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The Purpose of Meditation

The Purpose of Meditation

          Meditation began moving westward from Asia in a serious way in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An early example that has persisted to this day is the work of ParamahansaYoganada. As early as the 1970s, the eastern process of meditation was being westernized. The Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson transformed eastern meditation into the The Relaxation Response about which he said, “We claim no innovation but simply a scientific validation of age-old wisdom.” 

Eastern meditation was thus on the slippery slope that led from a phenomenological way of directly experiencing alignment with the source of all being to a medicalized, objectively validated way of managing stress and anxiety. Today it can be found under “scientific” scrutiny in universities and employed as an intervention procedure by clinicians. Western science has turned a spiritual practice into a scientifically validated health procedure and redirected its age-old wisdom from transcendence to stress management. For those who prefer dancing with shadows, I will leave you here with the sanitized version made “safe” for western peoples.

What I will now do, in a generic way, is introduce you to how I see the true purpose of eastern meditation. To begin with, let’s examine the worldview that lies at the root of meditation. In the origination stories of eastern traditions we find an explanation for the world that runs more or less along the following line. The material universe is a manifestation of a source state from which everything arises. This is often described as a primal vibration, frequency or sound. Interestingly, this has a parallel in western science by way of string theory in physics, which posits that everything in the material universe arises from vibrating stings of energy.

The source sound is often represented by the Sanskrit symbol for the sound “Om.” While everything that manifests has its own unique sound or frequency expression, at its core or root is the primal vibration of “Om.” The source state has many descriptions and names, which can include: The Ground of All Being, All That Is, The Unified Field of Consciousness, Nothingness, Emptiness, Universal Mind, God, and so on. Let’s just call it Source.

Mystics throughout the ages, including some western mystics, have taught that a direct knowing of Source is available to each and every human being. To know Source one should look for it within. First one should “tune in” to one’s own unique vibratory pattern and then follow that inward to its core expression, which will be the primordial vibration of Source. In short, the way to Know Source is to come into harmonic resonance with the Source frequency, which is within yourself. Mystics often describe resonance with Source as a merging with absolute and feeling unconditional love. The only other way to Know Source is to experience it indirectly through the personal expression of Source by one who is in harmonic resonance with it.

Looking at meditation from this perspective suggests that the purpose of meditation is to turn within and silently listen for one’s unique connection to Source. If one has “ears to hear,” then one will begin to move into harmonic resonance with one’s underlying vibratory nature. The greater the state of resonance the purer the reflected expression of Source.

Mystics describe several states that can be thought of as changing levels of resonance. To illustrate these states two charts adapted from two different perspectives are provided. Assuming that one begins in the ego state (fictive-self) where one is identified with the body/mind, then the state prior to Self-realization is what I have called the natural mind and others have described simply as I AM. One is on the cusp and in a state of consciousness in which the dominant mode of being is presence, a state in which one has recovered the state of resonance with the natural self into which one was born. Such a shift moves one away from using the enculturated top-down perception learned during development to the bottom-up perception of a young child. In other words, you can see the world clearly as it is and unencumbered by beliefs, stories and conceptual schemes.

While meditation can be made into a complex subject, it is simplicity itself. It is not a doing but a being. It is not had by mastery but by surrender. Transformation, when it comes, takes one. It is not an achievement. Or, in the words of Michael Valentine Smith, “With waiting comes fullness.”

The essence of meditation, inclusive of its many variations, can be thought of as a doorway into presence. Or, as I sometimes say, “meditation is presence on training wheels.” It is not surprising then to find that there are teachers who de-emphasize formal meditation and advocate for immersion in presence. In other words, life becomes your meditation. Meditation isn’t something you add to your life and engage in daily at 7 am. It is not another of your activities. It is not a search for something that isn’t here. It is your way of being in the world.

When life becomes your meditation, you become a state of present awareness, observing your life unfold in the moment. You monitor to learn when your awareness is no longer focused on the moment, that is, when you have left a state of presence. Where can you go, you might ask? One teacher, Richard Moss, answers this question through the Mandala of Being. A mandala is often described as a circle. Think of yourself as standing inside of and in the center of a circle. When you are fully focused and centered in the circle, you are present. You are fully aware of what is right here, right now. If your focus shifts to the rear you, you are focused on the past. You are engaged in memory. If your focus shifts to the front, you are focused on the future. You are engaged in imagination. If your focus shifts to the left, you are focused on your personal story. You are engaged with your identity or fictive- self, that is, who you think you are. If your focus shifts to the right, your are focused on narratives about the external world. You are engaged in your beliefs, opinions and concepts, that is, explanations you’ve created or adopted about the nature of things in your world.

Another teacher, Leonard Jacobson, points out in his book Journey into Now that, at root, there is only one place you can escape to from presence and that is into the mind. Memory, imagination, identity stories, beliefs, opinions and concepts are all products of the mind. He suggests that most of us, most of the time, are lost in the mind. We become deeply immersed in our memories, imagination, stories and beliefs. We are too self-absorbed to be truly conscious of our life as it unfolds in the moment. Jacobson doesn’t teach abandoning the mind but rather learning to recognize it for what it is — a tool. We use it when it is appropriate and then set it aside. Do you need to plan a trip? The mind is a great tool. Do you need to find an error in a computation? The mind is a great tool. However, we actually need this tool far less frequently than we think. We are susceptible to overusing the mind because we’ve become addicted to thinking and confuse ourselves with our thoughts.

You are not your thoughts. You are pristine awareness or as Ram Dass says, “loving awareness.” One benefit of being fully aware in the present moment is that you become an observer of thoughts arising and subsiding in your awareness. You neither cause them to arise or subside. Typically, you can and usually do focus your attention on them and begin unpacking them, which is analogous to chasing after a butterfly through a tangled forest. You usually spend endless hours lost in pursuit of elusive “butterflies” and become lost in the forest of the mind.

Jacobson simply asks that we learn to be aware of when we are lost in the mind and bring ourselves gently back to the present without self-judgment or self-criticism. For those of us strongly addicted to thinking, it may be necessary to find some way to cue ourselves periodically to monitor our thought. To reconnect with presence, Jacobson suggests that we find something in the moment to be present with to help us focus in the now. It doesn’t matter what it is. It can be a tree, a pet, a child, a spouse, a friend, the feel of bread dough being kneaded, the smell of onions being grilled, the sound of a piano playing, the feel of our body resting against a chair, the unfolding of the road before us as we drive, the feel of our breath moving in and out of our body and so on. Jacobson does not object to using meditation as long as it is focused on presence.

The program that Jacobson offers is first to return to presence any time you become aware that you have left it, other than to accomplish a task. This is continued until being present becomes habitual. The second aspect of his program is to become aware or conscious, if you prefer, of the things that, unnecessarily, pull you out of presence. Of these things, he asks that they be examined for commonalities so that patterns of “seductive” thoughts or escapes from presence can be identified, examined, understood and released. One handy clue about when you’re being seduced by your mind is when you find your thoughts cluttered with personal pronouns. The second activity is an important part of becoming anchored in the present. Once you are at home in presence, Jacobson says that the deepening process begins. The deeper into presence you settle, the greater your resonance with Source. At the deepest levels of presence one’s harmonic resonance with Source may bring you into unity with All That Is.

If you find it useful to begin with a program of meditation, there is no reason not to do this. You should go into a meditation program with the recognition that it isn’t an end in itself. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to being present for short periods of time during meditation, you should consider weaning yourself off of a formal meditation process. If you need a transition between meditation and being present in your daily life, I would suggest that you use a Buddhist meditation called rigpa, for which there is an example at the end of The Looking Glass. From a foundation in rigpa you can begin the transition to being present as frequently as possible in the course of your daily life. This is where the real action is and the sooner you can get there the better.

An Imaginative Contemplation on Being

For me, I AM emerged into this “reality” frame on April 15, 1942.

          Me is the “fictive-self” created by the ego that evolved within I AM. Ego helps guide this body/mind (i.e., avatar) through the web of the world (i.e., collective stories) into which I AM emerged. I AM is a “wave” of individuated consciousness and sense of beingness transmitted from a larger field of consciousness (i.e., a seed consciousness) and received by a biological device tuned to it (i.e., a brain). It is also responsible for what we call awareness. For I AM to emerge, its biological vehicle (i.e., avatar) must be born. A reality frame (i.e., the material universe) can be thought of as a complex and dynamic context created within Source Consciousness. A reality frame has both shared aspects (i.e., the generic template), which include “rules of engagement,” so to speak, and individuated aspects that serve to maintain a degree of separation between the avatars (i.e. body/minds) of individuated consciousnesses.

A seed consciousness is a finite field of consciousness capable of generating individuated consciousnesses. By way of analogy, think of planting a seed that generates a plant that creates leaves (think individuated consciousnesses). A seed consciousness exists within and was manifested by the infinite and eternal field of Source Consciousness. Source Consciousness created seed consciousnesses in its own “image,” which means there is an essential identity between the two. In the same sense, a cup of coffee drawn from an urn of coffee retains identity with the coffee in the urn.

A seed consciousness is too extensive to be “fed” by a single biological vehicle (i.e., a body/mind) in a reality frame. “To be fed” refers to the feedback function between individuated consciousness and seed consciousness. In the plant analogy, this would be the energy for the plant created by each leaf through photosynthesis. Thus, an individuated consciousness is an avatar for a seed consciousness that gains experience in a reality frame, which then contributes to the maturation of the seed consciousness. All consciousnesses that have ever existed arose from and within Source Consciousness. Seed consciousnesses lie outside of a reality frame, which exists within Source Consciousness, but the rules governing the reality frame restrict though don’t completely prevent interaction of consciousnesses within it with consciousnesses outside of the reality frame.

A generic template is the common or shared aspects of a reality frame that are the same for all consciousnesses within the reality frame. For example, all living organisms share the requirement for nutrients, all organisms experience granite as having a hard surface, all organisms experience the effects of gravity and so on. The rules of engagement are the principles that govern the relational aspects of the reality frame. These rules define what the nature of the relationship is between one aspect and another within the reality frame. For example, two combustible materials related by friction produce fire. In terms of ordinary daily experience, these rules can be thought of as very similar to the principles of classical physics.

Individuated aspects are aspects that are relatively unique to each individuated consciousness within the reality frame. On the one hand, you might think of these as variations in physical characteristics that make one vehicle distinguishable from another. On the other hand, you can think of these as variations in psychological characteristics that give rise to differences in perceptions that influence the relationships between vehicles. Individuated aspects are necessary for experience within the reality frame. They give rise to the perceptual duality of me and not me. It is the perceived differences arising from perceptual duality that make experience possible. If no differences were perceived, there would be no experiences, as we ordinarily understand experience.

 For “psychological characteristics,” it is necessary to consider the notion of “mind” (see “What is Mind?” a sub-section in Part I). Mind is an evolved psychological construct within awareness that comes to consist of an amalgamation of concepts, beliefs, attitudes and interpretations through which sensations are filtered and become perceptions. Perceptions in turn provide a method by which one creates meaning from the sensations that arise in one’s awareness. When one emerges into the reality frame, perception is what is called “bottom-up.” This is probably what the ancient Indian sage Patanjali meant by “naked awareness.” To infants and young children all events are neutral; that is, no interpretation or meaning is imposed upon them. In short, there is no prejudgment.

As a child begins to acquire experience, ideas, especially about repetitive events, begin to form. This process is greatly accelerated by the acquisition of language. Language becomes an efficient way to acquire, second hand, the knowledge, concepts, beliefs, attitudes and interpretations of those one has relationship with such as parents, relatives, peers and cultural structures such as educational, religious, commercial and political institutions. As this process gains momentum, perception becomes what is called “top-down.” In short, few, if any, events are experienced as neutral. Events are interpreted through the filters represented in mind. Top-down perception is necessary for the emergence of the “world.” To the extent that one shares the topdown perceptional scheme of another, then to some degree, “one lives in the same world” as the other.

This interpretive structure* can be thought of as a major activities of mind along with memory and ego . Most events are now filtered through and prejudged against the interpretive structure embedded in memory. This mental structure lies mostly outside of awareness and usually operates outside of awareness (for more on this topic see “Automatic Programs” a sub-section in Part I). It is accessed by conscious awareness and becomes active in mind only when conscious attention is required, which is mediated by ego . Some aspects of the mental structure are so deeply embedded that they are not easily accessed and therefore not easily modified. Since most of the interpretive process is outside of conscious awareness, many of the decisions we make happen automatically and without our being aware of the process. The actions we take resulting from these decisions would often appear mysterious to us except that ego creates explanations for them. Some of the more elaborate explanations are what is sometimes referred to as the myths we live by. Ego also is responsible for creating a sense of “self” (I, me) to explain who is performing these actions. Thus, ego serves as an interface between events requiring conscious attention and our interpretive structure and memories. The concept of “self” (a.k.a. fictive-self) created by ego is often referred to as our story or narrative and includes the explanations for or myths about why we do what otherwise might be inexplicable (see also “Pathway Four into the Inner Ego” a sub-section in Part I).

A key concept that is usually a part of the interpretative structure is that of linear time. Time is largely the product of memory. If you did not have a hierarchy of memories from previous events to place current events into a linear context, you would have little or no sense of linear time. Once a timeline between previous events and current events comes into existence, an imaginative extrapolation becomes possible that we call the future. The future is conceived of as potential time in which events not yet experienced might occur. Our concept of linear time is also largely responsible for our concept of linear causation (i.e., A causes B causes C, etc.). We often engage in the practice of trying to cause or at least to imagine and predict what those future events might be.

Many people, past and present, have talked and written about higher states of consciousness such as “Self-realization,” “Christ Consciousness,” “God Consciousness” and “Unity Consciousness.” The occurrence of such a shift in being appears to be outside of one’s ability to deliberately produce (see also “Taken”). Establishing the ability to move between topdown and bottomup perception may be a useful precondition for being “taken.” Even if one is never “taken,” being able to move between these two perceptual modalities is a less contracted way of living. Many years ago I read a comment by a Yaqui medicine man, Don Juan Matus, to his apprentice, Carlos Castaneda, to the effect that if he wanted to be a “sorcerer,” he had to “stop the world.” For a long time I was somewhat puzzled by this comment because I confused “world” with “planet.” I now understand it to refer to stepping outside of our interpretive structure (world) or to stop engaging in top-down perception. To stop doing top-down perception, for most people, requires disentangling oneself from the world.

The process of disentanglement from the world begins with being present in each moment. To be present simply means that you are consciously aware of what is here, now, and nothing else. If you are having thoughts, associations, judgments or whatever related to what is here, now, or having memories of the past, extrapolations about the future, thoughts about your story or someone else’s story, you are not present. There are certainly times when it is necessary to enter the web of the world but the critical skill is to avoid becoming trapped in the web.

Presence requires no effort. One simply relaxes into the moment and if you observe that you’ve left presence then effortlessly nudge yourself back. As you do this, hold the intention that you want, as an adult, to approximate the mind you had as a young child. Done regularly enough, presence progressively expands until established as your default state. Once you can be present with regularity, you have reached a point that I’ve discussed as the “Natural Mind.”

When you are not present, you are entangled in the web of the world. A twentieth century American mystic, Franklin Merrell-Wolff, described his attitude toward the world as one of “high indifference.” This attitude allows you be in the world but not of the world. This does not mean you don’t care about things in the world or don’t engage the world. It does mean that you don’t act from top-down perceptions or become emotionally entangled in the world.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to presence is a function neurology calls the “default mode network.” This neural network seems to be largely responsible for maintaining our fictive-self and narratives about the world. It does this by becoming active whenever we are not specifically engaged in something that requires focused attention. When this function becomes active it acts a lot like a movie-selection algorithm that throws up titles of movie suggestions based on your viewing history. So, thoughts, images and memories related to your ongoing narrative events interpreted as important pop into consciousness until you engage one of them and start “unpacking” it. This process maintains and reinforces the narratives and interpretative perceptions that keep you entangled in the web of the world. Extricating yourself from this web sets you free from the mental construct that you think of as the world. Learning to be present in the moment (i.e., keeping your attention focused in the moment) dampens and eventually makes the default network become virtually silent. It is now natural for you to just be or relax into I AM. This then may set the stage for relaxing deeper into the mystery of being.

 

* For anyone interested in a model of the interpretive structure as it might occur within an individual, consider the psychology of personal constructs theory of George Kelly. This is briefly described here (see Foundations sub-section). This is described in more detail here. For an For a complete description see Kelly’s two volume work: The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton, 1955.

Taken

          The title for this piece, unlike the book by the same title, has nothing to do with alien abductions. It is drawn from something one of my sons used to say when very young. If asked why he did something he would often reply, “It just took me.” That observation seems apropos to the content of this essay.

