Universal mind and individual mind

Today I pulled together three thoughts that before I had recognized separately 

  1. All mystrical traditions and many moderns who report on psychedelic experiences tell us that we are one.  But individuality is such a powerful illusion, if illusion it be. How to make sense of this unanimity on the subject of oneness in light of the fundamental fact of our senses: that we each experience free will with regard to skeletal muscles of one individual human only?
  2. Thoughts from moment to moment are mostly out of our volitional control.  Anyone who tries to meditate learns this. Maybe I shouldn’t say “tries” to meditate, because this is meditation’s central message.  One becomes aware that whoever “I” is, this entity is not in control of the thoughts with which “I” is so identified.
  3. Experiments in telepathy show a consistently positive statistical effect, but famously unreliable, inconsistent, out of control.  Telepathy is not a modality we can count on to deliver a message, but in a well-designed experiment with just a few hundred trials, we can be confident in seeing the statistical fingerprints of telepathy.  There is certainly an influence of one mind on another, but it is mostly undirected and beneath conscious awareness.

Tentative synthesis: My thoughts have control over my body, but “I” have only partial control over my thoughts.  This is what it feels like to be a part of the universal consciousness. These thoughts that come unbidden to my mind are the universal mind of which my conscious awareness is just a part.  One function of my brain is an antenna which receives thoughts and images from people I am close to, but also from anyone who directs attention toward me, and in part from a larger sphere of humanity or all life and all nature.

universal mind depiction

Old mystics, shamans, acidheads agree
Connection universal binds us all
The I that seems so separate and small
Is but conceit, conditioned vanity.

My mind in meditation doth defy
My will, assimilates unbidden thought.
Thus meditation’s lesson aptly taught
Asks who, if not my neurons, am this “I”?

Our science if more honest, would concede
Statistics show telepathy is real,
Though not a force we hear or see or feel.
From what source do its messages proceed?

From psi research and from my meditation,
The mystics’ message earns consideration.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Universal consciousness

To a small child, awareness is a ubiquitous quality of the world. We are mistaken when we assume that consciousness is an interior human trait that first unfurls inside the young child, who then learns to attribute the same quality to other persons, and perhaps “projects” that quality onto the surrounding world of things and beings. Rather, the newborn emerges into consciousness as into a new medium. What we later objectify as “awareness” is at first like an anonymous element that defines the very substance of existence, glimmering with strange pleasures and yearnings and pains. Only gradually does a kind of locus begin to appear within this floating field of feeling, an inchoate sanese of “here-ness” emerging from the anonymous and omnidimensional plenitude. This crystallizing sense of one’s body as a general locus of awareness does not arise on its own, but is accompanied by a dawning sense of rudimentary otherness of the rest of the field of feelings. The earliest experience of selfhood, in other words, co-arises with the earliest experience of otherness. One’s own awareness is born of a rift within a more primordial anonymity, as one begins to locate one’s sensations in relation to sensations and feelings that are somehow elsewhere, and hence in relation to an awareness that is not one’s own, but is rather the rest of the world’s.

….The self begins as an extension of the breathing flesh of the world, and the things around us, in turn, originate as reverberations echoing the pains and pleasures of our body.

— David Abram

Language’s primary gift is not to re-present the world around us, but to call ourselves into the vital presence of that world–and into deep and attentive presence with one another. </small>

An Update from Lao Tzu

Having trodden the path for cycles uncountable,
Having crossed the ocean of mind from end to end,
Through all veils, its fountainhead have I finally seen.
To you, honest truth-seeker treading just behind me,
I offer this imperfect vision:

Only untruths can be experienced;
Hence, only untruths exist.
Truth does not belong to existence
For it is that which gives voice to existence,
As a trumpet to music.

Experiences are self-tricks of self-reference:
They arise from nothing and are made of nothing.
If you dig deep within yourself,
You shall always find the layer of self-deception
Upon which each one of your convictions ultimately rests.

One’s reality sprouts from the first layer of self-deception
That escapes one’s field of critical awareness.
The deeper this field, the more subtle the self-deception.
Those with little critical awareness thus live more colorful lives:
Their fiction is richer.

The honest search for truth annihilates its own subject
Slowly, recursively, from within.
Having peeled away every layer of self-deception within me,
I have found myself to be without a core:
Nothing is left.

Only nothing is true.
No external references exist, no outside arbiters.
We are self-created fictions, as is our cosmos.
The quest for truth is also the path to self-annihilation
And thus to liberation.

Rejoice, for your pains, fears, frustrations and regrets
Are all untrue.
There is nothing to fear, nothing to strive for, nothing to regret.
You have no soul; that’s just self-deception.
And you won’t die; that’s just self-deception.

But beware!
As a dream symbolically portrays the inner state of the dreamer,
As a novel insinuates the inner life of the author,
As a lie betrays the anxieties of the liar,
So the fiction you call reality reveals something of truth.

Thus pay attention to life,
For truth expresses itself only through its own fictions.
To discern truth in fiction: here is the cosmic conundrum!
To engage wholeheartedly without being taken in: here is nature’s challenge!
To find meaning in nothingness: here is the epic demand!

Partake in reality as an actor in a theater:
With attention, dedication, and an open heart.
But never believe yourself to be your character;
For characters spend their lives chasing their own shadows,
Whereas actors embody the meaning of existence.

May this small vision serve you as warning, and also encouragement.
The prize at the end of the path is handsome:
Freedom to make the deliberate, guiltless choice
Of which untruth to love.
Exercise this choice wisely, for it is the art of life.

Bernardo Kastrup offers us a picture rooted in physics and analytic philosophy, extending inexorably into the void.  Dao De Jing meets Tractatus.  This is where we end up if we take seriously the notion that thoughts create reality.  This poem was lightly edited and paraphrased by JJM.

Image result for joyously embracing the void

Scientific Objectivity

Since the time of Roger Bacon, Science has defined its unique contribution to understanding of the world by the practice of objectivity, meaning separation of the observer from the observed.  The pinnacle of success for this paradigm was in the 19th Century perspective of the world as a machine, in which atoms bumping against atoms were to explain all.

Physics was thus queen of the sciences, with claim to provide a deep explanation for chemistry and biology, not to mention geology and astronomy.  But as physical theory became more accurate, more successful, and more universal, a funny thing happened.  The quantum theory (1925) was able to account for properties of atoms and subatomic particles only by letting go of objectivity.  There is no longer any fixed reality independent of the questions we ask about it.  In fact, the question helps determine the answer.

This is a conclusion that physicists fought for decades, before J.S. Bell proved it was unavoidable in 1964.  Since then, science has not died, but it is now on a tenuous foundation.  Scientists cannot agree among themselves what to make of the fact that there is no way to separate the experiment from the experimenter.  They go about their business as if it does not matter.  Henry Stapp has one idea how to reconcile the quantum with the scientific method.

Quantum mechanics accounts with fantastic accuracy for the empirical data both old and new. The core difference between the two theories is that in the earlier classical theory all causal effects in the world of matter are reducible to the action of matter upon matter, whereas in the new theory our conscious intentions and mental efforts play an essential and irreducible causal role in the determination of the evolving material properties of the physically described world. Thus the new theory elevates our acts of conscious observation from causally impotent witnesses of a flow of physical events determined by material processes alone to irreducible mental inputs into the determination of the future of an evolving psycho-physical universe. In this orthodox quantum mechanical understanding of the world our minds matter!

Thus quantum mechanics assigns to mental reality a function not performed by the physical properties, namely the property of providing an avenue for our human values to enter into the evolution of psycho-physical reality, and hence make our lives meaningful.

Henry Stapp is a quantum physicist at University of California and Lawrence Berkeley Lab

We are accustomed to a world in which science says that the world is indifferent to us, while mystics say that we are creating our own reality. What will we think if science says we are co-creating our own reality?


A fragment of parchment

Last year, after the death of my mother, I discarded a great number of papers from her attic, and distributed keepsakes to friends and family.  Among the contents of a khaki footlocker, my attention was drawn to a fragment of parchment, apparently torn from a much larger scroll, and covered with an unfamiliar cursive.  I needed only to post an image of the writing on a listserve of classical linguists to find, within days, a Georgetown professor who volunteered to render its contents comprehensible to me.  Reproduced herewith is the text that he returned to me the following day in an email attachment. It remains for me only to apprise the reader of a family tradition, according to which my mother’s father’s father was conscripted briefly at the close of the Great War, and was stationed in a region called at that time South Asia, which would correspond to present-day Iran or, possibly, Afghanistan.

In the nine and sixtieth year of my sojourn, I beg forgiveness of the Beloved and from my teacher, Govralendim Biri, the Annointed One, blessed be his soul.  These sacred teachings which have been entrusted to me through the patient generosity of my teacher and countless teachers before him, I undertake herein to commit to writing.  I do this in violation of tradition and of good sense, and in spite of the affliction that will most certainly attend any who read this scroll, now or in the distant future.

In rampant disregard of my reader’s wellbeing, I separate these teachings and instructions for practice from the rituals and discipline that alone can render mind and body strong enough to contain them.  

To you, my dear reader, I owe the deepest atonement; for I have opened a window, and it is certain that anyone who once observes reality through this window will be rendered mad, as madness is ordinarily understood.  He will be unfit for the intercourse of human society, commerce, or any trade (though it may be that his innate capacity to till the earth will survive unimpaired). It is far less certain that to him will accrue any compensatory understanding, any wisdom or ascendance*.

Yesterday, alas, the pestilence has claimed the last of my three disciples, and being too infirm to commence undertaking the education of another, I have determined to assume the risk of transcribing my received heritage in written form.  It is certain that this teaching will be the downfall of many a worthy soul. My loyalty is not to future scions of Allah, but only to the tradition itself, which might otherwise be lost. Accordingly, the reader—no matter how strong his constitution—is cautioned to seal this scroll and to read no further, or should he be determined to read on, most assuredly not to attempt the exercises described herein, lest he…

* The word here translated as “ascendance” is “جشن گرفتن”, and in Sufi usage, it refers to a consciousness that includes remembrance of past lives and anticipation of future lives.

— Josh Mitteldorf


Carl Jung and Alan Watts

Watts was a voice from the 1960s bringing Eastern spirituality to the West.  Here he reads from a Jung essay and puts it in context.  Summary, in my words:

Christian morality and, actually, all of Western morality are based on the individual harnessing the good within himself and conquering the evil through an act of will.  In the Daoist tradition, on the other hand, good and evil are interdependent and inseparable.

Jung’s psychology emphasized acquainting oneself with the dark side of one’s own personality.  Watts says that Jung had mastered this in his own personality.  Jung was able to understand and help people with their own dark impulses because he had made peace with his own.

This doesn’t mean that the distinction between good and evil is arbitrary.  Watts speaks paradoxically about political struggles in the real world.  We can fight passionately with all our being for what we know is right, and still recognize that in doing so we are playing a role in a grand drama, and that the drama as a whole is “good” in a way that transcends the good/evil dichotomy within it.

Acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem, and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life.  That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love an enemy in the name of Christ All these are undoubtedly great virtues.  What I do to the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.

But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent among all offenders, yea, the very Fiend himself, that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness?  That I, myself, am the enemy who must be loved.  What then?

Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed. There is then no more talk of love and long suffering. We say to the brother within us: Rocca, and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world. We deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves. And had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.