19 February 2010

Everything with sharp edges, burning with being, bright with meaning.

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Let me tell you a story about strong renunciation. At one time there was a drought in a certain part of the country. The farmers began to cut long channels to bring water to their fields. One farmer was stubbornly determined. He took a vow that he would not stop digging until the channel connected his field with the river. He set to work.

The time came for his bath, and his wife sent their daughter to him with oil. 'Father,' said the girl, 'it is already late. Rub your body with oil and take your bath.' 'Go away!' thundered the farmer. 'I have too much to do now.' It was past midday, and the farmer was still at work in his field. He didn't even think of his bath. Then his wife came and said: 'Why haven't you taken your bath? The food is getting cold.

You overdo everything. You can finish the rest tomorrow or even today after dinner.' The farmer scolded her furiously and ran at her, spade in hand, crying: 'What? Have you no sense? There's no rain. The crops are dying. What will the children eat? You'll all starve to death. I have taken a vow not to think of bath and food today before I bring water to my field.'

The wife saw his state of mind and ran away in fear. Through a whole day's back-breaking labour the farmer managed by evening to connect his field with the river. Then he sat down and watched the water flowing into his field with a murmuring sound. His mind was filled with peace and joy. He went home, called his wife, and said to her, 'Now give me some oil and prepare me a smoke.'

With serene mind he finished his bath and meal, and retired to bed, where he snored to his heart's content. The determination he showed is an example of strong renunciation. "Now, there was another farmer who was also digging a channel to bring water to his field. His wife, too, came to the field and said to him: 'It's very late. Come home.

It isn't necessary to overdo things.' The farmer didn't protest much, but put aside his spade and said to his wife, 'Well, I'll go home since you ask me to.' (All laugh) That man never succeeded in irrigating his field. This is a case of mild renunciation. "As without strong determination the farmer cannot bring water to his field, so also without intense yearning a man cannot realize God."

A couple of days ago, my first day back in the gym after having been physically sick for a few days. Had that resurgence of health that comes with recovery. The feeling of the vital forces coming back into full power after having fought off the sickness. I knew that I was going to have a long workout. I wanted to completely exhaust my body, wrench out the last vestiges of the disease.

After having spent almost 18 hours a day, four days straight, in my head, I felt clumsy in my flesh. The first few moments of riding the bike, consciousness settling back into the body, a hand into a glove. Then body memory took over, the programmed robot consciousness, and I was free to think as I biked down to the gym. Part of me felt as if I might just relax, not think about anything in particular, merely daydream as I rode along. It was a beautiful blue sky day so there was plenty to look at. And I wasn't trying to focus my intentions upon anything in particular.

At first I summarized and reevaluated what I had been working on during the day so far, idly speculating on what I was going to do later. Musing over how often a seemingly unrelated item of mild interest will suddenly reveal a hidden depth that connects back to some of your deepest concerns.

For example, I was researching a shaving mug that humorously depicted a "scantily dressed" woman as a barber, holding a razor, leaning over a distressed man in the barber's chair. The subject matter was stated to have originated with an image from a stereocard, the kind that you would place in a viewer and be able to view in "three dimensions." For shaving mug collectors, this was an unusual theme - a sort of goofy novelty. But I believed there was something more to it. I compiled a collection of similar images. In one, an engraving in the style of Rowlandson, I noted on the back wall behind the female barber a painting of Samson and Delilah. And there it was: the seed of myth that I sensed inside the novelty image on the shaving mug. I noted this for my research without comment and moved on to other work. But as I was riding along on the bike, the connection of the Samson and Delilah myth to the modern male discomfort/humor concerning female barbers kept nagging at me, like a small child that pulls at your sleeve: C'mon, you've really got to see this. Turning my full attention to the issue, I was suddenly presented with a scene of profound meaning. Connecting the grammar embodied in a man's vow to God, as with Samson, to the act of having one's hair cut by a woman that leads to the breaking of that vow and severed the relationship with God. The keystone to the larger mythic significance is Edenic: Adam, alone with God, the Divine Command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the creation of Eve, the Serpent, the apple, the expulsion from Eden. All of this resonate and deeply sublimated in the act of a man getting his hair cut by a woman - humor being one of the sure signs that there is a sublimated tension surround an issue.

