Thursday, February 29, 2024

Small separate self and Big Mind

     There are many ways of expressing "separate self": small self, narrative-self, ordinary mind, personal mind, pain body, egocentricity, noisy ego, fearful hurt child, etc. All of these reveal aspects of the common, and for many, the default self-concept / worldview. This worldview is fear-based; conflates survival of the ego with survival of the body; assumes we're all "alone in a competitive, hostile world" where one's external circumstances rigidly, mechanically determine quality of life; where perfect control of one's external environment means everything to the left-hemisphere-dominant mind. But since perfect control is never achievable, "ordinary unhappiness" is as good as it gets. Nevertheless, when anxiety, fear & unhappiness dominate, this ordinary mind rules - much like how during emergencies, the fight, flight, freeze instinct kicks in; and also like how during times of war, right-wing dictators find it easiest to cling to power.

    No one can tell you what awakening is. I could use a lot of words to describe what it’s like. I could say it’s kind of like wakening from a dream. Suddenly you’re not who you think you are. You are not the dream character, the person or personality that you’ve been playing all your life.” Dan Schmidt

    Nevertheless, "Big Mind" has been experienced & pointed towards in many ways & words, such as: Awakening, Awareness, true self, Self, Universal Consciousness, Source, Buddha nature, the Divine, high-plateau experience, enlightenment, Christ consciousness, God, Fundamental Wellbeing, Ongoing Non-Symbolic Experience, Juingong, etc. One of the better books describing how people - whom Martin calls "Finders"- from around the world have experienced this is: Dr. Jeffery A. Martin. “The Finders.” Integration Press, 2019

    “Every word, every image used for God is a distortion more than a description.” Anthony de Mello SJ

    "Another name for God is Surprise!"
Brother David Steindl-Rast

    “As soon as you look at the world through an ideology you are finished. No reality fits an ideology. Life is beyond that. … That is why people are always searching for a meaning to life… Meaning is only found when you go beyond meaning. Life only makes sense when you perceive it as mystery and it makes no sense to the conceptualizing mind.”
Anthony de Mello SJ

    Those who experience higher states of consciousness for sustained periods report extraordinary levels of wellbeing. Regardless of geographic location, ethnicity, spirituality / religiosity, education etc, there is remarkable similarity in "Finders'" descriptions. More & more such people are sharing their experiences in serious, in-depth interviews: and and and etc. 

     Finders “have moved past their moments of doubt & frustration. They have found exactly what everyone else has been seeking their entire life. For them, each moment feels perfectly okay at a deep & fundamental level, regardless of actual life circumstances. There individuals do not dwell on past regrets or glories, nor worries about future hopes & dreams. They live peacefully in the present, while everyone else around them seems intent on trying to escape it. They’ve not only found fulfillment but a deep & fundamental sense of wellbeing.” Dr. Jeffery A. Martin. “The Finders.” Integration Press, 2019.

    As soon as we notice that we're confused & suffering, as if we were alone, struggling to survive in a hostile world, Zen advises that we "take the backward step" and ask ourselves, "Who is confused? Who is suffering? Who is struggling?" This "self-inquiry" practice will increasingly serve to snap us out of the illusion of being this small "separate self" - the pawn in some cruel cosmic game, and back to our true self, ONE with everyone & everything, the Source, Universal Consciousness

    Gradually, as wellbeing becomes stabilized, Finders can opt to shift into a "quiet ego" ("doing mode") to perform certain practical tasks, then effortlessly return to Awareness ("being mode") again. As an aside, Iain McGilchrist's right-hemisphere dominance accommodates both of these (while left-hemisphere dominance is equivalent to "noisy ego" - much higher levels of self-centeredness). Martin's book is quite detailed, providing insight into Finders' profound qualitative change in perspective, self-concept & worldview after which they (other serious meditators, mystics & saints) say / write seemingly opaque, confusing & even paradoxical statements, such as this well-known unequivocal declaration:

    "All shall be well,
     and all shall be well,
     and all manner of things shall be well."
Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416) English Christian mystic

    Just as Bessel Van Der Kolk's excellent book, “The Body Keeps the Score. Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” helps us look back and understand self-compassionately, the effects of past traumas on our lives, Jeffery Martin's valuable book, "The Finders" helps us roughly locate where we are now on our spiritual journey and provides an important map for the joyful trails awaiting us.

