Category Archives: Nonduality

Reflections on the Day

Today is the five-year anniversary of the night I drank tequila to squelch the flu, blacked out, and woke up in a puddle of blood on my kitchen floor.

I am very grateful to still be here and not, as a doctor said to me I could easily have been, dead or in a wheelchair.

My injury and recovery increased my isolation because many of the social activities I had participated in before were now onerous; especially here in Las Vegas I could no longer handle the crowds, noise, music and hubbub.

Things began to improve when I accepted the reality of my circumstances and began to allow things to be as they are instead of controlling all aspects of my life.  I also gave myself permission to rest in the middle of the day without giving in to the usual guilt that I wasn’t DOING ENOUGH.

I tried to focus instead on BEING – present, grateful and as relaxed as situations allowed.  Weed has helped in that regard.

I also experienced a lot of anxiety which I later connected to trauma – first and foremost in what had happened to my brain and later – having a lot of time to rest, think, and get deeply in my body – trauma that had been stored by my nervous system since before I was even born.

What follows did not happen this morning – today I feel almost “normal” (which is an illusion) – but rather a description of some of the thoughts and feelings I have regularly experienced and worked through – or been able to process through what I consider to be Grace.

My Direct Experience

This morning as I felt the familiar sensation in my chest or more specifically the reflux area, I once again connected it to the horrors my parents faced during WWII – it is a familiar connection to trauma I now can physically sense and have intellectually recognized as even having been affected in the womb.

My mother had been selected to work at Auschwitz and somehow survived several slave labor camps to meet my father in Prague after the war.  I was born in Vienna in 1949.

A therapist pointed out my apparent emotional “wound” in the reflux area and at one point I connected my abdominal sensations to distant memories of my mother and me living in Switzerland – when my father had gone ahead to New York – just prior to our voyage on the Queen Mary.

My parents were still both afraid of the Russian Communist agents and antisemites in Vienna so while my father came to New York, we left Vienna by train for Zurich.

We spent almost six months in Interlaken, a Swiss mountain village, and I dimly remember being in a tiny studio with a fireplace where we burned wooden flags that I somehow recall my mother found in town on our walks.

I remember very little of that time but when I recounted it to the therapist she pointed out – “you were in a tiny space with a very traumatized woman for a long time.”  It was nine years after my mother’s liberation and she was around 39 years old – “a traumatized young woman” as my therapist reminded me.

What came out then and what I have since linked to intense feelings of deficiency, which are an apparently strong part of my conditioning, was that at five years old, loving my mother, I wanted to protect her.  I wanted to be a grown man but of course I was just a young boy.

My therapist at that time asked me how I might have felt in that situation.  Hopelessly inadequate is the obvious answer.

The time I’ve spent alone since my brain injury has also reminded me that my parents – and our love was very powerful up until they died after retirement in La Jolla – were critical of me and wanted to raise me in a way that I could handle the stresses of life.   I lived by a set of pretty strong rules the breaking of which meant looks and words of disapproval that hurt deeply and resulted in memories of shame.

So this morning I was connecting to these memories when it went deeper.  I’ve been reading a bit about generational trauma and it rings very true in my case; and I can intellectually trace it back to the Inquisition which apparently my ancestors on my father’s side also endured.

Then I thought about all of the intense cruelty that has come to the surface in the past few years while continuing to feel the sensations in my body, and instead of trying to purge them, allowing and even welcoming those feelings as best I could.

I thought about African slavery and the subjugation of indigenous people all through the Americas by forces completely consumed by their religious beliefs.

My mind went to scenes and stories of human slavery and trafficking which are an open secret in the world today and a blot on humanity.  It recently came to light that people are still sold in Arab countries and even here there are sordid tales of abduction and the exploitation of young women, and men, against their will.

How to live in the face of this ugliness?  Tension gripped the areas in my chest where I had felt contractions.

I wondered whether in a past life I had experienced any of these horrors.  I have no strong belief or opinion about the reality of reincarnation but I am open to many things I would have once dismissed as impossible.

This was how I awoke this morning.  I stayed with it for an hour or more and then tried to just rest before getting up, showering and having breakfast. 

I take a few minutes of down time between each of these activities to rest my eyes and brain.

Retirement can be strenuous.

What a Concept?

About a decade ago I was in my friend Michael’s apartment when we were having a discussion about what might be “real” and he said, “Russia doesn’t exist.”

As I pondered this he continued, “If you fly over a large land mass in Eurasia and look down you see a bunch of land.  The fact that we consider it Russia is simply agreed upon by many humans.”

And he said humans and homo sapiens don’t exist outside of human understanding.

