I do not exist

Perception

Image source: Wikipedia

The image above shows how the outside world gets reconstructed in our brains. Our sense organs bring information to our nervous system which transmits the signals to the brain where the neurons go to work. Every object “out there” triggers a pattern of neuronal firings in our brains, which our mind interprets as a tree, a dog or a man, as in this picture. It is in this regard that the world we see is a projection of our mind. We cannot be certain of what it is that is out there. All that we can be certain of, is that there is activity in our brain which our mind projects as the world out there. The world out there is created in our brains in-here. The world out there is an illusion created by our minds. It is Maya.

Now, to the fairytale. According to Damasio, the neuronal firings in our brain which create the outside world also create the fairytale “I”. V.S. Ramachandran’s extensive body (pun intended) of work with fMRI[i] has shown how our body parts are represented in the brain. Damasio’s thesis is that just as our brain maps our body, so also it maps our “self”. According to Damasio’s framework the self that we identify with, is the result of several complex processes in our brains. It is like a thought, it is ephemeral. There is no cartesian “I” to be found anywhere in the body. The “I” is a fairytale that our brain conjures up. As Alice remarked in Alice in Wonderland “it gets curiouser and curiouser”. I am a fairytale, a figment of my imagination.

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle” says Alice.

I do not exist. The “I” is a thought like any other thought in our brain. It is a “fairytale” that our brain conjures up. Strange as it sounds, it has been scientifically proven to be so.

I do not exist. The “I” is a thought like any other thought in our brain. It is a “fairytale” that our brain conjures up. Strange as it sounds, it has been scientifically proven to be so.

The Vedas say that the world outside of us is an illusion, a mental construct, neuroscientists agree. Damasio goes even further and posits that the “self” itself is a mental construct. The implication is that all that exists, including ourselves, is mind-made. It is all in our head. Our mind creates our experience of whatever is out there and it creates the experiencer, that is us. Our mind is the creator of the experience and is the experiencer.

“I Am A Strange Loop”, says Hofstadter.

It seems to me that the answer to Alice’s question “Who in the world am I?” is, we are our mind. Without mind there is no world out there and there is no me. “No mind no matter. No matter no mind”, as Yogi Berra might have observed.

[i]  (http://fmri.ucsd.edu/Research/whatisfmri.html, n.d.)

Who are you?

The hookah smoking Cheshire Cat, asked Alice “Who are you?”

Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

Vedanta is an ancient school of Hindu philosophy based on the Vedas, Vedanta is a combination of two words “Veda’, which means knowledge, and “Anta”, which means end, Vedanta literally means the end of knowledge[i]. I too feel that I am reaching the end of my knowledge.

My journey started with science and for the last twenty years I have oscillated between science and the Vedas. Like Tarzan swinging on a vine, I have swung from one end– science– to the other end –spirituality.

In the beginning, the arc separating the two ends was huge, I was mostly stuck at the science-end of the arc and unable or unwilling to let go. I felt secure in holding on to scientific knowledge. Spirituality was too big a leap into the unknown. But once I took the leap, about forty years ago, I opened up to a new reality. The arc between science and spirituality shortened for me. I picked up knowledge from each end, and little by little, knowledge from one end began to influence the other end. Like a hummingbird I was beginning to cross pollinate the two ends of knowledge. The two ways of looking at the world started to comingle.

I have reconciled the two views and a new way of looking at the world has emerged for me. This is a radical change in my world view, and this is why I feel that the end of my journey in search of the Truth is near. I have reached ground zero or the vacuum state[ii], as physicists are want to say, of my journey. The vacuum state is the stable state with the lowest possible energy. It is the point at which a pendulum comes to rest, after swinging from left to right, losing energy with each swing.

Looking to science, on my left, I understand the material world, the world outside of me, the objective world. Looking to my right I understand the world inside of me, the subjective world. In the middle, at my Zero point, I see that there is no separation between the objective and the subjective worlds. The world outside of me is the world inside of me.

There is only one reality. It is an unbroken reality. It is not split. It is non-dual[iii] as the Buddhists say. The left and the right are the yin and yang of my knowledge. In the middle is where they meet and become one.

 

“Who am I?”

“One of the strange things that we humans can do is to look at our own selves from the outside in, as well as from the inside out. In other words, we can feel and at the same time watch ourselves feeling…. We don’t really understand ourselves or what life is. It is a mystery, and this fact is hard to accept.” [iv]Annemarie Roeper in “The “I” Of the Beholder”.21

Raman Maharshi, probably the most famous sage of the twentieth century in India, taught “vichara” (Sanskrit for self-inquiry). Vichara is the constant attention to the inner awareness of “I” or “I am”. He recommended vichara as the most efficient and direct way of discovering the unreality of the “I”-thought.

I had been looking for truth in all the wrong places, it seems. I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, traveling down the yellow brick road only to find that there was no wizard. I was convinced that reality or absolute truth was something out there and I would find it through science. But, the turning point in my search for absolute truth was when I turned the lens inward.

Who is the “me” in me? Is there a homunculus in my brain? My search for the homunculus led me to looking into how my brain works. I started reading up on neuroscience. I came across the book Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, written by the brilliant neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran[v], this book was an eye opener. This book set me off in a new direction of self-discovery. I was like a child exploring a new world.  This was the beginning of my search for the homunculus.

I was hooked on neuroscience. I read voraciously. I discovered Douglas Hofstadter’s, I Am A Strange Loop[vi] and Gödel, Escher and Bach,[vii] Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works[viii] , and Antonio Damasio’s “Self Comes to Mind”[ix], and the brilliant Oliver Sacks and his book: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat[x].

Antonio Damasio’s framework of how through multiple brain processes, the self comes to mind, was, and is, as big a shift in my thinking about who I am, as Einstein’s theory of relativity was about the universe. Just as Einstein’s theory got me to abandon trusting my senses as the purveyor of reality outside me, Damasio had me convinced that the edifice that I had built, which represented who I was to me, was a fairytale conjured up by my brain.

Damasio and Ramachandran sent the homunculus packing but left me with this idea that the world is an illusion and I am a fairytale. My mind was swimming with these radical ideas. I let these ideas percolate. There was a long gestation period before the idea that “I do not exist” came to exist in my mind as a possibility.

 

[i] (https://vedanta.org/what-is-vedanta/, n.d.)

[ii] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9RY7tqTcEQ, n.d.)

[iii] (https://www.scienceandnonduality.com/about/nonduality/, n.d.)

[iv] (https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/02/24/annemarie-roeper-i-of-the-beholder/, n.d.)

[v] (http://cbc.ucsd.edu/ramabio.html, n.d.)

[vi] (https://philosophynow.org/issues/78/I_Am_A_Strange_Loop_by_Douglas_Hofstadter, n.d.)

[vii] (https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/97/07/20/reviews/hofstadter-grodel.html, n.d.)

[viii] (https://stevenpinker.com/publications/how-mind-works, n.d.)

[ix] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvwM6EINGZA, n.d.)

[x] (https://www.oliversacks.com/books-by-oliver-sacks/man-mistook-wife-hat/, n.d.)

Ego must go

 

The synonyms for ego are many- pride, self-love, conceit, vanity, superiority, arrogance, haughty, pretentious. Most, if not all, of us have an ego but we do not see ourselves as egotistical. Why is that? I have learnt that our ego is tied to our self-identity. Our ego is who we think we are and how we project ourselves to the world. Our sense of self is built layer by layer starting around the age of two. It is built from our desire to be accepted by others- our parents, our friends, and our social group. It is our reflected self.

We are not our egos. Our ego is a conditioned-self, conditioned by other people and circumstances. Our true self is hidden even from ourselves. Our ego is like a shell covering our true self. The most difficult part of my journey has been the work required to tear down the edifice that is my ego. It is not easy to do, as I have discovered. Our ego offers resistance to life. It stops us from accepting life in its fullness. Our ego is a shell that we build to “protect” ourselves from the sharp edges of life. The irony is that it does just the opposite, it stops us from embracing life, all of life-the good, the bad and the ugly. When we come to realize that there is nothing in us that needs protecting from life itself, we begin to enjoy life. We begin by first accepting ourselves for who we are. We realize that we do not have to pretend to be someone that we are not. When we open up to life. Life opens up to us

We are born with a primitive sense of self. As we grow up, we layer the “me” with beliefs, possessions, memories, pain and hurt. We have to learn to let go of our ego. The ego must go. We have to be born again to be free. We have to become childlike.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

Born to be free

 

“Sing like no one is listening.

Love like you’ve never been hurt.

Dance like nobody’s watching,

and live like it’s heaven on earth.” Mark Twain

Sing. Love. Dance. Live. Repeat.

According to QED (quantum electro dynamics) all of existence is comprised of interconnected fields of energy. You and I are both fields of interconnected and interpenetrating energy. In other words, we are part of one big energetic field. It is the interplay of the various energetic fields that gives rise to what we perceive as reality, all forms are interactions among fields-you and I are fields of energy-we have no independent existence outside of the field. I exist because you exist and we both exist because of the interaction of all that exists. Counterintuitive? Yes, but true according to latest theories in quantum physics.

