In last month’s post I wrote about believing in a consensus reality with a personal me located at the center of experiencing. We’re wired in this centric way to survive, so lets go a bit further into how we are programmed and addicted to this imaginary self we believe ourselves to be. For as long as we are addicted to beliefs about being separate we will not realize this aware presence we already are.
The bottom line is we just don’t exist the way we believe we do – the way well meaning parents, teachers, scientists, mentors, leaders, and most spiritual teachers and traditions teach and tell us. It’s as though this belief in separate selves, subjects and objects, and forms is a scientifically proven fact and not simply consensus.
Can I Improve?
Have you ever wondered why humans believe it’s possible to improve, to be a better, or more spiritual, more conscious, or a more aware person than we are this moment? This question was helpful in my inquiry practice. Once we begin unraveling this need or desire – to – be – better – thread, we may eventually, at the end of the thread, find ourselves naked and illusory, but only if we are fierce, diligent, and deeply committed to seeing the workings and ways and beyond the mental stream. And as long as we attempt to better our self, enhance it, release it, open it, cull it, or in anyway polish it…we’re just chasing our tails as my friend Bill says. Truth shines perfectly as this moment…as you and not you, as me and not me, as form and not form, but we cannot see this perfection for all the “concrete” and mental programming and habits of thinking.
Truly, we cannot GAIN anything if that is what we are seeking on the path to Truth. Again, we don’t exist the way we believe we do. From my direct experience, we can only jackhammer all the mental cement blocking our perceptions of what we are seeing, and what we already are.
Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Here is a quick experiment that really helped me. If you like experiments then I also recommend the Douglas Harding’s headless experiments. Stop reading now and go gaze at a mirror….and then come back to this post and keep reading 🙂
What you are seeing and perceiving in the mirror is the emptiness momentarily appearing as form, as perfection, as aware presence, this moment. And you’ve likely labeled this reflection in the mirror as a “me” with all it’s stories and programming. And your brain continues on auto-pilot spewing the tired old labels and stories of a “me” “in a body” “a male or female” “a seeker” “feeling anxious” “feeling desperate” all these mental comments (beliefs) are programmed and firing within the brain at warp speed.
You likely know that these beliefs veil this aware presence…all the while you are simply looking (or glaring) at the mirror. And remember, all this story-telling in our heads is taking place those few nanoseconds we are noticing a reflection in the mirror. The brain automatically draws a split second conclusion that it already knows what it is seeing based on the past perceptions that are stored in the brain.
But knowing intellectually about the brain’s antics and completely disregarding and ignoring these antics, these mental programs and beliefs, is another matter all together. This is one more reason why I found meditation so helpful in spotting the stories and beliefs. The brain is doing what it does, it comments, judges, compares, and takes inventory every single waking moment. I’ve learned lately while we sleep at night our brains are quite busy organizing, rebooting, and cleaning the neural pathways. Read, if you are interested, these short articles about the brain from Scientific American here, here, and here.
Without question, meditating, inquiring, and observing how the brain functions and creates stories and concepts about me and my life has been, by far, the hardest work I’ve ever endured. With meditation practice, I slowly seemed to gain some measure of distance between the thoughts and the illusory thinker and learned to ignore the flow of thoughts as the brain and it’s mental processes run their programs. This work took me decades to uncover some basic inner peace, and I was not seeking to become awakened or enlightened at that time, in fact, I did not hear or know of such a possibility until 1989 when I began studying A Course in Miracles. This study entirely changed the way I was seeing and thinking and helped me as I was seeking the end of misery and suffering from anxiety, agoraphobia, and panic disorders. Here is a good article about the brain benefits of meditation.
Gently Hit the Concrete
At this point, I’d like to add that a good measure of compassion is necessary, in my experience, for how deeply programmed we are and how we suffer because we believe the thoughts racing through our heads. I also feel it helps to cultivate some slight amusement mixed with sadness at how easily we are duped and confused. This ability to take our suffering a bit more lightly will also help us loosen the concrete that glues our identity so tightly. When we glimpse (I feel this is something akin to Grace offering a peek behind the curtain) how deeply in mental and intellectual bondage we are – then the difficult work begins.
