The Mystery of Mind

Geometry of the Soul.

Where does consciousness come from? Why do we think the things we think? Why am I blogging and bothering with any of this stuff? Most of us would like to think we do the things we do because we will ourselves to do them. I want to blog because writing helps me to organize my thoughts. There! That’s why I do it! But why do I like to organize my thoughts? Well, it helps me to think more clearly and understand why I think what I think. But why do I want to do that? I can write a litany of reasons why I blog that will eventually take me back to some time long before I even knew that the internet and pens existed. I will never get to the first cause of why I do it. At some point the reality is that the necessary conditions arose for me to write this blog and post it on this WordPress website.

I came across an article today in The Conversation by David A. Oakley and Peter Halligan that examines the question, “What If Consciousness Is Not What Drives the Human Mind?” Fair question. No one knows were consciousness arises from, it just does. The thing that likes to take credit for everything I do in life is just ego. That’s the thing I, and most people who talk to me, call Stephanie.  She likes to think she wills stuff to occur. She doesn’t, she just thinks this. I promise this the extent of me talking of myself in third person.

Consciousness studies had advanced so little in the past century that in 2012, famed philosopher of mind, Thomas Nagel, called for a new paradigm in the scientific study in his book Mind and Cosmos. He found that reductive materialism was failing to come up with anything that could explain how consciousness emerged, so something new should take its place. This was not well met by the scientific community back then. And to be fair, this would open up the scientific pursuit of understanding mind and consciousness to all sorts of nonsense. But that didn’t mean that Nagel wasn’t correct about materialism being hopelessly stuck. While I wouldn’t say the mainstream scientific community has come around now, there are more and more scientists taking this call seriously.

Oakley and Halligan haven’t quite thrown their hats in the ring, but they are questioning previous assumptions about consciousness, even if seemingly still in the materialist complex. They are asking us to consider that consciousness springs up from non-conscious things. Our environment, experiences, our body chemistry, genetics, produce certain reactions in the non-conscious part of our brain which are then relayed to the conscious part of the brain through our personal narratives (ego). The thoughts arise in us and we act on them or don’t based on our wiring. So long, free will!

I gave up on free will about 15 years ago. This was difficult, I am a hardcore existentialist. Radical freedom was my thing in my early college years. I was rabid for Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche! I’m happy to say I still am. I don’t think one needs to give up their contradictions, so long as they can resolve the paradox at the end of the day. But free will seems a fool’s quest to me now. I’ve bought into a soft determinism. There are so many variables that make each person who they are, that there remains the illusion of free will. Have you ever noticed how many things in our world turn out to be illusions?

As I was reading this study, I realized that what Oakley and Halligan were describing wasn’t new at all. It was actually proposed about two-thousand years ago by the Gnostics. Carl Jung saw the Gnostics as proto-psychologists. They certainly understood the power of symbols and metaphor! But Gnostics such as Plotinus and Monoimos clearly state that our thoughts and ideas do not come from ourselves, we don’t will them into existence. Monoimos gives direct credit to the Divine found within each of us. Plotinus argues that we are merely passive observers in this life. Our actual thoughts arise from outside of us. We’re basically just along for the ride – the very conclusion of Oakley and Halligan.  

Sophia-Achamoth

In the book Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy note in Ptolemy’s Gnostic tale of the Demiurge, that neither the Demiurge nor his mother Achamoth (Sophia) are responsible for their actions, both good and evil, in the end. Both are set on a path by the Creator and only think they are their own agents. Their thoughts and subsequent actions arise from a greater consciousness, that of the Creator. Freke and Gandy argue that like Achamoth and the Demiurge, our egos carry the belief that we create our own reality and drive our own destiny, but what we put in motion to design our world are actually the universal archetypes that are already in existence (the Gnostics would call them the Aeons) in Universal Consciousness (pp. 167, 285).

When we realize that we’re just along for the ride, suddenly we have found radical freedom to just fall into who and what we are without the constraints of cultural conditioning. We can allow ourselves to be the sensory units of the Universe, here to experience the wonders of life in all of its forms without fear. It’s all going to be okay, the Universe has our backs! This doesn’t mean we are free of pain and sorry and life will only be sunshine and roses. Pain and sorrow are a part of life, but how we perceive it matters in how we move through the experience.

If we can learn to observe our thoughts and actions, we can have better experiences through our perception.

While I do not believe we have free will in this life, I do believe that we choose our lives in each incarnation to either learn lessons or to have a particular experience. Our freedom exists in where we choose to reside in a particular lifetime in the material realm. But once we get here? We watch. We learn. We come to certain realizations as we encounter different experiences. That’s the point of being here. To be truly free in this life, we must accept and submit to it whatever it is until we leave the material world again.

Hi. I’m Stephanie, and I’m an addict (of depression).

I wasn’t going to write tonight. I woke up with a sinus headache and I felt sick most of the day. I decided instead to do a little shadow boxing to work out some internal problems, call it an early night and go to bed. Then I pulled out my tarot deck and asked it if I should write or go to bed. The deck handed me my ass and told me to get to work. I’ve been procrastinating since January, it’s time to get back to writing in the damned blog!

