Saturday, March 16, 2019

Distraction, Connection, Intimacy, Authenticity

     If, while in the process of doing something about which you feel conflicted, you should have an accident, what does this mean?
     • Some might assume that the Universe (God, or some other external force / authority) was saying, 'You were right, you should not be doing this!' But IMHO, this is just confirmation bias - "the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning."
     • Others might simply assume that you were not paying sufficient attention, distracted by decision-making.

     Maybe the most important take home message is are we fed-up enough of our usual state of being to settle for nothing less than our original, native authentic state of being? We have a MASSIVE load of toxic conditioning to shed before fear-based armoring drops off to reveal the source of everything. This requires curiosity, knowledge, courage, patience, perseverance, persistence, and unwillingness to settle for what most DO settle for: "ordinary unhappiness."

     In our usual state, if we take the time & effort to notice, we're almost always 'torn' between having to do something, while thinking that we should be doing at least one different thing, and if we really dig deep, our heart is not really in any of these things, but in a totally different place. So we're disengaged much of the time, doing things half-heartedly at best. Surely we can do FAR better than this!

     A radically different way of living is being kindly, continuously engaged, only whomever / whatever we're with. In fact, enlightenment or awakening has been described as intimacy with everything. We know we're capable of behaving like this under ideal conditions: eg wise grandparents nurturing their beloved grandchild, assuring that they flourish.
      This radically different way of living becomes progressively more sustainable - under progressively more challenging conditions - by connecting to, & stabilizing in, our true identity: the luminous undifferentiated ground of being ('substrate consciousness'). This is a vastly different way of being because we're free of our usual fear-based self-centeredness & reactivity
     Any of the wisdom traditions, taken seriously (vs as a social club, sedative &/or analgesic), can probably get you there. Below is from the tradition I know best.

     “By means of thousands of hours of observation, Buddhist contemplatives claim to have penetrated into ordinarily hidden dimensions of the mind that are more chaotic, where the order and structure of the human psyche are just beginning to emerge. Examination of the deep strata of mental processes reveals layers previously concealed within the subconscious. Finally, the mind comes to rest in its natural state: the ground from which both conscious and ordinary subconscious events arise. This is true depth psychology, in which we observe deep ‘core samples’ of the subconscious mind, cutting across many layers of accumulated conceptual structuring. The culmination of this meditative process is the experience of the substrate consciousness (Skt. Alaya-vijnana), which is characterized by three essential traits: bliss, luminosity, and nonconceptuality. The quality of bliss does not arise in response to any sensory stimulus, for the physical senses are withdrawn, as if one were deeply asleep. Nor does it arise in dependence upon pleasant thoughts or mental images, for such mental activities have become dormant. Rather, it appears to be an innate quality of the mind when it has settled in its natural state, beyond the disturbing influences of conscious and unconscious mental activity.
     … The substrate consciousness is not inherently human but is also the ground state of consciousness of all other sentient beings. It is from this dimension of awareness that the human mind emerges, so the substrate consciousness is prior to and more fundamental than the human conceptual duality of mind and matter. Both the mind and all experiences of matter are said to emerge from this luminous space, which is undifferentiated in terms of any distinct sense of subject and object. This hypothesis rejects Cartesian dualism, as well as the belief that the universe is exclusively physical. Moreover, this hypothesis may be put to the test of experience, regardless of one’s ideological commitments and theoretical assumptions.”
       B. Alan Wallace. “Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic. A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice.” Columbia University Press, 2012.

Photo c/o Dr. Will Draper

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Serious Meditation

     Many people try meditation briefly to see what it's about, then move on to other things. A small percentage take meditation much more seriously, and thoroughly explore its depths. 
     Meditation is truly NOT for everyone. We all have different priorities, which change substantially at different stages of our life. We also all have different skill sets. Some people may never be able to meditate for various reasons - because of temperament, or perhaps even biological reasons
     My blogs are meant to inspire ONLY those who ARE interested, ready & capable of meditating seriously.

