Friends and family are busy pursuing careers, preparing for careers, recovering from careers. Some battle vicissitudes of mind and body. Some caught up in travels, causes, or raising families. And some, all the above. I find myself in a singular position among my compadres it seems. A brief hiatus. Or waystation perhaps.
It’s like I’ve joined an academy or monastery on a distant continent. Where the tapestry of my day consists of meditation, exercise, fasts; an immersive study of artificial intelligence, the physics and aesthetics of sound and design of neoteric instruments. The study of foreign language, chess tactics, writing, magic, and art. And the pursuit of 100 designs (#7 currently) —trinkets and wares made to sell, or give away, from the back of a nomadic gypsy junk tacking in the winds and waves of digital seas.
This curriculum is punctuated, during the day, with walks down ancient streets of colonial architecture, laid upon indigenous pathways and cobblestone trails along sacred rivers. Casual lunches and sidewalk cafes. Night time breaks with wine and Netflix, reading on the couch or romantic dinners out.
When I was young, I used to dream of entering such eclectic schools of magic and science (long before Hogwarts.) Be careful what you wish for, you just might end up there.
When we start listening for an inner voice, we need ways to distinguish voices other than our own. But how many of us recognize our own thoughts? Just because a thought is in our head doesn’t mean it’s ours. We’d be much more difficult to manipulate if that were the case. When we try to observe closely though, thoughts seem to scurry away like frightened mice. Test this if you like. Close your eyes and just be aware of your thoughts. The first time, most of us will claim we have no thoughts. Our mind is a blank. This is not the case.
When we turn off the lights it takes our eyes a while to adjust. First, everything is black. Then we may begin to see rough shapes and outlines. After a while, we begin perceiving features of the room. The same with thoughts. Our gross awareness is not subtle enough to catch them at first. Maybe just their tails. But thoughts are there: boiling, rolling, seething in a tumult of dark assemblies.
One would think, after practicing meditation for years, this type of internal vigilance would be easy. Still, for me, it was surprisingly difficult. Although incredibly rewarding once I got the hang of it. Classic meditation teaches how to concentrate. On things like breath. Or to observe thoughts, but only deep enough to label them as thought and then let go. But this meditation, from hermetic yoga, examines thought’s very fabric to understand its essence. There’s no easy way to tell if the nature of thought is the same for everyone, but what follows is what I discovered about my own.
The first curious thing was that thoughts were only partially verbal, at best. A word, or phrase or concatenation and during the word, before or after it, were large sweeps of rotes1 comprising compressed meaning, kinesthetic hooks, sometimes flashes of imagery and a kind of spatial component. Often words and sentences did arise but it seemed their function was shepherding, to suggest thinking down a byway. In response, thoughts rolled after and tripped thoughts of their own in layers and fades and word fragments and the process was a jamboree. An array of body, feeling, short-hand ideas, memory, image and inflection.
This experiment was eye-opening in a few ways. Realizing I’m immersed in this while waking, truly a type of dream-time the Aborigines claim always exists as a second reality. A density of things happening that I just skim the surface of during the day. It seems all sorts of information is constantly streaming internally only to be passed through a tiny sieve of conscious interactions with the external world. That words have a curious, but largely non-linear effect on underlying thought. They function more like kindling. Sometimes, attending this way, I experienced extremely vivid flashes of imagery. A sea, a river. And discovered also that distinguishing inner voices from my own may be missing the point entirely. None of these thoughts may be mine.
In order to keep us obedient, meek and weak, the predators engaged themselves in a stupendous maneuver- stupendous, of course, from the point of view of a fighting strategist; a horrendous maneuver from the point of view of those who suffer it. They gave us their mind! Do you hear me? The predators give us their mind which becomes our mind. The predators’ mind is baroque, contradictory, morose, and filled with the fear of being discovered any minute now.
-The Active Side of Infinity by Carlos Castenada. For more on this.
