Search Results for: The Natural Mind
There is a continuum of states of mind in which one might find oneself. Often, if we’re present with our current experience, we become aware of our state of mind. However, it is not unusual for us to become aware of a state of mind only in retrospect. Meditators are more commonly present with their state of mind and aware of their current state, especially during meditation. For beginning meditators this is often the first time they have actually monitored their state of mind and often find it more chaotic and distressing than focused and relaxed.
I will use four markers for points along the continuum. However, there are many points along a continuum, so these four markers are by no means exhaustive. They should, at least, make the nature of the continuum clear.
In a discussion of meditation in Part I of Self-agency and Beyond (see Chapter II, p. 28), I used four descriptors for states of mind during meditation that I will now elaborate a little on using a weather metaphor.
1. Monkey Mind
Monkey mind is analogous to a rain storm with black clouds illuminated by lightning and punctuated by thunder. The black clouds represent thoughts and, as in a thunderstorm, fill the sky (mind), obscuring everything else in the sky. The lightning represents emotional content and the thunder represents powerful impulses that arise.
2. Hummingbird Mind
Hummingbird mind is more like a day in which the sky is overcast with gray clouds. Again the clouds represent thoughts and while they still obscure everything else in the sky, the thoughts they represent are not as dark and intense as those in a thunderstorm. There are scattered showers, but these do not represent the kind of emotional arousal represented by lightning, nor are there powerful impulses released as represented earlier by thunder.
3. Teflon Mind
Teflon mind is like a clear day with a blue sky punctuated by white clouds drifting slowly across the sky. The clouds represent thoughts that gently arise into untroubled awareness, represented by the blue sky, and then recede out of the field of awareness.
4. Natural Mind
Natural mind is like a pristine blue sky without a cloud in sight. Wisps of thin, white clouds appear from time to time and are all but obscured by the brilliant blue sky.
Practically everyone has experienced all the points on the above continuum. The difference between the typical person and experienced meditators is the relative amount of time spent at different points. This is illustrated below.
The typical person is predisposed to become absorbed in the clouds (thoughts). Meditators wait patiently for the mind to clear and present a break in the clouds and then focus their attention, not on the clouds but on the clear sky (pristine awareness). The goal of most meditators is to spend as much time as possible in or near the Natural Mind end of the continuum. The Natural Mind is the beginning point from which higher states of consciousness can be experienced, which is another topic.
The typical person who is absorbed in his or her thoughts almost always believes that the thoughts represent the self. That is, typically one identifies with one’s thoughts and believes that one’s self is defined by one’s thoughts. Meditators, however, come to realize that, unless directed at some specific task, their thoughts arise and subside on their own schedule and with no specific purpose. They just are. Thus, experienced meditators have learned to become absorbed in awareness of the present moment and to be a mere observer of any thoughts arising and subsiding in their awareness.
The critical question for anyone who has experienced being simply an observer of their thoughts is, Who is doing the observing? It clearly can’t be the thoughts observing themselves. This recognition negates the belief that one is one’s thoughts. So, Who are you?
This guide is a follow up on the essay Meditation, What Is It and Why Do It.
Before undertaking a meditation practice, you need to make a firm commitment to fully engage the practice and accept it as a long-term process or change in lifestyle. This is what the philosopher Ken Wilbur calls Stepping Up, which is the first step in a four step-process he recommends (see link below title).
First, you want to sit in a comfortable chair but not one so comfortable that it will lull you to sleep. Put both feet on the floor and find a comfortable position for your hands. Personally, I cup my hands one on top of the other and let them rest between my legs with wrists on the top of my thighs.
Second, you can either meditate with your eyes closed, which is probably best for beginners, or open. However, if you wish to keep your eyes open, I suggest that you pick a point of focus for your vision that is not interesting in any way, such as an area on the floor a few feet in front of you or a blank spot on the wall that you are facing.
Third, you should use diaphragmatic breathing. This means that when you breathe in, you pull the air all the way down into depths of your lungs. This will cause your stomach to expand outwards. This won’t make you look fat, and it will subside when you exhale. This is how you should breathe all the time. If you don’t, you are what is called a shallow breather, and you’re getting about half of the potential oxygen available to you on each breath. If you pay attention to the air flow in and out of your nostrils, you will note that the air is warmer on the exhale than on the inhale. This is due to the warming effect of your lungs on the air inhaled.
Fourth, you should breathe rhythmically. Try to breathe in a slow steady rhythm. The longer you meditate the slower your breath cycle should become. More on this below.
Fifth, you are now ready to begin. You can either simply start and stop when you feel like you’re ready to end the session. On the other hand, you can approach your session in a more systematic way. Pick a specific amount of time that you think would be a comfortable starting point and set a timer. As you become settled into the time frame you’ve started with, expand it by five minutes or so. Continue this process until you’ve reached an optimal length for your sessions. Some teachers suggest twenty minutes, some thirty minutes and some forty-five minutes to an hour. Some recommend once per day and others twice per day. Personally, my sessions are typically not timed, run somewhere in the thirty to forty-five minute range and are usually done once per day except on days when circumstances just won’t permit it. I would advise trying to get to twenty minutes per day sooner rather than later and lengthen your sessions or increase their frequency as you feel the need to do so.
Sixth, your objective when meditating is to avoid focusing your attention on any specific external (physical) or internal (cognitive) stimulus. If you’re meditating with your eyes closed, you have temporarily controlled for one major source of external stimuli. The most likely external stimuli that might arise while your eyes are closed are sounds or odors. However, if your eyes are open this would be the most prominent source of external stimuli. There are two primary controls for attention. One is intentional, that is, you deliberately direct your attention to some stimulus or stimulus complex. This is what you are doing when you do Sensory Field Meditation (SFM). You are intentionally directing your attention to a stimulus field or complex stimulus. The second is reflex, that is, your attention is drawn to a stimulus by the emotional valence the stimulus holds for you. For example, you are meditating and a dog starts barking at something, perhaps a squirrel or a passing car. If your attention to the SF is well developed, your focus on the SF will simply include the barks as an undifferentiated stimulus within the field. If your focus is broken and your attention is drawn instead to the barking, the barking holds a strong emotional valence for you. What you need to do is calmly accept that your focus has been broken and, without self-judgment, intentionally redirect your attention back to the SF and relax. The goal should be to counter, with relaxation, your emotional reactivity to the barking. If this comes easily then no further action is needed other than working on holding your focus and not reacting.
However, this experience may contain a message. You may have just been made aware of an automatic program (AP) that needs to be addressed. While you are meditating is not the time to try to address it. However, it is good material for contemplation. What you know from the experience is 1) you have an AP that was strong enough to take control of your attention; 2) you know that barking is a trigger for activating this AP; 3) you know that the stimulus has a strong emotional valence for you, otherwise it wouldn’t take control of your attention. Upon reflection, following meditation, the reason why the barking elicited reflexive attention from you may be immediately apparent. If not, you are ready to move on to a method for discovering the reason why the barking elicited reflexive attention from you.
You have what you need to move into a formal discovery process. You have two of the components for an A-B-C analysis. There is one antecedent (A), the barking. There are two possible consequences (C): a) an emotional consequence (aggravation, anger, fear) and b) a behavioral consequence, which is reflexive attention to the antecedent (distraction, attentional refocus) [see Note below]. What you are missing is the belief (B) about the antecedent (A) that resulted in the two consequences (C). What you want to do is focus on this incomplete sequence with an emphasis on the missing component (B) through contemplation, which is very similar to meditation with one important difference. You get into a meditative state, which includes being very relaxed. Next, place your attention on the A-B-C sequence, while gently holding a question in mind; e.g., what is my subconscious belief about barking that gives it emotional valence? Just sit with it and let whatever arises come into awareness. Make a mental note about anything that arises and seems worth further consideration, especially if it elicits an emotional reaction. This can take multiple sessions to get to the relevant information. When you have one or more thoughts or images that seem relevant, you can shift your contemplation focus to those thoughts or images. Eventually, with patience, you will come to an understanding of what the B is in the sequence and probably its origins.
Hypothetically, let’s say that you discovered that, as a young child, you had a fearful encounter with an aggressive dog whose behavior included a lot of barking directed at you. From this experience you came to believe that all dogs or maybe only all barking dogs are dangerous. This belief may have been subconscious, i.e., outside of normal awareness ever since the encounter that generated it. In any case, you now have a good idea what the belief (B) is about barking (A) that results in your response(s) (C).
Sometimes this information (insight) alone will diminish the response. However, it must diminish it sufficiently that the A (antecedent) no longer results in C (consequence) while you are meditating with intentional focus on the SF. If this is not the case, you will need to do counter-conditioning exercises. This is simple enough to do with the example used above. Counter-conditioning requires that two incompatible responses are paired. The most common neutralizing response used for negative emotions is relaxation. It is nearly impossible to be both relaxed and fearful, frightened, anxious, angry, frustrated, and so on at the same time. Fortunately, you are learning a process (meditation) that can, with practice, bring about a deep state of relaxation. So, find or make a recording of one or more dogs barking. Get into a highly relaxed meditative state and activate the recording. If the recording elicits reflexive attention and you can’t easily resume your intentional attention to the SF, turn it off, get relaxed and activate the recording again. Continue until your attention can be easily redirected to the SF or reflexive attention isn’t being elicited. If you can return your attention to the SF, continue to maintain your focus on the SF, continue to relax and if possible deepen your state of relaxation all while the recording continues. Do this until you no longer have any difficulty maintaining your focus on the SF. This process can be adapted to any number of automatic programs that meditation may bring into your awareness. This process is, at least in part, what the philosopher Ken Wilbur means by Cleaning Up, which is the second step in a four-step process.
Note: Of the two types of consequences (emotional and behavioral), you may often get an emotional response without a behavioral response. Both emotional and behavioral responses can be either physical or cognitive and often exhibit both aspects. The emotional response is the motivation for a behavioral response. Sometimes the emotional response isn’t sufficient to produce a behavioral response. At other times you suppress a behavioral response because you have stronger conditioning against responding and your response to the emotional response (now an A) results in suppression (C), which may have an emotional component such as frustration. This is an overlap and potentially is information suggesting the need for an extended analysis.
You may get two types of internal or cognitive stimuli: 1) random thoughts or images that subside or fade away on their own or 2) potent thoughts or images that seduce you into unpacking them. The second type may be alerting you to an AP that needs to become the target of contemplation, using the A-B-C sequence described above.
