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.

Who Wants to Live Forever?

I found this article today in Scientific American, “What if We Could Live for a Million Years?” by Avi Loeb. As you might expect it examines the idea of what life would be like for human if we could live for a million years. In such a span of time, some of the thoughts here are silly and intended to be so. We’re going to have to cap tenure, it states. Yeah, we’ll have to cap a few things, I’m thinking. And because we’re human we’d have to have stupid debates like what sort of health insurance would cover it and whether or not some people could save enough money to live a million years. I’m sure in the end we’ll iron out all the kinks and everyone will live happily ever after until our Sun goes critical or the entire universe collapses or some such.

Wouldn’t be so bad if we could download our consciousness into the bombshell, kickass, body of our choice!

It’s fun to think of these scenarios and I do wonder what it would be like if we humans managed to extend our life spans a significant amount. Perhaps with consciousness studies we could even learn how to cheat death and store our consciousness digitally. There are many fascinating philosophical questions we can ask. My question is, should it be something we even want?

It seems to me that our egos try awfully hard to draw out their lives, even way beyond their usefulness. The quest to live forever? That’s ego driven. There is so much more to me than my ego, and there’s so much more to everyone else. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. We learn through each incarnation. We take those lessons and we move on to something else. I would not want to be stuck in ego existence for centuries, let alone for millennial or eons! This is spiritual stagnation.

In Buddhism one’s essence is in a constant state of change and flux, so there is no-permanent self (anatta). Buddhism teaches to not get attached to ego, as who we are always changes whether we want this or not. We grow old, we get ill, we lose a limb, we change our views, people come into and out of our lives. Suffering occurs when there is an inability to let our own idea of self/ego go because it creates rigidity. Rather than bend as the winds of change come, we crack when we tightly hold to what once was.

A good friend of mine said a while back, “To believe in a permanent self…is to deny the possibility of spiritual self-change.” If there is a permanet, sustained self, is there any real possibility of change or growth?

Perhaps if someone is a reductive materialist, eternal life in the body or some other material form sounds appealing. To me it sounds like a prison sentence.

Some Queen to cure the ear worm…

The Long Hot Mess of Summer

I haven’t been blogging of late as July turned out to be a rather difficult month. Five planetary retrogrades, Chiron in retrograde (the Wounded Healer is strong in my natal chart), and a solar and lunar eclipse – oh my! You could say that this month was full of important lessons and growth. You could also say it was like getting hit with a meteorite traveling at the speed of light and you’d be right as well.

I wish it were this benign!

 Last year on this date, the universe gave me an important lesson. You can read about it in my first blog post. And up until a few months ago, I thought I learned it. I did actually learn it, but we don’t always follow the lessons we learn, do we? Intellectual knowledge requires life experience to truly drive home the point and transmute itself into Wisdom. Obtaining Wisdom is often done through challenges, obstacles and pain. During this eclipse/retrograde season, the Universe sent another loud message to get my head out of my ass and to stop falling for all of the shinies. All that glitters is not gold and all that.

Touché, Universe.

I am living through a financial scare right now. This summer I lost a good portion of my income temporarily as a number of my courses were canceled due to low enrollment. I started sending out application to schools all over the state. I stopped working on my new projects, the ones I love, the ones I believe will lead me to a better, more authentic life. I abandoned my pursuit of my Personal Legend, as Paulo Coelho called it in The Alchemist. I did this out of fear. I retreated back to what was old and familiar. To a place I already know no longer serves me.

Double punch!

The Universe sent me another big fat HELL NO! And then rerouted me to where I need to be again. Last year it was wrapped in a massive hail storm. This year, I was left with a much longer lingering affect which won’t be lost on me anytime soon. It’s been said that stupidity should be painful. This was physically and mentally painful. It left me sick, beat-up, worn-out and drained of energy.

This time around, however, I was able to reap the benefits of the growth I experienced over the past year. I’m not wallowing in this mistake as I would have before. I’ve been able to forgive myself. It wasn’t immediate, but it wasn’t months longs either as it would be in the past. I gave myself a few days to recover from the blow and nurse my wounds. Then I started a routine to get myself reoriented and back on track.

Here’s the gist of my lesson. Self-transformation cannot begin with giving in to old patterns, old ways of thinking, old jobs, and old thoughts about self. That will only breed more of the old. Self-transformation begins with deep self-reflection and taking steps in new directions. It’s far more than applying intellectual knowledge. In some ways, intellectual knowledge can get in the way. It’s about developing intuition and applying the lessons of lived experience. In other words, cultivating Wisdom. How often have I written in this blog, Know Thyself?

Fear, Doubt, Uncertainty, Anxiety, these negative thought patterns that ego clings too, need to be ejected. Easier said then done, right? But not impossible. Meditation helps quite a bit. It lead me to the realization that I had to realign my goals to place personal transformation at the center of everything. When I placed my income and financial prosperity as my stated outcome for my transformation — out of fear and a sense of lack in my life — what I got back was more fear and lack in my life.