And this is just a summary of my thinking as I was riding to the gym.

I reflected over the nature of these sudden insights, these well known Archimedean eureka moments. My consciousness, having been up in my skull for days, having been intensely occupied with self-reconstruction, was let out of its room. Like a dog let out of a cage, with an immediate sense of joy, a celebration of greater freedom, running all around like crazy, and an eventual return to the familiar yard, digging up the old bones to gnaw on for a while.

My illness, confining me to the house, confined my consciousness to my skull, so to speak. And this threw me out of harmony. Most importantly, the body was neglected. And it is only through the harmony of mind, body and spirit that the fullest potential of any human being is realized.

I entered the gym hungry, my consciousness burning inside my flesh. I was craving resistance, intensity, exhaustion. I wanted to feel the will of my mind push my body, my muscles, into complete fatigue, loading up the resistance, increasing the repetitions of an exercise until the muscle could not perform anymore.

I started my warm-up on the recumbent bike, starting a re-read of Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I felt my consciousness as a white hot instrument, penetrated into the meaning of the text with little effort. Each word of each sentence orbited like blue transparent planets in an immense solar system of mythic meaning. The preface example from Frued's The Future of an Illusion immediately started ringing within me. The bones of underlying argument, of the distortions made to religious truths by religious doctrines being the same as those made to children about biological events, the stork brings babies, by over concerned parents, clothed and re-clothed itself wherever my mind turned. Primal experience of the Sacred being distorted my secondary interpretation, critique, translation. Oral and auditory cultures with vast capacities for memory being distorted by the movement to writing and book based cultures with little capacity for memory. What is lost when we no longer know stories, poems, plays "by heart?" Again, I surprised myself like a kid finally learning to ride a bike with no hands.

Clearly, something has happened to me, a fundamental restructuring of my consciousness. I don't mean to imply that I am going through a kind of  Flowers For Algernon shift, my mind has always been active and able, usually with some work, to get to the heart of matters. But not like this. It was as if  I have been lifting weights for a long time, not paying attention, increasing the weight gradually, always struggling in the same desultory manner, like a sleepwalker, convincing myself that I was weak and kind of pathetic. Then one day I wake up, shake off the apathy and hopelessness, and seeing the world for the first time. Everything with sharp edges, burning with being, bright with meaning. I go to lift what I thought was enough weight to give me a good workout, and am suddenly amazed at how effortless it all is. Extending my range of motion with ease, it seems I could dance with weights that formerly pinned me down to robot-like limited movements of extension and contraction.

The key here is resistance. There must be something out there to engage the intentionality of consciousness, to trigger it into high intensity.

So there I was pedaling away on the recumbent bike, reading Campbell, and exploding with new connections of meaning and truth. Then another interesting thing happened. About 15 minutes in, I sensed that I needed to "check" on my body. My heart rate was averaging around 135 bpm. I was perspiring slightly. Everything good. The flesh was warming up. The gym at the Y is on the second floor and looks out over downtown Bellingham. As I said, it was a beautiful day. I looked out the window for a moment. And here is the thing: music started going on in my head. Pachebel's Canon in D minor. Now I know that this is not unusual. Everyone gets catchy tunes/melodies stuck in their heads. What struck me this time was how indicative it was to me of another state of consciousness. I felt like I was on the direct phone line to God and all of sudden he says, hang on a second, and there is this "holding" music. It was very nice. I could easily sit there on the bike, looking out the window, listening to Pachebel for a long time. But I didn't want to stay on hold, to sit there spaced out, letting the robot consciousness take care of living, thinking and being for me. So I took myself off of hold. And there was the connection as it had been. God starting the story right were he had left off.

Brain wave research [research bank] has established that there is a dynamic relationship between electrical wave oscillations produced by the brain and states of consciousness. Similar to light, there is fluid spectum/range of wave/states moving from deep sleep to intense mental activities.

