"We create wholeness out of whatever we encounter. When successful, the configurational reflex achieves the elusive experience of wholeness. This experience is easily destabilized and always challenged by the complexity of events."

Erv Polster, Gestalt Therapist

"The very nature of the mind is such that if you only leave it in its unaltered and natural state, it will find its true nature, which is bliss and clarity."

Sogyal Rinpoche

If you have received much email, you are probably familiar with "emoticons" or "smilies." To express emotion, people add to their messages little combinations of keyboard characters, which, if viewed sideways, seem to portray a face expressing an emotion. For instance, this :-) is me smiling, and this :-( is me frowning. This is me ;-) smiling and winking. If you can see the face in the emoticon, you have used the configurational reflex. You have created a meaningful configuration out of a fairly obscure visual pattern. That we can create in our minds the notion of a face expressing a particular emotion out of a colon, a dash, and a parenthesis is an awesome bit of perceptual magic.

We do this all the time. Draw a circle and put two dots next to each other in the upper half of the circle and we see a face. Draw the corners of a box and we see the box, even if the corners are not connected to each other. Our perceptual systems are designed to create wholeness out of minimal information. That is good news. It makes our world more easily understandable. It also saves bandwidth.

The bad news is that the configurational reflex is easily disrupted. Add a bit of chaos to the perceptual process and the meaning dissolves.

It is desirable to feel whole and to experience wholeness in your life. But the complex and conflict ridden world we live in introduces chaos into our perception, and many of us lose the feeling of wholeness and connectedness in our existence.

We are fortunate that we each possess this ability to create the perception of wholeness and connectedness out of whatever we encounter. All we really need to do is calm down and get out of the way of the reflex that automatically creates the experience for us.

One of the factors affecting the achievement of wholeness is attention. When we direct our attention consciously (sometimes unconsciously) the configurational reflex kicks in and we make connections. An experience of wholeness emerges.

This is one reason meditation can feel so good and why it is so good for your mental health. In meditation, we may direct our attention, let go of extraneous thoughts, and allow the wholeness to emerge, just as we allow the smile to emerge from :-). The first time you saw :-( you might not have seen the face. After seeing it once, you probably see it every time. It is the same with meditation. Once you experience connecting the esoteric dots of contemplation, your spiritual perception is never quite the same.


The following meditation activity assumes you have had some experience in meditation. The links will take you to pages where you can find more detailed instructions in the fundamentals of meditation.

Knowing that the configurational reflex naturally draws in an experience of wholeness, you can use it to enhance your meditation. To begin, calm yourself by relaxing your muscles and allowing your breathing to flow naturally. Manage your attention in meditation by using something to focus on. You may want to focus your eyes on a candle flame, or an image or object that has some spiritual significance to you. You may merely focus your attention on your breathing. Or perhaps you would prefer to focus your mind on a mantra, a word or sound repeated verbally or silently to yourself. The important thing is to direct your focus. It is beneficial if the object of your focus is something that carries some spiritual charge for you.

After you have successfully narrowed your focus for awhile, perhaps just a few minutes, let go of the effort to focus, and let your mind's natural reflex toward creating wholeness take over. Allow the passive perceptual activity of your mind to connect you with your world. This is not an active thinking process. It is a letting go and letting the mind be what it will be. It is like letting the mind go when you look at an optical illusion. You have to release your preconceptions to see the illusion. Allow your mind to find its natural state of bliss and clarity. This may take practice, so don't worry if it doesn't happen right away. May you attain awareness of the fullness and oneness of existence as a seamless whole.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett