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The Whole 9
Creative Photography Circle
Philip serves as a catalyst working with individuals and organizations on turning change into transformation, and ultimately creating meaningful experiences and relationships. He combines his years of experience architecting and running projects for Fortune 500 companies with over twenty years of studies in yoga, alchemy, various esoteric systems and transformational psychology.
Here a brief talk with the slides of a presentation I gave the other day at a workshop on the “Art of being an Artist”.
Please forgive me for having neglected this blog lately. Am working on getting back on track, and you should expect more to come in the near future.
Had the great pleasure of talking about consciously crafting a cosmopolitan culture and the function of the artist in the 21st century with KMO, who I met many moons ago in the jungles of Peru, on his rather interesting C-Realm podcast, which I would highly recommend in general if you are interested in Consciousness and the edge of pushing it…
Since becoming aware of his existence, man has sought to give meaning to it. In his comparatively short life on earth, a whole array of philosophies, cosmologies, ontologies have arisen and have been amply documented. In terms of their stance on the underlying meaning, nearly all of these models of reality fall into one of two categories: materialistic or spiritualistic.
Materialistic models focus on matter, on this life, the tangible, sensually experiential, this life span, while spiritualistic concepts focus on spirit, the other life, the non-visible, intangible, the domains of other worlds, the afterlife.
Materialistic philosophy can be traced back at least to the Greek philosophers, who tried to find the “stuff” the world is made of. Some assumed earth, some fire, some water, some air, each providing elaborate systems which could explain why this or that particular element was superior to the others. As man began to grasp the world around him, he tried to find underlying meaning within it. Being in this life, he tried to find explanations within this life for his very existence. As matter was a core element of everyday experience, he sought to thus explain this existence with the building blocks he had available.
“The philosophy of materialism, which dates back to the Greek philosopher Democritus (ca. 460-ca. 370 B.C.), matches the worldview of classical physics which is variously termed material, physical, or scientific realism” (Goswami 1993, p. 15). It is popular to this day. Anyone, whose focus is on this life, be it on one’s family, work and career, material possessions, anyone who would deem themselves a “realist”, would probably subscribe to this category of philosophy. In the process of moving away from religion as superstition, materialism is the next logical step. Leaving behind the fairytales and myths of the past, denouncing them as naivety, man turns to matter, to the “hard facts” of life, to that which is measurable, quantifiable, to that which can be experienced by the senses and can be counted, compared, objectively verified. It allowed for “God” to be left out of the equation, even out of books as in the famous example of Laplace, who stated when asked by Napoleon why he did not mention “God” in his book that he did not need this particular hypothesis.
The philosophy of Materialism has five core elements:
- Strong objectivity
- Causal Determination
- Physical or Material Monism
Descartes was instrumental in proposing the idea of objectivity. “His famous philosophy of dualism divided the world into an objective sphere of matter (the domain of science) and a subjective sphere of the mind (the domain of religion). Thus did Descartes free scientific investigation from the orthodoxy of the powerful church. Descartes borrowed the idea of objectivity from Aristotle. The basic notion is that objects are independent of and separate from the mind (or consciousness)” (Goswami 1993, p.15). This did man a great favor. It freed up the possibility of focusing on this world without being tied to otherworldly explanations. It allowed for science to develop, for man to build cars, airplanes, and even space rockets. Assuming that this world functioned as a “World Machine”, the notion Descartes intuited upon being impressed by the gardens of Versailles full of automatic contraptions spewing water, moving objects around, clicking and clacking, allowed for man to build more machines of the sort. It allowed for him to indeed make this world his domain, in which he could manipulate and organize contraptions and objects to his liking.
It is curious to note, how here also phylogeny and ontology correspond, how this developmental step also corresponds with the development of the individual. Persistence of objects is an important learning step typically experienced around the age of 11 months, when the infant becomes interested in appearing and disappearing objects and will begin to look for objects out of sight. Objectivity is thus an important concept and needs to be learned in order to function in this reality.
Learning to manipulate his environment, the infant also around the same time learns the concept of causal determination. He learns to manipulate objects and begins to grasp the connection between events. In materialism, this corresponds to the concept Newton formulated as a law of physics, the notion that if position and vector of an object are known, predictions can be made about the future position of the object. It is the notion of the billiard ball universe in which each object moves blindly until coming in contact with another object, the impact determining the future course based on equations that can with certainty predict the outcome.
This concept is further related to the third element of materialism, the concept of locality. Discovered by Einstein, locality asserts that all objects “must travel through space one bit at a time with a finite velocity” (Goswami 1993, p. 17). Einstein formulated this as part of his theory of special relativity in 1917, later to be referred to his “blunder”.
In the dualistic world, Descartes had created, the success of science in predicting future events soon let to a tip of the scale further and further away from religion: “…the triumphs of modern science went to man’s head in something of the way rum does, causing him to grow loose in his logic. He came to think that what science discovers somehow casts doubt on things it does not discover; that the success it realizes in its own domain throws into question the reality of domains it devices cannot touch. In short, he came to think that science implies scientism: the belief that no realities save ones that conform to the matrices science works with – space, time, matter/energy, and in the end number – exist.” (Smith p. 34)
This led to the next element of materialism: the concept of physical or material monism, the idea that everything must be made out of matter, including somehow the domains it had previously relegated to religion, e.g. the mind.
This, then, led directly to the final assertion of materialism: epiphenomenalism, which proclaims that somehow mind, consciousness, is an epiphenomenon of the brain, of matter. “Mechanists consider mind to be part of the body, but this is a mistake. The brain is part of the body, but mind and brain are not identical” (Smith p.63).
Here we come to one of the core issues with materialism: The problem of emergence. Somehow, materialism claims, at some point, the brain developed to be complicated enough that something happened and consciousness just suddenly came to be. To this day, no proof has been brought forth for this outrageous claim.
