Adventures in neuroscience mental coding – mindfulness

In my last post, I gave a very brief introduction to our mind’s use of object relations as a way of storing and processing information. The mind is very useful, but as they say – the mind is a good servant, but a lousy master. The mind is perfect for what it does – record, recall, compare and extrapolate data, but there are a few flies in our mental ointment:

  1. Buddha's BrainThe brain body/mind starts receiving and recording impressions long before we take our first breath. For months after that first breath, our nervous system, physical body and psyche are still an undifferentiated system.
  2. We are born into this world as extremely sensitive and impressionable beings., which results in very powerful imprinting on the body/mind/soul. From about 5 years of age on, our sensitivity wanes and new impressions carry less and less of emotional/body charge which lessens the creation of deep, lasting impressions (except in the case of trauma).
  3. As an organism, we are hardwired for survival. The brain’s evolution is skewed to give instantaneous attention to negative perceptions to support our fight or flight response. This helps to establish veils of perception that are skewed more toward the “negative” than the positive and sets in motion inertia of constant mental activity – chatter, chatter, chatter.
  4. Our parents and holding environment bombard us with a constant stream of thoughts, sensations and emotions that had little connection to or alignment with our sublime spiritual nature – we are objectified long before we are born and are seen as just another thing, albeit a living entity thing.

So, we wind up with a voice in our head that chatters all the time, which might not be so bad if we were constantly chanting the sacred. But, even this would suffer from our early conditioning because by the time we start seeking the real, we are an entity identity operating system with bloated, outdated, suboptimal, looping code that makes Windows look lean, mean and full of dazzling light.

A few excerpts from Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson:

  • buddha mind brain neuroscienceThe bias of the brain tilts implicit memories in a negative direction, even when most of your experiences are actually positive.
  • The brain is designed to change through experiences, especially negative ones; we learn from our experiences, particularly those that happened during childhood, and it is natural for that learning to stick with us.
  • A toddler has about three times as many synapses as an adult; on the way to adulthood, adolescents can lose up to 10,000 synapses per second in the prefrontal cortex.
  • Emotional arousal facilitates learning by increasing neural excitation and consolidating synaptic change.
  • Given the negativity bias of the brain, it takes an active effort to internalize positive experiences and heal negative ones.
  • Because of all the ways your brain changes its structure, your experience matters beyond its momentary, subjective impact. It makes enduring changes in the physical tissues of your brain which affect your well-being, functioning, and relationships. Based on science, this is a fundamental reason for being kind to yourself, cultivating wholesome experiences, and taking them in.
  • Focus on your emotions and body sensations, since these are the essence of implicit memory. Let the experience fill your body and be as intense as possible.
  • …most of the shaping of your mind remains forever unconscious. This is called implicit memory, and it includes your expectations, models of relationships, emotional tendencies, and general outlook. Implicit memory establishes the interior landscape of your mind— what it feels like to be you— based on the slowly accumulating residues of lived experience.
  • Only we humans worry about the future, regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present. We get frustrated when we can’t have what we want, and disappointed when what we like ends. We suffer that we suffer. We get upset about being in pain, angry about dying, sad about waking up sad yet another day. This kind of suffering— which encompasses most of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction— is constructed by the brain. It is made up.
The discoveries being made in neuroscience are bringing new insights into ancient spiritual practices and psychodynamics. This knowledge can be supportive and assist us in deepening our spiritual practice and movement toward realization and enlightenment. Understanding the mechanics of how the brain filters and assimilates perception  into our subjective reality of self and the world affords us with more opportunity for precise and powerful practice that is more being and less doing.


How the mind’s simple operating system distorts the world and traps us in the past

object relation self-imageHow the Mind Relates to the World and Others…

There is you/me

There is the other

There is an energetic/emotional/mental relationship between the two that connects to the past and the present is seen and interpreted through this lens.

Our experiences before and after birth impress themselves upon our mind and nervous system as memory traces – mostly unconscious. These impressions form the building blocks for all future interactions with the world and others as the mind tries to learn from past experience by interpreting events and comparing what’s happening now to the past (projecting the past onto the present) and anticipating the future. These internal mental relationships are called object relations. Continue Reading »



Came silently into my house

Illuminating dark spaces

The hidden, the forgotten, the not-known



Put the mind to rest

And bedded the heart

In the still-point of rapture



Kisses my face

Until I am no more

Than It


The suffering wasn’t as bad as I anticipated

The exact words from a friend who a few hours earlier was doing all she could do to remain present in the midst of excruciating pain and suffering!

