Wednesday, April 20, 2011


"Only as a warrior can one survive the path of knowledge." - A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda

Mystical literature is replete with references to the warrior. (There's even a school of Buddhist teaching that is referred to as "the sacred path of the warrior.") This has always fascinated me, for reasons that I've never really been able to parse. Having had exposure to and an affinity for the 'protect and serve' ethos at a relatively young age, I had at times wondered if the reference wasn't a call to service of sorts that a mystic, once sufficiently 'enlightened', was supposed to answer...

"A culture’s identity is defined by its deepest values: the values that its citizens believe are worth defending, worth dying for. These are the values that shape a society’s 'way of life.' And it is that 'way of life' that warriors fight to maintain." - The Warrior's Code, Prof. Shannon E. French, Ph.D., U.S. Naval Academy

And after all, a 'mystic' is in search of the highest truth, and a 'warrior' is bound to "a higher ethical standard than that required for an ordinary citizen within the general population of the society that the warrior serves." (q) As ideals to strive for, the two seemed compatible...

I came to understand though that the 'warrior' referred to in mystical literature was generally just a metaphor for a particular mentality - bravery in the face of fear. "The journey of awakening is known as the path of the warrior, as it requires the simple bravery to look directly at one’s own mind and heart." (q)

"What is a warrior anyway? It’s you and me, as we fight the daily battle against our inner demons of self-sabotage, self-betrayal, self-doubt and so forth—not to mention the real, external foes we must contend with in our art, our businesses, and our personal lives." - Stephen Pressfield, author of The War of Art (another book that has just acquired 'must-read' status)

"A Warrior is a person who, through objective and thorough self-examination, develops an understanding of personal talents and limitations. As a Warrior, you then achieve your goals using a combination of this self-awareness and willpower to overcome weaknesses, fears and limitations." - Wiccan Warrior, by Kerr Cuhulain
"“Warrior” should not be used to describe every individual who now fights, has ever fought, or prepares to fight a war. The term would have more strength if we reserved it to apply only to those war fighters who meet other important criteria, which may be less tangible, but ultimately more significant, than that of having taken up arms against an enemy. Before we call any collection of belligerents a culture of warriors, we should first ask why they fight, how they fight, what brings them honor, and what brings them shame. The answers to these questions will reveal whether or not they have a true warrior’s code." (q) (my emphasis) 

Of course, there are practical aspects to adopting a warrior mentality, though people differ in their views of what those aspects are...

"The most effective way to live is as a warrior. Worry and think before you make any decision, but once you make it, be on your way free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting you." - A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda

"[A] warrior is always aware of what is worth fighting for. He does not go into combat over things that do not concern him, and he never wastes his time over provocations." - The Fifth Mountain, by Paulo Coelho

"A warrior takes responsibility for his acts; for the most trivial of his acts." - A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda

However the warrior remains primarily as the ideal of a particular mentality that is helpful in the search for 'enlightenment'. But what about the virtues of a mystical mentality to the warrior?

"So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." - Sun Tzu

If you understand yourself, you will be less likely to react to the provocations of insult, for they will not touch the core of who you are. If you understand yourself, you will understand how taking a life damages you in the process, and you will be motivated to find another way to resolve the conflict. And if you understand yourself, you move that much closer to understanding the motivations of others, which in turn moves you closer to being able to peacefully resolve a conflict.

"By setting high standards for themselves, warriors can create a lifeline that will allow them to pull themselves out of the hell of war and reintegrate themselves into their society... The question can then be asked, if a warrior’s code is indeed crucial to the warrior’s moral psychology, is enough being done at today’s U.S. service academies to present our warriors-in-training with such a code and promote their internalization of it?" (q)

As noble as it sounds to want to "[b]uild confidence to lead, courage to stand up for one's beliefs and compassion to help others," the practical execution of such must empower the individual through self-awareness, rather than through programming, medication, or the enforced adoption of a code or creed, in order to instill those values at a level that will not waiver in the face of danger. (q)

Just as the mystic benefits from a warrior mentality, so too does the warrior benefit from the mystic prescription to 'know thyself'. And as our warriors benefit, so do we all benefit.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


"You have to understand that I was dealing with everything by the adoption of massive denial. Industrial-grade denial for hysteria-scale cognitive dissonance."

The first time I almost wrote this post it was because of an egg salad sandwich. A stupid, ordinary egg salad sandwich. The second time I almost wrote this post was two weeks ago, after there had been a replication... But now I'm going to write this post, perhaps as a cognitive hedge against what might happen later today...

It's easiest to talk about the egg salad sandwich. In retrospect, it was probably the juxtaposition of the banality of the event itself and the profundity of its implications that threw me into a mental tailspin for a good portion of that day. It was an otherwise absolutely ordinary day. While I had food in my house, I had absolutely nothing that I wanted to take to work for lunch. I also didn't have enough pocket cash to purchase the epicurean delights available from the vending machine that I affectionately call The Wheel of Death. But I wasn't worried.

"I don't suppose I have the appearance of a Player in the Contest of Worlds."

I didn't really have a specific plan. I rarely do. And as we were milling about in the break room before work that day, a co-worker came up to me and said "I brought you an egg salad sandwich." (Voila, lunch!) This event was not without precedent. She had brought me an egg salad sandwich before, but not with any frequency or regularity that would allow a prediction that that day might have been one of those days.

Weird coincidence alert? Not in the universe I live in. But how to untangle cause and effect? What was she and what was I that my mental states should affect her expression of being? Or had she affected me? Was she the reason that I didn't stop for cash or to purchase something for lunch? Did I somehow sense her actions in preparing that sandwich? Did I know somehow that I wouldn't be left at the mercy of ravenous hunger come lunchtime? I saw the correlations, but what did they mean?

"Something afoot in the ontology, mark my words."

I've grown comfortable with the idea of navigating in five dimensions. Of selecting from (if you will pardon the analogy) one of several parallel universes. The rules that govern it are so constant. Perhaps that is why it is so easy to slip into the analogy of this life to a computer simulation or a video game. We know games and computers to be rule-based. We understand their rules because we created them. We have been given to believe that the world we live in contains a level of randomness that we cannot hope to penetrate. Anything that can bring more order to our experience of this world would alter that picture, and prompt us to question the nature of the world. In struggling to understand a new picture of our experience of the world, we reach for analogies, and computer simulations, being more predictable and orderly, fit the bill.

Does this mean that we are living in a computer simulation? Not at all. And it is irresponsible to suggest that an analogy that bootstraps our understanding of things is the truth of things. But sometimes it's just a damn convenient analogy. The question that I'm forced to struggle with is... Why should this be the way things are? ("What mystical craziness was this?")

And, when it feels so much like I've hacked the code to the ultimate video game, why is it that what I most want do is question why I'm playing it in the first place?

"There are limits to hubris - or, at any rate, to my hubris."

And as hubristic as all of this sounds, is the true hubris in speaking about these things, or in carrying on quietly, never daring to facing judgment, withholding something potentially valuable? In a time of questioning and doubt, is it hubris to think that there might be a better vision of humanity's potential, and to work to articulate such a vision?

"Mind informed with passion and curiosity would suffuse the metaverse. It was a glorious vision - it still is, I stand by it - but it might be thwarted, I saw, by the legacy poisons corrupting certain human cultures."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Spontaneous Healing of Belief

"I have no quarrel with the general attitude of scoffing at new ideas. It is better to be skeptical of all new ideas and to insist upon being shown rather than to rush around in a continuous brainstorm after every new idea. Skepticism, if by that we mean cautiousness, is the balance wheel of civilization. Most of the present acute troubles of the world arise out of taking on new ideas without first carefully investigating to discover if they are good ideas. An idea is not necessarily bad just because it is new, but if an old idea works, then the weight of the evidence is all in its favour. Ideas are of themselves extraordinarily valuable, but an idea is just an idea. Almost any one can think up an idea. The thing that counts is developing it into a practical product."

Once, many years ago, I was playing poker with some acquaintances. (We were playing Texas Hold 'Em, if you must know.) In order to make a specific hand during a particular game, I needed the seven of clubs. The seven of clubs remained 'available', which is to say that I had not observed it in play yet during this game. In theory then, the seven of clubs could be the next card that I was slated to draw. All that remained was to force that particular outcome - that is, that specific location for a seven of clubs from all possible locations within the decks - and the seven of clubs (and thereby a quite likely-winning hand) would be mine. Believe it or not, this is not as hard as it sounds. And being able to do so certainly had utility at the time. (I pulled the seven of clubs and won that hand.)

But what I remember more than anything is the feeling of 'So what the hell is the point?' that came over me as we began to play the next hand. As in - What the hell is the point of playing this game if I can just 'pick' the outcome I want? (That was probably one of the last games of poker I've ever played.)