Mind and Brain
“In The Mystery of the Mind: A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain, he [Wilder Penfield, a predominant neurophysiologist] points out that by applying electrodes to the memory and motor regions of the cerebral cortex of patients undergoing brain surgery the surgeon can make them remember past events and move their bodily members, but there is no brainspot, which, if electrically stimulated, will induce patients to believe or decide.” (Smith p.64)
Mind and brain are not identical. Apart from the proof neurophysiologists have brought forth to that extent, theoretical considerations also support this. Matter can be measured, mind cannot. “Conscious experience is, as Sir Charles Sherrington observed, ‘refractory to measurement.’
We cannot say that the experience of one light has twice the brightness of another. The terms in which we measure experience of sound are not the terms of experience. The terms of the stimulus, the physical sound, or of the nervous or other bodily action concomitant with the experience… Mind, if it were energy, would be measurable quantitatively… But… the search in [the energy scheme] for a scale of equivalence between energy and mental experience arrives at none.” (Smith p.67)
Empirical evidence further supports that mind and brain are not identical. The growing body for example of parapsychological and PSI investigations clearly indicated that consciousness is not localized in the brain, but can travel outside the body (for an overview on the “Persistent Paradox of the Paranormal” see Jahn 1982 in Goswami 1993).
Non-locality of Consciousness
This pretty much does away with both epiphenomenalism and material monism. Further, empirical evidence also suggests that non-local events exist contrary to Einstein’s initial claim. In 1982 Alain Aspect’s famous experiment showed that “two correlated photons [would] influence each other at a distance without exchanging signals” (Goswami 2001, p. 33). This appears to work not just for photons, but also for thoughts as demonstrated in a variety of experiments, e.g. in the Grinberg-Zylberbaum experiment (as related in Goswami 2001, pp. 35-38), where two subjects are instructed to meditate together to establish connection, and are then separated in two faraday cages outside the sight of each other. One is shown a sequence of light flashes resulting in an evoke potential, a specific brain response that can be measured. The other subject showed a so called transfer potential, i.e. the other subject, without being exposed to the signal showed a nearly identical response. While message transfer is forbidden according to a theorem attributed to Philippe Eberhard (Goswami 2001, p.39), this offers the possibility that in the case of two correlated brains the theorem does not apply. Given this, one can consider the possibility of seeing events through a non-local window, perceiving through another brain somewhere in a different space-time continuum. If intention is given and consciousness is establishing and maintaining such a connection, one could explain phenomena such as “recall” of past lives, autoscopic phenomena, or even remote-viewing phenomena, as those include not just “past”, but also perception of “future” events. Not a notion that fits too well with materialistic philosophy.
This non-local window also impacts the notion of causality. If events can transcend time and space, determinism becomes wishful thinking. The concept of uncertainty in quantum physics quickly demolished the notion that we live in a billiard ball universe.
Consciousness as Illusion?
Upward causality as such is a rather problematic aspect of materialism. If indeed consciousness was located in the brain as monism claims, and the brain being made of matter, then upward causality suggests that subjective consciousness is really only an illusion, as every thought we have would be the result of a myriad of events that already occurred, our thoughts being the result of certain particles hitting other particles, tracing the chain of events back to the beginning of the universe – not an all too pleasant notion.
Strong objectivity also denies subjective perception altogether. If everything was objective, how could there be subjective consciousness unless it was an illusion?
We are beginning to see how materialism really fails to provide a comprehensive explanation of reality. While practical in many ways in order to navigate in our every day experience, it does not provide room for consciousness and subjective experience of reality.
Materialism and Meaning
It further does not offer much in regard to meaning: If all was matter, and if consciousness was indeed located in and an epiphenomenon of the brain, then experience and all subjective existence would cease to exist in the moment of physical death. The logical conclusion for a meaning of life then, would be the Epicurian philosophy of “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die.”
The meaning of existence from a materialistic perspective then invites a ego-centric and reckless existence, it suggests to amass as many material possessions as possible, live every moment fully even to the detriment of others (and especially the ones not yet born, as one will be gone by the time they inherit the earth), and overall focus only on one’s own sensual experience, as it will cease one day without consequence.
Consequence is the focus of the alternative category of philosophical and religious systems, the spiritualistic branch. Much older than materialism, spiritualistic systems reach back to the beginning on man’s attempts to make sense of his world. They range from early animistic superstitions to elaborate and elegant systems of thought refined over the course of thousands of years.
Translative or Transformative
Spiritualistic systems can be categorized into two different aspects: translative spirituality and transformative spirituality: “In the area of spirituality, for instance, we need at the very least to distinguish between horizontal or translative spirituality (which seeks to give meaning and solace to the separate self and thus fortify the ego) and vertical or transformative spirituality (which seeks to transcend the separate self in a state of nondual unity consciousness that is beyond the ego)” (Wilber 2001, p. 73-74).
In many ways, these two aspects also correspond to the exoteric and esoteric traditions in most religious systems – religion and spirituality not necessarily being the same. More on religion will follow in future installments of this blog. For now, the focus is on spirituality and spiritualism, which will be henceforth used synonymously.
A life beyond this one
What both translative and transformative spirituality have in common is a focus on the afterlife, denouncing this life as merely a precursor to what is to come.
Translative spirituality as Wilber suggests, seeks to give meaning to the separate self. As soon as there is “I” vs. “non-I”, one finds oneself alone. This loneliness, as Erich Fromm described in The Art of Loving is the primary driver for human activity. Translative spirituality takes this for granted, and simply provides frameworks which can be believed in, so that the separation becomes bearable, usually with the promise of a better existence in the life beyond. Transformative religion does not accept this separation, often considers it an illusion, and seeks to therefore transcend it sometimes even within this lifetime, but for sure in the life beyond.
In common between the two is definitely the aspect of the life beyond, whether expressed in concepts such as heaven and hell – providing a morally prescriptive framework for this lifetime –, or in the idea of nirvana or the void, which can be attained as a result of proper living and transformational practice, breaking the cycle of samsara, continuous birth and rebirth.
In both cases, this lifetime is considered a staging area for the life to come. In that, spiritualism is teleological in its nature. This lifetime, the life of matter, in which we find ourselves, is not considered meaningful as such – it only serves to attain a desired future state. The only reason provided for this lifetime is as a test God provides for his creatures, a test, which will determine which future state is attained. Or, in some systems, it is even considered maya, an illusion, a state of being that is not real at all. Transformational practice in this case serves to awaken the illusioned mind that deems matter more than an opportunity to resolve karma, the sum of propensities for actions and thoughts that needs to be resolved in order to transcend the separation state.
