Monthly Archives: October 2011

Science and Duality: A Community for Those Who “Think Different”

When I was in the second grade my mother packed me up one afternoon and took me to the public library. There she turned to me and said, I don’t care what you pick out, but choose three books and begin reading. I remember wandering among the shelves, finding some items with pictures and large print, and beginning a lifelong odyssey to learn from written words.

This discipline has served me well in many ways, but as information has exploded through the course of my life, and now is ubiquitous online, I have begun to sense that my own love affair with “learning” or “knowledge” is a double edged sword.

First you can never know enough, especially today when information is exploding. Second, the written word is a poor substitute if it completely replaces the actual connection between people and nature.

So it was a little less than a year ago, after reading Eckhart Tolle, whose work made me acutely aware of the limitations of listening only to what seemed to be the various voices in my head, that I went on Meetup.com, looking for others who may have faced some of the same obstacles in relation to the “real world” that I had encountered; namely an uneasy feeling that something was “off” and that our view of “life as we know it”, both in its day to day survival mode and in the way we conceptualize it scientifically, was wrong.

Not surprisingly I felt somewhat alienated and there weren’t a lot of people with whom I could discuss these issues; and talking about politics, sports, movies and even technology was getting wearying.

With my interest in Eckhart Tolle, I found Michael Jeffreys’ group studying his work on Meetup, and suddenly I was in a Community of people, some of whom were struggling with issues I was facing, and others who were merely interested in the ideas of someone who saw life differently.

What initially attracted me to the group as much as anything was its apparent “structure” – we were purportedly reading and discussing Tolle’s book, A New Earth, one chapter per month.

I had avoided other similar groups that merely watched videos and sat silently. Especially at that time, it was important for me to be able discuss these ideas with others. What I soon discovered in the group setting was that I felt so at home and comfortable. The leader, Michael Jeffreys, was more of a host, who welcomed our comments and I soon found myself laughing about some of the ways I had taken myself and my own ideas so seriously—I was opening up to a new way relating to myself, and to life.

As the year went on and I attended more meetings, I also followed Michael on Facebook, along with some other “coaches” I had encountered, like my friend Freeman Michaels.

Suddenly I was encountering different but powerful expressions of some of the ideas that had captured my attention from other very profound thinkers and speakers. Then I found that many of them would be attending a conference in San Rafael in October—the Science and Nonduality Conference which just concluded.

I had watched videos of several of the speakers on the Internet, and as I had with my original interest in technology, I sought out the SAND conference and got excited about hearing them speak in person over a single weekend.

But for various reasons I could not attend. Instead I went to a local event by one of the speakers, Matt Kahn, who like many of the others, emphasizes the power of attending to one’s actual experience of life over being able to understand it intellectually.

The science of nonduality, as I understand it and as conveyed by teachers like Michael and Matt, actually points to the limitations of our conscious mind as it struggles to control life, and opens the way to an easing of internal tension as one trusts a different level of belief which is accessible through sensation and feeling.

This was one of the inherent contradictions I have found in trying to “study” life and consciousness—and it was brought home to me dramatically when I was a teacher of technology.

At one of the venues where I taught Microsoft Office, instructors would gather each evening in the Instructor Lounge after a long day in the classroom and discuss their latest work and projects; inevitably it became a game of competition and one upsmanship as one tried to top the other in terms of what he or she (mostly he) knew about the latest programs.

While the SAND conference might have had little or none of this dynamic, my current inclination was more to a community experience of these ideas rather than a series of lectures, although these speakers have influenced my own growth dramatically with their presentations.

Here are some of the other SAND participants whom I’ve encountered either directly or online, whose work I find particularly insightful.

Bentinho Massaro – is a 23 year old clear thinker and communicator who has an uncanny ability to take one past the “dueling concepts” in one’s thinking mind to what seems to be their source—and point to a level of peace that I find very calming.

Scott Kiloby – is a teacher and writer whose dialogs online I found very enlightening. Like the others, the basic teaching seems very simple: “Take a moment to rest in presence. Let everything be as it is.”

Jeff Foster – is another speaker whose videos exude a depth and clarity that I love. He has a unique approach to locating or perhaps dislocating the underlying “self” that can cause confusion for many.

