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Tag Archives: psychology

Missing The Point Happens

If you want to learn how to miss points in arguments I recommend this text. It’s an email-debate on trad- advaita vs neo- advaita.

As in any academic dispute there is a lot of “misunderstandings” and “not adressing the critique”. It seems like the more advanced the converstion, the more likely people are to make simple errors in communication. That’s wierd.

So the question is – can you communicate the idea of nondualism in a way that is non-dual without leaving the listener, with it’s dualistic mind, in the middle of nowhere?
The answer is of course “yes but no but yes but no but that’s beside the point”. So as always we’re left with a sense of confusion and wasted time.

I won’t waste your time with a lengthy rambling on this, so here’s a short one:
The brain uses about 90% of it’s capacity on internal affairs and maintenance. That’s why we have the misunderstanding that we only use 10% of our brain power. That’s BS because the brain needs to keep this 90/10 ratio to work properly. The 10% we have for actually communicating with the environment “outside” the brain (rest of our body and everything outside of the physical body) is ideally kept open and ready for action. That is what a zen no-mind is about. That is the state of a flexible mind open for interaction with the world at hand. That is what non-attachment is about, not messing up the flow of interaction between our mind and the environment. A relaxed and alert mind has it’s 10% ready so it can respond directly and efficiently to whatever shows up.

Any practice or non-practice that enhances this readiness is a good practice as far as I’m concerned. Any practice or non-practice that claim part of the 10% is not so good.
It’s not hard to see why almost every instruction or teaching emphazises “letting go” and “non-striving” in order to facilitate progress.
The difference I see between spiritual schools is basically different perspectives on how to communicate this important notion of “relaxing your mind”. Some do it by saying you will not be ready for nirvana in many lifetimes so just keep on practicing with no hope of awakening or liberation. Fine, so you can let go. Mission accomplished. Others say the practice is nothing but a way to let go of your striving and efforts to become enlightened and when you finally give up, the light bulb goes on. Then we have those who say there’s no need for practice at all so you can start your way to liberation by giving up right away.

What all of these seemingly different teachings point to is a way to keep the alotted 10% of our mind open and ready for communication and interaction with our internal and external environment. It’s being decribed as “spontaneous action”, “being integrated with wholeness” or “the end of suffering”.
Bottom line is – if you somehow (by means of any practice as well as no-practice) can avoid having a mind that is like a locked closet full of janitors, then you will be fully functional and able to respond properly whenever reality comes-a-knocking on your sense doors. That’s the state of bliss. On the other hand, if your mind is cluttered with concepts, planning, analysing, memories and interpretations, there will be stress building up because there’s a sens of missing something important i.e. what’s actually happening. So you lose control over the situation at hand which adds to the stress. As stress builds the 10% shrinks and the 90% expands in order to keep track of the mess. You then experience something like a “burn-out” or the feeling of “losing your mind”.

Now, whatever the teaching or non-teaching is made up of, the important thing is communicating in a way that counter this internal stress. Different people may need different messages to get there. Therefore it is perfectly ok to have different styles and approaches to this.

Jeeez, that was NOT a short post and it’s still very vague and…well, a sitting duck as far as misconceptions go.

I’ll go wash my bowl.

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There Is No One Doing Anything With Your Mind – Not Even You

Whenever you’re advised to do something with your mind, don’t listen further. At least listen carefully. Whatever the mind does, it does to itself. That is not to say it operates on its own, it doesn’t. It responds to a never-ending flow of internal and external input. Point is, there is no/not one standing outside of your mind able to do anything intentionally pre-decided with “it”. Not even what you usually think of as your “self”.

Imagine the object of such an action. The thing you’re supposed to cultivate or exercise in some way. A separate “mind” considered not good enough, and now you’re told to correct it. You’re supposed to train it and alter the way it works.
Maybe it’s too restless or too unfocused or perhaps it’s too attached to ideas. Some will tell you to develop a Big Mind instead the current small mind. So you believe that to be true. In fact, it IS true. There’s evidence all over the place. A wealth of literature and talk shows all fit so perfectly with your own experience. Others seem to have what it takes and they’re all getting somewhere while you’re stuck.
Damn genes, damn parents, damn education and…well, Dang Me!

Anyways, you’re desperate to acquire a still mind, a clear mind, an open mind or maybe a sharp and alert mind. Fair enough, there’s plenty of practices to go about that business. Teachers will appear no doubt. There are thousands of instructions waiting to be carried out so this could be a full-time job for you. Set everything aside and start your quest for the Right State of Mind. Why not go for the Buddha Mind while you’re at it.
That would be perfect, right.