An intriguing factor of spiritualism is that it is essentially nonsense. Logically, no statement about otherworldly existence can be validated as true or false, thus from a logical perspective any spiritualistic theory must remain in the realm of faith or belief only. Raymond Moody described this elegantly in The Last Laugh. This does not take away from the beauty of these systems or the practical guidance for everyday life that can be derived from it, but it for sure makes it vulnerable to attacks from a scientific perspective, as has been the case, leading to the ascent of materialism described above.
Unlike materialism, spiritualism is focused on providing meaning. It fails to do so, though, in that it does not provide an intrinsic meaning for this existence in the material realm. It only provides derived meaning, giving this existence only value in that it prepares for an afterlife of some sort.
With that, we end up missing meaning altogether. While materialism did not provide meaning for this existence beyond merely the sensual realm, and as we have seen with its own inherent flaws, spiritualism denies this life meaning beyond its preparatory function.
What then can provide meaning that would transcend this apparent dualism? We shall see as we continue our investigation…
Goswami, Amit. 1993. The Self-Aware Universe. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
Goswami, Amit. 2001. Physics of the Soul. Hampton Roads Publishing
Smith, Huston. 1976. Forgotten Truth. The Common Vision of the World’s Religions. San Francisco: Harper
Wilber, Ken. 2001. Theory of Everything. Shambala
We are taught to worry. As children, we are rarely encouraged by our parents to go party hard, have all the fun we can have, be reckless, be wild, dare, dream up something huge and do it, come up with something even crazier and totally impossible – and do it anyway.
Instead, we are warned: be careful!, make sure you don’t hurt yourself!, did you put your gloves on?, what about the protective gear?, will there be adults there?, don’t talk to strangers, play it safe…
And they do it out of love – or something like that. Because you are precious to them, part of their own self-definition, they worry about you. They want to make sure you are okay. They want to feel safe, they want to make sure that nothing bad is going to happen to you. And in the process, they project all of their fears onto you – not just for the moment, but for years to come.
Two kinds of people
Depending on what your particular mix of encouragement and worry was as a child, you fall into one of two categories of people:
- The ones who think this world is fundamentally a safe place, and that you can do anything you want if you apply yourself and are willing to deal with consequences, or
- The ones who think this world is fundamentally scary, and that you need permission and assurance that things will be okay for you to do anything
The good news
You aren’t anything. You seem to be a verb, as Buckminster Fuller put it. That means you are constantly changing anyway, and you can decide to move to either side of the fence. Look at where you are now and how you have been approaching life. Has this served you? Then great. Focus your energies elsewhere.
But, if you are not happy with where you are at, you can change it. You can make a decision to approach life differently. Like anything, it might require practice. But initially, it’s easy. It’s a decision. It’s a choice. Flip that switch. Then apply it again and again, until it becomes second nature.
What we put our attention to
Your attention is the most precious thing you have. In any moment, you can pay attention to something you care about, or something someone else cares about. Marketing, advertising and PR (especially political PR) are all about getting you to pay attention to something they care about. And mostly they want you to be in fear, worry, shame, guilt and similar states. Because then you are easily manipulated into doing what they want you to do: buy their product, believe their ideas, give up your rights, or at least give them your vote so they can decide what is good for you…
But that is a different story. The point is, pay attention. Every single moment of your experience is here to serve you. If it isn’t, pay attention to something else.
If you are not experiencing the life you wish to experience, stop. Take a breath. Take a time out and spend time on imagining what you would like to experience.
There is no magic here…
This is not about sitting on the couch and fantasizing. This is not about some magical “law of attraction” where all you need to do is imagine yourself with a million dollars and sit with your eyes closed and legs crossed until it arrives. This is about a simple principle:
You experience what you pay attention to.
If you spend your mental space worrying about all the things that could happen if you did what you feel like doing, you are not going to do anything about it but continue to think about it (not to say that good planning doesn’t include worst case scenarios). If you pay attention to what you are being invited to be and do, and dare to take steps toward that, you will in the very least know that you are using your mental space for something you care about, something you value, something that is meaningful to you.
What are the results?
If everything in your life was perfect, you had all the support you could possibly ask for, all the resources required, what results would you create? Think about what you value. How can you create progress in that area? What would move your values forward? What would it look like, feel like if it was accomplished? What would your life look like? Or the lives of the people who you create results for?
Break it down
At first, this might seem overwhelming. Many of us have been led astray. In a recent study over 70% of college students said they chose their college major based on income expectations. In another study 70% of people said they were unhappy with their career. There seems to be some correlation. We have been good children and listened to our parents (and society as a whole) – at least on some level. We have bought into some of the stereotypes (starving artist anyone?), but you can always define anew what it means to be you.
Start with the big picture. Then break it down. There are steps to anything. Milestones. Major accomplishments on the path. You can take a vision of where you want to be three years from now, and step by step go back. If I want to be there then, where do I have to be two years from now? One year from now? Six months from now? Three months? One month? One week? Tomorrow? All the way to: what can you do today? Right now?
Then do it. If you don’t, who will? Life is up to you. Nobody will live your life for you. There are many parasites out there ready to live their lives through you, but what kind of life is that? Act. Do something. Do one little thing. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. One step at a time. Do one thing right after you have finished reading this blog and distracting yourself from what you really want to do, but don’t dare to.
And do it again. Do it again tomorrow. Get up, and after you have done your morning ritual, do one more thing toward your vision. Only one thing. It can be tiny. And then do it again the day after tomorrow. One thing a day. You want to learn a language? Learn one word a day. Before you know it, it will be a year from now and you know 365 words. It is in repetition that we learn and grow. And it is in repetition of activity that we accomplish all those things we never thought possible and that our parents would have considered crazy or worried about…
Most of the time, we do things habitually: We get up, brush our teeth, put on clothes, commute to work, do what we know how to do all day, get ourselves some entertainment, undress, go to bed, sleep. Rinse. Repeat.
