There is growth in striving for greater and greater honesty as we go through life. Not only in the more obvious ways, but in seeking out and expressing those truths which are hidden deep within. Not necessarily for others, but more importantly for our selves.
I was reading about “gratitude” and encountered a post by someone who said he keeps a journal where he writes what he is thankful for, for five minutes every day, and has done this for years– and that it had changed his life. I thought the idea was worth a try, and put it into practice recently.
If you think logically about why it works… it starts making sense. I think that our consciousness gets “narrow” because it tries to screen out what it finds unpleasant. Not just unpleasant sensations, but unpleasant thoughts, things that give rise to unpleasant thoughts, and so on, all through the vast association networks of the brain. If you’re cold you try to distract yourself by thinking about other things, so you don’t feel the discomfort of the coldness… that’s on the level of physical sensations. But it applies to emotional judgments, too. Your brain tends to not want to think about things that remind you of a time when you felt “cold,” etc. You identify what’s painful so that you don’t have to encounter/think about it again, unless pushed by necessity.
When you make a practice of out explicitly naming things you are thankful for, you start putting positivity back into the network… which by default is more attracted to the “bad news” items it notices, so it can decide what to retreat from; that becomes even more of a cycle because we tend to seek out the most negative-potential things at any given time, and block out the innocent-bystander associations which have been judged to not have as much “meaning.” E.g., the plants, trees, flowers; the strangers walking by; the colors of the world. We’re lost in mind-wandering thought which has to do with problems we are trying to solve, while at the same time doing so gingerly, not wishing to seriously consider already-judged things.
By exercising gratitude and naming things you’re thankful for, finding angles of things you might otherwise feel generally negative about that actually are positive aspects for you, and so on: Your consciousness naturally gets “wider” because you start being “allowed to see” things regarding which you would have built vague subconscious negative associations (or just tagged as “not that interesting”) under the default mode. Life becomes bigger because you don’t have to consciously “face into the pain” of the non-positive valence tagged on so many thoughts in order to see/figure out larger pictures; rather, greater insights are more likely to just arise. You sense larger, more complex patterns because there is more balance to your perception; you are not as strongly only drawn to the smaller, rarer things (such as the accident on the freeway, as opposed to the way the clouds in the sky look as you’re stuck in traffic) while your brain searches for meaning in the world.
Thus-far results from my one-day experiment: I had a very good day today. I’m can’t say exactly why, it was just a plain old good day. I got a lot of work done, spontaneously sent messages to some friends expressing thanks for just being themselves, had insights, etc.
My technique: Simply free-write for five minutes every day, where almost every sentence starts with “I’m thankful that/for…” It actually feels pretty good and becomes self-sustaining, as I find I start looking forward to the practice.
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts
In My Own Way: An Autobiography by Alan Watts
I’m sure these works will incorporate themselves into my thinking. I admire Watts for his gentleness and curiosity. Truly an eclectic personality, who paints a quite mysterious, at times, picture of his own life.
Books I have finished recently:
On The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russel: The message is simple, clear, and eminently sensible. Focusing outwards on things, causes, family, others leads to happiness; focusing inwards on yourself leads to unhappiness.
How can meditation lead to happiness, given that it seems to be a focus inwards? The answer is that it is an inward focus using the same type of perception with which one focuses outwards. I’ll change my wording now, because I realize that “focus” does not capture what should be going on. Instead of “focus” we can use “concern for.” In meditation we are not concerned with the self as self, as in, “I have a concern for myself,” but rather there is looking-inwards while specifically cultivating an attitude of unconcern, of detached yet alert observation. So this is something else entirely, and I would not say that meditation is really concerned directly with happiness but rather something else; as a consequence it is a practice which facilitates one’s becoming more free from concern for the self so that concern can be directed outwards towards the causes and things in the world which one has the power to influence.
The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley: I anticipate a hard time expressing what this is about because it centers around something which I imagine to be foreign to most people, which are the experiential truths behind the world’s religions, in our time almost completely covered up by rituals, politics, symbols and social drama. What is “faith”? What is “spirituality”? Who was Jesus and what did he experience, what did he really teach? I use Jesus to pick on one particular avatar, but in reality, there are many; this one created a particularly powerful ripple in the pond, even though Christianity as practiced in recent times seems mere lip service to the actual experience and the actual teachings as I am understanding them in bits and pieces; also, great harm and suffering has been caused in its name. Some spiritual teachers get the real meaning behind the words and try to translate them so as to be relevant to our own times and our own experiences, because they are universally relevant.