        “But by my love and hope I beseech thee:
         cast not away the hero in thy soul!
         Keep sacred thy highest hope!            
Friedrich Nietzsche “Thus spoke Zarathustra”


Molly Hahn

Friday, February 23, 2024

Who Am I? - Really!

     Most of us assume that our identity is defined exclusively by: our name, age, body, family of origin, education, job, successes, failures, illnesses, ups & downs - ie "the story" about us that we keep telling ourselves & others. We've become habituated to an almost continuous level of self-concern - anxiety & fear about our comfort & survival as if alone in a hostile world.

     One of the foremost experts in PTSD wrote: “If you feel safe & loved, your brain (is) specialized in exploration, play, & cooperation; if you are frightened & unwanted, it (is) specialized in managing feelings of fear & abandonment." Bessel Van Der Kolk. “The Body Keeps the Score. Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” Penguin Books, 2015.     

    But what Van Der Kolk observed after severe trauma - preoccupation with managing fear, anxiety & unworthiness - is now almost ubiquitous in our society. This widespread unbalanced mindset, self-concept & worldview is what Iain McGilchrist has been studying, researching, writing & lecturing about for the past 30 years. He's found that our anxious self-concern activates & keeps us in left-hemisphere-dominant thinking WHICH overrides our much wiser, more balanced right-hemisphere-dominant perspective. Our current, as well as 3 previous global crises, arose due to left-hemisphere-dominant thinking.

     Below is part of a recent interview with Iain McGilchrist MD, PhD about his perspective on the huge problems we face, based on his extensive studies & research findings, described in 2 monumental, critically-acclaimed books: "The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World" in 2019, and "The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World" in 2021. Here's a greatly abbreviated snapshot of, imho, his extremely important work:

