2014-karla-headshot-full-1MB versionHello and welcome. I’m author Karla McLaren, M.Ed. In 2003, after writing nine books and audio learning sets on psychic healing, auras, chakras, and metaphysical concepts of energy, I left my career behind and returned to college.

As I was researching the many questions that eventually led me to leave my New Age career, I somehow learned to ask these questions: “Okay, so let’s say that ghosts don’t exist, or energy meridians don’t exist, or chakras don’t exist, or past lives don’t exist (etc.). Okay. What I want to know is this: What IS happening when I feel, or see, or remember them so strongly? What am I perceiving?”

This approach really helped me tolerate the painful feelings of loss, failure, rage, and shock that arose as I began to realize that the ideas I had built my life around were essentially imaginary. This inquiry-based approach is also what helped me become able to leave my culture and end my healing career. I discovered that questioning the process of knowing helped me take the focus off of myself (“How could I have been so wrong?”) and redirect it to the universal human condition of imperfect knowledge and imperfect perception.

I think if I had merely focused on my own mistakes, I would have done what most of us do: I would have dug in my heels and refused to question further. I would have worked feverishly to re-establish my certainty at any cost. This all-too-common behavior is caused by the cognitive dissonance we feel when our cherished beliefs are shown to be wrong. The stomach-churning pain of cognitive dissonance is so miserable that many people will absolutely refuse to accept that they might have been wrong, even when every possible piece of evidence tells them that they are.

Cognitive dissonance is brutal, but somehow, I lucked into an approach that helped me alleviate the pain of it and reduce the sense of dread and horror it often causes.

I get it now: It’s not only common to be wrong, it’s absolutely expected. That’s why humans created science, philosophy, critical thinking, and logic — each exists to help us work around the many imperfections of human perception and cognition. It’s totally normal for humans to be wrong.

I think that the preemptive cure for cognitive dissonance is to provide people with models that can help them understand, marvel at, and laugh about the hundreds of ways human brains misperceive reality. We regularly see things that aren’t there; remember things that didn’t happen; fall for things that aren’t true but feel true; and connect things that aren’t related. Every single one of us makes endless cognitive blunders, and yet we seem to be left alone and uneducated — to be surprised or horrified by them. That’s just silly.

It’s silly not to know that your brain misperceives the world. It’s silly not to know how and why this happens. Your brain does a huge number of really amazing things, it’s true, but it’s also quite prone to biases, blunders, mistakes, and just plain wrongness. Knowing that can only make you a better thinker.

The title of this site, Missing the Solstice and Discovering the World, is a nod to two things: the loss I have felt at leaving behind beliefs that were central to my identity, and the wonder I now feel at being a free agent in a much larger world.

Yes, cognitive dissonance is painful and alarming for a purpose: you do lose things when you interrogate your beliefs and your certainties.

But here’s something you can’t know until you push your way through: you gain things, too. Wonderful things.

Missing the Solstice is a story told in ten posts. Start here.