Habits are the foundation of existence. Habits of thought, emotion, deed. If we had to rethink how to brush our teeth, how to walk, what we do everyday all the time, we would go insane – and we probably would not be able to function all too well in this reality. Most of the habits we have serve us. Otherwise, we would not have let them become habits in the first place.
But things change all the time. While we still carry the five year old and the twelve year old we once were inside of us, some of the habits and beliefs that served us then, do not serve us any longer today. Our environments have changed, our relationships, our activities.
Crisis of Meaning
Most of the time, people will still stick to their habits and beliefs, even if they do not actually have meaning anymore. Only when things break down do we experience a crisis of meaning. Often this does not happen until later in life, when we have actually accomplished the things that were supposed to be meaningful to us, or when we realize that we hit a half-way point on the journey toward death.
What is meaning?
Meaning comes from the verb to mean, which comes from German meinen, originally meaning “to think” or “have an opinion”. “Mein” in German is also a possessive pronoun and translates to “mine”. It’s your unique point of view not that of someone else.
Your meaning is and can only be your own. It’s about your opinion, your thoughts, your values.
Many of our values are adopted from MFPT (mother, father, preacher, teacher – all in the most encompassing sense). If we simply adopt them, without questioning them, they are ultimately meaningless… and you are not living your own life. You are living the life “other” is expecting you to live.
Make life your own
Only if you reflect on your values, beliefs and habits, only if you decide to indeed make them your own, do they gain meaning. When you do things in accordance with your values, it becomes meaningful to you. When you take the time to ask for the motivation behind your actions, you begin to fill your day with meaning, make it meaning-full. You stop being reactive and start becoming proactive about your life.
If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway
As pointed out above, if you had to consider everything all the time, you would have difficulty functioning in this reality. There are habits that serve us. Some obviously don’t, while with others, it’s harder to tell. Get started on the low-hanging fruit. Find the habits that you engage in and don’t even know why anymore. Start filling that space with new habits that you would like to experience, so that the old ones can go away. Then hone in on the more subtle dynamics.
Practice, practice, practice
That is why it is important to take time out to reflect. Similar to sports where you practice and practice, and practice: refine subtleties again and again. Then, when you hit the field, all you can care about is being in the moment. At that point, there is not time for reflection. At that point, you simply shift into being and doing.
Reflection time again
Create that space in your life. Whether weekly or even better daily, take time out to reflect. You can do it in the mornings, looking ahead at your day, or in the evenings, letting the events of the day pass by while asking yourself which values of yours the activities of the day served. Ideally, do both. And keep record. This will help you see your own progress and help remind you why you do all this in the first place:
To live a life of meaning…
Contrary to the ideas this title might conjure up, this entry is not about fishies. It is about our projections on “Other” and our yearning for connectedness. Once you realize “I” and “Other”, and you begin to take ownership of your distinctions, one of the most important dynamics to become aware of is our tendency to look for “nemo”.
“Nemo” is not a fish
The word “nemo” comes from Latin. It means no human, or nobody. It is curious that in the children story of “Finding Nemo” (I know, this is not about fish, I promise), a timid father is finding his lively son. Note these two personalities for now. Nemo was also the name of the anarchist captain in Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea“. A pirate that could not be contained by the system of the time due to his ingenuity.
Two much older stories come to mind that will allow us to go even deeper: One is Plato’s “Symposium” (from Greek syn – together, and pinein - drinking), a story about a group of friends drinking and philosophizing together about the nature of love, and Eros, specifically (vs. Agape, which is a higher form of love that is beyond the romantic).
Aristophanes (how was a well know comedian and one of the participants), tells a story about how humans used to be all powerful, and with that became too cocky. This angered the gods. So they tore them into halves. Since, Aristophanes claims, they have been running around confused, trying to find the other half.
This has led to our modern notion of romantic love. It has been the source of phrases like “my better half,” and has led millions to try and find Mr. or Mrs. Right out there.
C.G. Jung cracked that code. He suggested a psychological dynamic called “Projection”, and elevated thinking about romance into the intellectual circuit. Each of us, he suggested, has an internal “Other”, an anima or animus, depending on whether you are male or female (and please keep in mind, we are talking archetypes here, this means, your sexual orientation has nothing to do with your primary operating gender). This is your other half. It is not outside of you, but inside of you.
When you fall in love, you most often don’t actually fall in love with the person in front of you. You fall in love with your projection of your own inner other gender onto that person – how else could you fall in love at first sight, you don’t even know that person…
This is why, after the honeymoon wears off, relating to a partner becomes a constant disappointment and compromise – because they simply aren’t your other half, as much as you would want them to be. And often people wake up one day looking at the person next to them and wonder what they ever saw in them. They break up, and go searching for the next idol to project their internal self on.
YOU complete me…
Another aspect of projecting your own inner other half onto someone outside of you, is that you implicitly assume you are not complete by yourself, and you need that other person to complete you. This is the recipe for co-dependence. If you define yourself through your partnership unit, instead of defining your partnership as a commitment between individuals based on a solid foundation of agreements, you are in for either a trip toward the least common denominator of tolerance, or a constant flow of self-annihilating conflict and disappointment.
But there are good news…
The other of the stories that came to mind, is an old Indian story about hiding from humans that they are indeed all powerful. The gods sent out scouts to find a location to hide this secret. They went to the deepest seas, highest mountains, darkest caves, and realized that eventually man would make it even there. So they hid the secret inside the human heart.
You are complete
In a previous post I mentioned Self as opposed to persona. Each of us has a smaller self, and also a higher Self we can connect to, and even more so put our smaller self in service to. Remember above when the timid fish is finding the lively one. Our job is to let go of our fears in order to connect to our higher Self – who might just be a bit of an anarchist… That is all you need to find. Realize your inherent wholeness, and “nemo” will vanish into thin air.
Then you can have truly authentic and rewarding relationships, not based on need, but based on choice and volition.
As newborn, you have no distinctions of this world. All around you is a colorful, noisy mess of a constantly changing kaleidoscope of perception.