    “I see my work as essentially philosophy rather than something about the brain, but I think the divorce between philosophy and science has been a disaster for both parties, and I want to try and bring them together a bit in a way that I think could be helpful.
    Just a little bit about my progress or lack of it. I started off wanting to study philosophy and theology at university. I thought I would probably be ordained and go into a monastic order. But I discovered during the three years I was at Oxford that I wasn’t a very good candidate for monastic life. It wouldn’t have been good for me, and it wouldn’t have been good for the monastery.
    So that was ditched, and I got a fellowship which allowed me to explore all sorts of things. And I had a problem about the academic study of literature, because people took something that somebody had written in the past, that had great meaning, and that they had left to communicate something to us, and instead, we sat in the seminar room and took it apart. The piece of literature had its value because it was unique. The message was embodied and also implicit, not explicit. When you made it explicit, you lost the point completely, like explaining a joke. And in the seminar room we turned this implicit, embodied, unique thing into something that was explicit, disembodied & with a message you could find anywhere. And that led me to write my first book, ‘Against Criticism,’ and I decided that what I needed to do is to find out more about the mind-body problem, because it seemed to me we were just too disembodied. I spent a lot of time in philosophy seminars on the mind-body problem, but it just seemed to me that the philosophers were far too disembodied in their approach.
    And around that time, Oliver Sacks had written a book called ‘Awakenings’ which I thought was very important. And he did two very wonderful things there, he went into individual cases in great detail, in order to show general points. This is a Goethean phenomenon. One of Goethe’s most important philosophical contributions is the idea that you don’t find the general by turning your back on the particular or the individual, but by going deeper into the particular in the individual. And he also seemed to me to be talking about what happened when the mind and body interacted in an odd way and something happened to the body and it changed the mind, or something happened in the mind and it had effects on the body. And the only way to know more about this was to study medicine, and so I did.
    And when I had qualified in medicine and was working at the Maudsley Hospital in London, which is probably the foremost psychiatric hospital in Britain, I heard a lecture one day by a colleague (John Cutting, whom I considered the most interesting living psychiatrist) who’d been studying the right hemisphere of the brain. It had never been my intention to study it, but he had done what lots of neurologists hadn’t done, which is to sit at the bedside of people who had had strokes, tumors or other injuries to the right hemisphere of the brain, and discovered that actually their consequences of this were more devastating for their ability to understand themselves, the world, or what was going on around them than a left hemisphere stroke, even though the left hemisphere most commonly made it difficult for them to use their right hand, to write, and to use language. So this was fascinating.
    And he told me in this lecture certain things that were based on a book, which was published by Oxford University press called, ‘The Right Cerebral Hemisphere and Psychiatric Disorders.’ He told me certain things that explained to me that the right hemisphere alone, really understands a unique case; that the left hemisphere has already taken whatever it is into a category, put it into a box, made it a representative of something rather than something unique in its own right. Also that the right hemisphere understood implicit meaning, irony, humor, metaphor, poetry, ritual, body language, facial expressions, the tone of voice, but the left hemisphere didn’t. It was more like a computer taking a book of syntax rules and semantics, and dictionary, and working out what people meant. And the third thing was that the right hemisphere was much more in touch with the body; the left hemisphere was effectively less so. I have to cut corners here enormously, but just to give you an idea which I think helps to explain why I ended up in this area.
    I went up to him afterwards and said this is very interesting, and I told him about the book I’d written about the philosophy of literature, and he wanted to read that. And that started a working relationship in which we researched hemisphere differences together. And I knew very, very well that this was a very risky thing to do. But I’ve got a perverse streak in me that if I think that there’s something here that’s really important, I’m not put off by people who say, ‘Oh that’s all rubbish. The thing about their brain hemispheres, it’s all been exploded. It’s all nonsense. It’s all pop psychology.’ Everyone warned me, ‘Don’t go into this.’ But of course it was true that what we then believed was wrong, but it didn’t mean that there were no differences, and the differences were fascinating. And it was the next 20 years of research, including neuroimaging at John Hopkins, & acquainting myself with the literature, & examining patients that led me to understand these hemisphere differences.
    And so these experiences were as an adjunct to a philosophical question about how we see the world, and what are the effective differences. I can put this as quickly as I can. For reasons of survival, all living creatures have to do 2 incompatible things at once. They have to be able to focus their attention on a detail so as to get it, and grab it, and eat it, or pick it up and use it, faster than anyone else, accurately. So a very clearly targeted, narrow beam of attention needs to be paid. But, if that’s the only attention you pay, then you don’t see the predators, you don’t see your kin, your conspecifics (organisms belonging to the same species), you just don’t understand where you are and you will not survive.
    So all the neural networks that we know, all the creatures, not just humans, but all the way down through mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, insects, everything that we know seem to have at least two centers of attention, dedicated to these two differences. And we think this goes back very anciently from examining fossils of trilobites and the most ancient living creature still extent ... And it’s already asymmetrical.
    So there’s something very, very important about different attention. Effectively, if you pay attention to the world in one way, you will see one thing, and if you pay a different kind of attention, you will see another. One of the things I would say is that attention changes the world. It actually makes the world that we experience – the only world that we can possibly know – different. And it also makes us different, because if we pay a certain kind of attention, we can become alienated from the world OR we can become connected with the world, for a start.