If you have a lot of type 1 cognitive stimuli and the sheer number of them is interfering with you being able to maintain your focus on the SF (monkey mind syndrome), you need some way to reduce their frequency. I have three suggestions. You can simply begin counting your breaths as a distraction. Count an inhale as one and an exhale as two and so on. Continue until you reach ten and then start over. You can also label them. I have sometimes just labeled whatever was arising in awareness as “chatter” (a.k.a. self-talk). You can also label them as to source, such as “memory,” “my story,” “imagination,” “other story” or “commentary.” The idea is to label the event and then move back into silence to the best of your ability. If you can simply observe stimuli arise and subside, while maintaining your focus on the SF, then you don’t need to take any special measures. The stimuli will diminish in number with patience. The key thing in following this SFM practice is not getting caught up in what is arising and turning it into an object of consciousness. A silent mind isn’t easy to find and will be your greatest challenge in meditation. Do not judge yourself. Do not think of yourself as failing. Do not chastise yourself. All this does is inflate the importance of what you’re trying to diminish.
Moving up on the spiral
You will reach a point where you’ve settled into the above basic process and are comfortable with it. This does not mean that you’ve completely mastered it and achieved perfection. Just that you have reached a point where you can handle more steps. This could take as little as a few days to many weeks. If after reading steps seven and eight, you think you can do this in a single operation, go ahead and give it a try. If you find you are having problems integrating the SF into a gestalt, come back and work through steps seven and eight in a gradual and systematic way.
Seventh, in this step you begin enlarging your sensory field (SF). The SF is what is occupying your awareness. When I say “occupy your awareness,” think of cutting your fingernails. When you are doing this task, the focus of your attention is on the clippers in one hand and one of your nails on the other hand. This is what is occupying your awareness. You may be incidentally aware of other stimuli but the focus in your SF is the nail-cutting task.
Currently you have your breathing in much the same state of awareness as your clippers and nails in the example above. This may also include what your passive vision is registering, if you started out doing eyes-open meditation. It will also include cognitive stimuli arising into awareness and then subsiding. What you want to do now is include in your SF all internal bodily sensations and sensations arising from the body’s contact with objects such as the floor where your feet are resting and the chair that you are sitting in and contacting with various parts of your body. One method of scanning in these sensations is to begin with putting your attention on your feet. Hold awareness of your breathing in your SF and then bring the feet and floor into the SF. Next, slowly scan into the SF the lower legs and knees. When you have your breathing and your feet, floor, lower legs and knees together in the SF, move on up your body, slowly scanning in your upper legs, buttocks, abdomen and lower back, chest and upper back, shoulders, your left arm and hand, your right arm and hand, your neck, and last, your head and face. You should now just hold the expanded SF in awareness as a gestalt, with no focused attention to anything else, though you may be incidentally aware of other stimuli..
Work with the expanded SF for a while and try to keep your mind as quiet as possible. Total silence is a worthy goal but one difficult to achieve. Just try not to let your attention be seduced by mental stimuli that arise in awareness and turning them into objects of consciousness. If you don’t focus on them they will pass. To the extent that you are focused on the SF, as if it were a holistic or single stimulus instead of stray mental stimuli, you are Present. Work with this for a while until you feel like you’re doing a good but not perfect job of being Present with the SF.
Eighth, You are now ready to include the last few stimuli, other than visual, in the SF. Hold the SF in awareness and expand the SF to include all auditory stimuli, olfactory stimuli and any tastes that might be present. The SF should now have pretty much all of your sensory stimuli coalesced into a single stimulus – a gestalt. Your awareness should be as completely filled with this gestalt as possible. Think of sitting in a relaxed state and looking at a scene in nature, a painting or photo of a complex scene. You are not looking at items within the scene but at the scene itself, the gestalt of stimuli that comprise the scene. As long as you don’t allow your attention to be drawn to some individual stimulus in the gestalt, you are Present with the scene. Once you have your SF expanded as described, you may want to stay with this for weeks or months.
Ninth, when you feel like you are ready take up the ninth turn of the spiral, what you want to do is get your breathing to as slow a pace as you are comfortable with. Some experienced meditators can get down to one or two breaths per minute. Personally, I have managed two breaths per minute but feel more comfortable with three or four. However, I’m probably handicapped by all the years that I smoked. I find the best way to handle this is to first slow the pace of your breathing as much as is comfortable. You can then extend this by pausing your breathing at the end of the inhale and at the end of the exhale. If it works better for you, just pause on either the inhale or the exhale. Personally, I find it more comfortable to do this at the end of an exhale, but you may be different. Reducing the amount of oxygen entering your lungs and thereby your brain will dampen the default mode network (DMN).
Tenth, in this phase the goal will be to further reduce the random mental stimuli, e.g., memories, associated emotions, rehearsal of your story, anticipations about the future and commentary on other stories. These are a problem if they haven’t been controlled by the methods described earlier in the Sixth topic. Further, they do not include things that appear to be related to APs and need to be addressed through contemplation, as described earlier in the Sixth topic. If both these criteria are met, you might apply one or both of the following approaches to reducing them.
One thing that might help is a finding in a recent research study that found the frontoparietal network (FPN) plays an important role in the ability to purge thoughts or “clear your mind.” One of the things that the FPN is very much involved in is sustained attention. So, as you work to improve your quality of attention, you also improve your ability to clear your mind of thoughts and strengthen the FPN.
To begin, you need to create a definition that you think will encompass all of the mental stimuli that you’ve observed arising. A simple technique for “clearing your mind” that is based on the research mentioned above is to simply apply a self-instruction to the effect that “this thought is unnecessary. Forget it.”
Another technique you can apply using your definition is counting and plotting. This technique has been shown to effectively diminish a wide variety of behaviors – thought is a mental behavior – through the operation of intention and feedback.
To implement this you want to begin counting each stimulus that arises according to your definition. If it appears you haven’t included everything that you observe, then revise your definition. You can keep count using your fingers but this could become a distraction, especially once you pass a count of ten. Personally, I used a handheld counter that would silently add a count to the total each time I depressed a button on the counter. I simply cupped this in one hand during meditation and used my thumb to press the button. All sorts of counters can be bought at sporting goods stores and on sites like Amazon. Further, you should graph your count for each session. This will provide you with visual feedback on how active your DMN is being. You can use a piece of graph paper or do it in a spreadsheet, which was my choice. Do this until you’ve brought the spontaneous arising of mental stimuli down to as low a level as you can. Once you’ve sort of hit “bottom” and the count is staying pretty constant, you can probably stop this practice and only do it occasionally for monitoring purposes.
Eleventh, you are now ready to include visual stimuli in your SF. If you started out doing eyes-open meditation, you can skip this turn of the spiral, if you’ve done all of it already. First, you want to start opening your eyes during your meditation sessions. As I suggested earlier, for those who wanted to begin with their eyes open, pick an area on the floor a few feet in front of you or a blank spot on a wall to gaze at. In either case, you will also be aware of some peripheral visual stimuli, which is fine. Second, you want to bring these visual stimuli into the SF so that they too are a part of the gestalt that fills your awareness. Be careful not to get seduced by any of the stimuli represented in the field or gestalt. However, if you do find yourself drawn into focusing on some element of the field, just bring your focus back to the field or gestalt. Be gentle with yourself about slippage. Don’t concern yourself about it. Just pull yourself back toward full Presence with the field.
By this time or possibly earlier, you should find that, at least some of the time, the SF has subsided into the background and Presence with your awareness (not what you’re aware of) has come to the foreground. Some would describe this as “being aware of being aware;” others might say simply “beingness.” To reach this phase you will have to have significantly reduced or, for all practical purposes, stopped spontaneous arising of mental stimuli into awareness.
Twelfth, you can now start thinking about moving from a passive, sitting practice to a more active, moving practice. Some start doing this through a formal walking meditation. All you do in this practice is to keep your focus on the sensory field but stand up and start walking slowly about while keeping your visual focus on the ground. This is usually done on a fixed path such as a circle, square or a labyrinth. For those who have done the walking meditation for a while and feel ready to expand their practice, you might take up Tai Chi or other form of moving meditation. Remember, during movement practice, you should keep your focus on your SF, which includes your entire body, which is doing the movement.
For those who want to move on and take their practice into the world and don’t feel a need for the more formal step(s), begin doing an active meditation practice whenever an opportunity presents itself in your daily life. You can do this briefly while engaged in any type of mindless activity that doesn’t require that you have to think about what you’re doing. You can do this while washing the dishes, cutting the grass, walking or jogging. Two of my favorites are while standing in a checkout line or driving on a road that doesn’t require active driving. In the end, you want to simply bring a state of Presence into most of your day. When you do have to drop into a narrow object of consciousness mode, try to bring presence to the task just as you bring Presence to the SF that usually fills your awareness.
Upon reaching this phase, you’ve gone about as far as you can go in preparing yourself for a deeper phase. You are in the natural-mind phase. So, relax and just be. If you move into deeper phases, they will come when they come. They arrive by grace. They just take you. Many nondual teachers see three phases beyond the natural mind. They are Void Consciousness, God Consciousness and Unity Consciousness. For a little more about these, see the last question in my essay What Is Meditation and Why Meditate. This question was not covered in the oral presentation done at Mountain Light due to time constraints.
What is Meditation and Why Meditate?
If you heard or read the piece on worldviews that preceded this you may recall that at the end, a nondual perspective was discussed. Also discussed was the necessity of an experiential understanding of the underlying unity of such a worldview to fully grok it. The principle avenue for that experiential understanding was meditation. Thus, this is an elaboration on the previous piece.
I have studied and practiced meditation for about fifteen years. On the basis of that background, I think meditation can be divided into at least three categories. First, there is what I would call natural meditation. Natural meditation is not done with intent and is a relaxed state of awareness that one may fall into for any number of reasons. One example is a state that one might enter as a result of a solitary encounter with the beauty and tranquility of nature. The second category I call traditional, because it is grounded in a meditative tradition such as Buddhism or Hindu philosophies such as Vedanta or Tantra. Traditional meditation may take many forms and is always done with intent. The third category I would call medicalized. This is a form of meditation that has been adapted from a traditional meditation and employed for health reasons. An example of this type is the Benson Relaxation Response, which is a relabeled form of basic mindfulness meditation. It was first introduced by a Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson, several decades ago as a technique to help reduce stress in his patients. This discussion of meditation will be based on the traditional approach.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a technique to improve the quality of your attention, which determines what you are aware of. The root meaning of the word that “attention” is derived from means “to grasp.” Thus, attention is making sensory contact with a physical stimulus or introspective contact with a mental stimulus and holding on to it. To improve attention requires that you have the self-discipline to practice the technique of meditation consistently and persistently. Meditation can also be useful for revealing the cognitive structures of mind such as ideologies or belief systems and automatic programs (APs) that use such structures to render judgments for you.
