Reflections

The post category containing my commentary on things spiritual

A Brief Comment on Meditation

It is my opinion that many meditators are overly focused on external sources of noise. In some cases, people noise and in others environmental noise or both. None of the meditative traditions that I am familiar with teach that achieving a meditative state is accomplished by attending to external distractions. Focus on external distractions puts one’s focus on the very things that make achieving a meditative state difficult. One’s focus should be internal not external.

Beginning meditators’ primary task is to move from a state of active ego awareness to a state of passive observer awareness. This simply means learning to regulate your attention, so that it is held in abeyance and not focused on a specific stimulus within awareness and thereby making it an object of consciousness. When you no longer give your attention to specific things that arise in your awareness, you are being a passive observer. When you allow your ego to become actively engaged with specific objects of consciousness within awareness, you are moving away from a meditative state. In short, learn to master your attention.

Intermediate meditators’ primary task is to disidentify with the ego and identify with the observer or as some say the witness. That is, to merge with or become the observer during meditation. All that is necessary to accomplish this is to maintain your focus of attention on the sensory field occupying your awareness without placing your attention on any specific stimulus within your field of awareness. If you do this consistently for a period of time, your identification will shift from the perspective of the ego to that of the observer. A perspective from which ego has been put in its proper place; i.e., ego becomes a tool for interacting with the environment when such interaction is required and then put aside when no longer required. In short, become the observer or witness as you go about your daily life.

Advanced meditators’ primary task is to temporarily disidentify with the observer and to become primordial consciousness or simply beingness. Others might say being connected to Source Consciousness or knowing the peace that surpasses all understanding. This state, if permanent, would require a full time caretaker because without the ability to employ ego as a tool, one would be helpless. This is a state that “takes” you whenever it is ripe for appearing. This is what some Indian traditions refer to as Samadhi without an object or the American mathematician, philosopher and mystic Franklin Merrill-Wolff called consciousness without an object. Awareness becomes purified emptiness and free of all stimuli. In short, be patient and just be.

Ego Is the Mask God Wears While Pretending To Be You – Revised

The title of this piece is an aphorism, for lack of a better word, that arose into my awareness while meditating. Along with the arising of the words came a strong sense of Truth behind the words. Herein I will attempt to unpack the meaning behind the words.

The word “ego” means the fictive-self, as I have referred to it elsewhere. I call this self “fictive” because it is a social/cognitive construct that, while potentially very helpful, also obscures the Authentic Self or Spiritual Self or Natural Mind. The fictive-self is a narrative description of what could be said to be like an algorithm. Algorithms can be quite complex but simply said, they automate decision-making and responding based on those decisions. Ego then is like an algorithm that guides you through your daily life with varying degrees of “success.” Success, as culturally defined or lack of same, depends on how well it has been “constructed.”

The meaning of “mask” in the above is already evident in the discussion of ego. Ego is a mask because it is a construct or narrative that obscures the Authentic Self. Most spiritual traditions have, in part, the goal of dethroning or seeing beyond the fictive-self in order to open the potential for realization of the Authentic Self. The Authentic Self is a gateway to a more direct experience of Source or God, if you prefer.

The word “God” in this aphorism simply refers to the Source of All that is manifest in the physical world. Rather than go into a long and complex discussion of my understanding of that word, I will simply link you to a discussion in another essay: God and the Problem of Evil. If you’re good to go with the short opening description and would prefer to skip a more detailed, nuanced discussion then move on.

“Hides behind” simply refers to the fact that one’s potential for knowing God through the Authentic Self is hidden by the ego. “While pretending to be you” alludes to the idea that all of life, to varying degrees, has a direct connection to Source Consciousness. Thus, all life is a manifestation of Source and is unique so that it can gain experience for Source. However, intelligent life with significant cognitive abilities is by far a richer source of experience, since it has greater possibilities, including meta-cognition, which even Source has only through you. In short, there is only one Universal Consciousness and all manifestations of it in the physical realm are like Source’s “avatars.” Thus, each avatar is Source pretending to be something else, e.g., fish, tiger, cow or human.

A Personal Comment on Contemplation

Various distinctions are made between meditation and contemplation. For me, the distinction is found in the difference in focus that one holds in the practices. In meditation (discussed in another post), the focus is holistic and attention to objects within the holistic focus is avoided through relaxed concentration on the whole or what I have called elsewhere, a perceptual or sensory gestalt. How to do this has been described in another post.

Contemplation, on the other hand, has a particularized focus that through relaxed concentration on the object of contemplation seeks understanding or insight. When I do this I select something that I want to more fully understand intuitively. This is a right-hemisphere way of gaining knowledge. Because it calls on intuition, contemplation cannot employ reasoning or analytic thought, which are the most common approaches one tends to take when trying to understand something. However, these cognitive processes are a function of the left hemisphere, which when activated suppresses right hemisphere functions.

Thus, a focus that seeks intuitive understanding or insight must be a light focus in which an image, word, phrase, situation, etc., are held in awareness but nothing more. Just awareness without thinking. Once in this state, one simply waits patiently for a thought or image to spontaneously arise. When something arises, hold that in awareness in the manner previously described. Wait for another spontaneous thought or image to arise. Continue to repeat this process until you sense that you’ve reached the end of the process, especially if you feel that you’ve accomplished the understanding that you wanted. You might think of this process as a version of free association.

Since meditation has some overlapping similarity to contemplation, it would not be surprising if one were to have flashes of intuitive insight during meditation. I have had this happen a number of times. What spontaneously arises for me is usually in the form of a brief aphorism whose meaning I sometimes don’t fully appreciate. In such cases, I employ contemplation as a way of gaining greater understanding of what arose. The following are examples of aphorisms that arose during meditation:

1. Ego’s resistance to Being blocks Self-realization.

2. You are Love’s body. (This one resulted in a poem, Love’s Body.)

3. Unconditional Love dissolves the attachment of ego to judgment.

4. Being trumps doing.

5. Pursuit of experience is avoidance of Presence.

6. Ego is the mask God wears while pretending to be you.

7. Compulsive thinking is cognitive avoidance of being Present.

If any of the above aphorisms are vague or meaningless to you, consider using the aphorism as a focus for contemplation. Follow the guidelines provided above for your practice or, if you already have a contemplative practice, follow that protocol.

Many of the poems that I have written have had their origin in contemplation with the goal of intuitive understanding. The skeleton for a recent poem came about through this process. In my reading I have come across the word “Emptiness” many times. From the context it was clear that the writer did not mean “empty” in the usual sense. So, I did a contemplative session on “Emptiness” using the process described above. The result was a poem, The Ground of All Being.

What are the goals for a spiritual practice?

The goals for a spiritual practice are to realize that you are the subjective self or, as some say, the true or authentic Self and to identify with it.

To realize that you are the subjective self, your meditation practice should examine all objects of consciousness that arise in awareness and recognize that as objects they cannot be subjects. It is you that is the subject that is perceiving them and is aware of them.

When you see a tree, the eyes take in a sensory data stream that is processed and represented as an image that you recognize as a tree. As an image, it has entered your awareness and become an object of consciousness. This is true for all sensory data, be it a sight, sound, touch, smell or taste. This is equally true for your physical body, which is observed much like any other object in the environment and, when observed, becomes an object of consciousness.

This is also true of perceptions of bodily processes such as the beating of the heart or the flow of breath, the pressure from a full bladder or the grumbling of a hungry stomach. All of these are experienced as objects of consciousness, and they cannot be subjects. If the body, including its perceivable activity, is an object, then it can’t be a subject. Therefore, you are not your body.