We sat sipping coffee as she inquired into a personal situation that soon had her on the precipice of the abyss – oceans of tears could be seen behind those eyes into the soul. As she articulated the early childhood roots of the pain and suffering – we both just kept breathing, sipping coffee in a crowded cafe and being with what was arising.

In the midst of the exploration into the pain and suffering that was arising, there were bright moments of laughter and happiness. A seemingly paradoxical thing, but not for those who love the truth. One of the most interesting and powerful turnings in life occurs when the truth becomes more important that pain or pleasure.

It’s an amazing thing to share a journey into such depth and also discover a great phrase for a bumper sticker!

It’s natural that human beings don’t want to suffer. Everyone wants to feel good. Not only human beings, but all living beings want not to suffer; they want to feel good, to feel safe. It is obvious, a given. Many people approach our work with the motivation to be free of suffering. This is one of the main attractions of work like this: we hope that it will help us with our suffering, our pain, and our difficulties. Most people come to the work because of suffering and dissatisfaction, because of some or other discontent with their lives.

But what is suffering? Why do we suffer? And why do we sometimes suffer more when we start paying attention to ourselves? We know that suffering is universal, that a large part of everyone’s experience is suffering, pain, discontent, difficulty. And most of the time we don’t know what to do about it. We have no idea why there is so much suffering or what we can do to alleviate it, although we always do want to alleviate it. To really penetrate this issue, to have a thorough understanding that will relieve our suffering is no small thing. – A. H. AlmaasInexhaustible Mystery


Unilocal Relationships

What’s Possible in Human Relationship?

unilocal relationships heartWhen it comes to relationships, what are the possibilities for the human soul? Do soul mates exist? If everything is one, what’s the implication for human relationship? How deep can intimate relationships go? Why all the attraction between these human hearts?

These were just a few of the questions that were addressed at a recent exploration I attended on Unilocal Relationship. What the heck is unilocal, you may ask? Well in the grand scheme of reality which includes such crazy things as being/nonbeing, nonduality, singularity, timlessness and such – unilocal is a term used to describe the experience where time and space fold into everywhere and everytime being present. A wild concept, yes?

Some of the exploration included tidbits that were touched upon in the recent dialogue between A. H. Almaas & Cynthia Bourgeault - Conscious Love: The Power of Revelation.

There were over 200 people in attendance and I noticed that most “partners” did many of the exercise together – couples were interested in exploring their intimate relationship and history together.

I thought I might try to use Powtoon in an attempt to address the concept of unilocal relationship – an impossibility, but it was fun playing around with it! In the first place, unilocal relationships are not chosen by individuals, created via soul mates or necessarily something to aspire to. Unilocal is very mysterious, radical and mind-boggling – something for everyone!



How do we get the ego to relax – allowing us to wake up?

ego massageMore than once, I have heard A. H. Almaas say that all we need is a good massage for the ego. His point being that fundamentally, the ego is nothing more than a collection of tension patterns in the mind and body.

These patterns become habitual ways of knowing ourselves and relating to the world. They show up as conditioned armoring in the body, an area of deep curiosity for Wilhelm Reich. These tensions and patterns affect how our awareness and perception – what we see and how we see it. Many of the beliefs and attitudes that we feel are conscious choices are nothing more than unconscious creations of these contractions in the psyche.

More and more I notice that during meditation there are periods where I am noticing tension patterns and streams of cycling thoughts, emotions, sensations and energies that I am bringing attention to – then relaxing within them. As an example, I may notice a deepening sense of concentrated awareness and an increasing tension in my forehead, neck or shoulders. When I notice this, I stay with the deepening awareness and at the same time relax the area of tension in the body.

When the tension in the body relaxes, I notice the awareness deepens even more.

One thing I practice relaxing with is the sense of self – that guy who thinks he is meditating. An interesting “mirror reversing” experience can arise where there is more just meditation and not so much someone there meditating.

I think there could be a great demand for ego masseuses. Do you know an ego masseuse you can recommend? What’s the going rate for a 90-minute ego massage – and I don’t mean the type of ego stroking that increases my identification with the sense of a separate self, just the opposite… fade to black!


The Nose Knows – Being Nosy About Reality

To see what is in front of my nose is a constant struggle – George Orwell

If you go further than the tip of your nose to find what is truly precious, you’ve gone too far. – John Harper

nose knowsAh, the nose – it leads us into so much of our experience, even as it rejects what smells fishy or offending. Many of us rely on our “gut” for a sense of the truth, but the gut may be receiving input from the nose that we’re not aware of.

