Thursday, July 27, 2006
The mind seeks to nail life down and get it to stop moving and changing. When this doesn't work, the mind begins to seek the changeless, the eternal, something that doesn't move. But the mind of thought is itself an expression of life's movement and so must always be in movement itself. When there is thought, that thought is always moving and changing.
There is really no such thing as thought. There is only thinking, so thought which is always moving (as thinking) cannot apprehend the changeless. When thought enters into the changeless it goes silent. When thought goes silent, the thinker, the psychological "me," the image-produced self, disappears. Suddenly it is gone….
You are now no longer the thought, nor the thinker, nor someone who is aware. Only awareness remains, as itself. Then, within awareness, thought moves. Within the changeless, change happens. Now awareness expresses itself. Awareness is always expressing itself: as life, as change, as thought, feelings, bodies, humans, plants, trees, cars, etc. Awareness yields to itself, to its inherent creativity, to its expression in form, to experience itself. The changeless is changing. The eternal is living and dying. The formless is form. The form is formless. This is nothing the mind could have ever imagined.”
~ Adyashanti Copyright ©2003 by Adyashanti. All rights reserved.
Too much Thinking!
So, why do I bother with this blog?
Let’s call it encouragement… for me, for you…
So, let’s take a bow. And proceed.
Let’s think about some things, because that’s what scientists do.
Dreaming as Delirium is a book written by J. Allan Hobson, a professor of psychiatry and researcher at Harvard Medical School. His specialty is sleep research and states of consciousness. I mention that phrase a lot here, “state of consciousness.” So do people into meditation and spiritual cultivation.
The Upanishads and Western science speak of three major states of consciousness: waking, deep sleep (non-REM sleep), and dreaming (REM sleep). Hobson’s contribution to this discussion is something called the AIM Model. The Activation energy, Information, and Mode model (AIM) creates a three dimensional cube of “mind space.”
This cube is defined along three axes:
1) Activation or Arousal of the brain (is it low or high as measured by the power of an EEG signal).
2) Input or Information (the degree to which information arises from external sources via the senses, or is created internally by endogenous brain activity- as when we dream).
3) Modulation or Mode of data organization (mediated by neurotransmitters with either cholinergic (ACh in the diagram) or aminergic & serotonergic dominance( NE & 5-HT)). Is one’s thinking logical and linear or more fantasy based and emotional? Neurotransmitters determine this. As logic decreases so does working memory. As emotion increases so does remote memory.
Within this cube one may plot different states of consciousness as determined by different physiological variables. Normally, one traverses a rather narrow path from one region of this cube to anotheras one passes from waking to sleeping to dreaming. Waking state plots up it the back right corner. Dreaming (REM) maps to the lower front right corner. Deep sleep (non-rapid eye movement sleep, NREM) occurs somewhere in the center. But one can also map lesser traveled routes. Coma finds one in the lower front left corner. Lucid dreaming lies towards the back near the lower right side.
What this model emphasizes is how very much "room" exists physiologically that could support different states of consciousness. The other thing to note is that states of consciousness are actually created and maintained by a wide variety of physiological variables. The AIM Model simply maps the primary variables. It is possible that at any given spot within the AIM cube one could insert yet another cube whose axies are defined by yet three additional variables.
In the past, it was thought that the three states of consciousness were mutually exclusive. Now we know that state-determining variables can be mixed. For instance, walking in your sleep is REM sleep physiology minus the variable of muscle paralysis. Hypnagogic hallucinations occur during a "minor" state of consciousness in which some brain variables create dreams, while the rest of the physiology is closer to waking state.
AIM also highlights the manner in which states of consciousness can be changed by manipulating any one of the three primary variables. For example, meditation or hypnosis change the level of excitation. Coffee (with the amine caffeine) or psychedelics (many of which are serotonin analogs), alter the chemical balance of neurotransmitters.
This AIM model is science reiterating what Maharishi used to tell us. Every state of consciousness is supported by a unique physiology. Cultivating consciousness is like moving a table. You can grab hold of any leg (any one of a number of physiological variables) and pull. The whole table will move.
So, grab hold of the leg that is easiest to reach. Meditation effects EEG, galvanic skin response, serotonin. It turns the attention inwards… these are all primary AIM variables. By contrast, Maharishi downplayed affirmations as mere "mood making, " or trying to cultivate a state of non-attachment by thinking alone. These methods don’t really affect the physiology all that much. In short, trying to philosophize ones way to enlightenment (Gyana Yoga) was well nigh impossible for most of us.
