Here is the first instalment of a 6-part blog on Knowing.
Some folk believe in the ancient golden age when all was ‘perfect’, all truth, all knowledge, clear, pristine and above all, correct was clearly lived in daily life.
Here, let’s drop the thought of a golden age for a minute. Instead, let’s envisage, albeit briefly, that we don’t need a way to look back and compare today, and find this current time, this here and now – a degenerate failure.
Whilst our modern times really do have serious issues to resolve, forgetting the Golden Age, because – if it existed, it is now gone – can you consider the following questions?
What are we creating now?
What are you creating now?
What are we creating together?
Some believe that the teachings of one particular teacher, or one particular philosophy or school of practice, or one method, holds all the keys to wisdom, truth and freedom.
Maybe this is true? However I don’t recognise this.
What is your direct experience? Not what does the dogma say, but what does your body, your heart, your mind, your ‘soul’ say? This is what interests me.
Some folk are adamantly attached to particular views and opinions, to particular experiences, so that no authentic research, no innovation and no evolution may be possible for them. Their cup is already full, in fact it is overflowing with no room for a beginner’s mind.
I consistently welcome inquiry, experimentation, dialogue and feedback. I invite you to do the same. However, it is always your choice.
Some folk believe that everything that changes, everything that is of nature, the body, emotion and thinking is not truth and a total illusion. This is a belief common in ‘spiritual’ circles and it is often called ‘Maya’ after the Vedic goddess of the veil.
I know in all the eleven sense-fields of my sense-making kit…
- five external senses
- electro-magnetic sense
- body-bone-muscle interoceptive sense
- gut and microbiome sense
- heart sense – the most electromagnetic organ of the body
- head sense – reason, belief etc
- relational interdependence sense of listening and feedback
- everything to be both illusory, insubstantial and changing. It’s all quantum buzz, all systemic.
- and yet! It is utterly real in our neural experience. Hit your thigh and feel the illusion! Both, illusion and no-illusion, at one and the same time.
There are those folk whose world view is totally defined by the current limitations of empirical western science, their theoretical imagination and subjective exploration seriously curtailed by the blinkered vision of materialism, nihilism and scientism (science turned into a religion, rather than a method of inquiry and knowing).
The experience of living interdependence and total connection is usually unavailable to this view of dualistic separation and materialism. Fair enough, each to their own.
I welcome speculation, experimentation, imagination and subjective inquiry. I draw the line at superstitious, magical belief systems, unless under twelve years of age, in which case, let’s have fun in the magical realms of myth and faery. Because they are fun!
Some folk believe there is no purpose to existence, it’s all just a meaningless flurry of atomic particles in space, doomed to collapse, destruction and increasing entropy.
Maybe the only meaningful path from this perspective is one of a soothed, gratified and pleasure focused neurology. Maybe, in this case then, self-obsessed hedonism is a route to make sense of existence?
More than half the planetary population believe in some distant celestial creator. For some it is one that is personally available to assist their individual separate sense-of-self, to thrive and survive against the ‘others’ – the others who believe differently.
This eternal self-sense, protected by divine intervention through supplicatory prayer is ‘saved’, whilst less fortunate beings are brutally consumed in the fires of destruction.
Others also believe that a small part of themselves, like a spark of God light, is a soul that has lessons to learn in its path through many lives, as it journeys into this celestial forever and ends up circumambulating this divine being in infinite worship.
People believe many, many different things – as you can see.
Usually the people that believe one thing condemn those who believe another as ignorant, demonic, misguided or less than themselves.
However, we can see how important the realm of human belief is. It can direct the trajectory of lives, consuming people in purpose or nihilism, leaving people feeling separate and fearful or totally connected.
It can lead to people abusing other people or the planet and its myriad lifeforms, through treating it all as a resource, or respecting the complex web of life. It can lead to people living in conflict and hatred, or peace and compassionate connection.
Belief can lead us to destroy, and it can also facilitate lives of creativity, beauty, care, compassion and wisdom.
Belief is so fundamental, and I know it is important to explore this, amongst many other human qualities, in this exploration of what it is to be alive, to be human. But that is for another day…
For now, let us look at the experience of being human, rooted in some science, but also – what is our subjective experience like?
Let us look at the sense-of-self and the structure of the self-construct, the selfing it does. That’s three radical terms for a start.
- The ‘sense-of-self’, (which I also relate to the ‘sense-of-soul’ sometimes), is that deep feeling of being a continuous being – one that continues throughout everything.
- The ‘self-construct’ is the activity of this sense-of-self, it is the moment by moment construction and contraction of who and what we believe we are, and are not.
- ‘Selfing’ is a verb. It is the name for the relentless activity, of making up the I-me-mine thing that most of us believe we really, truly are. It only stops in deep sleep!
Let us understand ourselves and understand with compassion. Why might we desire, need and cherish beliefs and behaviours such as the above?