Here is an anecdote about attention. Dean Radin, head of research for IONS, had an experiment that he wanted to conduct that required participants who could maintain their focus of attention for a minimum of thirty seconds without exception. He tested a large number of volunteers to identify those who would be suitable for his experiment. He found that the vast majority of those tested could maintain a focus of attention, on average, for six seconds. He did find the subjects he needed and it may be no surprise that they were all experienced meditators.
What is the purpose of improved attention?
While there may be several ends to which enhanced attention might be directed, in meditation it is to make a state of presence more easily attained. Presence, as the late Ram Dass is noted for saying, is, “Be here now.” This means that you are focused on the present moment, not on the past, not on the future, not on your personal narratives (or stories) and not on other narratives (or stories).
Two teachers who put an emphasis on presence are Richard Moss, a former ER physician, and Leonard Jacobson, a former attorney. Moss offers his students an exercise employing a circle. He suggests thinking of yourself standing in the middle of the circle, which represents the present, the portion behind you represents the past, the portion in front of you represents the future, the portion to your left represents your personal stories and the portion to the right of you represents other stories. He says that any time you find your attention outside of the circle, bring it back to the center of the circle and the present. Jacobson similarly suggests that you should keep your focus on what’s in front of you, that is, be present with actuality. He believes that most of us most of the time are divorced from the actual and are “lost in our minds.” Both would agree that the mind is a useful tool and has an important role to play in our lives, and both would agree that we spend a great deal of time engaged with the mind when it is unnecessary.
Why is it important to be present?
To begin with it is only through being present that you can truly experience life. Life is grounded in experience not in the labyrinth of your mind. Life is a process that unfolds through your experience of what is present. When you are lost in your mind you are missing out on life.
Presence also is important to becoming non-judgmental, an attitude discussed in the post preceding this one. You may recall that being non-judgmental requires that you approach people and situations as unique and come to a determination about them through discernment grounded in what is present, not on ideologies and beliefs that create generalized categories in your mind. When you respond to someone as if they were a representative of a mental category, you are dehumaniz- ing them and treating them as an object. You can often recognize this process because the category frequently has a demeaning label.
Presence can also reveal things to you about your conditioned mind and its biases, what was called automatic programs in the previous post. Automatic programs will often be the first thing that attempt to arise and take over your response to someone or some situation. This is an excellent opportunity to take note of this automatic program, suspend it and try to identify its source. Once you know where it is coming from you will be better able to manage it rather than be managed by it.
What is the role of the brain?
The answer to this question is influenced by the work of Iain McGilchrist and Jill Taylor, both of whom are neuroscientists.
The brain is divided into two hemispheres. McGilchrist’s hypothesis about how evolutionarily the split brain came to be adopted by many life forms is related to two tasks of great importance in the past and today, especially in non-human animals. Those tasks include the need for particularized attention for seeking and obtaining food and generalized attention to monitor the larger environment for danger, such as predators. This reminds me of an illustrative story about generalized or inclusive attention. This was related by an anthropologist studying some indigenous people living in a jungle environment. The anthropologist was with a group on some sort of expedition into the jungle. When they reached a certain spot, one of the natives came and led him to a clear spot and told him they would wait here and the others would be back for them. He asked, “why do I have to wait here?” The native replied, “white men don’t know how to see.” The anthropologist asked, “see what?” The native answered, “danger.” These indigenous people clearly didn’t think much of Europeans’ right hemisphere functioning.
Briefly, the left side tends to exclusive attention. It is very good at bringing single objects of consciousness into its “grasp” and cognitively dismantling and manipulating them. This is often referred to as reductive thinking, i.e., reducing things to their apparent parts. Linear logic is then applied to understanding the relations among the parts. Understanding gained from this process has been very useful, especially in learning about many physical processes, and in the development of technology. However, this great asset provided by the left side must be overseen by the right side if good order is to be maintained in overall brain functioning.
Indeed, McGilchrist argues that from an evolutionary perspective, the right side of the brain is designed to be the master while the left side of the brain is designed to be its servant. He illustrates the importance of this relationship by discussing the effects seen in his patients with right hemisphere impairment due to strokes, trauma and disease. The effect of such impairment on the functioning of these patients, he indicates, is very similar to what he sees in his patients with schizophrenia. The effects are generally not so severe when the reverse occurs, suggesting that the right can do without the left much better than the left can do without the right hemisphere.
The right hemisphere tends to inclusive attention and processes input from the left side and its own intuitive understanding through integral thinking that creates an overall synthesis. Such a synthesis weaves a picture that renders an understanding of reality that far exceeds what the left side can accomplish on its own. The right side is also generally reckoned to be the source of imagination, which is largely responsible for using the synthesis to make creative leaps.
It is also worth noting that the most common patterns of electrical activity in the brain, the so called brain waves, seem to have some association with the hemispheres. Beta activity is likely to be more often dominant when the left hemisphere is dominant. Alpha activity is likely to be more often dominant when the right hemisphere is dominant. Alpha is associated with a more relaxed and fluid state of functioning than beta. It better supports the right hemisphere’s need for a more holistic mind set. Theta is also more likely to be dominant in the right side, especially when imagination and creativity are in process. Both alpha and theta are associated with meditative states and indicate that meditation is a useful tool for relaxation, inclusive attention, a holistic mind set and Presence.
Returning to the left hemisphere, when beta is dominant and the left hemisphere is inattentive, a network known as the default mode network (DMN) becomes active. The DMN is thought to support and maintain the ego narrative that most of us rely upon to explain our thoughts, emotions and behavior. One way it does this is to bring into awareness various memories and emotional associations to those memories that are tied to our personal narratives, causing rehearsal of and commentary on the narratives. The DMN also brings forward into awareness similar stimuli associated with other narratives important to ego. These stimuli are processed in much the same manner and for similar purposes. New meditators often find themselves less attentive and still in a beta-dominant mode, which presents them with a hurdle. The activation of the DMN while attempting to move into a meditative state often creates a significant distraction — a state sometimes described as Monkey Mind Syndrome. This syndrome has probably thwarted the intentions of more would-be meditators than anything else. If the new meditator will relax, persist and not become judgmental about his or her difficulties, they can be overcome. Success will not only improve the quality of attention and facilitate states of Presence but can also alter brain structure and improve the brain’s neuroplasticity.
Taylor and McGilchrist both take the view that the materialistic worldview common in western thought and becoming increasingly more common worldwide leads to a left-brain fixation. The processes of the left hemisphere are praised and encouraged and generally put forward as the pinnacle of human thinking while dismissing or minimizing right hemisphere processes and functions. McGilchrist, especially, appears to be of the opinion that this fixation could very well undermine civilization and lead to its collapse. Taylor, if nothing else, is an advocate for restoring whole brain functioning as a way to heal many of our personal and societal ills.
How does meditation help you become Present?
Meditation helps you become Present in several ways. First, the deep relaxation that accompanies meditation activates the right hemisphere. Second, holistic or inclusive attention activates the right hemisphere. Finally, meditation suppresses the activity of the default mode network, which reduces left-hemisphere activation. All mental stimuli, especially language, activate the left hemisphere and bring attention to bear on specific stimuli, which become objects of consciousness. Presence and dominance of the right hemisphere make consciousness without an object possible. This means that a state of awareness can be attained in which there is no attention focused on a particular stimulus. Both music and language are auditory stimuli. Music, however, can be useful for some people during meditation if it is calm and soothing music that aids relaxation and contains no lyrics. Lyrics often draw attention to themselves in the same way that speech does and become objects of consciousness in an activated left hemisphere.
Does meditation give you psychic powers or other unusual experiences?
Patanjali, a venerated yoga teacher, from about 400 BCE, taught that if psychic phenomena appear during meditation, they should be considered as distractions and ignored. Note that there are several branches of yoga practice and this reference to yoga is not to the Westernized version of Hatha Yoga commonly practiced in the U.S.
More likely to occur are noetic events. Noetic events are often associated with the late Edgar Mitchell who, on his return trip from the moon, had an unusual and profound experience while gazing out a window at the vastness of the universe. After he was back on earth, he began researching the experience that he had and concluded that it was a noetic event. A noetic event is defined as an intuitive and implicit understanding or subjective knowing of something. Noetic events are also characterized by being ineffable or difficult to verbally and meaningfully describe to others, unless they have had some similar experience themselves. Edgar Mitchell went on to found an organization known today as IONS (Institute on Noetic Science) whose mission is to study noetic events. Noetic events can arise in both natural and traditional meditative states.
What is the best meditation technique?
There are many styles of meditation that have developed within various traditions. Which one is best for you depends what is most comfortable for you and can be the basis of a sustainable practice. I use what I call a sensory-field meditation technique that I’ve arrived at from my study and practice of meditation. I am happy to share my process with anyone who has a serious interest.
What is enlightenment?
In the piece that preceded this one, it was noted that some traditions view human functioning along a dimension that runs from ignorance to enlightenment. Ignorance is seen as being ignorant of one’s divine nature, and enlightenment is coming to know one’s divine nature directly, i.e. through experience. A contemporary nondual teacher, Rupert Spira, prefers to replace the word “Enlightenment” with the word “Truth,” which functionally still carries the same meaning as just given. However, Spira prefers it because it doesn’t have as much conceptual baggage as the term “Enlightenment.”
Here is what enlightenment won’t do for you. It won’t turn you into a zombie. It won’t render you unable to deal with the daily world, and it won’t solve all of your problems, though it may give you a different perspective on them. There is a Zen saying that I think is apropos when talking about enlightenment. It goes like this: “Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment chop wood and carry water.” Those seeking the spectacular are usually disappointed. If you’re one of those people looking for something spectacular from enlightenment, you might want to contemplate this Zen saying on a regular basis.
There is a Western connection to the idea of enlightenment through Abraham Maslow and Carl Jung. Both considered transcendence of the ego self to be important. Such a shift they found produced a shift in perspective and a broadened worldview. Both thought this shift was a shift away from the ego or self and to a more authentic Self. Maslow say the shift is the culmination of a developmental process, and Jung says it is the result of individuation or the integration of the unconscious, subconscious and ego consciousness.