So perhaps you are your mind. What kinds of things might we attribute to mind? Some of those things include thoughts (I’m tired), emotions (I’m happy) memories (I recall learning to ride a bike), personality, ego and so on. All of these things have to be objects of consciousness for you to be aware of them. Thus, they cannot be you because you being the subject in these subject-object relations are apart from them, just as you were apart from sensory objects in the physical world, including your body. Therefore, you are not your mind.

Maybe you are the intellect. Suppose that you studied mathematics and physics very deeply while you were in school. You can now know many ways to solve measurement problems and know many things about the patterns of physicality. But, consider that here too all these formal things you’ve learned are intellectual achievements and are also objects of consciousness. Because you are aware of them, they are perceivable and therefore are objects and can’t be subjects. You are apart from them and thus you are not the intellect either.

You (the subjective self or the observer or witness as some say) are not any of these perceivable objects of consciousness. The one thing that is not an object in awareness is the subjective self or awareness itself. The subjective self can never become an object of consciousness anymore than an eye can directly look at itself. In other words, the subjective self cannot be an object to itself.

This is probably why Adyashanti says true meditation is to simply be with awareness itself or just being with what is. This is also, in part, why in a Guide to Sensory Field Meditation*, I suggest that one begin meditation by allowing awareness to fill with and empty out of the objects of consciousness that arise and subside naturally, while maintaining attention on the gestalt or the field of awareness as a unified whole. That is, focus on the whole rather than upon individual objects arising and subsiding within the gestalt. This gives a global or right brain view of the underlying processes of awareness. You cannot make of awareness an object for it is no-thing when empty of objects. Thus, it is only by observing the process of awareness that you can come, indirectly, to a sense of it. Ultimately, you may find that everything in awareness drops away, and you become awareness or consciousness itself. You form an identity with it, which is not an observational state. Eastern traditions call this state the Void or Samadhi.

Besides being perceivable as objects of consciousness what do the sensory objects you perceive, the body that you perceive and the mind that you perceive all have in common? They are ever changing. As the philosopher Henri Bergson said of the perceivable world – it is in a constant state of flux. Everything perceivable changes. Some things like a mountain may not noticeably change in your life time but even it is changing. The trees that you see change, the body that you inhabit changes, the mind that you exhibit changes and the intellect that you employ changes. When you are young the changes largely tend toward growth and as you become older the changes tend toward deterioration.

So, what doesn’t change? The subjective self is a constant amidst all of this flux. Though Source Consciousness exists outside of space-time, your embodied thread of consciousness in the physical world of space-time appears to have what Bergson called duration and persists unchanged. Even if you deteriorate to the point of being unable to recognize or understand what appears in your awareness, you still perceive and are aware of objects of consciousness.

Only physical death seems to end the subjective self, but that is just from the perspective of observers in the physical world. Given its unchanging nature that is impervious to all the flux it observes, it is reasonable to assume that it continues to persist once the body it inhabited succumbs to entropy. Being an embodied thread of Source Consciousness, it stands to reason that when no longer embodied, your consciousness withdraws back into Source Consciousness, which exists outside of space-time and just is.

Many spiritual practices also include Self-inquiry. This practice might be thought of as a project to recognize the subjective self as the true Self by the process of elimination. This practice can be done simply by asking, about each object of consciousness that arises in awareness — whether during meditation or periods of normal activity — is this the true Self? If what is perceived is an object of consciousness and it must be for you to be aware of it, the answer is “No, not that.” That is not the true Self. This practice continues until you are convinced that none of these many things that arise in awareness are the subjective self. If the subjective self or true Self cannot be found in awareness, then by the process of elimination, you have only one option remaining and that is consciousness itself. When you fully accept this conclusion without doubt or qualification, you have realized your true Self and should identify with it. This is the ultimate goal of a spiritual practice.

You are now on the cusp of what is often referred to as enlightenment. This next step reveals the connection between your embodied thread of consciousness and the Source Consciousness to which it is tethered. It is generally accepted that there are no methods to be employed in this last step. Your practice should be to simply abide in and through the true Self and patiently wait for this experience of your connection to Source Consciousness to take you.

* You can download a PDF copy of Guide to Sensory Field Meditation as part two of Meditation: What, Why and How. You can find this by going to my website’s Pick Up Page and scrolling down until you reach it then follow the directions given at the top of the page for downloads, if you aren’t already familiar with this process.

Noetic Events

To begin, let’s clarify what is meant by a noetic event. Noetic was a word that received a boost in frequency of use and recognition from the astronaut Edgar Mitchell. He chose it after a search for a word to describe an experience he had on his return voyage from the moon. The Institute on Noetic Science (IONS) was founded by Mitchell to study experiences like Mitchell’s. IONS defines Noetic as follows:

Noetic comes from the Greek word noēsis/ noētikos that means inner wisdom, direct knowing, intuition, or implicit understanding. Noetic experiences can be hard to describe with words and feel like states of knowledge where we access profound truths that we intuitively know as truth without our intellect analyzing them. The noetic…refers to people’s experience of interconnectedness or a force or power greater than themselves (e.g., Higher Self, God, Spirit, Source, Universe, Interconnected Field, Higher Consciousness, Divine, and so on.

This post will try to illustrate noetic experiences through a few personal examples. Subjectively, the noetic is a noetic experience limited to the one having the experience and objectively is a noetic event to anyone hearing or reading about it. So, if I tell you about a noetic experience that I had, you are hearing about a noetic event.

My first noetic experience took place when I was 17 years old. At the time, I was just beginning my senior year in high school. It might be useful to know that at that time I could be described as an angry, conflicted youth who was frequently in difficulty at school, when I bothered to go. I barely scraped by academically. In my junior year, I dropped out of school, unofficially, to find a job and then make the exit official. I failed to find employment and my father insisted that I return to school, which I did. My father required only that I pass my classes and that proved to be a low bar for me. I subsequently graduated with a 1.5 GPA (D+) on a 4 point scale.

With that background I’ll begin the description of the events that led up to my first noetic experience. It began on a rainy Sunday in September. I spent the day “cruising” the metro area, where I lived, with a group of friends. This meant that we simply drove around with no particular destination listening to music, talking and often drinking. One of the people in the car began saying that he wanted to go home because we were going to have a wreck. This was the first time that this individual had ever said anything like this and everyone dismissed his “warning” and his request as being silly.

Eventually, we arrived back in the suburban neighborhood from which we had departed. The first person to be dropped off was the prognosticator. We then proceeded to drop off a couple of other people at their cars. At this point only the driver and myself were left in the car. We began driving out a highway that led to my parents’ home. It was night by now and still raining. As we entered a long straight away, a car coming from the opposite direction was being passed by another car. When the passing car cut back into it’s proper lane, it began spinning and drifting from one side of the road to the other. As it approached us, it went off the road onto the shoulder. Just before it reached us it came back onto the road crossway in the road and hit us creating a T-bone collision.

As predicted the wreck did occur though this isn’t the end of the story. Suffice it to say that the car that hit us was estimated to be doing between 80 and 90 mph. This was in the days prior to seat belts and one result was that I punched a hole in the windshield with my face. A motorist stopped and rushed me to an emergency room at a university hospital several miles for the scene of the accident. His kindness and that of a student who donated blood probably saved my life. The injuries I received resulted in several hospitalizations and surgeries.

The really interesting result of this accident only took place about a year later. I’ll describe this noetic experience but I’ll lead off with a poem I wrote trying to capture it:

Epiphany

Before and after images,
Objects of consciousness.
A smiling face – blemish free,
Another marked by trauma.
The contrast contemplated,
An emotional shudder evoked.
A sense of engulfing sadness,
Tears well up – stain cheeks.
The smiling face – frozen in time,
Behind the smile – a death mask.
Its life story no longer told,
Erased in the blink of an eye.
A story built on shifting sand,
Scattered by the winds of fortune.
But, what of the other face,
Who looks out from those eyes?
A question answered – epiphany,
Anyone – just anyone at all.
A blank page for a new story,
A personal myth for a new face.
The power of a fictive narrative,
To set life on a new journey.
Who is this novelist in the mind,
Who pens this fictive self?
Another, much deeper question,
Set aside for the moment.