Peter Russell – is a well known writer who I find effective in his ability to do what the SAND conference generally promises—bring the insight of science to issue of mind and consciousness.

Rupert Spira is another eloquent speaker, whose insight points the intellect past itself and makes the listener inwardly quietly aware of a nature beyond thought.

These are only five of the participants whose work and sessions and SAND I would recommend from a personal perspective; the others are no less brilliant and if any of the ideas in this blog resonate with you, I suggest you look at the the Science and Nonduality Conference web site for more information and perhaps attend a future event.

Michael Jeffreys also has a longer list of resources and teachers on his web site. For an in depth interview and a copy of the list, click this link.

For myself, I am involved in my own inquiries and really seek a balance between the continuing “search” for any belief or truth, and the experience of just allowing myself to experience the myriad of ways life is unfolding for me, instead of trying to grasp and understand it from an intellectual or scientific perspective.

To some this may sound like a passive withdrawal, but in actuality, as Matt Kahn pointed out so effectively over the weekend, putting one’s attention on the energies of life, rather than on one’s own “problems” is an active practice, but one that can truly lead to clarity and peace.

And finally, we need other people. The library can only take you so far. Ultimately you need a community too.

 


 

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Being and Doing: Our Software is Always On

One of the earliest insights I had when reading Eckhart Tolle and more specifically, participating in group studying his work led by Michael Jeffreys, was the distinction made about the content and structure of our thoughts.

Much of Tolle’s work centers on first recognizing the overwhelming impact of our “thinking machine”—how we seem to be at the mercy of every thought that arises.

After this recognition takes hold, and we begin to notice how our thoughts can run (and sometimes ruin) our lives, a bit of space is created between whatever “we” are (our being) and the thoughts we are perpetually thinking and often reacting to.

At the next level is the awareness that there is what we think (content), and how we think (structure), and as we disengage periodically from identifying with our thoughts, we begin to see patterns emerge.

Many of our habitual thoughts are about “problems” and “solutions”—and these problems happen to a person, the thinker, who identifies so strongly with the possible consequences that a state of anxiety can develop if there is no space allowed between what or who is thinking, and those thoughts.

For many of us this is a common state, one Michael Jeffreys calls “worry addiction” – and of course the extent to which our outside circumstances reflect and confirm this state can lead to endless loops of anxiety.

One way to deal with this is medication. Another is meditation, which can help to create that space between whatever “is thinking”, and the thoughts that are arising.

Describing the effects of meditation is a difficult if not impossible task, mainly because I have no way of knowing that is happening in anyone else’s mind. Essentially I am diving deep and studying the form or structure of my own thoughts, and connecting physically with parts of me that are not thought—sensations, feelings and processes like my breath.

Now–following the thread of this blog that DNA is a manifestation of programming, let us consider our own experience with our computers as a guide to a deeper sense of our own nature.

Unless it malfunctions or freezes, we take much of our computer for granted. It is only of interest to us when we load a specific program and begin to do things.

But the reality of our computer, and the way it truly functions, is that it is on as long as electrical energy flows through it—and it “wakes up” through various levels that are eerily analogous to our own.

First comes the BIOS, or the main connections with the motherboard and peripherals—then the operating system—a higher level of programming loads from a hard drive (memory) –and then the desktop “runs”, waiting for us to “do something.”

But depending upon our computer setup, even when “nothing is happening” various states of being still take place, beneath the “conscious awareness” of us, the user. (Again, until they go “wrong”, then they rise to the surface and we are uncomfortable until these “problems” are “solved.”)

But the system is still in communication with its “world”. Electricity is flowing, chips are energized, the desktop software is running, and perhaps messages are even arriving over the Internet (depending on how well the machine is “protected”).

Going back to Eckhart Tolle, his point as I understand it is that like the computer user who is oblivious to the constant “being” of his machine, that some software is always running, we remain fixated on the tasks we are doing with the programs that we load and run—the content.

But beneath the surface, with the computer, and entire world of functionality is taken for granted.

And within us, the same situation exists. As Eckhart Tolle puts it, beneath our own awareness as our “intelligence” focuses on the problems and thoughts that seem to be our world, a “much higher intelligence runs our breathing, digestion, circulation and so on.”

Of course, as we know, this intelligence is also a program that adheres to a set of symbols that can be decoded into four letters, A, C, T and G to represent the chemicals that control these functions.

In ancient cultures like Egypt, these natural organic forces were worshipped, studied and revered, in our culture they are to be ignored (so we can do more) or controlled by our intelligence (so we can get on with things).

At best, like the operating system and BIOS of our computers they are simply overlooked and taken for granted.

What can be gained by focusing even temporarily on these processes—perhaps through meditation or simply consciously connecting with our breath several times a day?

To many people it will seem to be a “waste of time”—like staring at the desktop of your computer without “doing anything.”

But for some of us it slows us down, perhaps even connects us with a deeper intelligence, and frequently makes use more aware of the structure of our thoughts.

For example, as thoughts anxiously arise about what we must do, out tendency to focus on worry and fear becomes apparent to “our own software”—whatever it may be that is capable of noticing these tendencies.

We also become aware that we are not so much a thing as a flow of energy—just like the computer’s energy is flowing something similar is seems to be pervading us as we create that space between “our Selves” and the thoughts that are so seemingly important when we lose our Selves.

Gradually, perhaps, an awareness program may begin to run, monitoring the extent to which we are really present or awake.

If nothing else, this reduces our emphasis on the thoughts that generally have so much power over us—as Michael Jeffreys says, “we can hold them more lightly.”

Beyond that, we may also become increasingly aware, as another teacher, Bentinho Massaro points out, that “awareness is always going on.” This may seem self evident and inconsequential to many of us until we consider it more deeply.

When we do, we again create a space between the awareness which we always are, and our thoughts which compete for our attention. We may be moved to a sense of wonder and awe that any such awareness or world exists at all… and thereby connect to a deeper sense of of “what is” – being itself.

In the world of separate objects that we seem to inhabit, where does this “software” come from?

Its meaning can be decoded by supercomputers. Does that raise any flags?

Many of the world’s great teachings suggest that as we focus on what we are—and remain present, rather than becoming engulfed by how our minds interpret what we do, our reality literally changes in a positive way. I have come to believe that that’s how our software is meant to function when properly installed and maintained.

How Shift Happens: Nature Uses Templates

So many beliefs in our culture are beginning to shift; I believe that is at the heart of the current protests both in the Middle East and on Wall Street. Here in the U.S. it’s a matter of values—do we worship balance sheets or human needs?

Our predisposition toward one value or another is sometimes called a “meme.” Wikipedia defines a Meme as “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”

One huge meme that was the basis of our democracy was that individuals have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of what a monarch decreed or wanted. People had a right to self determination.

Of course on a more mundane level a meme would be that the iPad is cool but Microsoft’s old tablet PCs, which came out several years earlier, just weren’t. A lot of that meme’s acceptance was the result of the design of the iPad, and the WiFi infrastructure and number of Apps to support it.

In a comparison to computers, a major meme like Democracy might be seen as installing a “new operating system” – one that was first downloaded during our American Revolution and later adopted in Europe and spread to various places around the globe.

That “Age of Enlightenment” operating system also seems to have supported the Industrial Revolution and the growth of technology, which has seen the spread of science and knowledge for its own sake, and for the sake of profit, as an “obvious set of values.” Of course these values weren’t at all obvious to the Native Americans who had no concept of the ownership of land when they signed their rights away.

But now that so many of us use computers it’s worth considering what it really means when the underlying programs can be changed, and things we took for granted can suddenly be revealed as arbitrary concepts everyone just accepted.

Some Native American cultures like the Toltecs, as described by Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements, refer to these as “dreams.”

Many of us who use computers, as Douglas Rushkoff has written in Program or be Programmed, remain obliviously unaware of the conditioning that technology can impose, especially when we don’t really understand how it works.

But if we take a closer look at computer programs we use every day, and how they operate, we can perhaps also shift our own sense of who and what we are, and what life itself is.

Bear in mind that our DNA, literally, operates as computer code. We can copy and paste it to create another species, as biologists are now doing—or to grow new organs.

So in terms of memes, or beliefs, what if we viewed them in terms of computer “Templates”?

If you’ve ever used templates in a program like Word or PowerPoint, you know the powerful way applying or opening a different template—or set of coded instructions—can alter the features of a document or presentation. You can instantly change the font types, sizes, and colors, along with a myriad of other attributes to the text or overall appearance of a file.

In genetic terms, perhaps we can see race as an obvious template for humans in terms of physical characteristics, and memes for mental or intellectual belief systems. Once a meme or cultural belief is widely adopted, it is transmitted genetically from one generation to the next.

But how are memes changed? Essentially like a new template, a cultural belief is adopted first by a small group or a few people, and then more and more.

Unfortunately for the people who suddenly come up with a new template for human beliefs, the cultures have not always been kind. Think of Jesus and Galileo as two prime examples of unconventional thinkers whose ideas caused them persecution.

But if the template or meme resonates and strikes some deeper level, of understanding a shift happens, first in individuals and eventually in entire cultures, and suddenly beliefs change.

The Gods become One God; the Sun becomes the center of the solar system, and more recently in our culture, we “know” that our location is merely that of one planet orbiting a minor star on the periphery of a galaxy among billions.

But what happens when we suddenly begin to understand the very nature of our own belief systems and templates, and realize their arbitrary nature–and the extent to which they sometimes cause us suffering?

A book that is part of a movement in just this direction is A New Earth, which opened many people up to the possibility that many of the memes and beliefs they’ve always taken for granted are misconceived—and a new template was suddenly applied to millions of peoples programming when Tolle’s work was promoted by Oprah Winfrey.

And then we might ask, what happens when we can connect the operation of life itself (DNA and Epigenetics) with the functioning of our own inner and outer worlds and belief systems?

Does the realization suddenly hit us that we are not separate “things” composed of protoplasm but rather energetically connected to a Cosmos that is itself Intelligent on a level way beyond our own—that has manifested life according to a set of intentional instructions (DNA)?

Can we drop the intellectual arrogance imposed by the scientific templates and expand our awareness?

Then looking at the stars which seem to dwarf our existence, and a newly discovered subatomic quantum world that clashes with our common sense notions of cause and effect, can we then begin to completely reconsider what is truly significant and important?

That is the shift that is taking place right now.

Getting Trapped in “Duality”

We’ve discovered the correlation between the software that operates in our cells (DNA) and the software we create for computers—it turns out that they work the same way.

So the question becomes: must there be a programmer? This comes down to an understanding of the limitations of considering life only “as we know it”—and what exactly do we “know” and what do we merely believe?

In philosophy the fierce dualistic battle wages between Secularists or Science– and proponents of “Intelligent Design”; the problem with the latter is their conviction that they “know the Programmer.”

It’s generally viewed as an either/or proposition.

Barbara Forrest, a well known critic of Creationism who wants only conventional evolution taught in schools, she is professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. She is a critic of intelligent design and the Discovery Institute. She is a believer in Science with a capital “S”. Interestingly she has the intention of making sense (meaning) out of the unquestioned existence of consciousness purely on the basis of a “naturalistic” concept of Evolution:

She writes in Zygon, a Journal of Religion and Science, “Science undermines the certitude of non-naturalistic answers to the question of whether human life has meaning. I explore whether evolution can provide a naturalistic basis for existential meaning. Using the work of philosopher Daniel Dennett and scientist Ursula Goodenough, I argue that evolution is the locus of the possibility of meaning because it has produced intentionality, the matrix of consciousness. I conclude that the question of the meaning of human life is an existentialist one: existential meaning is a product of the individual and collective tasks human beings undertake.”

In other words, we’re all that exists and if we did not exist, there would be no meaning in the universe. Since we’re all we currently “know” anything else is speculation and “supernatural” or non-naturalistic.

But what exactly is “non-naturalistic”? Was epigenetics non-naturalistic a few years ago—the now known fact that environment affects how genes express? By what energy or force does this happen? Since Life proceeds intentionally toward survival and evolution, how can it not precede the functions that it affects—DNA itself?

There is no proof that evolution gave rise to intentionality, only that it manifests or occurs intentionally. If we see how DNA works as the expression of symbols that can be decoded, as software, it would seem to be the reverse—namely, difficult as it may be to understand or comprehend logically—it is intention that gives rise to evolution and “runs” the processes of life itself.

A well known thought scenario that addresses this issue, first posed by English theologian William Paley (who made a case for “Creationism”) is the problem of finding a watch in a forest. His argument was that since life is far more complex than a watch, it could not have come about by “chance” and needed a creator – or in the terms of software – a Programmer.

This becomes a “proof” for those who forward Intelligent Design as the basis for a belief in the fundamental tenet of many religions – a Supreme Being who created everything and also a skepticism about science—the debate of course has led to conflicts about the teaching of Evolution in schools as scientific truth.

Scientists like Forrest, addressing this argument on behalf of Darwinism as the key representation of scientific thought, point out that Evolution alone, when considered with natural selection and the immense spans of time through which it operates, is sufficient to adequately explain the complexity of life.

But the issue of programming and intentionality is different from the issue of complexity, in its very “nature.”

Like the watch, the quality that software (and DNA by extension) possesses is not mere complexity (that it took a supercomputer to decode the genome is impressive but not the point).

The quality that is undeniable and that we take for granted–because we ourselves manifest it every day–is that the operation of DNA epigenetically represents the activity of a Mind.

Chance alone, and no amount of rolling dice would ever have produced Microsoft Word—we can fully understand that computer software is the product of a huge team of programmers who thought out what they wanted to achieve – it manifests the epitome of intentionality.

By its nature, therefore, DNA also suggests a high degree of conscious intention—it is a program by any modern definition, as troubling as that conclusion may be for today’s scientists—and “meaning” is an undeniable “feature” of our software that they choose to ignore.

Mind is an inconvenient subject for science, because how do we know Mind exists? Not through knowledge or logic but undeniably — by experience.

Interestingly this is the same way physicists have come upon the troubling inconsistencies and apparent paradoxes brought to light by quantum mechanics. They had to go with their experimental experience—even though it seems to suggest that on the subatomic level an object may be in two places “at once”—and that nothing manifests in reality without an observer.

We know through our experience that we manifest Mind–although until now its obvious presence has not given way to rigorous scientific experimentation. We Live as Mind – what the rogue philosophy of phenomenology calls “Being in the World”; Sartre and Camus’ Existentialism is philosophical another approach to trying to understand what is the 800 lb gorilla in the room we all try to ignore — Being itself “happens” or “unfolds.”

And apparently behind or underneath it all is Mind or Consciousness.

(And the fact that we have not known or seemingly encountered a higher, a greater or an unembodied Mind doesn’t mean it cannot or does not exist. We didn’t know a neutrino either, or a ganglion, until fairly recently.)

The problem with this type of inquiry is that most people prefer to remain oblivious to its troubling consequences, so that indulging in it can make you feel very separate and alone.

Up until now it has meant filling in the value of the variable “God” with a sense of certainty that may not be warranted and cannot be proven scientifically.

But the presence of the variable as the empty space, container or “no-thingness” as Eckhart Tolle among others calls it as a reality of existence becomes apparent through our experience.

But that Life operates as a “program” based on conceptual instructions now seems an unavoidable truth of nature, as does the fact that subatomic particles behave in ways that suggest that the presence of an observer affects their location or movement.

It may not “make sense” to our current myopic view of Nature, but neither did a subatomic particle traveling faster than the speed of light a few weeks ago—or Epigenetics—or the vastness of our galaxy and then our universe of immense galaxies. So my attempt to find the faith that sustained my father intellectually may be doomed to failure.

I believe this is a function of the limitations on the part of our mind, within our brains, that thinks in words like “God” in order survive, and reacts in a necessary 0 or 1 duality—Good or Bad, Hot or Cold, Male or Female – while Life operates at a much higher level or frequency—beyond this duality. If we observe ourselves carefully we can connect with a faculty that is separate from such dualistic thought—at first briefly—and eventually for longer periods of peace and calm.

In our connection with this “higher frequency”, sometimes through mediation, many of us are becoming more acutely aware that our survival as a species actually hangs in the balance—the very meaning of our own planetary evolution—if we can connect with such higher meaning or intelligence.

A program without a Programmer? It makes no “sense.” And neither does much of quantum physics–or when you “think” about it, the vastness of infinite space discovered by astrophysics. So the ultimate source of any “meaning” in nature may not lie in our limited scientific deconstruction of the world, as advanced as we have become, but rather in our approaching sense of the very boundaries of our intellectual understanding, and the need to connect with what is unmistakably Higher and more Intelligent than we are—with a different faculty beyond the intellect–our hearts.