Which brings me back to Adyashanti and too much Thinking!
Enlightenment starts in the body with direct experience, not the thinking mind.
2) So, I am trying to get to know this woman and she only checks her email every two weeks. All she can say is, “What’s time.”
So, I’m thinking, though she didn’t really ask, “Time is money.” “Time is Life.” And then really ticked, I think, “Time is all we’ve got!”
…Now, wait a minute … didn’t Eckhart Tolle do this whole thing on how time doesn’t really exist? ... and it’s all I’ve got?
3) Ahhh, so They say, “Time is of the Essence.”
4) “Reality is different in different states of consciousness.”
Some times it’s not even Real. And some times, it is a Mack Truck.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
It was my first acquaintance with him and his writings. Many of his teachings struck such a resonance in me. For example, there is the one on truth. Only a couple days ago I had been telling Becky that I wanted to know more- if not every detail, certainly more than I’d been told. She said that it would hurt. I said I didn’t care.
While no fan of pain, I am tired of trying to avoid it. Now, I simply want to know. I find that I am helped by knowing the whole story. Wholeness holds by its very nature the promise of the Truth. So, I tell myself, “I want to know the truth”….even as the image arises in my mind of Jack Nicholson leaning across his desk and snarling at Tom Cruise, “Truth? You can’t take the Truth!”
Well, I can. And I want it. And here comes Adyashanti commenting upon these very points taken to the highest level:
“In order to be truly free, you must desire to know the truth more than you want to feel good. Because, if feeling good is your goal, then as soon as you feel better you will lose interest in what is true. This does not mean that feeling good or experiencing love and bliss is a bad thing. Given the choice, anyone would choose to feel bliss rather than sorrow. It simply means that if this desire to feel good is stronger than the yearning to see, know, and experience Truth, then this desire will always be distorting the perception of what is Real, while corrupting one's deepest integrity. In my experience, everyone will say they want to discover the Truth, right up until they realize that the Truth will rob them of their deepest held ideas, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. The freedom of enlightenment means much more than the experience of love and peace. It means discovering a Truth that will turn your view of self and life upside-down. For one who is truly ready, this will be unimaginably liberating. But for one who is still clinging in any way, this will be extremely challenging indeed. How does one know if they are ready? One is ready when they are willing to be absolutely consumed, when they are willing to be fuel for a fire without end.”
That phrase rings out in my mind. It recalls how in the earliest of Becky’s leaving, I found that my love for her, my heart, my chest now appeared to shine. It was as if my love had become a burnished breast plate. It had become the love I had always wished to offer her.
So here are Adyashanti’s reflections upon that shining and Truth and becoming “fuel for a fire without end.”
A Tendency to Shine
If you prefer smoke over fire
then get up now and leave.
For I do not intend to perfume
your mind's clothing
with more sooty knowledge.
No, I have something else in mind.
Today I hold a flame in my left hand
and a sword in my right.
There will be no damage control today.
For God is in a mood
to plunder your riches and
fling you nakedly
into such breathtaking poverty
that all that will be left of you
will be a tendency to shine.
So don't just sit around this flame
choking on your mind.
For this is no campfire song
to mindlessly mantra yourself to sleep with.
Jump now into the space
and exit this dream
before I burn the damn place down.
And now, bowing to her wisdom and her own courage, I have to say, she exited the dream.
I wish everyone could understand this.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Thursday, July 20, 2006
So, poor man's Chihuly: This photo... It is an "image" actually. It goes into the brain at one wavelength and lifts the whole biology. An image allows you to imagine.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
We withdraw our attention from the superficial and turn inwards.
Deep inside lies a completely different world.
Inside the yellow marigold there hides an Asian crane.
Inside ourselves are wondrous mysteries.
Marigold in Water and Blue Marigold are actually one photo. Conversion from one to the other takes only magnification and inverting colors.
Photo by P. Bralley
Monday, July 10, 2006
from Opening the Dragon Gate: the making of a modern Taoist wizard.
What is going on here? Taoists have long recognized the necessity of strengthening the body in preparation for going deeply into meditation. Thus, spiritual cultivation is preceded and supported by physical cultivation. The Taoist practices of Qigong and Tai Chi are intimately connected with the medical as well as the martial arts.
Which is not to say, it doesn’t get fairly strange (to me) at times. The above quote from Opening the Dragon Gates seems like a good description of some of the group meditations in my practice of Sum Faht. While we can meditate together very quietly, often the place sounds like a zoo. So, I repeat, “What is going on here?”
No one warned me of this possibility when I began the practice. So, I was very surprised the first time I felt myself morph into a lion. Sitting quietly in meditation, I it felt as if the muscles in my arms grew larger. My hands became paws, my neck thick and strong. I eased forward from my seated posture onto all fours and a hunting crouch. And then the growling started from deep down in my belly. Such strength, such power!
Over the next few months there was a procession of animals: lizard, monkey, frog, and bird. The bird impressed me with its large, hard snapping beak and arrogant demeanor. The frog left me sore from its bobbing hippity-hop, though I did enjoy the croaking, “ribbet!” But, that was nothing compared to lion’s roar.
Where had I gained such familiarity with those diaphragm movements that propelled that roar? Was it at the zoo, or on one of those TV nature shows? I had no idea. Still, that roar clearly served a purpose. It was forcing Light and Life back down into my atrophied left leg. The leg that had withered after a herniated disc now was filled with Life. The leg that seemed to harbor such black terror that I could not begin to approach it in previous “normal” meditations, now was filled with Light.
Clearly, the lion had a strength that P. Bralley did not know she had. That’s because ordinarily, I am cut off from my “lower higher-self.”
Sum Faht teaches that the lower higher self can emerge into ones awareness in the guise of different animals. These forms are said to emerge to facilitate our healing by providing the raw animal power of survival. While the animals surprised me, I was equally taken aback by the concept of a lower higher-self. I had never heard the term in all my TM days. Taoism usually simply speaks of the higher self. And besides, isn’t the evolution of consciousness supposed to take us beyond our violent animal heritage? From my TM experiences I viewed the Higher Self as transcendent Silence. Animals had not been mentioned. But, enlightenment did begin with witnessing.
(Warning, if you have not read the two previous blog entries from Thursday, July 6th, you may want to. Material there is preliminary to the discussion that follows.)
Is there a connection between witnessing, classic depersonalization, and Taoism’s stirring up of animal-like behavior in the name of spiritual cultivation? Yes… maybe…
Two Cambridge University psychiatrists, M. Sierra and G. E. Berrios, have argued that we are “hard wired” for depersonalization. (Biological Psychiatry, 1998. 44: 898-908). To support their claim Sierra and Berrios offer two lines of evidence: 1. the experience of people with temporal lobe epilepsy and 2. the “evolutionary view,” which states that depersonalization is a “vestigial brain response” to life-threatening events.
I’ve already mentioned depersonalization and temporal lobe epilepsy. And I’ve already written about how neural circuits for religiosity seem activated during this disease. (See, June 4th post, "Artist, artifact and Aberration.") It is the second argument, the evolutionary view that I’d like to look at now. This view states that:
“…depersonalization is an adaptive mechanism that combines opposing reaction tendencies, the one serving to intensify alertness and the other to dampen potentially disorganizing emotion.”
This sentence brings to mind the first physiological study published on TM. It was discovered that TM produced a state of “restful- alertness.” This was viewed as new and rather paradoxical. “Alertness” reflects a physiology settling towards the wakefulness that is Pure Consciousness. The “restful”-ness has become the classic attribute and sales point for meditation as an anti-stress physiology. That is, meditation dampens the autonomic nervous system as measured by skin resistance (to an electrical current) and pulse rate. Curiously, it appears that depersonalization has a similar effect upon the autonomic system as it dampens the “disorganizing emotion.”
Serrios and Berrios point out that during the course of evolution, animals required two kinds of behavior during times of danger. One circuit linked the brain to the adrenals. This circuit sends an alarm that evokes the physiology of the fight or flight response. It cranks up the system for a shot of adrenalin. The animal was ready to either run for its life or fight to the death.
The medical literature is full of articles that describe how modern man has evolved past the fight or flight response. Today, most of the perceived threats in our environment: honking drivers, irate bosses, deadlines, etc. are not optimally addressed by either running away or fighting tooth and nail. None-the-less, the fight or flight physiology is triggered, as we stand there trying to behave maturely. What we get is high blood pressure, allergies, and a host of modern stress diseases.
What’s largely lacking is appreciation of a second neural circuit we have also inherited for survival. Sierra and Berrios argue that even in the jungle, fight or flight is not always the best response. Sometimes, an animal dare not move a muscle. Survival demands freezing: immediately. Don’t move, but remain very alert until more information is gathered or the situation changes.
So, there is another neural circuit responsible for the “freeze response.” This circuit is also our part of animal heritage and if Sierra and Berrios are correct, it is now used to create and sustain depersonalization. This is what evolution does. It takes an old neural circuit, changes it a bit and voila, we have a new behavior. So, from freeze response of animal evolved the human depersonalization. Now I wonder, from depersonalization can or are we evolving a circuitry for witnessing?
Sierra and Berrios describe a “cortico-limbic” circuit for depersonalization. It starts in the left-side of the brain in the prefrontal cortex where an inhibitory signal is sent down to the amygdala. This quiets the emotions and the sympathetic nervous system (those nerves that give us the fight or flight response). However, part of the amygdala is not inhibited and it sends an excitatory signal to the “ascending arousal systems.” These systems spread alertness into the right prefrontal cortex. Thus, one combines restfulness (no fight or flight) with heightened awareness (alertness).
In the depersonalized state, a driver skids his car on ice but can quietly maneuver it safely to a stop, because he “never feels a thing.” Echkart Tolle mentions this depersonalized state of altered alertness often in his explanations of detached ego. Its efficient and silent mode of action to Tolle speaks to that enlightened state. And brain studies of regions activated during meditation bring out the same list of characters: prefrontal cortex, amygdala, the ascending arousal system…
What is curious to me is the tour de force this cortico-limbic circuit represents in terms of brain architecture and evolution. The ascending arousal systems are rooted in very ancient parts of the brain. In fact, this region of our brain has been called the “reptilian brain,” for it was all the brain the reptiles possessed. By contrast, the amygdale, as part of the limbic system, is much more recently evolved. It is located in what’s been called the “paleo-mammalian” brain. Located above the reptilian brain, yet below the neo-cortex, this is the extent of brain possessed by most mammals. It was here that love became “invented.” Love and joy, fear and grief, passion in general are all a gift from our mammalian forefathers and the paleo-mammalian physiology. It is only the neo-cortex, only recently enlarged beyond all the older species, that is the creation of the primates and modern man. The neo-cortex allows our logical thought. It lets us pay very close attention. It gives rise to our creative, verbal impulses. In short, it enables that which modern man most admires. But, look at what the neo-cortex sits upon- all those ancient animals right down into reptilian.
So now the Taoist practices make more sense to me. Evolution loves to tinker. It takes what’s at hand and with a bit of rewiring shapes a new and novel system. I would propose that this has happened first with freeze response evolving into depersonalization, and then with the depersonalization circuitry being recruited into a more circuit to support witnessing in Cosmic Consciousness
Taoism is a Shamanic, Nature-based philosophy. It goes after these deeper, ancient circuits by invoking the animals themselves. The monks who invented the martial arts and Qigong modeled their movements after the animals. Sum Faht cultivates development by spontaneously reaching down and reactivating the stuff of ancient circuits. What arises is no longer simply freeze response, but often the lower higher-self, a sacred mudra, or the helpful roar of lion.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Since the 1860’s there have been numerous reports that some people with temporal lope epilepsy (about 15%) experience a shift in emotions and perception called depersonalization (in reference changed perception of self) and derealization (in reference to changes in perception of the world). For instance, two patients described this shift in these words:
“The singing of birds sounds different to me, as do the utterances of my relatives; the air feels different, and the body feels as if made from another material…I seem to be walking around in a world I recognize but don’t feel…”
“My husband and I have always been happy together but now he sits here and might be a complete stranger. I know he is my husband only by his appearance- he might be anybody for all I feel towards him.”
The psychologist’s diagnostic bible, the DSM IV, formally defines “depersonalization disorder” in this manner:
“… characterized by a feeling of detachment or estrangement from one’s self. The individual may feel like an automaton or as if he or she is living in a dream or movie. There may be a sensation of being an outside observer of ones mental processes, one’s body… and a sensation of lacking control of one’s actions, including speech.”
“Living in a dream or movie,” to me, this sounds like a good description of the witnessing experienced by individuals with Cosmic Consciousness-like experiences.
In 1990, Richard Castillo, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Harvard University, wrote an article entitled, “Depersonalization and Meditation.” He interviewed many TM meditators as to their experience with witnessing.