After reading and listening to a number of people that I feel confident are spiritually enlightened people, I have come away with the following points about Enlightenment:

1.     You can’t develop it. There are no steps you can master one at at time. It is not like working through a belt system in karate. There is no black belt to be attained in the end.

2.      You can’t learn it. The study of theology or philosophy will not help. As one Enlightened being remarked, “…many of you are too intelligent for your own good. You have developed ways of interpreting the world that are highly complex. And so in order to address you…I am called upon to help you get past your education back to the simplicity of being, which is that God is Love….”

3. You can’t earn it. Being charitable and doing good works may make you feel good and may be needed and appreciated by the recipients, but they do not contribute to some “spiritual score board.”

Enlightenment is equally available to a serial killer and a pious nun. Going to church and going to a casino are equally efficacious. In short, you have no control over it. It is largely out of your hands. It just takes you.

So, how do you come to be taken? The simple answer is by Grace*. Most of the sources I’ve read or heard suggest that there are only two things that you can do that might serve as an “invitation” to Supraliminal* Consciousness (Christ Spirit, Buddha Nature, Holy Spirit, Shakti or what have you) to manifest. The operative word here is “might.” The first is meditation. The specific practice is not important as long as it makes the fictive- self* or ego transparent. This simply means getting mentally out of the way so that there is an opening through which Supraliminal Consciousness can shine through your mask. A transparent self is essentially what was discussed in The Natural Mind.* Returning to this state of mind has many benefits in and of itself. It is not, however, a condition necessary for Grace. The second is by Transmission.* Transmission is an invitation extended through a person in whom full enlightenment has manifest. Contact with the power of Supraliminal Consciousness emanating from such a person can create an opening in those exposed. The operative word here is “can.” Neither of these two methods will manifest Consciousness. In the end, it is entirely dependent upon Grace.

Terminology:

*Grace, a non-contingent, unconditional gift. It is independent of any response you can make to affect it.

*Supraliminal, liminal refers to a threshold of perception. Think of the Unified Field of Consciousness flowing through you like a beam of light. Conscious awareness is comprised of those frequencies of the light that you can perceive. There are frequencies that are both below (sub) and above (supra) your conscious awareness.

*Fictive-self, see The Natural Mind below.

*Natural Mind, a state of unconditioned awareness unobstructed by your story about yourself .

*Transmission, a term in a spiritual context that means transmitting a level of subtle energy that is only present in a fully enlightened person that can provide an opening in the perceptual barrier between conscious awareness and Supraliminal Consciousness. In early Christian practice this was called Initiation or Conveying Blessing and probably has had no real role in Christianity in nearly two thousand years. In Siddha Yoga this is called Shaktipat and has been and still is a recognized practice. It is not commonly practiced but is available through a small number of persons.

Discernment and Acting in the World

This essay is in large part grounded in two earlier essays: The Nature of Evil and The Natural Mind. A brief summary of those two essays is included but reading the essays could also be helpful.

          In the Nature of Evil essay it was posited that within relative reality, which is subsumed by absolute reality, there is a bipolar conception of behavior that ranges from ignorant at one end to enlightened at the other end. Of course, as with any bipolar construct one might define a number of intermediate positions between the anchor points at either end of the dimension. In the earlier essay, ignorant behavior was defined as including what is generally thought of as “evil” but went on to include many types of behavior that probably would not generally be thought of as evil, though they might still be considered wrong. The core defining characteristic of ignorant behavior is perceiving everything external to oneself (subject) as an “object” suitable to be used in anyway one sees fit to meet one’s needs and especially wants (egocentric). Wants in this case being something that one has no objective need for but has acquired a desire to possess or consume in some manner. Objects external to the self can be anything, including material objects, social structures and biological organisms, especially other people. The core defining characteristic of enlightenment is Self-realization or recognition that one’s consciousness is in fact not an individual phenomenon but is a localized manifestation of a unified and universal Consciousness, which becomes the operative form of Consciousness within enlightenment (Oneness). Some residual subject/object functioning remains a necessity even for an enlightened person, due to the necessity of operating in a relativistic context. However, egocentric wants will no longer drive the motivational state of such a person, and thus such a person will not view objects in the world to be simple means to an end.

In The Natural Mind essay, a state of functioning that might be thought of a ego-free but without unity with universal Consciousness was described. A state of child-like innocence was offered as a state analogous to the natural mind. The Natural Mind is a follow-up to a discussion of ways in which one can work to eliminate or modify conditioned programs that govern much of our emotional/behavioral functioning. Methods for working on conditioned, automatic programs (APs) [see sub-section in Part I). These conditioned programs are acquired largely through our socialization and come to be organized around and understood through a narrative, which may consist of multiple related stories, constructed from our memories. In the essay, this narrative was called the fictive-self. Neutralizing many of our conditioned ways of interpreting the physical and social environment facilitates becoming free of ego-driven thinking, feeling and acting; i.e., deconstructing and ending our identification with the fictive-self. Once operating from the natural mind, one is available for (i.e., not resisting) a transformation of consciousness through an opening to universal Consciousness. This is not, however, something that one can “make” happen but must allow to take one (see the brief essay Taken).

The question then arises as to how one functions in the relative world when no longer motivated by the fictive-self (egocentric self) and is not yet an open channel for universal Consciousness. As long as one lives in the relative, there will be choices arising out of the dualistic underpinnings of relative reality. Jon Marc Hammer in one of his books makes an interesting distinction. Hammer referred to the earth and the world as being distinct. The former is Gaia-like, which according to Wikipedia, refers to a hypothesis proposing that “…organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.” Hammer would go one step further and say that this complex system is an organism and that all components of it arise out of Consciousness and to varying degrees possess consciousness. The world according to Hammer is a complex of ideas, concepts, beliefs and expectations that govern a drama called “human culture and civilization” performed on a stage called earth. Hammer’s drama recalls to mind some lines from a poem (Outlaw) I wrote many years ago in an effort to capture a truth revealed to me during a noetic event (see note at end)*. Several lines from that poem: :

And the man knew God

And he was made free.

All history and tradition

Culture and words

Rescinded — Grace.

Freedom from the past

And from the future.

An outlaw.

Eckhart Tolle makes a similar distinction albeit on a smaller scale. He speaks of one’s life-situation versus one’s life. Your life-situation is analogous to how you “stand” in relation to the world. Your life is related to your role as one of the biological organisms of which the earth is partially comprised. The world and life-situations are governed by the mind while the earth and life are governed by natural processes.

Consider the world to be a large web spun around the earth. The strands comprising this web can, for example, be thought of, but not limited to: political systems and ideologies, systems of law and concepts of justice, economic and financial systems, occupations, art, music, fashion, religions, philosophies, moral systems, science and technology, social mores, educational systems, systems of kinship and social classes based on racial, ethnic, wealth, gender and various other characteristics. One’s life-situation results from the strands one identifies with and uses to define oneself through. Now, imagine that all human life were eliminated from the earth. What would happen to this web comprising the world that most of us think of as reality? It would vanish instantly, clearly showing that it was not real at all but simply the product of the mind. What would happen to the earth and life? They would continue on following the natural processes that have always ordered them.

A person acting from a conditioned mind is entangled in the world and cannot see beyond it. When one is functioning from a conditioned mind or ego, choices are ruled by APs, which are conditioned programs, many of which reflect beliefs, opinions and expectations that we have adopted about the world. Such choices are often described as judgments or prejudices. Someone who has regained their natural mind acts through the application of refined thought or discernment. Thus, the natural mind functions in the world through the development and practice of discernment. Discernment means seeing the “unfiltered” nature of things or seeing through the web. Thus, the natural mind must weave its way through the world distinguishing between essential and superficial characteristics when choices must be made.

Do understand that the web comprising the world is not an illusion and has real consequences that one must take into account. However, the natural mind helps give one a perspective on the web that opens the possibility of navigating it without becoming lost in it. The American mystic Franklin Merrill-Wolff spoke of what he called the “high indifference,” by which he seemed to be referring to this ability to rise above the web and gain some perspective on it. This does not mean one is indifferent to the real needs of the living but only that one responds to them independent of egoistic influences. While Merrill-Wolff recognized that it is virtually impossible to completely disengage from the world, he thought that one could function in the world without being of the world. The natural mind is grounded in life and being not in the world of the mind or as Leonard Jacobson prefers, “…in the world of time.”