    What do these two kinds of attention result in in phenomenological terms? Well, the left hemisphere’s attention builds up a picture of a world that is made of isolated fragments that have no context and don’t mean anything until they’re put together by us. We arrange them, and we probably put them in a little category. The left hemisphere is very keen on putting things in a little box where they all belong together. And so you have a world which is simply made of fragments. The fragments are static. They’re frozen by this gorgon-like stare of the left hemisphere to capture it. (in Greek mythology, the Gorgons were 3 monstrous sisters with snakes for hair who could turn someone to stone just by looking at them). And they have no particular meaning for us. We are not connected with them. We are very distant from these things because we’re observing them and ready to attack them. And they have no sort of implicit meaning or connection with other things.
    Whereas the right hemisphere sees a world in which everything is flowing, changing all the time, in which everything is ultimately connected to everything else. Nothing is ever completely isolated. And that when you take something out of its context, you radically change what it is, completely change it. You can in fact reverse the take, or the meaning, or the impact of what it is you’re looking at by decontextualizing it.
    So these 2 ways of looking at the world are in a way both necessary. They both have a use. BUT they have contradictory effects. And what I began to see was that in the world we live in, we ONLY use the left hemisphere’s kind of attention.

    When I was in Baltimore at the Johns Hopkins Hospital I was imaging brains and looking at the abnormal asymmetry in the brains of people with schizophrenia. There is a normal symmetry in the brain that is absolutely normal – the brain is bigger at the front on the right, and bigger at the back on the left. But in schizophrenia, it’s often reversed or absent. And we think that is connected with the phenomena of the illness. While I was there, I got a message from my colleague John Cutting to say that there was a fascinating book ... called, ‘Madness and Modernism’ by Louis Sass, a psychologist at Rutgers in New York. What he showed was that in the modern period, people thought that their poetry, their stories, their paintings above all, & even their music, showed an aspect of something that was like what happens in schizophrenia. And in schizophrenia the world makes no sense. Things are no longer coherent. And he points to about 25 different phenomena that are seen in schizophrenia, but are also replicated in the last hundred years of philosophy, literature & art. I thought that this was absolutely fascinating. It’s a brilliant book and very well written. It may sound rather glib, but it isn’t. It’s extremely thorough and well thought through.
    And I began to think, if that’s happening now, we can’t all be getting schizophrenia, but I had already discovered that people with schizophrenia are very like people with a left hemisphere in overdrive and a right hemisphere that is not functioning properly. And again, I haven’t got time to go into that. But that led me to think, what’s happening now is that we are not listening to what our right hemisphere tells us, only to what our left hemisphere tells us
    And then I thought, maybe there were other times in history when the balance was better. And I found in short that three times over Western history, starting with the Greeks and working forwards to post-modernism, there have been three times when a flourishing society began to drift more & more to the take of the left hemisphere before collapsing. So that is quite relevant for us, because I believe we’re in that terminal phase now, unless we wake up and see what it is we’re doing. It’s not enough to have a list of things to do, because if we don’t change in our heart & our mind, if we don’t change the whole way we look at the world, we can’t survive. That in an incredibly brief & simple way, is to try and explain why I think this subject is important.”

Interviewer: “The way you describe it now, and in your books, really shows how our technological relationship to reality, what defines modernism, and also the kind of effectiveness of modernism, and the particularity of modernism, is very much related to the phenomena described with the left hemisphere of the brain. And ... that our crises may be related to the one-sidedness of our culture. …”

    The central thing is to do with values, because the value of the left hemisphere is in getting things, grabbing things, possessing things, having power over them, having control, and all the rest. It sees this tiny thing. It’s dedicated to something it already knows at once.
    But all the rest, the uncommitted attention to the whole, is yielded by the right hemisphere. And I sometimes put it like this, that the left hemisphere helps us apprehend the world, … whereas the right hemisphere helps us to comprehend the world, which is really to hold it together, perhaps to Big Life, but it’s a bit more than that. … This is the difference between them in their values, and so there’s something addictive about the left hemisphere, because it gives you power, it gives you control. Technology is the tool of the left hemisphere. But the important thing about technology is it’s neither good nor bad, it depends on the wisdom of the person who’s wielding it. And wisdom is what we’re leaving out of this picture. The right hemisphere is wise, and sees a lot. The left hemisphere is relatively ignorant, so it sees literally less than the right hemisphere, understands much less and doesn’t see the need for what the right hemisphere knows.
    Whereas the right hemisphere seeing more, knows that its knowledge is limited, & knows that it needs the left hemisphere. So they have an unfortunate inequality, in which the one that should be in control – the right hemisphere, the master as I call it, the one that can see where we need to go, that can exert wisdom, isn’t in control. Instead, we’re driven by the desire for stuff, for acquisition, for power, for control which is the left hemisphere’s raison d'ĂȘtre.

The Brain, the Sacred and the Soul - Iain McGilchrist & Thomas Steininger of Evolve

     So when we're finally fed up with "the story of me," and are ready & courageous enough to experience who we really are, who has been witnessing all the changes over this lifetime of ours, who has been consistently aware of all the changes taking place in that mirror of ours, start meditating in earnest, including "open questioning" or "self-inquiry," and instead of being ruled by fear & aggression, loving wisdom will guide us.

Excellent 25-minute (from 11:50 to 37:00) Guided Self-Inquiry Meditation by Helen Hamilton: (see below)

Ramana Maharshi. "How to Practice Self Inquiry." 2014.

Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel. “The Power of an Open Question. The Buddha's Path to Freedom." Shambhala, 2011.


Friday, February 16, 2024

The BIG Picture

    Many of us are wrapped-up & lost in the details of our personal life - 'the story of me.' Naturally, we all want happiness, but our experience tells us that happiness is fleeting. Keeping our attention on our own relatively minor personal concerns at least distracts us from the great global human-caused problems we now face.
    Many remain dubious about, even disinterested in the BIG PICTURE - why we're here, what we're doing, or where we're going. We're disoriented, lost without a map - almost as if we've been plucked out from the fabric of real life & as some movie fans propose, locked into "the Matrix."

    When we are narrowly focused on surviving as if we were alone, in a harsh, meaningless world, we actually bring about suffering, and can only perceive a harsh, meaningless world. Our present oddly cynical, fearful, narrowly-self-centered culture makes it challenging even to consider the BIG PICTURE. No wonder more & more nations are democratically electing "strong-men" (dictators) to rule, and then allow them to become "president for life." Rest in peace Alexei Navalny.

    "Every nation gets the government it deserves." Joseph de Maistre

     IF we have the wisdom, courage & spaciousness to be connected to the BIG PICTURE, feeling intimately connected to other people & Nature in a loving, nurturing way, we CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER.

    Fortunately respected scholars, researchers & increasingly others are becoming deeply interested in & open to the BIG PICTURE, integrating the direct experience of ancient wisdom traditions with research data of modern science :

    "The author Frank White conducted interviews with a range of astronauts. Based on his findings, he coined the term ‘overview effect’ to describe the paradigm shift in consciousness that many of them reported when they viewed the Earth from space. The most dramatic was that of Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon. In 1971, two days into his homeward flight, he was lying in the console of Apollo 14, monitoring the spacecraft’s systems & peacefully contemplating the scene through the small capsule window. Because there is no atmosphere in space, almost ten times more stars are visible to the naked eye than on Earth. As the craft rotated, multitudes of stars and planets, including Earth, tumbled in and out of his view. He had a wondrous sense of ‘being swaddled in the cosmos.’ He felt tranquil & relaxed, safe after his foray on the unforgiving surface of the moon. Then, without warning, something happened that would change the course of his life.
    ‘Somehow I felt tuned into something much larger than myself,’ he writes, ‘something much larger than the planet in the window. Something incomprehensibly big. Even today, the perceptions still baffle me … looking beyond the Earth itself to the magnificence of the larger scene, there was a startling recognition that the nature of the universe was not as I had been taught. My understanding of the separate distinctiveness and the relative independence of movement of those cosmic bodies was shattered. There was an upwelling of fresh insight coupled with a feeling of ubiquitous harmony – a sense of interconnectedness with the celestial bodies surrounding our spacecraft. … I was part of a larger process than I’d previously understood, one that was all around me in this command module as it sped towards Earth through 240,000 miles of empty black space.’"