At some point, the idea of 5 dimensions of experience is 'new' to everybody. And each person will have to decide for themselves if that idea has merit. Each individual will have to judge how well the 'old' ideas work for them, and what is to be gained by embracing such a radical change in view. To a similar end, I have wondered what the point of 'enlightenment' was, and what the point of a non-dual perspective is.

I'm a fairly stoic individual to begin with, so I'm not sure that I'd much trust a self-assessment of how well a 5-dimensional perspective might have eliminated any personal suffering on my part. (I've also been doing this for most of my adult life, so I have no good basis for comparison.) Have I benefited from having peeked behind the illusion of 'self', and if so, how? Do I suffer less than an individual who rails against God or an unknowable universe for his/her suffering? And if I suffer less, do I also enjoy less? As I have no good basis for comparison within myself, I am forced to asked... What is the worth of this idea to someone who would have to struggle to embrace it? (That is what you can share.)

Initially, of course, you are alienated from others who don't share your perspective. Does anything compensate for that alienation? Can anything compensate for that? Obviously I still feel lonely, and choose not to engage in an overt struggle to change anyone else's perspective. The desire not to be alienated is fairly powerful.

So what have I gained? What have other people gained from peeking behind the illusion of 'reality'? What recommends a non-dual perspective to someone for whom it is not forced upon by experience?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Others

"I can't tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like."

"Everyone will not discover the same clues in his perceptions, but in our common humanity and in our shared experiences we may find hints about the meaning of life and existence."

"A person eventually learns that his or her own personal fulfillment is tied up with the fulfillment of others, and he or she comes to recognize the need to work cooperatively with others in order to build a more harmonious society."

Some time ago a few things crystallized for me in a way that I knew would only make sense to someone else who had had the same type of experience. For whatever it's worth, I'll put it out there anyway.

Objectively, I had just written a blog post. From my perspective, there was no objective evidence that anyone else had read the blog post. Subjectively though, I was awash in the psychic backlash that follows when my blog post has been/is being read. (And you wonder why I need to take a break from blogging... Or why the thought of writing a book scares the crap out of me.)

[For the skeptics - yes, I've done more comparisons than you can imagine. I compare objective evidence to subjective experience. I vary what I produce, and where, to attempt to manipulate readership and potential reactions, with the hope of becoming better at identifying the relevant 'signals' within my subjective experience. Ultimately it's all about what's going on in my head, so I'll understand if you don't find that to be appropriately 'scientific'.]

Anyway... in my subjective experience, layer upon layer of meaning for the fortune cookie is revealing itself. And I know that these were not my initial interpretations of the meaning of the fortune. (Most of them amused me nonetheless, and were valid to reasonable degree, although I admit nothing.) But what crystallized during that time what the picture of how my experience of getting that fortune was the sum of all those influences.

What further crystallized in the weeks that followed was a more-complete picture from the perspective of 'state exclusion'. [Yes, I know that term refers to something else. I'm going to use it anyway. Deal.] You may have caught hints of what I'm getting at in some of my previous posts (too many possible links to choose from at this point), but I don't think I every explicitly stated it because I don't think that I had previously seen the pervasiveness of it.

All of this began for me when I understood (from a subjective perspective) how it was possible to forcibly exclude certain outcomes from the set of all possible outcomes. The idea that a subjective experience at one point in space and time could preclude such an experience from happening at another point in space and time was reinforced to me through other experiences, though I was a little slow to make the connections. What was becoming clearer to me now was that exclusion underlies everything. I attempted to explore this idea further earlier this year, until the backlash got to be more than I could handle. (Ahem.)

If there is a fundamental substrate to everything in the universe (and I'm not willing to call that substrate God or the Omega Point), then perhaps the unity of all things might best be seen when we understand how what is 'held' in one moment of subjective experience forces other points/moments of subjective experience to take complementary states. Moving in five dimensions is about understanding option space - the set of all possible options/outcomes. You become used to thinking about what's not there, as well as what is there. Eventually you also start to ponder the question - Well, if it's not here, where is it?

Maybe it is held in the 'others'. Maybe there is no line between 'self' and 'other' because 'other' is simply what 'self' is not. The 'other' changes as the 'self' changes.

Which brings me to the point of practicality. If there is a fundamental way to be a more compassionate human being, I think it is reflected in understanding this idea.

"Master, why must they suffer so? Must they always?"
"Only until you learn what they are here to teach you."

