It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
– Edmund Hillary
With more potential connections than elementary particles in the universe and a thousand trillion computations per second occurring at the quantum scale, our brains are the most complex pieces of matter produced in the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang. These astounding complexities lead physician and consciousness researcher, Stuart Hameroff and others to see consciousness as a basic elemental component of the cosmos. Mathematical physicist Paola Zizzi calls this vast resource of cosmic intelligence, which bursts from the deepest darkness of the material universe “The Big Wow.” This miraculous moment – for each and every one of us with beating hearts, breath in our lungs, alive in the present – is nothing less than THE BIG NOW!
And yet, we stumble, so often clueless and uninspired…confused, stunned out of our minds. And when reminded of the utterly miraculous nature of our existence each and every second, we are confounded considering the mindlessness of so much of what fills our time.
Our problem is the torrent of pre-programmed nonsense and negativism that engulfs our thinking process and keeps us steps behind in being in the present and giving ourselves a real chance at living, loving, and behaving in truly creative ways in the world.
Have you ever tried to stop your thoughts? For just about every human that has ever lived, it is an impossible feat. In fact, to gain some small amount of mastery over the endless stream of disconnected, seemingly random conceptual confetti that so often crowds out the space between our ears requires discipline and mastery that places one at the threshold of great spiritual awakening. Our spiritual and philosophical traditions have been, since time immemorial, pinioned on meditational practice in which the common processes of thinking are halted in order to allow some form of effective insight to occur in the mind.
And so, to improve the quality of our state of mind, it is necessary to gain some ability to manage what occurs in thinking – to acquire some ability to manage one’s thoughts. The most direct way of arriving at solutions to self-generated problems is to learn to work in new more constructive ways with the thoughts that create, nurture, and sustain them.
Meditational practice is a form of technique, in other words, it is a form of technical knowledge – something that can be learned. Methods of managing the mind can be learned, of course. But they also come naturally. The problem is that they often occur as negative reactions, protective measures that end up being counterproductive to our overall well being. It is hugely illuminating to re-experience some of the natural ways we learn to control our mental states – in both positive and negative ways – toward the ultimate goal of gaining increased levels of mastery in managing this most mysterious and miraculous moment of being alive in the Big Now!
Let’s begin by being aware of how we experience time. Notice how even what many consider to be the most objective matter-of-fact aspect of our lives and the universe – time itself – is actually experienced subjectively. We stretch our notion of time based on simple psychological states of pain and pleasure, for example. Pleasurable experiences seem to cause time to move rapidly while experiencing boredom or pain causes our sense of time to slow to a crawl.
”It is only in appearance that time is a river. It is rather a vast landscape, and it is the eye of the beholder that moves.”
– Thornton Wilder
Groundbreaking work by psychologist Milton Erickson and others, offers illumination here. Examining our subjective experience as a form of self-hypnosis, or trance, provides insight into how we automatically change our own perception based on our reactions to events. Understanding that we are always managing our minds and therefore continually influencing our own perception of reality in unconscious ways can give us important knowledge.
With experience and practice, this new self-awareness grows. Once we can see ourselves making choices that result in more productive, creative, satisfying, and harmonious ways of living, the incentive to move toward greater well-being can become as natural as our previous tendencies to feel out of control.
Next time: Seeing ways through the maze.
Image: “Mind Over Mental Blocks,” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.