The noetic experience behind the poem took place while sitting in my parked car in the front passenger seat. I was just sitting and looking at two pictures. One was my senior picture taken a week or so before the accident and the other was a “before” picture taken by my plastic surgeon before he began his work.

I was drawn to the contrast between the two pictures but otherwise was not thinking of anything in particular about the pictures. As I sat there, I was overcome with the sense that the person in the senior photo was no more. I was overcome by sadness, as if someone I knew and cared about had died. Then, I had a sudden, profound realization about personal narratives. I knew beyond doubt that they were a self generated fiction. I have in my writing come to refer to this narrative as a fictive-self. I also realized that I needed this story but that I didn’t need to conflate myself with the story. I, as an embodied consciousness, was an actor playing a character named David. Further, that the script for David was subject to improvisation.

I began building a new story. To paraphrase the title of a book I once read, I turned left at Thursday and went off in a new direction. As my narrative about myself changed, others saw me as a different person. This transformation didn’t happen overnight but through a slow, steady evolution. I’ll spare you the details of that evolution. Briefly, however, I began as a youth whose own father said was aimless and reckless and predicted that I would be in prison before I was 25. The outcome of the insight I had that day sitting in my car led me eventually to become a developmental therapist working with troubled children and that to a career as a professor and eventually a department chair in a large urban research university. A sudden insight had broken the identification I had with my personal narrative and shown me that I was not my story. A noetic experience released me from my story.

The second noetic experience in my life arrived when I had just gotten out of the U.S. Navy. I’ll introduce this noetic event with a poem that tries to capture it:

The Void
Body resting in quiet repose,
Eyes embracing the natural world.
Awareness filled with oneness,
Attention seeking no-thing to grasp.
The image of nature fades,
Awareness slides into darkness.
Deep silence spreads throughout,
Perception sleeps in the darkness.
Only pure awareness manifesting,
Conscious only of the Void.
Impressions seep into awareness,
Siren songs – drifting in the deep.
Impressions that reveal stories,
Unguarded, open to awareness.
Attention takes hold of the stories,
Creating objects of consciousness.
A sense of privacy breached, or
Perhaps fear of exposure.
Contraction – then withdrawal,
Return to the resting body.

 This noetic experience occurred one afternoon while I was sitting in my apartment looking out the window in the direction of a cemetery. I don’t recall thinking about anything, though I can’t say some stray thoughts weren’t passing through my awareness. If so, they were not receiving any attention and therefore were not objects of consciousness. All was quiet and time seemed at a stand still. Gradually, I sensed my awareness sliding into a state of primordial emptiness, pure no-thing-ness, perhaps what Buddhists call Void Consciousness.

I knew myself as a disembodied awareness experiencing the nature of the primordial awareness from which my personal awareness arose. After a while, I became aware of something impinging on my consciousness that might be described as intuitive impressions broadcast by other consciousnesses into the void. This experience felt a bit like a mind meld though not of conceptualized particulars but rather of essences. I also had a feeling that this access was a breach of privacy. I felt that I was, at least, in a situation in which I didn’t understand the protocols. I contracted and withdrew. I became aware of my body sitting very still looking out the window at a cemetery.

The third noetic event in my life took place a few years later. It was a cold winter day and I felt withdrawn from the world. I left the apartment and began a solitary walk in the cold. While I was walking, I stopped and looked distractedly at the dormant grass along my path. As I stood quietly looking at the grass, I suddenly experienced a sense of infusion much like a compressed download that unfolded as it entered consciousness. A flow of energy that carried with it a knowing about the nature of reality that had a profound sense of certainty about it. The following is a poem that tries to capture what was experienced:

Outlaw

An outlaw is a man,
Born in quiet and solitude,
The quiet of aloneness.
Wind, cold and desolate,
Heralds his birth,
And being.
Eyes like polished glass,
Opening on everything,
Nothing.
His flesh shivers,
then accepts the cold,
The coldness passes.
Only a fleeting thought,
Set aside now,
Forgotten.
Life pulses in harmony,
A flowing continuum,
Time is a schedule.
To the man,
All is simple – clear,
To be.
The breath of God,
Passes through him,
Transforming.
Its essence absorbed,
Flowing through his veins,
Cleansing.
Bursting into his brain,
Lifting a thousand shades,
Clearing binding webs.
Webs like steel girders,
Weighing upon the mind,
Suppressing the man.
God moved through him,
And the man knew God,
And he was God.
He was not good or evil,
Nor right or wrong,
And he was made free.
Freedom from the past,
And from the future,
An outlaw.
Moving with the world,
And through the world,
But, not of it.
He knew not the world,
Nor man but was both,
And yet, something else.
All history and tradition,
Culture and words,
Rescinded — Grace.

I have often compared this noetic experience with the first one. Not that they were anything alike in terms of what took place but in the core message. What I took that message to be follows. While the ego or fictive-self of an individual is a story about who and what that individual thinks s/he is, the third event conveyed that this was true of the human world as well. That is, what we call the world is a narrative that creates a mental framework that we think of as reality. To be clear I am not saying that this “human reality” doesn’t have demonstrable consequences. It does – just as your beliefs about yourself have consequences. The world too is a fiction. It creates a stage on which life plays out. It seems few ever see beyond the fiction and wonder about what lies beneath or beyond.

Elsewhere, I have described this framework for human reality as the web of the world. For me, the web of the world is a complex of interacting concepts that, while variable to some degree, come together and form consistent themes that run like strands in a spider’s web. This web creates the sense of reality that we experience and is a mental reality though it clearly has components experienced as physical. Take for example an airplane. This is a complex conceptual entity that is manifest as a physical artifact through varied processes all of which have conceptual origins. Or, take history as another example. This too is a complex conceptual entity that organizes how a people understand their collective past. This understanding informs their present activities, which in turn unfolds their future. It is all at root mental. Remove human beings from the planet and wait a few millennia and little if any evidence of the web of the world will remain. The “reality” that humans lived in will have largely vanished. The planet will still be here and life will go on but the web of the world will have vanished.

If the above discussion of the web-of-the-world (WotW), doesn’t resonate with you, consider this alternative analogy. Consider a tree as representing the planet and its ecosystem (the world). Consider an invasive vine, e.g., think Kudzu, as representing the WotW or civilization. Over time, the vine will overwhelm the tree and kill it. The vine will continue on for a while not recognizing what it has done. Eventually, the tree collapses and takes the vine down with it. The vine will have lost its support structure and most if not all of it will die from the loss of supporting structure. I have no idea whether this is true of a vine that has lost its supporting structure but lets assume that to be the case for the sake of the analogy. Assuming some of it survives, the remaining vine will have to find a new support structure and begin a phase of regeneration and growth. Perhaps the the cycle will repeat many times.

To be clear. What is being suggested here is that our civilization is overwhelming its underlying support structure. We may go on for a time with little notice of what we’re doing to the planet’s ecological systems and little motivation to do anything about it when we do notice. Like the vine we are probably on a road that will lead to a collapse of the ecosystem and likewise civilization, which is built upon it and depends upon it. The ecosystem is primary and civilization is secondary. Civilization needs to engage in an harmonious and cooperative relationship with the planet and its ecosystem before it destroys the support system that it rests upon. Our civilization is built upon worldviews, materialism (a.k.a. physicalism) and theistic dualism, that is poorly suited to creating the kind of relationship needed for survival. We could learn much from the attitudes of some indigenous peoples toward the support system. Within western philosophy, the worldview most likely, in my opinion, to be helpful with this task is the objective idealism of Bernardo Kastrup.