The cure for sorcerers, according to Don Juan, was to develop their awareness. Most of us only have about a big toe’s worth. (His words, not mine.) The experiments continue…
A term created by Robert Monroe that means “Thought Balls”. R.O.T.E. stands for Related Organized Thought Energy which is transferred from one soul to another. Rotes are similar to something called a felt-sense and here’s a good essay on the technique. Which comes in handy in these excursions. ↩
how do ou heaer us? in a sense ou are letting us use your fingers, sometimes you see a little ahead on the raod a few words down, sometimes it’s all a big ball of yarn you unstring the more ways you learn to play here the more games we can teach you… you havea appointments left today with sundry bugs and cozy things with food for mind and body with spirits to drink and spirits to consider and spirits to appease and those to discover and if you know one thing you probably rthink that it’s worth knowing and we can take it and hide it and change it and make it something else, like a fairy child and you’ll never know it was swapped. But we don’t do that, do Tho maybe sometimes we should, for the fgreater good, but thank you for letting us have at least a part of our say, for this meeting place, for what we can do and create an discover together. Don’t give up on us, or ourself, this is your path. We leove you.
I would like to make contact with my inner witch
(long pause) about time
how can I free myself from this trance of normalcy? talk to me
I get stuck because you think you’re the only one in here
so, just remember? can you?
sometimes. how can I be more awake to magic? look within
do you have all the answers? I have no answers. does a map have answers? or merely directions?
can I put this on my blog? why don’t you put it on a post-it on the back of your forehead
funny. ok this will be my art project for the day
[Exploring Jung’s active imagination tool to facilitate communication between different parts of the psyche … and who knows what else?]
I’d like to introduce a fun place to hang out. It can be challenging to get to, initially. Sometimes on the way there something swoops past, grabs us, throws us in the trunk carries us off in the opposite direction. Often in the beginning we lose track of our destination. It’s been said, if we don’t remember where we are going we’ll probably end up someplace else. But once there, we can always get back. So let’s go!
My happy place has four doorways. The first door, a step away from ordinary day-to-day consciousness is opened by catching a ride on the breath. The Buddha claims this practice alone is a gateway to enlightenment (Anapana Sati.) The key is simply to be aware when we are breathing-in that we are breathing-in and when we are breathing-out that we are breathing-out. As basic as it sounds, this has several profound and immediate benefits.
For example, while we are aware of a physical sensation of breath we must be in the now and we aren’t trapped in a thought. (A mustache is a good place to watch this sensation for us hirsute types, the opening of the nostrils for those less fortunate.) It doesn’t mean we can’t be trapped by thought —just at this moment, attending breath, we assuredly are not. This is important because a few seconds after the moment, we will likely be snatched away again by thought. Especially starting out. And we will have to remember that we are watching our breath and when we come back, after the few seconds or minutes that we take to remember, we just label the whole abduction: “thought.” As if its whole drama, story and urgency is just a simple glitch. Which it is. And by doing so we get familiar with how we get swept up in our “thinking” and how to escape back to a landing point. Breath becomes our refuge. We become Houdini.
To escape being absorbed by thought we focus on breathing. This doesn’t mean thoughts will all disappear. In fact, at first there will be a tug of war —-breath, thought, breath, thought, thought, thought, er, oh yeah, breath. And later thoughts will continue in the background but, with practice, they won’t carry us away. It’s like when we are listening to someone talk but are also aware of street noise outside. If our attention flickers from conversation to a particular noise, pulling it to the foreground, then it’s likely we’ll miss what is being said. The same with breath. So the goal is not to eliminate all background stimuli, just don’t let them steal center stage. Breath is foreground. The mind might still be partying in the background, but you’ve left the room.
After crossing this first doorway, and attending our breathing uninterrupted for several breaths, we may start noticing this is a very peaceful place! We’re not riding in the stampede of thoughts searching for or reacting to what we should, could, would be doing. To why we aren’t there yet, what we need to prepare for or what we could have/should have done when. All those thoughts and feelings telling us constantly that right now is not ok, not yet complete and not sufficient. Without all these pushy interlopers, we pause and notice things are perfectly ok, there is nothing that needs done right now (and if there is, that’s just a thought.) That this moment is complete. A fine refuge and place of healing. And that’s just the first door. It gets even better.
Even the first door can have lasting impact as it starts to free and introduce us to a space between awareness and thought. Usually we are so absorbed we believe and act most of the time as if we were laminated to our thoughts. They are right in our face. We gain a small but decisive insight that we may be something apart. We might already think we know this intellectually, but experiencing it begins to free something vital.
But back to the doors. Once we’ve gained a little wiggle room and we’re hanging out without being dragged through the mill of thoughts. Hanging out with the breath like resting on a big rock in a raging river. And those thought mills may still be working, but now just in the background. They can’t latch on to us. If they do, we slip our way back to breath and freedom. To solid ground. Where a second door is waiting.