Some choices involve simple preferences and do not require discernment. For example, given a choice between several flavors of creamer for your coffee, personal preferences are adequate for making a choice. However, having found your way back to the natural mind, one no longer has beliefs and opinions (prejudgments) to rely upon in making most choices. One is left with discernment as the basis for making these choices. This means carefully considering the worldly context for a choice and then determining the best course of action, which minimizes any potential harm that might result from the choice to yourself or others and making choices that could potentially be life enhancing. This seems to be close to what the Buddhist mean by right action. There are no hard and fast rules for right action. However, if one approaches decision points without being entangled in and identified with the world, one will usually intuitively understand what to do. For those who have freed themselves from the conditioned mind, right action arises from the heart, not the mind.

* A noetic event, in my experience, is a shift in consciousness that, while it may not always be permanent, one nevertheless never fully returns from it. You can read more about noetic events in my life here: A Personal Odyssey. The term “noetic” was popularized by the moon astronaut Edgar Mitchel who used the term to describe something that happened to him on the way back from the moon. He subsequently founded the Institute for Noetic Sciences (IONS) to study noetic events.

The Natural Mind

          The natural mind is called by many names, including among others, the unconditioned mind, original-mind, presence and selflessness. It is, in my view, the unconditioned awareness that you were born into when you entered this world. It is always present but most of us have “lost” it.

How could you lose your natural mind? The process begins to unfold very early. There are three aspects to the process. The first might be called primary programs that are biological in nature. These programs send signals into conscious awareness that we react to. Hunger is one example. When you become aware of a hunger signal, you engage in activity directed at responding to the signal. You engage in activity that results in you consuming food, and the program rewards your activity by eliciting satisfaction. Secondary programs come to be built upon primary programs through choices made and repeated. At the earliest stages one has little choice except to reject or accept what is offered by a caretaker. Later, one begins to have a wider range of choices and some independence from caretakers’ choices on your behalf is achieved. Through choices and repetition of those choices new programs are acquired.

Once a program is established it becomes automatic. Given a choice of foods, you don’t have to consciously think about the choices and, even if you do, the probability favors you making a selection that has a repeated history under similar conditions and in similar circumstances. Your automatic program (AP) makes the decision for you and when an impulse to act on the decision enters your conscious awareness (CA), you mentally say to yourself something like, “I think I’ll have candied yams. They are really tasty.” When given choices that you have no history with, such as in an ethnic restaurant whose menu is outside your range of experience, you may be conflicted without your “inner guidance” and will have to actually apply conscious decision making to the choices by seeking more information about the items on the menu or, failing availability of sufficient information, resort to a random selection.

Even in such a situation, your AP’s may come into play as you gain information and an AP partially matches up with a menu item because of some commonality in an ingredient or ingredients with established choices. An AP may make a decision based on additional information and send a choice (as an impulse) into CA and you mentally say to yourself, “Oh yeah, that dish has lamb in it and I like lamb so I’ll go with it.” Lacking ingredient similarity, an AP may act on similarity in aroma or appearance. An adult with a lot established programs may seldom fall back on a purely random choice.

In addition to secondary programs there are tertiary programs. Tertiary programs are programs established through directed learning experiences. These may be informal, such as being taught a language or languages in the home, that our family doesn’t eat pork, Americans support their country, men are leaders and women must pay attention to their appearance. Other informal learning experiences may have other social influences that are outside the family such as a peer group, community organizations and the media. You may acquire AP’s related to such things as music preferences, clothing preferences, religious beliefs, sexual attitudes, political ideals, occupational preferences and prejudices. Other directed learning experiences may be more formal like those found in educational programs to teach subjects like reading, writing, mathematics, history and physics.

[Note: If you would like a demonstration of the reality of these AP’s, click on “Implicit Attitude” and take some of the tests, especially those on social attitudes, and compare what you believe about the topics with what the tests reveal at the unconscious level.]

Many AP’s will usually be functional, efficient and of great benefit. Other AP’s may do no great harm. Some may be or may become highly dysfunctional and create a constant source of problems, the origins of which are difficult to identify. One simple example might be a woman who repeatedly makes poor choices in men because of dysfunctional AP’s that influence what she finds appealing in a man or, conversely, a man who finds problematic women appealing because of dysfunctional AP’s.

As you develop and acquire more and more AP’s, you begin to engage in a lot of thoughts, feelings and actions that arise from beneath CA. Conscious awareness creates explanations to explain the occurrence of these thoughts, feelings and actions. Over time the explanations are woven into narratives that explain who we are and why we think, feel and act in certain ways. This becomes an evolving self-description or what might be called a fictive-self. The fictive-self usually has several narrative variations, which draw on existing AP’s and new AP’s that may develop out of circumstances peculiar to a particular variation. There is usually a variation for each of the long-term roles that we acquire in the course of our lives, such as student, spouse, parent, employee, partner, friend and so on. Some of these variations may be more functional than others and especially dysfunctional when they are contradictory and in conflict.

Another important process in the creation and maintenance of our fictive-self is memory and imagination. When our “mind” is not externally focused on some attention-requiring task like composing this essay, it goes into narration mode. Memories associated with our narrative arise in CA. We ruminate on past accomplishments, pleasures, failures or misfortunes as a way of illustrating and reinforcing our story. If a memory doesn’t fit our story well, we will modify and tweak the memory to bring it into better alignment with our story. We also project these memories through imagination into hypothetical future scenarios, which is different from drawing on past experience in considering how we can accomplish a specific goal. That type of thinking is called planning and is not pointless rumination. Narration strengthens our story and our identification with it.

We become strongly identified with the fictive-self we weave. It becomes us and we go through our lives thinking that we are the story that we have created to explain the AP’s operating beneath CA that direct our thoughts, feelings and actions. The more strongly we are identified with our fictive-self, the less aware we are of our original self and the less self agency we exercise. In short, we have lost our natural mind and, in the process, the ability to see the world as it is rather than as it appears through the explanatory filters we have created to explain the effects of our AP’s. Literally, I AM my story and my story is ME, but a story is just that — a story. Many people arrive at such an understanding spontaneously. This epiphany about the fictive-self tends to be powerful, transformative and often viewed as a spiritual event. Such events are also sometimes referred to as noetic events.

Personally, I had such a noetic event when I was seventeen years of age that revealed to me that my concept of self was simply a matrix of beliefs in which I had invested my identity. This was a transformative experience for me, but one that took years to manifest its effects and be fully understood. A decade later, I had a second noetic event in which I realized that, not only do we have a personal matrix of beliefs that we identify with, but there is a larger more universal matrix in which our personal matrix is embedded and entangled. If you’re interested in these two noetic events in my life, they are covered in A Personal Odyssey.

Stories can be changed. The first step is to recognize that who you think you are and why you think, feel and act in particular ways is because you’re following a script that you’ve created. The more strongly you’re identified with your fictive-self the more difficult it will be to change your story. The techniques discussed in “Creative Self-agency” include methods for working on your AP’s and the story you have written about them. Self-agency is the tool that needs to be developed, if you want to improve your story and change the way you relate to the world. Self-agency requires that you recognize that you have a fictive-self that you created and that you can change it. The second step is to employ some of the techniques available to understand your story and then to effect functional changes in the story. Just knowing that you are articulated by a story and making that story more functional can make significant improvements in your life.

However, recognizing that you are identified with a story and making improvements to that story will not alone restore your natural mind. Restoring the natural mind requires that you stop identifying with the story that you’ve woven around your AP’s and relax back into the pure awareness of being. Being present with the natural mind will provide a fresh perspective on everything and you can respond to situations as if they were unique happenings, not instances of AP-driven events that make up part of the story that is your fictive self. Being in the natural mind will let life flow through you unimpeded by efforts to control and direct it to make it conform to your story.

Ending identification with your I, fictive-self, ego, personality or whatever term you want to use for the construct is not generally something that people find easy to do even once the idea becomes viable to them. There are many approaches to ending identification with the story and most of them involve extended programs of meditation. Meditation will give you greater access to material that has largely been beneath conscious awareness for most of your life. Coming to know and understand your AP’s will lead you to an intuitive understanding of the fictive nature of your ego or self. It is this direct understanding that begins to free you from identification with your story.

Many spiritual teachings speak of losing the self or getting rid of the ego or living totally in the present moment. All of these notions should be considered as metaphorical ways of saying that you should stop identifying with your story. You can’t get rid of your fictive-self because it serves useful purposes. But your phone, computer or car serve useful purposes and mentally healthy people don’t invest their identify in them. These and many other useful things in your life are just tools. Likewise, once you stop identifying with your story, your fictive-self simply becomes a cognitive tool that is used as needed and then put aside until needed again.

