Become the goal and lose the soul

 

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I read an article not too long ago that likened self-fulfillment with attainment. But it’s not really about what you have, or what you do is it? It’s not about how much or how little you have or the status of what you do.

So many have struggled up the ladder only to find that at either the top or somewhere along the way that all the having and doing is hollow, with no meaning, and at a deep level where your true sense of self-worth lay, profoundly empty.

On the surface this can be viewed as heresy, and dangerous talk, for all national and global economics depends on striving ambition and continuous competition. He who stops to think, falters i.e. he who muses, loses.

Now, don’t misunderstand me I’m not advocating the end to market driven capitalism, or striving, or competition, or shooting for the moon (goal setting). I’m just suggesting that there’s a better way to play the game, a better way to act out the story.

We can have our cake and eat it too. How? Just remember that there is striving, there is ambition, there are goals to be made and actualized, but that we are not our goals e.g. what we are is not defined by the outcome of the game.

The soul loves to play and is nourished by the game, but when a person begins to identify with the piece on the board, or the digital avatar on the screen, the soul gets lost and people get hurt.

When we forget that we are souls or spirits moving the game piece that is our human form we lose regardless of how many things we accumulate or squares on the board we jump to.

So by all means play the game, there’s much to be learned in it and much joy to be had, but play it knowing that the outcome of the game is less important than the play.

Positive and negative dreams…REM and non-REM

 

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The Nightmare by- John Henry Fuseli (1780)

I’ve talked about REM sleep and dreams before, ad nauseam. But research has shown that we don’t just dream during REM, we also dream during non-REM (with its four stages leading up to (and from) REM with non-REM out performing REM by over 2.5:1). And it turns out that there’s a qualitative difference between the types of dreams!

Those who are awakened during a non-REM episode report generally positive dreams while those who are awakened from REM report mostly negative. What’s that about?

Well, during REM sleep the Amygdala (located deep within the medial temporal lobes of our brain) that deals with unpleasant emotions, aggression, and fear and modulates REM sleep, hence the negative vibes. Along that note, it’s interesting that people with depression jump into REM quickly by bypassing the non-REM stages–the positive stages. A dysfunctional Amygdala is also implicated. This rapid entering into REM and depletion of overall nonREM is a marker for depression and often precedes a depressive episode*.

Nightmares are also experienced during REM and are affected by a dysfunctional sleep cycle in that people with depression and/or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) tend to have a lot of them. There’s a movement afoot in the Psychiatric field to find ways of diminishing nightmares in those with chronic depression and PTSD. But nightmares are similar to ancestral dreams and may very well be rehearsals in the struggle to survive. They may be the brain’s way of aiding an individual to confront their fears and tensions head-on. Drugs may in the short term provide a respite for the insomnia of the depressed caused by nightmares, but if used over the long term what may they be doing to the process that nature uses to resolve and deal with fear? Do we really understand the functions of sleep and dreaming well enough to be interfering in this way? Might not it be better to develop a different way of therapeutically dealing with the darkness other than the popping of a pill to suppress it?

REM dreams tend to be dark and sometimes unpleasant and the Western culture tends to avoid these emotions in that it is believed that it’s best to leave them alone. But what is the consequence of this avoidance over time? What is the consequence of suppressing the natural negative? Perhaps in some of us it takes the form of chronic depression, or chronically unresolved fears and anxieties, especially those fears and anxieties that seem to be unattached to any stimulus, what psychologists call “Free-floating.”

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Both REM and non-REM have what appear to be important, perhaps even vital, functions to our survival and learning. It turns out that non-REM is our internal trainer–it mirrors past experience in a time-compressed manner. It literally is helping you in the present to relate to the future from the past. The REM dream, however, expands time and takes you into the future in order to practice it and to test various scenarios. This may explain why some dreams seem to be about what’s happened during your waking life the day before, while others seem more distant, or unrelated to waking life events, perhaps more internal in nature.