    Maria Coffey. “Explorers of the Infinite. The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes – and What They Reveal About Near-Death Experiences, Psychic Communications, and Touching the Beyond.” Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2008. EXCEPTIONAL BOOK!

    Rupert Sheldrake PhD    “One of the most obvious findings of research on the effects of psychedelics on the brain is that psychedelics shut down the default mode network – those regions of the brain that are linked together that are concerned with mental chatter, discursive thoughts & the internal dialogue. And as soon as that’s shut down, you become much more present. They also lead to connections between different brain regions that wouldn’t normally be connected. It’s not very surprising really if one’s had these experiences where very unusual things can happen.
    More recently, there have been a lot of studies on the therapeutic use of psychoactive substances, for example psilocybin & its effects on chronic long-term depression & on addiction. What’s interesting about these studies is that it’s not the drug itself working at the purely chemical level that’s helping people. And they’re much more effective at relieving long-term depression than any of the standard anti-depressants or talk-therapies. It’s not the drug itself, it’s the experience it induces – it’s really that sense of being connected to a greater consciousness – a kind of mystical insight that changes people. Some chemical companies say they’re going to try and make versions of these drugs that don’t have these ‘undesirable effects’ of visionary states, mystical union, etc, ‘just stick to chemicals.’ But I think if they do that, they’re almost doomed to failure, because it’s the experience which is what changes people. And sometimes people who’ve been depressed for 25 years, resistant to all known forms of therapy, after a couple of experiences with psilocybin, together with a therapist helping them integrate this, have proved much more effective than any other treatment at changing their state.
the usual interpretation of mystical experiences is not that our brain produces these experiences, it’s that they’re always there, available to us, but we normally block them out [[[by the Default Mode Network]]] because we’re so busy worrying about all the things we worry about, obsessed with our preferences and so on, so we block them out. But if we shut down the bits of the brain that block them out [[[Default Mode Network]]], then they can come through. So I personally prefer the idea that there are experiences coming through, and the effect on the brain is really to permit these experiences to come through, rather than blocking them out through our 'normal' mental activities [[[repetitive self-centered chatter]]].
    Of course with peoples’ world views, you can’t in the end persuade them just through logic, I mean it’s really experience that will have to tell us which is true in the end.
    What I find perverse about the materialist point of view is that it claims to be based on science, reason & empirical evidence. Empirical evidence means literally the evidence of experience. The Greek word empirical means experience
    So if you’re going to have empirical evidence about consciousness, it has to be based on conscious experience. And to dismiss conscious experience in favor of an ideology – that says it’s all about molecules, & consciousness doesn’t do anything, it's just an epiphenomenon of the brain, or an illusion produced by brain activity – seems to me utterly perverse & deeply anti-empirical.”

    Rupert Sheldrake "Psychedelics and Consciousness, University of Sussex"

