March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
The naïve view is that our experience of the world is a true and accurate representation of the world; that what we see, is what we get. Philosophers and scientists tell us, however, that the brain processes the stuff of our senses to create an experience that is not the world as it is.
Consider that some physicists have suggested that our universe is actually just a two-dimensional structure much like a hologram that, when observed, is experienced as three dimensions. In this theory, our three dimensional experience is just a projection of information taken from a two-dimensional something at the edge of the universe.
Sigmund Freud touched upon projection, describing it as undesirable thoughts and emotions put out onto the world so they appear to belong to someone or something else. In Freud’s view projection was a defense mechanism but, in fact, projection is a basic method the brain uses to remold sensory input to create the world we call our experience.
The brain naturally takes content and projects it outward. Input entering from the senses is processed and projected outward to create a three-dimensional experience of the world. But it is not just sensory input that is projected outward. As the brain does not know the difference between sensory information and psychological information our thoughts and feelings, as Freud alluded to, are also projected.
The constellations in the sky are one example of how the ancient brain projected its myths onto the stars in the night sky. On a more intimate level we experience the brain’s ability to project when the world feels aglow if we’re happy, or dark and miserable if we’re depressed. Those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are particular victims of projection. To them the world is threatening and dangerous because a defense mechanism meant to alert them to danger, is projecting that danger into their environment. But the danger isn’t there. In fact, it isn’t anywhere. It is only neural activity in the brain and exists as nothing else.
Essentially, our inner world bleeds into the outer leaving the mass of humanity believing what they think and feel are real things that exist separate and outside of them. It is easy to see how fear, when projected outward, can make an individual miserable. What is not so easy to see is that when happiness or joy is projected that the effect will be the same; that the end of fear and beginning of happiness will be sought outside of our own mind.
The assumption that happiness lies without results in strategies that are unworkable simply because they lead us to find solutions where none exist, i.e., outside of self. The first step, then, to finding happiness and ending fear is to recognize that their cause exists nowhere but within the mind. The second step is to withdraw your projections.
The next time something bothers you try this. Focus on the bothersome thought or feeling and see how it appears to exist outside of you. Then through an act of will imagine you are withdrawing that projection back into your mind. See it as thoughts in your head or as just plain neural activity that exists solely in the brain, then hold it there. It may appear the first few times you try this that nothing happens. But behind the scenes your brain is rewiring itself so that you will soon find it easier and easier to withdraw the projection.
The next step after withdrawing the projection is to see that as a thought or feeling it is just neural activity that has no existence outside of your brain. Having no existence in the world it is empty of anything real. Being empty, it has no power.
There are many meditative techniques that in one way or another are designed to have the individual realize that things have no self-existence and that all form is emptiness. This technique of withdrawing projections is one that I have found to be consistent with this aim and, over a period of time, effective in removing delusion.
Unless you are one of unusual mental acuity and strength it will not immediately work on projections held with conviction. The man or woman suffering from PTSD will, for example, find that it takes time to prune the branches before the tree of PTSD can be uprooted (and certainly this technique should be used with other standard forms of therapy). All I can tell you is that I have found withdrawing psychological projections to be a worthwhile endeavor. It has strengthened me for when times got hard. And it has given me greater peace of mind. Try it and see if it can do the same for you.
March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
I admit to some difficulty when trying to figure out what some mean by “mind” as they never seem to take the time to define it. A working definition for me is that mind is where perception and thought, as well as the felt reactions to these called emotions, arise in awareness. In this sense, mind is the stage where our inner and outer life plays out. But in placing mind as the ground of our experience I see where the materialist would then say mind is just the brain, while the idealist would say it is consciousness. In this way mind becomes something other than what was intended by the original definition. But, as I said, it’s just a working definition.
An object is whatever arises in the mind, whether gross or subtle. Gross objects are pretty much our perceptions of the world, like a rock or a tree. Subtle objects are more akin to thoughts and emotions, becoming progressively more refined as we move toward higher orders of thought and compassion.
Standing opposite to any and every object is the subject to all objects sometimes called the self, awareness or consciousness. Self shouldn’t be confused with the ego. Properly speaking, the ego is an idea of an independent self that is felt or sensed to be an object. But, in truth, the self is never an object of consciousness but is ever the subject to all objects.
The ego sense arises when consciousness is confused with the object. The cause of this confusion can be illustrated by comparing consciousness to a body of water like the ocean. The ocean can be blue when the sky is clear, white when there are clouds, grey when overcast or green when it’s stormy. But the ocean only borrows its color from the sky. In fact, the ocean, i.e., water, has no color but merely reflects the color of what is around and in it. Consciousness in its relative state is the same. It reflects the characteristics of that of which it is aware. And just as it is an error to say water is blue green or grey, it is an error to say consciousness is an object. Water has no color. Consciousness has no form.
It’s easy to understand that our awareness of a gross object like a tree is different from the tree itself. It’s not so easy to see the same holds true of subtle objects. When anger arises, for example, we say, “I am angry.” When pleasant sensations arise we say, “I am happy.” But these statements are the result of a failure to discriminate between the object and the self that is the awareness of the object.
In essence, the whole of meditation is simply a means to realize that consciousness is pure and you are identical to pure consciousness. There is a story once told me by a friend that seems pertinent. The story goes that a man went to a mountain peak to ask a famous guru for the truth, which the guru happily provided. But the answer seemed so simple that the man wondered if the guru thought him not ready to receive the truth. So he set off to explore the various religions of the world. He studied Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, the Koran, the Book of Changes and every other spiritual discipline he could find. He practiced chanting, studied koans, prayed and fasted. Finally, thinking himself ready he went back to the guru.
“I’m one of you.” Said the man. “I’ve studied the world over and am now ready for the one truth that will set me free.”
To this the guru only repeated what he said all those many years ago.
“How can this be so?” asked the man.
“The Truth doesn’t change.” Came the reply.
Likewise, you can study and search for some deeper meaning to all the spiritual teachings of the world but in the end it all comes down to one thing. You have confused who you are with your moods, your body and thoughts. But you are not an object or a thing. You are what the first human envisaged when she conceived of angels. You are formless, pure consciousness. And that will never change.