Monday, April 21, 2008

Mario’s Question from Another Angle

When the Dalai Lama came to Emory last October he met with researchers and held a conference on depression. Scientists here at Emory have been working with people whose depression has been unresponsive to all other conventional treatments: antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, and electroconvulsive therapy.
What they’ve shown is that intractable depression is immediately relieved when an electrode is used for deep brain stimulation of a very specific region of the brain.

The patients’ responses, so very striking, have made it into the research literature:

All patients spontaneously reported acute effects including “sudden calmness or lightness,” “disappearance of the void,” a sense of heightened awareness, increased interest, “connectedness,” and sudden brightening of the room, sharpening of visual details and intensification of colors in response to electrical stimulation.

These changes occured so quickly, literally at the flicking of a switch, that scientists believe that the response by-passed both chemical (neurotransmitters, stress and the hormonal HPA axis) and cognitive (such as the voice internalized critical parent) patterns.
This was an electrically mediated event that suddenly made the brain function in a different manner.
A different neural circuit had been turned on and that changed everything.

All this brings to mind Eckart Tolle’s description of the morning he awoke:

I could feel myself being sucked into a void. It felt as if the void was inside myself rather than outside. Suddenly there was no more fear, and I let myself fall into that void. I have no recollection of what happened after that…

I was awakened by the chirping of a bird outside the window… I opened my eyes. The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains…I knew that there was infinitely more to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself… I recognized the room, and yet I knew I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence.

Let this be then, introduction to yet another way of answering Mario’s second question which I have paraphrased as:
Why does negativity keep arising in us?

It seems to me that spiritual seekers are somewhat analogous to depressed patients.

What the scientists found was that after the deep brain stimulation lifted the crushing darkness, patients still had to work their way back to lasting health via the usual and slower modalities of medication and talk therapy.
As dramatic a shift the deep brain stimulation provided, lasting change required the depression be “worked through” on the chemical and cognitive levels also.

There in lies the parallel.
That flicking of the electrical switch is like the “freebie” of awakening.
For even after awakening there is more work to be done:

Realizing who you are is a piece of cake compared to living it.
It is a freebie.
You don’t have to do anything for it. You don’t have to change…
All you have to do is stop trying… for just one second.

Realization is a freebie, even if you are holding on to regret, blame, and judgment.
But you’re going to have a hard time living that realization because the nature of truth itself is something without a past, without fixed points of view, and therefore, without blame…

When you awaken, those remaining personality traits, ego traits, and hidden places within you come to the surface one by one in the clear light of awakeness.
As each arises it offers you an opportunity to see through it.
But you cannot see through anything that you do not allow to arise.
Each time you allow this arising, you feel a deepening in the sense of spaciousness, presence, and openness.
You have the sense of a causeless love, a causeless happiness.

Or, as Maharishi (and others) would remind us:
The world is as we are.

And how are we?
Even the Awakened are like little ponds of muddy water. The mud makes it impossible for the water to reflect the true brilliance of the sun. Our job is to quietly filter out all the muck and debris.

Maharishi called the muck “Stress” – abnormalities in the nervous system caused by either an overwhelming positive or negative experience. Regular meditation would un-stress the stress creating a normally function nervous system.
Then, you would see your true self and infinite nature, but ego would remain.
More meditation and normal functioning of a stress-free the body would lead to further refinement, a fuller awareness of God and one’s ultimate Unity with creation.

Tolle seems to suggest that the muck can be understood as the pain-body.
He explains that until Presence is fully maintained, we will from time to time slip back into “unconsciousness” and experience the pain-body once again as the ego thrashes about trying to maintain the illusion of its individuality.
Presence as it fully ripens will transmute the energy trapped within the pain-body into Consciousness.

And Adyashanti, in yet another terminology, speaks of what the Buddhists have traditionally called “conditionings” – all those negative (and positive) ego traits that persist like “grooves in a record” even after an awakening.

So Mario, Negativity continues to arise from within us – not because we harbor some inherent evil – but because the body has not yet finished the internal alchemy that purifies every single cell within our body after awakening.
Awakening can be thought of as that electrical switch, the deep brain stimulation that establishes a newly functional neuro-circuitry.

In an instant, the depression lifts.
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” (as the Bible says* and Handel composed in Messiah) - We see the Light.
And then, we are left with the rest of the process.
We have to rebalance chemicals and hormones, and even subtler energies, flushing out all the acupuncture meridians.

Or, at least, that is how I picture it.

*1Corinthians 15: 51-54

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