    Iain McGilchrist MD, PhD    “I’ve become more & more convinced, that none of the things that we desperately need to do to solve, the various problems that we face and that we talk about a great deal, none of this in the end will matter unless we are able to get back to the spiritual ground of our being. In other words, by some sort of a miracle we could reverse the pollution of the seas, we could perhaps do something to at least slow climate change, we could make it harder for people to carry on felling ancient forests. All this I believe in powerfully, but I also think that none of it will add up to a hill of beans unless we re-engage with the spiritual basis of human life.
    I don’t think we any longer know what it is to be a human being. I think people haven’t got the foggiest idea what they’re doing here, what the cosmos in which they come into being is like, and what their relationship with the Earth that is their home is like
the new book I wrote, “The Matter with Things,” I suggest first of all, that many of the ways in which we look at the constitution of the cosmos are upside down or back-to-front. So, in other words we tend to think for example that, first of all there are things, and then there are relations between them, some of which we make in our minds, and that’s the way it is. Whereas I argue throughout a very long book that, in fact relations are absolutely primary. There is nothing that truly exists that is not a relation, and is not in fact in process, as Whitehead pointed out.
in other words, relations & processes are primary, not places & things. And I also believe that for example, it’s not that there’s literal truth, and that’s the really important thing, and metaphorical truths are just some kind of semi-imaginary extension of literal truth. In fact I believe that all fundamental truths are metaphorical in nature, and that literal truth is just a very special kind that we’ve invented to describe a small subset of things that occur at a very everyday level.
for the purposes of what we’re talking about now, I want to suggest that it’s not that somehow there is inanimacy and then there is life, and then there is consciousness, and then there is a sense of the great values: goodness, beauty, truth and the sacred. I think it’s the other way around, that what actually exists fundamentally, is a field of consciousness which is divine, which has the qualities of attending to & drawing us towards goodness, beauty & truth, and the sense of the holy & sacred, and that it’s for this that we’ve developed our complexity as human beings, since we are not better than animals, but we are in this sense, above them that we can hope to respond to, to receive, to resonate with, and to give a full & fulfilling response to those leading values that draw us forward."

    Rupert Sheldrake PhD     I think of it in a very similar way, and so do most people in the world for that matter. We in Western Europe live in a particularly Godless part of the world. But it’s not quite the same if you go to Africa, India, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, or many other parts of the world. Most people in the world are religious. And this kind of secular, humanist, atheist-tinted culture that we have is a historical anomaly. Most people were religious in Europe. As Charles Taylor in his wonderful book, ‘A Secular Age’ points out, in the year 1500 in Europe, everyone believed in God. Everyone believed in the kind of vision you’ve just put forward. It was almost impossible not to, not because people were coerced into believing that, but because there was just no credible alternative.
    And what’s happened is through the growth of first through the Protestant Reformation, and the disenchantment of the world that happened in part through the Protestant Reformation, a lack of emphasis on Nature, a focus entirely on human consciousness, and then through the Scientific Revolution – the mechanistic materialistic worldview that’s grown out of it, we now have this very secular world where people think that evolution & life starts from the bottom up – from molecules, genes & cells and everything builds up until you’ve got big enough brains where the light of consciousness mysteriously comes on, and then we start thinking about bigger things like God, but they’re just inventions inside our own minds, and hence inside our own brains, and you’d be able to tell us exactly where.
    This is what you & I are discussing, and what in fact the whole scientific medical network has been concerned with right from the start is trying to find a way back to a world view that is still consonant with science, because science isn’t going to go away, and we’ve learned a great many things about nature through the scientific process, but to recover a sense of this connection which is actually there in all traditions. Shamanic traditions all just assume that there are realms beyond, that what we see is not all there is. And as my main teacher, Father Bede Griffiths used to point out that the center of all religious & spiritual culture is a direct experience of our minds, our consciousness, being a part of something vastly greater than ourselves. And as he pointed out, all religions start from that experience. It’s not a dogma, it’s an experiencea central experience of unity, and then it’s interpreted in different cultures, in different traditions, different languages, different interpretations of this primary unitive experience. This sense of ultimate unity which are interpreted in all these different cultural ways. But that is the central foundation of all these religious traditions.
    And as far as we know, this intuition that we’re part of something greater than ourselves is very ancient. All these cave paintings from 20, 30, 40 thousand years ago, the practice of burying the dead, dealing with the dead in a ritual way, and so on, all these things suggest that this has been part of human consciousness for a very, very long time. No doubt the forms have changed, and the development of the great religions has put a more unifying aspect on these insights, but it seems to me that it’s been foundational to human life throughout almost all human history, with the brief anomaly of Western Europe & parts of North America, in the last 150 years.”
    Dr Iain McGilchrist & Dr Rupert Sheldrake - Intersection of Consciousness and Matter


