Writings/Blog

Freedom #2

seagull

In order to be truly free, you must relinquish dependence on the material world to conform to your expectations and bring you inner peace. You must divorce from a tumultuous marriage to a preconceived outcome. You must be willing to lose everything.

What does it mean to “lose everything”? It does not mean to nihilistically dispense with any hope of happiness, of letting life wash over you and plow you down and you just take it. It does not mean disintegrate into depression in the face of life’s meaninglessness, nor does it mean you revel in hedonism – because what difference does it make? It is not a vow of poverty. It is not a requisite order to live like a monk or a hermit. It doesn’t mean that you donate heavily to charity in hopes of redemption. In fact, this has little to do with the material world

Eastern philosophy has something inherent in its nature akin to our word quiescence. This is a state of pure awareness, of just observing. This state is at the heart of meditation, but is often misunderstood as banishing your thoughts and entering oblivion. Really it is the state of being suspended in consciousness, allowing experience to occur without any judgment or expectation. It is from that place that you can survey the domain of selfhood in relation to the whole of experience. Another way to express this state is the transcendent or as Victor Frankl names it, the “nooetic” realm – the dimension that can observe all the parts of experience and thus from where comes wisdom.

To arrive at this place, you must temporarily abandon your ties to  pre-programmed beliefs and the expectations of society, but is from this place that your wisdom guides you. With the decision to relinquish as the ultimate guide your ingrained societal voices, what falls away is fear – the fear that you may make the wrong decision, the one that will not preserve your job, your money, your relationships in the forms you imagine them to be. Because you are longer bound to a fantasy, you do not fear. You are operating in experience as it unfolds. You have relinquished the pretty picture to which you were told to hold on. You have demonstrated a willingness to lose everything.

With this willingness comes something much deeper and more secure than a sure future. There comes a trust in your nature and the rightness of and wisdom of your true self. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a meditation on freedom,  contains the notion that painful separation from the secure matrix of culture can bring about a revelation of your deepest desire as well as the capacity to pursue by voluntarily sacrificing comfortable barriers. Freedom means you may be called to abandon what you think you love in order to know what you truly love– it means you know deeply that should you lose what you have, you won’t be finished as a human being. Without being dependent on expectations and outcomes to complete you, you are whole, you are a “self contained unit”. You are free.

 

 

Freedom #1

The great philosopher and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for the West, Alan Watts, described Nirvana as complete psychological freedom. He characterized this liberation, as it were, as “freedom from blocking”, by which he meant to give up clinging to the hopeless notion that the future can be completely controlled. Blocking, a trendy psychological term of the time (1960’s) can be another way of describing how the mind holds back the flow of experience when this information somehow challenges our sense of control.

The typical, human way of being requires us to continually try to predict the future (both immediate and long-term) in terms of manipulating our actions and thinking to preserve a specific and desired outcome of our actions. Our narrow focus on a specific vision of the future comes up against the thoroughly unpredictable and spontaneous flow of reality. Therefore, our beloved picture of the future is frequently dashed by disappointment. This is how suffering is described in Buddhism: a kind of “clinging” to outcome and a loss of freedom. In this way, also, the full flow of experience comes up against barriers to entering our consciousness as we are continually blocking out experience we deem as threatening to our envisioned future.

The point of Zen practice is to open up the channels of experience and allow a renewal of spontaneity. The Zen master, according to Watts, directs the student to “Show me your original face, the one you had before your mother and father conceived you”. That face is of genuine spontaneity, of an ability to act with untainted authenticity. To fully realize this way of being in the world is Satori or Enlightenment. It is what Zen names with the misleading term, “The Void”, for it is not to say that the “Void” means nothingness. What this means, says Watts, is that your attitude towards life changes when you give up trying to control the outcome of your actions. You enter a way of being you realize that what is happening now is IT and thus experience takes on an aliveness that is not apparent if we are not fully present.

But what can we do if we don’t have access to Zen training? While we hear advice to meditation and “be in the now” from the most mainstream of sources and daily it seems, there is nonetheless a timeless wisdom to the notion of presence. An ongoing commitment to stay present whenever you can allows us to practice removing ourselves out of the running narrative of thinking and placing ourselves into pure experience of being. Eventually through this practice, a different way of thinking opens up – one in which the actual elements of experience expose themselves, and how we then act is based on more the reality at hand, and less part of an ongoing attitude of “clinging” to an outcome.