Dreams in both forms seem to be nature’s way of preparing us for whatever comes next. Basically it’s an ancient survival tool, the content is different, but the mechanics are pretty much the same.

Dreams seem to reinforce learning, creativity, and survival skills, provide a window to your emotional self, and open a space for life preparation, i.e. practice. They do this by providing a totally different point-of-view to that of our waking life i.e. they are intuitive and visual in contrast to the waking life’s linear and logical. What seem to be intractable problems in one’s waking life can be overcome through the highly creative, free-associating content of dreams.

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*Bypassing non-REM sleep also interrupts the body’s healing/repair/rejuvenation/immunization cycle that further reinforces the depression.

By hook or by crook: The restricted feminine and its effect on society

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The Yin Yang symbol represents among other things  the feminine Yin and the masculine Yang personality aspects in balance.

Unexamined events in our childhood lives have left indelible marks on our unconscious landscape. These marks, or shall I say wounds, have effected how we relate to the world and to ourselves throughout our lives.

I always wondered why I related to people the way that I have and in some ways still do. Why do the actions of some people upset me and others don’t? As I’ve grown older I’ve also become interested in what motivated and motivates my actions and have become convinced that much, if not most, of my behaviors were automatic responses to patterns laid down and built into my unconscious mind during those formative years.

Sometimes those patterns, a template for perception, will reactivate during some modern day events. It’s as though the event reaches deep into my unconscious mind and “hooks” a pattern, a feeling, and/or an early similar event and I find myself feeling and acting in a way alien to my current emotional state. In fact, psychologists label these motivating elements “hooks”.

For example, a person might have experienced a mother who was for some reason, (from the perspective of the child the reason is irrelevant) cold and indifferent to them as a child and out of that learned to do whatever was necessary to gain acceptance and acknowledgment, trying also to be loved and cared for. Of course this would never produce the desired result though over time may become the primary motivator, or hook, behind their material success– a material success with little feeling of love or personal attainment i.e. there’s a lot of very successful people out there who don’t think they’ve really “made it” or feel unfulfilled despite their achievements.

When the fear of disapproval, or failure or the potential for shame comes up many people are hooked into certain response patterns such as denial, withdrawal, and/or rage making it difficult for them to respond effectively.

There are also materially successful people who are self-critical and mildly depressed and full of fear. There are many marginally successful and those that might be considered unsuccessful by the current patriarchal society whose early critical upbringing has added a poisonous aspect to their world view e.g. hooks such as insecurities and powerlessness and who have great difficulty overcoming the negative affects of a less than optimal childhood.

Many males experience a stunted masculinity due to their inability to employ their emotional selves, as do females who have opted to put theirs on the back burner while trying to make it in a patriarchal environment.

What may have caused this damage to our individual and societal potential for happiness and fulfillment has been a depreciated feminine aspect of compassion, intuitiveness and self-forgiveness. Our patriarchal drive toward rationality, high productivity and material success has quite literally cut us off from the feminine side of ourselves and that of our society.

Far too many women have subverted their feminine side in order to compete in a patriarchal system and far too many men have rejected their less dominant feminine side to their personalities due to an unconscious fear of a women’s disapproval engendered from the early mothering of their childhood.

It is said by some psychologists, most notably Carl Jung, that within each of us an archetype, a human race image, of the ideal mother, The Great Mother. Unconsciously everything in our waking world is compared to this image buried within our subconscious. Clearly this affects what we perceive regarding our conscious world mothers both positively and negatively.

Now I’m not mother-bashing here, most mothers do a herculean job of raising their children, but they are human and do make mistakes and on occasion do things that are more in their best interest than the child’s, but what the child does with those instances of not being the best mother are what leads to the negative affects I’ve detailed above. In a society where the father is supportive of the feminine these minor effects would be mitigated but many of these fathers have had their own inner feminine stunted and demeaned if not outright buried. In a society that pays no premium toward looking at its emotional self the feminine aspect cannot bring balance to an overly masculinized environment.