The Vedic sages, thousands of years ago, conceptualized these energies as subtle and coarse, our mind and emotions are made of subtle energy and our body from coarse energy. Sri Aurobindo, in his book Life Divine, writes “The oldest Vedantic knowledge tells us of five degrees of our being, the material, the vital, the mental, the ideal, the spiritual or beatific….”[i] The Vedic sages did not have the scientific knowledge that we have today. We know now, through science, that our thoughts and emotions are patterns of neuronal firings in the brain, hence ephemeral and transitory, whereas our bodies are solid. This view from the latest theories in science is very similar to the conception of mind and body in the Vedas.

Three thousand years ago, the Vedic sages, concluded that the world of forms is an illusion. Forms are waves in consciousness. Buddhists posited that all forms are interdependent co-arising. The conclusion of Buddhism is that “nothing possesses its own irreducible self-nature, but everything depends on something else for its existence. Therefore, all things are empty, empty of intrinsic reality and intrinsic value; all existence is relational. Whatever the ultimate reality of things, it is inexpressible and inconceivable; therefore Empty. All things arise through the co-working of many causes and conditions.”[ii]

I can see myself as a swirling eddy of different energies flowing in and out of me, if I let my imagination run. I can visualize all of existence as pools of energy. The pools and the eddies are different in form from each other, but the energies that create them are the same. The movement of energy in one eddy alters other eddies because they are interconnected; their existence is relational. The pools and the eddies have no existence without the energies that flow through them.

The stars, our planet, and everything in it, including us humans, are like eddies and pools through which life energies flow. We have no separate existence apart from the energies that flow through us. We are pools and eddies in the flow that is life. Like the pools and eddies, we are ephemeral, but life energies are permanent-they cannot be created nor destroyed; they only change form.

You and I are forms like the myriads of forms that life energies take. We are “impermanent, interdependent co-arising” as the Buddhists say. We are like a rainbow we come into existence when the conditions are just right. The sun, the moisture and the particulates in the air, the air temperature have to be just right for the rainbow to occur, similarly when the conditions are just right we are born. We are held together in a physical form by life forces and they also give rise to our feeling of self. The self is like a rainbow, it only appears to be real, it has no existence apart from life forces that give rise to it.

Yet, we are trapped in this illusory self without even knowing that we are prisoners of our own creation. We are born to be free. Yet, we keep ourselves in bondage. Dancing or singing with abandon, gives us a glimpse of what it is like to be free. We have imprisoned our authentic self in our ego. Our true self wants to be free.

I lose my sense of self when listening to music or dancing or watching a beautiful sunset. There is no self in these moments. Meditation, music, dance and laughter are portals to transcending one’s ego and experiencing what it feels to be free.

“We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”[iii]

We are born to be free. We have imprisoned ourselves in our ego-our false self. We can set ourselves free by abandoning our pretenses, our false front, our ego.

“Dance, when you are broken open.

Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of the fighting.

Dance in your blood.

Dance, when you are perfectly free.”~Rumi


[i] (auromere.wordpress, n.d.)

[ii] (http://bschawaii.org/shindharmanet/studies/coarising/, n.d.)

[iii] (https://genius.com/Eagles-hotel-california-lyrics, n.d.)

What time is it?

It is NOW!

It is NOW in San Francisco.

It is NOW in New York.

It is NOW in Tokyo.

It is NOW in Timbuktu.

It is NOW everywhere.

It is forever NOW.

NOW is not a moment sandwiched between the past and the future, it is the only moment that is real. NOW is the only moment in which one can engage one’s mind, body and heart with whatever is out there; it is the only moment in which all our senses are engaged with existence. It is the only moment in which we can shed tears or jump with joy, punch someone or kiss them, smell a rose or get pricked by its thorn, sip a glass of wine, watch a full moon or make love.

The past is a memory and the future is yet to happen. Both past and future are mental constructs. This moment is the only moment in which we can experience reality or Reality. If one is searching to know what is real and looking to experience it, it is possible only in this moment; only NOW.

Rumi, perhaps the greatest poet ever to have lived, describes the present moment thus:

THE MOMENT

“In every instant there’s dying and coming back around.

Muhammed said, this world is a moment, a pouring that refreshes and renews itself so rapidly it seems continuous,

As a burning stick taken from the fire looks like a golden wire when you swirl

It in the air, so we feel duration as a string of sparks.”

Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks[i]:

I am in awe of Rumi, he was not only a brilliant poet and a mystic, he was prescient enough that he wrote about time in the thirteenth century, in terms similar to quantum physicists of the twenty-first century.

According to quantum physicists space and time come in very tiny “packets” or quanta that appear to our senses to be continuous, echoing Rumi- “this world is a moment, a pouring that refreshes and renews itself rapidly it seems continuous”, Rumi goes on to explain how “as a burning stick taken from the fire looks a golden wire when you swirl it in the air, so we feel duration as a string of sparks”.

