Wednesday, October 15, 2014

L'eggo My Ego [ee-go] – The Pangs of Individuality

“Jester”, by InfiniteFiend

Prosopopoeia, noun, a figure of speech in which an abstract thing is personified

“Your own self is your own mainstay, for who else could your mainstay be?” Excerpt taken from Dhp 160

What is the ego? Without specifically defining it in light of any teacher, the impression I am left with is that it is an abstract personification of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that do not meet an ideal of self. When examined in this way, however, the same applies to our cultural heritage --- if you fail to behave, think, or exhibit emotions correctly you are weird, gay, rejected, etc. and thus an ideal of self is not meant. This tends to generate an attitude of aggression towards these qualities. Bearing these things in mind in regards to the question of the ego I see a deeper question of individuality --- what is the individual to do with individuality?

To start, when approaching the concept of the ego we will first need to examine the underlining attitudes these assumptions are operating under. A few of these assumptions are as follows:

  1. Individual qualities are dualistic (good versus evil).
  2. Because qualities are dualistic they are to be identified with.
  3. Because qualities are identifiable the evil qualities of mind that do not fit an ideal of self (Christ consciousness, Buddha-nature, trueself, etc.) have an identity of their own (ego, carnal-nature, etc.)
  4. The aspiration is to realize a higher identity and eradicate the lower identity.

Are these assumptions appropriate? What is skillful here is the virtue of pursuing wholesome qualities, but where it leads is often to suppression and / or rejection. Drawing from my personal experiences, in both Christian and post-Christian romanticism, no matter if the belief was inherent evil or purity unskillful characteristics persisted. I denied, suppressed, “remained true” to the belief(s), but only a “partial” healing was ever realized. The attitude here tends to be one of annihilation and (passive)-aggressiveness; that these ego-characteristics need to be eradicated. How can we ever expect to find everlasting peace with a warrior’s attitude?

“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” - The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

  1. How am I perceiving my individuality?
This is where I want to point out the role perception has to play in our relationship with individuality. Every concept of ego that I have encountered thus far does not operate to a standard of honest inquiry that I hold to and encourage. What if anger, disappointment, depression, pride, etc. are viewed as pain instead of ego? If I must live a life of denying my pain, then it is a life of denial and not one of complete honesty. And thus the question I want to ask is “what is my relationship with my pain” and “what am I bringing to it”? If my attitude is that it is egoic, carnal, evil, etc. then my relationship is with it is that it is coming at me, but is it? Or, worse, that I deserve punishment for it? Regardless of my attitude as an individual pain is undeniably a part of my individual experience. These are things we individually have developed and awareness of them is only the beginning.

  1. What are my perceptions intending (causing) me to do with individuality?
Next, our perceptions influence our intentions. If I tend to my pain as a warrior I am inevitably cutoff from it and it deteriorates into a never ceasing drama of existence. Instead of waking up we are exerting effort in suppressing objects of our experience and in doing so clip our wings to liberation.  If this is a journey of awakening why am I not allowing myself to feel? It is not an ego that we have developed, but habits and states of mind. And these things are something we can work with, apply antidotes to, and learn from. The intention that I am encouraging here is one that is engaged upon pain as an object of awakening. What effort is being applied? Suppression? Understanding? Apathy? What am I doing here?

  1. A path of compassion.
I have poised several questions and here I want to encourage an attitude of compassion. This is a baseline, a starting point, but its an attitude that will take us into healing, rather than destroying pain. The approach of compassion is one of listening or directly experiencing the pain firsthand --- generating a warm gaze toward unskillful characteristics. Being an observer or listener to the pain rather than being the afflicted. Here we can be like an admirer of abstract art who asks the question: “what is the artist (the pain) trying to say?” And we can only know that answer by directly experiencing and contemplating the experience --- rather than pushing it away. Through understanding the pain it is possible to apply an antidote that results in meaningful healing instead of the “bliss” of ignorance and denial.