The consequences of restricting the feminine aspect in all of us has profound and long lasting effects on each of us to achieve our potential and ultimately to live in an environment of fulfilled happiness. Sure, we are the most militarily, economically, and productively powerful nation on Earth, but at what cost? We certainly aren’t the happiest, contented, the best cared for, or loved and loving people on Earth and the fear of possible failure haunts nearly every activity. Both males and females in this society seem to feel inadequate and diminished or are running from the possibility of these feelings.

We need to bring greater parity to the sexes not only in the economic realm but in the psychological and emotional realms as well.

How odd the truth sayers: Most people won’t read this blog because they aren’t interested in truth…real truth

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I Ching on hexagram 61. (The wind blows over the lake and stirs the surface of the water. Thus visible effects of the invisible manifest themselves. The hexagram consists of firm lines above and below, while it is open in the center. This indicates a heart free of prejudices and therefore open to the truth. On the other hand, each of the two trigrams has a firm line in the middle; this indicates the force of inner truth in the influences they represent.)

 

The gist of this blog came from both John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And a Flannery O’Connor’s quote, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.”

We live in an age where truth is whatever you want it to be– that is whatever makes you right (or at least makes you think you are). We also live in an age with unprecedented access to facts. One click of the “return” key on a computer keyboard can give you billions of facts. Never before has the ability to dispel ignorance been so available to so many. And yet…

For the sake of personal need, or greed, or zealous beliefs the truth as it is reflected in facts is ignored at a profound level. It’s as though the world is embracing ignorance at an ever-increasing rate. If you don’t believe this just listen to those who run for political office (or are currently in it), or those who dominate the radio waves with political ranting–twisting and turning truths into macabre representations of reality. Religions no longer represent the truth of the Spirit from whence they were born, but for many have become a form of sanctioned self-delusion.

We wrap these delusions in something we call “conviction” and once settled these strong beliefs need no evidence, or proof to exist. But it is these convictions that are the enemies of truth. Worse than lies, they keep us bound up and unable to fly free. In short, our beliefs are a prison for they don’t allow for truth.

 

“Truth will have no gods before it. The belief in truth begins with the doubt of all truths in which one has previously believed.”

                                                                         –Nietzsche

 

But many are lazy, too lazy to think for their selves, so they leave the truth up to others. When those truths align with what is already thought then they are embraced as truth. The folly of this approach is that we then only perceive what we believe. How much we miss with this approach especially because God does not exist within the small confines of our beliefs. Heck, even you and I aren’t really reflected in the narrow confines of what we believe ourselves to be.

 

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”

                                                         ~ Winston Churchill

 

Deep inside us is an unconscious part of ourselves it is full of shadows, bright glowing spirit, joys and fears. It is the home of our instincts, our intuitions, and stimuli for creativity. It can also be the home of truth for us. Truth is not something that is preached from the outside because it only comes from within.

How to tell if it’s truth vs. just another idea? If it nurtures, if it encourages growth, if it enlivens and frees the spirit, if it engenders love and acceptance, and fosters forbearance and gentleness it is said that it is then the truth. Anything else is an ego-self prejudice.

In the I Ching it is said that when the heart is free of prejudices, it is open to the truth. The intractable mind cannot hear the truth. Any form of self-righteousness prevents the discovery of truth.

I suggest that Truth is the essence of immortality. It is in the prisons of belief and conviction that we are mortal, that we are doomed to the dust of the earth. Truth is also something that can be chased after, something like happiness, but never caught as a function of the chase. The pursuit only prepares you for when truth enters the door.