Central to all religions is the so-called “mystical experience” whereby an ordinary human being becomes transfigured, changed; God or greater reality as it exists beyond words and concepts is perceived directly. Huxley describes faith as being a vehicle towards forms of this experience and not an endpoint; it is on this foundation of direct communion with God that religions were built up, becoming containers and step-down transformers for the knowledge which was obtained such as to make it understandable, applicable and beneficial to the majority.
This book is a collection of quotations from great mystics of the past interspersed with Huxley’s insightful analysis and commentary. He ties together Christianity, Sufism (a mystical branch of Islam), Hinduism and Buddhism, showing that these are merely culturally-derived sets of clothing for the same thing. Notably absent is any mention of Judaism besides Christian biblical reference to “pharisees;” I understand this to be a derisive term for a form of Judaism practiced at the time which was looked upon to be full of ritual and practice concerned with the letter of the law to a degree such that its spirit was completely eclipsed and was therefore empty; this was in contrast to a competing branch of Judaism at the time whose adherents were called “sadducees” and who were either more friendly to or ancestors of early Christians. [ My only knowledge here comes from a vaguely remembered elementary school lesson in a religious class where I was taught that sadducees had been an enemy of sorts and that pharisees were the ancestors of the practices of modern Judaism; this was taught with overtones of being as a kind of inoculation against “secular” culture with its emptiness and lack of discipline and the allure of not having to conform to potentially burdensome-seeming (particularly for kids) rules and rituals. ] I wish Huxley had directed his discerning mind and awareness of mystical experience towards this “ancient” religion, perhaps via quotes from scholars of the mystical bent themselves such as Maimonides; what I am left with is a slight feeling that Judaism is “different” somehow from the other religions as communicated via this treatment, perhaps in that it has no avatars or spokesmen as “likable” or iconic in our imaginations as Jesus and Buddha. There is a certain humbleness where any particular character we might pick is merely human, perhaps noble for some reason but in merely human terms, and where God gets all the credit; neither Abraham nor Moses are adored for having had much charisma or flawlessness of character and there are no saints or process of beatification and little centralized organization in this respect. Rather everyone is human and equal; there are biblical prophets and modern-day geniuses but no concept of sainthood which comes to mind. This distinction is interesting to me. Judaism seems to be concerned with protecting itself somewhat from what it believes to be a possible trap, based on a conviction that the worship or sanctification of a person, no matter how much of a channel for God he may have been, or how much mystical awareness she may have possessed, distracts from attention towards God. At the same time, with respect to the nonexistent role of Judaism in The Perennial Philosophy, I think there are other possible explanations or factors active at the time the book was written: (a) it was perceived as a minority religion; (b) the contrails of anti-semitism persisted more strongly then; (c) Christianity is perceived as an evolution of Judaism with respect to such treatment and is thus the same thing; (d) there just aren’t many powerful quotes by well-known Jewish mystics. And finally, it is possible that (e) Jewish mysticism was of a different kind for some reason and didn’t fit in with the kind of analysis and exposition which was the author’s intent.
I also read Huxley’s 60’s classic The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. I confess that I have never read Brave New World, yet I have put Island on my reading list ahead of it.
Takeoff on the old Gameboy Tetris B theme.
I didn’t know who he was, but read a bunch of his blog entries yesterday. Brilliant guy, and seemingly very well grounded. I liked his analysis of Wikipedia’s contributor base and community structure (or lack thereof).
Aaron Swartz was a kid… he was not ready to take on the world, and the book was thrown at him for some minor electronic mischief, more on principle than on any actual harm or damage done. (Perhaps it was a tactic to “encourage” settlement because our courts are overburdened, but this reality of the way law is applied seems hardly laudable; it is not justice, it’s coercion.)