One thing before you take off into the world of mind altering. Who’s gonna do the job?
Obviously not You for as long as you consider your mind as the very centerpiece of that “you”. I guess most people do exactly that. Stating that “This is Me, but my mind is not part of it” is pretty rare. More often we hear the opposite, like “This is Me and it remains Me even if I lose a leg or both my arms”.

So if you basically are your mind, how could you fix yourself? I guess having your arms doing brain surgery on yourself is ruled out. And even if that was an option, who is going to operate your arms?
You could – apparently by free will – decide to take some LSD and thus have your mind going southwest. Question remains, who or what did it? Was it you, your mind, your risk-taking personality, did the decision decide itself or was Dr. Hoffman in charge? Same thing if you tell a Guru to somehow magically alter your mind. Did s/he do it or did you do it by asking the Guru to do it, or was it maybe the Gurus “mind” that did it?

We can chew on this for eternity without getting anywhere besides totally confused and bored to the bone. Trying to isolate a specific doer or “agent” responsible for causing a likewise specific event that affects an isolated object is just impossible. It can’t be done. Of course it could happen, but to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t yet and I’m inclined to think it never will. Ever.

-So what happens next?
-No one knows!

-So no one can change my mind, not even myself?
-Correct!

-So I’m stuck with what I have?
-No, you’re never stuck because everything, including your mind, keeps on changing    constantly whether you like it or not!

-But I want my mind to change For The Better!!!
-Ouch, that’s as close to a constant no-change you will ever get.

-How do I change that?
-You don’t, but you can imagine doing it. It’s called delusion.

-You’re completly screwed up.
-Cheers my friend. Have a glass of wine.

 

Oceans of distraction

Chögyam Trungpa has just confirmed one of my pet-theories on why people with adhd has the kind of problems they have. In this particular case when it comes to planning and organizing. A couple of weeks ago I tried to use my cellphone reminder as a mindfulness-gadget. I set the reminder on eight a clock and hit snooze throught the day. The message was “Are you mindful?”. So every 10 minute that popped up and I looked at it and paused briefly. Few days later came the thought – If you don’t know where you are right now, then planning where to go will be difficult. Sounds rather obvious a first glance, but is it really? Could it be that we have different “internal reminders” so to speak? I think of it as a mostly covered operation going on unconsciously. A sort of silent monitor that checks our position in reference to whatever goal we might have. Say that my goal is to pass an exam or completing some other paperwork and I have the weekend to do it. Having difficulties like those that come with adhd doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve forgotten what to do or you can’t get yourself to start doing it. That might work alright, but the problem can be to maintain the task at hand. So when you sit there and start working, in no time you’re distracted by something and start doing something else.  Two hours later you’ve done a lot of thing and the original task might be one of them. For two hours of “work” the result is often disappointing. This is quite a common thing for some of us. Happens to everyone of course, but not 90% of the time and not to such a great extent, it’s a continuum and not black/white. Well then, what makes us different in this situation? A lot of things I guess, but especially concerning “maintaining goaldirected action”? My thinking was/is that what look like poor planning might be poor precence. That the tendency to get distracted and off target could be somewhat depending on how mindful you are about what you do right now. There is a difference between “being distracted” and “not coming out of distraction”, and here I’m focusing on the latter. What keeps me “off track” once I get there? Say for arguments sake that I have an “internal reminder” of sorts, which scan my present action and decides if it’s in accordance with my goal or not. If not, then I snap out of distraction and get back on task. If I’m still on it, nothing happens. For readers well educated in the scientific way of describing such processes I’ll add; there is no little homonucleus involved and, yes, this is speculative and with no valid references to state of the art neuroscience. I have access to such knowledge but this is not the place. Recommended reading would include Reichle’s work on the brains Default Mode Network. Google and it will come.
Anyway, if this hypothetic “internal reminder” is lazy or out to lunch, what then? Likely you will stay distracten when distracted and time will pass without you noticing. What about the goal of completing the task? It got lost completely. Note here that the “diciplined” and “responsible” person who did what s/he intended in these two hours wasn’t thinking about the goal all the time. That might have been a way to keep it in sight, but a less effective one. The would mean they had to re-focus between present action and ultimate goal and I don’t think that is what happens. Insted, they are repeatedly reminded of the goal by being mindful of what they do right now because the two go together.
I’m looking for this information…(because it’s needed to finish the task)
I’m writing this paragraph…(because it’s a part of my assigned task)
Something like that, and mainly un- or sub-consciensously.
The crucial aspect of this function appears when distraction enters the scene. That happens to all and especially if we concider the task rather tedious, right? So when distacted, you loose track and start checking your mailbox. After a little while the internal reminder  doest it’s thing and, ooops, – you’re checking the mailbox aren’t you? Oh right, I’ll do that in a while. And you switch back to the task at hand. If it doesn’t do it’s thing properly, in the same situation, you keep checking mail and then read the news and then…
This example deals with the little picture. If we go to the big picture and look at planning/organizing, it might play out in a similar way. Say for example that I wanna be good at meditation and live a more harmonious life in general. Vague indeed but have mercy, I’m not payed to write this and it’s way past bedtime so I take what comes up. There’s a lot of planning in that. A lot of everyday things that together makes it more or less likely that you will cover some ground in that direction. It’s not enough to just decide it. You have to work it too. So you have a goal and you have 1000 distractions. Same as in the little picture, but over time and not as a one time effort. Writes Trungpa;

