted) because . . .

  • I’ve done far too many bad things in my life (lingering shame from the past)
  • I have a terrible tendency to “just give back as good as you get” (vengeful guilt)
  • I associate adulthood with burden, stress, anger, and/or sorrow (upbringing)
  • my depressive moods have buried me under a mountain of excuses (despair)
  • I feel overwhelmed by guilt or shame for that one thing I still haven’t made up for
  • I’m just too busy trying to please others, to make them happy (people pleasing)

Heavy, heavy, heavy. What is one to do with all of this emotional baggage?

The belief meister says, let’s treat each one as a potential tool for learning.

The Belief Meister Says: “Dispute, Dissolve, Displace!”

Dichotomous thinking and overgeneralization are just two of many, many cognitive biases that trip us up and trip us out. Where cognition is concerned, much of humanity seems seriously messed up.

Consider these cognitive biases to get a feel for what I mean:

mental filtration: the tendency to dwell on the negatives while discounting the positives
e.g., “you sound like you’re trying to help me out here, but I don’t think you really mean it”

magnification: the tendency to magnify negative events as being far worse than they are
e.g., “everyone seemed to like my performance, but I can’t forget that one blunder I made”

minimization: the tendency to minimize positive events as being less valuable than they are
e.g., “so I got straight A’s on my report card; what’s the big deal? I always get straight A’s!”

rigid rules: the tendency to compel others to follow rules far more rigid than they have to be
e.g., “I really hate it when you do that! If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times . . .”

disqualification: the tendency to disqualify positives (they don’t count) for irrational reasons
e.g., “so what if I saved thousands? I just happened to be in the right place at the right time”

labelling: the tendency to stereotype self or others in absolute terms, either positive or negative
e.g., “that bitch gave me a hard time, so no, I don’t wanna hear anything good about her, okay?”

emotional reasoning: the tendency to take emotional reactions as truth regardless of evidence
e.g., “I seduce myself with weak logic, indulge in ad hominem, and ignore contrary evidence”

jumping to conclusions: the tendency to make assumptions through mind reading or fortune telling
e.g., “do you really think I don’t know what you’re up to? I’m telling ya, you’re gonna mess this up!”

personalization: the tendency to attribute negative traits or states to the self without evidence
e.g., “that jerk is treating me like I’m some kind of a _____; damn, maybe I am a _____”

As I said, heavy, heavy, heavy ~ complex PTSD, anyone?

What is one to do with all of this messy cognition?

By way of response, any statement ~ premise or conclusion ~ is, as the belief meister says, a potential tool for learning (and growing), so let’s revisit the faulty patterns of thinking on success and happiness:

With respect to success . . .

argument (p for premise; c for conclusion)

p1: I feel very comfortable playing it small and safe

p2: I’m really quite lazy when it comes to putting myself out there

p3: I must confess: I truly enjoy my creature comforts!

p4: besides, I detest destructive criticism and mindless rejection

c: therefore, I do not deserve success

This inductive argument appears to be sound: on the whole, it appears to be valid (the conclusion seems to follow formally and logically from the premises) and it also appears to be well-grounded (the conclusion rings true, as do the premises, upon which the conclusion is based).

The argument also seems very tribal ~ the kind of argument that weaker members of a tribe offer to stronger members, to justify not sticking their necks out and, quite literally, getting their heads chopped off, in which case, the premises seem more like rationalizations than reasons.

The belief meister recommends calling all of these premises into question.

Take the admission, “I detest destructive criticism and mindless rejection” and give it a positive spin by turning it into “I favor constructive criticism and mindful rejection.” See if you can make this concession: “I do see a role for myself in putting myself out there.” Also: “I don’t always feel comfortable playing it small and safe”; “I don’t always enjoy my creature comforts.”

With respect to happiness . . .

argument (p for premise; c for conclusion)

p1: I must admit, I’ve done some really bad things in my life

p2: I tend not to trust others, even as I get to know them better

p3: I associate adulthood with burdens more so than blessings

p4: I now feel more distant from others than I have in the past

c: therefore, I don’t even deserve to be happy

This inductive argument screams “trust wound!”

The first premise is vague: what qualifies as “really bad things?;” the second premise gives no indication as to why trusting others is such an issue; the third premise might just be a simple case of mental filtration, emotional reasoning, and personalization; and the fourth premise is more like a conclusion to the first three premises than a premise for the main conclusion.

