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.

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