This is the perception that drives me at the moment and about which I hope to write/explore in this blog. I hope I've done a decent job of explaining it thus far. Of course, as always, you are free to mutter 'Crazy woman!' and go back to a world not permeated with metaphysical babble about 'self' and 'other'. I'm also going to get on with the business of living and get some chores done before this weekend is totally gone. :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

The World As I See It

"But what remains to be said... is of so novel and unheard-of character that I not only fear injury to myself from the envy of a few, but I tremble lest I have mankind at large for my enemies, so much doth want and custom, that become as another nature, and doctrine once sown and that hath struck deep root, and respect for antiquity, influence all men: still the die is cast, and my trust is in my love of truth, and the candour that inheres in cultivated minds."

The first words I ever blogged on this topic were these: Only a handful of people know who I truly am. I don't mean my identity as a blogger; I mean who I am as a result of what I have learned and what I can do. Needless to say, I get lonely.

I began blogging, I suppose, as a way of dealing with my need for understanding and acceptance of who I really am. I have learned a great deal along the way, both about myself and about the way other people will react to me. And I find that I am acquiring an increasingly 'mystical' view of reality and what it means to be human. Perhaps the more accurate way to say it is that the way that I see the world is beginning to resemble certain mystical viewpoints.

This blog began as I prepared for (but was eventually unable to afford to attend) last year's Science and Nonduality conference. I'm likewise unable to attend this year's conference, but my interest in exploring nonduality and nondual viewpoints hasn't waned. (This surprises me a bit.) Indeed, I think there is much to be gained from understanding the exact nature of our interdependency. To what degree am I what you have made me, and what how should I behave if I am creating you? (And if those are indeed pointless questions, what is it that this thing that feels like 'I' should be doing?) And though I think that I am developing a clearer picture of what I believe to be true, I nevertheless want to explore what others have had to say in this area. This will involve a much different subset of literature, and so I've decided to give this exploration its own blog.

You may find yourself disagreeing with, or rejecting, the perceptions that I'm struggling to articulate. (I'm used to this, though certain reactions still disappoint me more than others.) What matters most is not whether or not we share the same viewpoint, but how we treat each other when we have different viewpoints. Ironically, this is a fundamental problem of the human condition that a nondual viewpoint is challenged to explain. Why do we disagree, and why are we threatened by disagreement?

Strife arises not because there is a disagreement in viewpoints, but because such disagreements often lead one or both parties to view the other as inferior. When you have decided that someone is somehow less than you are than it quickly becomes easy to treat them differently. To manipulate, lie, coerce, threaten, even torture becomes permissible if the 'other' is viewed as sufficiently different and that difference is perceived as a threat. According to a nondual viewpoint, the illusion is that the 'other' is anything more than a reflection (of sorts) of ourself. Are you willing to battle the illusion that I am somehow something that is threateningly different? Or have I acquired the status of 'curiosity' to you - something to be tested, goaded, and manipulated?

I wish I could say that I didn't view certain 'others' as threats... I'm working on that, but I'm not there yet - sorry. (I can't imagine why it's taking so long... but maybe this exploration will help with that problem.)

Oddly enough, I missed a line in my haste to type that quote on strife. "But it all has purpose, and that purpose is to seek union." And perhaps that is the struggle - to never cease to be willing to trade fear for love...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I and Thou

"It is in encounter that the creation reveals its formhood; it does not pour itself into senses that are waiting but deigns to meet those that are reaching out. What is to surround the finished human being as an object, has to be acquired and wooed strenuously by him while he is still developing. No thing is a component of experience or reveals itself except through the reciprocal force of confrontation." - Martin Buber, I and Thou (1970 translation).

I'm not even going to pretend that I understand all of the intricacies of Buber's I-Thou/dialogical philosophy. (I'm only about halfway through the book, and it's rough going.) I picked up I and Thou after reading a brief description of Buber's attempt to distinguish two modes of relatedness - I-It, and I-You (or I-Thou).

One of the main points of Buber's thesis seems to be the fundamental 'otherness' of another person - "You do not experience the human being; rather you can only relate to him or her in the sacredness of the I-Thou relation." (W) (Buber is a lot more poetic, even after translation.) Quasi-mystical knowledge-seeking aside, it's worth studying how much of what you see in an 'other' person is actually a function of what you bring to the relation. Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misperceptions plague even the best of our relationships, resulting in the perception of possible threats to ourselves where there in fact may be none.

And if our experience of an 'other' is dependent upon what we bring to the relation (as discussed in a 5-dimensional model, or in a more mundane way), we are prompted to shoulder responsibility for potential misperceptions, and to 'put the best construction' on a relation until all room for ambiguity is gone. That is not always easy. [Aside: This is largely prompted by me beating myself up over something which I no longer have the chance to rectify and for which I may someday have to answer. Kindly don't assume that I'm preaching at you.]

