Archive for the 'Nature of Mind' Category

Where Did Language Come From?

Friday, January 6th, 2012

It is commonly assumed that modern languages evolved from grunts and groans into the complex forms we know today. Over the eons, vocabulary expanded and grammatical structures became increasingly more organized. Yet the history of modern language points towards the very opposite. The complex grammatical structure of language tends to decays over time.

English is the newest of the modern languages. It emerged some 800 years ago after the Norman invasion of Britain, a synthesis of French and Anglo Saxon, with its primarily German roots. In French, nouns have gender, either masculine and feminine. In German nouns have three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. But in English nouns have lost their gender (apart from a few exceptions such as ships being referred to as “she”.

Similarly the grammatical case of nouns has been lost in English. In German nouns have four cases: nominative (subject), accusative (object), dative (indirect object), and genitive (possessive). We do still have these cases in pronouns: who, whom; they, them; she, her. But otherwise nouns don’t change their spelling according to case.

If we go back even further to ancient Greek, we find five cases. And in Latin there were six cases. Going back even further to Sanskrit, which is considered to be the root of Indo-European languages, we find 8 cases. The older the language, the more cases there were.

We see a similar trend with verbs. In French and German verbs change their endings according to the person—first, second or third person, singular or plural—e.g nous arrivons, vous arrivez, ils arrivent. And the same happens in German, ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. There are remnants of this in English where we add an “s” for the third person singular—she comes—but other than that verb endings don’t change. Except in irregular verbs such as “to be” – I am, you are, she is.

In short, grammatical structure appears to decline over time, losing a lot of its complex rules and decaying into simpler and simpler forms. Left to human beings and the passage of time, language does not evolve into more and more complex forms; the evidence suggests the exact opposite. The most complex grammatical rules are in the oldest known languages.

So the question is: How did these complex grammatical structures arise? Where did the eight cases of nouns in Sanskrit come from? Or the variety of verb endings?

I have posed this question to various linguists, historians, and intellectuals of various persuasions, but no one has been able to give me a satisfactory answer.

Some schools of Indian philosophy maintain that Sanskrit was divinely inspired. And there might possibly be some truth in this. Erich von Däniken and others believe that thousands of years ago humanity was visited by ETs, who appeared as gods to the people of the time. He proposes that they interbred with human beings, jump starting civilization. However, as we now begin to map our genome and those of related species, we find no evidence of any such intervention; there are no sudden gaps or intrusions of new genes.

On the other hand, when we consider the origin of modern languages there does indeed seem to be a gap, a missing link. Could it be that visiting ETs noticed we were beginning to use language, and decided the time was right to introduce to us a sophisticated language with a complex grammar. If so, and if we ever do come in contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, we may do well to try communicating with them in Sanskrit rather the modern English into which it has devolved.

The Self – video

Monday, December 12th, 2011

New cool video created by deaddrum1, sampling audio by Peter Russell on the Self. with added music and images.

Why We Fall in Love with Beauty

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Beauty is to perception as love is to feeling.

Beauty is the heaven of perception. That deep aesthetic appreciation that stirs the soul.

And love is the heaven of feeling. That profound sense of connection that enthuses our being.

Both are reflections of our true nature. Qualities of our essence.

The perception of beauty resonates with the feeling of love. Our hearts open.

And bathed in love, we see beauty in the world.

So when we fall in love with beauty, we do just that. Touched by beauty, we fall back into love.

However… when we are asleep to what is happening, we believe that we have fallen in love with a person perceived as beautiful, rather than with the beauty we perceive in him or her. We may want to keep the person close so that we can continue to have this beauty in our lives, and continue to feel the love. And that leads to all manner of troubles.

Two New Videos

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Here are a couple of talks from my April 2011 workshop at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Exploring the Mystery of Consciousness. I’ve turned them into videos with gentle images of water.

Buddha, Dukkha, and The Journey to Now
This looks at the parallels between Buddha’s spiritual journey and our own. I describe how the Buddhist term dukkha, often translated as “suffering”, is better described as discontent, and stems from resistance to our experience of the present moment.


Audio Only

Ayahuasca: Is It Really an Entheogen
Entheogen means “generating god within”. Ayahuasca may well produce profound spiritual openings and personal transformation, but does it really generate a connection with the Divine?


Audio Only

Does Our Brain Really Create Consciusness?