Transcendence of the self, from my understanding, puts one on the cusp of enlightenment. Some traditions use a six-phase model when talking about the process of moving from ignorance to truth (enlightenment). The first phase is the unconditioned mind (infants and pre-verbal children) with no sense of self. The second phase is the conditioned mind (most everyone else), which is the phase where one is acquiring and has acquired a hierarchy of concepts and a process for processing and judging people and circumstances through those concepts. It also is the period where a lot of automatic programs are established that lead to decisions that require little thought. The third phase is often referred to as “I AM.” It is a phase in which one throws off much of the conditioning acquired during phase two. In this phase, one has acquired Presence and learned to use discernment rather than judgment. I have written about this phase calling it the natural mind.
When one transitions from the natural mind, the cusp is crossed and one enters the fourth phase, which is the first phase of enlightenment. This phase is called Self-realization. It can be described as the direct experience of one’s true nature (a manifestation of divinity). The fifth phase is often called God-consciousness and can be described as direct experience of unconditional acceptance by Source consciousness (God, if you prefer). Unconditional acceptance and Divine Love are often considered to be interchangeable. The sixth phase can be referred to as Unity-consciousness and described as the experience of being unconditional acceptance. This can also be thought of an identity with Source. Jill Taylor thinks that the right hemisphere anterior cingulate is the gateway to experience of Source.
Note: Be careful not to conflate human love with Divine Love. The former is an emotional state and the latter is a way of being. Human love is often thought to be elicited by an external stimulus, whereas Divine Love is not elicited but emitted or, if you prefer, radiated.
“The world is an illusion” is a statement that gets tossed about in some quarters. It is my intention in this essay to share my understanding of the statement. An illusion is defined as “something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.” Most people that I have talked to about the title statement take “illusion” to be equivalent to “mirage.” A mirage has no substance, function or meaning. There is a big difference between a distortion of or misleading impression of something and its total absence. I would include in the idea of illusion the revealing of an aspect or part of something rather than the whole. To take a simple example, think about what your impression might be if your first experience with a dog was only the tail. Your impression would surely result in a false or misleading perception of the actual nature of a dog. The word “world” in the title statement is probably better represented by the phrase, “your experience of and beliefs about reality.” Thus, we might translate the statement to read, “Your experience of reality provides a misleading impression,” while recognizing that “experience” begins as a perceptual phenomenon. This does not mean it has no substance, function or meaning. If someone uttering the title statement or someone hearing the title statement understands “illusion” as meaning “mirage,” I think the meaning of the statement is misunderstood. I think the original intent was to suggest that our perceived reality might seem to be true and correct but is in fact false or misleading. Hereafter, the word “illusion” is used to simply mean a distortion in our perception that results in a false or misleading impression of reality.
It is also likely that what you perceive is largely a cognitive construction. Neuroscientist Don DeGracia has pointed out that vision research shows that the visual cortex receives more input from the brain itself than from sensory input through the eyes. The eyes in turn are said to only take in about a fifth of the available sensory data. This appears to support the idea that we actually construct what we see. Persons who have been blind from birth and that medical science provides with an intact vision system still have to learn to see images that you take for granted. Some actually find the experience so confusing that they say they would prefer to be blind and wear dark glasses to block stimulus input. I will end this introduction with a quote from Albert Einstein that you might ponder, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.”
In the following, I will discuss the translated title statement relative to four perspectives, where the fourth is the likely source of the title statement.
The first perspective is biological. I will briefly describe here a way of looking at perception from an evolutionary perspective. There is only one person that I am familiar with who has developed and conducted research on this evolutionary perspective. If you’re interested in the details, I recommend you read Donald Hoffman’s book, The Case Against Reality.
The research done by Hoffman and the resulting scientific theory views what we perceive as “fitness icons.” Hoffman’s research and theory suggests that evolution has shaped our perceptions to be finely tuned to those aspects of the world that have fitness implications for us as biological organisms. Fitness refers directly or indirectly to things important for survival and reproduction. One way to look at this is that anything we perceive, including our body, is an “object” in a field of energies (note, what we call matter is just concentrations of energy) that go well beyond what we can sense. Evolution has shaped our sensory organs to only recognize those characteristics of the energy field that have fitness implications for humans. Further, what we perceive in a fitness icon is a representation of its critical features for us presented in a form that is most meaningful to us. There are many aspects of our environment that don’t have fitness implications for us and to which we are essentially blind. The limited amount that we do perceive seems to us to be reality. The belief that we see reality as it is, is an illusion. It is only a particular take on a segment of the sensory field. Your personal perception of reality is not reality as it is. It just seems that way.
The second perspective is psychological. Almost all normal people have what might be called a personality, self-concept or ego with which they identify. Whatever you wish to call it, this is what most people think they are. Bill, for example, has a lot of characteristics that he would ascribe to himself, such as hardworking, fair–minded, charitable, shy, a poor public speaker, apolitical, good with animals, a victim of an abusive father, and so on. All of these things and more are woven into a personal narrative, and this narrative is based in large part on memories of past experience. This narrative gives Bill a road map that tells him where he fits in. It also provides a ready explanation for things that he thinks, feels or does. It shapes his life by determining what he believes he can and can’t do, what he expects from life and how he goes about being in the world.
The thing about personal narratives is that they are to a great extent a fiction. To begin with, the narrative is comprised of selected memories from the pool of all the memories available. These selected memories, like all memories, are subject to editing and revision. Research shows that memories are not stable though we like to think they are. Memories change over time in both subtle and dramatic ways. Even two or more people having a similar experience will create different memories of it. This is often apparent in conversations with siblings about experiences shared in the home while growing up. In the course of weaving the memories into a narrative some license is taken in order to create a cohesive story, which is believed without question. The narrative seems like who you are but it is just a psychological construct that is mentally active whenever you aren’t focused on a task. You frequently review, update, edit and reinforce this narrative to the exclusion of many other possible variations on the narrative. The psychological construct posing as you is a constructed fiction, which does have elements of truth in it. I would say it can also be thought of as an illusion because it is a distortion of your complete body of perceived experience. Usually, those experiences that have a strong emotional component are the ones selected to weave a story around. Your construed personal reality is who you believe you are. It seems like it is your true “self,” but it is an illusion in the sense that it is to some degree a distortion of your fully lived experience. I have discussed this further in a post (among others) titled The Natural Mind on my website and in Chapter Four of my ebook, Self-Agency and Beyond.
The third perspective is cultural. This is a much larger narrative than your personal narrative but a narrative nonetheless. Every culture and sub-culture has a story that explains to members who they are, what they should believe and how they should act. This narrative is embedded in history, literature, media, myths (e.g., self-reliant individualism) and other means of conveying and reinforcing the story. Cultural narratives often overlap a nation so we can, for example, talk about the American culture or the American story — albeit with sub-plots. In some cases, the culture is broader than a nation and may, for example, be tied to an ethnic group (e.g., the Kurds) spread across several countries. What seems to be true to you is but one of many stories that could be woven about your culture by making different assumptions and emphasizing different events, different people and different interpretations. In fact, for anyone who takes the trouble, it is often much easier to see the revisions, editing and modifications of a cultural narrative across historical time than to see it in one’s personal narrative. This first became apparent to me when, as an undergraduate, I took a three-term course in constitutional law. I completed this course seeing the U.S. Constitution as providing a foundation more like shifting sand than a rock solid foundation. Identification with a cultural narrative is belief in just one of many potential constructions. While it may seem to you to be correct and true, it is an illusion in the sense that it is a distortion of the total cultural experience. If you would like to explore this dimension in greater detail, I recommend Jeremy Lent’s book, The Patterning Instinct and an analysis based in neuroscience by Iain McGilchrist titled, The Master and His Emissary:The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. It is also not hard to find explications of alternate stories about cultures, especially from groups diminished by the prevailing story.
To summarize the first three perspectives, you have biologically imposed limitations and restrictions on what aspects of reality that you can perceive and how you construe them. You create a fictive-self as a tool for negotiating your way through life and explaining your thoughts, emotions and actions. You adopt a belief in a constructed cultural narrative in which to embed your personal narrative and try to sync the two to work together. All of these, in their own way, distort the deeper reality from which they are extracted. In short, relative to the deeper reality they are illusions. In most cases useful and also true in a superficial sense.
The fourth perspective is the really deep dive in this essay. There are a number of labels that might be used for the fourth perspective. I will call it the spiritual perspective, because that is a term commonly used these days for some of the things that will be discussed. This is a perspective recognized by many traditions, including Christian, Buddhist, Moslem and the Vedantic and Tantrik traditions in India.
When talking about religious and theistic philosophical systems, it can be said that they often have two faces. The exoteric face, which is the public face and is most visible through its churches, temples and so forth and by its practices, ceremonies and rituals. The exoteric face is most often associated with systems of belief. Then there is the esoteric face, which may be associated with monasteries, ashrams, and even ascetics and hermits. The esoteric face is most often associated with systems of practice (see the Introduction and Part II of my ebook Self-Agency and Beyond) and personal experience of gnosis (intuitive knowledge of spiritual truth). The esoteric is a side of Christianity that has largely been absent for some time, but is currently seeing something of a revival. This segment will draw on the esoteric face and the teachings of individuals referred to as sages, awakened, realized and enlightened among other labels. The presentation will be somewhat generic rather than tradition specific.
The view from this perspective asserts, on the basis of phenomenological knowing or gnosis, that the material cosmos, including all life forms, are epiphenomena that arise from a universal primordial awareness/consciousness that has no beginning nor end. I make a distinction between awareness and consciousness in the Introduction to my eBook Self-Agency and Beyond but will hereafter stay with the term consciousness. This primordial consciousness contains the material cosmos but is not limited to the material cosmos. In another essay, I describe the cosmos as like a cosmic egg, characterized by locality*, floating in a sea of primordial consciousness (characterized by non-locality*). A sea of consciousness that is inherently intelligent, creative, inquisitive and unconditionally accepting of its own being and everything that arises from it, This type of conception can be found in either a theistic version called panentheism (see Part III of my eBook SelfAgency and Beyond or one of several essays such as this one) or a philosophical version called monistic idealism (see the works of Bernardo Kastrup and in particular The Idea of the World, which is for most readers not the book of his to begin with. I suggest starting with A Rationalist Spirituality). You can find a list of most of Kastrup’s books along with an audio interview about each book on a page on my website.