I suppose the question is still... How much of what I see as You is really Me? How do I respect you and your sovereignty in a way that promotes a healthy society, while doing my utmost to avoid perceiving you as a threat, which would be detrimental to a healthy society?

I'll try to puzzle out Buber's answer to this, if there is one. To be continued...

"As long as the firmament of the You is spread over me, the tempests of causality cower at my heels, and the whirl of doom congeals." (That's Buber, as translated by Kaufmann.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

So That I Don't Have To

"Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others." - The Buddha

When stumped by a problem, attack it from a different angle. So rather than focus on what the relationship between 'self' and 'other' must look like in order to give rise to compassion, I found myself focusing on compassion. I know what it feels like. I know what it can do. But where does it come from?

[Aside to those wondering why I care about this particular perception of 'inseparability': 1) Though not a Buddhist, I have found wisdom in many of the teachings of the Buddha. 2) I am also trying to understand the self/other relationship as an interconnected/interdependent one (as discussed in Buddhist teachings) that I generally call 'multiple-observer interaction'. 3) It seems worth the effort to examine the Buddha's perception of the self/other relationship for clues to any 'truth' about the nature of this relationship.]

"Compassion is a profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others." But what produces it? It is not a universal response to the suffering of others, so it must be acquired, or dependent upon a particular way of perceiving the other. When I think of instances in which I've felt a 'wave of compassion' for another person, I can recall no specific thoughts that triggered the emotions. (Such is often the nature of emotions though.)

What I attempted to do while lying in bed early this morning was to create a particular idea about another person that would invoke compassion. I cannot think of the other person as 'me' and feel compassion - I am ridiculously not compassionate towards myself. I'm quite demanding of myself: always seeing how I could do better, never quite being content with who I am or what I have done. I don't eat particularly well or exercise as much as I should, though I know that doing so would make me physically feel better. In short, I don't worry about or consciously do a lot to alleviate my own suffering.

Thinking of the other person as completely separate from me produces no compassion either. Compassion is a visceral, and often uncomfortable, reaction. While I have no doubt that a person could be conditioned to experience it, it makes no rational sense to have such a reaction to something that is apart from you. What possible reason is there to induce suffering in yourself in response to the suffering of a separate 'other'?

Having examined the two extremes of self/other the relationship, I was back to trying to find a way of understanding a connected self/other that produced compassion in the 'self' in response to the suffering of the 'other'. In that chaotic swirl of thought, one idea surfaced and has not gone away.

If I see another person suffering, and I perceive that person as suffering so that I don't have to, I immediately feel compassion for the person.

This idea was partially triggered by the mental-replaying of a conversation I was having yesterday about balance in the universe. Not a particularly profound conversation in itself, but it triggered some thoughts I've had in the past about the balance of qualities within a particular relationship/interpersonal dynamic. 'If I had had less ambition, would you have had more ambition?'-type of questions that make no rational sense, but nonetheless are thought of by seemingly-rational people. This spun into the 'If I suffer less, do you suffer more?' scenario that gave rise to that perception of 'other' that trigger a feeling of compassion.

This particular idea about the self/other relationship hasn't gone away, and it fits data. Okay, it fits experiential data that you may or may not agree with or share, but which is data all the same.

All day I've obsessed over how to convey this perception. (Capture the perception before you become overly concerned with its validity.) I'm fairly sure that I won't be able to do it adequately, but here goes...

What is 'self' is not 'other', though it can be shared with/given to the 'other'. What is 'other' cannot be a part of the 'self' unless it is no longer 'other'. In seeing the suffering of the 'other', the 'self' sees what it cannot experience, unless it exchanges a portion of itself with the 'other'. The suffering of the 'other' shows the 'self' what it does not have, and what it does not have to have.

Compassion doesn't demand that we physically take on the suffering of the 'other', though that response is possible. In seeking to alleviate the suffering of the 'other', we exchange a portion of our peace of mind for an empathic awareness of what the 'other' must be feeling. We may exchange a portion of our physical resources for their absence in order that the 'other' might make use of them. We exchange our previous worldview for one that now includes an awareness of this particular instance/kind of suffering. Compassion seeks a better balance between 'self' and 'other' - whether that balance is one of peace of mind, physical resources, or actual pain.

Okay, I don't know where the hell all that just came from. To be continued, once I give this some more thought...