Is it practical to always operate in this fashion? Perhaps not always, unless your calling is to a spiritual life. But to integrate this approach into life more regularly has been known for thousands of years to decrease psychological suffering. Does a realization that the future cannot be controlled mean all we are is dust in the wind? In a way, it does mean that. But that is to say, isn’t it, that it is this realization that allows us to use the wind as it arises to carry us – working with instead of against. That is Freedom.

Seeking

 

“It may be hard for us to accept that human striving is ultimately driven by a welling up of ancient neurochemicals and primitive parts of the brain. This view does not easily fit our conception of ourselves as moral and spiritual Beings. Although the details of human hopes are surely beyond the imaginations of other creatures, the evidence now clearly indicates that certain intrinsic aspirations of all mammalian minds, those of mice as well as men, are driven by the same ancient neurochemistries.”

Do Chameleons Dream in Multicolor?

What if at one point in our evolutionary history, our “consciousness” was characterized by a perpetual dream state? This sounds vaguely like the notion of Julian Jayne’s Bicameral mind theory, but according to Jaak Panksepp, the “Rat Tickler” and Affective Neuroscientist (he wrote the book), it is possible that at one time in our evolutionary history, this was the case.

In his research, Panksepp  determined that neurons that contribute to the dream state are responsible also for some orienting reflex function in the waking state. This discovery encouraged him to further attempt to understand the original purpose of the dream state of mind.

Dreaming is a higher brain function than REM sleep and at one time may even been a primitive form of consciousness. Now relegated to the background, dreaming nonetheless serves an important function in integrating our multiple daily doses of information into the more primitive areas of the brain. It is in this state that we have a sense of the perception of the world from the standpoint of the reptilian brain. The co-creation of the neocortex attempting to make sense of the processes within the basal ganglia is dream.

So, it may be that the odd nature of dream imagery are a way of translating information that our basic functionality can understand and use to keep us alive another day.

But what does this imply for our further understanding of our own brains? How does this impact our understanding of our dreams? If we consider the purposes of the reptilian brain, whose survival-level functions are often mentioned in conjunction with trauma – fight, flight, freeze or approach, and that this area of the brain is the seat of the most primitive emotions governing our survival – fear, rage and lust, then it could be our dreams are giving us clues as to how our relationship with the world is impacting our actual nature in terms of raw primary emotional processes.

For example, a feeling of entrapment in a job one hates may metaphorically translate into the embodied feeling physiological inhibition and in our dream, we may feel a strong desire to run – even if we live the most sedentary of lives. Or that a long dormant sexual desire will seem to emerge “out of the cracks” like a horny little gecko. Our reptilian brain is interaction with what we have learned during the day. It speaks a different language than us, but our cognition does its best to understand what it is trying to say.

So, maybe nest time you are interpreting your dreams, along with engaging in complex, meandering, cognitive interpretations (if that is your inclination)…also, ask your “inner reptile” what it thinks. After all, that guy has been around for hundreds of millions of years, so let’s give him some say in the matter. After all, he’s going to keep you alive!

Food as addictive substance

This is the excerpt for a placeholder post. It can be deleted or edited to make it your own.

The mega-profitable junk/processed food industry has caused much of this preventable, chronic disease problem. That this in light of their super-scientific methods of assessing what is addictive or not is all the more distressing, since like the tobacco industry, knowing how to push the limits of creating and addictive but thoroughly legal substance is the objective of their research

The industry spends a tremendous amount of money on the dual approach of marketing and creating addictive substances out of corn and chemicals. Then, the public is seduced into using these products through a multi-level strategy  – advertising, addictiveness, availability) in allowing these products to be staples of their diets, I think the outrage might result in healthier choices. This approach to marketing began in the thirties, but in earnest after the war, therefore what we see in lower-income seniors is the result of a lifetime diet of Coca-Cola, white bread and chips.

But this does not mean that an older person is doomed. Changing the diet now, adding exercise and just generally understanding that making healthy choices in not only empowering, but also results in a better, longer life. I was recently reading about the enormous pile of money DaVita dialysis clinics make. Wouldn’t it be better for Medicare to put this money into education, and possibly subsidies for healthy food? I would definitely add an incentive component to the proposal in that respect. Healthy eating should be a major aspect of any care plan for seniors.

Also, just a thought, what if junk food was treated likes an addictive substance? Could a recovery approach be added in the healthy eating piece?