In conclusion, unskillful qualities, or pain, are a part of individuality and we have a choice to arm ourselves as a warrior against them or tend to it as a mother would an infant. It is important to understand how it is we are perceiving experience, how perceptions are influencing our intentions, and how we can change these things. Most importantly, every aspect of individuality, our pain (“ego”), deserves our compassionate gaze and genuinely learn from the pain firsthand so that we can apply an effort worth exerting. All of this requires being completely sensitive to our individual experience, rather than trying to fit it to a pre-conceived notion of how it “should be”. As creative entities it is important to be mindful of what it is we are bringing to this present moment and expand upon what we learn.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shifts in Consciousness

"Mind Molecular Congruence" by justinbonnet
“In using art as a tool for transformation we have the opportunity to create a reality that is beautiful, healthy and strong as our imagination permits.”

“What one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards: this becomes the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is the production of future renewed existence.” - Intention Discourse, Cetanā Sutta, SN 12.38

Main Points
  • Euphoric experiences due not infer a truthful status
  • Shifts in conscious are a result of a change of views affecting conscious experience.
  • Views are the energy of the spiritual path
Have you experienced the release of new beliefs in light of the old? In the excitement over letting go of repressive mindsets, which is a growing trend in Western spirituality, the phrase “shifts in consciousness” has been popularized and promoted. Characteristics of this event follow general spiritualistic understanding of sainthood, Buddhahood, enlightenment, etc. and overall sense of expansive and interconnected energies. Despite the potential for these things to occur, as it concerns our conversation on consciousness I have a different take worth considering. In the following I will offer a fresh perspective on shifts in consciousness via exploring the causal relationship views have upon the body, how views affect conscious experience, and provide a relatable example.
“I am of the opinion that shifts in consciousness are a regular part of the spiritual life...”
The first factor for our discussion is the mind-body relationship. According to Buddhist dependent origination a higher order process to consciousness is what is known as “sankhara”; properly translated as “volitional formations” or psychological conditioning. For ease of conversation we will refer to them as “views” (note: views will be held synonymous with beliefs). Western spirituality is evolving away from former oppressive religious ideals and it is of the utmost importance to bring to light how the body can respond to shifts in views. Typically these former views contain disdain for self, body, unbelievers, etc. and as a person changes their mind (which is the true meaning of 'to repent') the foreground of the mind is noticeably different. Due to the polarity of these beliefs the effects upon the mind are quite profound and will be felt in the body (tranquilizing or even euphoric). The euphoric experience do not infer truth or enlightenment, however upon this point we can better understand what shifts in consciousness empirically means. Valid experiences are occurring, but how many are taking the time to understand them?

"Vitis Animae" by beaudeeley
In the quote at the beginning of the article we see that the Buddha reveals that consciousness is established and maintained by intention (views), which can renew existence. It is not unusual to mistake renewed experience due to more wholesome views and mistake them for permanent change or identify with the experience as a “truer self”. Here we are experiencing the dynamic relationship that sankhara has with conscious experience. As views change so will our perceptions (cognition) establish itself in a new or renewed pattern. In other words, volitional formations are the filters that interpret moments of cognition. These are similar to the “born again experiences” as it does renew our existence even if the stream of mind was not disrupted by literal death. These, however, do not infer an enlightened experience.

Think of sankhara's as DNA and consciousness as the seed. Hidden, complex, and coded the DNA is the underwriting that establishes the characteristics of seedhood. As the right conditions continue to persist the DNA also underwrites how and what the germinating seed will become. If the existence of the seed was as malleable as the mind (arguably over millions of years and with the right conditions it is) if the DNA changes, so will the progress of its existence. As it concerns “shifts in consciousness” it works in the same way because sankhara's are the underwriting for conscious experience. If there is a change in perspective, so will consciousness shift. Our views are the energy of our spiritual path they renew or degrade the spiritual experience as things change, in contrast to iterating and reiterating packaged spirituality it has more potential to be a progressive, personally engaged journey.