This view further asserts that particularized consciousness in each biological organisms is simply a contracted kernel of primordial consciousness that in its particularized form is unaware of its roots in primordial consciousness. The material cosmos was “imagined” into being by primordial consciousness to serve as a basis for the evolution of life. Life serves as the vehicle for kernels of particularized consciousness and in a self-conscious life form that might be called personal consciousness. The purpose of particularized consciousness is to provide primordial consciousness with the opportunity to explore its own infinite potential through experience. Experience arises out of the tension that is created through complimentary pairs, such as, satiety and hunger, hot and cold, life and death, love and hate, good and evil, male and female, health and disease, and so on. Once set in motion, this system is independent and autonomous, allowing full expression of whatever it generates.
This is a complex perspective with many variations that all point to much the same conclusions. The paragraphs above hardly do justice to the perspective but that was not their intent. If you want to explore the fourth perspective further there are a number of reference links above. You might also read Part I of Tantra Illuminated by Christopher Wallis for the philosophical foundation for the yoga tradition based in Tantra. You can also find additional essays on my website by employing the search engine or looking at the titles page. Finally, you might get some idea of this from the poem Conundrum that I recently wrote and that can be found on this page.
Many persons who have realized their true nature as vehicles for primordial consciousness and have opened to consciously embodying primordial consciousness have made statements such as the title statement for this essay. Their intent seems to be to convey that there is a deeper reality beneath what seems to be reality to most humans. From their perspective, what most of humanity calls reality is in fact closer to a lucid dream in primordial consciousness. This does not make it any less real or meaningful to participants in the “dream” but what the “dreamers” perceive as reality is a false or misleading perception of the deeper reality underlying it and therefore can be called an illusion. A similar statement that is associated with this perspective is that “There Is No Doer” about which I have also written an essay titled Are We Merely Divine Puppets?.
* locality and non-locality are physics terms that essentially mean within space/time and beyond space/time respectively.
The following are brief quotes loosely organized into the categories: Education, Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Science and Spiritual.
An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.
[Government] education is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another.
John Stuart Mill
To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society!
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.
Freedom’s only true defense is sound money…
No one ever lost money by taking a profit.
The purpose of business is not to make money but to serve its customers so well that it is profitable.
The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.
The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.
In a free market without government privilege, people seeking profit are led as if by an invisible hand to create general benefits that may be unintended.
It is [an] underlying confusion between wealth and debt which has made such a tragedy of the [current] era.
If printing money made you rich, Zimbabwe would be the richest county on the planet.
…economists are most economical about ideas. They make the ones they learned in graduate school last a lifetime.
Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it is just the opposite.
Words are like bullets in truth’s bandoleer, and poets are truth’s snipers.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
The supreme sloth consists in failing to long madly for immortality.
Optimism is a duty!
What do you care what other people think?
The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell.
Evil is the complete absence of empathy.
The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true.
Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.
I’ve seen a heap of trouble in my life, and most of it never came to pass.
History doesn’t repeat — but sometimes it rhymes.
Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith.
Preparation is temporary, regret is forever.
We are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony
Those who fear Hell follow a religious path, those who have already been there follow a spiritual path.
I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope.
Your point of power is always in the present.
As long as you believe in some Truth, you do not believe in yourself.
We are not physical beings who have temporary spiritual experiences but rather spiritual beings who have temporary physical experiences.
Trying to be compassionate is like trying to be spontaneous.
Worrying is praying for something that you don’t want.
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true, the other is to refuse to believe what is true.
Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.
Skeptic: Someone who doubts everything including his own skepticism.
Pseudo-Skeptic: Someone who exercises a set of prejudgments against anything that varies from the conventionally accepted, especially in the face of data to the contrary.
Dialogue: A free flow of meaning between people in communication.
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.
The recipe for perpetual ignorance is to be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.
You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.
Being free is being able to accept people for what they are.
Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.
When we use dehumanizing language, it says much more about us than the people that we’re railing against and it chips away at our soul.
Legislation… is the chief instrument of oppression.
No government can in any way expand its powers over people but to limit freedom…
If government cannot be limited, freedom is lost…
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force…It is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
The tragic flaw in political parties is that they attract politicians.
Political correctness is to religious orthodoxy as insensitivity is to heresy.
Bureaucrats are individuals adept at aggregating small solvable problems into large unsolvable problems.
A constitution is to…government, what law is to individuals.
Democrats tax and spend, Republicans borrow and spend, libertarians are frugal.
The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal.
There is nothing so bad that government can’t make it worse.
Opinion polls are a symptom of mobocracy.
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
Freedom is the length of the chain between your imagination and reality.
The Christian religion is not an implicit part of the American government.
A free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.
Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit,
Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.
Those who control history have leverage on the future.
You can never be certain that something will happen until the government denies it.
The top 5% pay 59% of income taxes and the bottom 50% pay 2.7% of income taxes.
I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who, reading newspapers, live and die in belief that they have known something of what has been passing in their times.
The United States of America have only one permanent criminal class, members of the U.S. Congress.
Never assumes the rules are what you think they are just because they are written down, if someone else can change them.
Ideology is the science of idiots.
Watching Republicans and the Democrats bickering over the U.S. debt is like watching two drunks argue over a bar tab on the Titanic.
I speak the truth not so much as I would, but as much as I dare and I dare a little more as I grow older.
American politics has clearly demonstrated that you can indeed fool most of the people most of the time.
Bipartisanship is alive and well as evidenced by the cooperative effort to bankrupt the country.
Politics is not the art of the possible. It is choosing between the unpalatable and the disastrous.
An election is the advance auction of stolen goods.
Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the Government take care of him; better take a closer look at the American Indian.
Libertarianism: A conspiracy to take over the government and leave you alone.
Mandatory health insurance is older people mandating that younger people pay for their health care.
Changing the politician occupying an office is analogous to changing the font on a menu.
Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.
America is slowly discovering that the land of the free and home of the brave has become a corporate, fascist nightmare.
There’s no question that this is a time when corporations have taken over the basic process of governing.
Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt.
When masses are raised above the individual,individuals suffer en masse.
Freedom consists of the distribution of power and despotism consists in its concentration.
Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) cultures.
The political establishment — proven wrong time and time again — thinks it know what its doing.
I think that the federal government — just as an entertainment medium — is pretty good.
It is not so much what a man is that counts as it is what he ventures to make of himself.
Behavior can be understood only by identifying the goals to which it is addressed.
There is no reason to expect anyone to think better of you than you think of yourself.
Intelligence: The extent to which one can learn from experience.
Maturity: The extent to which one can learn from other people’s experience.
The true test of character is power.
Life is a task. You either cope with it or it gets you.
True personal power is not the ability to cause change but the ability to inspire
Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.
When we have knowledge, space grants us unbounded opportunity, and time presents us with infinite possibilities for change.
[People] try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds.
People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them.
Only insight can change the workings of a disordered mind.
You create your own illusion and become entangled in it.
Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
Our judgments of any person [including self], event, thing, or set of circumstances are cloaked self-judgments.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
We can well believe that we will first understand how simple the universe is when we recognize how strange it is.
Specialization is for insects.
Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.
Our sole responsibility is to produce something smarter than we are; any problems beyond that are not ours to solve.
The most important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.
Involuntary death is a cornerstone of biological evolution, but that fact does not make it a good thing.
Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that people don’t have to experience it.
What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
If it s obvious, it s obviously wrong.
Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.
Mainstream medicine isn’t about healing but about enabling patients to continue dysfunctional life styles.
The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.
Sir James Jeans
Extraordinary breakthroughs in science always involve giving up a significant prejudice.
As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
At it’s best, it [science] is completely open and excludes nothing. It has no entrance requirements.
The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.
You can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in his back.
There is no place in this new kind of physics both for the field and matter, for the field is the only reality.
Through modern physics materialism has transcended itself.
Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.
I refuse to commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud.
All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force…we must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.
Fear is a mirror reminding you of where ego is still present.
Words are unnecessary stains on silence and emptiness.
Your purpose is to be Present with as much compassion, wisdom and skillfulness as is possible.
…the intellect (consciousness) and matter are correlatives…they are in fact really one and the same thing, considered from two opposite points of view.
Enlightenment is an awareness, through direct experience, of one’s unity with All That Is.
Enlightenment is a direct experience of the superposition of all dualistic systems thereby revealing their undifferentiated origin.
God will not drive flies away from a tailless cow.
Fulani tribe saying
Your way of being in the world determines the reality you experience.
If you don’t create your own reality someone else will
I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.
You can’t start the next chapter of your life, if you keep re-reading the last one.
So long as it “feels” like there are choices, its important for us to make skillful ones.
Mind cannot bring you to the direct knowledge of Self.
Ultimately, your greatest teacher is to live with an open heart.
Thought is a tool to take you to the gate. Then you must leave your tools behind.
Trust that nothing good that you offer into the universe is ever wasted.
Prayer is extroverted and seeks to humble the ego,
Meditation is introverted and seeks to transcend the ego.
Language conceals the Self.
Read a little, meditate more and think of God all the time.
The ego is like a black bug on a black rock on a moonless night.
The way we live ordinary life is [our] spiritual practice.
[Once] you experience something, you do not have to believe in it any longer. It is not a matter of belief but a matter of experience.
The trap is to believe enlightenment is an experience.
For the religious person God excites the mind; for the mystic God stops it.
Don’t believe everything you think.
Forgiveness means forgiveness of one’s self for insisting on replacing Reality with your version of it.
You must allow the world to be as the world is.
Experience is fundamentally an emotional attachment to physicality that exists to be transcended.
Ego’s resistance to Being blocks Self-realization.
Unconditional Love dissolves the attachment of ego to judgment.
Therapy attempts to modify the ego, the natural mind transcends the ego.
Presence and kindness are the tools with which we find freedom.
Awareness precedes memory, memory precedes thought, thought precedes language and language precedes narration — peel the onion.
Belief in God is the greatest obstacle to knowing God.
Religions must fail simply because mind cannot practice the truth of Being.
Don’t mistake knowledge for knowing.
If you believe in an entity that you call God, chances are God is just a character in the script you “wrote” to articulate your life.
Abide in Presence.
A change in meaning is a change in being.
Beliefs, opinions and judgments are three of the many flavors of mental chewing gum — kick the habit.
No path can take you to your true Self because you already are your true Self.
Ignorance is grounded in beliefs.
Meditation — Presence on training wheels.
Not mindfulness but mindlessness.
Compulsive thinking is cognitive avoidance of being Present.