We first begin to know ourselves through experiences of pain and separation: ripped out of the warmth of the womb, cut off from our feeding line, spanked into taking our first breath.
A little later, happily feeding, and while we are still hungry, mom removes her breast before we are done. MMMmmmmaa, the first sound babies are capable of making evolves as an attempted command to that thing that feeds us. She might or might not come back, but in either case, we suddenly realize, she is separate from us…
Then we hit our head against a table: “ouch THAT hurt me… I would not hurt myself… THAT must be separate…”
Slowly the child begins to realize itself as separate from the world that surrounds it. And through expressions, first clumsy sounds, then words, we learn to distinguish what is what in our environment, and what we can and can’t control through our expression. And realize that there is an expression for us, our name. Then “ME” dawns… Welcome to the terrible two’s…
From here on out, we are continuing to learn distinctions, words, expressions for that which we encounter. First mostly through our parents, than through other children, teachers, media and our entire cultural environment.
Distinctions create actuality
One could go even further and daresay they create your reality. It is through our distinctions that we experience that which appears to be around us. Our mechanism of perception acts similar to a sonar. We receive data into our eyes, we evaluate concepts and determine distinctions, which we then “perceive” in our environment. Reality only occurs in our imagination. Our distinctions are the paint we apply to the canvas of our experience.
We learn distinctions
Distinctions are learned. Some are conditioned (e.g. most of the distinctions you learned in school were hammered in through a constant process of repetition), some are imprinted, which means they sit on a much deeper level and were created under states of neuroplasticity, or imprint vulnerability, the state of a newborn, and later through experiences such as fear, orgasm, or other trance states. They require special care if they need to be addressed.
We learn distinctions on multiple levels – physical, emotional, mental. Each manifest differently:
Physical level – Relationship to body
Babies spend hours delighting in their bodies. Few things are as much fun as to watch a baby giggling in joy at the sight of its own hands. Our body is also the root of our first experiences of pain and negative physical sensations like hunger, indigestion, teething etc. Our earliest imprints and distinctions around “Other” have to do with how we relate to our body, the first “Other” we encounter in relation to our primary point of perception, our sense of “I”.
Emotional Level – Relationship to emotion
As we begin to begin our explorations into space at the onset of mobility, we create imprints and conditioning around which distinctions fall into like and not like. We crawl towards mommy and daddy where we feel we “belong”, and are taught to stay away from strangers. We learn to move toward that which we like, and avoid that which we don’t. Within that, we inherit our parental and societal biases associated with distinctions e.g. around sub groubs of society, and prepare ourselves for our future choice of sexual partners.
Mental Level – Relationship to thought
Mental distinctions come in the form of words. And as we begin to learn words, we also learn about the persistence of objects. Peekaboo represents the child’s learning that distinctions exist across time. Once “I” learned words for things, “I” can ask “Where did __________ go?”, if I am not perceiving the things directly. Giving words to emotional experiences results in the ability to strategize based on past and into the future. “Good” and “bad”, initially felt as immediate sensations, turn into morality, and rationalization thereof results in subsets of beliefs and the beliefs of “Others”.
“Other” dances with “I”
When you find “I” again (we tend to get lost in identity attachments in the three levels described above), you are now aware that nothing and everything else is “Other”, and that you can learn more distinctions, refine your likes and not likes, and utilizes strategies around maximizing your physical pleasures while reducing occurrences of physical pain – for “I” and – the more you expand – for “Other” through your actions.
“Other” becomes a dance in which you have two options: fear (enforce separation) or love (overcome separation).
Fear enforces the distinctions. Ask yourself how this supports you in your experience of “I”. Sometimes separation is required, sometimes it hinders. Ask youself: Does it make your feel better about who you are? How is it working for you to be separate from what is going on? What are the distinctions you are drawing? Where did they originate? Are they yours?
Or there is love…
“Love”, a much overused term, can be defined as understanding self beyond the boundaries of “I”. Distinctions to create more separation can be drawn ad infinitum, and they can be helpful to communicate subtleties. When you simply are with “Other”, there is no need to communicate (which occurs between two separate entities), since you are in communion, and at that point, distinctions disappear and you integrate ad infinitum, until you are beyond even part and parcel of everything. Love is that which bridges distinctions.
So, when you encounter “Other”, ask yourself: Why is “Other” in my life? Why is it “Other”? Whose distinction is that? And then, once you decided, ask yourself: How can I create the most benefit for “Other” right now?
We are all here to lovingly dance with each “Other”, after all, right?
Apart from the collection of identities who make up YOU, there are also a variety of different circuits that make up your consciousness. Each has its own function and evolutionary history. Each has its strengths, and in each we run programs that might or might not serve us.
Levels of Consciousness
Alfred Count Korzybski is one of the neglected brilliant minds of the last century, his work leading to the theory of general semantics, and also covering the curious question of consciousness. According to Korzybski, he observed three primary levels of consciousness at work on this planet:
- Chemical Binders – Plants - Physical intelligence that utilizes chemical elements for communication, processes inputs like light and water, and creates plant life. It corresponds to the intelligence of your body.
- Space Binders – Animals - Emotional intelligence and emotional territorial consciousness, the ability to move toward that which you “like” and away from that you don’t like, and to know what’s what. In addition to that the ability to know how to create emotional states in others.
- Time Binders – Humans - Mental intelligence. Through assigning agreed upon symbols to the world around us (language), we create persistence of objects and the notion of a continued experience of self.
The levels are not a hierarchy, but a holarchy, meaning, there is no better or worse, but they continue to add to each other, e.g. an animal also has physical consciousness, a human has physical, emotional and mental consciousness.
Charlie cut my finger
Really, he didn’t. But cutting your finger is a good example to make the above a bit more personal. Imagine you cut yourself in your finger. Your physical consciousness is freaking out at the violation, it’s rushing white blood cells to the area and attempting to figure out how to deal with the breach in the hull and contain infection. If you were only in our physical consciousness, you would probably go into shock and overwhelm and pass out.
