“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”
When your mind empties, when you are open to what changes in the universe, everything is possible, and nothing is possible. Existence is not separate from non-existence. Existence depends on non-existence to be. They inter-are.
When you have knowledge, you are limited by that knowledge. You are trapped by your ideas of what life should be and not be. A tea cup will overflow unless it is first empty of its contents.
Nothing is ultimately good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. Yet in your mind, you create categories of good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, right and wrong, black and white. You’re constantly making finer distinctions about what you like, don’t like, and don’t care about.
The mountain shrouded in mist is nothing special or mysterious to climb. There is no more wisdom on top of that mountain than there is in a shit. It is just as sacred as a nap below the bough of a tree, as washing the dishes, as sunlight fading over a meadow, as belly laughter, as a walk down a narrow path.
Enlightenment is nothing special, nothing you need to strive to acquire. When you are empty, there is no “you” to consider things as empty. There is no “you” apart from everything else, even from non-existence. There is no permanent unchanging self.
You don’t have to capture your Buddha-nature. You are Buddha-nature. There isn’t anything that is separate from Buddha-nature. You don’t need to struggle for years to experience an idealized state that you can brag about. You are alive now, despite your ideas about now. You can wake up to this direct moment.
To awaken is so ordinary, you shouldn’t have to grasp after it. You are already here.
With a sincere intention, you can be present. You can breathe in the clear sky. There is nothing else to attain. Sometimes doing nothing is better than trying to gain something.
There is nothing special about being here either, except that it is so easy to forget.
You spontaneously express your nature when you are empty. There’s no need to put on a show of being spiritual, and important, and all-knowing. To seek out a superior status, or epiphany, or recognition from your peers, is to miss the point.
It is easier for you to empty your mind when you meditate but it is harder to be mindful when you’re out in the world. In the world, if your mind doesn’t wander, then that is ok. If your mind wanders, then that is ok too. Just gently bring your awareness back to your breath.
Everything can be your teacher, even the rain dripping from a rooftop, even yellow flowers growing in a field.
When you look into impermanence deeply enough, you will see the divine in the mundane. There is no essential difference between the divine and the mundane other than in your ideas and opinions, in your need to fit all of life into fixed categories.
From the vibration of an atom, to a leaf shaking off a tree, from the gray hairs on your grandfather’s head to a newborn cuddling in a blanket, the universe is interdependent and changing. To intellectualize about change doesn’t reveal its truth. It will reveal its boundlessness when you are ready.
“We can talk about ending war and we can march for ending war, we can do everything in our power, but war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other.”
We often harden our hearts against others because we want to protect ourselves from suffering. But if we continue in this way, ignoring and lashing out, repressing our unwanted feelings and distracting ourselves, after enough time, we will become rigid and closed off.
We will become manipulative, not accepting people for who they are, but judging them based on what they can do for us. Our fear, anger, greed, and ignorance will follow us everywhere we go, whether we’re at work, at home, or sitting on top of a mountain. We will react blindly instead of with awareness, rationalizing our mistakes, ignoring our pain, attacking anyone who criticizes us, threatened by the unknown. Our suffering will spill over on those who are closest to us.
“We point our fingers at the wrongdoers, but we ourselves are mirror images; everyone is outraged at everyone else’s wrongness.” (Chödrön, Pema)
When we alienate ourselves from people, rather than being vulnerable and open, we feed our self-righteousness and anger and discrimination. We blame and doubt. As long as we keep perceiving the world in these same unwholesome patterns, our suffering will never leave us.
“Whenever there’s a sense of threat, we harden. And so if we don’t harden, what happens? We’re left with that uneasiness, that feeling of threat. That’s when the real journey of courage begins. This is the real work of the peacemaker, to find the soft spot and the tenderness in that very uneasy place and stay with it. If we can stay with the soft spot and stay with the tender heart, then we are cultivating the seeds of peace.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We have self-destructive seeds within us, passed down through many generations. Yet at the same time, beyond our rigidity, we have a soft spot in our hearts. From our softness, we can discover spaciousness. From spaciousness, we can live in a boundless, ungraspable world.
We have to stay with what’s changing inside us, letting our hearts heal in those moments. While we may not be in control of what’s outside of us, we can be with our minds, breaking apart our unthinking habits of aggression.
“We don’t automatically react, even though inside we are reacting. We let all the words go and are just there with the rawness of our experience.” (Chödrön, Pema)
If we stay with our uncomfortable feelings, we will discover that there’s no real resolution. No absolute answers. There is nothing to cling to. Most people are afraid of that groundlessness, fleeing toward an absolute answer, a belief, a solution. They want to know what’s right and wrong, what can be defined and categorized, what can provide assurances of permanence.
“You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or to let go, whether to harden or soften, whether to hold your seat or strike out. That choice is presented to you again and again and again.” (Chödrön, Pema)
If we develop enough patience to be with our energy, even though we may feel afraid and angry and anxious, something within us will die. When we can let go, we will experience freedom through the death of our attachments, a release from our unwholesome approaches to life.
When we have thoughts, we can simply label them as thoughts. We can return where we are, over and again, disrupting our blind habits, minimizing our reactive tendencies, creating space within ourselves. When we are habitually unmindful, however, we are trapped as prisoners in our own minds.
We are humans. We cannot escape aging, illness, loss, and death. Phenomena will change during our lives as well. When we refuse to see these realities directly, clinging to pleasures while avoiding pain, we will cause ourselves and other beings suffering.