Traversing doors doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process. If we’ve managed to stay with the breath through half a dozen cycles we can try the next door. And with each door, once we can hold our space there for even a few minutes, we can move to the next. On the other hand, sometimes I hang out at the first door for the whole time. This helps me hold the space longer in the other doors in the future.
If we look around here we may notice that when we’re not absorbed in thinking our natural state is kind of nice. We may find a mildly pleasant sensation in the body that can come in different forms. Maybe a feeling of relief, relaxation, tranquility or even love. It may be different things at different times but it will be positive and when we find it we can shift awareness to rest with it like we are doing with the breath. This is the second door.
For some meditative traditions which emphasize concentration, on things like the breath, these pleasant states are encouraged and pursued all the way to complete immersion into blissful realms called the Jhanas. We won’t visit there this excursion. It has a long and fascinating history, but there’s another couple of doors to cover yet.
Before visiting the third door, note that while this practice is really refined during periods of sitting meditation, it’s useful, and necessary to take these tools and states on the road, out into daily life. This happens naturally with the breath meditation. We find ourselves less and less caught up in our own stories. Not because we are detached, or the feelings and thoughts are muted in any way, but because there starts to be a larger space they unfold within. And letting go of annoying, reactive thinking, returning to the breath and dropping down into a nice feeling is a cool resource to carry with us throughout the day. It certain beats a smoke break.
The third door drops deeper down into whatever positive feeling we are experiencing, all the way to the basement of the feeling where all these feelings share one thing in common: a deep sense of stillness. And somehow, this becomes even better than bliss and pleasant feelings. Especially as we start finding this stillness outside of meditation as it flowers more and more into our daily lives spontaneously. Through this door background sounds and thoughts and activities can be going full blast, we don’t block them out or try to suppress them, but nothing “sticks” … the experience of stillness in the presence of unruly background thoughts and disturbances feels something like this video:
Of major help in reaching this stillness of mind is an absolute stillness of body and posture.
Another clue is one of the many simple but profound statements of the Buddha: “a meditator who makes letting go the main object easily achieves samādhi”
The fourth and final door: the “no-thing” that’s “going to change our world.” (see the video above :)) Once practice has separated awareness from thought just a sliver, we can find bliss and sink into stillness. These doors, incidental, pass through two major approaches to meditation: samatha, a concentration practice, leading up to the jhanas and vipassana which is that stillness and presence as everything flows by.
The final door happens to be yet another branch of the contemplative practices called self inquiry.
In the stillness, notice that we (or something) are/is aware. And ask what is this anyway?! Don’t try to answer, especially not with a thought. Just use the question to keep attention honed on the feeling, nature, extent, shape and anything else you can grok without description about the nature of this most amazing experience of simply being aware. This is the discipline of self-inquiry, and its core question is: who am I? Not “I” as a personality or history, but I as simply an awareness. Or as it says in the Bible: “Be still and know that I AM.”
Passing through these doors, we can still be captured. By thought or stimuli, inside or out, coming back into the foreground. But we become more and more skillful by returning each time: anchoring in the breath, dropping down into a good feeling and deeper into stillness where we can then explore the nature of awareness itself.
The feeling simply hanging out in these lower doors, is often of a type of transmutation occurring in the very fabric of our experiences, beliefs and outlook on life. It’s an alchemical state. There’s also a branch of healing unlocked solely by stillness. The sequence of doors progresses through every major tradition of meditation designed for liberation of mind. That wasn’t by plan, the path developed organically, it just seemed to work out that way. So even for homegrown, we’ve got that going for us.
These are directions to my happy place. And probably your happy place too if you try it out. It seems to be a well-trodden path based on all the intersections with traditions. Let’s hang out there together sometime.
Tracking the course of a casual internet afternoon at home for posterity —after the fact— to investigate where time was spent and where the path led. Nothing really exciting here, but I’m often curious about how people spend their time. Which might be kinda creepy if I didn’t share sometimes too. So a “stream of time” journal post instead of stream of consciousness.
Sat down with a cup of coffee and began.
Watched the documentary: The Sacred Science. Was a little surprised they were using Toé (datura) to treat the Parkinson’s patient, so did a little research which led me to research more on Mucuna pruriens mentioned in the article for its effects on dopamine and which I’m using for some dream experiments.
I didn’t like the flute segments in the documentary and I wondered how it would sound if I captured some of my own flute playing on my Zoom H2n as a microphone source on the PC. Which I’ve been meaning to try for some time. So I did.
