Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Wannabe

Jed McKenna. My best friend wants to be a vampire but eternal life and no sleep is not my thing; what is, however, is being free and whatever comes along. Turns out or at least it seems to me, that Jed McKenna is. 

Jed enlightened McKenna is a dude and an unconventional spiritual master. He is insensitive, politically incorrect and has a dry sense of humour. He talks about butterflies and caterpillars, vampires and humans and Buddha’s rotting head and bloody battles. He also writes poems and books, two of which are now my favourites. He had an Ashram in Iowa, and then he moved to Mexico and we don’t know where he might be now. But no matter where he goes, he seems to find the best house in the area, all with the help of this intelligent universe and some “letting go”. He jumps out of airplanes, messes with the police and comes out unscathed. He gets hurt, only physically, and does not make much of it. He’s funny and the only one he loves is his dog. He finds humans silly and himself, unable to interact with them. While most liken the enlightenment to a chocolate fudge, according to him, enlightenment is a poke in the eye with a sharp stick

And no one knows who he really is. He doesn’t do press interviews or actively promote his book. He says he’s not real, just a fictional character, like all of us. Of course, spiritual seekers are curious to know who he really is. Some claim he is Adyashanti’s evil twin brother, some say he’s Richard Rose and some say he’s not enlightened. He says that he’s just a finger pointing at the moon, and serious seekers would rather care about the moon than about the finger. And his finger points in one direction- further. He says that in the pursuit of truth, one does not stop. When you meet Buddha on the road, kill him. No, he doesn’t have any issues with Buddha. It’s just a Zen saying implying that in search for the truth, you have to get past all your ideas, all of them. 

I want to be Jed McKenna because he’s awesome. I want to be wise and awake and fearless. There is no baggage which comes with being Jed McKenna, only awesome experience without an experiencer, as the enlightened like to say. I don’t know for sure if he exists, like I don’t know if vampires do. And all of it seems too good to be true, but that’s no reason to not dream about it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Illusion of Reality

All my life I have thought that there is some solid hardcore reality out there. That what I see is what is. But lately I’ve become convinced that reality is merely an illusion, and not in an old-school, philosophical way, but as a fact, staring right into my eyes. Whether one looks at it from a spiritual perspective or as a practical one or a scientific one, there is no denying the fact that we are living in a hall of mirrors.

We experience this world through the five senses we have. The magnificent machine called human body (and of all other living creatures) has sensory organs through which it takes sensory stimulus from the environment which then send them to brain, which finally creates the experience we have. But this experience is greatly limited by the resolution of the sense organs we have. For example, Mantis Shrimp has receptors in its eyes to detect polarisation of light. As a human being, I can only imagine how the world looks to the Mantis Shrimp. To cite an example of how we see what is not and not see what is, we can take the example of how we see the world around us as solid (most of it). But in reality, all matter, even in solid state, is 99% space. But our eyes tell us otherwise, and so does the sense of touch. When we put our hand on say, the table, it does not pass through it. (The hand does not pass through because of the electrostatic interaction between the atoms in the table and the hand.)

Sense organs act like receptors to physical signals like light and sound but the real magician is the little organ inside our heads- the brain. Different areas of the brain deal with different stimuli to create our reality, and our subjective experience of it. A series of experiments have established that we see what we expect to see. You might want to see this and this

And then there are dreams. While dreaming, it’s not possible for a dreamer to distinguish between the dream and the reality.  Whether we are falling from a tower or falling into a tub of chocolate, it feels real, we wouldn’t believe otherwise until we are awakened.

Some more evidence that our reality is defined by what we imagine comes from hypnosis. Under the state of hypnosis, if a subject is told that his feet are in warm water, his veins and arteries expand. That is to say that his body reacts as if his feet were really in warm water.  Brain scans done on people under hypnosis reveal that their brains can’t tell the difference between the images they see and the images they are told to imagine. (It means that the a particular area of their brain shows heightened up activity when they are told to imagine a certain image, the same that would light up if the image  really was in front of them.)

Another good example of how our thoughts fool us is how we perceive time. Most people (including me until recently) think of it as a continuum.  Time moves, years fly by, and we go from here to there to there. But if we stop and think for a moment, where is the past and the future, but in our imagination. We are just stuck inside this moment of now. I didn’t realise this until I read about it in a book. The future and past seemed very real to me until I stepped back and tried to look straight at them. What a big difference can perspective make!