Planning for the future

Humans are the only animals that try to dwell in the future.You don’t have to purely live in the present situation without a plan, but the future plans you make can only be based on the aspects of the future that manifest within the present situation. You can’t plan a future if you don’t know what the present situation is.
You have to start from NOW to know how to plan.

The state of agency

Doing my regular lunch-meditation I had one of these frequent flashes of dots being connected. Mr. Benjamin Libet came to visit just as I was looking at my breath, or att least trying to. He said- “There’s half a second gap between you being conscious about an action and the action being done. The gap tells us that half a second before you are consciously aware that you will do the action, the part of the brain that is responsible for the carrying out of it has alredy begun the action”. Yeah, I’ve read that before and it’s a cool finding, but how’s that related to my meditation? Benny had gone so I had to figure that one out myself. This is what I came up with:

If the consciousness always is lagging behind the action, there would be an experience of having to catch up on what I’m doing. There would also be a general feeling of not being in full contact with ones body. I think we all have experienced this. So what could you do to close that gap? How do you manage to be fully present, or aware, in your body and it’s actions if your consciousness is constantly lagging and, so to speak, trying to catch up? One might say, in the rearview mirror trying to make sense of what just happened. I think this relates to Susan Blackmore’s question – Am I conscious now? and the subtle difference between being consious (which we are most of the time) and being aware of being conscious (which we practice in meditation).
Well, you could try to speed up your conscioussness. To make it faster in some way. Is this possible? I don’t know! Maybe some drugs are designed to do such a thing? My guess is that such an approach will lead to even more unexplainable behavior. Perhaps some drug will, not close the gap, but blur it in some way so that the experience of “lagging” is transformed to something else. Myself I take methylphenidate for adhd, but in regard to this idea I think that effect is more of getting better hold of past and future, not closing the gap itself. Actually, I haven’t thought about that before…hmmmm, interesting, but that’s another post. That one will be about the advantage of having adhd in meditation practice, but only if you totally let go of your difficulties with memory and planning. After all, if meditation is about Not thinking in past and/or future, you might argue that having adhd is almost like being there already. Then again, I believe most people with this type of functioning regards meditation as a practice to overcome exactly these “deficits”. Stop and save the rest you restless motorbrain.
Continued on topic: Another way is to slow down action. That was my flash. The gap being one dot and sitting still the other. What if meditation in the shamatha form of “just” calming the mind is in it’s essence a practice in closing the gap between, not consciousness, but awareness and the organism?
I sketch a diagram over consciousness-action-perception-awareness. Underneath I scribble;

Perception cannot know itself
Action cannot know itself
Consciousness cannot know itself
Awareness knows them all

Am I aware that I’m aware know?

Awareness cannot perceive
Awareness cannot act
Awareness cannot think

Awareness is an observer in chains and thus, totally passive. By default we see a totally passive function/entity/object as of no use. It only comes into action if we explicitly calls for it.
-Am I conscious now, and the answer is always Yes. Then awareness is placed in the backseat again. Passivly waiting for the next assignement. When called for by consciousness, it is at your service again.

Back to the gap then. If there was no gap maybe awareness was the default and the sequence would be perception – conscious action instead of perception – action – conscious effort in making sense of what happened. I don’t have time to elaborate on this right now. We have to work out the role of mind in being one of the senses/perceptions. It’ll all be crystal clear by the weekend.

Salt & Freedom

On the way to work I listen to Jack Kornfield on Buddhist Psychology. It’s like 12hrs worth of teachings, but I get my Aha-of the day already after 2 minutes.
The Buddha said that just like all of the oceans have but one taste, which is that of salt, so too have all true teachings of the dharma but one taste and that is the taste of freedom
Well, Thank You Jackie! I’ve spent some time trying to get a grip on this. Why bother with the whole meditation trip? Among all the valid reasons and all the stupid ones, one always seem to call for attention. All my reasons for placing my feet on the path have but one taste and that is the taste of freedom.
Ok, case closed.
Start walking.
Next stop Mindful Workday.

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Monday Path