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

[Originally published as a Huffington Post blog - 06/ 9/11]

Western science has had remarkable success in explaining the functioning of the material world, but when it comes to the inner world of the mind, it has very little to say. And when it comes to consciousness itself, science falls curiously silent. There is nothing in physics, chemistry, biology, or any other science that can account for our having an interior world. In a strange way, scientists would be much happier if minds did not exist. Yet without minds there would be no science.

This ever-present paradox may be pushing Western science into what Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm shift–a fundamental change in worldview.

This process begins when the prevalent paradigm encounters an anomaly — an observation that the current worldview can’t explain. As far as the today’s scientific paradigm is concerned, consciousness is certainly one big anomaly. It is the most obvious fact of life: the fact that we are aware and experience an internal world of images, sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Yet there is nothing more difficult to explain. It is easier to explain how the universe evolved from the Big Bang to human beings than it is to explain why any of us should ever have a single inner experience. How does all that electro-chemical activity in the physical matter of the brain ever give rise to conscious experience? Why doesn’t it all just go on in the dark?

The initial response to an anomaly is often simply to ignore it. This is indeed how the scientific world has responded to the anomaly of consciousness. And for seemingly sound reasons.

First, consciousness cannot be observed in the way that material objects can. It cannot be weighed, measured, or otherwise pinned down. Second, science has sought to arrive at universal objective truths that are independent of any particular observer’s viewpoint or state of mind. To this end they have deliberately avoided subjective considerations. And third, there seemed no need to consider it; the functioning of the universe could be explained without having to explore the troublesome subject of consciousness.

However, developments in several fields are now showing that consciousness cannot be so easily sidelined. Quantum physics suggests that, at the atomic level, the act of observation affects the reality that is observed. In medicine, a person’s state of mind can have significant effects on the body’s ability to heal itself. And as neurophysiologists deepen their understanding of brain function questions about the nature of consciousness naturally raise their head.

When the anomaly can no longer be ignored, the common reaction is to attempt to explain it within the current paradigm. Some believe that a deeper understanding of brain chemistry will provide the answers; perhaps consciousness resides in the action of neuropeptides. Others look to quantum physics; the minute microtubules found inside nerve cells could create quantum effects that might somehow contribute to consciousness. Some explore computing theory and believe that consciousness emerges from the complexity of the brain’s processing. Others find sources of hope in chaos theory.

Yet whatever ideas are put forward, one thorny question remains: How can something as immaterial as consciousness ever arise from something as unconscious as matter?

If the anomaly persists, despite all attempts to explain it, then maybe the fundamental assumptions of the prevailing worldview need to be questioned. This is what Copernicus did when confronted with the perplexing motion of the planets. He challenged the geocentric worldview, showing that if the sun, not the earth, was at the center, then the movements of the planets began to make sense. But people don’t easily let go of cherished assumptions. Even when, 70 years later, the discoveries of Galileo and Kepler confirmed Copernicus’s proposal, the establishment was loath to accept the new model. Only when Newton formulated his laws of motion, providing a mathematical explanation of the planets’ paths, did the new paradigm start gaining wider acceptance.

The continued failure of our attempts to account for consciousness suggests that we too should question our basic assumptions. The current scientific worldview holds that the material world–the world of space, time and matter — is the primary reality. It is therefore assumed that the internal world of mind must somehow emerge from the world of matter. But if this assumption is getting us nowhere, perhaps we should consider alternatives.

One alternative that is gaining increasing attention is the view that the capacity for experience is not itself a product of the brain. This is not to say that the brain is not responsible for what we experience — there is ample evidence for a strong correlation between what goes on in the brain and what goes on in the mind — only that the brain is not responsible for experience itself. Instead, the capacity for consciousness is an inherent quality of life itself.

In this model, consciousness is like the light in a film projector. The film needs the light in order for an image to appear, but it does not create the light. In a similar way, the brain creates the images, thoughts, feelings and other experiences of which we are aware, but awareness itself is already present.

All that we have discovered about the correlations between the brain and experience still holds true. This is usually the case with a paradigm shift; the new includes the old. But it also resolves the anomaly that the old could not explain. In this case, we no longer need scratch our heads wondering how the brain generates the capacity for experience.

This proposal is so contrary to the current paradigm, that die-hard materialists easily ridicule and dismiss it. But we should not forget the bishops of Galileo’s time who refused to look through his telescope because they knew his discovery was impossible.