And gratitude, I have found, is one of the keys that also helps the cement lose its hold on us. Surrender is another. When we are holding zero resistance for all of life, all pain, the misery, the incessant suffering, the despair, then we have a bit more evidence that the cement is beginning to shift and loosen. Suffering, fear, confusion, anxiety, pain, illness, they all appear – but not to a personal or separate me or you. These emotions and states are just passing through just like peace, joy, and hunger pass though. These physical and emotional appearances are simply the body’s amazing biological and chemical processes on display. It is what it is.
I’ve also found that addiction to a personal self and to physical form (the world) is THE most powerful addiction there is. I’m a recovering alcoholic with multiple addictions. Dismantling my beliefs and dependence on a personal self was much harder work for me than acknowledging and treating a chemical/substance addiction. With any addiction, our brains, neurochemistry, and bodies are out of whack along with our perceptions.
Addicts like me believe their distorted stories and programming influenced by the toxins we’ve ingested. Our brains are not operating at a healthy level so we’re attempting to heal a physical, mental, and emotional addiction to a substance using a sick brain. Over time, these warped and unchallenged beliefs, along with the damage we do to our bodies, changes our brain chemistry and the biology of the body to the point that the stage is set for protracted and deadly addiction. Our brains are literally sick and addicted from the chemical toxins we ingest through our mouths, noses, lungs, and in and on our bodies. And now I see that sugar in all forms is more addictive than cocaine. I miss ice cream in a big way.
Honoring the Messenger
Surely you notice the incessant streaming of thoughts…judgments, commentaries, descriptions and opinions that arise each moment inside your head? Killing this thought stream – the brain/the thought stream – will not work – for you cannot kill the flow of what is appearing. This incessant flow is the divinity, the grace, the perfection of what is. Let’s honor the flow, the stream, even as we explore it and see how we have mistaken what it is and judged it as good or bad.
That being said, investigating, inquiring, and meditating seems to work – it worked for me to uncover the illusory personal self. Turning the head, so to speak, and disregarding the thought stream is the beginning of peace. This mean disregarding all of the thought stream, all the mental processes, regardless if they are labeled or judged as positive, negative, or neutral.
It really all boils down to this: be here now as this present moment. There is nothing to hang your hat on as there is no permanence, no time, no distance. There is no solid ground upon which to linger…there is nothing behind you nor in front of you, there is only this brief, sacred, precious appearance, this breath, and then…Poof! What is.. is precious and a mystery.
So what is the mind and where is it located? Can it be located? Have you ever known anyone to find a mind and place it on an exam table? Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson along with neurologist Dr. Richard Mendius scientifically describe the illusory nature of a fixed, permanent, separate self in the book The Practical Neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain. These behavioral and brain specialists compare the separate self to a unicorn, a truly fictional character, “…as the brain strings together moments of selfing and subjectivity into an illusion of homogenous coherence and continuity.”
Dr. Sunil Pandya, a neurosurgeon and thinker on medical ethics, summarizes the scientific aspects of the mysterious relationship between the mind and brain and how this mystery persists, even with each technological advancement. For deeper reading about the mind, this excellent research paper by Dr. Pandya provides a medical/scientific take on the mind as well as a philosophical and spiritual perspective.
In short, Dr. Pandya indicates there is “a clear connection between mental functions as we understand them (‘mind’) and the structure that produces it (brain).” Dr. Pandya’s paper goes on to report “the mind… is a virtual entity, one that reflects the workings of the neural networks, chemical, and hormonal systems in our brain.”
Further, Dr. Pandya reports “The mind cannot be localized to particular areas within the brain, though the entire cerebral cortex and deep grey matter form important components. Consciousness, perception, behavior, intelligence, language, motivation, drive, the urge to excel and reasoning of the most complex kind are the product of the extensive and complex linkages between the different parts of the brain.”
For most of us, we use the word mind as a general term for the process of thinking, the thought stream, and perceiving while most scientists and doctors refer to the mind as entirely the workings of the brain.
Some of us use mind to mean the same as thought and thinking and the way we seem to talk to ourselves and use phrases like these:
“living inside your head”
“making up your mind”
“changing your mind”
“are ya outta your mind?”
Most of us also want to believe the “mind” is personal and private to a “me” and that no one else can ever know what is “on our mind” or what we’re thinking.