Is there “the” truth, or is it as the Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran suggested, “I have found ‘a’ truth?” And is it forever a truth, or just in the moment? Is it as the physicist Niels Bohr said “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth?“

I suggest that truth is a state of enlightenment, a place where the ego that you think you are becomes silent, when thought itself becomes still. It is here that you can hear the truth. It is here that you awaken and begin to seek. You may look as though you are alone, but in truth there is God all around you and you begin to glow.

A follower of truth, listens to the inner voice, not the one in your head that is talking right now, or the one in the radio, or TV, or even the pulpit (yes, I know, and even this blog). The true follower surrenders their ideas, their thoughts and beliefs. The student of truth accepts their shadow selves as well as the “self” that they imagine them selves to be, or wish that they were. Truth does not tie itself to any illusion, any time or place. Truth is not a judgment, belief or thought, or anything else that one may have attached themselves to. It cannot be held, or given to another. It cannot be pursued, or sought after and only comes to you when released. It cannot be found in efforting and can only be found in the moment. Truth may only come in the letting go of it, or of anything for that matter.

 

“The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words. They’re not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are Illusions.”

                                   – Bodhidharma, founder of Zen

 

Truth is not something apart from you, it’s not something you discover and take in. It’s always been there. It is not in your words, but is sometimes hidden between them. And it can only be found at the moment of death. The death of what you think you are.

Indeed, following the truth might make you odd.

How is a dream like a parable?

 

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Both are allegorical in that they both point to something and teach a lesson. “That’s like a fable! You might say.” Though both parables and fables teach lessons, the former uses people, whereas the latter uses animals. Both teach morals, both are a form of guidance.

However, a parable generally refers to spiritual lessons and in this way is not unlike many dreams that help one to develop a connection with their spirit. Over the centuries many people have claimed to have received messages from God through the medium of the dream. Throughout the history of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) dreams were said to have been sent from God to certain individuals that were supposed to be used for the good of all people, or to advance the understanding of one so that they may do more good for others. Parables were for all of these religions a means for communicating religious and spiritual concepts.

Why do parables, fables and dreams exist? The answer may be because that they are easier to remember than a direct example. “Dreams, easier to remember?” You say incredulously.

We don’t remember many dreams these days because it is not encouraged by the culture, but once a dream comes through, it’s hard to forget, especially if you’ve figured out what it means. But just because we don’t use them much, dreams haven’t gone the way of the appendix. Ever notice how much you dream after you start reading about dreams?

Mysteries bewilder us and tend to make us pay attention and to focus. Few of us would want to leave a mystery unsolved. Bewilderment makes us strive to know why, or what, or how–it is the carrot at the end of the stick. Dream symbols also beg that we interpret them just as we tend to add meaning to every event and person in our waking life (though this is most often an unexamined ego-supporting process where we project ourselves onto everything and then label it as reality).

Unlocking the meaning of a dream is not unlike discovering the meaning of a parable in that the process starts with asking the right questions and noting that these questions are affected by our beliefs regarding the symbols. Certain questions will often determine the answers, or at least bias them. So before you ask the questions, take a look at the foundation that they sit on. If you already have an answer, that will drive the question and bend it toward your answer. You see this phenomenon frequently with regard to news articles. This is just another form of, “We see what we want to see.”

 

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The Good Shepherd*, mosaic in 
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna
1st half of 5th century

 

What did this parable really mean? If the word “shepherd” were a metaphor for soul, your soul (your guide), what would the parable mean?

Is it possible to read this parable in yet another way, other than the traditional shepherd/flock metaphor? Might Jesus be telling us of our own divinity, our own spiritual nature and its connection with God? Might he be showing us how we can be following the wrong shepherd (the ego-self)? Might the guide that is within us all and that can come to us through a dream be the unconscious self?

Parables and dreams encourage us to dig deeper into their meaning and then apply the lessons to our everyday lives. Neither have to be an accurate depiction of actual events– they only need to point to the idea being conveyed in order to be instructive.

 

 

*Photo by-The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

 

Who are you?