If you were only in your emotional consciousness, you would experience, based on your operating system, an emotional freakout in the form of “Oh my G-d, I cut myself, how horrible, poor me!” or “Stupid #%^#%! &%*@$%!”.
As you shift into your rational, mental body, you figure, it would be a good idea to get a band aid and stop the bleeding.
You have probably met people that are not able to shift between the different levels of consciousness. I know people who will pass out at the sight of blood – especially their own. I also have observed people running around the room screaming in self-deprecation and anger. And I have met people that take this situation totally calm, do what is rational, and hardly notice that there are experiences on these other levels.
Who is the Observer?
If we look at our example above and what happened in the shifting process, there seems to be a fourth level of consciousness at play. The one, who realizes all the other three, and chooses the appropriate course of action. What level of consciousness is that?
The first three circuits of consciousness can be mapped to corresponding brain functions. In a way, we have three very different brains:
- Our brain stem – our “reptilian” brain, the oldest part of our brain, regulates all the basics and can be associated with physical intelligence
- Our limbic system – controls our emotions and has centers for bliss and violence, which tend to activate each other through induction currents if one gets too excited
- Our neo-cortex – the most “human” part, where we process all the higher human symbolic functions
But where is our 4th brain? The one that is observing the other three and that makes distinctions between their respective experiences?
Is there a 4th brain?
There is a new level of consciousness we are developing as inhabitants of this planet. Acting on the third, the mental body, the age of reason, and ultimately the information age has created a new opportunity for awareness. While many still think reason is our highest capacity, we can also easily observe how many people fall short of it every day. And if we assume that rational mind is the highest human capacity, it also makes sense to allow machines to run our lives (as in Jean-Luc Goddard’s “Alphaville”, or more recently “The Matrix”) – welcome Singularity! Resistance is futile.
The new level of awareness were triggered by a variety of factors from technology that allows us to see to the other end of the world and keeps us from ignoring what is happening there, to pictures of the earth from space, which made us aware of the fact that we are on one planet together, and that there is only one human species.
In order to have a distinct sense of self, beyond the physical, emotional or mental experience, invites a true center point of “I”, which then uses our three different bodies as interfaces into the reality we are experiencing. But you are not the interface and able to hold “I” without being overwhelmed by the fact that this means EVERYTHING ELSE is “OTHER”.
Where angels fear to tread…
It’s a frightening place to go. It’s the place where you accept that as soon as you say “I” you are completely alone. It’s a dark place. An empty place where you realize that nothing has inherent meaning and that all meaning comes from you. It is a place where you take full responsibility for all of the reality you are experiencing, the good and bad. And it is also the place, where you take your rightful self-aware position in co-creating this reality with the underlying bandwidth that makes up all possible experiences.
How do I get to it?
There are many ways to allow you to get to the root of your operating system, that which determines how you operate, everything you know about everything you are aware of. Over the years humanity has collected an array of tools. E.g. yoga is a collection of tools that allow your body to be still (through asanas, the physical exercises), your emotions to be still (through pranayama, breathing exercises), and your mind to be still (through meditation, focus on one object, a specific focal point like a mantra, or even nothingness). In Western Magic, or other Shamanic traditions, aspects of the different bodies are externalized, e.g. through visualization of demons or projection through animals.
Which is the right tool?
That is for you to determine. You do it through your religion – that activity that makes you feel re-connected (from Latin re-ligare, as in ligament) after realizing “I”, and that gives meaning to you through your interpretation and assessment of your experience in this material world. Religion is a personal responsibility. No priest, no shaman, no guru, no teacher can create it for you. They can all serve as guideposts, but beware of allowing them to point you in any direction but the one that starts with owning full responsibility for “I”.
Where to start?
Start with owning “I”. And start with deciding that “I” is supposed to have a great experience on this planet. Ask yourself in any moment that does not feel like it: “Who is “I” right now?” You will find that most “negative” experiences result from attaching aspects of one of your three bodies to something outside of you. You are physically, emotionally or mentally “addicted”. Something outside of you is creating an experience for you. Own your center. That which animates all others. Live, play with your interfaces, but BE in your center – whatever gets you there.
In a comment on a recent post about the challenge of letting people know who you are without resolving to platitudes and job titles, the recent drive toward turning your Self into a brand was pointed out as a dangerous reduction of our selves: “Reducing the complex, often contradictory and typically diverse nature of ‘who we are’ to a logo, a tag line, a sound bite or a twitter message is virtually impossible.” [thank you dangerousideas!]
Fine point. No brand could ever capture your Self, only a persona, a limited aspect of your Self. For it to be representative of your Self, that persona has to be infused with your essence, your values, but it is important to remember that it is not your Self.
In many ways I welcome the Brand YOU movement. For years, I have helped artists, musicians, coaches, and other individuals create brands for themselves. It is always a somewhat amusing (for me) and usually challenging (for them) process to get people to understand the difference between brand and Self. It comes out clearly when you are developing, e.g. a website. On the one hand, the act of surfing the web is a very personal and intimate one (one person, one screen), and it is important to infuse your virtual representation with as much of your Self and essence as possible. On the other hand, I keep reminding people I work with that this is not about them having to put themselves out there. It’s an avatar, a virtual persona, a mask, a representative of yourself. Not your Self.
In many ways I like this new development as I think it is part of the move from institutionalization to collaboration as pointed out by thinkers like Clay Shirky. We have created corporations and have given them the status of personhood – a somewhat scary notion as most behave like psychopaths with no regard to others, single-minded focus on generating only monetary profit, and several characteristics that indeed do not make them particularly good citizens. But that is another story… (check out The Corporation if you want to know more)
The point here being that if we give corporate entities protection through personhood, it seems fair to give individual persons protection through incorporation. This does not just apply to limited liability, but goes beyond that toward recognition as fully functioning and trading entities (different from the capitalized version of your name on your licenses that serves as your registration of your alien vessel in foreign waters – yet another story).
Person – Persona?
Person, as a good reminder, etymologically rooted comes from “mask”. It’s a mask you wear. Let’s look at the definition of persona:
- pl., -nas, or -nae (-nē). A voice or character representing the speaker in a literary work.