Tribally speaking, anyone making this argument would seem to have forgotten what it means to “go along to get along.” The conclusion seems like, if not a non sequitur (“does not follow”), then at least an overgeneralization, as many people have learned to be happy on their own.

The quality and vitality of our relationships (with others, but most especially with ourselves) are key to being happy and feeling happy, no matter the reason. In view of this statement, what are we to make of a statement like “I now feel more distant from others than I have in the past.”

The belief meister has just the thing for this sort of statement: one, expose it with a probe (see below) until you reach the silent assumption that lies behind it, and two, in probing each statement, record the thought that causes the reaction, not the thought that describes the reaction.

In probing for the thought behind the feeling, a core belief becomes obvious:

statement: I now feel more distant from others than I have in the past

> If that were true, what would it mean? Why the concern or unease?

response: I spend too much time on my own, doing what I love to do

> If that were true, what would it mean? Why the concern or unease?

response: I’m losing touch with humanity, with my sense of humanity

> If that were true, what would it mean? Why the concern or unease?

response: my life is being drained of meaning, purpose, and direction

> If that were true, what would it mean? Why the concern or unease?

response: I no longer feel all that inspired to live, love, laugh, or learn

> If that were true, what would it mean? Why the concern or unease?

response: there’s something fundamentally wrong with my approach

> If that were true, what would it mean? Why the concern or unease?

response: I really don’t have what it takes to succeed and be here now

> If that were true, what would it mean? Why the concern or unease?

response: I’m not worthy, I’m not enough ~ my life is not worth living

silent assumption: I’m not worthy; therefore my life is not worth living

insert protocol: dispute, dissolve, displace


“my life is worth living, despite any emotional evidence to the contrary”


mental filtration
remove the filter: “I cannot discount all of the positives of this life I live”

dichotomous thinking
be mindful of nuance: “either I am or I am not? either it is or it isn’t? really?”

don’t toss that baby: “dude, this is my entire life I’m talking about here!”


“I aspire to feeling worthy wherever, whenever I choose”

presence, please, or else a light pre-tense with pre-sense

As a check against “my life is not worth living,” consider: (1) is this assumption reasonable? (2) am I being swayed by fact or feeling? (3) what’s the evidence for this assumption? (4) could I be misreading the evidence? and (5) is the assumption just a habit, or do the facts support it?

If the facts seem to support it, have I been making a habit of “assuming rather than asking, reacting rather than responding?” Of displacing positive intentions in favor of negative ones? Of withholding my understanding with innerstanding from those who could really use it?

No judgment here; just some gentle and friendly reminders of your power to embody a pure love of self with grace and ease, to cultivate a pure space to live at peace with love, to engender a pure path to joy in awe and wonder, and to alchemize a pure lust for life from joy to bliss.

True World Order, Bright New World

As far as I know, we were born to “be true, be wise, be free.”

Born to be free and to live free in a real world, not a fake one. Born to engage and enjoy this world in genuine relationship with all living things, but most especially with ourselves. With the natural world, we learn to live to love with beauty, harmony, serenity, intimacy, and ecstasy.

In sacred intimate encounter, we realize divine ecstatic experience; otherwise, what is the point of living these lives we live? Is it not the gift of giving life to love, bringing love to life, for the sake of life and love?

Were we not made to invite the presence of Eros? I mean, were we not made to gaze and guess, touch and tease, kiss and hug, cuddle and caress, gaze and know, without a doubt, that we matter deep down inside?

I am, therefore I think; I think, therefore I feel . . . safe, secure, satisfied, significant. I cannot help but hold space and make time to feel ~ to feel connected, to feel delighted, to feel loved and cherished, to feel contented, to feel fulfilled, to feel enchanted ~ to be in awe and wonder.

Otherwise, what is the point of living these lives we live?

Truth be told, we were born to breathe slow, deep, and true; to savor the ocean breeze; to relish the cool of night; to shiver with delight under the light of a full moon, to thrill at the sight of a blazing sunlight.

Otherwise, what is the point of living these lives we live?


I need only live as healthy, vital people do: with complete confidence —
the only confidence worth holding: invincible, trustworthy, without hindrance —
the confidence of a cultivated prohairesis (my own reasoned choice)

~ yours



Previous post:

Next post: