Be the Scientist: Experiments with My “Self”

I’ve noted in the past that I’ve gained a lot from reading Eckhart Tolle and more recently participating in Michael Jeffreys’ group studying his work. Among many benefits was the realization that I am hardly alone in feeling that “something is off” in the current culture.

It’s interesting that many are focused on what might occur this Friday, which is the calendar date of 11-11-11 – numerologically interesting and of course also Veterans Day. Combined with the recent Wall Street protests there are worldwide meditations planned.

For many of us the first hint of things changing may well have been 9-11-2001, when our feelings of safety and tranquility were abruptly shattered by the realization that we were vulnerable in ways we’d never imagined.

Seven years later, the financial meltdown and some personal issues made me particularly anxious.

It has only been recently, as a result of a great deal of thinking, working and experimenting with new concepts that I have begun to embrace a sense of “not knowing” and being comfortable with it.

Before, the sense of impending doom and lack of control had contributed to my anxiety about the future, and I found that the first step to regulating my emotions and thoughts was a process of deep self observation. I now feel that it might be helpful to others to describe certain aspects of my process.

One of the things I discovered with some help was that there wasn’t just one of me—as Pink Floyd said, “there’s someone in my head and it’s not me.” This line is quoted in the beginning of a fascinating book by neuroscientist David Eagleman – Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.

Eagleman, who also recently appeared on John Stewart, contends that there are “warring factions” in our brains that behave in many ways like political parties, negotiating for what becomes our behavior. He also makes a powerful argument that our capacity for free choice, if available at all, is like a small part of an iceberg that hides a deeply submerged, vast layer of automatic and unconscious activity. (this last analogy actually came from a class in Jung, taught by John MacLean)…

In any event, discovering that I was not just my thoughts gradually came as a big relief. This was facilitated in some work with Michael Jeffreys who also has a way of making one aware of the reality that, as Eckhart Tolle writes, that voice in the head has a life of its own.

The Ego, as used by Jeffreys and Tolle, has a bag of tricks for grabbing our attention, and it doesn’t always have “our” best interests at heart (good pun there). One such trick is that being “down” or acting as a victim is as powerful an ego identity and as useful for this aspect of our minds as seeing oneself as powerful.

And it’s an easy transition for many of us, when our feelings of invulnerability and control are suddenly shattered, to be plunged into a sense of powerlessness and victimhood.

While shifting the focus to thoughts of what gives us fulfillment or pleasure can be helpful, the answer for me is not positive thinking, neurolinguistics or “the Secret” – which may work for some but not for me.

For me it has been a deeper process of accepting first of all that there may be no intellectual “answer” at all – that Life is a verb and not a noun, as Buckminster Fuller wrote. This needed to be discovered, first through an analytical inquiry, and then brought home to me emotionally through actions.

This line of inquiry was helped by Michael Jeffreys’ concept of “being the scientist” instead of a victim. A scientist, after all, experiments and tries things in life, presumably with an openness and not a sense of knowing the outcome in advance (although some modern scientists do seem to have preconceptions along these lines).

However, this perspective can (temporarily) allow for a suspension of the need for control, as one begins to actually wonder what might happen if – instead of thinking one can always effect a desired outcome. In some teachings this might translate into “being in the mystery.”

Another way Eckhart Tolle might put it would be surrendering—or being at peace with the present moment.

My first really powerful experience with performing an experiment instead of going with my preconceptions was in adopting my cat. All of my previous beliefs went against it but something in me wanted to “just see what would happen.” I had been isolated for too long and wanted to shake things up. The result was fulfillment in ways I had never imagined.

Of course there is immense risk. Things don’t always go well. You can attend a party as “the scientist” and discover that you have nothing in common with anyone, much less the person(s) you most thought you wanted to connect with.

But this goes back to which “one” of “you” is in charge of deciding what there is to gain or lose.

Once your self observation confirms, or you begin to suspect that for you, there are many competing “Seekers” within you, none of which are actually the real you by themselves it can be a sense of immense relief to not be “responsible” for outcomes, and blame the “you” that presumably screwed up.

This can go a long way toward alleviating negative self judgments, that can lead to that sense of victimhood that is so destructive to personal growth and happiness.

Here are some other results of my own experiments that have led me discoveries that are not really that profound, but the acceptance of which has helped improve my daily life:

  1. Getting up sucks – so take a shower, meditate, have breakfast and clean the cat’s litterbox – and just accept that that’s how the day begins.
  2. Be nice and patient in spite of automatic reactions – this becomes apparent on the 12 items or less checkout line- thinking “you” are entitled to be snarky doesn’t feel good and leads to other issues.
  3. Work can be a good distraction-and again it doesn’t have to feel good. Just accept that that’s what it takes to get things done that need to be completed.
  4. A nap after lunch doesn’t make you a bum.
  5. Getting out of the house (especially if you work from home) is a necessary daily event.

Watching my reaction to being tired and lying down put me in touch with deep feelings of powerlessness, for example, which abated when I just accepted them. I needed less rest. This confirmed something Michael had suggested.

I will be writing more about Incognito in the coming weeks, but you don’t have to be a neuroscientist (although it probably helps) to begin to shift your approach from one of knowing who you are to one of discovering a series of layers that can lead to some deeper insights.

As Eckhart Tolle also writes, “when someone says ‘I don’t know who I am anymore’, I say congratulations.”

3 responses to “Be the Scientist: Experiments with My “Self”

  1. Excellent post Tom! I think you are right, we do have to just accept that certain things, while we may not “like” them are indeed just part of the daily routine, and are necessary. So, building an automatic acceptance will change our attitude towards those actions, which will by default affect the overall outcome. Great reminders! Look forward to your next post.

  2. Thanks Stacey. Your use of the phrase “by default” is a reminder of how identical our biological and psychological systems internally are to the software we’ve ourselves programmed, which again leads me to the intense curiosity of whether we ourselves have a programmer on a level or dimension beyond our current understanding.

  3. Tom – I can’t imagine what has taken you so long to recognize the obvious –
    1. You are not alone in feeling “something is off” in the current [or any] culture;
    2. It didn’t take 9-11-2001 to shake your safety and tranquility. You were born with it.
    3. If only recently you have embraced a sense of “not knowing”, were you so delusional that you embraced “knowing” [what?] before?
    4. That there isn’t only “one” of you is freshman psychology. Freud posed it as the struggle between the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. Others have ascribed different yet similar schemas. Consciousness [whatever that is] vs unconsciousness [somewhat of a tautology].
    5. And a couple of my own homilies:
    a. Work is the salvation of mankind. Why? Because when you work your mind is [hopefully, if to be saved, at least momentarily] preoccupied with something or other other than yourself!
    b. If you don’t pay the exorcist, you will be repossessed. [Don’t ask, I don’t know what it means, but it makes as much sense as B-Fuller.
    c. If you don’t start out being what you are, you’ll end up what you’re not. [Totally irrelevant to this “post,” but cute, and otherwise relevant.]
    d. Finally, there is no such thing as “the present,” because the present is always immediately past-present. [We can only be past, which is terrible, or future, which is worse.]

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