These examples of noetic experiences from my life clearly demonstrated to me that the materialist philosophy or physicalism driving many in our culture is perhaps useful in some ways but is a very narrow perspective on the nature of reality. A perspective that, as a dominant point of view, is being challenged and its hold on the world is hopefully slipping.

These events changed the way that I look at myself and the “world.” I do not ask that anyone accept or believe that these experiences are true or even that they actually took place. These were phenomenological events, which means that they were private experiences that provided me with an experience that cannot really be shared only described. Those who have had similar experiences of their own can begin to grasp the importance and meaning of these experiences for me. For those who have had no such experiences, you may be willing to entertain their possibility but can only accept them as true and valid through your own noetic experiences. For those of you who reject them out of hand, consider the possibility that you are “flying blind.”

 

 

 

Guide to Sensory Field Meditation

This guide is a follow up on the essay Meditation, What Is It and Why Do It.

The Basics

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. Breath will be explored further in Step Nine.

Fifth, you are now ready to begin. At first you should focus your attention on your breathing. As your attention moves to a bodily process and away from external events, you may begin to have spontaneous arising of mental stimuli such as thoughts, emotions or memories. Try not to bring your attention to focus on these objects of consciousness and let them follow their own path of arising and subsiding. If you do get seduced into attending to one of them, just shift your attention back to your breathing. Don’t criticize or judge yourself. Just follow your process. The same directions should be followed for any external stimulus that attracts your attention and becomes and object of consciousness.

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 twice 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.

Meditation, What it is and Why do it.

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.

Introduction

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.

God and the Problem of Evil

For this essay, I need to define two terms that I will use; i.e., God and evil. These definitions are my understanding of the terms and may have little if anything to do with how you understand the same terms. I ask you to suspend your concepts by the same names and instead attempt to employ my concepts for these names, at least, until you have read this piece and understood it as I have written it. If you succeed in doing this, you will have done all I can hope for and it is possible that true communication between two minds has occurred.

Writing a piece like this can only be done through metaphor. A metaphor can sometimes bring us very close to seeing what actually is but at other times may miss the mark. I hope the metaphors chosen will be approximations of the former type rather than the latter. So, let’s begin with “God.”

I do not find the traditional notion of God, as expressed in the Abrahamic religions, one that conveys any sense of truth. This can be illustrated by a metaphor used in scripture. “Our Father who art in heaven” says it all. First, the choice of the term “father” implies all those qualities that are often associated with human fathers. Fathers initiate our creation, fathers are providers, fathers are teachers, fathers are disciplinarians, to name a few of the characteristics of the paternal role. In short, a good father has many human functions. That all these characteristics are attributed to God can be demonstrated by references in scripture. I take this to clearly indicate that the God of the Abrahamic religions is the projection of the known onto the unknown. In other words, I consider the God spoken about above, using the “father,” metaphor is a metaphor that misses the mark.

The expression “art in heaven” suggests a father who is not present but elsewhere. Not unlike what might be said by a child becoming an adult who has gone out into the world and refers to its father, who is far away and at home in some other domicile. Here lies the theistic duality of Abrahamic religions, i.e., God and humanity, heaven and the world, spirit and matter, etc.

I shall now offer an alternative metaphor for God that may come closer to the mark. Albert Einstein once remarked that ”…the field is the only reality…” by which I understand him to be referring to the quantum field. It has also been suggested that the quantum field is fundamental and everything ultimately arises from the quantum field, of which there can be many subfields. For example, consider a particle, e.g., an electron in relation to its subfield. A particle is not, as we often assume, a small bit of material substance like a tiny pellet. Instead, quantum field theory describes an electron as a ripple in an electron field. It might help to think of the ripple as a concentrated frequency, giving its position within its field a greater density. It has also been suggested that the quantum field is nonlocal; i.e., it is outside of space/time. It has no extension in space and no duration in time. It cannot be said to be eternal because that implies time, nor can it be infinite because that implies extension in space. It just is. Thus, if we think of God as like in some ways to a quantum field, we have a root or core assumption (a.k.a. an ontological primitive) for a worldview (a.k.a. a metaphysical system).

Let us, metaphorically speaking, consider that God is something like this “field.” Let’s further imagine that God has a few other characteristics. I owe the following remarks largely to the scientist, technologist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup and his book Rationalist Spirituality. This is my understanding of his book with which he may or may not agree. Thus, God cannot be held responsible for creating an imperfect cosmos because God is imperfect. We can infer that God is imperfect from the fact that God created the cosmos. It is only because God is imperfect that there would be any reason to create a cosmos. Why would this be so? One might say that God is a formless, timeless and boundless field (a nonlocal field), has primordial awareness, has intelligence, has creativity and most importantly purpose or, if one prefers, a drive to know its potential. That is, this is God’s nature.

In this primordial state, God is only aware of being. There is nothing else to be aware of. God has consciousness but without an object. How does one explore and express one’s inherent potential when there is only primordial awareness? To me the following is the biggest leap of faith of all, but a necessary one. God realized that there had to be a medium that provided contrasts and decisions in order for experience to occur. I can only hazard a guess as to how this was realized. It might have been through something like a thought process or something like an inherent or instinctual process or something well beyond my understanding. Experience is the only likely vehicle for the expression of potential and growth in awareness of that potential. Thus, a context was needed that would make experience possible.

How did this context come to be? God, being creative, has imagination. First, let us assume that God imagined a process that could create a context. I offer here a metaphor from computer gaming. Consider an algorithm that, once started in a computing environment, begins a process of creating a world from the interaction of virtual building blocks. If you’ve every played a computer game that generated a virtual world, then you have some sense of what is being suggested. Otherwise, you’ll just have to take my word that once conceived, developed and given a suitable computing environment, it can be done. So, to borrow a concept from Kastrup, God dissociated a portion of itself into a separate subfield. Those familiar with computer technology, think of a virtual drive being created from a portion of a computer’s random access memory (RAM). In this virtual drive you can run programs that are isolated from the rest of the computer’s RAM. More primitive but along the same lines, think of creating a square foot garden in your yard.

So, in this dissociated portion of God, an algorithm was launched that began evolving a context. Thus began the creation of what we call the physical universe. Incorporated within this algorithm was the potential for life to evolve as the algorithm progressed and unfolded its intended creation. While from our perspective this process appears to be purely random and without purpose, it is clearly, in this scenario, driven by purpose but coming from a level beyond our normal ability to perceive. Another metaphor that can be applied here is from the reformulation of quantum physics by David Bohm. Let it be noted that David Bohm’s reformulation is not generally accepted by physicists because it is a “hidden variable” model. I won’t go into that here, but it still provides an interesting metaphor for our purposes.

Bohm’s model has three levels. The first he calls the “super implicate order” (SIO), the second the “implicate order” (IO) and the third the “explicate order” (EO). Think of the SIO level as analogous to the Field or God. Think of the IO as analogous to the algorithm running on the virtual drive that is generating the cosmos. Think of the EO as the unfolding physical universe being displayed on a computer display or screen of perception. Roughly speaking, in Bohm’s model the SIO contains the rule sets that constrain what is possible under certain conditions. The IO generates possibilities for explication with varying probabilities. The IO then unfolds or explicates certain possibilities into the EO. This unfolding, it is suggested, is what creates the sense of time experienced by creatures in the EO. The possibilities unfolded into the explicate order then enfold their effects back into the IO, which then affects the probabilities for possibilities to unfolded into the EO. Thus, a continuous feedback loop is created. So, in a manner of speaking, when it is said that we create our own reality this is true within the limits implied in the above. You or I may have little, if any, effect on the possibilities being unfolded from the IO, but humanity as a collective source of feedback would have a significant effect.