In today’s context I would cite the many speeches given by politicians that proclaim “America is an idea” – exactly right, and we now know that the idea originally was that an American was a male property owner – sometimes with slaves.”

The slavery concept, of course, needed to be enforced with power and those who were its objects might not have known the word “slave” but they knew exactly what their reality was day to day.

Right now the concept of the “Dollar” is under assault by foreign governments and entities that want to substitute their own idea of something that can concretely represent value – cypto, digital currency, anything that would also reduce the power of the current concept of “America.”

But the concept of the dollar remains pretty strong for the moment, although the ability to move conceptual dollars electronically has created many problems and now threatens its stature because if the world completely grasps that the dollar is just an agreement – it’s time might be limited.

All concepts as actually implicit or explicit agreements among a collective sharing a common language and consciousness.

Big problems arise when these concepts evolve – for example many immigrants came to America because they believed in its concepts – but group after group like the Irish and Italians, before the current African Americans and Asians – discovered that those that were already here did not actually think that the newcomers were American.

Problems with more significant concepts like Justice and Truth.

Each group had to learn and adapt to the collective agreements about these subjects, and sometimes they were enforced by a government which had been agreed to – and sometimes they were decided in other ways, often violent.

Well are all concepts just agreements and ultimately meaningless?

Science (another concept) actually suggests that no, with systematic analysis and experiments we can know certain truths.

Mathematics seems to ratify this with “constants” like Pi and finite measurement of seemingly solid objects.

But you could show the numeric sequence of Pi, or the human symbol, to alien and it would mean nothing until you and the alien agreed on the values for those symbols.

And it turns out that a big part of the usefulness of concepts to measure and perhaps understand what seems to be real is good faith.  The humans using the concepts have to agree that what they’ve agreed upon still stands.  Alternatively, the concept of fraud arises.

While neuroscience strongly suggests that concepts are electrical signals in the brain, upon deeper investigation those ideas are once again – just more concepts.

We use the word “mind” conceptualize how ideas and words arise, and many believe that they are the products of independent sentient beings – again in their brain.

If we try to define precisely what we mean by mind it gets sticky

Where exactly is the “here” that arises in the mind?  Is it somewhere amid the conceptual lines of longitude and latitude that we have conceptually overlaid on the planet we seem to inhabit?

Philosopher Ken Wilber coined the concept of two different realms of Mind – he called them Big Mind and Little Mind.

Little Mind seems to be the independent self that concepts convince us that we are – separate from “everything else” and with an interesting concept that we call free will.

Big Mind is what we might call a Metaphysical concept and refers to the presence of an intelligence beyond our brains and physicality that is infinite and without limits or separation.

This is presumably where the current concept of nonduality in philosophy comes in – plainly what happens with ideas or concepts is the arising of a “thinker” who seems to be separate from everything else – particularly the objects of thought.  There seems to be, especially within the structure of the language we use to articulate concepts a subject and an object to reality.

But is there really?  Can you find the subject that seems to be “you”?  Is it behind your eyes, or in the brain with the “neurons”?  We now know that there are neurons elsewhere in the body – like the gut and even the heart.

So theoretically if the concept of gratitude somehow arises – it might literally be happening in the heart – or even the gut.

And of course, it would appear that we being “organic” creatures that something like gratitude would be biochemical reaction or electricity of some sort?  That’s what neuroscience might suggest.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about these issues because I’m not working and have been recovering from a brain injury.

In my recovery I’ve become familiar with the work of a psychologist specializing in trauma – Dr. Gabor Mate – who has a new book which I have not read.

But I’ve watched a lot of Dr. Mate’s videos and I love the title of the book:  “The Myth of Normal.”

I love the title because in the course of my recovery very little has caused me as much anguish as the concept of “normal.”

As I connect to physical sensations that cause discomfort I can connect many of them to notions what I have been conditioned to believe is “normal” – or the way things “should” be.

It has been mainly by questioning all of these concepts and seeing them as agreement rather than facts or absolute truths, that I have been able to lessen their hold on me, and with it the power of what I think Wilber calls Small Mind and others call the Ego.

This would be the repository of concepts and beliefs with which I was socialized – first by my parents and then by society and peers – beginning with the concept of my name as “me.”

But when the Greeks suggested at Delphi that one should “know thyself” they wouldn’t have taken one’s name as the actual self.  They were going much much deeper.

Maybe what we are – and I believe Jesus said, “You are the truth” – perhaps we are Big Mind fooling itself with the dream of Small Mind while the life force animates our organism.

Can we wake up from this dream?  Maybe but we’d have to be sure we weren’t attached to another concept.