To illustrate what this might feel like, consider the following scenario. You were selected five years ago by your employer to go overseas to work in a subsidiary. Let’s say that you went to Germany. You lived in Germany for five years and became fluent in the language and came to understand the culture. Call this your German identity. At the end of five years, you return home to work in the corporate headquarters.

You now operate in a way consistent with your native culture and speak your native language. One evening you are having dinner in a restaurant and overhear some German tourists having difficulty with the menu and placing their order with the waiter. You get up go over to their table and in German ask them if you might be of assistance. They readily accept and you help them negotiate the items on the menu and place their order for them with the waiter. The Germans invite you to join them and you do so and put your German identity to work during the dinner. When this task is complete and the German identity is no longer needed, it is put to “bed” so to speak.

Think of your fictive-self as similar to this hypothetical German identity. When you can put it to “bed” and wake it up when circumstances require it, you will bring to an end almost if not all of the narration that has previously had a near continuous run in the theater of your mind. You can now live your life largely in the present moment, which is all that really exists. You will have a much fresher and unencumbered view of events and can respond to them on their own terms rather than in terms of the character in a play of your own authorship. Thus, you have recovered your natural mind.

Many spiritual traditions see the recovery of the natural mind as the first step in moving on to a transformation of consciousness and identification with what might be thought of as unity consciousness. For example it might have been the natural mind that Jesus was referring to in the following:

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

 A translation of this into other terminology might read, “Frankly, unless you can regain your natural mind, you will be unable to know unity consciousness.” You can replace unity consciousness with whatever terminology works best for you. Examples might include Christ consciousness, consciousness of the divine, God, unified field of consciousness and so on.

Regaining the natural mind is significant in itself. However, for those so inclined, it can become a doorway. Passing through that doorway opens possibilities for several transformations of consciousness that end with unity consciousness, but that is beyond the scope of this essay (see Creative Self-Agency).

Are We Merely Divine Puppets?

          Self-identified denizens of the Absolute (hereafter mystics) declare that reality is an indivisible whole, and there are experiments in quantum physics that support the assertion. The whole referred to is what I think of as Source (a.k.a. God). It follows from this view that if one is an aspect of an indivisible whole then one is not, indeed, cannot be separate from that whole. If one is not separate from the whole then mystics say there cannot be any choices or actions that do not arise from the whole. In short, there can’t be separate “doers.” I think I understand this argument and agree with it up to a point. In fact, I sometimes say that “Ego is the mask God hides behind while pretending to be you.”, which I think captures the point the mystics are voicing; i.e. Source is ultimately behind everything. I agree that should one reach a state of resonance with Source (Self-realization) then one experiences “oneself” to be the Divine behind the mask. However, most people experience compartmentalized or egoic consciousnesses and are not in resonance with Source.

Here is an illustration to make more concrete the idea of being a “doer” when not in resonance with Source. The human body is a living, organic whole. If some cell not in resonance with the body launches off on its own and tries to become independent of the whole, what is the result? Cancer. Thus, we might say that the mass of humanity that is ignorant of the whole and often acts in a manner that is not congruent with Source are like cancerous cells who have declared their independence from the whole and launched their own program. Therefore, one might say that egoic consciousness is like a cancer cell and Self-realization is like a spontaneous remission that turns a cancer cell back into a cooperative aspect of the living body and in the process contributes to an improvement in the immune system. Would we say that a cancer cell has no independence of action? Would we say that it can’t be a “doer” of independent actions because the living body is an organic whole? I don’t think so.

A compartmentalized consciousness absent Self-realization is an egoic consciousness. So, how does an ego (I prefer fictive-self) come about. It is produced by resistance to Source or to pure being. Such an ego consciousness makes choices and pursues its own agenda in the world. Perhaps from an Absolute perspective the world is not real but that has no relevance to ego or the fictive-self. To explore this I’ll use a metaphor to represent a human life and the world. Imagine waking up and finding yourself in the cockpit of an airplane in flight. There is no one else in the cockpit or in the plane. What are you to do?

You could realize that you are not a pilot and just sit back, relax and leave things to the autopilot. In short, you could just be and enjoy the ride and see what happens. However, the idea of placing your trust in the airplane’s autopilot begins to make you anxious. You imagine all the awful things that could happen if the autopilot should fail and you can’t control the plane. Fear arises. Thus, fear motivated, you begin to read all of the instrument labels and study the guidance mechanisms. Further, after getting some idea about the function of various mechanisms, you turn off the autopilot and begin to experiment in an attempt to take control of the plane. Some of this exploration results in things that almost panic you, some don’t appear to have an effect and some make changes that you are comfortable with. As your explorations continue, you begin to feel more and more like you are making good choices and are gaining control of the airplane. You begin to view yourself as a pilot and are excited about flying. You make a couple of successful landings and takeoffs. You are now confident in yourself as a pilot and are at ease.

However, the truth is that you are in a flight simulator that is so good that you can’t tell the difference between it and a real airplane. You are not actually in an airplane. You are not actually flying. You can’t really crash. You are not actually making any real choices, good or bad. You are not really in control of an airplane, and you certainly are not a real pilot. It is all virtual reality. A virtual airplane, virtual choices, virtual outcomes, virtual control and virtual piloting. In short, it is all unreal. It is just a simulation, but you have failed to recognize it as a simulation. However, you have acquired some of the skills necessary for piloting an aircraft.

When some mystics say that there is a “dream/illusion with no doers,” the implication is that the world as we know it, which includes life, is a simulation. I prefer the metaphor of a computer simulation to dream or illusion, but it isn’t a difference that makes any real difference. According to these mystics, the simulation we call the world is actually on autopilot, but almost every one of us goes through a process similar to the one described above and resists going with the flow, i.e, just being. Resistance results in the autopilot being blocked, an ego or a fictive-self created and behavior directed at control of the immediate aspects of the simulation undertaken. Most people are confused by the claim of mystics that there actually is no world, no people, no choices, no one doing anything, etc. Confusion arises due to a failure to recognize that the claim is intended to convey that it is all a simulation (a.k.a. dream or illusion) and not real in the sense that most people tend to think about reality.

The problem here is one of perspective. From the perspective of the mystic, the world and everything in it is virtual and therefore not real. No thing really exists and nothing ever happens. However, from the perspective of most human beings both things and events are real. There are choices and outcomes. There are actions and actors. Each, from his or her own perspective, is right in terms of the reality they perceive. That one perspective is relative and the other absolute means that each talks past the other and each is certain they have the Truth and perhaps one does.

One must wonder why, if the “enlightened” have the Truth, they think telling others about their phenomenological Truth will have any effect. Conceptual communication can’t capture phenomenological Truth. Of course, the refrain one often hears is that their conceptual communication is a pointer, but it might also be a subtle way of elevating oneself. The ghost of ego past? Personally, I find the “no doer” view no improvement over the deterministic view of causation posited by scientific materialism. What’s the difference between being a mechanistic robot at the mercy of simple determinism and lacking free will* or being merely a puppet dancing to the tune of a divine puppet master?

The risk is that the ignorant believe the mystics. The ignorant would then still live in a relative world but believe in the absolute perspective. It is important to recognize that they believe, not that they know from their own experience. Thus, believing that they live in a simulation, indeed that they are a simulation, and that they don’t have any real choices and can’t take any real actions, they stop taking the simulation seriously. I am reminded of a quote from Fred Davis’ web site, “So long as it “feels” like there are choices, its important for us to make skillful ones.” What happens to the ignorant if they stop taking choices in the relative world seriously and fail to make skillful choices?

Further, I would ask, might there actually be a reason for the simulation? Might encouraging people, virtual or not, to believe that interacting with the simulation is pointless actually be detrimental in some manner? Looking at the matter from a human perspective, one must ask, why would Source, Cosmic Intelligence, the Divine, God or whatever label one wants to apply, manifest a simulation like the world, if it serves no purpose and the activity of the avatars within it pointless? Is what we call the world merely a cosmic soap opera created by Source for meaningless amusement?

Many, including myself, reject the idea that Source has no purpose and the simulation is meaningless. So, why is there a simulation? As hypotheses about such things go, I find the hypothesis offered by Tom Campbell, in his trilogy My Big TOE, as likely as any other that I’ve heard. Campbell makes the assumption that evolution, as a process, is implicit in the nature of things or a core aspect of the whole. It applies not only to life, as we experience it but also to Source. The driving goal posited for the evolutionary process is reduction of entropy. He suggests that a simulation is the method used by Source to decrease its entropy and thereby evolve. All of the compartmentalized consciousnesses employed in the simulation are evolving toward a reduction in entropy. Perhaps Source is employing something akin to parallel processing to more efficiently reduce the entropy of the whole. When a compartmentalized consciousness embodied in an avatar arrives at a level of entropy within the simulation that can make a contribution to the whole, the simulation is transcended, in a manner of speaking, and one continues to progress with greater awareness of being an aspect of the whole.