Read neuroscience article on Reconditioning the Brain to Overcome Fear whose byline claimed was using artificial intelligence and brain scans to unconsciously remove fear from the brain. So for an experiment, first they “installed” fear in volunteers by pairing an image with an electrical shock. Then they used brain scan data and AI to recognize the pattern which fired in the brains presented with the shocking image. They found the fear pattern often recurred in resting patients without the memory arising to conscious (a type of subconscious rehearsal) and when AI detected the pattern, they immediately gave subject some money (positive reward.) After a few of these “why the heck are you giving me money?” episodes, they retested with the actual image and found the fear response was significantly mitigated.
Curios if dreams might work the same way, dealing with the patterns metaphorically in simulations?
Read an article about a Harvard psychologist’s technique in her book “Presence” for dealing with anxiety. Another pitch for techniques that deal with the unconscious to alleviate problems. The technique: write down some core value in life and a time in one’s past when one felt this way. Meh. Fluff. Seems like a way to reinforce ego strength which is a two edge sword and is often the culprit in anxiety rather than the savior.
Read review on Perfecting the Past in Spanish and bought the book for the kindle. It’s exactly what I’m wrestling with now in my journey into Spanish.
Read article about using the tools and methodologies we use to understand the brain to understand the game Donkey Kong and how it failed. There was a project in 2014 called BRAIN, imaginatively enough, which thought mapping all the connections between the neurons in the brain in real time would give us an absolute understanding of the mind. This week they figured out that this approach might have some basic flaws. They couldn’t even tackle how the rudimentary processor used in the Commodore 64, which they could map completely, didn’t provide a foothold for predictive understanding of the software running on the processor (I.e. Donkey Kong.)
This reminds me of some insights by Gregory Bateson in his mind-bending book “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” and his discussion of logical levels, warning people that a chair is different from the set of all chairs. One, for example, you can sit on.
Investigated the Deep Learning nanodegree program on Udemy. A 17 week course is being taught by Siraj Raval who is very, very good at planting new material in your brain where it takes over the front lawn with crazy alien offshoots. The course is $400 and I have to decide before January 20th. So tempting…
Read a review of a McKee seminar and his book, Story, Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting… and its application to psychology and life. Still processing this one.
Your brain may tell you there are blinky gray dots in the crossroads. There are not. It’s a physiological mechanism called lateral inhibition, which has the effect of causing a bright surround to an area appear darker and, conversely, a dark surround will make an area appear lighter.
Our brain tells us lots of stuff. Not all of which we should believe.
A product of millions of years of evolution, our brain actually has three independent and sometimes competing brains. The brain stem and cerebellum is known as the reptilian mind. It’s our instinctive self and has two functions: survival and reproduction.
The second brain is the limbic system, center of emotions. We share this development with our mammalian kin. The peak of humans’ evolution is the third brain, the neocortex.
Reptilian brain trumps limbic brain and limbic brain trumps neocortex most of the time. Based on this there are many ways the brain can be hacked to influence us without our awareness (via the reptilian) and without our will (the limbic.) And some cantrips1 hack the executive actions of the neocortex itself.
It’s becoming mandatory to understand these hacks, not to wield them on others, unless you’re bent on world domination, but to know when they are being used on us.
Today I’m just going to discuss one of these brain hacks while it’s still fresh in the media. Let’s take the Trump/Streep saga as exhibit A.
If you’re not familiar, Meryl Streep gave this speech about Trump’s performance ridiculing a handicapped reporter. She cautioned that as leader of the free world it may behoove one not to set examples like this as they may encourage the more impressionable that bullying is ok.
And some people reacted with:
Are you kidding? A rapper creates a viral video stating: We are bombing countries, Isis is using weapons we supplied. Meryl Streep has the nerve to say Trump might incite violence?! Which strikes a chord with people: 4.5million views, 76k shares on Facebook (1/10/2017)
And let’s talk about what’s happening here. It has nothing to do with Streep or Trump or Polansky, but with how our brains get hijacked. This sleight of mind is called:
The Fallacy of Relative Privation
B Happened and is worse than A
Therefore A is justified
In hypnosis this is also known as redirection. It’s a short-circuiting of focus (which in this day and age doesn’t need much to short-circuit.) Distraction in 2017 is child’s play and it’s a Trump card for politicians. If a news correspondent, for example, asks a politician directly:
“Did you say all these bad things about women?”