Returning to the output of the algorithm metaphor, one of the outputs that was necessary to fulfill its purpose was to create a context in which it was possible for experiences to be generated. To have experience, it is necessary to have contrasts. To provide a simple illustration, you can’t experience temperature if you only know hot. You would not have any basis for differentiating hot as a construct because there would be nothing to contrast it to. This takes us to what the late Niels Bohr (one of the founders of quantum physics) referred to as complementary pairs. Bohr originally introduced this concept to help explain and think about the wave/particle duality in quantum physics. Bohr latter argued that this concept could be much more broadly applied than just to physics and could extend to such fields as psychology or philosophy, e.g., male/female, life/death, pain/pleasure, etc.. One might see this same recognition being illustrated in the story of Adam and Eve. In this story, God recognized that Adam alone was insufficient and created Eve, thereby creating a complementary pair. Of course, evolutionarily speaking, sexual dimorphism came about long before humanity even existed. But, this story too is metaphorical and isn’t intended to relate a factual history.

As the algorithm progressed and creation unfolded, life emerged. Prior to life evolving we might say that everything was made of the “stuff” of the field. It was not until life emerged that the possibility for the awareness inherent in the field to truly become active in the physical universe. As nervous systems evolved and became more complex, their ability to express greater and greater levels of awareness (or if you prefer, consciousness) grew. The upper limit on this process is determined by the complexity of the nervous system. Since awareness is a dissociated aspect of God, it is clear that it is not possible for any nervous system to express the full capability of the consciousness of God. Thus, while God is the source of all consciousness in living entities, the complexity of nervous systems imposes limits and constraints on dissociated expression of that awareness or consciousness. One way of thinking about it is that the brain and nervous system function as a constraint on the expression and reduces it to a level appropriate for the nervous system to sustain. This implies that entities with highly complex nervous systems might have the potential to be aware of far more than they typically are. However, a deeper connection to God is not necessary for dealing with the routines and problems of daily life.

The psychologist Donald Hoffman has proposed a theory, for which he has developed some evidence, that indicates evolutionary pressures have shaped the perception of living entities to be what they are today. What the evolutionary process has done is shape perception not to see “reality” as it is, but to shape what is seen based on its functionality for survival and reproduction. Much of what might be perceptible about the true nature of reality is irrelevant to survival and reproduction and to perceive it would be counterproductive, evolutionarily speaking. In short, we’re designed by evolution to see what we need to see not everything that might possibly be seen.

Now, consider the earlier discussion of the building blocks of the cosmos; i.e., subfields in which a ripple within a field or subfield is interpreted as a particle, which of course is used to build elements and molecules. As we generally assume, there probably is a real world “out there,” meaning outside of ourselves. However, it is the case that the world in itself, as opposed to the world perceived, is a world of fields of various combinations, intensities and extents. If the world in itself is nothing more than fields, you might wonder, why can I feel it as things of substance? Why does the positive end of a magnet resist and push against the negative end of a magnet as if encountering some resisting solid? It is simply one magnetic field pushing against another magnetic field. So, it may be, when your hand pushes against a wall and is resisted by the wall this is the result of two incompatible sets of frequencies encountering one another.

Lets now, metaphorically speaking, consider another process that might help us visualize how things arise and manifest from fields. The process of organizing into patterns small particles such as sand or salt or fluids like water is called Cymatics. It is said that the apparent fluidity of the quantum field is due to ripples in the field where the ripples are photons. Suppose that the ripples in fields that produce particles that then assemble into elements and molecules are influenced to produce different particles by sound causing them to take on particular patterns much like sand on a table top does when exposed to sound of a certain frequency.

Thus, the manifest world could be thought of as a product of patterns of particles assembled by various frequencies of sound. Consider that in some creation stories it is said the first thing God brought into existence was light. That is what a photon is and it is thought to be the most fundamental product of a quantum field. Further, some eastern mystics have said that the underlying vibration of the universe is the sound produced by “OM.” Could it be that the sound frequency represented by “OM” gave rise to the first and all subsequent photons? Not a claim just a thought. Note, when producing this sound, the “M” is silent. When speaking it conversationally, the “M” is pronounced. The world may very well consist of frequency fields that are organized by sound, which includes you. And where, you might ask are these frequency fields? Possibly, in a dissociated field lying within the greatest field of them all — God (note, this is by definition panentheism).

Hoffman’s theory suggests, we perceive these fields as rocks, trees, birds, dogs and people. We perceive them as such because to perceive them in that way has functional value to us, evolutionarily speaking. This removes us from reality, as it is in itself, by multiple steps. First, there is the underlying frequency field – God. Next, we have the dissociated frequency field within which the cosmos is manifested. Then, we see functional representations of the fields comprising aspects of the world. Finally, we interpret the representations that we perceive. Hoffman compares this to the computer interface you see on your computer screen. What you see on the computer screen is in no way a true perception of what the icons represent. However, what you perceive is much more useful to you than the strings of computer code that the icons represent, and there is much more going on in the computer that you have no need to know and for which there are no icons.

Now, let us consider the term “evil.” I first began seriously thinking about the nature of evil a number of years ago as I read a book, Evil in Modern Thought, by Susan Neiman. This book is billed as an alternate history of philosophy, and I would qualify this by inserting the word “western” before the word “history.” I found it to be a very unsatisfying book, and after I finished reading it, I wrote a brief critique on the title page: “The problem of evil in western philosophy/theology arises from a fundamental error. The error is in construing God as a superhuman, which turns the concept of God into a caricature of divinity.” Shortly after writing this critique, I composed a post for my website titled The Nature of Evil. The current essay could be considered an update of the earlier essay linked in the previous sentence.

In some Eastern philosophies, the responsibility for evil is not attributed to God but to humanity. Specifically, to actions arising from ignorance, which is a feature of ego consciousness. The more egocentric one is, the deeper one’s ignorance and the more likely is bad behavior. You are probably wondering, ignorance of what? The answer is ignorance of one’s true nature. Given the narrative about the nature of God and the creation of the cosmos developed above, it should be clear that our consciousness is a limited explication of the very same Consciousness that characterizes God. Thus, our very being is directly related to the beingness of God. If you think of God as divine then you too are of divine origin. If you recognize this, you also understand that you share your divinity with all living entities. Everything ultimately traces back to God, I personally prefer Source Consciousness or simply Source, and thereby puts all life in a state of unity.

The general theme in some Eastern traditions is that your purpose is to develop your consciousness so that it becomes less egocentric and more integral or, as it is usually put, evolving from ignorance to enlightenment. A nondual teacher, Ruper Spira, prefers Truth, which is to experience your true nature, over enlightenment and I tend to agree with him. The psychologist and philosopher Ken Wilbur suggests that developmentally there are eight stages of cognitive functioning, each related to a different level of psychological and moral functioning. We all begin at Stage 1 and progress from there to some endpoint, which is nearly always prior to the latter stages. Nearly everyone reaches Stage 3 by the time they reach biological maturity. Stage 3 is a stage characterized as egocentric. The most common end points in the West are Stages 4 and 5, with significant minorities at Stages 3 and 6. Wilbur considers these stages to not only represent individuals but also societies. That is, he would argue that a society can be characterized as being dominated by a particular stage of thinking. The dominant stage of development in a society tends, in general, to characterize the society. One might think of all but the last of Wilbur’s stages as sub-divisions of ignorance.