Rumi quote - artist: Molly Hahn

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Beyond Fear

    Most of us like to have some control over our lives - some freedom. To actually exercise this freedom, we need courage. Fear can block all of this. Fear can keep us stuck as if in quicksand - for lengthy periods, even for life

    Caution is entirely reasonable. Climbing into a shopping cart on a city street, on top of a steep hill, then riding it down to see what happens is guaranteed to result in severe injury, pain or death.
sports are far less ridiculous, yet offer transcendence: Maria Coffey. “Explorers of the Infinite. The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes – and What They Reveal About Near-Death Experiences, Psychic Communications, and Touching the Beyond.” 2008. My blogs quoting this SUPERB book:

    Mercifully, deep spiritual practices eg deep meditation, are the safest, most tried-and-true paths by which seekers have, for thousands of years, attained transcendence - gone beyond ordinary limitations. ... a spiritual or religious state or condition of moving beyond physical needs & realities.
height of spiritual transcendence is described as a state of continuous, unshakable peace, joy, love & oneness that is independent of external circumstances
    Again mercifully, regular meditation practice gradually brings about progressive felt improvements in our life reassuring us that we are indeed making progress along this well-trodden path.

    “The voice of the intelligence is drowned out by the roar of fear. It is ignored by the voice of desire. It is contradicted by the voice of shame. It is biased by hate and extinguished by anger. Most of all it is silenced by ignorance. Karl A. Menninger MD, psychiatrist

    The advice to 'be curious,' and instead of avoiding, to 'lean into challenges' cannot be overemphasized.
process of facing fears is called exposure. Exposure therapy involves gradually & repeatedly exposing patients to feared situations until they feel less anxious. After a while, anxiety naturally lessens.
    Meditation is a form of exposure therapy. Our basic fear is honestly meeting & being intimate with ‘the other’ - our Self, people, animals, environment, life itself.
We use gentle mindfulness practices to slowly ease ourselves back into intimacy with ourselves & others. 

    Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” Helen Keller

    All of life is exposure therapy - if we allow it. It is well-known that people who suffer from anxiety are most anxious about being anxious; those who suffer from depression, are depressed about being depressed. Can we be less afraid of our fear? Can we take all of our neuroses far less seriously, less personally?

     “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” Thich Nhat Hanh

    “Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.”
W. Clement Stone

    “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”
Louisa May Alcott

    With loving awareness we do what is appropriate, which is always nurturing whoever & whatever is around us, so that we may all flourish. We must FIRST learn to let go of fearfully obsessing over 'me, myself & I.'
is a far more profound step than can be accomplished by a guilt-tripping sermon to stop being so selfish & self-centered. It requires a qualitative shift in consciousness: Dr. Jeffery A. Martin. “The Finders.” Integration Press, 2019. My blog on this PROFOUND book : .

    “What is fear of living? It’s being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity & spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself – for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.”
Maya Angelou

“See how we are called to not run from the discomfort,
and not
run from the grief or the feelings of outrage
or even fear.
If we can be fearless to be with our pain, it turns.
It doesn’t stay.
It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it.
When we look at it, when we take it in our hands,
when we can just be with it,
when we keep breathing, then it turns.
It turns to reveal its other face.
And the other face of our pain for the world
is our love for the world.
Our absolutely inseparable connectedness
with all life.”
Joanna Macy 

    Love cures people – both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.” Karl A. Menninger MD, psychiatrist

    “… one of the experiences people have on (meditation) retreats is a very intimate experience with the breath, with the body, with emotions, because there’s no separation. That’s kind of the essence of intimacy: nonseparation. It’s just oneself getting out of the way. The Chinese poet Li Po ended a poem with these words: ‘We live together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.’ So that’s kind of meditative. When we take ourselves out of the picture, then all that’s left is everything. To me, that is the definition of intimacy.” Joseph Goldstein

Artist: Molly Hahn