I tell my students, don’t focus on the grade, focus on the learning. If you focus on the learning, the grades will follow. They resist this. I often hear, “I need to get an A in this class! How do I get an A?” I tell them to focus on learning and understanding the content. Read my feedback on your assignments. Apply that feedback. Ask questions if you don’t understand. There is no other magic pill for getting an A in the class.

What I learned was that I was doing the same thing as my students: I focused on the financial outcome rather than the personal transformation required to live an authentic life.

But this set back isn’t without it’s gains. For one, I have much more empathy with my students. I can get very frustrated with them when they don’t heed my words. What I learned is that it’s quite hard to do when there is so much at stake. Fear, Doubt, Uncertainty and Anxiety rear their hydra heads and scared the bejesus out of me! It is the same for my students when the fear a bad grade will keep them out of a certain program or that they will lose financial funding. Or they won’t meet the impossibly high goals they set for themselves. I understand that one more as well.

I also learned to trust in my instincts and the synchronicities around me. Everything within and around me told me that I was going backwards. I convinced myself otherwise. I convinced myself that it was just a temporary setback to my ultimate goal until I got back on my feet. When ego is scared, ego lies. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but an important one.

The most important lesson, was that once I released the death-grip I had on controlling my finances, opportunities started to flow towards me. Ideas that I previously found elusive started to flow from me. I feel like for the first time in my life, I know what I want to do and how to get there. What it took was a realignment of priorities. Focus on the personal transformation, let go of my attachment to results, and the results that I need in my life will manifest.

It’s been a long, hot mess of a summer. But it’s also been quite productive. I know what I need to do and I’m getting on track with how to do it. The witch has finally awakened, let the magick begin!

Spiritual Egotism

“Be careful not to wear spiritualism as a badge to decorate your ego” –Unknown

When I began The Great Work of self-knowledge and self-transformation, I read the Dharma the Catquote above in several different places. Many people warned that being spiritually awake was not about being superior to anyone else. One doesn’t start this process or endure it for bragging rights or to lord it over others. I saw a lot of resistance to this warning, as many other people explained that they put a lot of effort into their spiritual awakening process and getting through it was something they took pride in accomplishing.

I don’t think that there is a problem with having pride in one’s accomplishments. The Great Work is difficult and painful, so there is a sense of pride in sticking with it and working through the sweat and tears. It is a hard-fought victory to walk away with a little more knowledge of oneself or to even begin the process of transmutation. I think the problem is capital Pride, and thinking that one is better than others for having done it. It can be difficult to not get caught up with one’s own spiritual and intellectual accomplishments. When I look at others who get involved in petty disagreements or accept obvious lies from politicians or those in authority positions, I often wonder why they can’t see what is perfectly obvious to me. There is a tendency to think I’m better or more developed than they are. This is ego. It makes me feel a little better about myself, even if I’m extremely annoyed and irritated with them.

Extinguish egoOver the past few weeks, I’ve been working on this matter. From the very beginning of my journey, I knew the problem of developing a spiritual ego existed, but I didn’t understand how strong the urge would be. It is especially difficult when watching our political leaders, media personalities and people of renown who I feel should know better for whatever reason. It’s frightening to watch masses of people led astray and given horrible advice that can take a whole society down with them. I worry everyday about climate change, economic injustice, lack of decent healthcare, racism, gender inequality, LGBTQ rights, and yes, the Trump Presidency. I feel great anger when I see people mock and ridicule those who are less fortunate and blame them for circumstances beyond their control.

My anger and fear, however, isn’t doing anything to make the world a better place and it6-9 opinion certainly isn’t helping me. Feeling any sort of moral superiority to those I disagree with does nothing to help any situation. The truth as I know it is my truth, subjective truth. I study and learn what I can to arrive at what I feel is a sound, coherent, and cohesive truth. But it’s mine. I will stand by it, hold to it, and try to do my part to realize my truth in the world through my actions. But it does nothing to hold my truth over anyone else or to get angry at those who don’t share in it. Our society is already deeply polarized by factions who believe they are the keepers of capital Truth. When one thinks they own Truth, how can they possibly hear any other perspective?

We’re all on a journey and at different stages. At some point on my Soul’s journey, it was like so many others, happy enough with the illusions. At some point, the universe started to push my Soul in a different direction. I feel some pride in having heeded the call, but I have no idea how many lifetimes it took me. Nor do I know the struggles of anyone else or where they are in their journey right now. I don’t have to agree with them or accept anything about their beliefs and their truth. My job is to focus on my own thoughts and actions and not to be concerned for the thoughts and actions of anyone else or how superior my thoughts and actions are to theirs.

Ultimately, we are all part of the same Oneness. Feeling superior to others only serves a false duality that separates us from each other. In Matthew 5:44-48 of the Christian Gospel, Jesus says,

44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This is a call for us to get off of our moral high horse. Love means that we extend it to all, even those we do not agree with or like. Duality is an illusion that causes separation: Us versus Other. God is One. One is indivisible. We are of God, therefore we are One.