One scheme from an Eastern tradition suggests 6 stages across the span from ignorance to enlightenment. The first three segments of this model are classified as ignorance to varying degrees. The latter three segments of this model are classified as enlightenment to varying degrees. In terms of Wilbur’s stages, I would put Stages 1 and 2 in the unconditioned-mind stage (first segment). I would put Wilbur’s Stages 3 through 6 in the conditioned-mind stage (second segment) and Wilbur’s Stage 7 in the I AM or authentic Self stage (third segment) or what I would call the natural-mind stage. In this Eastern model, the third stage is on the cusp of enlightenment. When one fully transcends ignorance, you are in the fourth segment (Self-realization) or experience of one’s divine nature. With transition to the fifth segment (God Consciousness), one has direct experience of God, Source or divinity. With transition to the sixth segment (Unity Consciousness), one has as full a reconciliation with God as is possible in human existence. Wilbur’s Stage 8 (Super Integral stage) appears to be part of the enlightenment segment in the Eastern scheme. He says that Stage 8 is potentially divisible into possibly four additional stages, but he doesn’t elaborate.

On the process of enlightenment, Wilbur offers a four-phase model that begins with Stepping Up, which means making a commitment to the process. Second is Cleaning Up, which means working to modify or eliminate any dysfunctional behavior and thinking. Third is Growing Up, which means working your way up through the psychological and moral stages. Fourth, is Waking Up, which, as I read him, means transitioning into the Super Integral stage (8). Logically, it seems to make sense to me to equate Wilbur’s stage 8 with enlightenment. However, there is reason to believe that he sees spiritual enlightenment as separate from the developmental process and can potentially occur at almost any stage in his model. This seems to be why he emphasizes his four-step process. He says that the stage at which you are functioning when self-transcendence occurs will significantly impact the quality of the transition and can lead to undesirable outcomes.

The importance of the concept of enlightenment can be understood by considering why the cosmos and life were created. If God is imperfect and is in the process of

perfecting its potential, then you and other living creatures, throughout the cosmos, are the tools that make the process possible. I would say that of all the experiential input God receives from the experience of living creatures, the experience of one who has made the journey from ignorance to full enlightenment or reconciliation with God should prove to be the most cherished experience. Such a journey will not often be brief and, as some eastern traditions suggest, may take multiple lifetimes to complete. Thus, we see the rationale behind the concept of reincarnation.

If in fact your consciousness is a dissociated aspect of God’s Consciousness and upon biological death your consciousness returns to God. Accepting this, the idea that your consciousness and what it has learned could be dissociated again and then expressed through a new nervous system doesn’t seem to be especially difficult to accept. If God needs experience to evolve, the higher the quality of the experience the better. The best source of high quality experience should come from the evolution of a consciousness toward reconciliation with God. Why enfold a consciousness that has completed 5% of the journey and incorporate its limited experience and then replace it with a dissociated consciousness that is beginning at zero? Continuation of the development of a dissociated consciousness will in the long run produce more high quality experiential input and increase the ratio of high to low quality input. You might ask, if everyone starts in ignorance, how is anything gained by reincarnation? I would say that everyone may start at the same point in each life but those who have made prior progress on the journey will move quickly toward their previous state of spiritual evolution where those with less experience or no previous experience or even a lot of experience from which they learned little will progress more slowly.

You might ask, if everyone is of divine origin, why is there so much suffering (evil) in the world? Given the above, I would answer that you can’t create a highly diverse experiential environment without significant contrasts. If a range of experiences are possible, some of them are by necessity going to be experienced as less desirable than others. Further, the opportunity to learn from one’s experiences is not limited to positive experiences. In fact, in some instances, one might learn more from negative experiences than from positive ones. Negative experience can also be motivational and spur one to develop further. Likewise, the negative experiences of others provides you with the opportunity to develop compassion, which then motivates you to attempt to relieve their suffering. I would also suggest that the development of compassion is a necessary step in perceiving the divinity lying at the core of others and thereby recognizing the unity that you both share through God. As this recognition of unity grows, it will likely increase in breadth and encompass a wider and wider range of those realized to share in this unity.

On a broader scale, bear in mind that all the negativity that occurs affects the probabilities of future negative possibilities being explicated into the world. We seem to be almost immune to the opportunities that are repeatedly explicated into the world, and as we continue to ignore them we increase the likelihood of similar or worse future events. To take one example, of many possible examples, how many genocides were there in the twentieth century? The UN definition of genocide covers “…acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group…” and does not include what are termed mass killings that may include thousands of people but were not killed with genocidal intent; e.g. some wars. By the UN definition, there have been 28 genocides in the twentieth century. Germany’s holocaust perpetrated against its Jewish people in the 1930s and 40s was one of the largest in terms of numbers of people slaughtered. It was an event that brought out a lot of “never again” sentiment. Unfortunately, there were 12 genocides in the second half of the twentieth century – all following the Jewish holocaust.

Thus, all who have eyes to see have a responsibility to affect the feedback in whatever way they can. Since the feedback is a collective effect, you can best aid it by expanding the number of people who understand this process and actively take responsibility for their personal evolution. Always remember that intellectual knowing can never replace experiential knowing – a lesson that institutionalized religion seems to have forgotten or never learned. This is why a rule-based approach to improving people has a limited effect. You may impose “good” behavior on people through threats, coercion and punishment but you don’t change people in this manner. Remove the external control and the “good” behavior will dissipate quickly because the rules haven’t changed anyone. As a poster I once saw said, “You may shut me up, but you can’t change my mind.” Personal evolution is the only thing that has an enduring effect that needs no external controls.

Finally, I remind the reader that what I’ve presented is a narrative and like all narratives it is not literally true even though some of the metaphors used are factual. The critical question is, should I accept it? I can only tell you why I accept it. I accept it because it is a more satisfying explanation than any competing narrative, because it can answer more of my questions about “reality” than any competing narrative, because it gives me more insight into how I should be in the world than competing narratives and because it provides a better foundation for purpose and meaning in my life than competing narratives. You must make those same and possibly other evaluations for yourself.

The Several Selves

I think the course of personal identity moves across four, basic developmental domains, though not everyone explicates and integrates all four domains. The four domains are sensory, physical, mental and spiritual. In keeping with the present focus, let’s refer to them as the sensory self, physical self, mental self and spiritual self. In the following I will set out a hypothetical description of how this development unfolds.

The development of selves is largely a process dependent upon differentiation. A new born infant initially identifies with its sensory field and has a sensory self. With time and experience, a process that differentiates the self from the sensory field begins. This starts with differentiating various aspects of the sensory field from one another and assigning them the status of being separate “things.” For example, think of a bird and its song. At first, the bird and its song are part of the generalized, unified sensory field. With experience, an infant begins to recognize the bird as the source of the song and to consider the two as an integrated whole that attention turns the bird into an object of consciousness. Once captured as an object of consciousness, the bird and its song become abstracted through visual and auditory representation. With that comes the ability to recall a memory that encodes the bird symbolically. This memory allows the bird to be isolated, explored and manipulated symbolically as an object in consciousness. This cognitive possession of the bird and its song differentiates it from the self and make it a separate object within awareness.

This process of differentiation goes on until a clear sense of two categories develops: self and other. By “other” is meant things that have become differentiated as separate “things.” The next step is begun with the question, who is this self that is aware of all these other things, which can be turned into objects of consciousness? At this time, the thing that garners the most attention in awareness is the physical body. The physical body not only has been differentiated from the sensory field but has also been recognized as the seat of a great many subjective experiences. It experiences emotional reactions, thoughts and feelings along with auditory, visual, olfactory and tactile sensations, among others. All this appears to be localized in the physical body. Under these conditions, it is very easy to identify oneself with the body. Hence, we have the physical self. The former sensory self has been transcended but the transition from sensory to physical self integrates the sensory self into the physical self.