This perspective is one that has something meaningful to say to the avatars in the simulation (a.k.a. the world). It says they have a purpose and they can make choices and take actions that are meaningful within the context in which they operate. Indeed, they can affect their own state of compartmentalized consciousness by lowering their entropy through those choices and actions. This breaks down their resistance to just being and can bring them to a point where they are available to the Absolute and are in resonance with Source. This in turn serves Source by decreasing the entropy of Source. Perhaps, some or all mystics might argue, based on their experience, that Source is perfect and has no need to evolve. However, why should one believe that the understanding of mystics, still living in the simulation through a fictive-self (even though greatly diminished), is itself complete and perfect. It seems unlikely to me but then who am I but an ignorant puppet compelled by the Divine to write this meaningless essay that speaks to no purpose.

An Eclectic Program of Meditation and Self-Inquiry

The discussion of this program is organized around different states of the “self.”

1.          The starting point will be with the identity-self, which is the state in which one is fully identified with the body/mind. The “I” that thinks that it is the operative component of the body/mind is generally known as the ego or, as I call it in some of my writing, the fictive-self (see Automatic Programs a sub-topic in Part I of Creative Self-agency) or personal narrative (the “me” story). This is where most people undertaking a meditation program for the first time are coming from. Ego is the subject and everything else is perceived as a separate object. This is the dualistic perspective.

a.          Initial meditation techniques usually have one sit quietly and erect, breathing deeply and slowly from the diaphragm. Let’s just call it “sitting meditation.” If the eyes are open, they will be oriented either toward the floor, a blank wall or possibly a mandala. If the eyes are shut, one may be instructed to imagine having the eyes focused on the area between the eyes, or no attention is given to the eyes at all when closed. Some instructions might suggest focusing on an object, e.g., candle, and some may suggest use of a mantra or chant, e.g., AUM. The technique used is less important than its “goodness of fit” for you.

b.          This is the point where many meditators experience what is called “monkey mind.” The goal during this phase of sitting meditation is to simply learn to relax and observe the activity of the mind without getting seduced by it. As one gains some experience, the frenetic activity experienced by most new meditators will slow down. This more subdued stage might be called the “hummingbird mind.” The mind still flits about but not as energetically as in the beginning.

2.          After things have settled down, one will recognize something of a perceptual shift developing that establishes a division. This shift is the identity-self morphing into an observer and an ego.

a.          During this phase, one should “side” with the observer and allow some distancing from the ego to develop. One should be a somewhat disinterested observer of the activities of the ego. The goal is to begin identifying with the observer rather than with the ego and its body/mind.

b.          As one establishes identification with the observer rather than the ego, it will become apparent that the observer is not to be found in the story that comprises the ego nor can it be found anywhere in the body. Many aspects of “the fictive-self” will come under observation. Some of these may have been buried and outside of conscious awareness. I have discussed these elsewhere as automatic programs or APs (see Automatic Programs a sub-topic in Part I of Creative Self-agency). Some of these APs you may recognize as being the basis for dysfunctional beliefs, emotions and behaviors. This is usually a good time to deconstruct such APs. Often just observing these arise and dissipate will lead to their undoing. However, if you think a more direct approach is needed, I have discussed such methods in Part One. Carl Jung said, “Whatever does not emerge as consciousness returns as Destiny.” That is, you are likely to keep repeating unconscious patterns until they become conscious, are examined and neutralized.

3.          Let’s now think of the observer as the mindful-self. At this time, it is useful to begin what is called “mindful meditation.” Mindful meditation can of course be done as part of sitting meditation, but it is most effective when used to carry meditation into one’s daily life. Mindful meditation is simply paying attention, which most of us think is easy enough to do until we consciously begin observing our efforts to do so. Your attention will, by default, slip when it isn’t held captive by an engaging task. This is the way your brain is “wired” and is discussed elsewhere (see Brain and Meditation) as the default mode network or relaxed attention network (RAN).

a.          The objective here is to have the observer closely monitor what the body/mind is doing as it goes about its daily activities. In short, your meditation is literally on what you’re doing moment to moment. What you will observe is that many of the body’s routines are run by APs, and the default mode will try to kick in and begin to generate unrelated mental content whose purpose is to reinforce the fictive-self. If the mindful-self isn’t careful, it will get seduced by this content and lose focus on current activity.

b.          Losing focus during mindfulness is especially likely when one isn’t engaged in doing something. During such times, the best tactic is to become present with anything that is available in the moment. Be present with or mindful of the sound of a breeze blowing through leaves, your dog, a ticking clock, sunlight streaming in through a window, a flower, a ceramic cup, the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe or whatever is available. Presence is the focus of Leonard Jacobson’s and Richard Moss’s teachings.

c.          When one becomes well established in mindfulness meditation and can maintain focus on what one is doing from moment to moment or simply being present with something manifest in the moment, you are ready for the emergence of the inquiring- self. The inquiring-self is named for the activity that establishes it, which is called “self-inquiry.” This method is often associated with the teachings of the Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharishi and is discussed under Self-Inquiry a sub-topic in Part Two of Creative Self-agency.

4.          The purpose of self-inquiry is similar to mindfulness except that it is not focused specifically on what one is doing or something that is present but on being aware of being aware from moment to moment or being present in the moment. A psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, identifies the medial prefrontal cortex as the part of the brain responsible for experiencing the present moment. This is located behind the area of the face called the brow. No doubt, this is why Kriya Yoga emphasizes keeping attention gently focused on this area during meditation.

a.          The basic idea in self-inquiry is to establish a conscious sense of being a field of awareness. Rupert Spira teaches a simple and direct method of finding that sense. He suggests that one ask oneself the question, “Am I aware?” To answer the question, one must note that one is aware of being aware. That is where you want to be. Once you are there, you should try to relax into that state of being and remain there. There is an exercise at the end of The Looking Glass that will help you experience a state of pristine awareness.

b.          As the establishment of this state progresses, there will be a perceptual shift. When this happens, you will identify yourself with conscious awareness. You will experience yourself simply as a field of awareness that includes the body/mind. However, you will not identify yourself as being the body/mind.

1. With the shift described above, you have become an aware-self or what I have described as having a natural mind. This is a refined state of duality in which you are clear of most, if not all, dysfunctional APs and are free of making or, at least, taking seriously judgments, beliefs, opinions and expectations. It is a state that allows one to hold a dispassionate view of the world and its events. It is not, however, what some call Enlightenment or Self-realization, which is a non-dual state. Arriving here, you have done about all you can do. The rest depends on Grace and what I’ve referred to as being Taken.

2. According to some teachers, Enlightenment has several progressive states. There appear to be at least three states once the condition referred to as Enlightenment or Self-realization is entered. The first of these is accompanied by experiences of what some call Void Consciousness, a state described as Pure Being. It is suggested that many think this is the end state, and thinking this constrains any further progress. This may be followed by experiences of what is called God (or Christ) Consciousness, a state described as Divine-Love. Finally, there may be experiences of what is called Unity Consciousness, a state described as Love-Bliss (see charts of states here)

This third state is one in which it is said that one comes to the full recognition that one is an integral aspect of an indivisible whole. There is a direct understanding that this whole is Source Consciousness – the ground of all being and unconditional love.

Research Update on the Default Mode Network

          In an earlier piece on the brain and meditation, I discussed what in neuroscience is called the “default mode network.” In that section, I relabeled the default network as the “relaxed attention network” (RAN) and the alternate state as the “focused attention network” (FAN). Below are excerpts from that section that review my hypothesis about the function of the “default network” or “relaxed attention network (RAN).”

“When RAN is engaged, what you get appears similar to free association or random presentation. In this state, thoughts, memories, images and feelings stream into awareness often with little or no apparent structure. As long as these stimuli stream, you remain in RAN. However, if you focus on one or more of these stimuli and begin to engage with it, FAN comes back into operation. Thus, FAN can be focused on either an external or an internal task. To illustrate the process of going from RAN to an internal version of FAN, think of standing in front of a conveyor belt and watching suitcases streaming by. This is analogous to RAN-generated thoughts and images streaming through awareness. If you grab one of these suitcases off of the conveyor belt and begin unpacking it, this is analogous to focusing on one thought or image and following a chain of associations elicited by your attention to it. You are now back in FAN. This, however, is usually a less engaged level of FAN than the level, for example, required for solving quadratic equations or teaching someone to read. This suggests that there are degrees of FAN and RAN, meaning that they are not “digital” states that are either on or off.