The Easiest of Times; The Hardest of Times

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Buddha had it easy. He was not distracted by television, the internet, news of disasters in foreign lands, or the latest shenanigans of stars and politicians. He did not need to return phone calls, respond to the emails piling up in his inbox, or catch up with the latest tweets and Facebook postings. He did not have to work at a job in order to pay the bills. He was not worried by stock market woes, radiation leaks, climate change, or bank failures. His mind was not ceaselessly buzzing with the dull roar of traffic, muzak, and ever-present electrical hum. He was not bombarded by seductive advertisements telling him he lacked this or that and could not be happy till he had them. He was not embedded in a culture which sought at every turn to focus his attention on having or doing the right things, filling his mind with unnecessary thoughts and invented needs.

Yet his path was hard. Growing up, the only spiritual advice he had was from Vedic priests who advocated elaborate rituals and sacrifices as the path to salvation. He had to leave home and spend years wandering through the forests and villages of northern India searching for spiritual guides. And those of any help were few and far between. The spiritual pioneers of the time were just beginning to realize that spiritual liberation came from within rather than some or other deity. But how to free the mind? He tried everything available, studying with the best teachers he could find, even adopting austerity to the point where he nearly died of starvation. But in the end had to work it out for himself. And when he did he came to the then radical realization that it is our attachment to our ideas of how things should be that keeps us apart from our true nature.

Today we have it so much easier. We can reap the benefit of Buddha’s discoveries—and of the many sages who augmented his teachings with their own discoveries, leading to the rich lineages of Tibetan, Zen, and Theravadan Buddhism. We can learn from the wealth of other Indian philosophies that have evolved over the centuries, from Taoist teachings, Sufi traditions, and Western mystics. Not only do we have the benefit of all those years of spiritual enquiry in so many cultures, we can access the wisdom of the many awakened ones alive today. We can go sit at their feet, read their words, listen to recordings, watch videos or live streams on the internet. We also have advances in psychology, neuroscience, chemistry, and biology to help us on our way. Most significantly, we are distilling the diverse expressions of this perennial wisdom into a common understanding. Stripping away the trappings of time and culture, we are collectively discovering, as Buddha did for himself, that the essence of awakening is simply letting go of our preconceptions and judgments, returning our attention to the present moment, and there recognizing our true nature.

In short, it is becoming easier and easier to awaken, while our times conspire to make it harder and harder. How do they balance out? Overall, is it any easier or any harder than 2,500 years ago? Who knows? But we can shift the balance in our favor by being ever watchful against the distractions, and taking advantage of today’s growing wealth of spiritual wisdom.

How do I pray?

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Someone recently asked: How do I pray? I answered: I pray not for divine intervention in the world around, but for divine intervention in my mind, for therein lies the root of my discontent.

We usually think of prayer as an appeal to God, or some other spiritual entity, to change the world in some way. We might pray for someone’s healing, for success in some venture, for a better life, or for guidance on some challenging issue. Behind such prayers is the recognition that we don’t have the power to make the world the way we would like it to be—if we did, we would simply get on with the task—so we beseech a higher power to change things for us.

Changing the world in some way or other occupies much of our time and attention. We want to get the possessions, opportunities, or experiences that we think will make us happy—or conversely, avoid those that will make us suffer. We believe that if only things were different we would be happy.

This is the ego’s way of thinking. It is founded on the belief that how we feel inside depends upon what is going on around us. When the world is not the way we think it should be, we become discontent. This can take many forms—dissatisfaction, disappointment, frustration, annoyance, irritation, depression, despair, sadness, impatience, intolerance, judgment, grievance, grumbling. Yet whatever form the discontent may take, it is actually a creation of our own minds. It stems from how we see things, from the interpretations we put on our experience.

For example, if I am stuck in a traffic jam, either I can see it as something that is going to make me suffer later—being late for an appointment, missing some experience, or upsetting someone—and thus begin to feel anxious, frustrated, or impatient. Or I can see it as the chance to relax, take it easy, and do nothing for a few minutes. The same situation; two totally different reactions. And the difference is purely in my mind.

The ego believes it has my best interests at heart, and holds on to its view of what I need. Locked into a fixed perception like this, it is hard for me to see that I am stuck. I believe the fault lies in the world out there, rather than my beliefs about how things should be. So I tell myself a story of what should change in order for me to be happy, and set about trying to make that happen.