- personae The characters in a dramatic or literary work.
- pl., personas. The role that one assumes or displays in public or society; one’s public image or personality, as distinguished from the inner self.
“All the world’s a stage, and we are merely actors,” dramatis personae of history. Especially the third definition is the key to our dilemma here. Persona is what you put out into the world, it is not you, your inner world.
Persona and Neurosis
The thing is, you have many personas: Who you are with your parents, your lover, your kids, your friends, your boss, a police officer who stops you for speeding, etc., each time you use a (maybe only slightly) different persona. You utilize different strategies based on your early imprints and conditioning, and based on what you have learned over the years to be successful in each scenario.
This is good and healthy. If you were always the same persona, you would lose out on the subtle dynamics created when you interact with others. What becomes problematic is when you start attaching to your personas. When you begin to identify yourself with a particular persona so deeply, that – at least for the moment – your self and other personas become inaccessible.
Attempting to keep in check these multiple personas becomes a juggling game. One of the key causes of modern day neurosis lies in attempting to keep multiple personas in congruence without a pervasive sense of Self. In extreme cases, it can even lead to multiple personality disorder… What is missing if that happens? A strong sense of Self serving as the glue or underlying web of connectivity.
The Whole Self – YOU is a Collective
Your self is an array of multiple dynamics. It’s a collective, not just of personas, but also archetypes. Throughout many traditions the self is represented as a circle:
If you think about your personas, they are your interfaces to the external world. If you begin to identify with them instead of yourself, you ultimately end up gangrene and cut off from that, which in truth is the totality of you.
When you think about how you experience reality, there are a variety of voices in your head (however that manifests for you). Some are the voices of our parents or teachers from early childhood, sometimes the voices of our lovers or friends appear to help us make decisions, and then there are other voices that whisper encouragement or devastating thoughts into our awareness. It’s a bit like the gods appearing anytime the hero needs to make a decision in historical references like the Iliad (if you want to go deep on voices in your head, I recommend Julian Jaynes “Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”).
Archetypes – Your Guides to the Unconscious
Jung initially created the notion of archetype to describe transpersonal characters sometimes occurring in dreams, shared not just by a variety of his patients, but even across cultural contexts. In a way, I like to think of archetype as a personality schemata, a high-level template for a persona if you will.
Carolyn Myss introduced me to a very practical application of archetypes when I studied with her several years ago. She wrote about this in her book “Sacred Contracts” (I am quoting liberally, for her specific theory, please check out her work). Here, she suggests, that each of us have a collection of twelve archetypes that serve as our guides and connectors to our subconscious. Four of these we have in common, eight of these are part of our particular makeup.
According to Myss, the four archetypes and their respective voices we each hear at times are the victim, the child, the saboteur and the prostitute. Each of them sound negative, but remember they are your guides to your subconscious. We create situations in life that allow us to grow. When we encounter them (and they indeed might not be pleasant), we are invited to evolve by heeding the voices of our guides, and taking action to shift back to our Self:
- Victim – “Why me?”, “They did this to me!”, “Poor, poor, pitiful me” - These are some of the thought patterns associated with the victim. We all know what it feels like to feel like a victim. Truth is, none of us is ever a victim. Events occur. Excrement happens. How we interpret the situation determines as to whether we feel like a victim or not (even Jesus on the cross did not consider himself a victim, but instead said “forgive them cause they don’t know what they do” – not much of a victim there…). When the victim voice chimes into our consciousness, it’s an invitation to ask yourself “How can I take care of myself in this moment?”, “How can I reframe the situation to feel like I have actions available to me?”
- Child - “I don’t know how this works”, “I am helpless”, “I am overwhelmed” - As the child you become small and everything else becomes big, you don’t know and everyone else seems to know, you are out of control in a confusing world. When this archetype pipes up, make sure to be kind to yourself. It’s okay that you don’t know. Nobody does, remember? Turn it around and ask yourself “How can I make this situation fun?” – a good thing about children is their attention span is not very long and easily consumed by new and shiny things.
- Saboteur - “You think you can do this?”, “Remember how you screwed up last time?”, “What makes you so special?” - The saboteur reminds us of our shortcomings, our failures, our weaknesses. Every time he sneers, you are invited to step back, take a moment, and remind yourself of what you have learned from the past failure and how this relates to your situation at hand. Every failure is an opportunity for quantum growth.
- Prostitute - “It’s not that bad”, “I know what I have here, I don’t know what’s out there”, “At least you know this” - This archetype is the reason people stay in crappy jobs or abusive relationships. It’s the voice that reminds you of uncertainty, and it challenges you to find comfort in uncertainty. Yes, knowing what you have is great, but if you really want to grow, you have to be willing to give up who you are for who you could become – which might feel like a little death… but then, some little deaths are quite pleasant
Your Personal Archteypes
In addition to the four described above, Myss suggests that each of us have eight additional personal archetypes. Examples of those are artist, guide, healer, magician, hero, helper, etc. (Myss has a long list in Sacred Contracts). You can find yours by thinking about the characters in movies or books that you relate to. Or historic figures. What are some of the patterns that connect them? Which aspects resonate with you?
Living dynamically from the center
Your personas connect you to the outside world. For them to be truly representative of your Self, they have to be infused with its essence. You have to remember who you are. If you do, then you can easily find the appropriate strategies to connect to the world outside of you in a way that serves you – through your physical encounters and personas you engage then, or virtually through the brands you create to represent you (and ideally go to work for you nearly like clones you send off to the factory). When you find yourself getting sucked into your brand or worse, having reduced who you think you are to a slogan or behavior pattern, time to step back, and evaluate how this particular strategy is serving you.
Your archetypes are your inner voices that guide you to areas of your unconscious where you might have open wounds, trigger points, or learning lessons. When they pipe up, you know you need to pay attention and ensure that you are keeping your center. From here, you can now ask yourself what dynamic this voice is serving in this moment. What beliefs or truths do you hold that are being enforced by this voice? Who would you be if you had solved this already?
