I received an email today from someone I met all too briefly at a conference and only half remember meeting. This happens too often at these events and needs to be addressed in the structure of the conference — but, I digress.. Her email was complimentary and encouraged me to post more often to my blog, which was all the encouragement I needed, I guess. I have had a bunch of thoughts kicking around my head for a while and in a minute I’m gonna riff on those. First, though, I want to share a cool image of Yeshe Tsogyal I borrowed from the Tsogyaling Meditation Center in Evanston. In another few paragraphs I’ll explain why I’m posting it here and I’ll have some things to say about the iconography, but you should take a moment to click on the image and pay their site a visit. They are good peoples.
There has been some stuff going around teh interwebz lately about neuroscience and free will and what is up with that. I’m not going to post links because everything that I have read misses the point, as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll try and rehash what I’ve gotten out of the coverage. Basically, the gist is that some smart folks have figured out that the unconscious mind is controlling decisions and behavior before the conscious mind is even aware that the decision is being made. Some chumps have concluded that we therefore don’t have free will, which feels an awful lot like coming up with an experiment to prove your hypothesis, and interpreting all your results within view of that hypothesis.. How about another take? Maybe the “conscious” part of the brain, the part that puts labels on everything and is all hung up on language, is simply the last one to figure out what is going on? What hubris, to think that thinking is the end all and be all of being. Say I’m driving on the expressway and I slam on the brakes to avoid a swerving semi or sudden catastrophe. I doubt there’s a lot of cognitive thought going into the decision to apply the brakes, and quickly. Have you ever been in a situation where you just reacted, and before you even figured out what was going on, you were out of harm’s way? Sometimes there isn’t time to think. I don’t see how this negates the idea of free will. Kind of silly to think so.
Now, I could have the whole experiment all wrong. I’m just giving my take on some articles that came across my twitter feed. It’s not going out on a limb though to suggest that the brain is a funny thing. I’m pretty sure we don’t completely get how the whole show works, or those neuroscientists wouldn’t still be coming up with experiments to run. I do know that I have been hanging out in some pretty interesting places lately, and I’ve come across some interesting and divergent viewpoints. Those experiences have given my language addled always labeling brain plenty to ponder, and pondering the pondering is a fun rabbit hole to dip into. Get ready..
I want to get back to Yeshe Tsogyal. The double halo surrounding the wisdom guru is pretty typical Buddhist iconography. I started noticing this iconography more often after I had a few conversations with a couple of different buddhists who are into this so-called Heart Math technique , which is a little out there, but worth contemplating. Part of the supposed science behind the technique is that the heart is pushing out some serious electromagnetic vibrations, which overwhelm anything that the brain is producing. These can apparently be measured and observed, and the image pretty much looks like Yeshe Tsogyal’s double halo. Again I’m oversimplifying, but if you are interested there’s plenty of info to check out. Start with this trippy video. Apparently we’re communicating with each other all of the time without using our brains or language, and maybe without even being “aware” of the communicating. We’re also still using pheromones, even though some of us reject that notion as being uncivilized, or something. I’m here to tell ya it just ain’t so..
I particularly enjoyed this episode of the Biodyamics Now podcast, in which guest Stephen Harrod Buhner posits that there are many types of human consciousness: the mind, the heart, and the gut being the ones we use most often. It’s very common to use the heart and the gut as metaphors, but what if it isn’t all metaphor? There are billions of little critters squirming across your skin and swimming in your gut, most of them friendly, a few not so much. By the percentages, most of the DNA that you’re carrying around every day isn’t even human. Do you really think you’re calling all the shots? Just who are you calling you, anyway? It doesn’t sound outlandish to talk about parasites that influence human behavior — candida overgrowth or crazy cat lady syndrome are barely news. Is it so outlandish to suppose that some other of those critters may be helping us to make decisions that lead to our mutual benefit? If so, exactly how long does it take before the brain takes all the credit for the idea?
I have been experimenting and practicing with this notion of feeling from the heart, and that has led to some interesting observations. I am also open to the idea of breaking down concepts, and getting away from notions and labels. Those things are necessary, but they aren’t everything. What an interesting thought to ponder, that this thing we call thinking may be pretty far down the chain of cause and effect, and that it is really more of an observation than a command. Maybe this idea is so appealing and easy for me to accept because it echoes notions I first encountered in Zen Buddhism over a decade ago, but I don’t think you need to be a Buddhist to accept that maybe we’re more than just the sum of a few parts. What happens if we pay more attention to the observation, and put less emphasis on the commentary? It could just be a little experiment to play with. No hypothesis to prove or disprove, just something to carry on with and learn from. Give it a try. Give it some heart.
[edits for clarity and to fix some broken links]