Our tendency is to seek out security, but if we are to transform ourselves, if we are to help others, we have to look at our minds first. We have to see the impermanence in all things.
“Instead of asking ourselves, ‘How can I find security and happiness?’ we could ask ourselves, ‘Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace — disappointment in all its many forms — and let it open me?’” (Chödrön, Pema)
Through our practice, we can become intimate with what threatens to harden our hearts. What barriers have we used to isolate ourselves from other people, so we could escape from feeling the pain of an orphaned child or war refugee, so we could protect ourselves from rejection and depression and fear? When we come to subtly recognize these barriers within us, they will begin to break apart.
“Becoming intimate with pain is the key to changing at the core of our being — staying open to everything we experience, letting the sharpness of difficult times pierce us to the heart, letting these times open us, humble us, and make us wiser and more brave. Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We can recognize in ourselves our prejudices and fears, guilt and shame. We can connect to others through our common humanity, knowing that we have all gone through similar ordeals, that other beings want peace like we want peace, that they do not wish to suffer like we do not wish to suffer.
We meditate to know ourselves but our practice should extend to the rest of our lives. Our feelings will come and go, arising and passing. We don’t need to reject our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. They may take up our attention at times, but we can let go of our stories, our negative thoughts, our unhealthy desires, seeing them as clouds. Clouds drift on, changing in moments. They are neither solid nor permanent. Eventually they will fade into an empty sky.
Even in our spaciousness, we can still feel sad, happy, angry, and jealous. These things all come and go. Instead of merely reacting, we don’t have to take the bait. We can learn to be present with our unpleasantness and pleasantness. When we are aware, we simply are.
“Our interpretations and our opinions are just that — our interpretations and opinions. We no longer have to be under their control, or have them color everything we think and do. Strong reactions will continue to arise, just the way the weather changes. But each of us can develop our ability to not escalate the emotions so that they become a nightmare and increase our suffering.” (Chödrön, Pema)
Aggression begins in our minds. Violence begins in our minds. We can water the seeds of prejudice and anger, blaming others, rationalizing our behavior, believing that we’re the only honest ones around. Or we can sink into an awareness of our suffering and joy, completely vulnerable, breathing in and out, groundless, until something breaks open in our hearts.
“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently, endless opportunities to dissolve the seeds of war where they originate — in the hearts and minds of individuals like you and me.” (Chödrön, Pema)
Our dreams are private myths and our myths are public dreams. Each represents the gods within us, energies that conflict and harmonize.
Our stories, told in different cultures and times, are born in us, and change as we change. They show us our paradoxical natures. They guide us as we cross through the dark forest to find the light.
Sometimes our public myths will match our private ones. Then teachers will appear, helping us to learn more about our internal journeys, interpreting our paths with familiar symbols. At other times, opening ourselves to the mysteries of life, engaging what is deep and sacred, can only be handled alone.
We can be enraptured with what is beyond us, in awe of the unknown. We can experience a timelessness that permeates through all forms, that is transcendent of symbols, even though during most of our lives, we are conditioned into the dualities of I and thou, black and white, good and bad. To claim the absolute truth is not to have found the truth. To know is not to know. To not know is to know.
Myths change from environments to individuals, from individuals to groups. The gods of the rainforest are different from the God of the mountain top. The divine in nature is different from that of the church. Even the nomadic tribes who hunt, who rely on movement and intimate bands, perceive other realities than the settled farmer does.
Myths endure from an evolution of ideas and from how well they can touch the archetypes of humanity. Otherwise they will fade into their own oblivion. Myths must adapt to the period they dwell in, relative to culture, environment, economy, and myriad other influences. If they do not bend with the moment, they will break from their archaism.
In myth, often there is a hero. A hero must leave home, venturing into the unknown. To leave their safe comfortable life, to be thrust into danger, is to begin their quest, whether physical or spiritual. The only way for them to return back home is to go through their trials.
What distinguishes heroes from average people is their willingness to sacrifice themselves for an ideal, another being, or the purpose of the quest. What the hero defends will not always be commonly accepted, but as they let go of their selfishness, and confront the dangers ahead, they are truly courageous.
The hero must slay the dragon. In every stage of life, from childhood to old age, a dragon will arise, whether in the form of greed, inhibition, stagnation, or resistance. Individuals must first look within themselves to find their own way.
Mythology can act as an interpretive system for deciding what paths are the wisest to take, what practices can lead to a higher purpose, how to reduce the despair of other beings, and so on. Disciples can perform elaborate rituals that represent the crucial stages of human existence. From learning to love to embracing death, mythology weaves in stories that point to inner truths, showing what swords will slay what dragons.
When heroes cross the threshold of their experience, they transform. They return to where they began after they left for the first time. During their arduous journeys, their consciousness changes, heightened among the ordinary.
A Bodhisattva is enlightened but still chooses to remain in the world, helping to free all beings from their suffering (Dukkha). The shaman broods from their sacred wisdom, guiding others through language, penetrating rituals, visions, and medicines.
At the deepest level of consciousness, the hero is love. Interdependent being. They have an enduring compassion for all living creatures, a reverence for nature. The hero has experienced oneness, an interconnection with all that is. They have shed themselves of their old skin only to be reborn again. This cycle of birth-death-rebirth will repeat over eons in endless forms.
The troubadours believed that love was the highest meaning of life. They would undergo pain only for the chance of finding themselves in another. The Bodhisattva will “joyfully participate among the sorrows of the world” while the “mystic will swim in the symbolic ocean.” (Campbell, Joseph)
While one myth will celebrate the divine through the masculine, another myth will honor the feminine more. Some stories contradict each other logically while still suggesting the same essential messages.
Beyond any dualistic judgments of birth and death, up and down, black and white, here and there, right and wrong, and past and future, at the ultimate dimension, existence hums from a timeless energy. The cosmos is interdependent, perfect, whole.
While “the map is not the territory” (Korzybski, Alfred), a mythological map can be useful for the right person, at the right time. Travelers can navigate down its paths and landmarks and dead ends, until eventually moving beyond any known land. A map is not a final authority on where to go or what to experience. It is a guide, directing those who are curious, who dare to question and seek, beyond themselves, toward the transcendent.
“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained; I stand and look at them long and long. They do not sweat and whine about their condition. They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God. Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things. Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago. Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.”
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Children need to depend on outside authorities, such as their parents and guardians and teachers, for their development. In order to psychologically mature, however, they must shed their attachments at appropriate stages in their lives.
Human beings have the potential to grow or decay. When they are at their healthiest, they are independent, competent, and compassionate. They can adapt, and learn from their past mistakes, while knowing when to let go. They can discover their authentic values and meanings and beliefs from following their “inner gleam.”
Yet when people compare themselves to others, they activate their “infantile acquisitiveness.” They desire what they do not have rather than being happy with what they do have. They brood about what they lack, unsatisfied with who they are, where they are, and what they own. They always want more, which is never enough to satisfy them. At the root of their mindset, they feel hollow, poor, and unfulfilled.
When people allow others to lean on them, they lean back as well. They create a mutual “admiration society,” where they feel needed, or superior, when others are attached to them, but not when those same individuals are capable of living for themselves. When they exploit the vulnerabilities of others, they crave a sense of wholeness, yet their “need to be needed” stems from their childish dependency.
Those who seek outside of themselves for validation, for a life direction, degrade themselves.
Free individuals don’t need to lean on others for their personal worth. They don’t need anybody to lean on them either. To be free is to confront the present moment and to deal with things as they are. Rather than pretending that reality is in some idealized state, they play with what they can control, while not worrying about what they cannot control.
“The free mind manipulates impersonal circumstance — not people.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)
Dependent people do not have an “inner direction.” What comes from outside themselves, such as parents and friends and teachers and celebrities and news programs and political parties and gurus, are their first authorities. They value (but may eventually come to resent) these influences as superior to them.
Conformists are subordinate to authorities outside themselves. These authorities dictate to them about who they should be and how they should live. Then there are negative conformists. They are contrary, obstructing others, out of reaction. They resist what’s outside of them (because it’s from the outside) and resent being told what to do. While the free person lets go of their attachments, those who resist others, who rebel for the sake of rebellion, only cling harder to their own suffering.
To be dependent is to be helpless, passive towards all of life. To be free is to be engaged. Free people make mistakes, but they grow from those mistakes, while finding opportunities in challenges. Rather than hiding from ugly truths, they grapple with them. They play with them. They find joy in the game.
“Their transition from childhood to adult life is not a stormy series of defeats and struggles against outside authorities. It is a quiet growth in self-confidence in which they learn that there are few irremediable mistakes, and they regard a mistake as nothing more than a friendly invitation to keep trying — not a loss of love, approval and prestige, or as a humiliation to be avoided at any cost.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)
Dependent minds live only for external validation, not for inner truth. They react to the outside world, conditioned to obey or rebel. Unsatisfied with who they are, unable to know themselves authentically, alienated in groups, they follow the worn paths of others.
As Charles Bukowski, in Factotum, wrote, “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”
These people not only follow the same routines at work, but throughout all their lives. They attend clubs, churches, parties, watch television, surf the internet, blindly acting out the roles chosen for them, until they reach the undertaker. They appear to be good or bad, not for themselves, but for social rewards and attention.
Like little doggies that want to be petted, they perform their owner’s most favored tricks.
People can’t rejoice in their “inner resources,” or form genuine relationships, until they free themselves from their childish attitudes. They must not only leave behind their enslaved habits, but become aware of themselves in the here-and-now.
Mature people are free from thinking with the competitive mindset, while immature people always try to one-up others, and prove themselves out of their insecurity. Mature individuals don’t need to look outside for a master. Those who are dependent, who compete over everything, endlessly struggle to maintain their dominance. They never want to appear vulnerable, weak, and inferior.
“Like a good card player who does not care what cards are dealt him since his fun lies in the free play he improvises in the playing of each hand. Each game is its own reward and he seeks nothing outside of the unfolding of each hand as it is played into the hands of others. He enjoys the whole experience and all that his partners do as well.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)
Mature individuals are adaptable, spontaneous in the moment. They display an attitude of exploration, curiosity, open to the mysterious. When work must be done, they press on with quiet persistence, not complaining about their given state.
While dependent people have to please others, free people must satisfy the needs of their own lives first! It is not their job to please others. Those who are subservient often fear productivity. They don’t want to work on themselves. Putting the group’s needs first leads to their unfulfillment, degrading their growth.
“Aloneness is freedom-from-dependence! Loneliness, on the other hand, is the dependent child crying as it searches for the parent or babysitter it has lost and cannot find.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)
It doesn’t matter if an individual chooses solitude or the company of others. To be alive is to be present, discovering what is meaningful and valuable. The self-reliant person doesn’t feel the urge to compete, dominate, or prove their value to anyone else. Their goal is to explore, to see what happens.