     “normally for probably all human beings in all cultures, the default state is an ego state. In neurobiology, we know that the default state of most people, where they’re not doing something or actively thinking about something, is a running commentary (‘subconscious gossip’) about themselves and their own life and what’s going on. ... That is like a one-foot layer of debris on top of the ocean of our state of being, and most of us think that who we are is just this incessant thinking and ruminating and grinding away at our issues, obsessions and so on. We have no awareness at all of who we really are in the full sense.
     Mindfulness practice ... means learning to become really present to our state of being. Most of us are distracted most of the time, and through working with mindfulness techniques we learn how to pay attention to our breath, to our body, to our emotions. It’s paying attention and learning to experience things more and more directly rather than through the filter of what we think about things.
     I really want to emphasize that most of us do not have direct experience of life; we don’t even know what it is. Most of us can only experience life through what we think about life. Mindfulness practice ... teaches us to feel our human existence and to be present to it." 
       Reginald A. Ray

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Core Beliefs and Mental Health

     Our personal core beliefs, no matter how unaware we may be of them, nevertheless powerfully guide & influence our life. And many educated, Westernized people have core beliefs based on scientific materialism. Scientific materialism is entirely appropriate for physical sciences, BUT makes no sense at all as a worldview, particularly when dealing with our identity, the meaning of life, and other existential matters. These most critical aspects of life have been studied by the world's wisdom traditions for thousands of years. Ignoring this depth of knowledge, and assuming by default that science has all the answers is "profoundly alienating, depressing and delusional."

     Wisdom traditions can be compared to politics. Many politicians put self-interest & their own party's success, ahead of the welfare of their country. Such "partisanship" is tearing the US apart. However, politicians who take their job seriously, primarily serve their country's, & ideally the world's, best interests. Wisdom traditions, taken seriously, guide practitioners toward ethical behavior, unconditional love of self & others, and the capacity to gracefully navigate life's most difficult existential challenges. Like politics, religions have a shameful history of incompetence, bad actors & criminals. Nevertheless, both politics and wisdom traditions - when taken seriously - are absolutely vital & irreplaceable for a deeply meaningful life.

     The quote below is from a Buddhist perspective, but those who take any wisdom tradition seriously (are working towards or are at Culliford's or Fowler's 5th or 6th stage: or tend to have surprisingly similar perspectives. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and other mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are secular practices, based on Buddhist principles.