There was Ms. B, a 34 year-old graduate student. At the time of being interviewed, she had been doing TM for 14 years. She first experienced witnessing 11 years prior to her interview.
“I was talking with someone and all of a sudden it felt as if I wasn’t doing the talking. And it was a very disconcerting experience because you always feel like you’re in charge. And all of a sudden I had the feeling, “Who’s doing this talking? It’s not me.” So I was listening to my voice and the words came out without my doing it. It feels like a dichotomy. You’re so used to being a part of the experience you’re undergoing that to all of a sudden not be part of that is very strange.”
There was also the 38 year-old chiropractor, married with one child, who had his first experience of witnessing 12 years prior. In 1990 he was experiencing witnessing to a mild degree a large part of the time:
“There is a definite aliveness to the environment, almost as if you’re aware that there is consciousness in everything. A normal day for me is when everything just goes right. When things don’t go right, then I think it’s strange. But my emotions are not ecstatic… I would say sort of warm; and it’s very fulfilling in a knowing sort of sense rather than in a feeling sense.”
Castillo concludes that depersonalization in meditators practicing TM results in the loss of the ability to feel strong emotions, either negative or positive. Instead, there is a constant experience of mild pleasantness or contentment. He viewed these meditators as successful in their careers, satisfied with their lives, optimistic with regards to the future. To Castillo, their depersonalization did not seem like pathology. But, it did represent a significant change in perception and consciousness.
Mahairishi has commented upon the strangeness of witnessing:
“…one begins to feel one’s Self as separate from activity. This experience brings with it a feeling of confusion. One finds oneself active and yet inwardly one feels somewhat aloof from activity. Doubts begin to arise in the mind, and the intellect seeks an explanation… Without proper understanding, even direct experience of eternal freedom may be found to create confusion and fear… in this state [one] fails to live Being fully, fails to possess the Self in Its full glory and grace.”
In practice, witnessing during sleep can be a rather strange experience. During my days of heightened awareness, I’d go to bed and wait for sleep to come. I’d wait for that feeling of “being awake” to wane - and it never would. Finally, I’d roll over, adjust the pillow and think, “Won’t I ever go to sleep!”
Then, in retrospect, I would realize that for some time I had not had a single thought. Nor, in retrospect, could I recall hearing any outside noise. Only then would I realize that I had been sound asleep. It just didn’t feel like it since I had been suspended in Wakefulness itself. No thought, no sound from external world. I had been experiencing Pure Consciousness, the transcendent foundation for all thinking during the “unconsciousness” of deep sleep.
In 1997, researchers published what to me is a remarkable study in the journal Sleep (20: 102-110.) They took eleven long-term meditators who reported witnessing during sleep and recorded their EEGs. Previous studies of people practicing TM had shown that the subjective experience of transcending (Transcendental Consciousness) correlated with an increased theta-alpha EEG pattern. Now, in the meditators that reported witnessing during sleep, scientists found this same EEG pattern coexisting with the delta wave activity of deep sleep. The EEG showed that the theta-alpha pattern was being maintained in non-REM stage 3 and 4 deep sleep. This unique EEG pattern was seen in the witnessing meditators, but was absent from two control groups of short-term meditators and non-meditators.
Clearly, witnessing can arise in the absence of epilepsy and psychological disturbance, despite having qualities related to classic depersonalization. The scientists researching TM now argue that witnessing can be related to states of consciousness with distinctive neuro-physiology, namely Transcendental Consciousness, and the first stage of enlightenment, Cosmic Consciousness.
This is interesting to me because different paths cultivate very different experiences. Understanding witnessing physiologically may be a first step towards being able to objectively define a “higher” state, or states, of consciousness.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
"Shrine," a one breath qi painting by P. Bralley, 2004. Ink and acrylic.
Introducing My First Links.
I have finally gotten it together and added two links to this blog. Please take the time to visit them.
Dorothy Walters is both poet and writer and it seems to me something of a political activist. Her book, Unmasking the Rose, tells of her experiences with a kundalini awakening many years ago. Her blog inspired me to start my own.
Rebecca Frye is a poet who lives right here in Atlanta. I've been checking her website regularly and just as regularly am blown away by her "poem of the week." I suggest you add her to your diet.
I know I have been rather quiet here for about a week. I am doing my best... and should have something up and going pretty soon. Meanwhile, let's see if I can't give you a balloon.