Mature people don’t rely on outside authorities to determine who they are or what they are worth. If they must remain alone rather than be harmed or manipulated, then they will accept that outcome.
Without any wishful thinking or self-judgement, they honor their “inner gleam.” In the true spirit of Agape, someone who is mature doesn’t need to give or take, condemn or blame. There are no favorite people that they have to choose between, in a vicious hierarchy of superiority to inferiority, based on who gives and gets the most.
“The mature adult finds no need to beg. He is an explorer and a doer. He does not have to compete and aspire to be the favored one. Only the child or the infantile adult has to worry about his status in the eyes of those around him.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)
Most importantly, a free individual is a doer. Their actions are consistent with their words. Alfred Adler once wrote that one should watch only movement, in order to not be fooled by others. To learn who people are, and what they mean, do not focus on their beautiful words, but rather, look at their deeds alone.
It is easy to blame and hate and hold onto grudges. To live-and-let-live, to seek an inner balance, to not form unrealistic expectations about the future, may be harder, but it is a more worthwhile pursuit.
When one is being and not trying to be, there is no more expecting, idealizing, comparing, proving, or depending. But when one is seeking the attention of an outside authority, they’re stuck on an eternal treadmill, chasing after what they can never catch.
“If you want to understand yourself or another person, close your ears to anything that is said or what you think and watch only movement. What a person does is his real understanding and intention.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)
“Yet, at the same time, as the Eastern sages also knew, man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways — the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever.”
Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
“All those qualities, capacities and tendencies which do not harmonize with the collective values–everything that shuns the light of public opinion, in fact–now come together to form the shadow, that dark region of the personality which is unknown and unrecognized by the ego. The endless series of shadow and doppelgänger figures in mythology, fairy tales and literature ranges from Cain and Edom, by way of Judas and Hagen, to Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde in the ugliest man of Nietzsche; again and again such figures have appeared and made their bow before human consciousness, but the psychological meaning of this archetype of the adversary has not yet dawned upon mankind.”
Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic
“People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.”
Horror attracts us while it repulses us. We are confronted with our most hidden taboos in sinister forms. We investigate our shadowy dreams and terrors, seeking out the Other, anxious before the strange and unknown. We face forbidden ideas, lurking beneath the sewers and deep in the woods, unspoken, uncomfortable ideas, in the darkness of ourselves.
Our monsters reflect the most terrible aspects of our nature. They are our unconscious rejections, our atrocities against one another, our insatiable greed and consumption and narcissism. They return to haunt us, to torment us, when we foolishly believe that we are gods, when we transgress the laws of all humankind.
Horror sickens and disgusts and nauseates us. Yet our hearts tremble to the pleasure beneath our fear, to the endorphins of our near death, to the tragedies that we cannot help but stare at.
Horror teaches us the consequences of when we take too much and care not enough for others. It shows us what happens when we deceive and murder and destroy our sacred idols.
We must take on the embodiment of evil, whether it afflicts us in the realms of the supernatural or natural, literal or metaphorical. Through our struggles, we may be releasing the ghosts of our past or preventing the apocalypse of the near future.
Even if we pretend that we are going to remain young for eternity, we are flesh, we are bones, we are blood and pus and aging and disease and death. We are part of a cosmos we don’t fully comprehend. We don’t know what our fates will be as individuals in a community, as a species, as organisms on a planet.
We are temporary, vulnerable. We are primates lost in the vastness of space. We struggle for an illusion of control, a sense of familiarity, so that we can feel safe and secure, while knowing that nothing will ever last. We fear the threat of what we don’t know, the possibility of future anguish.
There are dangers inherent in everything we do, existing on different scales, from driving our cars down a highway to walking alone at night, from polluting our atmosphere to declaring war on a neighboring country.
We are agonizingly aware that we are going to die, that everyone we know will die, even if we distract ourselves with parties and drugs and work and fashion and games and sex and religion and politics. We are filled with an existential dread that we try to alleviate with meanings beyond ourselves. Yet there is always the possibility of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe and societal unrest. There is always the promise of the undertaker.
Horror is a safe place for our fears, our anxieties, to express themselves under the guise of a chainsaw-wielding maniac, a zombie horde roaming through the mall, a cannibal, ghoul, goblin, snake, slasher, demon, or vampire that casts no shadow.
We can look at our inner darkness rather than hide from it. We can grapple with the unknown rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. Only when we are honest, when we burn our light through the chasm of darkness, can we be liberated from our suffering.
Horror disturbs our sanity, shocks us out of our comfort, mocks our hypocrisies, exposes our underlying insecurities. We need horror to awaken us out of our complacency, our smug delusions of perfection, and let go of false certainties.
We must find a way to grieve for our losses, to turn toward the truths that scare us, to participate joyfully among the sorrows of the world. We are human beings, achingly conscious, here for a short time with each other. Our life on this earth is precious and fleeting and uncertain. We can withdraw from the unknown, clinging onto normalcy, wallowing in our most mundane days, or we can free ourselves to the mysterious.
Domesticated primates (humans) think themselves into their relative neurological realities. Within the framework of these “realities,” they make assumptions about what is true and false, right and wrong, essential and inessential, real and fake.