Ego is the mask God wears while pretending to be you.
Awakening is the realization that one is merely a character in a cosmic soap opera.
Idle thoughts arising in awareness have the same status as tactile sensations, sounds, smells or images arising in awareness — endless flux.
To be Present focus attention on awareness.
You are Love’s body.
Pursuit of experience is avoidance of Presence.
Seeking enlightenment is a spiritual snipe hunt.
Cosmic Love is absolutely Ruthless and Highly Indifferent: it teaches its lessons whether you like/dislike them or not.
ALL That Is emanates from Divine Love, Surrender to love and be one with ALL That Is.
Is this enlightenment we are promising you? As long as you are seeking it, no. When you are being it, it is done.
You cannot be the light and hold another in darkness.
Being trumps doing.
In the long run it is far more dangerous to adhere to illusion than to face what the actual fact is.
Recently, I heard a claim that there were only two authentic expressions of sex, i.e., the natural binary of male and female. The speaker argued that this binary and only this binary is natural and therefore authentic. As I considered this claim, my thoughts went back to the early history of life on this planet when sex evolved as a reproductive strategy. Biological evolution, as a process, produced two reproductively distinct sexes. The strategy has endured because it improved the odds of successful reproduction of any species using it. Sexes exist for a biologically functional purpose and only for that reason. Remove the biological advantages from sexual reproduction and sexes never would have evolved. This means in its most fundamental sense male and female reflect reproductive sexes. The majority of individuals are male or female in the reproductive meaning of the two categories. Any fundamental differences between the two reproductive sexes, whether in anatomy, physiology, affect, cognition or behavior appear of necessity to be tied to reproductive functions. This seems to be what the speaker mentioned above had in mind. In another piece on this site, I have argued that male and female represent a complimentary pair that anchor the points at either end of a spectrum lying between the pair. The speaker denied as authentic the spectrum and thus anyone representing it.
Evolution is not an invariant process and a minority of births result in atypical outcomes related to sex, as well as other characteristics. Some atypical sex related outcomes are more easily identified than others. There are variations in anatomical outcomes such as in the structure of the genitalia. There are also physiological variations such as Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which result in a genetically XY individual who appears female but has no internal female reproductive organs. There also appear to be a range of atypical sex related outcomes, possibly due to physiological processes, that aren’t well understood. For example, there are likely atypical outcomes due to hormone exposure during development that is hypothesized to occur at the wrong time or persist for too long or too brief of a period or to involve the wrong hormone altogether. These are usually only identifiable through overt behavior and/or reports of covert psychological states such as thoughts, feelings and behavioral impulses arising in awareness and becoming objects of consciousness, which may or may not be overtly acted upon. Thus, in addition to anatomical variations, there can be outcomes resulting in variations in sexual orientation, sense of sexuality and gender identity or even a lack of one or more of these. These atypical variations can be manifest in various combinations and to varying degrees and will be stronger and more intense in some individuals than in others. I would say that any variation that is a product of nature is natural and any claim that it is unnatural is a false claim.
If you take the variations above, which arguably have a basis in biology and then insert them into the psycho-social context represented by culture, a whole new layer of considerations emerge. Culture represents a range of interpretative narratives about human nature and the role of people in the institutions and practices of society. These include such things as religion, politics, medicine and psychology among others. During development, we all begin to build up a narrative about how we fit into this many-faceted cultural matrix. For example, many would call this personal narrative ego or self. How we define our fit into this matrix or allow it to be defined for us can have far ranging implications. It is my assertion that it is a human right for each individual to define for themselves their relationship to the cultural matrix in which they live. That said, understand that there are components within the matrix that resist such a right in many of the variations within a population. Deniers of human rights tend to have rigid personalities and a need for certainty even if they are certainly wrong. Such people could be said to be lost in their mind.
What I mean by the mind is that scaffold of mental constructs that go by names such as ideas, concepts, beliefs and facts that are usually revealed in our use of language. Our experiences are encoded through images and words and are therefore linked to the scaffold. The development of the cultural mind is supported by the experiences of the body in the physical world. Experience is a critical contributor to the development of the cultural mind. Complimentary pairs, like male and female or good and evil, exist because they make experience possible through the tensions produced by the contrast between the end points – if no contrasts, then no experience. You can’t have the experience of temperature without the binary of hot and cold.
The cultural mind, in my view, might be thought of as a cognitive structure existing within memory and is active in awareness most of the time. By way of illustration, imagine a large grassy field (awareness) with a complex set of “monkey bars” (cultural mind) set up on part of it. Most of us spend most of our time “playing” on the monkey bars and are largely oblivious to the field (awareness). When an experience occurs, we usually interpret it through the structures comprising the cultural mind. This is what is known as top-down perception. Looking at an experience from the perspective of the field and excluding the monkey bars is called bottom up perception and is typical of young children and awakened adults. This is the perspective of the natural mind.
I would suggest that the self that resides in the cultural mind is a personal myth and is a story woven from memories, which are selective and ever changing. This self can never be authentic in any foundational sense. Authenticity in a person is, in my view, to be found only in the beingness from which awareness arises, not in the cultural mind. Thus, to legitimately characterize someone as authentic is to speak of them as an expression of that underlying beingness, a state that precedes mind and body. A state that resides in the source of awareness, which is Primordial Awareness or Universal Mind. The authentic Self shines through some individuals’ way of being in the world and is hidden by others’ way of being in the world. It is not that one has it and another lacks it, for both have it. It is just evident in one and not the other. Let us seek communion with our authentic Self and then let it shine into the world to be seen by all who have eyes with which to see it.
Below is an alphabetical list of narrative titles that I have posted to this site. The titles are hot links and you can open them by double clicking on them. The most recent posts are listed in the window below the search engine on the right. Revised and updated titles are so marked: A Brief Comment on Paradigms A Libertarian Philosophy of Education A Libertarian's Perspective on Abortion A Personal Odyssey Precept versus Practice A Proposed Classification System for Sexual Variation A Quantum Metaphor for Enlightenment Aesthetic Perception and Beauty Culture An Eclectic Program of Meditation and Self-Inquiry Are We Merely Divine Puppets? Authenticity Beyond Gun Control Bioethics and Life Extension* Bohm, Pribram and the Holographic Model Brain Networks and Meditation Choice Climate Change and Global Warming (Revised) Comment on a Klan Rally David Bohm's Reformulation of Quantum Physics Discernment and Acting in the World Ego Is the Mask God Wears While Pretending To Be You Entangled in Duality Ethics, Morality and Worldview Free Will and the Evolution of Consciousness Further Ruminations Gamma Waves and Advanced Meditators Goswami’s Quantum Philosophy I Goswami’s Quantum Philosophy II Goswami's Brain-Mind Model Immigration Policy Infinite Universe Institutionalization as a Factor in Educational Under Performance Is Economic Growth a Viable Long-Term Goal? Lost in Politics Love and Hate in Human Thought My Most Challenging Unitarian Universalist Principle Night Owl Interviews Jessie Christenson on Shamanic Energy Fields #1 Night Owl Interviews Teresa Gentry on Phenomenological Psychology #2 Noetic Events On Buber and Bohm On Nonduality On the Nature of Food On Women as Female Impersonators Reality Appears to Arise from Mysterious Foundations (Revised, Aug 2018) Research Update on the Default Mode Network Salvation Will Not Be Found in Politics Sex, Gender and Language Sex, Sexuality and Philosophy Speculation About Transgender Conditions Spiritual Practice and the Evolution of Consciousness Spirituality and Religion Standing On the Side of Love States of Mind: An Overview for Meditators Taken The Great Illusion The Looking Glass The Monetary Factor in the 2008-09 Economic Downturn The Natural Mind The Nature of Evil The Problem with Belief The Purpose of Meditation (Conclusion added Dec 2018) The Richest Nation in the World? The Role of Belief in the Evolution of Consciousness The Role of Hate and Evil in Human Thought The Several Selves The World is an Illusion? Thoughts on School Reform What Is in the National Interest? What is Science? What is the Nature of Reality? Why I Am a Philosophical Libertarian Why I Am an Agnostic Why We Believe
The fundamental assumption (a.k.a. ontological primitive) underlying the following comments is that of panentheism or monistic idealism. This assumption is that ALL That Is, is comprised of objects in Primordial Awareness. Consider Primordial Awareness to be an undifferentiated or unity state of potential Consciousness that is assumed to be omnipresent and have infinite intelligence, creativity and attentive capacity. Primordial Awareness, exercising its infinite intelligence and creativity, imagined a continuous process of Creation incorporating the principle of Evolution. This is not to be confused with Darwinian evolution, which is a superficial imitation of Primordial Evolution. The process of Creation then began generating objects of Consciousness in Primordial Awareness. When focus of Attention is active, then “objects” residing in Primordial Awareness are Perceived and become objects or evolving objects of Consciousness. In short, for Primordial Awareness to be Conscious of something means the “thing” becomes particularized within Primordial Awareness through focus of Attention, and thereby, there is Perception of it as individuated or separate from other “things.” Attention in Primordial Awareness is unlimited, and therefore, the objects of Consciousness are unlimited. Thus, Universal Mind comes into existence through activity in the field of Primordial Awareness. By way of analogy, one might think of Universal Mind as a movie playing out on a screen (Primordial Awareness). Some people might even say this is a description of the Mind of God. Call it what you will.
All That Is, is the content of Universal Mind and thus everything that exists is an object in Consciousness. Every object of Consciousness is an individuated subset of Primordial Awareness brought into Consciousness by the Attention given it. If you are made in the image of God, then that identity is due to you being an object of Consciousness in Primordial Awareness. An aspect of Primordial Awareness with biological potential can exist in a formless state within Consciousness or it can be expressed in a form. What you experience as a body is a biological form. The non-biological world that you experience is comprised of forms of varying densities (a.k.a. physical matter). Some physical matter will be denser than and some less dense than biological forms. All forms are objects of Consciousness and exist only in Universal Mind. All biological forms, as aspects of Universal Mind, have some degree of consciousness.
Since ALL That Is arises within Primordial Awareness and from its infinite intelligence and creativity, everything in Universal Mind is accepted unconditionally by Primordial Awareness. This unconditional acceptance, when experienced by a human form within Universal Mind, is experienced as Divine Love. Divine Love is always a fundamental characteristic of Universal Mind and therefore always applies to every object of Consciousness whether that object is aware of it or not. Unconditional acceptance or Divine Love cannot be judgmental, therefore, there is no “moral” hierarchy within Universal Mind — no good or evil, right or wrong, or other dualities necessary for experience.