 “My introspective observation is that RAN is largely responsible for the creation of a fictive-self, self-narrative or ego and especially for maintaining and reinforcing it [emphasis added]. One way of thinking about the ego is as a psychological construct that functions as the subject or “doer” assigned responsibility for our activities. This fictive-self begins forming early in the developmental period and generally becomes stronger as a child ages into an adult. It seems to me, again from introspective observation, that most of the activity generated by RAN is to bring into awareness thoughts, images and memories associated with our experiences. These become the “bricks” from which we build, repair and reinforce our fictive-self.”

Now, a recent study discussed in the New Scientist has provided evidence that supports my hypothesis:

“The team gave 20 volunteers infusions on two days, once containing 75 micrograms of LSD, the other [day] a placebo. Then volunteers lay in a scanner and had their brains imaged with three different techniques, which together built up a comprehensive picture of neural activity, both with the drug and without.”

Carhart-Harris et al.

MRI scans showed that LSD caused brain activity to become less coordinated in regions that make up what is called the default mode network. The size of the effect was correlated with participants’ ratings of their own ego dissolution, suggesting that this network underlies a stable sense of self [my emphasis].”

          Another imaging type, magnetoencephalography (MEG), showed that the rhythm of alpha brainwaves weakened under LSD, an effect that was also correlated with ego dissolution. Alpha rhythms are stronger in humans than other animals, and Carhart-Harris thinks it could be a signature of high-level human consciousness.

Click here for journal paper.

 

Brain Networks and Meditation

Caveat: I have very limited knowledge of neurology and brain processes. What I present here is my understanding of scientific reports about the working of a particular aspect of the brain as a metaphor to explore meditation.

          Brain imaging studies have recently identified a network of brain areas and their associated functions that have been named the default mode network. This network has been labeled default because it seems to be responsible for most brain activity taking place when one’s attention is not specifically engaged. It would appear that focused attention draws largely upon other brain areas and those areas represent a separate network, which to my knowledge has not been labeled. For simplicity’s sake let’s hereafter just refer to these as the Focused Attention Network (FAN) and the Relaxed Attention Network (RAN). These networks are illustrated in the figure at end of this essay. We are all familiar with the notion of left brain and right brain functions, but apparently there is another “divide” along the lines of a brain using focused attention and a brain whose attention processes are relaxed. As with the left and right brain concept, the RAN and FAN brain states do not necessarily mean exclusive functions for each network but rather primary functions. The FAN is frequently directed externally but can also be directed internally at specific cognitive tasks or physical states. The FAN appears to be more analytic and rational, while the RAN seems to be more metaphorical and imaginative.

The FAN appears to engage those areas of the brain that govern executive functions in the brain such as active attention, decision making, problem solving, planning and working memory. It accesses and engages knowledge and skills that an individual has acquired for engaging tasks of various sorts. It also exercises control over motor functions needed to engage in voluntary actions like drawing or surgery. If you’re trying to cognitively inventory the things that you will need to take with you on a trip, to relax a tight muscle in your neck, learn how to solve quadratic equations or teach a child to read, the FAN is engaged. However, when activities requiring focused attention come to an end, RAN is automatically your default state. Clearly, if you’re doing nothing but sitting staring out a window, the RAN will engage. However, when you’re engaged in routine activities that don’t require focused attention such as running on a treadmill or driving down a stretch of road with little or no traffic, you usually will default to RAN. Even when focused attention may be needed, boredom can result in inattention and defaulting to RAN.

When RAN is engaged what you get appears similar to free association or random presentation. In this state, thoughts, memories, images and feelings stream into awareness often with little or no apparent structure. As long as these stimuli stream, you remain in RAN. However, if you focus on one or more of these stimuli and begin to engage with it, FAN comes back into operation. Thus, FAN can be focused on either an external or an internal task. To illustrate the process of going from RAN to an internal version of FAN, think of standing in front of a conveyor belt and watching suitcases streaming by. This is analogous to RAN-generated thoughts and images streaming through awareness. If you grab one of these suitcases off of the conveyor belt and begin unpacking it, this is analogous to focusing on one thought or image and following a chain of associations elicited by your attention to it. You are now back in FAN. This, however, is usually a less engaged level of FAN than the level, for example, required for solving quadratic equations or teaching someone to read. This suggests that there are degrees of FAN and RAN, meaning that they are not “digital” states that are either on or off.

My introspective observation is that RAN is largely responsible for the creation of a fictive-self, self-narrative or ego and especially for maintaining and reinforcing it. One way of thinking about the ego is as a psychological construct that functions as the subject or “doer” assigned responsibility for our activities. This fictive-self begins forming early in the developmental period and generally becomes stronger as a child ages into an adult. It seems to me, again from introspective observation, that most of the activity generated by RAN is to bring into awareness thoughts, images and memories associated with our experiences. These become the “bricks” from which we build, repair and reinforce our fictive-self.

Initially, the mind begins a process of organizing this information into some sort of kernel story that is rooted in and identified with the body/mind. This becomes the core construct around which our fictive-self or personal narrative evolves. This fictive-self or ego largely has the function of providing a sense of coherence and continuity to our life experience. It becomes the basis of the meaning we assign to our lives. As our narrative becomes fairly well established more and more of what arises from the RAN are thoughts, ideas, images, attitudes, opinions and judgments (among others inputs) that reinforce our fictive-self and ensure our identification with the narrative.

The fictive-self can be recognized through the stream of “self-talk” that dominates your awareness when the FAN is engaged with content RAN has generated. Much of this “self-talk” and can be recognized as rehearsal of one’s personal narrative. We become the fiction we have created to explain our self to our self. We are like a hamster trapped in an exercise wheel — always running but never getting anywhere. If you want to escape, you must first become aware of the structure of your personal narrative by examining the themes in your self-talk and what they imply about the beliefs, opinions and attitudes largely operating beneath your awareness and directing you like a puppet master. “Cutting” the strings linking you to your puppet master is the most essential step required for freedom.

I would suggest that very young children, before the core construct for the fictive-self is established, are not individuated. Therefore, their consciousness is more likely to be resonate with what some describe as Unity consciousness. Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Or, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, regain your “natural mind.” In other words, you cannot access Unity consciousness or the Absolute (“kingdom of heaven”) unless you can first learn to stand aside from the fictive-self (“be converted”) and return to a less individuated manifestation of consciousness (“become as little children”).

One activity that comes to mind while thinking about RAN is meditation. When one sits to “practice” meditation, two things are likely to happen. First, the FAN is disengaged and, second, the RAN is engaged. These are operations that most of us easily do with hardly a thought. However, the purpose of meditation cannot be to simply engage the RAN, because if that were true, then there would be no difference between meditation and daydreaming. So, the question arises, what is the relationship between the RAN and meditation?

Many meditation teachers initially advocate the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is usually described as concentrating on a specific focus such as a rhythmic function like the breath, an auditory stimulus or a visual stimulus. The nature of the auditory or visual stimulus suggested will vary depending upon the tradition from which the suggestion is coming, but there is no evidence that I am aware of from brain imaging studies indicating any functional difference between the effects of different stimuli from different traditions. For example, if the focus is on a sound such as “Aum” or “Amen,” then during mindfulness meditation one simply uses this sound either vocalized or sub-vocalized as a focus, and whenever one recognizes that the focus of attention has drifted, the instruction is to simply mentally note the deviation and return to the focus.

It seems that the basic process in this form of meditation is to learn to use a solitary focus of attention that requires no thought, which engages FAN at a low level. Keeping FAN engaged at a low level with a stimulus requiring no thought helps avoid becoming entangled in the activity of the RAN. Once this condition is met, one can observe the products of RAN running in the background, so to speak. It has been said that the function of the mind is to generate thoughts, just as the function of the heart is to pump blood. If that is so, it is the RAN that is largely responsible for generating the thoughts.

What one must learn to avoid is engaging FAN with any of the stimuli thrown up by RAN. Of course, this will happen and happen regularly for beginners. The only solution is to gently withdraw FAN from the RAN product it engaged and move it back to the meditative focus.