Humans filter the universe through their nervous systems. They don’t perceive what is objectively true (which is not to say that an objective truth does or doesn’t exist), but rather, they interpret a particular aspect of reality. Mediated through their past beliefs, experiences, conditionings, and so on, they may “see” all of their life through the “reality tunnel” of the Marxist, Fascist, Atheist, Christian, Buddhist, feminist, misogynist, Democrat, Republican, protestor, cop, doctor, patient, Caucasian male, African American female, pessimist, optimist, lover, fighter, bad son, good daughter, and so on.
People make endless guesses about their identities and the identities of others, often without realizing they are doing so. While it is easier to see the prejudices and biases in others, it is more difficult to see those same qualities within.
“Every type of bigotry, every type of racism, sexism, prejudice, every dogmatic ideology that allows people to kill other people with a clear conscience, every stupid cult, every superstition, written religion, every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles.
We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it; we don’t even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think that this is reality.” (Wilson, Robert)
People not only don’t know but they don’t know that they don’t know. Their specific “reality” appears to be the true one, while other people’s realities, the more they diverge from their own, seem increasingly bizarre and nonsensical.
Human minds often function as if they were made up of only two parts: the Thinker and the Prover. Whenever the Thinker is convinced of a given reality, the Prover will unconsciously work to organize all “evidence” in favor of it being true. Signals that are consistent with the Thinker’s preferred reality tunnel are incorporated into it while other signals (that are irrelevant, unpleasant, or contradictory) are forgotten, ignored, rejected, resisted, and rationalized.
Human brains are matter in spacetime. They’re wrinkled organs, weighing close to three pounds each. There are roughly 100 billion neurons in one brain. These neurons communicate with each other electro-chemically in vast networks.
Brains generate ideas, influenced by all the signals that they have been exposed to in every moment, from an ancient set of scrolls, to a drama on TV, to a fight with a sibling, to the taste of a strawberry, to the warmth of sunlight, and so on. Nervous systems control a lot of what is taken for reality, such as thought, memory, emotion, touch, vision, breathing, temperature, pain, and so on.
While ideas are not equal to all of reality, they can make up the approximate models of given realities.
Just as brains resemble the hardware on a computer, ideas are its software. Anything, from psychedelic mushrooms, to the organization of a political revolution, to eating a vegetarian diet for three years, can change the consciousness of a person.
Certain programs written onto the hardware of the brain are genetic imperatives, imprinting, conditioning, and learning. The mind is bound to what it imprints at vulnerable stages of its development. Its software turns into hardware over time, further setting the structure for conscious thought.
Out of an infinite number of signals in the universe, the domesticated primate (human) is imprinted with a limited number of those signals during different stages of life, contributing to the development of a sense of self. Learning, conditioning, novel experiences, and so on, add to this structural foundation. As the brain matures from birth to old age, more intricate models of reality may build up over time.
At the level of the oral bio-survival circuit, humans are hardwired from birth onward to seek a sense of security, nourishment, and a womb-like feeling of safety, while avoiding what is harmful, dangerous, and life threatening.
“In summary: the bio-survival circuit is DNA-programmed to seek a comfort-safety zone around a mothering organism. If a mother isn’t present, the closet substitute in the environment will be imprinted.” (Wilson, Robert)
Domesticated primates (humans) are genetically hardwired to look for security in their family, immediate group, and tribe. They may be further conditioned to identify with other symbolic groups such as the university they attended, their profession, the religion they were raised in, a political party that had impacted their adolescence, and so on.
They may even transfer their security-need onto symbols such as money, which in itself is of no value (you cannot eat money) except in the agreed upon value determined by other members of that particular group.
“In traditional society, belonging to the tribe was bio-security; exile was terror, and real threat of death. In modern society, having the tickets (money) is bio-security; having the tickets withdrawn is terror.” (Wilson, Robert)
Those who do not belong to the same group are often categorized as outsiders, or even, enemies. They’re perceived as hostile, aggressive, or challenging to that group’s interests and purpose. Any element, from a dissident citizen’s writings to a protest for systemic change, which could threaten the security of the group, is resisted and rejected.
The emotional-territorial circuit is concerned with power, dominance and submission, superiority and inferiority.
People unconsciously struggle for status in their social group. In a tribe, members fit into various roles, each person assuming different responsibilities and functions. Some members assume top dog roles while other members fall into bottom dog roles.
These roles can be divided into the four quadrants of “I’m ok/you’re ok, I’m ok/you’re not ok, I’m not ok/you’re not ok, I’m not ok/you’re ok,” under the basic terminology of Transactional Analysis.
This model, along with other similar models, which represents the earliest imprinting and subsequent conditioning of one’s ego role in society, will vary based on the strength of early imprinting, the dynamics of the group in relation to the individual, how successfully the individual is conditioned out of robotically following an imprinted role, and so on.
Furthermore, each of these four quadrants, while convenient, can be endlessly divided into ever finer categories. People don’t exist in one of these quadrants completely, but rather, fall on a spectrum in between these extremes, which will shift as their nervous systems change.
Humans (domesticated primates) use symbols and are used by symbols. Those who control the symbols have the power to control other people. These symbols include, but are not limited to: art, music, mathematics, maps, and words.
Symbols often rule the lives of people without their awareness of them. Certain ideas have been passed down from generation to generation, transferring between nervous systems from thousands of years ago to this very moment. Over a long enough span of time, some of these ideas have begun to no longer seem like representations of certain realities, but as unquestioned truths, such as with the State, the wheel, the plow, the alphabet, agriculture, Roman road systems, etc.
Symbols, such as words, do not exist in isolation. Words carry around underlying assumptions about psychological states, emotional tones, explanations of the physical universe, and references to innumerable aspects of what makes up existence and meaning and purpose.
“Since words contain both denotations (referents in the sensory-existential world) and connotations (emotional tones and poetic or rhetorical hooks), humans can be moved to action even by words which have no real meaning or reference in actuality. This is the mechanism of demagoguery, advertising and much of organized religion.” (Wilson, Robert)
The semantic time-binding circuit makes distinctions out of raw experiences. It puts labels on the ineffability of life. Its purpose is to endlessly divide and sub-divide, categorizing all the universe into predictable patterns, which make sense.
Every new generation adds information to former generations, re-classifying the outdated information of the past. Novel connections arise between what once existed and what currently exists, leading to discovery, insight, and progression.
While entropy shows a gradual decline into disorder, information is negative entropy, coherence and order, where understandings birth out of chaos. When information increases exponentially, new patterns are recognized from a randomness of events. Over ever shorter periods of time, more advancements develop in music, art, technology, science, and so on.
Despite all this informational “progress” over the centuries, the majority of domesticated primates (humans) are still trapped in their lower, more primitive circuits. They have evolved with reptilian and mammalian brains from earlier epochs in time.
Lower circuits can often be manipulated through a fear of outsiders, threats to safety, challenges to trusted authorities, appeals to tribal loyalty, and a distrust in those who are perceived as different, alien, or hostile.
While the first two circuits establish homeostasis in a civilization, the third (semantic, time-binding) circuit seeks out higher states. The third circuit has always been controlled, partially or totally, through the creation and enforcement of rules, taboos, prohibitions, laws, traditions, rituals, and cultural games — most of which are unconscious, unstated, and seen as “common sense.”
Those who are in power want to control third-circuit insights, and establish order, because ideas that are unknown and new and radical often challenge the power structures already in place. There have always been fluctuations between progressive ideas and traditions, but as time passes in civilization, so does the informational content.
Informational content may act to support all of life such as with movements for equality and rights, medicines that treat infectious diseases, scientific revolutions that upend the fundamental understanding of spacetime, and so on. On the other side, informational content can destroy all of life, such as with nuclear bombs, drone strikes, oil spills, assault rifles, child labor, book burnings, etc.
Everything that has manifested in civilization — from planes to trains, skyscrapers to highways, napalm to baby clothes, microwaves to toe rings — has birthed because of ideas, connecting symbolically through imaginations, developing, changing, self-correcting, evolving over time.
Through imagination, people exist with a potential for generating unknown amounts of growth and destruction. In a world of limited resources, overpopulation, and institutions that seek to maintain their primate order with warheads, lower-circuit manipulations, and ink excretions on paper to establish their power, there is another force that is still accelerating: information. Through information lies the possibility for high knowledge, liberation, and awareness.
The socio-sexual circuit awakens during adolescence — at the onset of puberty. During this vulnerable stage in human development, sexual preferences, taboos, dysfunctions, and fetishes have the highest chance of being imprinted. These imprints may be due to chance, trauma, genetics, and environmental influences.
People generally mimic what’s deemed as acceptable by their culture while hiding what is not, keeping certain parts of their sexual profiles secret. Every tribe has its own rules about what is considered sexually moral and immoral.
There are, in every society, controls over sexual self-identification and related behaviors. Whether these controls are ignorant or enlightened, biased or liberated, is one matter. Nevertheless, the innate purpose behind these measures is to influence the survival, variability, and evolution of the gene pool. Those who make and enforce these rules often want power over what people can and can’t do, which in turn, gives them more control over their choices, values, identities, and meanings.
Despite these attempts at domination, there will always be unknown variables in sexual attraction, reproduction, mating, and future evolution.
“Taboo and morality are tribal attempts to govern the random element — to select the desired future.” (Wilson, Robert)
Those who act as authorities in select groups within their societies, such as monks, nuns, priests, shamans, teachers, philosophers, parents, politicians, scientists, journalists, celebrities, and so on, decide what symbols are acceptable and unacceptable, moral and immoral, right and wrong. Those who control these symbols can control the limits of information.
The socio-sexual circuit keeps a check on the semantic time-binding circuit. Frequent checks are necessary to prevent an unrestrained rise of innovation and to keep order.
Children are generally taught to follow the rules of their given society, to accept those rules as normal. They are not commonly taught to question their leaders, criticize those in authority, or develop into critical independent thinkers.
Tribal guides, such as parents, teachers, priests, and police officers, desire for children to think/act semi-robotically, mimicking agreed upon values, following the traditions of the past, so they’ll be accepted into the preferred roles of their groups.
Most people are programmed to be just smart enough to do their roles properly, but not smart enough to question the roles they are placed under. They are trained to follow certain unspoken rules within their groups (of gender, class, race, age, etc.) but not to question them too much.
They will vote for leaders who appeal to their primitive circuits, such as charismatic politicians who claim to be patriots, who denounce outsiders that threaten their traditional values. To stir up the emotions of the population based on outside threats, to speak eloquently about hope and change, is a way for those in power to manipulate ordinary people. Politicians prey on vulnerabilities, reinforcing a desire for security and a fear of the unknown.
