Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Big Split (2)

I recall reading that Einstein himself was very mystical, and would tap into an intuitive source when working on his theories. You might think that scientists are all left brain, but it turns out (as Ken Wilber wrote in “Quantum Questions”) that many of the quantum physicists were mystics in private.

Ironically I stopped reading the book, because I was so disappointed that Wilber says that these scientists refused to make a connection between their mystical feelings and their theories; since their feelings led to the unknown, they refused to speculate on the connection of consciousness with their findings. That has been left to “New Age” thinkers like Gary Zukav and producers of “What the Bleep”, and it’s usually oversimplified.

For me the connection is apparent in the discovery of how Epigenetics (the environment) triggers both mental and physical reactions according to the programmed intentions of our DNA, just as a computer acts according to the programmed intentions of its software, and neither one would exist without a higher mind to have somehow conceived their workings and actualized them materially.

(My own speculation -- where this is different from an argument for Creationism is that I believe that beyond our ability to “understand” creative forces are at work according to strict mathematical principles (higher mind) and that when one is in alignment with such forces they may act through you and leave your logical mind (ego) aside.

Unfortunately there also appear to be counter evolutionary (devolutionary) forces at work resisting the growth of higher intelligence. These are unconscious forces that we sometimes call evil. The reconciliation of these two forces is the One source, which some of us worship as a monotheistic entity called God. Whatever it is it is ultimately unknowable and I suggest more about it below.)

It is Eckhart Tolle who has suggested that it is the ego (left brain) that humans have identified with falsely as the self, which causes so much suffering because it is separate from a higher source or intelligence which can be connected to as intuition and fights to justify its positions.
According to Tolle and others, those that "awakened" from the trap of the ego were the early masters, Buddha, Jesus and others who are not as well known.

The problem with accessing this source or dimension is that it is difficult to do deliberately and in many cases it does lead to letting things remain a mystery – there are no finite comfortable answers and this leads to a sense of loss of control.

Bruce Lipton puts forth an amazing theory that just as individual cells eventually organized into lower and then intelligent organisms (us) to support higher intelligence (creative force at work), so too are we as a species in the process of having individual organisms wake up and connect to each other into a higher planetary organism that supports higher intelligence – and perhaps forge a deeper connection to the higher intelligence or consciousness that we (on this blog) sense is “out there” or “in here.”

Of course there is a lot of egoic resistance to this impulse. We are programmed by our culture for individuality, and self (egoic) fulfillment. We have trouble trusting others and we have seen collective experiments result in a lot of misery.

In my view technology serves us potentially on two levels in this evolutionary effort – first as a metaphor for how life works and through the genome and neuroscience, and second through the new human nervous system that has evolved as the Internet.

It’s amazing to see how Iran is “waking up” using Twitter. It takes enormous courage to fight the forces of control and I hope obviously that they succeed. What may emerge is, again, unknown.

We’ve had a similar upheaval here in our financial crisis. Suddenly our foundation of safety has been shaken and we’ve been forced to reexamine our priorities and many have found a new connection to other people and their families.

This brings me to what I believe is the ultimate leap—the realization that compassion and love is a real force in the universe and the main guiding principle, and knowing it deep in our heart and not intellectually. That is a leap I am still hoping to achieve and by breaking down the barriers I have personally erected to “protect” me from others, I hope to get there. Thanks to all of you for your energy and encouragement.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Big Split

Yesterday I was at the market and a chance comment sparked a conversation with another guy in the salad area. He seemed like the kind of neurotic, Jewish guy I usually relate to, and he was probably in his fifties. He mentioned to me that he was in his first true long term relationship and that the woman had just told him that he was the first guy who didn’t bore her.

“You’d better dump her,” I said sardonically, “You definitely don’t want to be with anyone who really appreciates you.”

He laughed knowingly as we both intuitively understood our respective natures, in which our perennial voice in the head judges every person or situation--and we don’t know whether we can find a level of comfort with another human actually invading that persistently pervasive and negative, yet comfortable (in the sense of knowing nothing else) space.

Then he asked me if I minded if he did some networking, and whether I ever needed some help with my PC. I told him I write articles and books on Windows and Office software and basically earn my living by solving the many irregularities and annoyances that the software presents.

We exchanged cards and since older neurotic Jewish guys are a dying breed, we kept talking and he mentioned an interest in neuroscience. I ventured my interest in the work of Candace Pert and Bruce Lipton, which I've mentioned here before, who suggest that a higher intelligence is at work in our brains and in our cells—a force which has also quite likely shaped evolution.

He shook his head and said something like that there are always "isolated scientists and theories like that, but in general there is no real evidence for that sort of thing."

I said I was intrigued because of my interest in computers, and I asked him how he could imagine computer software existing without (human) consciousness to create it (and implying if genetic software is similar, where else did it come from?).