When I find I cannot make the world the way I think it should be, then I might, if the need seems sufficiently important, beseech some higher power to intervene and change things for me. I am, in effect, asking it to do the bidding of my ego. Yet, as most of us have discovered, the ego seldom knows what is truly best for us.

If, on the other hand, I recognize that my suffering may be coming from the way I am seeing things, then it makes more sense to ask, not for a change in the world, but for a change in my thinking. I may pray for the traffic jam to go away, when it might be wiser to pray that my feelings of frustration and tension go away.

The help I need is help in stepping out of the ego’s way of seeing. So when I pray, I ask, with an attitude of innocent curiosity: “Could there, perhaps, be another way of seeing this?” I do not try to answer the question myself, for that would doubtless activate the ego-mind, which loves to try and work things out for me. So I simply pose the question, let it go, and wait.

What then often happens is that a new way of seeing dawns on me. It does not come as a verbal answer; it comes as an actual shift in perception. I find myself seeing the situation in a new way.

One of the first times I prayed this way concerned some difficulties that I was having with my partner. She was not behaving the way I thought she should (and how many of us have not felt that at times?) After a couple of days of strained relationship, I decided to pray, just inquiring if there might possibly be another way of perceiving this.

Almost immediately, I found myself seeing her in a very different light. Here was another human being, with her own history and her own needs, struggling to navigate a difficult situation. Suddenly everything looked different. I felt compassion for her rather than animosity, understanding rather than judgment. I realized that for the last two days I had been out of love; but now the love had returned.

With conventional prayer I might have prayed for her to change. But the divine intervention I needed was not in her behavior, but in my own mind, in the mindsets that were running my thinking.

The results of praying like this never cease to impress me. Invariably, I find my fears and judgments drop away. In their place is a sense of ease. Whoever or whatever was troubling me, I now see through more loving and compassionate eyes. Moreover, the new way of seeing often seems so obvious: Why hadn’t I seen this before? Asking this simple question allows me access to my inner knowing, and lets it shine into my life.

The answer does not always come as rapidly as in the above example. Sometimes the shift happens later—in a dream, or when relaxing doing nothing. The prayer sows the seed; it germinates in its own time. Nor do I always get answers to such prayers. However, even if I only get an answer half the time, those times make the asking well worthwhile.

The beauty of this approach is that I am not praying to some power beyond myself. I am praying to my own self for guidance. Below the surface thinking of my ego-mind, my inner being knows the truth. It sees where I have become caught in a particular mindset, and is ever-willing to help set me free.

Moreover, since my prayers are directed within, to my own essence, I have no concerns whether or not they will be heard. The one offering the prayer and the one receiving it are the same.

There’s No Such Thing as Ego

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I don’t have an ego. And nor do you.

That doesn’t mean you and I don’t get caught up in egocentric thinking and behavior, but that we are mistaken in thinking of the ego as some separate individual self. some “thing” in the mind.

When I observe my own mind, I notice there is an ever-present sense of “I-ness”. This has been there all my life, and has not changed. The feeling of being “me” is the same feeling I had when I was ten years old. My thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, attitude, character, personality, roles, desires, needs, and beliefs may have changed considerably over the years, but the sense of “I” has not.

I do not find a separate ego, another “self” that sometimes takes over. What I find instead are various patterns of thinking that condition how I decide and act. At times, I may feel fearful or judgmental, and I may behave in ways that are manipulative or self-protective. I may think that if I could just have things be a particularly way I would be happy. I may feel insecure and want attention from others, seeking to feel important. I may draw a sense of identity from my social status, the roles I play, my character, or my lifestyle. And when this is challenged in some way, I may try to defend and reinforce this constructed sense of identity.

In each case, past experiences and conditioning create beliefs, attitudes, needs, desires, and aversions. These become the lens through which I see my world, affecting how I interpret my experience, the thoughts that arise in my mind, and a whole set of stories about what to say or do, in order to get what I think will bring make me feel better. However, the “I” that is interpreting and thinking is the same “I” that is always there. But its attention has become engrossed in some or other “egoic” pattern of thinking, leading to correspondingly egocentric decisions and actions.