As Above

Lego My Ego

egoI teach religious studies and philosophy to make my living. Teaching has taught me so much more than I could have hoped to learn as a student myself going through the process. All my students, dedicated and not so dedicated, have given me valuable lessons in both academic and life in general. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, is that the ego is very sticky. If one is trying to banish it from their lives, it will try to defend itself in whatever way it can. It can act like a beast or a frighten child to keep its hooks firmly in place.

Normally I start to see egos come out around the time we start studying Hinduism. The idea of detachment doesn’t sit well with most students who were mostly brought up with Christian values in American households, even if they no longer identify as Christian. Individual rights are placed higher than that of community for most of them and those values run deep. Hindu ideas of the Divine, the trappings of the ego, and Eastern values of community over individual entitlements, typically do not resonate with them. They have a difficult time wrapping their minds around a seemingly polytheistic tradition that see the Divine intrinsically tied to all things. For these students, God created the universe out of nothing and is entirely separate from Its creation. Placing community above individual interests is communism and destructive in nature. This is not something that is thought out, it is the result of indoctrination. It is also the ego claiming its stake.Christinaity-and-Hinduism-212

As we go through Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Jainism, and so forth, the students tend to conclude that we must agree to disagree. For a few students, they have found their home and they continue to research and learn about these faiths. But most walk away with the notion that they’re glad they were born in the West.

This is not to condemn them for this stance. Most people prefer the ideals and religions of the region they were born into, as is to be expected. Our place of origin is an accident of birth, its not something we can control. And each place has their own form of teaching children their values and beliefs. Typically, through the methods of indoctrination by their parents (who were indoctrinated themselves) and educational institutions. Breaking out of the paradigm one was born into is not an easy task and comes with many negative consequences. Even those who intellectually rise above the indoctrination must weigh if that is more important to them than losing the support of family and community. In counties like America that claim to value individual rights, the irony is not lost.

As I watched them resist the new ideas they were exposed to, I’ve recently concluded that I was pretty self-righteous in my own position. I’d sometimes get irked that they wouldn’t even try to wrapped their minds around them. I never expect students to actually change their ideas on their own values or faith, I just want them to understand that there are other ways of thinking and these different modes of thought are not inherently wrong. In addition to that, their out right refusal to entertain these ideas also leads them to form misconceptions. How can they reject something they didn’t understand?

Ego GotG

Ego the Planet from Guardians of the Galaxy Volume #2

Last night I was meditating on the new fall term and how I would approach it. And in an overwhelming sudden realization I asked myself, how the hell does your ego fit through the door? Was I not a student once too who had a difficult time accepting new ideas that were previously foreign to me? Hell yeah, I had a hard time with some of the new concepts! I may have changed my position on many of them, but it wasn’t over night or even over the course of a single class. I was introduced to concepts that then took a few years to stew. Some new ideas I encountered outright scared the hell out of me!  And, of course, I’ve been down right wrong in many ideas I had and conclusions that I drew. I’m often wrong now and change my opinion as I learn more about something. I am seeing these students in 8 or 15-week intervals during one fraction of a phase of their life. I do not know the path they are on or where they will end up as they go through life.

I once read a review that a student submitted regarding my Ethics course. The student stated that they liked me and I was very helpful, but that the subject matter was boring and not useful. I nearly cried. But that’s ego. It is ego to think that what interests me should interest anyone else as well. The example I give regarding the power of the ego, is to imagine your best friend hates your favorite song. Since that song becomes part of the Ego2ego identity, it can be hurtful if people you know and love hate it. It might mean that they hate the real you too! It doesn’t mean that at all. But when the ego is bruised, it can be difficult to shake that off.

It is pure ego to think that after a few weeks in my class, while they are taking three or four other classes, my course should have any effect on students. My job is to present the information and hopefully drive their curiosity to seek more. In my own experience, I’ve found that it’s sometimes years later that a particular class I took or idea I learned starts to germinate. And so, I think, it is with many of us. Some things we learn speak to us immediately and take up our total focus for a time. Others take their time and only come to full fruition years later. And still yet others are quickly forgotten and discarded, only sometimes rediscovered later, or never.  I have no idea what will stick and what will fall by the way side for some students. It should not be my concern. Each of us is on our own path. My job is to teach my courses to the best of my ability and spread a few seeds of understanding. What happens after that, is none of my business. In my previous perceptions of my class and students, I violated Agreement 2 and 3 of the Four Agreements.

FourAgreements

By Don Miguel Ruiz

So, my lesson this term, is to keep the ego in check and understand that my job is to teach my course material to the best of my ability and encourage curiosity and discovery in my students. It is not to judge them or think myself above them. It is not to create young philosophers in my own image. It is my hope that they take this information and turn it into their personal growth, but what they choose to do with it is theirs. When one offers a gift, it’s not a good idea to check up on it and make sure everyone is using it as intended by the giver. It’s not a gift if there are rules attached; it’s a leash.