To progress in inquiry about knowing, about what is true or real, or any other such question, we need an open enough mind and heart to seek the best of all systems, to find the truths that resonate most deeply in our being, and then live up to them.
Let us choose positive ways of inquiry that allow us to dive into the freedom of deep exploration without fear. This exploration can potentially allow the vibrant fullness of possibility, congruence with evolutionary flow, and greater levels of awareness, intelligence, consciousness and love.
Simply expropriating, and/or appropriating and importing practices with particular cultural content from one culture into another, may do disservice to the original culture, and to the essence of the teaching. It often does.
This kind of cultural expropriation is common in modern yoga-land, embodiment-land, breath-land and everywhere in the modern world. It may do this by making the peripheral cultural content more relevant than the essential heart of the teaching, if we can deduce what that is.
That said, that is what all cultures have always done, borrow from each other, as barter, trade, or learning. I have learnt from many teachers and been authorised to share methods, practices and learnings. Can I honestly say I have done a thorough job of translating those practices effectively? No. That would be utterly arrogant.
As a learner, a continuing and developing being, I have so much more to learn about just about anything, in fact I know next to nothing! And yet, this is wisdom itself.
Secondly, this form of expropriation and introduction to a host culture can also do disservice to the cultural context the practices are arriving into, by not respecting the cultural intelligence and subtlety one is actually working within.
The third problem of such importation like this, whilst ignoring the host context, is that the practices no longer work effectively. They no longer do what they were supposed to do.
For example, instead of being psycho-emotionally transforming and liberating, they can become another dogmatic pseudo-religion. They get disjointed, turned into their opposites, fragmented and so on.
A really good example of this is the way yoga-asana has become a sort of health fad, even a form of competitive narcissism, a Hindu aerobics with a ‘spiritual’ feel-good-look-good factor.
But again, this is what cultures do, always.
We can look at the spread and transformation of Buddhist teachings from India to Sri Lanka, from India to China, from India to Tibet and the communication between these and into Japan. A whole world and interweave of cultural synergy, which grew into the Mahayana, Chan, Zen, the Vajrayana and way, way more.
Cultural synergy is not bad by necessity, except in the minds of the guilt ridden.
When we can be sensitive and intelligent in this domain of cultural synergy, we can find good ways of honouring these cultural transitions. Remember this is what cultures have always done.
Cultural synergy is possible, and this has been a facet of human civilisation since time immemorial. These osmotic shifts of perspective, vision, meaning, practice and insight are the roots of much ancient and contemporary culture.
After all, we are all in it together, whether we like it or not, and we all want to know how things really are and what the meaning of it all is. Man and Woman’s search for meaning has always been part of the human drama.
We have also just elicited one of the key functions of what it is to be human. We are meaning makers. Our brain is a meaning making, sense making and storytelling mechanism, spinning its myths and narratives from the information it receives from the senses and sense fields. Remember, I elicited the eleven senses above.
The universe is a web of vibration. The senses are the ways our organism has evolved to filter and make sense out of this web.
They are the channels our system has that enable us to have sufficient information for the purposes of feeding, not being eaten and therefore surviving and reproducing. Well that’s an evolutionary view anyway.
However, we extract very partial information from the sense fields. Whilst we have enough information to survive well and reproduce, it is a tiny amount of the information that is available.
Catfish, dogs, sharks – so many creatures have much more informed senses of taste and smell.
Eagles have much more expansive vision. Some snakes ‘see’ in heart patterns, in infrared, bees in ultra violet. Sharks also sense electrical patterns.
The sense fields are simply the facets of this vibrational web each sense has evolved to measure.
Our senses translate this vibrational web externally as smell, taste, vision, touch and hearing. Internally they are interoception, proprioception, sensation, feeling and thinking. This information is then spun into a sense of meaning. What does this event, experience or phenomena mean for me and my survival?
When we join the dots of this information, extracted from these sources, that are themselves partial filters of this vibrational web, we have meaning. We then turn that information into words that turn living interdependent processes into chunks (nouns) and then relate them together into their perceived relationships as agents and acted upon, subject and object through verbs – the doing words.
Of course, when we recognise all the meanings our brain comes up with as very partial, we might relax more fully into meaning-making without gripping it, without taking it quite so seriously, and ultimately without making it part of our selfing and othering processes.
People grip so much onto their meaning-making, that they go to war about it. Look what’s happening in the world.
We forget that the nature of meaning is subjective and highly limited. It cannot be all encompassing, much as we might like to believe it is.
Maybe your meaning-making is all encompassing, all powerful, all seeing – is it?
“Do not believe in what you have heard.
Do not believe in the traditions, because they have been handed down for many generations; do not believe in anything because it is rumoured of and spoken by many.
Do not believe merely because of a written statement of some old sage is produced. Do not believe in conjectures. Do not believe in that as a truth to which you have become attached by habit.
Do not believe merely the authority of your teachers and elders.
After observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and gain of one and all, then accept it and live up to it”
Kalama Sutta: Gautama Buddha