The real fireworks begin with transcending the physical self and arriving at the mental self. With the beginning of the mental self a significant change in perception takes place. Up until this point, perception has been largely a bottom up process, which means that perception is relatively unhindered by filters. As language skills grow and experience is reconstructed with visual and linguistic symbols, a shift away from a focus on the physical body begins and is accompanied by a change of focus to mental activity. Not only are memories encoded but are also interpreted. Memories are assigned meanings and so begins the creation of a personal past. Perception now begins to shift toward a top down process, which means that perception comes to be a process subject to filtering. We also learn that we can describe and interpret imaginal outcomes thereby conjuring up a future. The narrative approach to life has begun in earnest. Our mental self becomes absorbed with the content of our mind.

With this mental focus, our narratives and their meanings begin to organize themselves into an hierarchy of beliefs about ourselves and our lives. Along with the mental self, ego arrives on the scene. Our identity has now transcended the physical self. The physical self, along with the sensory self integrated into it, has been incorporated into the newly developed mental self. The first stage of the mental self could be described as egocentric. We are consumed with ourselves; with our self narrative. We narrowly perceive the world through a first person perspective.

As we gain experience, develop cognitively and become more sophisticated in our thinking, our narratives grow more complex and our perspective broadens into a second person perspective. This new stage in the mental self could be described as ethnocentric. We now include in our identities others who belong to groups in which we are embedded. Our identity now includes our family and family friends. It may include others similar to us who, for example, are members of our religion and attend services with us. It will grow to include “outsiders,” known to us, who share our beliefs and other characteristics such as ethnicity, language, dress, food habits and so on. For some of us, development becomes arrested at this stage due to a constrained range of experiences. A constraint on our range of experience results in a lack of opportunity for new cognitive growth. Often, the constraint is imposed by our narratives and the beliefs about the world that they impose on our perceptions and the meaning we attribute to them. Things such as racism are usually grounded in an ethnocentric identity.

If we do continue in our development, the next stage in the evolution of the mental self could be described as sociocentric. We now have acquired the ability to take a third person perspective. We can identify with a much larger social group than in the past. Our expanded narratives gives us a social perspective that is much broader than our previous provincial identity. We can now bring into our identity persons who differ from us in significant ways because we share a broader membership with them. For example, if we strongly identify with our nationality, we can incorporate people who may have significant differences from ourselves into our identity because they too are American or French or Chinese and so on. It is likely that the upper developmental limit for most people is a sociocentric perspective. People that we might describe as nationalists are probably operating from this level of identity.

A small number of people who continue to develop will transition to a worldcentric perspective. The final step in the development of the mental self. They now identify with a context that exceeds the boundaries of nation states. Such individuals become “citizens” of the world and identify with humanity in its many variations. All the previous self identities and narratives related to those identities have been incorporated into and subsumed by the new broader identity. These are people who advocate for just treatment of all living things, of a more holistic approach to the health of the planet and sustainable styles of living. Many of us would consider this the pinnacle of human cognitive development, which it may be in a sense.

Yet, there remains, at least, one more development related to self or identity. This transformation goes by various names but in the first paragraph it was called the spiritual self. Transcendence of the mental self to the spiritual self could be described as arriving at a Kosmocentric perspective. This is a relatively rare occurrence and you probably have never met such a person. One reason that it is so rare is because almost everyone becomes deeply entangled in their ever more complex personal narratives or more simply stated in their mental self. As one spiritual teacher put it, we are “lost in our minds.” The mental self lives through symbolic representations of the past and for imagined futures and gives little attention to the present. What goes unrecognized is that recall of narratives about the past are about things that no longer exist, if they ever did, and that narratives about the future are about things that may never come to pass. The only reality that one can truly grasp is the one that is fleetingly present in the moment. One likely distinction between the earlier selves and the spiritual self is that the former are largely governed by processes associated with the left hemisphere in the brain and the latter in the right hemisphere. It is the difference between a particularlized and a holistic grasp on our experienced reality.

I ask that you contemplate the following questions carefully. Are you really the stories (narratives) that you tell about yourself? Do these narratives feel love or anger? Can your narratives think about things? Who is it that knows your subjective experience? Who is editing and telling these stories that you live by? It is certainly not the narratives that you associate with your name; e.g., Bill Smith or Mary Jones, doing all these things. So, who is doing it? If you like, you can read a poem that I wrote that also addresses this issue here or read a more complete list of questions here.

It would appear that you have a subtle self that is the observer of all that you are. It is not your sensory field though it is aware of the sensory field. It is not your physical body though it is aware of the physical body. It is not your mental activity though it is aware of your mental activity. It is your uncluttered ever present conscious awareness. The spiritual self has always been present but your attention has been elsewhere. You’ve lived much of your life consumed by distractions. If you can identify with the spiritual self you will have a unique perspective that still has access to all the prior selves that you’ve grown through, if they will still serve you, but you will not be entangled in them.

One person, the late Franklin Merrell-Wolff, who connected with his spiritual self and became present with his pristine conscious awareness described living through the spiritual self as the “high indifference.” What he meant by this phrase was that he seldom needed to interpret his experience through narratives. He seldom found beliefs that gave meaning to those narratives useful. Thus, he found little use for judgment and was open to and accepting of life as it passed through him. He found that he was emotionally disengaged from most events taking place around him. The people involved in those events were entangled in stories that often competed with one another for the status of “truth.” This does not mean that he did not engage the world. What it means is that he engaged the world through discernment free of any narrative generated prescription about how he should engage it.

He found that being fully present in the world required little attention to the world of the mind that consumed those around him. Giving little attention to the mentally constructed world gave him a clearer view of what was important and when he acted he was more likely to have an effect on something that mattered. The late Abraham Maslow, a developmental psychologist, described the pinnacle of his developmental pyramid as self transcendence. It is a rising above the mental self and all that went before it. It is an experience and there is no formula for creating a transcendent experience. It is an internal journey following a pathless path. It is awakening to one’s true nature and being released from ignorance.

 

Infinite Universe

I recall that even as a child the visible universe challenged me. I looked in awe and wonder at the night sky in its immensity. I asked myself what could contain it? To my young mind there was no knowledge of extension beyond sight or of the concept of infinity. But bring forth that knowledge and the impossibility of the universe only expands. I am still in awe and wonder at the very thought of an infinite universe.

If someone asked me what can contain the infinite universe, the only possible answer that comes to mind is consciousness. I learned that as a philosophical system this answer is based in idealism. As a theological system, the answer is based in panentheism. I will try to explain.

To begin, no explication of systems such as these can be had without first offering the root assumption that the narrative is built upon. I lay down as my root or core assumption the assertion that the “infinite” universe arises from primordial consciousness or, perhaps better still, source consciousness. If the universe is “infinite,” then source consciousness must be at least if not more inclusive than the “infinite” universe. To clarify, I use the term “infinite” with quotation marks to indicate my uncertainty about what the word means. It is, I think, beyond the keen of the human mind and certainly beyond mine.

The implication of the above root assumption is that our reality arises within consciousness. I will borrow an analogy, from Bernardo Kastrup, based upon dissociative identity disorder (DID), a.k.a. multiple personality disorder. Hopefully, this analogy will illustrate my impression of an idealist reality. The description will not adhere rigidly to descriptions of clinical DID. That said, imagine that you are a person with (DID). In this condition you may have multiple identities. Each identity is distinguished from the others and each is playing a different role and controlling conscious awareness with a different flavor, at different times and under different circumstances. Now imagine that the person with DID when asleep relaxes the barriers separating the identities from one another, and when s/he dreams, all the identities have a character in the dream.

The context in which the dream unfolds is common to each identity. However, each identity has a different perspective on the content and a different system of beliefs, values and goals, to varying degrees, from the other identities. Thus, each has a personal reality that includes a version of the common content and that has been processed through his/her beliefs, values and goals. Each identity has a dream character that plays out its role in the dream. Each dream character interacts with the common content as do the other dream characters and each dream character is part of the common content. In short, the dream we imagine is much like a fully functioning reality though more constrained in scope.