You are many People
Around ninety percent of the DNA in our bodies is not ours. It’s the DNA of bacteria, fungi, and things I am sometimes not sure I want to know about. Your consciousness is not much different. There is more than one entity running the show. We collate them into an experience of self, but ultimately, it takes a village to make you happen, inside and out. The key to having a coherent and forwarding experience here is to get to know your team. Don’t try and make them all one. They tend to resent that (just like you want to maintain your individuality and not become part of the masses). They are here to help you. As you learn to embrace your personas, use them effectively to maneuver the outside world, you will find that being yourself with different strategies is way more rewarding than constantly trying to adjust your personas to the demands of other people and letting them tell you who you are.
Similarly, as you make your archetypes your friends (e.g. by conversing with them in your head, or using automatic writing), they now will help you identify opportunities for clearing out patterns you hold in your unconscious that are not serving you.
Ultimately, the one thing you know is real for certain, is your experience right here right now. If you are shifting toward observing what is occurring around you, and inside of you, shift to Observer mode, you have a pretty good way of finding your Self. Most of the other dynamics tend to be attached to personas or archetypes. The one thing that is for sure your Self, your tastebud on the tongue of universe, is the point of perception, the one that is reading this right now. Be that as often as possible.
Tomorrow is a special day. Across the world (and especially in the US), some people are expecting the apocalypse to begin. Rapture is coming! Hold on to your pale horses!
While 2012 seems to have a variety of traditions behind it, this rapture is especially for the fundamental Christians (sorry all you other Christians, there are only so many spots in heaven). Apparently, there is an expectation that Jesus will come and lift them up to heaven, while the rest of the world will continue its decay with the ones Left Behind (there is even a computer game and movie series with that title) killing each other until the world is finally destroyed by fire in early October this year (too bad it’s before my birthday, so I guess I will have to have a pre-party).
Now, I personally think the teachings of Jesus are wonderful and one of my all-time favorite books is “De Imitatione Christi” by Thomas à Kempis, which entices you to live like Christ instead of committing idolatry by praying to a statue (and one of a man killed brutally at that). Also loved going through “A Course in Miracles” – unfortunately neither of them qualify me for the rapture…
In general, there appears to be a big difference between the teachings of several wise masters this world has seen over time, and the doctrines of the organizations that claim to represent them. Christianity is definitely not alone in that (if you actually spend some time with Islam, e.g. you will see it’s a pretty peaceful and loving religion as well – contrary to the Jihad terrorist image the fundamentalists in both the East and West are trying to create). What is particularly funny to me is that especially the ones considering themselves fundamentalists, are often the furthest away from the original teachings of their idols.
Especially when people are afraid, they like to hold on to something. When the boat is rocking, you reach for the railing and hold on with your dear life… Our world is confusing and overwhelming. The speed at which technology, systems, trade, culture and humanity are developing is dazzling. It is not surprising that people are freaked out. I find myself freaked out often enough.
Fear loves company. When in fear mode, we are not rational, we want to cower together with others, feel like we are not alone, feel like we belong – and most of all belong to the “right” crowd. We want to be with those who have the “Truth” about what is going on. We want to feel that there is something we can know for sure.
We don’t know
But, ultimately, we don’t know. Nobody does. We can’t know for certain. There are future trend projections collected by a variety of organizations every year. There are futurists looking into statistical analysis for probabilities of a variety of events. At the same time, hardly anybody foresaw Facebook, Twitter, mobile technologies and some of the other game changers that suddenly appeared. There were trends, sure, Moore’s Law, sure, but ultimately? We didn’t know. Our leaders don’t know. We can gather probabilities, but the “Truth” is elusive as ever.
What we do know
What we do know is that we are currently running an operating system that is not sustainable. Linear production processes raping nature and mankind’s future, short-term profit thinking, blatant egotism encouraged through commercials, reliance on limited resources, inherently scarce systems – all are bound to go away. Somehow.
What we do know also, is that there must be better ways. We know we have one planet, we know we have one humanity, now the puzzle is to figure out how to create the maximum amount of joy, freedom and individuality for each human (and ultimately sentient being), while creating systems that allow us to share this across all of humanity, all over the globe, and ensure that we will persist as a species, constantly developing further toward our values.
“One can not change an existing system; one must create a new system that makes the old system obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller
The future we envision… is the future we create…
Whatever you wish to build or create, the very first step is to imagine it. If you want to build a table, you have to see it in your mind’s eye long before it ever exists. You have to imagine whether it will be round, square, how many legs it will have, what material it will be made of etc. far ahead of going to get the supplies and begin assembly.
Since the 1950s even Science Fiction has taken a turn. In the past, the future was brighter. Back then, we imagined a new better future, with “magical” technology, intelligent homes and cars, space travel…. and jetpacks! Shortly after, technology became too complex for most people to understand. Consequently, even Sci-Fi began to vilify technology. Robots gone awry, Terminator, the Borg, the Matrix, and most recently the Singularity all show us at odds with the technology we originally created. And in most cases, it was the humans who started the war…
What do you imagine?
One of the 15 global challenges the UN identified in their Millennium futurist analysis (next to the obvious like fossil fuel, water supply, organized crime or the role of women) and probably the one challenge that struck me most was: lack of long-term perspectives.
We lack positive future visions. For the world, and for ourselves. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily routine, punctuated only by occasional shifts or revelations. Thus it is even more important to take time out occasionally, find yourself in the now, look around and realize where the world has come to, only to step out of what is, and imagine what could be…
Imagine living in a world where these 15 challenges do not exist. Image who you could be, what your world would look like, how you encounter others in that world… And when I say world, I mean the whole wide world with everyone else in it.
Yes You Can
You can imagine the world into existence. Not in the cheesy “The Secret” kind of way, but by allowing yourself to dream, by choosing to make these dreams a reality, and by showing up for them every day. You are a citizen of the 21st century with more information and power in your pocket than most statesmen had throughout the centuries in their entirety.
So, if you want to accept Lord Jesus as your savior, you have a few hours before rapture hits the fan. Good luck. And if things indeed turn out that way, please put a good word in for me.
Otherwise, let’s imagine a better way of transitioning to a kingdom of heaven on earth…