Cats arch their backs at the smell of a rival, and mice scurry at the scent of a fox. But how does the nose know who or what is lurking? Now scientists have identified several special receptors in the noses of animals that react to specific scents given off by others.

It’s these receptors that signal to the brain whether the animal needs to flee, make itself large and scary, or perhaps even woo a mate. – Fight or flight: How the nose knows what to do

If you lose your sense of smell, could insanity be next?

An Australian team from the University of Melbourne examined a group of people deemed to be at ultra high risk of developing psychosis and found those that went on to develop schizophrenia, rather than other forms of psychosis, all displayed the inability to identify smells. This deficit was present before the onset of any significant clinical symptoms of psychosis. – Could You Suffer From Psychosis? The Nose Knows

Hairy Sensitivity – Before the hair stands up on the back of our neck, our body is registering a lot of hairy information. Our hearing and smelling rely on very sensitive hairlike cilia as does our sense of balance.

The olfactory cilia inside the nose line the mucus membranes of the nose, and unlike most other cilia in the body, they are non-motile, remaining stationary in the nose rather than wiggling around in the mucus like the cilia which line the trachea and intestines do. As smells enter the nose, they dissolve in the mucus and come into contact with the olfactory cilia. The cilia in turn transmit the smell to the olfactory nerve, which passes the information on to the brain – via the olfactory bulb.

At a cellular level, primary cilia appear in key places that involve hearing, sight, and other forms of sensory input. Does this mean that when we are – sensing, looking & listening – we’re just a bunch of wild hairs interacting with biological reality?

Consider for a moment your proximity and relationship to the tip of your nose. Does soul have a face that orients forward?

Avatar, Avatars & I See You

Ubuntu Asks: Do Avatars Really See You? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Avatar I See YouCall me weird, call me strange, call me anything you like – as long as you see me? So, I started reading some books on organizational dynamics because I observed a few things involving human interactions in an organization that grabbed my curiosity. In starting to read my second book on the topic, I immediately read this:

Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa, the most common greeting, equivalent to “hello” in English, is the expression: Sawu bona. It literally means, “I see you.” If you are a member of the tribe, you might reply by saying Sikhoma, “I am here.” The order of the exchange is important: until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if when you see me, you bring me into existence.

This meaning, implicit in the language, is part of the spirit of ubuntu, a frame of mind prevalent among native people in Africa below the Sahara. The word ubuntu stems from the folk saying Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu, which, from Zulu, literally translates as: “A person is a person because other people.” If you grow up with this perspective, your identity is based upon the fact that you are seen-that people around you respect and acknowledge you as a person.  - Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook

facebook avatarWhich instantly reminded me of the movie Avatar – and “I See You” – which triggered a thought about avatars in religion – which was followed by some thoughts about avatars being used online as a way of not being seen (or being seen differently than one’s appearance) -  which was then followed by remembering the narcissistic wound and the pain of not being seen.

 Typically, the narcissistic wound arises when we feel not seen or appreciated for who we are; we feel the absence or loss of mirroring for who we take ourselves to be. This wound is connected with the original childhood hurt about not being seen or admired. At the deepest level, however, the narcissistic wound results from the loss of connection with the Essential Identity. The wound first appears as a rip in the shell, in the structure of the self-identity, reflecting the loss of a certain way that we recognize ourselves, often involving the dissolution of a certain self-image. As we experience the wound more deeply, we come closer to an awareness of the deeper loss, the severing of our connection to our Essential Identity. – A. H. Almaas, The Point of Existence

Why Inquire?

What is Inquiry as a Spiritual Practice?

Money Spirituality Consciousness InquiryMy friend Mayuri has just published her first book – Money, Spirituality, Consciousness: a guided inquiry into our personal relationship to money.

Reading the first chapter, Why Inquiry? – resulted in a personal epiphany for me on an issue and exploration that has been going on for over 6 years around brilliancy and intelligence. It was a very cool experience.

I was reading the book on flight from Detroit to San Francisco – probably somewhere over Nebraska (though I don’t think that was a influence). It was like the heavens opened up or the Red Sea parted and there was a vision, an understanding of a question that I had spent many hours delving into. As I was drawn deeper into the vision/understanding, I very deep, deep space opened in my belly – an immense, endless space and I was at peace with myself in a way for the first time in my life. Everything, including me was simply fine as it is.

It was not anything specific in what Mayuri was saying in the book, but more a way that her simple explanation of inquiry as a spiritual practice landed in my mind that seemed to trigger the epiphany – a simple change in orientation or perspective that opened things up. In a way, a remembering of the simplicity and a letting go of the complexity that had built up over time.

Here is a small excerpt from the chapter on inquiry:

By watching any very young child, we can recognize how fundamental inquiry is to being human. And just as it is for that little one, our inquiry needs to be experiential. We make contact with what is happening inside ourselves, right where we are, as we are, by being present moment to moment with our experience. Doing inquiry—which we can define simply as an open and open-ended questioning of our experience that leads us to a living understanding of ourselves—is the most natural and simple thing in the world.

Inquiry will lead us to recognize that all of our reactions and negative emotions contain elements of unresolved past experiences, which color and even obscure our perception and don’t allow us to clearly see the world as it is. Until we can resolve those experiences through inquiry, we aren’t free to be an objective human being—that is, one who can appropriately respond rather than merely react. Thus, our journey is a matter of applying those same natural attributes of curiosity and openness that we had as children in order to see ourselves with more clarity now, so that we can wake up to what we are doing and how we are living. In moments of clarity, our consciousness is actually transformed. Over time, as more of those moments of awareness accumulate, we are transformed and become more of who we are. Ultimately, we have full access to our total potential, and we recognize directly the essence of who we are—which is the truth of our very Being.

Money, Spirituality, Consciousness is a must read for anyone who wrestles with the huge divide that seems to exist between money and spirituality.

Essence Unlimited

What is Essence? Is it Limited or Unlimited?

essenceThe term essence is being used in a lot of conversations these days, from marketing products to psychology to spiritual growth. Exactly what is essence?

Here is the etymology of the word essence ( I am using bold letters to draw your attention to specifics)

essence -     late 14c., essencia (respelled late 15c. on French model), from L. essentia “being, essence,” abstract noun formed in imitation of Gk. ousia “being, essence” (from on, gen. ontos, prp. of einai “to be”), from essent-, prp. stem of esse “to be,” from PIE *es- (cf. Skt. asmi, Hittite eimi, O.C.S. jesmi, Lith. esmi, Goth. imi, O.E. eom “I am;” see be). Originally “substance of the Trinity,” the general sense of “basic element of anything” is first recorded in English 1650s, though this is the base meaning of the first English use of essential.

Pretty straight forward – until we dig a little deeper (from Wikipedia):

In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. The concept originates with Aristotle, who used the Greek expression to ti ên einai, literally ‘the what it was to be’, or sometimes the shorter phrase to ti esti, literally ‘the what it is,’ for the same idea. This phrase presented such difficulties for his Latin translators that they coined the word essentia (English “essence”) to represent the whole expression. For Aristotle and his scholastic followers the notion of essence is closely linked to that of definition (horismos)

Digging a little deeper into essence, horismos and Aristotle via the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Aristotle turns to a consideration of the next candidate for substance: essence. (‘Essence’ is the standard English translation of Aristotle’s curious phrase to ti ên einai, literally “the what it was to be” for a thing. This phrase so boggled his Roman translators that they coined the word essentia to render the entire phrase, and it is from this Latin word that ours derives. Aristotle also sometimes uses the shorter phrase to ti esti, literally “the what it is,” for approximately the same idea.) In his logical works, Aristotle links the notion of essence to that of definition (horismos)—“a definition is an account (logos) that signifies an essence” (Topics 102a3)—and he links both of these notions to a certain kind of per se predication (kath’ hauto, literally, “in respect of itself”)—“what belongs to a thing in respect of itself belongs to it in its essence (en tôi ti esti)” for we refer to it “in the account that states the essence” (Posterior Analytics, 73a34–5). He reiterates these ideas in ?.4: “there is an essence of just those things whose logos is a definition” (1030a6), “the essence of a thing is what it is said to be in respect of itself” (1029b14). It is important to remember that for Aristotle, one defines things, not words. The definition of tiger does not tell us the meaning of the word ‘tiger’; it tells us what it is to be a tiger, what a tiger is said to be in respect of itself. Thus, the definition of tiger states the essence—the “what it is to be” of a tiger, what is predicated of the tiger per se.

Quoting A. H. Almaas, a highly regarded spiritual teacher of our times:

What Essence Is: Essence is not alive; it is aliveness. It is not aware; it is awareness. It does not have the quality of existence; it is existence. It does not love; it is love. It is not joyful; it is joy. It is not true; it is truth.

So clear as a bell, eh? The essence of you is you – what it is that fundamentally exists. Now, is that the body, the mind or something more subtle? See, words don’t quite do it when it comes to knowing essence. The knowing of essence is in the being essence – experiential knowledge.


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