And he interrupts with:
“Only Rosie O’Donnell”
It basically triggers an automatic reaction in many people. A train of involuntary associations kicks off: “Rosie O’Donnel! I don’t like her. Ew. He doesn’t like her either. I like him. Wait, what was the question?” Except that last thought seldom occurs because the discussion has already moved on. It’s a non-linear move that games our neurology, which is much more effective in avoiding the question than mealy-mouthing an excuse about it being taken out of context which just appears defensive and duplicitous.
Outright denial is another distraction technique in this age of blink-and-miss-it media attention spans.
“I never said that.” Or “Check your facts,”
This stops inquiry in its tracks. Even those that are pretty sure they heard it might second guess themselves. Much less the true believers. Or those that might concede it happened—but B is much worse.
But let’s get back to A and B. The trick is to realize that this logical fallacy doesn’t really justify anything. It’s meant to keep attention off of what is being presented and B and A should each be evaluated in their own right for clear reckoning. B does not justify, negate or minimize A.
There are boatloads of these illogical misdirects during political discourse and there should be a more consensual understanding of how they are used to game the uninformed mind. Some examples:
“Barack Obama might be detaining people without trial and bombing civilians in other countries, but Bush did far worse.”
“Smoking may be a bad thing but it’s not as bad as global warming/car exhausts/body odor etc.”
“Yes, the US is keeping secret prisons, but we’re not as bad as Saddam Hussein!”
Relative privation is a class of distraction and distraction in general is a way to avoid addressing or validating the immediate issue. So when you see that toddler in the store screaming bloody murder suddenly silenced with an ice-cream, remember this trick is used on us daily.
Tune in next week when we explore how Lateral Inhibition works across abstract dimensions! (Just kidding… probably.)
BTW, check the National Geographic series on Brain Games and, in particular, this episode on Netflix.
an old Scottish word meaning magic spell. Or something that reads the same forwards and backwards. I wonder what the connection is between those two? ↩
I’m gravitating towards more dream work. For months now I’ve missed only a handful of nights journaling at least one dream. But I need to make some tweaks. If I watch movies late at night, it flattens my dreams. When I go to bed earlier than midnight, without a customary glass or two of wine (generally accompanying movies), the quality of dreams improves.
Two types of dreams have been recurring. Last night, for example, some people and I were trapped in a frozen vale. We tried various means of escape (a prominent theme) and finally it seemed we succeeded. But I was convinced all we had done was to “dream” we had escaped. And we were actually still trapped. With effort I demonstrated this was still a dream by levitating and whirling a large object around with just my intent. While this indeed exhibited it was a dream, to both myself and the others —I completely missed the larger import. Again. In these recurring dreams I often dream that I’m aware that I am dreaming. Which to me means I’m often asleep a couple layers deep in daily life as well. But also, that to realize what’s happening in the macro, look for a clue in the micro. Usually one so obvious it’s blinding.
In the second recurring dream, a snake crawls in my bed. I’m leery, but not particularly freaked out. The snake is a good buddy of mine in dreamworld, a familiar ally. It wraps around natural curvatures in my sleeping position and cuddles up as I fall back to sleep.
With my series on Netflix concluding (The Travelers), and classes starting next week, I’ll be cleaning up my sleep hygiene to delve deeper into realms of dreaming. I have been monitoring quality of sleep with an app and learning more about when my natural deep sleep and REM cycles occur. I also snagged some supplements to facilitate dream excursions during my last trip stateside. In particular: Galantamine and Mucuna Pruriens. I’ll add these a couple times a week, along with my daily regimen of DMAE and Piracetam. More about these specific protocols later, perhaps.
is this the 2nd or 3rd or nth year of a series coming up or are we going to try something new? Are we bending over for the forces that be and hunkering down to take our punishment or have we dusted off that old craft we built deep in the forests of our youth and set it back up to tack into the wind and rise above the numbing zones, the moans and lamentations of those doing it “right”, being “realistic”, living the life with the crooked hands they’ve been dealt, grateful for the scraps …or do we have something up our sleeves this coming year? A card or two under the table? Something that doesn’t depend on the House paying cuts with its trickling odds at infrequent intervals just to lure us deeper into illusions of debt? I hear free men once walked these plains, once looked at these same stars we see from our feeding pens. I hear that it doesn’t take a lifetime of planning or preparation to make a change, that it’s just a simple matter of stepping sideways in our lifes and running with a different current.