State                   Frequency range                 State of mind

Delta                     0.5Hz - 4Hz                           Deep sleep
Theta                    4Hz - 8Hz                               Drowsiness
Alpha                   8Hz - 14Hz                             Relaxed but alert
Beta                     14Hz - 30Hz                            Highly alert and focused
Gamma                  40 Hz                                     Higher mental activity

As I was exercising, I kept moving back and forth between the focused concentration and the trance like music of the "on hold" state - most likely, from beta to alpha. Like refocusing your vision from your hand in front of your face to an object in the distance. I took note that they alpha-"on hold" state had an almost narcotic allure, I could feel a "magnetic pull," a "gravity" within it that took extra effort to get out of.

I want to be quick to add that these are common experiences and insights that occur to people every day. Sitting at the stop light, you "space out," car honks behind you, you tell yourself to "snap out of it." The difference that I am trying to indicate here is of a presiding consciousness over the both of them, a transcendental state. The research has shown two frequency patterns are often combined. I suspect that I was in an alpha-theta state charcterized by alert meditation.

The point is that I had control of my mind. I was training it. Naturally, the mind is trained by reading books, writing, drawing, playing music. I had always just presented these activities to the mind - much in the manner that you would feed a dog.

This is no longer satisfactory to me.

Physical analogies are apt: I want to exercise my mind as I would my body. A program of exercises for each aspect of the mind. Several exercises for each. Each exercise consisting of several sets. Each set divided into a number of repetitions (frequency) and levels of resistance (amplitude). Increasing one or the other of these variables increases intensity. This is what I want: to strengthen my mind through increased intensity.

There is much more to say about this. But this is enough for now.

18 February 2010

I Asked God A Question

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Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: "The flag is moving."

The other said: "The wind is moving."

The sixth patriarch happened to be passing by. He told them: "Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving."

Mumon's Comment: The sixth patriarch said: "The wind is not moving, the flag is not moving. Mind is moving." What did he mean? If you understand this intimately, you will see the two monks there trying to buy iron and gaining gold. The sixth patriarch could not bear to see those two dull heads, so he made such a bargain.

Wind, flag, mind moves.
The same understanding.
When the mouth opens
All are wrong.

The Gateless Gate 

Looking down through the pool of my mind, I can see the Source deep below, wavering distortions in the water, trembling of rock. The surface of my mind is calm, still, reflective in those places where the light shines upon it. Here, in the shadows of my self, I can see to the bottom, through the substance of my mind, this water, down to the source, the in-rushing stream of the essence that fulfills my being. Then, the flashing movement of a minnow, catching the light, vanishing.

This minnow...  I feel like the man who dreams a room of butterflies and jumps up, waking,  hearing them all fluttering away, turns on the light to nothing, shakes his head, forgets the dream, asks himself, what was that fluttering? I must have been dreaming, turns over, falls back to sleep. Echoes of the Chinese Philosopher, Chaung Tzu:

The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, "Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?"

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A room full of butterflies, a pond full of minnows. A moment ago, everything was clear.  Writing about the Source, the transparency of the mind, a still pool of water, when the minnow swam into my view. Distracting thoughts like minnows, bit and pieces of ideas, food for larger fish. The point is to not lose sight of the Source. One minnow, then another, swim into view. A school of happy minnows. I think: why not watch them?

One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were walking by a river. "Look at the fish swimming about," said Chuang Tzu, "They are really enjoying themselves."

"You are not a fish," replied the friend, "So you can't truly know that they are enjoying themselves."

"You are not me," said Chuang Tzu. "So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are enjoying themselves?"

Games with minnows, butterflies, words. What can be known, unknown? Still, there was something that I was supposed to be doing here...

I asked God a question. Before he answered, he asked me if I would bring him some water. I am looking down into a pool full of minnows, butterflies cover my body.

What was it that I asked God? I am thinking about how I can bring this water back to God. There are so many minnows that there is not really any water in the pond at all, just a hole full of flopping minnows. So many butterflies on my body that I truly begin to wonder if I am a butterfly.

There was this dream. I wake up but do not open my eyes. I think softly, I must remember this dream. I lay here, stilling my mind, barely even thinking, like a man in a room full of butterflies ready to take flight, my mind moves slowly, gently into waking, the dream before me, a cathedral. I can make out every detail. As quietly as possible, I study the cathedral, trying to memorize every detail. I move closer and am surprised to see the entire cathedral is made of minnows and butterflies. I quickly realize that I forgot to stay away and fell back into the dream.