Groups often apply similar tactics to re-imprint the nervous systems of individuals. Many cults, militaries, religions, and terrorists, who have re-imprinted (brainwashed) those who were initially outside their groups, used methods of isolation (removal of contradicting realities), harsh punishments for unacceptable behavior, rewards for acceptable behavior, the reinforcement of group superiority over individual inferiority, mind-altering drugs, initiations to earn special statuses, the normalization of security inside the group (protective mother/father figure) alongside a fear of the unknown (outside perspectives), etc.
“The easiest way to get brainwashed is to be born. All of the above principles then immediately go into action, a process which social psychologists euphemistically call socialization. The bio-survival circuit automatically hooks onto or bonds to the most appropriate mother or mothering object; the emotional-territorial circuit looks for a ‘role’ or ego-identification in the family or tribe; the semantic circuit learns to imitate and then use the local reality-grids (symbol systems); the socio-sexual circuit is imprinted by whatever mating experiences are initially available at puberty.” (Wilson, Robert)
Domesticated primates (humans) are born with nervous systems. These nervous systems can adapt to a wide range of different reality-tunnels. Whereas in the past, groups may have existed separately from other groups, while still maintaining a sense of stable reality, in modern times, in this interconnected world, groups bump up against each other constantly, clashing over what reality is.
The symbol systems that some groups hold to be true and logical and moral, to other groups, are seen as false and nonsensical and immoral. Many groups confuse their symbol systems (maps of reality) with reality itself. To the most dogmatic believers, their reality is the only true reality. Anyone who opposes them is deluded, immoral, or heretical.
In modern times, through a constant exposure to different reality-tunnels, group identities are being challenged more often than before. The more dogmatic the group, the more dangerous it is for that group to be around outsiders with dissimilar views.
Beyond the first four circuits (oral bio-survival, anal territorial, semantic time-binding, socio-sexual) is the neurosomatic circuit.
Pranayama breathing, meditation, visualization of white light, prolonged sexual play without having an orgasm, psychedelic/cannabis consumption, among other techniques, can trigger highly pleasant and unpleasant sensory states, depending on the level of the practitioner.
Yogis, gurus, mystics, and heretics have described this circuit as an orgasmic experience, union with all/God/the infinite/the divine, crossing the abyss, and so on. Some have entered this state through a terrible internal struggle while others seem to naturally flow there without much suffering.
The fifth circuit is intuitive and non-linear. Whereas the third circuit hyper-thinking rationalist will build linear models of reality, and the second circuit alpha will behave differently based on who is dominant in the social hierarchy, the fifth-circuit mystic will sense the gestalt, the organic whole, between data points in infinity.
The neurogenetic circuit moves beyond all lower circuits. This is the circuit of genetic memory, the collective unconscious, the Tao, non-duality. Coincidences become significant and paradoxes are solved with wordless understanding. There is no true distinction between what exists out there and what exists within.
On the level of this circuit, infinity fits within a flicker of sunlight. All of the cosmos, from the quarks inside of atoms to the planets of distant galaxies, from the birth of the Big Bang to a child’s sigh on an Argentinian beach, interconnects with each other, rising and falling, being and not being. Life and death are like the root systems of expanding trees.
The mind becomes what it focuses on. A mind that thinks about thinking is meta-thinking. To think about thinking about thinking, ad infinitum, to reflect all of life like a mirror, to be totally absorbed in an idea, a feeling, a moment, without any mental separation, is to use the meta-programming circuit.
This circuit can program all the lower circuits, switching between them like channels on a television set. Similar to non-action in Taoism, the meta-programmer adapts to each circumstance, engaging life fully, while not holding on.
The human brain may be physically small compared to the universe, while inside the brain, the entire universe operates. As the mind encounters certain reality-tunnels, the mind can inhabit the logic of those reality-tunnels, while knowing that there is more out there.
The nervous system takes in a limited number of “existential” information, or data points, from the infinite possibilities of the universe.
Then the nervous system creates models of reality from this changing data — editing, combining, classifying, removing, adding — mostly below the level of conscious awareness.
So many thoughts, feelings, perceptions, sensations, and so on, are processed every millisecond. While at the same time, most of people’s lives are forgotten. Irrelevant/contradictory information is constantly being ignored, resisted, rejected, and rationalized.
Only fragments of experience are selected to fit into one’s conscious beliefs.
Even those experiences are constantly interpreted. They’re being analyzed, misremembered, revised, and forgotten.
People narrow their perceptions even more by filtering their identities through the different symbol systems of race, class, gender, politics, religion, height, fitness, personal hobbies, sexuality, ad infinitum, creating ever more distinct reality-tunnels for themselves.
Domesticated primates (humans) are a lot more creative than they will ever realize. They are the artists of their own existence, capable of, but not always aware of, neurologically programming their relationship with the universe. They inter-are with all that is. Every person creates his or her own universe while the universe is creating every person.
All human systems have degrees of order and chaos within them. As this balance shifts, so does the system and those who are in it. The more complex the system becomes informationally, the more unstable it will become as well.
As information increases exponentially, major transformations will take place in the system, which will radically change the realities of future people — sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.
Look at the difference in perception between a hunter-gatherer and an industrialist, an astrologer in ancient Egypt and a quantum physicist in the 20th century, a child factory worker in 1890 and a computer software engineer in 2019.
The breakdown of an old system may be the sign of a breakthrough into another model of reality, another visionary step, another way of seeing.
From death, life springs, but from life, death returns. Just like a caterpillar bursting through the hold of its cocoon, exposed to the wind, stretching out to flap its colorful wings, for only a moment, before eventually meeting its end.