What are shifts in consciousness? They are the changes of mind (views) both the Buddha and Christ taught and as volition changes so does our conscious experience. It is easy to mistake renewed existences from these changes for something more than they really are (conditioned phenomena). I am of the opinion that shifts in consciousness are a regular part of the spiritual life and should not be emphasized any more than a mechanic's relationship with a wrench (it is just a tool). I, of course, strongly encourage utilizing views as an integral part of meditation and daily living to promote inner peace and wholesome interactions.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Exploring Intentional Spirituality - Empirical Intelligence (1/1)

Action 02 by Ali Shafiu
"Matter acts, but there are no actors behind the actions:the verbs are verbing all by themselves without a need to introduce nouns. Actions act upon their actions. Properties are all there is. Indeed: there are no things."
- David Mermin

To continue from my previous article in regards to consciousness as a process (action), it is important to introduce the idea of “empirical intelligence”. All too often we are inhabited by our experiences and exhibit little understanding of them. It could be said that our experiences own us despite the idea that we own them. On the contrary, empirical intelligence intentionally utilizes experience in attempt to understand the components that make an experience an experience and employs understanding towards a beneficial end. In this article I will be expanding upon the idea of empirical intelligence, establishing how the body will be our starting point, and will pose questions to help explore these things.

To begin, the idea of empirical intelligence begins by grounding our understanding of consciousness as a process of cognition (abbreviated “cog”). Recall that I stated for each sense there was an associated consciousness. Take reading for an example: there are interrelated moments of eye-cog and language-cog that are directly related to the experience called “reading”. Post processing occurs after these events that influence the outcome of understanding what was read. Views (beliefs, opinions, etc.) will bias the reading experience both intentionally and unintentionally. Similar to the scientific method empirical intelligence queries these experiences firsthand in an unbiased manner; commonly referred to as being “the observer”. This assists in establishing spirituality beyond the common mode of subscription with beliefs that bias experience and introduces the seeker of truth to a firsthand, objective engagement of “truth”.

This leads into expanding upon a method of inquiry that is required for the firsthand engagement I am encouraging and this starts with the body. I have come to understand that common spirituality (any religious doctrine) starts with the body --- depending on the extreme it is evil (Gnostic), neutral, or good (hedonism). These doctrines, regardless of the extreme, also commonly eschew from the body shortly after and expand upon views that obscure one’s search for truth by mode of subscription*. The principles I am introducing here dwell upon the body before going deeper into the mind and the reason for this, regardless of philosophy, is we are human and thus have a body. It is not uncommon, due to various mental reasons, that the body is ignored despite it being a significant contributor to the human experience. If the body and its conditions are ignored how can deeper aspects of spirituality involving the mind be explored? As well, as I have repeatedly stated, the senses we have are primarily bodily related, so in terms of exploring consciousness as it is with clarity it is an excellent starting point.

Finally, as an introduction to my following article and to establish further relevance of what I have to say next I want to ask that you, my reader, to open yourself to the following:

What attitudes do I have towards my body?
How do I understand my body?
What is my body saying?
How is my understanding affecting my relationship with my body?
How am I responding to what my body is saying?
How all of these things are affecting my human experience?

I strongly encourage beginning by asking these questions. Explore these questions to the extent you know how and see the effects of how your understanding, attitudes, and responsiveness to the body are affecting your human experience. Are they promoting wholesome, positive values? Or are they promoting unwholesome, negative values? If you’re insightful enough, explore the origin of your attitudes, understanding, and responsiveness and experiment with all three.

In conclusion, when exploring intentional spirituality this requires empirical intelligence, in which sets a foundation for experiencing consciousness in a pragmatic way and the starting point of this begins with the body. If spirituality is ultimately the promotion of the human experience the body cannot be overlooked and acts as a starting point for deeper aspects of spirituality. These principles also introduce the seeker to a methodology beyond common faith-based subscriptions, and to openly ask the question and search for truth. Ask yourself those questions and explore them as they will be leading us into the following article that will establish a practice to experiment with.

Until then, please share your discoveries.

* - "Subscription" used in this context is referring to common spirituality that "subscribes" if the appropriate cultural and mental conditions exist, which operates in a consumeristic manner. More on this here.