4 of Cups

I’m looking at you, Four of Cups! (Revelations Deck, by Zach Wong)

It’s in moments like these that I know I’m on the right path and that I need to stick to it. The past several days have been a series of synchronicities. Whatever is on my mind, I come across blogs, videos, articles, books, movies, and incidents when I’m out and about, all screaming at me that I’m on the right path and now I need to take action! It’s the action part that makes me freeze up. My mind shuts down and suddenly I can’t even compose an email to a friend. Actually do something? No. Can’t do it today. So, it gets left to the next day and the next. And nothing happens.

This isn’t a temporary rut, this is depression. I learned something interesting about it today while doing shadow work that I hadn’t considered before; I’m addicted to it. I’ve suffered from Depression most of my life and I never sought help for it. There were many reasons for that, some legitimate, some not so legitimate. Part of me was afraid that the type of drugs used to treat Depression would screw me up further. I still think that is a legitimate fear given the nature of psychiatric drugs and the not-so-scrupulous pharmaceutical companies. But there are other methods to treat depression ranging from the foods I eat to different types of therapy. My greatest move to even try to treat my depression was to take a B-complex vitamin (it does help a little). Depressed Cartoon

All of this changed last year. On my birthday I had a download from the Universe. It told me that it was time to get my shit together. I’ve discussed this a few times in my blog already. The short of it is, I was a hot mess in my head and I had a sudden and painful revelation that much of my depression was the result of trauma and abuse from my childhood. I spent a good portion of last year doing shadow work and getting at the heart of what caused my deep depression, which was constantly working to undermine me in all aspects of my life. My relationships, my work life, my finances, my faith, and my enjoyment of life are all suffering because of this depression.

But since I entered my adolescence, I’ve built an identity around this depression and as I grew older, my choices and actions reinforced that depression. I not only became comfortable with it; I started to crave it and resist any attempts to cope with it in a more constructive way. As with most mental imbalances, I didn’t realize I was doing it. I didn’t wake up one day thinking, I love my misery I’m gonna keep it! It was a gradual thing which consumed me. Eventually it led me to a career I hated, financial instability, poor health, deteriorated friendships, and to nearly destroying my marriage.Monsters

The realization that I was feeding the depression beast of my own volition came to me last night while reading an article (Q&A) on Existential Kink, by Carolyn Elliott, the creator of WITCH magazine. It wasn’t the first time I had this thought, though. It’s come up before on restless nights in the small hours of the morning. And it was easily forgotten after I slept. But reading it last night, after shadow work and meditation, it hit me like a sack of bricks to the face. Yes, I do it on purpose. Yes, I sabotage myself. And I do it all the time.

The misery I’ve wrought upon myself is comfortable. I know what to do with it. I built up an identity around being an impoverished, deeply misunderstood, antisocial creature. Getting out of the mess I made for myself is intensely terrifying! All of the “what ifs” come up. What if I’m really not that smart? What if no one wants to read my blog? What if no one cares about my ideas? What if I can’t figure out how to market myself? What if I’m wrong? What if I have a successful business and I can’t figure out my taxes? (Cart before the horse, much?)

I became inert, out of fear of breaking out of an identity that only served my comfort zone.

This is not to say that one’s depression is their own fault. It’s not. I had two big things going against me; abuse and a chemical imbalance. Neither of these things were in my control. It hit fast and hard once I started puberty. Then the reinforcement cycles swamped me and pulled me under. My physical addiction became sugar, while my mental addiction was the depression itself. And boy do I ever have a sweet tooth! You know those orange circus peanuts that are basically just whipped sugar? My favorite when I was a kid. I pretend I’m better now because I haven’t had them in about 25 years. Don’t let that fool you, I still have a stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs in my freezer.

Circus Peanuts

Don’t let these orange pieces of death happen to you!

When I found out that people with sugar addiction have the same chemical imbalance as alcoholics, I decided to get some help. I checked out a diet that assists people with leveling out the chemical imbalance. I bought books, read testimonials, and even gave it a good shot for a whopping month! And then slid right back into my old patterns. The sugar wasn’t just due to my chemical imbalance, it was also emotional support. I couldn’t give up that emotional boost. Especially when it was typically the only good thing that happened to me all day. Which landed me with a raging case of diabetes. You’d think THAT would have been my wake-up call, but it wasn’t. It shocked me and I got on the wagon for a bit. But then I got a new job and I hated it and the sugar became quite irresistible as I dealt with getting up early in the morning every day to go to a job I detested. It was only towards the end of that nightmare job that I started to wonder what the hell I was doing in this cycle of jobs I hated and eating myself into an early grave.

Jung FateI don’t want this anymore. The good news is, I don’t have to live with it! I’m learning to accept the things about me that I don’t like. I acknowledge them with my awareness, and let them go without judgement or shame. It’s about acknowledging, yes, I did this and I did that and those things weren’t good for me. This is what I learned from those choices. Now I move on.

