In my last blog, I discussed personal identifications and how they mold our minds over time, opining that a sane response to the collective paralysis we witness within our world is to honestly assess our own identifications and how they influence our behavior. In pursuing such a course, one begins to take a more conscious approach to life, unlearning things they once took for granted. There are as many approaches to such an endeavor as there are people walking the planet, but for my part, I started at the beginning, drawing on available sources of knowledge, as well as practicing a deeper relationship with my own intuition.
Although deep inner work is not an easy ask, my own journey afforded me no reasonable alternatives, so little by little, I began to question my life circumstances and the role I played in them. In setting out to investigate my own mind and body, I started at the beginning, erasing all assumptions. Throughout the process, I found science an essential aid, as it provided me with reasonable, empirically tested theories, which gave me perspective regarding events as they unfolded in my life. Although I don’t regard science as means to an ultimate answer regarding my experience of reality, I have found it an indispensable tool for grounding oneself, especially in the face of unreasonable experiences.
Reality, as we experience it, begins at our senses. While it is a common belief that we have five senses, the true number is thought to be somewhere between 9 and 21. In a universe constructed of pure information, our senses act as data input systems, and when sensory data reaches the brain, it is integrated into our ongoing “stream” of consciousness. If the workings of human consciousness were drawn out as a flowchart, this integration point would be the spot labeled “miracle happens here”.
In receiving data from our senses, the brain performs a kind of synthesis, weaving the various data streams into a 3-dimensional reality. This is the world we experience and interact with - life as we know it. Strange as it may be to consider, reality is shown to us as a series of still images, akin to frames in a movie reel - the folks who study these things often refer to these frames as “bings”. Bings arrive at a rate of roughly 30-80 per second and, just as in a movie theater, when images are presented to us with sufficient speed, persistence of vision creates the illusion of motion.
In his song, Anthem, Leonard Cohen penned the much quoted lyric, “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Aside from being an inspired bit of writing, I have noticed that the idea he expresses seems to hold up in everything I observe - there seems to be an irreal element within every aspect of reality, a "crack". I will likely write more about this someday, but for the time being, I’m watching the phenomenon, as I am not quite sure what to make of it, or perhaps how to convey it understandably. Suffice to say, our brains presentation of reality also has cracks in it, circumstances in which its “normal” presentation breaks down, and reality fails to maintain its integrity.
As an example, we witness a crack in reality when looking out the window of a moving car and observing the hubcap of a passing vehicle acting strangely. In one moment, the hubcap appears to be spinning normally, and in the next, it begins to slow, before briefly stopping and continuing in the opposite direction. This phenomenon takes place when the rotation of the passing vehicle’s wheel approaches the frame rate with which our brain is generating bings, creating a bizarre effect. It is a small thing, but it illustrates that even within the most mundane of circumstances, we experience the irreal - there’s a crack in everything.
My mind reels when grappling with these odd findings regarding the nature of our reality, yet, science is simply validating ancient spiritual truths, empirically verifying the Buddhist notion of world as illusion, or "Maya", as Hindus refer to it.
Turning from the scientific to the spiritual, we find that gurus have long expressed the secret to living a blissful life as "being okay with what shows up." At first blush, this seems an oversimplification, or perhaps uselessly vague. Yet, when looking through the lens of science, we see that life truly arrives in slices, like playing cards slid to us across a poker table. A frame is shown to us, and we react to it. Another frame is shown to us, and we react once more. This, in a nutshell, is the fundamental nature of reality as we currently understand it. Knowing this to be the case, we find that happiness or sadness, as we experience them, are nothing more than the sum of our individual reactions, laid out over time.
Put another way, the data our senses receive isn’t good or bad, it is data, and as such, it is neutral by nature. Knowing this, we can deduce that the happiness or sadness we experience is being created by us, by our beliefs and identifications, our attitudes and agreements, and a host of unconscious programs that run in our mind. In short, we own our reactions, completely. We can blame others all we want, but in the end, we own our reactions. In fact, they are the only thing we truly own.
Yes, we live in troubled times, and many experience dire circumstances, a fact that should be on the forefront of our minds as we seek to heal the world around us. But in the now - the moment of reaction - there are no victims, there are only frames and reactions. If we don’t enjoy the reactions we’re having, it does no good to place blame elsewhere, as they are our reactions. Inserting our conscious will into this ongoing process is the essence of mindfulness - not meditating in a monastery, or sweating in a yoga studio, but assessing the stories our minds are whispering to us and questioning the legitimacy of them.
A couple weeks ago, I came to realize something about my own reactions to life as it is presented to me. Early one evening, as I prepared to do yoga, I felt a pang of guilt and self-judgement regarding something small, and in that moment, from nowhere, a question arose in me.
“Do you really believe that any state of consciousness is better or worse than another in this reality?”
Reflecting on the question, I began to examine this self-judgement and the resulting negativity it had evoked in me. In that moment, for no reason in particular, I saw myself as a child on a winter's night in Canada, standing by an outdoor ice rink, dressed in hockey gear. I noticed that the child felt the exact same way as I did in that very moment. All at once, it became clear to me ... I had been telling myself this guilty story my entire life, engaging in the same pattern of reaction.
Now frozen in place, I searched deeper into my memory, traveling as far back as I could recall. I witnessed the part this pattern had played in my ongoing experience of reality, the familiar feelings of unworthiness and self-judgement it animated. It had always been there, traveling with me as if a beloved companion. More importantly, I saw that it was completely useless - it benefited no one, nor was it perceptible to anyone but me, and yet, I had shared my life with it - creating it again and again, moment to moment, reaction to reaction.
The realization floored me. It was like noticing that I had been driving with the emergency-brake on for my entire life. In that moment, as I experienced a full understanding of the situation, my linear, software-developer side erupted spontaneously, and two words emerged involuntarily from my mouth. “It’s inefficient!”
Just like that, I came to understand that I didn’t have to feel bad. I understood that reacting in such ways serves no purpose but to diminish my own experience of reality. Yet, somehow, it was more than that. In witnessing the inefficiency of the pattern I’d been inhabiting, I wasn’t simply free to stop exercising self-judgement, I was obligated to stop. It didn’t serve me. It never had. I had been playing the role of dutiful servant to a meaningless cause, lost in a story I’d learned by heart long, long ago, and never thought to question.
In observing our own stories and identifications, we do more than take up the mantle of healing in a turbulent world, we seek to free ourselves from the turbulence which rages within us. We learn, in time, to forgive ourselves, and so too, the world around us.
Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” My mother sent me a card with this quote on it many years ago, during a difficult period in my life. The card featured a man in an inverted yoga posture, silouetted against the rising sun, his world turned upside down. That card sat on my kitchen counter for a long, long time. I knew there was wisdom in the message it delivered, but it was beyond my grasp. Now, with many years passed and much water gone under the bridge, I can’t say what happened to that card. Yet, the message remains. Somehow, with the passage of time, it has come to live in me. Not just as a pleasant sentiment, but as a verifiable statement regarding the nature of this bizarre reality we inhabit together, and yet alone.
Till next time!