Human forms can be thought of as attractors. A human form is too circumscribed to be the recipient of the infinite possibilities that exist within Universal Mind. Thus, each human form is like a receiver tuned to a limited set of content. In a human form, the receiver is defined by the initial conditions manifest in the biological form. Think of these initial conditions as genetic predispositions, epigenetic modifications, glandular configurations, neurological organizations, birth circumstances, etc. The initial conditions define and set certain limitations on the human form, which in turn determines what sort of content (thoughts, ideas, images, feelings, emotions, sensations, perceptions, impulses, etc.) that a human form initially attracts to itself from Universal Mind. These initial conditions in a human form are what I would equate with karma, which can be perceived as having both positive and negative aspects. Most elements comprising the initial conditions are prompts related to still unfolding development that would benefit from attention. A few elements comprising the initial conditions may be related to specific choices intended to provide entirely new conditions and an opportunity to learn from experiences related to those conditions. As long as you are identified with the body/mind, karma sets the agenda for your life. While the ‘blueprint” provided by karma can be and usually is followed, it can also be transcended.
Transcending karma requires a shift in identity. Almost everyone identifies with the body/mind, but the body/mind is only a vehicle, a means of providing Primordial Awareness access to an experiential dimension of its own creation. Your awareness is an aspect of Primordial Awareness. Interaction with the material dimension strongly focuses your awareness in the body/mind. Think of yourself as analogous to awareness and of an automobile as analogous to the body/mind. You use, appreciate and maintain the automobile but you do not identify with it; i.e., you do not confuse the automobile for yourself. Likewise, do not confuse your essential essence (awareness) with the vehicle (body/mind) that it employs. Identify “self” with awareness rather than with the body/mind and you may come to know the True Self and transcend your karma. Now, let’s return to ego.
Early in development, a human form perceives stimuli in its environment as neutral. This is what is known as bottom-up perception. Experience with environmental stimuli attracts content. There is a predisposition to react to that content according to initial conditions. A human form will then retain in memory some of the content, explore it, elaborate it and begin creating character traits or fundamental action patterns around it. Many of these patterns, along with core patterns (e.g., the survival pattern) that are preset, come to automatically produce interpretations, motivations, decisions and impulses to action. The more automatic they become the less awareness one has of their operation. These patterns, which I discuss as automatic programs (APs) a sub-section in Part I of the link, are eventually woven into a basic self-narrative. Part of the purpose of the self-narrative is to explain why one is thinking, feeling and doing things that are being driven by APs that operate outside of awareness.
With the emergence of the basic narrative, ego has begun forming and the process of top-down perception begins. Thus, the evolving ego structure becomes a framework for interpreting experience through the narrative-defining ego. Ego structure becomes a filter that both interprets experience and selects content attracted from Universal Mind. The ego structure is further elaborated by beliefs encountered in the environment that resonate with ego’s narrative. Especially important are cultural beliefs that are incorporated into the narrative supporting the ego process. The evolving structure is reinforced and strengthened by the resonant content recalled from memory or attracted from the Universal Mind. There is a neurological process called the default mode network (click here and here) that is closely tied to the maintenance and strengthening of ego. Anytime you are in a state of relaxed attention, it begins presenting you with material either drawn from memory or newly attracted from the Universal Mind. Attending to and engaging this material helps to refresh and elaborate the ego narrative.
As I pointed out in The Natural Mind, many spiritual traditions teach that one significant task, on the spiritual journey, is to regain the ability to return to using bottom-up perception. Both meditation and awareness in the moment (a.k.a. presence) practices are used to help meet this goal. In both cases, the objective is to quiet the mind, which means dampening the effect of the default mode network. Because content naturally arises from memory and is regularly attracted from Universal Mind, it is difficult, probably impossible, to stop this process entirely. However, it is sufficient to learn to not focus attention on this content in awareness and thereby avoid making the content objects of consciousness and thus become entangled in them.
Meditation helps you learn to maintain an attentive focus on a single stimulus such as the breath. While holding such a singular focus, it becomes possible to simply observe the flow of content in awareness as background rather than bringing it to the foreground and responding to it. Learning to simply observe content as a flow in the background will significantly reduce the amount of content arising in your awareness. In awareness practice, one focuses on a diffuse state of awareness where the field of awareness is usually external and may be full of content or potential objects of consciousness. However, none of the potential objects become true objects of consciousness. This is because nothing is singled out and established as a particular focus of attention. The focus of attention is on the field of awareness as a whole or a gestalt field and not on anything in particular within it. When awareness is holistic and no objects of consciousness are given focus, top-down perception is suspended.
Meditation and awareness practices are means of coming into a proper relationship with the ego process, which is a powerful process but still merely psychological. In the absence of disciplined attention, the ego process is unrestrained and dominant. Personal awareness identifies with the ego narrative, which is believed to arise from the body/mind. All experience is filtered through this narrative (top-down perception). Thus, top-down perception literally creates the reality that is experienced. A dominant ego interprets every thought, image or feeling that arises in awareness as being its thought, image or feeling and worthy of attention and thus as an object of consciousness.
A dominant ego process is the master of your life. Some narratives are largely functional, others largely dysfunctional and most somewhere in between. As one brings the ego process under control, making it a servant rather than a master, it is important that dysfunctional elements (entire sub-section of Part I in the link above) be addressed. If it is to become a useful tool (a servant), it needs to be a tool that is in good working order. Becoming a self-aware being that employs the ego narrative as a tool for negotiating the world, one uses top-down perception selectively. One becomes largely disentangled from individual and cultural narratives and thus in the world but not of the world. This does not mean disengaged from the world but rather being better at determining what to engage and what not to engage, knowing how to engage dispassionately and impeccably and accepting whatever the outcomes of engagement are with equanimity.
By way of analogy, imagine what it would be like to be an actor on stage with other actors, who are in a hypnotic trance, and thereby be the only one who is aware that a play is in progress and that everyone is merely preforming their part in the play. As is said in some spiritual circles, you would be the only one awake and the only one who actually understood what was going on. You could watch the play unfold, guided by its script, and understand that the actors are performing their parts while believing that they are engaged in reality. You, however, would have a choice whether or not to stay “in character” and perform as the other actors expect you to perform or deviate from the narrative (a.k.a. the script) controlling those expectations.
As an awake person or one grounded in the natural mind, there exists the possibility for unity with the unconditional acceptance or Divine Love that is the essence of Primordial Awareness. As discussed in a short essay, unification is not a causal event. That is, it is a response-independent event. Unity may happen and it may not. It is independent of anything you can do from within the “play.” However, being grounded in the natural mind is good preparation in the event of grace.
This essay begins with two assumptions; if you are uncomfortable with either one, this essay may be a challenge for you. The first assumption is that Awareness/Consciousness1 is the Source of All-That-Is. In this essay, idealism is the preferred perspective over materialism. I will begin with an excerpt adapted from another piece I wrote (see Chapter IX, p. 109) where this preference is addressed.
1. When capital letters are used to begin a word such as in “Consciousness,” the reference is to a primary state as opposed to a derived state (lower case) such as when the word “consciousness” is used. In other words, Consciousness is a universal state and consciousness is a personal or individuated state derived from Consciousness.
There are two dichotomous views on the ultimate nature of reality. One can be called the Primacy of Matter (a.k.a. materialism) and the other the Primacy of Consciousness (a.k.a. idealism). Classical physics and everyday experience support the former, and some interpretations of quantum physics and the experience of various mystics support the latter. The two views have significantly different implications. For example, materialists explain consciousness as an epiphenomenon (derivative) of matter, while idealists explain matter as an epiphenomenon of Consciousness. There is considerable contention around which view is correct. The likelihood is that neither conception will ever be conclusively demonstrated to the satisfaction of everyone.
Both views are faced with essentially the same conundrum, that is, initial origination. If you are of the Primacy of Matter persuasion, you must ask how did matter come about and from what? One hypothesis is the so-called “big bang” event or the near instantaneous expansion of an extremely dense concentration of energy (a.k.a. the primordial atom). Even assuming it is correct, there still remains the question of where did this “primordial atom” come from? The noted physicist Stephen Hawking, for example, suggests spontaneous creation or the creation of something from nothing. If you are of the Primacy of Consciousness persuasion, you must ask where did Boundless Consciousness (hereafter just Consciousness) come from? I know of no hypothesis about the origin of Consciousness. Some Primacy of Matter advocates might argue that matter has always existed and the material universe has cycled through endless re-generations. Likewise, some Primacy of Consciousness advocates might argue that Consciousness has always existed and always will exist. In the end, both camps reach a point where they really have no choice but to say that either matter just is or that Consciousness just is. Regardless of which hypothesis you find the most plausible, you are ultimately faced with a leap of faith.
I make the assumption that Consciousness is primary simply because it provides a model that is broader and deeper than materialism. However, one need not throw off materialism entirely when adopting idealism, because materialism can be subsumed under idealism as a secondary construct. In fact, the two models can be construed to be almost identical except with different root assumptions or starting points. The second assumption that I will make is that evolutionary biology is a valid and powerful process operative at many levels. This almost doesn’t need to be put forward as an assumption since the theory describing the process has pretty well been empirically established. There are, however, some points within the theory that can be argued on scientific grounds, such as the reliance upon random change to the exclusion of any other potential factors. The details of the debate around that issue or others are not necessary to this essay. There are also some who reject the theory out-of-hand, because it is inconsistent with their religious ideology. Such individuals will have to tentatively entertain this assumption for purposes of understanding this essay or stop reading now.
An idea related to the first assumption is that of the indivisible whole. If Consciousness is the source state of All-That-Is, then there is only one Consciousness albeit with many derivative consciousnesses. Thus, All-is-in-Unity becomes an unavoidable philosophical position. The indivisible whole hypothesis is supported by science within the limits of the “physical” universe. Experiments that have been replicated support the quantum state of entanglement by which two particles 2 become connected and share information. If the information is changed in one, it immediately changes in the other even if the second particle is on the other side of the universe. Since the exchange of information in the space/time universe is limited by the speed of light and the speed of light is too slow to account for this near instantaneous exchange of information, entanglement implies an underlying non-locality that is outside of space/time.
2. There is no such thing as a particle as the general public understands the word. The continued use of the term is a carry over from classical physics but it no longer has the “physical” characteristics it was thought to have in classical physics. In short, a particle is not made of matter as it was understood in the classical sense. Some now describe a particle as a concentration of energy and others as a packet of information.