     “Cross-cultural psychiatric research shows that the Western understanding of all mental illnesses, such as depression, is profoundly influenced by cultural beliefs and expectations. Mental health care providers, drug companies, and patient-advocacy groups typically regard mental illnesses as ‘brain diseases’ in which the patient has little choice or responsibility. As journalist Ethan Watters comments, ‘The mental-health ideas we export to the world are rarely unadulterated scientific facts and never culturally neutral.’ Derek Summerfield of the Institute of Psychiatry in London writes, ‘Western mental-health discourse introduces core components of Western culture, including a theory of human nature, a definition of personhood, a sense of time and memory, and a secular source of moral authority. None of this is universal.’
     From a Buddhist (& other wisdom traditions') perspective, the materialist view of the human mind – reduced to a composite of electrochemical processes occurring unconsciously in the brain – is profoundly alienating and depressing precisely because it is essentially delusional. Watters writes:
     ‘If our rising need for mental-health services does indeed spring from a breakdown in meaning, our insistence that the rest of the world think like us may be all the more problematic. Offering the latest Western mental-health theories, treatments, and categories in an attempt to ameliorate the psychological stress sparked by modernization and globalization is not a solution; it may be part of the problem. When we undermine local conceptions of the self and modes of healing, we may be speeding along the disorienting changes that are at the very heart of much of the world’s mental distress.’
     The only cure for this culturally induced mental illness is to awaken from our culturally acquired delusion so that we can grapple more effectively with our habitual mental afflictions. The process of adopting a Buddhist (or other wisdom traditions') view of human nature and the world around us is actually designed to induce a profound disillusionment with all mundane concerns. This has served as a motivating force for many Buddhists (& others) to take monastic ordination or devote themselves to a life of solitary contemplative practice. From the perspective of modern clinical psychology, such disillusionment and malaise could easily be diagnosed as clinical depression, calling for therapy, including drugs, to restore the renunciate to the Western ‘norm.’ In the United States, one fourth of the population has a diagnosable mental illness, and from a Buddhist (& others') perspective, even what passes for normal mental health looks more like mental illness – for which the only cure is a radical shift in one’s worldview, values, and way of life.
     William James is not alone in regarding Indian spiritual traditions as promoting a kind of pessimism and nihilism. But Buddhism, unlike modern psychology, proposes that mental afflictions are not innate to the human mind. They are rooted in ignorance and delusion, so they can be irreversibly dispelled through direct insight into the nature of reality. ... the essential purpose of sentient existence is to free ourselves from the fundamental causes of suffering ... by coming to know reality as it is.
     In stark contrast, the modern view of human nature is that we have evolved through natural selection in such a way that all our mental processes have survival value, including egotism, attachment, and hatred, despite the grief they bring us. They are intrinsic, inescapable features of the human mind; any attempt to defeat them could only be a futile and frustrating endeavor. Freud sums up the modern materialistic view by declaring that there is no possibility of achieving the goal of the absence of pain and displeasure and of experiencing lasting pleasure: ‘all the regulations of the universe run counter to it.’ From a Buddhist (or other wisdom traditions') perspective, the view that an individual’s consciousness terminates at death is utterly nihilistic, and the belief that there is no possibility of gaining freedom from suffering, except through personal annihilation, is deeply pessimistic and self-defeating.
     Within the Buddhist context, spiritual practice ... refers to a worldview, meditative practice, and way of life that lead to a lasting state of genuine happiness.”
       B. Alan Wallace. “Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic. A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice.” Columbia University Press, 2012.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Not Everyone is Ready to See Clearly

     “mindfulness concerns freeing oneself from misperceptions, thinking patterns, and self-imposed limitations that impede creativity, clear seeing, and optimal mental and physical health. ... every individual has the intrinsic capacity to be mindful, and with intention and practice, mindfulness can garner strength and stability. In this sense, the greatest potential of mindfulness may emerge when one consciously decides to pursue mindfulness not as just a ‘tool’ in the proverbial toolbox, but as a way of seeing oneself and the world, or a conscious way of being and interacting.” 
       Jeffrey Greeson, Eric L. Garland, David Black. “Mindfulness - A Transtherapeutic Approach for Transdiagnostic Mental Processes.” in Amanda Ie, Christelle T. Ngnoumen, Ellen J. Langer, eds.
 “The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness
.” John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

     “Even though we intellectually acknowledge the vulnerability of our body and our mortality, we find ourselves in denial, fear, and rejection of this truth. Even as we nod our heads in agreement with the reality of impermanence and the instability of conditions we cannot control, it is deeply challenging for us to live in the light of what we know. A world of distress is born of the ongoing argument we have with the unarguable. This argument is what we are invited to understand, deeply and profoundly. An awakened heart and an awakened life are lived in the light of what we know. Learning to release our arguments with the unarguable is the greatest act of compassion we can offer to ourselves and to the world.”

        Christina Feldman. “Boundless Heart. The Buddha’s Path of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity.” Shambhala, 2017.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

What is a Poem?

Suddenly I manifest in the world
of ‘10,000 joys & 10,000 sorrows.’ 
Strange parents, friends & acquaintances, 
all with unique perspectives, 
yet one common language – 
‘Hi, how are you? Nice day isn’t it?’

What is a poem?

What is a life?

      "When all the layers of false identity have been stripped off, there is no longer any version of that old self. What is left behind is pure consciousness." Anam Thubten

      "What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?" Thomas Merton

One of an infinite number of never-to-be-repeated moments