What we call the ego is not another separate self so much as a mode of being that can dominate our thinking, decisions, speech, and actions, leading us to behave in ways that are uncaring, self-centered, or manipulative.
Our exploration of ego would be more fruitful if we stopped using the word as a noun, which immediately implies some “thing”, and instead thought of ego as a mental processes that can occupy our attention. For this a verb is a more appropriate part of speech. I am “ego-ing”.

The difference is subtle, but very important. If I see the ego as a separate self, some thing, then it is easy to fall into the belief—common in many spiritual circles—that I must get rid of my ego, transcend it, or overcome it in some way. But seeing ego as a mental process, a system of thinking that I get caught in, suggests that I need to step out of that mode of thinking—to look at the world through a different lens, one less tainted by fear, insecurity and attachment.

This is a much easier and more effective approach. When I notice myself caught up in egoic thinking, rather than berating myself (or my imagined ego), I can notice what is going on and step back from it. This doesn’t mean I have eliminated that way of thinking. It will surely return. And when it does, I can choose to step out of it again. Transcending the ego thus becomes an ongoing practice rather than a far-off goal.

See also: Another way of seeing in Prayer for Peace

From Hafiz:

Friday, November 19th, 2010

It happens all the time in heaven,
And some day
It will begin to happen
Again on earth—

The men and women . . . .
Who give each other
Light,
Often will get down on their knees

And. . .with tears in their eyes,
Will sincerely speak, saying,

“My dear,
How can I be more loving to you;
How can I be more Kind?”

2012: Temporal Epicenter of a Cultural Earthquake

Monday, December 14th, 2009

In recent times there has been growing interest in the possibility that the global crisis is coming to a head in the year 2012. It will be a time when we will see major changes, major transformations of humanity, perhaps an awakening of the human spirit. Most of this focus on 2012 stems from the Mayan calendar and the fact it completes its 5125 year cycle on December 21st, 2012.

There are other predictions in the world which may not be so precise in terms of the date, but which also suggest we are facing major changes. In ancient India the Vedas talked about an age of Kali Yoga which lasts thousands of years and is dominated by greed, corruption and materialistic values. They say this age is coming to an end and we are entering an age called Sat Yoga, a golden age.

In North America the Hopi Indians talked about the coming of an end of an era, when there would be a great purification. Astrologers talk about the Age of Aquarius that we are entering into, a time when we learn to live in peace with each other and with the planet.

Many other people have had similar visions that we are moving into times of catastrophic change which will be accompanied by a great spiritual awakening and a shift to a wiser, more loving, more compassionate way of being, perhaps the emergence of a global consciousness.

Whether there will actually be momentous changes in 2012, or even on December 21st, 2012 remains to be seen. For me the exact date is not so important. I see 2012 as a symbol of a critical period in human history. The first two decades of the 21st century seem to be the time when this crisis is really coming to a head. In fact many environmentalists say that if we don’t change by 2020 we are going to be in deep trouble.

The year 2012 sits in the middle of this period. Rather than being a precise date at which major changes happen, I see it as the temporal epicenter of a cultural earthquake. No one actually knows what is going to happen in the coming years. There may be breakdowns in the systems, major social disruptions, perhaps even completely unexpected calamities. And at the same time there’s probably going to be breakthroughs, some positive transformations, people letting go of old attitudes ands beliefs. In reality its probably going to be both. All that we can probably say with certainty is that there is going to be a lot more change, and some of it totally unexpected.

People sometimes talk about the winds of change. I think we’re heading into a storm of change. The question is how can we prepare ourselves for this, how can we cope with an increasingly unpredictable world?

We can get some clues by looking at what helps a tree survive a storm. First, it needs strong roots, so it does not blow over. Similarly, we need to be able to remain stable so that we are not shaken by every unexpected change. If we loose our inner balance, if we react emotionally to everything that happens, we end up getting more stressed and more likely to burn out.

Second, like a tree we also need to be flexible. We need to be able to move with the flow of change. This means letting go of past assumptions. We need to learn to think more clearly, allow new ideas in, let deeper intuitions and feelings come to the surface.

And third, just as a tree is much better off if it is protected by other trees in the forest, so too we will be much better able to withstand change if we have a strong sense of community. We need to care for each, support each other in times of need. We need to develop greater care and compassion, to open our hearts to kindness, and have our vision guide us in these turbulent times.

See Also: A Singularity in Time