Systems are not isolated information organisms, destined to evolve or self-destruct, while unable to affect anything outside of themselves. They are interconnected with the energies of other systems, gleaming with promise like the beads of Indra’s Net.
As entropy is a measure of the increasing disorder in a closed system, there is still the quantum probability of energy underlying the fabric of every event non-locally. As information increases in an uncertain but probabilistic state of coherence to chaos, order to disorder, systems will change and neurological realities will adapt to their interplay, until there is another transformation in consciousness.
When we have mettā, we’re kind, respectful, compassionate, gentle, loving, and caring. We want to express our unconditional goodwill. Our minds — bodies come together as friends. We’re accepting rather than judgmental, tender rather than harsh, forgiving rather than punishing.
Thich Nhat Hanh, peace activist and founder of the Plum Village Tradition in Zen Buddhism, wrote that “Mettā meditation is a practice of cultivating understanding, love, and compassion by looking deeply, first for ourselves and then for others.”
When we can heal ourselves, then we can heal the world.
Ajahn Brahm, Theravadin monk and Abbot of the Bodhinyana Monastery in Australia, wrote in Bear Awareness, “If you have loving-kindness toward other people, they’re no longer a problem. With loving-kindness toward yourself, you’re no longer a problem to yourself. And when you have loving-kindness toward every moment, beautiful mettā to this moment, you’re on the highway to enlightenment. The path becomes so easy.”
We can open our hearts to every moment. Even when we make a mistake, yawn with tiredness, forget to accomplish a task, lose our patience with someone close to us, or dread an upcoming event, we can be compassionate toward ourselves.
Every experience can teach us to look deeply within.
“Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.” (Beck, Joko)
When we silently repeat our phrases of loving-kindness, we are cultivating our mettā. We’re watering the seeds of peace, love, and non-duality, rather than the seeds of violence, hatred, and discrimination.
“May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be at peace” are a few common sentences that we can speak for our loving-kindness meditation. We can even say “Love… [pause] Peace… [pause] Joy… [pause]” or whatever words touch our hearts. In the spaces between every word, we can connect.
“The words just light the match that ignites the mettā. The feelings that come after the words, that’s mettā.” (Brahm, Ajahn)
At the beginning of our practice, words will point our minds toward mettā.
After enough practice, we will no longer need to use our words anymore.
“This is how we practice loving-kindness. We use the words to generate an emotion, and when that emotion is strong, we turn toward the emotion and let go of the words. The words have done their job. If you wish, you can visualize it like a golden light in your heart.” (Brahm, Ajahn)
No matter how we meditate, whether we’re walking on a path in the forest, sitting on a soft cushion, or driving down the freeway after work, we can be kind, we can be present, we can be compassionate. As we breathe in and out, as we settle into stillness, we become more aware of what passes. The moment doesn’t need to be any different than it is.
As we watch our feelings, thoughts, and sensations, they will come and go.
Letting them go is an act of mettā.
“Make peace, be kind, be gentle — that’s all you need to do. When the mind is restless, make peace, be kind, be gentle. That’s a goal you can always achieve. If you can’t make the mind still or let go of the thoughts or get rid of the tiredness, you can always make peace with it. You can always be kind, you can always be gentle — that’s within your power no matter what’s happening. And that’s all you need to do. Peace will follow along, and the joy of kindness and the beautiful equanimity of gentleness will be with you.” (Brahm, Ajahn)
We often get so caught up in our views, in our expectations for how our lives should be, that we suffer needlessly. It’s not necessary for us to prove that we’re tough meditators, sitting in cramped positions, unmoved for hours, gritting our teeth.
We don’t need to force our minds to concentrate.
We don’t need to achieve any special state either.
It’s far better for us to be kind and gentle.
We can be happy with who we are in each moment. We don’t have to look outside ourselves for peace. We often imagine that we’ll finally be content after we meet our soul mate, write a best-selling book, land a lucrative job, raise a family, get rich on the stock market, but after our goals are done, we will only return to ourselves, again and again, until we seek the next big thing.
There will always be more that we want, more that we can’t have, more that we don’t want to lose, more that we have already lost. We might believe that one day, we will be happy and peaceful and loving, but not yet. Not until we have achieved X or have become Y. The time of our happiness will always be an idea in the future. It will forever be outside our reach.
What we don’t realize is already within us.
If we want to find peace, we have to be peace. If we want to find love, we have to be love.
It begins with us now.
“Root out the violence in your life, and learn to live compassionately and mindfully. Seek peace. When you have peace within, real peace with others is possible… If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” (Hanh, Thich Nhat)
“To help us understand the beauty and joy of nothingness Ajahn Brahm talks about his spiritual experience in the jungles of Central America. Ajahn Brahm challenges us to spend half a day on our weekend doing nothing (just simply giving ourselves an opportunity to become peaceful).”
Meditation is not so hard. All we have to do is do nothing. We’re so used to doing things, dwelling on what we do, don’t do, don’t want to do, and will one day do, that we forget what it’s like to do nothing. But when we can let go of our thoughts about the past and future, when we can rest in the space of the moment, not trying to gain anything, go anywhere, or be anyone, we can find so much freedom.
We can take delight in being who we are.
We’ve become habituated to planning for futures that will never come, busying ourselves with errands, dwelling on our past mistakes, desiring what we don’t have, and avoiding what we don’t like, that when we do have the chance to do nothing, we often are still trying to do something.
To do nothing is easy. All we have to do is let things be.