Frame-o-reference: The Post Office of the Mind

Think about a post office. Think of how there are all those little boxes with numbers on them. When a letter arrives, the postman has to put it into just the right box. What do you think happens when a letter doesn't match any address?

This is how the mind works. As we go through life we build a little "post office" in the mind. Each little "box" holds some category of information. When we encounter some phenomena, some input, it's like receiving a letter. We look for the matching box to put it in. If we find a matching box, everything is A-OK. But, sometimes there is no box to put the thing into. That's a bit of a problem, you see, because the mind thinks that "all there is" is what fits into a box. If it don't fit, there's a problem.

This sorting of input goes on continuously at a subconscious level. Most of what our senses pick up is simply filtered out and ignored. If it wasn't we would quickly become unable to function due to the continual deluge of sensations. When the subconscious mind cannot handle the information, or finds it fits in a box labeled "dangerous" or "really important stuff" it alerts the conscious mind.

Possibly, it's just a mistaken perception. Something caught the corner of the eye, but when we turn to look at it we find it isn't a monster in the closet but just some shadows. Whew! That was close!

Possibly, it's a "bad address" and we just "return to sender." In other words, we consider it a "lie" or "mistake" or something like that. So, we can safely ignore the thing.

Possibly, it's incomplete information as if someone left a digit off the end of an address. We need to get more information in that case. Irritating and time consuming, but not that difficult to do.

Now what do you think happens with a letter that you can't fit in a box, is complete, but can't dismiss as a misperception or mistake? Uh, oh. It means the "post office" that is your mind is messed up. Either the boxes are labeled wrong or there aren't enough boxes. Maybe there is a whole other room in the post office we never even knew about? This is when we learn.

The bigger the "post office" of your mind gets, the more information you can process and the better you can handle it. The often humorous interpretations that children give to events is one example. In their limited experience, they mis-associate information and can create some rather interesting explanations for why things are the way they are. Adults who stop learning tend to get stuck. They have this little-town type mind where there are only a few boxes to put things in. That's going to be a problem as they go through life.

We don't learn when the information we receive totally fits our expectations. "Old news" - "Been there done that" - "Tell me something I don't know." It feels comfortable because it's expected, fits right in and we can process the information and then get on with gettin' on. There can be no threat to our world view in that situation.

We learn when we encounter something that doesn't fit into the post office of the mind. If the letter won't fit anywhere we have that sudden realization that the world is maybe bigger or different than we thought. We can rearrange and extend the map of reality and quite possibly open up whole new zones of knowledge. This is one reason it is important to not just read and listen to things we agree with. We have to constantly challenge our assumptions if we ever want to learn anything. Learning is not just the accumulation of more facts; it is also about rearranging the mind. (Mankind usually has a mind like concrete: all mixed up and hard set.)

In a similar manner, we often think that our knowledge is bigger or better than someone else. This is quite common when we discover something new and don't realize someone else has already heard about it and studied it. It is easy to think that because someone doesn't agree with you it is because their knowledge is less than yours. The situation may be exactly the opposite.

Unfortunately, the typical human response is to automatically declare the new information false if we can't find a "box" for it, and then do the "return to sender" or "dead letter" thingy. New information is threatening when it indicates my view of the world is wrong. I might be WRONG? I might have to CHANGE? OH NO! Not only is it embarrassing, and ego-bruising, it can seem as if the whole reality I knew is about to crumble. And that is a threat because it means I can't accurately predict what might happen and am unsafe. I didn't have it all figured out after all! For example, people will build an entire reputation on some theory only to discover later that they were wrong. The threat to their reputation is so great, they ignore the truth, rationalize it away, so that they can go on being who they are. The more threatening something is to our frame of reference, the greater the resistance and the more vicious the attack against the new idea will be.

Thus, new, unexpected and unforeseen information will trigger a flight-fight response. If we can't get away from it, then like a cornered animal we turn and fight - lash out, call people names, go on a crusade, etc. Think really long and hard on this. When someone challenges or attacks a cherished belief it threatens the carefully constructed little world in our mind. If you are not aware of what your mind is doing, your instincts for survival will kick in - flight/fight becomes the response. "You people are idiots to believe that nonsense. Now, either you people listen to what I say or I AM OUT OF HERE!" Ever heard that? Ever said that? Oh, yeah, we've all done it many times.

From this we can understand why many people are threatened when we try to give them new revelation and knowledge. The new understanding we have gained is a threat to their world view and the tendency will be to attack the messenger - you. It's not uncommon to have old friends turn on you because of what you have discovered. The things you are saying, if accepted, would mean they have to tear down their carefully constructed world and build it up again. The only thing you can do in that situation is to be patient and love them anyway. Difficult, yes, but is what we are called to do.

Instead of avoiding information that is threatening to our world view, we should actually embrace it. I don't mean just believe everything that comes in of course. I do mean constantly evaluate and reevaluate everything. This frightens us because it makes it appear there is no stability, no absolutes. That's not really true, but it feels that way. There are many ways of doing this and each individual has to develop skills appropriate to the things they will encounter and the tasks at hand. One thing I can tell you is that you need to have some basic test to use to evaluate new information. The biggest changes in life and the greatest opportunity for growth comes when we discover a new or different basic test. Here's the test I use for spiritual stuff:

There are only two things I really need to worry about.

#1 - Trust, Love and be in Awe of the Father in Heaven and His Son.

#2 - Love my fellow man.

If some information helps me do one of these two things, it's GOOD stuff and I should reevaluate my frame of reference to fit it in. If it doesn't help do one of the two things above, then I can safely discard it. It may be true, but is not in the category of "important to spiritual growth." It goes somewhere else, or into the trash just like "junk mail." So, not everything that doesn't fit need be a crisis. Just as important, if some information helps with one it cannot be allowed to interfere with the other. For example, something may help my faith in God, but I cannot allow it to interfere with love of others. Think about that for awhile.

One other thing helps also. Something may be helpful to me but not helpful to others. Likewise, just because it isn't important to me doesn't mean it's not important to someone else. I don't really need to know how to hunt tigers in the jungle. If someone wants to argue about the best way to do that, it is not my concern, but I need to be aware that they need to talk about it. So, the thing for me to do is shrug and just stay out of the discussion altogether.

However (and this is important) if I perceive the information is DANGEROUS to one of these things, then I must stand against it. But before I do, I need to be absolutely sure that it is a danger to the principles and not just a threat to my world view. That means listen carefully, evaluate the information honestly, verify if it is true or false, search my heart to see if my response is my own feeling of being threatened, and determine if it really is important. Only when all of that has been done do I have a right to pull out the sword of WORD and swing it.

The "post office of the mind" is something I learned nearly thirty years ago and have used it as a guide ever since. It certainly leaves a lot of room for discussion and argument. Who has better or more complete facts? Is the argument coherent? Who has the broader perspective or larger frame of reference? So, this does not create a mechanical answer to every question by any means. It does help you get pointed in the right direction and avoid many mistakes. I can't say I always succeed in doing it, but I do know this is not speculation or theory. It works.


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