It’s taken me a years’ worth of shadow work to get to this point and it culminated with the New Moon on April 5th. It’s been an exhausting, painful ride. Most days I feel like I’m trying to climb over electrified chicken wire with quicksand waiting for me on the other side. Still, I’m ready to move on and find a better place.

Accept ShadowWhat do I want? I’m still working on that. But I now know what I no longer want. I don’t want a soul crushing job. I don’t want to eat myself into an early grave. I don’t want to pass up good opportunities because I’m scared how I will be perceived by others. I don’t want to live inauthentically because I can’t figure out a better way to pay my bills.

I want my wife and I to be happy. I want us to not be afraid of when the money runs out. I want us to be free to live authentically. Whatever I end up doing when I grow up, I want to add value to the world. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m on the right track. I feel like I’m crawling out of the hole I dug for myself. I feel like we’re going to make it!

Which Witch – Florence + The Machine

Me and My Shadow

Nice Kingdom Hearts Iphone Wallpaper the shadow knows t shirt by lamontcranstonSometimes my shadow side takes over and I get angry and vindictive with those I interpret as acting against the social good. In this case, with several atheists who set out to attack anyone expressing any sort of religious thought. I am not against atheism. I see it as a perfectly reasonable position to take in this world. I counted myself as an atheist for about a decade between the ages of 25-35. My journey has taken me somewhere else, but I still find atheism a legitimate claim worthy of attention and respect.

But I don’t like bullies. (there’s always a “but,” right?) I don’t like people who set out to discredit others based solely on their beliefs, unless those beliefs are demonstrably harming others (I include animals and the environment in this). This was a case of going after anyone who was trying to discuss nuanced philosophical understandings of the divine and conflating them with fundamentalist ideologies of Christianity and Islam. The shadow side of me decided a smack down was in order in some sort of crusade against religious intolerance!

But first, some perspective is needed…

Atheism SymbolIn our history, to be a self-declared atheist could be a death sentence and often it was. Even after the Enlightenment, one could face social and financial ruin if they admitted their atheism in public. And today in America, while atheism is more accepted and mainstream, there are still consequences that go with it. One only need to look at how many vocal atheists hold public office in the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government today for evidence. There aren’t any. At least none that admit it. And it’s one thing a political opponent will dig through first; what religion are they and when did they establish ties to the church they claim they attend? Obama went through this when his opponents wanted to frame him as a Muslim in the eyes of the public. Just imagine if he was an atheist!

EvolutionAmong the academic and scientific communities in the nineteenth century, atheism rose up in the ranks and became respectable. This was largely accomplished through the publication On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Many intellectuals saw Darwin’s theory as a means to put God to bed once and for all. God wasn’t needed to explain the world anymore.

But many atheists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially those who were not shielded by academia, felt isolated, ostracized and condemned for their beliefs. This still goes on in many communities in America. A number of my friends that grew up as atheists in communities that were overtly religious often felt threatened and afraid to speak their truth. In this respect, I do understand why some would take a position of attack against religion, as religion was the vehicle for attack against them at some point in their life. Was it religion or the intolerance of the community they lived in that led to the abuse and bullying? Likely both. Especially if it came from a person in religious authority.

My reflection of the history of atheism doesn’t excuse someone who had a bad experience with religion from attacking someone with religious convictions, but it does open up my ability to have more compassion for them. My need for a “smack down” says more about me than it says about them. I was ready for a fight! I wanted to show them that they were as irrational and dogmatic in their thought that they accused others of being! Basically, I just wanted them to feel stupid by showing them how little they understood religion and spirituality outside of Christianity.JungShadow

I don’t know if they were bullied by intolerant religious folk in the past or if they’re bullies themselves who like to harass people for disagreeing with them. I don’t think it matters. I wanted them to feel stupid for their actions. This is about me, not them. Could it be if I don’t make a solid defense and tear them down first, maybe my own set of beliefs won’t stand up to the scrutiny either?  Yeah, I think that’s part of it.

Psychologically, humans are messy creatures. My core beliefs are solid, but I’m still formulating what I believe for myself on this life’s journey. Not everything is on solid ground as I sort it all out. The need to lash out is strong when I feel attacked, because everything is still raw. I feel a knee-jerk reaction to protect it. When an animal has a wound, it will lash out if anything comes near it, even if it’s potential help because all the animal can feel is the pain.

In our society, I think a lot of us are feeling the pain right now. We’re trying to protect ourselves in irrational ways to make it stop. This is not productive. Lashing out only creates more tension and more lashing out. It also aggravates the wound we carry. It can’t heal this way, it only becomes more of a problem.

The main purpose of this blog is shadow work. I write to figure out what’s really going on in my head. There’s a lot of fear – when I get down to it – that needs exorcised. My answer to this is to transmute it into compassion. There is a Buddhist meditation that asks participants to rephrase what they are experiencing from their ego perspective to a universal perspective. So, for instance, instead of saying, “I have fear” or “I am suffering,” say instead, “There is fear” and “There is suffering.” This raises the person out of the individual mindset and to the understanding that all of life experiences this. We’re not alone. There is no duality; no, Us versus Them. We’re all connected. With this connection comes a greater understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.

Buddhism