He said that he believe that computers would evolve consciousness through artificial intelligence in the foreseeable future—a common assumption among technologists. I shook my head, because based on my internal experience I sense what consciousness is, and it lives through organic life and tissue, not through computer chips and silicon. It’s beyond code—it’s what created code.

I gestured around the store and suggested a wider frame of reference and asked him if he ever thought about where all of this (existence) came from, and if it’s just “random.”

He shook his head and just said, there’s no way of knowing and it’s probably too complex for us to understand.

I nodded and said that we’d probably never agree on this anyway, but it was nice meeting him.

We exchanged a few emails later that day and maybe our paths will cross again. Nice guy.
I have long since given up trying to convince anyone else of the possibility of higher intelligence or any other things that I muse about but that can’t be proven as “facts.”

Later on that day I visited Clara Berta’s art studio and of course, she’s an artist, and a female, and she understood my own propensity for being “in my head” and yet realizing the limitations of such a perspective.

Her home is like a little museum and we chatted as she gave me a tour and sat down later over tea.

Having read some of the works of Eckhart Tolle, Clara has done some work on getting out of her head, as have I, in terms of connecting with the body, heart and whatever else is in there or out there through mediation.

While I didn’t happen to mention my friend at the market, I admitted that my own method of trying to “figure things out” is left brain first; my epiphany regarding the possibility and in fact the likelihood of higher intelligence came when I watched geneticist Juan Enriquez explain how the genetic code is not like computer code – but works exactly the same way.
(So where did it come from, I wondered).

Apparently its implications did not cause Enriquez any second thoughts either—he just calmly explains the economic and scientific consequences of genetic engineering, but skips any discussion of the meaning because, presumably, “it’s just too complicated” and cannot be factually ascertained.

So that’s the split—between a belief system that suggests that whatever is not scientifically knowable “factually” (left brain) is not relevant to our lives, and should be ignored, and another belief system that can accept the “unknowableness” (mystery) of higher intelligence but posit its existence based on what the left brain has already found—that life itself works in a way that implies the existence of consciousness.

To beat a dead horse—could Microsoft Word exist without consciousness (i.e., an intentional mental effort to create a specific utilitarian, systematic set of code) and if not, how could life (which we have found works exactly the same way) be any different?

Right-brained beings—artists, women and others who have no trouble “trusting their feelings” have no problem embracing such ideas.

But as Tolle says, our civilization is run by left-brained (egoic) analytical beings who trust only their thoughts—so unless their thoughts can shift and suggest to them that something else (higher) is out there and accessible and ultimately significant, they will continue to dodge the big questions and see existence as largely random.

I was there too, until I saw Enriquez’s video; Bruce Lipton describes a similar experience when he discovered individual cells are intelligent and intentional. (A key experiment showed two bacterial cultures with identical genetic code behaving differently and even mutating differently under different environmental conditions—suggesting to him that there was “intelligence” or “consciousness” at work on some level directing their activities).

So how can this split be resolved?

Well the left-brain beings can continue to build more crap until civilization crumbles or we blow ourselves up, and then it can begin all over again (as Lipton believes it has already happened six times in earth’s history), thereby decreasing the influence of our thinking brain to basic survival matters and putting the rest of the organism back in touch with our natural environment and the source of our being.

Or, more and more people can figure out the fallacy of relying exclusively on our thoughts and identifying with the egoic mind, and experiment with another point of view and experience the results.

I can tell you from my own experience that going against what the ego is yacking at you is not easy and it can lead to issues, not the least of which is feeling a bit isolated from more “normal” people.

(But there are more crazies waking up all the time).

The thing that happens is that when you observe the internal chatter and disengage from it, you feel better for first short bursts (which you distrust) and then longer and longer.

Whether to experience the discomfort of the split and continue or stay in your head is personal choice; one which my friends at the market and many others like him have already made.

I make no judgment about it. He may be right; existence might be a bunch or random molecules doing things that can’t be understood so let’s just make a pile of money and drive big cars.

But as my friend Freeman Michaels, a spiritual psychologist asks, “How is that working for you?”

For many people, it has stopped working. For many, it took the economic rug being pulled out from under them to recognize that their love, fulfillment and their families are more important than their incomes—a lesson that the Dalia Lama suggests is the reason and the lesson of our current financial turmoil.

The random theory wasn’t working for me. I saw no meaning in anything before my left brain suggested something else might be going on, and I was pretty unhappy and spending my time either trying to earn enough to feel fulfilled and safe, or spending it on things and experiences that never satisfied me.

I was operating largely on automatic, subject to a set of beliefs and assumptions about the world and other people that I had never examined or questioned, and which I began to see were a big part of my unhappiness.