I open my eyes now. I am fully awake. Turn on the light. Go to my desk. Find paper and pen. Begin to write. Pause for a moment. Think: let your become clear, still, undisturbed, let language go, think without words, pure....

I am reminded of a koan from the Gateless Gate, the one about the two monks arguing over a flag waving in the wind...

10 February 2010

Detecting the Lies of the Mind Parasites


Anecdotes about Milo's almost superhuman strength and lifestyle abound. His daily diet allegedly consisted of 20 lb of meat, 20 lb of bread, and eighteen pints of wine. Pliny the Elder and Solinus both attribute Milo's invincibility in competition to the wrestler's consumption of alectoriae, the gizzard stones of roosters. Legends say he carried his own bronze statue to its place at Olympia, and once carried a four-year-old bull on his shoulders before slaughtering, roasting, and devouring it in one day. He was said to have achieved the feat of lifting the bull by starting with a newborn ox, and carrying it every day.

One report says the wrestler was able to hold a pomegranate without damaging it while challengers tried to pry his fingers from it, and another report says he could burst a band fastened around his brow by inhaling air and causing the temple veins to swell. He was said to maintain his footing on an oiled discus while others tried to push him from it.
The date of Milo's death is unknown, but according to Strabo and Pausanias, Milo was walking in a forest when he came upon a tree-trunk split with wedges. In what was probably intended as a display of strength, Milo inserted his hands into the cleft to rend the tree. The wedges fell from the cleft, and the tree closed upon his hands, trapping him. Unable to free himself, the wrestler was devoured by wolves. - Wikipedia: Milo of Croton

There are times where I am just beaten down. Physically drained of energy. Mentally empty. The river of my will, a shallow pool. It seems that there is nothing left to do but go through the motions. Let the events of the day push my passive flesh around. Nothing is worth doing. Everything is oppressive. Existence itself a burden. Something to be endured. I am full of Sartrian nausea.

I try to muster up the forces within but it feels phony. I can hear myself sounding like an overenthusiastic coach of a losing team. Everyone knows that you are not going to win. Why play the game? But there is nothing else to do.

I am reminded of the actor, George Sanders, who left this note after his suicide:

"Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck." 

When I am down, my sympathies are with Sanders, everything seems boring, and I begin to wonder if it is time to leave "this sweet cesspool." The "good luck" at the end is particularly rich with cynicism.

Colin Wilson writes about a robotic consciousness within us, centering in the cerebellum. It is effective for learning basic motor tasks. Once we have learned how to ride a bike, the robotic consciousness takes over and allows us to think about other things instead of being acutely aware of such things as balance, speed and stopping. In fact, once the basic motor task has been learned, focusing our consciousness upon it often becomes a liability. I type these words without being conscious of what keys my fingers are hitting. However, once I focus upon it, I can no longer type "unconsciously" and I start to make mistakes. So the robotic consciousness makes our existence much easier. The problem is that this robot will take over for any act that we repeat often: having sex with the wife, praying to a god, greeting the children in the morning. Without discipline, the robot will take over your life.

The only time that you are forced to "wake up" is in times of crisis where the robot does not know what to do. Even then, unfortunately, because we have become so unused over time to taking any authentic actions, to thinking for ourselves, we allow "what is expected of us" to dictate how we should behave. I am always irritated at the protocol of acceptable behavior, the social script, I am expected to adhere to during the most significant moments in my life. Since I have lived rather unconventionally, I most often encounter the default cliches for eccentrics: "Marches to the beat of a different drummer. Off the beaten path. Lives an alternative lifestyle. Avoids responsibility. Lacks ambition. Never amount to anything. Anti-social." The robotic consciousness always avoids the new, the strange, the different. It doesn't know anything else to say.