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From the Book of Dreams– RJ Cole

An old man tired and at the end of a very long day lay his head upon a rock and soon fell fast asleep.

In his sleep the Other came to him and hovered quietly until noticed.

“Who are you?” the man asked.

“Who are you?” Was the reply in turn.

“Awake I am known as Robert. And you?”

“I am the same as you. In sleep I am what I am when awake.”

“What is your purpose here?” asked the old man.

“What is your purpose?” Asked the Other.

“I’m not sure. What is my purpose? I’ve searched my life over to find my purpose. Are you here to show me?”

“It’s not about searching for purpose, in that you cannot find it. Your purpose will find you. When it does you’ll be it.”

“How will I know when it’s found me?” asked the old man.

“When you’re being it.”

And he woke up.

 

 

Do you know what reality is? I’ll bet you don’t!

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“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”

 –Henri Bergson French philosopher, 1927 Nobelist

Where the optic nerve enters the retina of the eye there is a blind spot that registers nothing. But the mind, the brain, makes up for this empty space by filling in what it thinks ought to be there, not what’s actually there, but what it creates. When seeing in low light there’s an additional blind spot, the Fovea Centralis, that is unable to see color and the objects that are seen are indistinct. As with the optic nerve the brain also fills in the fovea “blindness”.

Don’t believe the blind spot exists? Close your left eye and cast your right eye on the black “cross” sign of the figure below. Move your head close to the screen until the black dot on the right suddenly disappears. The “missing” information will be “patched in” using the surrounding parts of the picture and you see only a white area.

 

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The brain also estimates the size of things by contrasting with surrounding objects. Ever notice how the moon looks at least twice the size when it first rises above the horizon than it does high in the sky? Actually they’re both the same size 1. Also if you were to stand in front of a mirror looking at your face, all looks normal or what you’re normally used to seeing, right? But have you noticed that regardless of how close you are the reflection is only half the size of your real head (measure the mirror image then your head)?

Notice the illusion below: Two different tables right? No, they are actually the same table if you measure them with a ruler.

 

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The above illusion, moon, and mirrored face visuals are all a part of unconscious processes going on in our minds.

And every time we shift our visual attention, the attention of the mind shifts as well. This is part of the bag of tricks wielded by a magician, or even a con artist e.g. shifting your visual attention so as to do something outside your minds focus.

With only a few exceptions in so-called eye-witness testimony people are drastically affected by their level of stress i.e. efficiency of memory goes down with higher stress and then what was seen is stored into recall in a way that makes the most sense to the witness. This is highly dependent on past experiences and prejudices and/or social values. People often will add meaning to their observations that of course affects the observation. For example, the mind will often edit any puzzling or incongruent observations.

Most importantly, and more to the point of this article, what we see is determined by context. A simple proof of this is how we use visual context clues in order to read e.g. You and I can rad this sntnc vn though w hav lft out th ee’s.

Context is also what makes a movie, well… move. In reality it’s just 24 pictures shown per second that when the mind stitches them into a sequence makes it look as though something is moving. 2

 But notice it’s not the context of the external reality that I am referring to. It’s our internal reality that provides the context for what it is we see.

And that brings me back to Bergson’s quote from the beginning of this article. What our minds are ready to comprehend is determined by our beliefs, our past experiences, our prejudices, and expectations. In short, our experience of reality is determined by something other than reality–we see what we believe, not the other way around as the popular quotation goes, “seeing is believing”.

Our mind is conditioned to seeing what it thinks that it should and anything outside that conditioning is just not seen.

In order to open ourselves to new possibilities we must first look at the contexts we have created to see what we are currently looking at. We might also be willing to question what it is we are seeing and what about our own minds may be affecting that vision.

So what really is reality?

Are you sure?

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1See Emmert’s Law to explain this phenomenon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmert’s_law
2 There are some theoretical physicists who have asked the question as to whether there is any movement other than several moments of time stitched by the mind into what appears to be a moving sequence.