I can’t say that beginning to experience a shift has been a panacea and my life is beautiful and perfect; it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Connecting to your heart and emotions is a big shock at first, and you tend to interpret the sensations as things being “wrong.” It’s scary and those sensations can’t be controlled—they need to be accepted.

But ultimately once you get a sense that higher intelligence must exist, there sometimes grows a need to connect to it, even in a fragmented, mysterious and uncontrollable way, because if the universe isn’t random, connecting to its source and meaning is probably the only real game worth playing.

Experience suggests that there are a different set of rules at work than those that your analytical brain has concocted for you to follow—and they don’t make logical sense—but little glimmers of experience and how you sometimes feel inside suggest that coming from compassion and forgiveness (the right-brain/heart perspective) is what Freeman calls “a better bargain”, and worth a shot.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Insane Ordeal of Roger Federer

I’ve loved tennis all of my life. As a kid I went to Forest Hills with my pals and my mom to watch the matches in an intimate setting, and I took lessons when I got older to the point where I could compete, teach and appreciate the game.

At one point I had a party for my closest friends and looked at the people gathered there and realized that with but a few exceptions, I had met all of them through tennis.

In recent years I watched with some dismay as the game grew in lockstep to mass media requirements, and champions like McEnroe and Connors were idolized for their “emotion” on the court, which I saw mainly as a vulgar spectacle in which they whipped a bloodthirsty crowd into a frenzy.

While I admired their artistry, I particularly loved to watch players like Borg and then Sampras who competed powerfully but were not sucked into the egomaniacal requirements of puffing themselves up to “show emotion.”

But my favorite player in this regard is Roger Federer. As a corporate conglomerate in his own right, he has come to recognize the expectations and requirements of the mass media, but when he pumps his fist after winning a point it seems to be almost an apologetic gesture – like “I don’t need this, I have inner resolve, but if this is what you want, knock yourselves out.”

His combination of excellence and gentility have made him immensely popular, but at a steep price.

This past week, having already won an amazing 13 Grand Slam titles and appeared in a record 20 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, he was presented with an incredible opportunity to win one more, matching the great Pete Sampras, and also winning the French Open, giving him a “career Grand Slam.”

(The career Grand Slam consists of winning all of the four major championships, an achievement that was glamorized by the media when Andre Agassi won the French Open.)

Federer’s arch rival Rafael Nadal, who had denied him the French Open championship on three occasions and also beaten him at Wimbledon and in Australia, was upset in the quarter finals of the French this year.

Suddenly the pressure on Federer grew to unbelievable proportions, as he had “fallen short” so often recently, almost eclipsing his many accomplishments by his “failure” to win another championship.

To me it was almost painful to watch him play, his joy for the sport completely overwhelmed by the disproportionate egoic expectations of the fans, the media, and most important, himself.

This great person and champion suddenly found himself terrorized by the task so many had set for him as a benchmark for success—he struggled to win two matches in which in any other situation he would have probably prevailed quite easily, against opponents who seldom gave him any trouble.

Finally, within reach of the championship in the final match, somehow he remained in the moment, but even in the final game, you could see the anguish on his face. This was something he had to do because of his own and the world’s unbelievable expectations—not because it was natural or exhilarating as sport or self expression.

I had watched with horror as Federer, who had just lost a final to Nadal in Australia, broke down and cried in frustration and anguish after failing to tie Sampras’ record, and sensing that he might actually “fail” to deliver on a destiny that so many had set before him as a birthright.

How had this happened, I wondered?

How had such an accomplished individual been allowed to feel that unless he achieved this one additional feat, all of his past records would be rendered almost meaningless?

How had the imaginary benchmarks of millions who had never even played a professional match managed to dwarf this great champion’s personal qualities of humility and generosity?

And how had the media circus, corporate hierarchy, conventional wisdom and collective consciousness managed to create for this one humble man such an overreaching burden and set of expectations?

I pondered these questions as I thought about my own feelings of failure for expectations I had not managed to achieve in my lifetime—how my own ego and the internalized expectations of others has set a series of hurdles for me that I needed to clear and never could in order to feel fulfilled.

My heart fell when Federer lost the first point of the final game. And then the situation, the crowd, the weather and his own overwhelming skill took him home.

It was clearly an achievement of incredible will and mindfulness that let Federer finally slay his own demons and win the last point. Having tried and often failed to serve out a match where all that was at stake were bragging rights at Rancho Park, I could not even imagine how difficult it must have been to put the crowd and situation out of his mind and let his body perform.

I was happy as Federer was embraced by Agassi, applauded by past champion Borg, and praised by McEnroe, and graciously accepted the accolades of the crowd, addressing them flawlessly in both French and English.

And I could understand his tears. They were the tears of immense relief that in the court of public consciousness he had achieved what was expected, and now he could have peace.

Then I wondered – what if Nadal had won again? Would this great man stand here broken, after all that he has done in and out of the sport?