In the process of learning to hold FAN at “arms length” and simply observing the products of RAN passing through awareness, one begins to get a good sense of what sorts of stimuli are being generated by RAN. Frequently, patterns will emerge among the stimuli passing through awareness. This is how one begins to get a handle on the beliefs, opinions and attitudes largely operating beneath your awareness. Many people may also have emotional reactions to patterns of stimuli that relate to negative events in their lives and may be initially overwhelmed by their emotions. These events have probably made contributions of importance to your personal narrative. They may also be the source of especially problematic attitudes, beliefs and opinions that affect your functioning. Becoming aware of these potent cognitive components “pulling your strings” is the first step in cutting those strings.

Most spiritual teachings that point one toward Self-realization consider being able to sustain full presence in the moment (the natural mind) to be a necessary condition. Regaining the natural mind first requires cutting those puppet strings directing your life from beneath awareness. By presence what is meant is that what you experience, whether events, thoughts, feelings, sensations, objects or people, are simply that. You register these stimuli in your awareness but your mind brings to them no preconceived interpretation and makes no judgment arising from such interpretations. This does not necessarily mean that you will draw no conclusion about what you are aware of but that any such conclusion will be untainted by the content of ego. You will discover that in most instances no conclusions are necessary at all. What you observe simply is what it is and requires nothing from you.

It would seem that insight meditation is the next step in one’s meditation practice. The transition from mindfulness to insight meditation is not a sharp or clear transition. However, at some point the process of noting the activity generated by the RAN and recognizing patterns related to your beliefs, opinions and attitudes begins to develop into an intuitive understanding of the conditioned nature of that aspect of consciousness we call the self. With this intuitive insight comes an opportunity to begin the process of standing aside or dis-identifying with the “fictive or narrative self” that is the illusion you refer to as “me.”

 The illusion of permanent self dissolving as awareness penetrates and knows the illusion. Moving deeper, beyond the small self, beyond aversion and attachment, beyond ignorance.Barbara Brodsky and John Orr (meditation teachers).

Meditation then becomes a natural abiding in awareness of awareness. One’s attention is both relaxed and focused in the present moment. One does not dwell on the imagined future or recollected past. One does not spin “ego stories” about the self nor explanatory stories about others, which can include institutions, organizations or people. One is in the natural mind. Knowing Unity consciousness or the Absolute still depends upon grace (see Taken), but one has done all that is possible to prepare for it and is able to expand into it should it occur.

There is one practice, which I think of as contemplative meditation, that is worth mentioning separately. This is the use, by one school of Zen meditation, of what is known as a koan. A koan is a riddle that is used as the focus of meditation. For example, the widely quoted koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Zen is not the only source of such riddles. Here are a couple from non-Zen sources, “The only way out is in” and “There is only one mind.” It appears that the purpose of a koan is to shut down the RAN by silencing its near incessant chatter with an intellectual conundrum that has no rational solution. This not only serves as a focus for FAN but exhausts FAN’s efforts to bring rational understanding to the conundrum. At the point of exhaustion one might say rationality implodes, leaving what Zen refers to as “no mind” or, according to the Hindu sage Pantanjali, puts one beyond words and concepts. The American mystic Franklin Merrill-Wolff describes this state as consciousness without an object.

Figure

 

Two views of the brain with the RAN in blue and the FAN in orange and yellow.

 

Goswami’s Brain-Mind Model

          The outline of Goswami’s Brain-Mind model presented below doesn’t capture all of the nuances of the development that the model received in his book The Self-aware Universe. I have used a few terms, especially in the upper part of the Figure at the end, that he doesn’t use but that I think are comparable and to which he probably would not object. For example, he uses the term Unitive Consciousness and I used the term Unified Field of Consciousness (UFC). I have also used three terms that come from David Bohm’s model (Super Implicate Order, Implicate Order and Explicate Order). Bohm indicates that the explication of a collapsing wave of possibility by its unfolding from the Implicate Order (transcendent dimension) into the Explicate Order (material dimension) is what creates our perception of time. Since in Goswami’s model the transcendent non-local consciousness (NLC) is obscured from local consciousness (LC), I offer Bohm’s idea of how time is created as the basis for the temporal discontinuity that obscures the one from the other. Goswami does discuss a temporal discontinuity as being what obscures our unconscious programming from our conscious awareness so proposing a complimentary temporal discontinuity as the obscuring factor between NLC and LC seems reasonable and provides a certain symmetry.

I have also included in the upper portion of the figure the term Quantum Monad (QM), which is a term used by Goswami but not until a later book (The Physics of the Soul, as I recall) and is roughly equivalent to what is often thought of as a soul. A QM is a possibility from a more complex set of possibilities which he refers to as a Bliss Body and I have referred to as an Oversoul (OS). If you think of the UFC (NLC, if you prefer) as a fabric then an OS is like one thread contributing to that fabric. An OS is too complex for explication into a single physical body/brain in the material dimension so a portion of it is explicated, i.e., a QM. Thus, LC can be thought of as a node of NLC that has its roots in the transcendent dimension but is generally unaware of its connection to the OS from which it is being projected, which in turn is an integral part of the UFC or NLC. The veil obscuring NLC from LC appears to me to be the temporal discontinuity created by the explication process.

Briefly, as a QM and it’s physical host grow and develop it is presented with many situations and choices. These choices can be thought of as a wave of possibilities with varying probabilities of being chosen and thus collapsed into actuality. Some possibilities are more probable than others for a variety of reasons, including biological programming (e.g., an innate preference for a sweet taste) and socio/cultural influences operating from outside the individual nudging him or her toward particular choices (e.g., parental preferences). Choices have outcomes and if an outcome is rewarding the same choice becomes more probable in future situations in which the previous choice is present. On the other hand, if the outcome is punitive the choice becomes less probable. Eventually, a program based on classical memory and consisting of a type of situation, a choice and an outcome is created and becomes an automatic process that operates beneath conscious awareness. Thus, our life is shaped over time and eventually the vast majority of our thinking, feeling and behavior arise from automatic programs (APs) [see sub-section in Part I) that keep us largely on autopilot (some suggest as much as 99.99% of our activity is on autopilot). The choice made by an AP is what we sometimes refer to as the “path of least resistance.” Conscious awareness is engaged with dealing with those situations that arise for which we don’t have automatic programs with which to engage the situation. Conscious awareness also observes the thoughts, feelings and behaviors arising from the unconscious APs. There is a demonstrated brief time lag between the choice made by an AP and awareness of it and its execution.

One effect of this temporal discontinuity is that conscious awareness begins to generate an explanation for why certain thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors are occurring. What evolves is a “fictive self” or agent that is responsible for these occurrences and constructs an explanation for them or one’s personal narrative. This agent is also referred to as self, ego and I. Thus, if one defines “free will” as the ability to make lower probability choices than the automatic and high probability choice that we would make on autopilot, then the most basic exercise of “free will” is the ability to say “no” to an AP choice arising from the unconscious. One obstacle to doing this other than the effort required is that often the time lag between decision and awareness is so long that what amounts to a reflex response occurs coincident with awareness.

Goswami suggests that one effect of meditation practice is that this time lag diminishes and the temporal discontinuity obscuring one’s AP from conscious awareness is weakened. The other effect at this level is that sitting quietly and allowing thoughts and feelings to arise into awareness and pass through provides practice in not reflexively acting on such thoughts and feelings. Goswami likens a thought to a quantum object. One can focus on and follow a thought and observe its path or one can focus on its content and explore the richness of its content but one can’t do both at the same time. Thus, a thought can be compared to either a wave form or a particle form. In meditation, one attempts to develop skill at avoiding following or exploring the thoughts and feelings that arise into consciousness. Thus, systematic application of meditation to develop local consciousness helps one acquire the tools needed to be less of a victim of AP and more deliberate or mindful about one’s choices.

Meditation can also help one bridge the temporal discontinuity obscuring LC from NLC. By learning to deliberately minimize one’s attention to stimuli generated by both AP and the external situations that activate them, it becomes possible to more easily access NLC. One effect of this is to open the doors to a more creative life since NLC contains infinite possibilities although with limits on the degree LC can engage them. Goswami suggests that Jung’s collective unconscious is an aspect of NLC and that the archetypes (defined as quantum objects) that are available therein constrain the infinite possibilities to a set available for exploitation by humanity. These constraints on possibility along with constraints on choices shaped by biology, language and culture are what create the consensus reality that permit a sense of shared experience. Personally, I view consensus reality at its broadest as a “fictive self” for the species and somewhat more narrowly as a “fictive self” for any given society. Finally, weakening the temporal discontinuity between LC and NLC also opens up the possibility of direct experience of the UFC, which many mystics have described as experiencing the unity of all things or merging with the mind of God.