Self discipline is the attempt to gain control of the robot, to not allow it to take over your life. Rituals are routines that are charged with the sacred, with meaning. The performance of ritual requires a complete focusing of consciousness - being fully minded. To control the robot, you must ritualize your life. You must charge it with meaning. Your life must become "religious." Those states of consciousness in which the world is most meaningful can be defined as spiritual states. You must recognize these moments, learn to cultivate them, to resonate them so they do not degrade. These are core practices of many of the world's religions.

One of the first requirements is to be watchful, mindful. Set up a castle within yourself. Place a watchman upon the walls. Develop rituals to keep the watchmen alert and ready. And watch for the dark shadows of the enemy as it slides up the walls. Know that in this case, the enemy rarely ever approaches from a distance. He is always close at hand. The lesser aspects of yourself are the enemy.

I am constantly reminded of Colin Wilson's great allegorical novel, The Mind Parasites:

Tolstoy glimpsed this truth in War and Peace, when he declared that individuals play little part in history, that it moves mechanically. For all of the protagonists of that Napoleonic war were moving mechanically - mere chess men in the hands of the mind parasites. Scientists were encouraged to be dogmatic and materialistic. How? By giving them a deep feeling of psychological insecurity that made them grasp eagerly at the idea of science as 'purely objective' knowledge - just as the parasites had tried to divert Weismann's mind into mathematical problems and chess. The artists and writers were also cunningly undermined. The parasites probably looked with horror upon giants like Beethoven, Goethe, Shelley, realizing that a few dozen of these would set man firmly on the next stage of evolution. So Schumann and Holderlin were driven mad; Hoffmann was driven to drink, Coleridge and De Quincy to drugs. Men of genius were ruthlessly destroyed like flies. No wonder the great artists of the nineteenth century felt that the world was against them. No wonder Nietzsche's brave effort to sound a trumpet call of optimism was dealt with so swiftly - by a lightning-stroke of madness. I shall not go into this matter at length now - Lord Leicester's books on the subject documents it exhaustively.

Now, as I have said, the moment we recognized the existence of the mind parasites, we escaped their cunningly laid trap. For it was nothing less than a history trap. History itself was their chief weapon. They 'fixed' history. And in two centuries, human history became a parable of the weakness of human beings, the indifference of nature, the helplessness of man confronting Necessity. Well, the moment we knew that history had been 'fixed', it ceased to take us in. We looked back on Mozart and Beethoven and Goethe and Shelley, and thought: Yes, great men would have been two a penny if it hadn't been for the parasites. We saw that it is nonsense to talk about human weakness. Human beings have enormous strength when it is not being sucked away every night by these vampire bats of the soul.

You have to be able to detect the Lies of the Mind Parasites: those moments when you are on the verge of going beyond, realizing your deeper potentials, and suddenly it seems you would rather do anything else, put if off until tomorrow, write it down later, just don't have the energy to get into right now. Anytime you are distracted away from a higher purpose, anytime you want to go watch television, surf the net, call someone on the phone to chat or gossip, take a nap, go down to the bar, get high, get drunk, get wasted, anytime you want to be less than you are, these are the moments that you must watch for. These are the actions that reduce and weaken you. Set up the watchman within to recognize these moments and sound the alarm to not to wake yourself up but to keep yourself awake. Do not believe the Lies of the Mind Parasites. The longer you put off acting upon the enthused and inspired proddings of you innermost self, the more convinced you will become of your own insignificance.

McLuhan wrote about how there is a consistent fallacy of interpreting the new in terms of the old. The automobile is initially called a "horseless carriage," the radio, a "wireless." In this way, higher states of consciousness are often understood in terms of the lower. These new and higher ways of seeing the world are rich and strange. If you ever begin to believe that your mind is becoming tired or that your spirit is weak, ruthlessly examine the reasons that are leading you to believe this.

Milo of Croton is said to have carried a bull on his shoulders from the time it was very young until it was full grown. I firmly believe that by incrementally increasing the intensity of your life, physically, mentally and spiritually, you will attain a strength that seems impossible to imagine at this point. In every moment of every day, remain watchful and search for ways to increase the intensity of your life. Do not let the robot live your life for you. Do not allow the Mind Parasites to distract you from following "constant suggestions of [your] genius."

If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. - Thoreau, Walden, Higher Laws