If he had lost, would his friend Tiger Woods, think any less of him, and call him less frequently?

Would his marriage and impending fatherhood be threatened by his own self doubts, after all he’d done?

Fortunately this one man was strong enough not to have to face these challenges. Now all he needs to do is win Wimbledon, so he can surpass Pete Sampras…

But in my life I haven’t “won” what I thought I would and should—and I still manage to beat myself up for the many things I felt I should have accomplished and never have, and I try each day to quiet the mental gymnastics that emerge to remind me of my supposed failures.

I think about a story Bruce Willis told of getting the job on Moonlighting and seeing the other actors and bartenders in the waiting room as he left, wondering what would have happened if one of them had been anointed by the producer to star opposite Cybil Shepherd.

I wonder how much whoever came in second to Willis (and might still be a bartender) might have spent on therapy.

Finally I wonder whether these mythic expectations of Herculean achievement are the basis of a life force within us, or its curse.

My recent reading of the works of Eckhart Tolle leads me to attempt to observe the workings of my mind -- and hopefully come to terms with such egoic fantasies and expectations in order to be in the moment -- and finally drop those unbearable burdens that have haunted me throughout my life.

But how would civilization fare if we all did that? Would mindfulness allow us greater freedom, personal expression and happiness? Or would it come at a price we would not want to pay – of less achievement, personal comfort, technology and God forbid, no professional sports?

To use sports vernacular, it’s a tough call. But at this point in my life I am happy for Federer that he will be spared any personal self doubt at his current age or when he reaches mine.

For me I want to finally achieve a sense of personal worth and fulfillment that doesn’t require external measurement, but only inward knowledge of having been the best I could be when I finally woke up.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What Computers Can Teach Us about Intelligence, Logic and Life

If you’re reading this blog you use computers, so I suspect that perhaps you’ve had this experience:

You’ve downloaded or installed a new program and you’re too headstrong to open the manual, so you plunge in and begin to do some cool stuff until you get stuck. Some button is grayed out or some dialog box doesn’t pop up as you expect and for the life of you, you can’t figure it out.

Then, after hours of fiddling, you open the manual, click Help or consult an online resource, and the problem is explained—you have an “ah ha” moment and the process which led to the stuck point is completely clear and you get it.

Not only that, suddenly the logic behind the program makes sense, and your own prior assumptions and way of thinking are revealed as flawed.

So what just happened?

You were able to connect to the logic of the programmer(s) as opposed to your own and an entirely new set of goals and means of attaining them was exposed to you as equally valid—or in fact even more valid than your own previous perspective.

I believe that this is what happens when you meditate: you distance yourself from your own assumptions about how life and universe should be, and open yourself up to a different set of possibilities and influences.

Just as you ultimately have to accept a program’s logic over your own preferences (or uninstall it), at some point you also need to accept what life is offering rather than continue to think that your conceptions of how things ought to be must unfold.

This latter misconception is sometimes called ego and leads to much suffering.

Literature is filled with stories of kings and warriors who learned this the hard way (often running afoul of the Gods which basically mirrored their own arrogance back at them), and you’ve probably experienced a more mundane version of the same reality, perhaps at the bank, market or the dry cleaners.

On a planetary level our species is also learning this lesson, and hopefully it will sink in before it’s too late.

In Jacob Needleman’s “A Sense of the Cosmos”, he describes attending a medical lecture where a doctor claimed that in some aspect of human bodily function, “nature had made a mistake.”

Oh really?

That’s sort of like geneticists saying blithely that because they haven’t yet discovered its meaning, that a large part of our genetic code is “junk DNA.”

Oh really?

There is a field emerging in biology and life sciences called biomimicry that goes in the opposite direction, and embraces and models the designs in nature to create more successful products—for example, I think that a bullet train in Japan is based on the aerodynamic beak of a hummingbird (or something like that).

But of course most of what we are doing (mainly as governments and multinational corporations) is trying to bend nature to how we think it ought to behave. In our hubris, we are not reading the manual, not giving due respect to the obvious intentions of the designer or master programmer, and ultimately we may find that we are the odd humanity out of a system that expels us.

We’d better get with the program and realize that we are a part of nature, and that our ideas and beliefs are hopelessly flawed when compared to the big “What Is.”

Meditation, I think, is a great start. Reading the manual for humanity, like our genetic code, might enlighten our species some, but only if we recognize that before we start tinkering, we need to understand its ultimate objective, rather than our own (like patenting genes)—and consider whether comprehending such higher truth is even remotely possiblef or a limited organism and brain like ours .

But the best way to start is to observe ourselves closely and recognize the common fallacy of assuming we know better in any specific instance. Because if you’ve ever upgraded any software, you know that “the way you always did something” may no longer be valid, and that someone, somewhere, has a different idea of how things ought to be—and they may be running the show—not your monkey mind.