Now, take the above description and apply it analogously to the everyday reality that you experience. Your reality, like a dream, has common content that is drawn on by everyone. Subgroups, to varying degrees, may draw on specialized content common to the subgroup. The common content has evolved from necessity through the creativity and intention of consciousnesses grappling with need or desire. In other words, content evolves, and the more it is employed, the stronger it becomes. At first, in a manner of speaking, as an experiment, then a habit and finally a virtual addiction, which gives it a strong presence within the common content. It is a form that began as a thought and evolved into something with much greater actuality. It has become deeply embedded in memory and at times this memory is an object of consciousness. As an object of consciousness it becomes subject to manipulations that we often call thinking.

We also perceive thought forms as “real” objects outside of ourselves – think fork, cup, shovel, etc. You perceive many characteristic of a thought form that may include representations that have color, smell, texture, density weight and extension in space. These thought forms comprise your reality. You assume that they exist outside of you, but do they? What do you know of things that exist outside of you? Nothing. You have no experience with anything that exists outside of you because everything you know is confined within your consciousness or, if you prefer, awareness. Others may agree with you about the “external” characteristics of forms, but they share common content with you and are just as confined within their consciousness as you are in yours. Your assumed reality “out there” is completely inaccessible to you. It is just an idea, belief or an assumption. Enter deep sleep or die and the world ceases to exist for you because it is no longer an object of consciousness.

Earlier, I suggested that new thought forms arise through creativity and intention. However, all thought forms reside within source consciousness. We, as characters playing out an evolving narrative within source consciousness, absorb new thoughts from source consciousness. How accessible those thoughts are depends on the degree to which a person can relax the barriers separating one’s embodied consciousness from source consciousness. Relax the barriers and a question posed, with genuine desire and need for an answer will find an answer emerging from source consciousness. This is why answers often come in the form of dreams. That is, our barriers are more relaxed during sleep and dreaming. We call asking such questions and answers to them creativity or insight.

So, whatever one perceives becomes an object of consciousness and cannot be shown to exist anywhere else other than in awareness. Try to specify one thing that you can prove exists outside of your consciousness. If you think about it, you will realize that you can’t use agreement by others as proof because everything they “know” exists within their consciousness. Know also that your “body” is a thought form that exists as an object of your own consciousness, which is an extension of source consciousness. You live in a matrix of thought forms that, upon being perceived by you, can become objects of consciousness. Once you are aware of these forms they may also become memories.

You have no way of knowing the actual nature of a thought form. Your perception of it gives it characteristics consistent with your perspective, but it could exhibit very different characteristics if perceived from a different perspective. You are not an objective entity performing on a stage, independent of you, that you construe as external reality. However, you contribute to the creation of both yourself and the reality in which you perform.

In short, you and your perspective on reality are simply a strand in the carpet of source consciousness. You exist to make experience possible for source consciousness. You are an experience collector for source consciousness gathering experience from a unique perspective. It is through such experience that source consciousness comes to know its own potential and to evolve in ways that maximize that potential. The greater your realization of the nature of your reality and that of others, the greater is the evolution of your consciousness and your contribution to the maximization of source consciousness’ potential.

That is your purpose for being. To the extent that you fulfill that purpose, your life is a meaningful contribution to source consciousness. To the extent that you are ignorant of the nature of your reality and that of others, the more prone to error you are and the less growth enhancing are your contributions.

Love and Hate in Human Thought

Consider the notions of infinity and the finite. This pair of concepts embody both a contradictory and a complementary relationship. The two concepts compliment one another in that each makes the other more understandable through their contrast. They are contradictory in that each conveys a meaning that is 180 degrees out from the other.

The finite can only exist as a reduction of the infinite. That is, the finite is a subset of the infinite. Now consider an ocean and a wave. The wave can only exist as a subset of the ocean. The finite can never subsume the infinite and a wave can never subsume an ocean.

Let’s now think about “love” and “hate.” According to many spiritual traditions, love is the underlying dynamic of the universe. It is also said by many spiritual traditions that hate arises from fear and that fear is a corruption of love. The logic of the ocean and the wave can help us frame love and hate. It is far more likely that “love” is like the infinite or like an ocean because it is easy to see that “hate” is a more contracted expression than love. Thus, it seems appropriate to think of hate as a subset of love. A subset in the sense that hate arises from a corruption of love by fear that is engendered by spiritual ignorance (see my post The Nature of Evil).

Let’s end this brief discussion with the concepts of “good” and “evil.” I would argue that, like love, good is ontologically superior to evil. Good is the value field in which evil arises just as an ocean is the field in which waves arise. Thus, we can view evil as a subset of good. The infinite, waves, love and good can be thought of as all-inclusive fields in which contradictory and complimentary factions arise. These factions serve the function of making experience possible from the possibilities opened up through the contrasts they provide. After all, you could not experience temperature in the absence of the contrast provided by hot and cold.

Note: This brief comment was stimulated by the writing of the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo.

Precept versus Practice

Christianity purports to hold love as a value and through precepts such as “love one another” attempts to make it an essential aspect of a religious life. However, the evidence for its practice by Christians is sparse, at least in my experience. Even Christians who seem to exemplify the precept often report something different. For example, the “saint” Mother Theresa has often been offered as an example of Christian compassion and love. On the other hand, I’ve read that she denied this and attributed her behavior to a sense of duty. In short, she seemed to be saying that she acted according to a behavioral form, that is, she acted according what she thought she should do not from how she experienced the world around her and how she felt toward that world.

What is missing here is the lack of practices that develop the ability to be love in the sense that Jesus meant and contemporary spiritual teachers mean. To hold love as a value and advocate for it is simply not enough. Without specific practices designed to actualize love in one’s way of being, love as a value is an empty shell, and a precept such as “love one another” is meaningless. Thus, the result is someone who acts according to an idea or belief about what love should look like but does so not out of love but out of duty or some other motivation.

By way of a concrete analogy, consider a military recruit on a rifle range where marksmanship is valued. The recruit is given the instruction to aim true and shoot straight (precept). Unless this recruit arrives already adept in the use of a rifle, he or she will be largely clue less about how to implement the instruction. What the recruit needs is a practice that develops the skills necessary to aim true and shoot straight. This requires someone skilled in the practice to teach it to the recruit who in turn then engages the practice until the desired level of skill is achieved. Such a practice may have multiple components, such as, body position, breath control. sighting, adjustment for wind, trigger compression and extinguishing reflexive actions; e.g., closing the eyes when firing.

I would suggest that what Jesus and many other spiritual teachers mean by love is grounded in an ability to moderate the ego-self in which its needs and wants are primary and other people’s needs and wants are secondary or even irrelevant. It is only when one has learned to stand aside from the ego-self and its inherent self-centered- ness that it is possible to be love and to engage the world from love. Some spiritual traditions have practices that help one learn how to stand aside from the ego-self. They also have practices that target specific problems that need to be overcome, such as negative feelings toward someone in particular that make it difficult to stand aside from the ego-self that harbors those feelings.

To my knowledge, Christianity has no such practices. Or, perhaps I should say, it has had individuals who developed such practices but they were suppressed and prevented from becoming a part of the religion. In many cases, the person who developed the practices and exhibited their effects was isolated or declared a heretic and in some cases put to death. In contemporary times there has been some effort to introduce the practice of meditation into Christianity through the Centering Prayer movement. One of the earliest advocates was Fa William Johnston who went to Japan to proselytize and took up Zen as a way to better understand the culture. He got more than he expected (Christian Zen, 1971).