In spiritual sense, the illusion is not merely what we see or touch or feel, the feeling that we are separate beings is an illusion as well. The ego, or the sense of self that tells me that "I" am a student, a businessman or a labourer, having these needs and those wants is also a part of this elaborate dream that one is dreaming. Sages and saints all over the world and throughout the history of time have been saying this same thing. Reality is an illusion.  And when one awakens from this dream, one becomes enlightened. When one is enlightened, he sees through the illusion. He not only realises that there is no pain or pleasure, except in the mind of the beholder, there is no “dreamer” . The enlightened man frees himself from the ego and sees through the ultimate illusion. He realises that everything is One and nothing is separate. He realises that the perceiver, the perceived and the act of perceiving is all one.

Whether it’s Jed Mckenna or Ramana Maharshi or Adyashanti or Richard Rose, they all have had similar experiences of enlightenment. They all see the world in a non-personal way, there is no person in them.

Maybe they are awake or they’re dreaming that they are, I can’t say! But the mere possibility that we can see that life is an illusion is promising enough to make me believe that such a state might be possible.

Now where does this all fit into the practical life? For one, it makes life much easier as when one understands that what one is thinking is not backed by reality but is just imagination (or just random neurons firing in the brain), one can start to take things lightly. One can try to be neutral to both pain and pleasure as one knows that he’s making them up. In short, one can start to control one’s thoughts, which is one of the most difficult pursuits. Though knowing that one is dreaming definitely makes the dream less scary or less enjoyable, depending on the dream one is dreaming, but in my opinion, it is a good bargain for a peaceful mind.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How can I get a selective memory loss?

I don’t see the possibility of a painless selective memory loss anytime soon but still love the idea of it. I came across the idea in the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. In the movie, the doctor first creates a map of memories in the brain related to the event the subject wants to forget and then somehow deletes these memories.

Meanwhile, science is still trying to figure out the cell or the molecule (chemical) responsible for the memory. But as Lyall Watson said, "If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn't “. Common knowledge is that memory is stored in neurons and the synapses they form in the brain. But it’s not clear how exactly. Although electrical stimulation of a certain neurons triggers a memory like that of a smell or a sound or a scene from the past but destroying those particular cells does not lead to the loss of that memory.

Nevertheless, scientists were successful at deleting certain traumatic memories in rats’ brains using a drug which causes amnesia. Interestingly, the drug obliterated only traumatic memories. Though it is not clear how it happens, it could have some really good uses. It can be a wonderful gift for certain people like victims of childhood trauma etc.. People can start over without their past lingering over their heads.

I believe hypnosis could help in selective memory deletion but it’s just a guess. I've heard "Time Line" Therapy has a method for 'blocking-out' memories. But mainstream research in hypnosis is lacking.

Like many far-fetched ideas, this one seems like fiction.But as Isaac Asimov put it, “Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable”. I just might get the procedure done in a few years.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Numbers etc.

Our world owes a lot to numbers. Since ages, human civilizations have been obsessed with these symbols. In our world, anything that can be measured in numbers is given a serious thought. 
Physics- the science to which we owe our understanding of the physical world-relies as much on numbers as it does on practical observations. Only and if only a physical theory can be mathematically proved is it given validity. We judge people with the help of numbers. So if you get 90% in your test, you’re good enough and if you get less, you’re not. We’ve even been able to quantify time and it has made our life a race. Though only the moment of now (the right now) is real, all we think about is what would happen 2 weeks later or what happened 5 years ago.
Animals too have a sense of maths. A mother cheetah (or lioness etc.) will get anxious if only two out of her three cubs are with her and go looking for the third one. In fact, a very interesting mathematical “behavior” in the animal world is talked about in the book “The Math Instinct” by Keith Devlin. A dog trying to fetch at maximum speed a ball thrown over a lake diagonally to the water line seems able to figure out how far to run along the shore before plunging into the water, a problem that a human would need calculus to solve.1
Numbers are reliable (though often their source might not be). They give us the illusion of an order and control. We can predict a lot of things with 70% accuracy or 99% accuracy etc. with their help. Meteorological departments can measure humidity levels, air pressure etc. and have us decide if it’s a good time for an outing on the beach. Computer, rockets and cars, the hallmarks of modern times, wouldn’t be possible without mathematics.
 Numbers have gone far and taken us far. But not far enough, yet. So although we appreciate, love and respect our mothers, we cannot account for their contribution in the national income. We still don’t account for the environmental damage caused by industrial units when arriving at the profit made by them. Maybe one day in future when biology understands more about human emotions and the related physiological processes, we will be able to quantify our love and fear in terms of, say, oxytoxin levels in blood. If I say I’m looking forward to that day, I’d be lying.
I’ve nothing against numbers though. It’s not the numbers; it’s what we do with them. And what we do with what we do with them.

1  (http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/the-grail-bird-the-math-instinct-and-tiger-bone-and-rhino-horn)