One physicist who has described this entangled universe as an indivisible whole is Menas Kafatos. He further suggests that from our perspective this whole only seems to consist of parts. The perception of these parts or aspects arise from Niels Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity, which was originally proposed to explain the complementary pair of particle and wave but was extended by Bohr to go beyond applications in physics. A complementary pair consists of two aspects of one reality. Thus, hot and cold, male and female, wet and dry, life and death, chaos and order and so on are complementary pairs within the ordinary world. The world that we experience appears to express or manifest itself through such pairs. Thus, the relative world arises within an absolute — Consciousness. In a sense then, only the whole represented by these pairs is “real.” Each member of the pair arises from the whole. The apparent function of complementary pairs is to create a dynamic, dimensional condition that permits change, which is necessary for experience. Change is, for example, the driving force for the second assumption mentioned above.
In summary, we are living in a local world of flux that has arisen out of a Boundless Consciousness that is non-local. We are individuated derivatives of Consciousness that within a physical universe that is at root connected or entangled.
The Core Function of Evolution
While the point might be argued, I will present the core function of the evolutionary process to be reproductive success. I suggest this simply because lack of reproductive success brings the “game” to a halt. Thus, first and foremost, evolution must operate in ways that ensures that life thrives. The evolutionary process has been very successful in meeting its core function. The proof of this is evident in the overwhelming diversity of life and the numbers of people that populate this planet. Presently, there are around seven billion people, and projections are that it will likely peak at around ten billion people later in this century. This did not happen due to a failure of evolutionary driven reproductive success or even through marginally successful reproduction.
At root, human life appears to be about sexual reproduction. The strongest evolutionary motive seems to be the sex drive. Take that away and all the derivatives collapse like a house of cards: art, culture, science, politics, sports and so on. The complement of reproduction is extinction. One cognitive scientist, Donald Hoffman, has even run experiments that demonstrate that it is likely that the very way in which we perceive the world (Interface Theory of Reality) is designed to ensure reproductive success. His experiments suggest that our perception is finely tuned to show us what is important to reproductive success, not how “reality” is in any fundamental sense. As the philosopher Emmanuel Kant recognized in his discourses, we can never know a “thing” in itself. All we can know is what our senses present to us and how our minds interpret those sensory signals, which represent a very limited set from what is available. In a manner of speaking, we are framed by our biology and embedded within the matrix of our consciousness.
Very few of us recognize the degree to which we are driven by biological systems that operate outside of our awareness. At best, we often become aware of impulses and desires that arise from the operation of these systems. Acting on these impulses and desires usually generate immediate rewards, though our actions may have long-term consequences. For example, pleasure from sexual activity leads us to regularly engage in this behavior, and it can frequently lead to reproductive outcomes as evidenced by the size of the human population. If there is a reproductive outcome, other biological systems come into play with the purpose of facilitating a successful outcome long-term. For example, hormone-influenced behaviors toward a child and its care produce rewarding feelings and bonding effects. Further, these biological systems rooted in our early evolution have been incorporated into and articulated through culture. For example, culture creates social extensions of these biological systems that define relationships between the sexes and between parents and adult relatives and children that are generally accepted with little critical examination. We are to a great extent like puppets under the control of our biological systems and their cultural extensions. Most of us go through life more or less on script as if we are automatons. For a longer discussion of this topic click this link.
The complementary pair represented by sex plays a critical role in what we think of as reality. Recall that complementary pairs exist within the context of an indivisible whole. Thus, only the whole is “real” in an absolute sense. Neither party to a complementary pair embodies Reality. Any single aspect of such a complementary pair only has reality relative to its complement. Thus, male and female are somewhat like complements of one another. It would appear that a “male” person from his perspective cannot know the whole of which he is one aspect nor can a female person from her perspective know the whole of which she is one aspect.
The question then becomes, can a part ever know the whole? The whole, of course, is ultimately far more than the merged aspects of a single complementary pair. However, solving the riddle posed by a complementary pair can pull aside the veil that hides the indivisible whole. Perhaps sex is the Rosetta Stone that can lead to deciphering the puzzle posed by a reality comprised of a metaphorical dance between the complementary pair male and female. Hindu thought seems to support the idea of sex as a Rosetta Stone. This is evident in a picture I once saw of a statue depicting Brahman. Brahman, in Hindu thought, is the ultimate reality in the universe. Parabrahman is Absolute reality from which the universe arises. The picture of Brahman showed a statue with two faces. On one side of the head was the face of Shiva (representing the male principle) and on the other side was Shakti (representing the female principle). This same construct is also present in the West through the depth psychology of Carl Jung and his concept of the collective unconscious. The animus (male principle) and anima (female principle) are both archetypes in the collective unconscious. They are also aspects of the unconscious of each individual and both influence the psyche of every individual to varying degrees.
The Sexed Ego
How then might one know the whole? The only way to know the whole is to connect with the whole on a fundamental level. To do this one must see beyond the mask that temporarily permits an individuated self to develop and become entangled in the relative world. This mask is often called ego, where ego represents the narrative or story through which most people live. Perhaps the most basic mechanism involved in the development of an ego is sexing. Inculcation of the biological division of sex often begins prior to birth and certainly at birth. The importance of this biological division is given a critical role in virtually all cultures and is evident, in part, through cultural gender norms. Often this division by sex is insisted upon even in the face of the ambiguity often served up at the margins by the inevitable diversity resulting from biological variability. Neither the evolutionary process nor biological reproduction is rigidly precise, though most cultures prefer to pretend that it is invariant. In fact, it is somewhat like a continuum that is heavily weighted at the ends, while the middle supports a richness of diversity.
I said above that sex might be the Rosetta Stone that can lead to deciphering the puzzle posed by a reality grounded in complementary pairs. Anyone who seeks to dissolve relativity arising like a veiling mist from the Absolute must overcome a divided perspective. One’s entanglement in sex seems like a good place to start deconstructing this divided perspective. The Jungian anima and animus archetypes, according to Jung, exist in all of us with different degrees of emphasis and may even be in open conflict in people such as some transgendered individuals. Thus, if one can reconcile or balance these archetypes within one’s mind or psyche, it should be possible to acquire a perspective on the whole. To quote Joseph Chilton Pearce, “To become whole all parts must be left behind for a whole is not the sum of its parts but a different state altogether.” Understandably, almost everyone attempts to objectify one element of the complementary pair male/female to the exclusion of the other element. An alternative might be to integrate the elemental pair into a whole and become non-binary.
Knowing the universal whole through direct experience is sometimes referred to as union with the Absolute or the indivisible whole. This is probably only possible for those who have softened their relativistic conditioning. One cannot experience the whole while deeply entangled in relative thinking. Striving to exemplify one side or the other of a complementary pair simply perpetuates entanglement in a relative perspective. Thus, a likely first step is to bring into greater balance complementary pairs and for reasons already given, sex/gender seems like a good place to begin the work, though there are other possible starting points. Even if one achieves no more than a better balance between anima and animus within one’s personality, there should follow a better integrated psyche.
How might one go about such an undertaking. There are many possible methods that might be employed but perhaps the two most essential methods are first to identify and then pay close attention to those complementary pairs in which one is entangled. The goal here is to understand the tensions that drive your ego narrative (“Know thy self.”). For example, if you’re entangled in politics, stop reacting and start reflecting on how the tensions produced by politics engages your personal narrative and thereby affects your thoughts and feelings. Become an observer of the process rather than an unwitting participant.
No doubt, one of the complementary pairs that one will be entangled in will be sex and gender since this is almost a universal source of entanglement. The fundamental tensions here will derive from innate biological programs, culturally instilled programs and personal programs learned from experience. These programs usually operate outside of one’s conscious awareness. Thus, make a practice of trying to bring these programs into conscious awareness through your attention. When you become consciously aware of them, recognize how their influence operates through your body/mind but has no effect on the attentive awareness that is inspecting them. For example, when one of your sex/gender programs is aroused by a stimulus in the environment, try to follow this back to its fundamental source, that is, the program that drives it and then try to understand the underlying purpose of that program. Try to deconstruct it and stand back from it. Through understanding try to bring this reactive response under the control of your self-agency (Part I, p. 1). Follow this up by trying to imaginatively or intuitively bring the complement of this program into awareness and perform the same type of examination that you did on its inverse program. Persons on the transgender spectrum should find this easier to do since they probably have, to some degree, pairs of complementary sex/gender programs operating.
Having cleansed oneself of the illusions of a life grounded in relative programming, one settles into the natural mind. The journey of transformation doesn’t end at the natural mind. From the natural mind one can live a contented life, or one can seek intuitive knowledge of the Absolute. All complementary pairs are merely part reflections of fundamental aspects of the Absolute. To know directly the indivisible whole requires a critical shift in perspective. A shift that transcends one’s assumption that “I am a body/mind.” The use of the term “seek” implies that this is something to be found, but in fact it is a realization of a perspective that is always available. When the shift happens, it has profound implications for how one views the relative world and one’s place in it.
There are things that one can do to prepare for this shift in perspective. Many use meditation, cultivation of Presence or Self-inquiry (click here for elaboration) to “fertilize the ground,” but it can’t be made to happen (see Taken). The reason it can’t be made to happen is simply that it requires a perspective that originates outside of the psychological structure referred to as ego. Doing is the province of the ego and the ego can’t take a perspective that requires an awareness operating outside of ego’s structure any more than an eye can examine itself.
When this shift takes place, one realizes that one is not a body/mind but the awareness that inhabits the body/mind. This is not an intellectual understanding but a direct and intuitive knowing. The word “inhabits” is used in the same sense that one inhabits a dwelling. The person inhabiting a dwelling is not the dwelling, and should the dwelling be torn down, the person who inhabited the dwelling goes on. In the same sense, awareness and the individuated consciousness expressed through it arises from the indivisible whole and persists for as long as the Absolute persists. When one is taken by the realization that one is not a body/mind but pristine awareness itself, one also recognizes that pure awareness is devoid of all dualities. Awareness is not good or evil, not male or female, not life or death, not order or chaos. It just is. With this realization comes freedom from history and tradition, culture and words. Freedom from the past and from the future. Freedom to simply be. True perceptual liberation from entanglement in the illusion of complementarity and relativistic reality (see my poem Outlaw that tries to capture such a shift in perspective that happened to me in my late 20s).