Imagine the torture and torment he must have felt at the end. There needs to be a larger lesson for us, a lesson about a scary place in which we’ve ended up (the danger lies below the surface, where we’ve pushed anything we consider challenging), and how we need to wake up and gradually change that direction. In our zeal for creating this perfect garden kept free of weeds we’ve saturated the ground with weed killer; we keep out the plants and flowers by which some people or entities feel threatened, but we’re really throwing out our best collective long-term hope. The sensitive voices of intelligence, rationality, principle, and outside-the-box thinking which only results from the box itself sometimes being ignored with respect to thought and action, are trampled by a cold system with particular ends in mind, which are often not ends which serve the common good but rather the system itself, and the predictability of the inside-the-box careers of those with authority.
That said, also, I believe that individuals need to learn another kind of “grounding,” which is how to become more free of the tremendous emotional torment and dissatisfaction which the mind is capable of generating. If we freeze time and look at just one moment… just the physical reality, minus all these complex social concepts and entanglements of thought, then what is there? What leads a person to kill himself? It’s an evaluation of self-worth (ego), a prediction of continued pain and lack of self-worth or respect in an imagined future (ego), a form of confusion which leads to unclear understanding of worth to others, and a lack of the sense of being wanted and of understanding one’s actual value to the world. This is all mind-generated pain.
This should be approached from two sides, although I only have vague ideas: (a) From the top down, by striving to treat people fairly and in seeking to minimize stress by disallowing the law to be used as a threat, and (b) From the bottom up, by teaching people how to stand up for what is real (this present reality) and fight against the imaginary demons of depression and just the general discomfort which their own minds generate, which come from thinking (and taking the judgments, often imagined, of others, and even themselves, personally) as opposed to simply being here and now which contains no such concepts.
But pain is also real, and this is all “easier said than done.” All of us, but smart people especially, tend to get attached to words and concepts, to ideas and principles, and this forms a kind of prison. We can say “don’t take it personally” and but really, can you just decide not to take it personally, to turn off your emotional reactions to something, which is coming from a deep and conditioned place? It takes a lot of self-work over a lot of time… work looking inside oneself (meditation) and out at reality (presence) to lower the security level of that prison of as-is concepts.
What does Zen mean when it says “time is an illusion”?
This moment is like the current frame in SmoothLife (see prior post) as it plays, but there’s no slider. This frame has no memory of the past or knowledge of the future. It is changing but the changing-ness “is”, as an everpresent feature of the current frame in the playing movie, constant and static just like the background is black. Change (the rules of evolution to get to the next frame) is always being applied, always now. Understanding changing-ness is an understanding of the rules, which have only to do with “this” and not with time.
One goal of Zen is the experience of “direct” reality as such without illusions such as time (and Self), by bypassing the brain’s creation of time. The concept of “attachment” refers to emotional concern with mind-created past and future, so without time, there being no attachment, there is a form of enlightenment.
To make yourself present, concentrate on the two principles “here” (all that is perceived) and “now” (there is no time). I have found that of all Zen questions and koans I’ve come across in my reading so far, this seems to be the most productive. To always be asking yourself, throughout the day, or if you meditate:
What, at this moment, is missing?
Search everything. What you see, what you feel, your peripheral vision, your sense of who you are, as if you’re trying mightily to find an answer. This takes you out of thought and makes you observant, present, allowing emotional residue and assumptions to slide away. Training this kind of awareness is like working a muscle; it gets stronger with time.
A news article about a proposed experiment to test that philosophical question.
It does make sense that the behavior of the universe could be explained by interactions between “numbers.” Then anything seemingly paradoxical (e.g., particle/wave duality) is possible. We conceptualize and measure it as specific though un-intuitive physical behavior (both particle-like and wave-like, or string-like, or 21-dimensional, or some such conceptual model) but really it’s just a pattern of the numbers in the “computer”. We instantiate globs of rules to understand things which only really exist mathematically, where there’s not necessarily an “ultimate reality” to any of it, rather just relationships between structures. The universe is a giant cellular automaton, a massive thing similar to Conway’s “Game of Life”.
This is pretty trippy:
You’re watching particles of some other world.
[ And "light speed" in this world is laid bare to us, because a fundamental particle (one cell in the grid) cannot have influence on anything other than its neighboring cells, so information cannot exceed the speed of "light"; "light speed" is equal to one grid cell per clock cycle. ]
I speculate here that “God” is the computer, or whatever the simulation is running in. The “Godhead” is the brain’s perceptual representation of its grasp of the higher-level rules of the computer at the lowest level comprehensible to it, in its most fundamental “language.”
Tiny perfect pear
When you wanted to eat it
You had to bite small