Summary Brain Keywords
Let’s get really simple and basic here and look more deeply now into the inner workings of the amazing brain. Being a predominately right-brain human, I wanted a simple and basic understanding of my brain so I created a listing of brain functioning keywords so I could better understand how my brain is wired. I used this information in meditation and self-inquiry as I investigated what creates the sense of a personal and separate me, as Anita. I offer you these simple brain notes just in case you were also asleep or passing notes in anatomy class.
The brain’s left and right hemispheres communicate through a thick band of 200-250 million nerve fibers called the corpus callosum.
Brain – Right Hemisphere Keywords
- Openness, enthusiasm
- Big Picture
- Facial recognition
- Perceives longer wavelengths of light
- Visual field softens to see boundary-less energy
- Fluid movement/kinesthetic
- Perceives slower frequencies of sounds
- Perceives body sounds
- New possibilities, openness
- Embraces what is appearing
- Free from perceptual boundaries
- Disregards past and future
- Disregards rules, norms, mores
- Controls left side of body
- The ocean as a metaphor
Brain – Left Hemisphere – Keywords
- Ego Center
- Analytic – commenting/analyzing/chattering
- Reminds me I am me
- Details, organizes, analyzes, memorizes
- Language – based
- Perceives shorter wavelengths of light and discerns space between energy packets
- Visual field narrows to gather details
- Perceives higher frequency sound waves and discerns and interprets verbal patterns creating/memorizing
- Weaves stories from memory banks and makes up details to fill in the blanks of actual data inputs
- Creates boundaries distinctions, categories
- Judges, worries, ruminates
- Calculates constantly
- Identity – reinforcing the (illusory) separate self
- Focused on the external world
- Draws conclusions from minimal inputs
- What I know and what I believe I know
- “What if”
- Controls right side of body
- Wave in the ocean as a metaphor
Here is my Reading List for Learning about the Brain:
Mind Time – Temporal Factor in Consciousness – Benjamin Libet, Ph.D.
Thoughts Without a Thinker – Mark Epstein, M.D.
Molecules of Emotion – Candace Pert, Ph.D.
Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.
An Alchemy of Mind – Diane Ackerman
Minding the Body, Mending the Mind – Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.
Why Isn’t My Brain Working? – Datis Kharrazian, D.H.Sc., DC, M.S.
The Seven Mysteries of Life – Guy Murchie
Thinking in Pictures – Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
The Volitional Brain – Benjamin Libet, Ph.D. Anthony Freeman, Ph.D., and Keith Sutherland, Ph.D.
Buddha’s Brain – Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Richard Mendius, M.D.
Toward a Psychology of Awakening – John Welwood, Ph.D.
The Body Electric – Robert O. Becker, M.D., and Gary Selden
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain
The good news is that personal suffering is optional. This is not to say that suffering doesn’t happen to me anymore. It surely does as all human emotions and feelings flow through this body and brain like water trickling down and dripping off the end of a melting icicle. Now there is no longer a personal Anita believing this suffering is specific to her personal life.
Now I see that suffering is just as pure, perfect, and holy as joy, peace, intuition, and creativity. There is no longer any psychological or emotional suffering. Thoughts and stories no longer shout and vibrate personal commentaries that judge, compare, evaluate, and claim any ownership or need to define, explain, nor defend what is appearing. All appearances are seen as holy, complete, and perfect as they are and even the seemingly unpleasant ones are met with compassion.
The thought stream still rolls across the mental processes of this brain/body as before, but now the steam is blessedly more like a gentle trickle than the tsunami that swallowed and terrorized me because I believed all those thoughts were personal to Anita. I’ve endured thousands of panic attacks, multiple phobias, and many intense fears of what life might bring for more than fifty years. I was a mess in so many ways. Thank God for good therapists and healing practitioners. If I can peel this messy and teary onion of beliefs and stories and heal, so will you my friend!
I know this may sound crazy but now I love and appreciate the mental processes still intact and running the body that help me walk, drive the car, create a new recipe, pay the bills on time, and read a book and a map. I also cherish the processes that provide the swearing, sweating, and a sense of funk and depression. All is as it is. And if we do not label it we are left with only raw and immediate sensations and openness…embracing Grace, this Mystery that is appearing here now.