Hollywood movies are like that too, they are still frames projected at 24 to 40 frames per second which give the illusion of motion. This is due to a phenomenon called “persistence of vision”. Persistence of vision is a characteristic of our optical system where multiple still images merge into one in our minds, giving the illusion of motion. Quantum physicists theorize that our “real world” is like that, and Rumi, if he were alive today, would have rightly proclaimed “I told you so”. The implication is that our world dies and is reborn moment to moment. Let that sink in.

We should measure our lives in terms of the moments that we have lived consciously being aware of all our sensations, feelings and thoughts. A human being with a lifespan of seventy years has approximately 2.2 billion present moments or NOWs, we sleep through one third of these moments, which leaves us with approximately 1.5 billion NOWs when we are awake. On average most of us spend 75-90% of our waking time either ruminating about the past or thinking about the future, which means that we live consciously in the present moment approximately 150-375 million moments out of 2.2 billion moments that are gifted to us at birth.

Our lives can be viewed as a series of NOWs strung together, like pearls on a string. Every NOW that we are not living consciously is a moment-lost forever. We can never recover our lost NOWs. This present moment is a gift, we are alive only in this moment, we can touch, feel, smell, see and hear only in this present moment. There is no way to engage our senses in the moments that have past nor in the moments yet to come. NOW is it!

Truth, Reality and all that exists can only be experienced in the NOW. It does not matter whether we are atheists, agnostics, or devoutly religious this moment is the only moment we have to experience whatever we consider to be the absolute truth.

When I am rooted in this moment I experience life more intensely. For example, in this moment as I am writing this sentence, I am intensely aware of every keystroke that I am hitting on the keypad. I can see a thought emerge in my mind, I can feel the calm in me (my emotion), I am aware of the sensations in my fingertips as they slide over the keyboard, I feel the tension in my neck. I have lost myself in the task of writing this sentence. This moment is brought to me by my senses. My sense of touch, smell, sight, sound and taste operate only in the moment, they have no memory nor an ability to sense the future. It is our mind that remembers a past and imagines a future. So, in some sense, pun intended, time is a creation of the mind. Take the mind out of the equation and all that is left are sensations of touch, sense, sight, sound and taste. This is why animals and plants live in the moment. They sense and react in the moment.

Humans have this unique ability to dwell on the past or imagine a future that is yet to come. We are often reliving our past or imagining a future both at the expense of this moment. We let life slip through our fingers by not paying attention to the present. Present is the only time that matters. We can’t change the past, the future is not here yet, this moment is here and now.

Be. Here. Now.

This I believe:

  1. There is a difference between living for the moment and living in the moment. This moment is all we have to experience life to its fullest.

[i] (The Soul of Rumi, 2002)

Lighten up

“There have been countless documentations of people having near death experiences and as they almost die they see “the light.” When they are jolted back to reality and wake up from their near-death episode, the number one take away from the near-death experience is not, “Holy crap, I almost died.” It’s, “Holy Moses, I need to lighten up and not take life so seriously. I better start living!”

We don’t all get second chances but we can switch our path starting right now. If you feel unhappy, you have the power to choose happiness based on your actions. It starts with your perception and how you treat the world. The way we see the world is a reflection of how we see ourselves. Remembering to treat ourselves kindly and laugh often is one way to appreciate life. In order to love our lives to the fullest we can start by lightening up. When we learn to not take life so seriously, this is when we can truly be free.” Shannon Kaiser, author, speaker (Kaiser, n.d.)

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is known for his sense of humor. His teachings are laced with humor, he believes that the purpose of life is to seek happiness- “I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness…. I believe the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in that religion or this religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.”

Happiness and joy come from the inside. The more we lighten up and learn to not take life seriously the more joy we bring into our life and in the lives of others. Happiness and joy can be experienced alone but laughter is always in the company of others. According to Robert Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, most laughter is not about humor, it is about relationships between people. Laughter has a bonding function, it is contagious.

In meditation circles, laughter is serious business, The Chopra Center in La Jolla, California has a ten-minute practice[i] of laughter meditation. Even though, in these settings, laughter is contrived, it simulates the impact that authentic laughter has on the nervous system-it helps bypass the conscious mind and reach into the unconscious. Laughter allows us to shake off our burdens and drop our inhibitions, much like a dog shakes off its emotions.

We don’t fully understand the physiology of laughter nor do we know why we laugh, but we do know that laughter is therapeutic. The more unburdened of worries we are the more freely we laugh, and the more freely we laugh the more burdens we shed. The more burden we shed the happier we become. The happier we are the more joy we spread. It is a joyous circle that we create through laughter.

According to evolutionary biologists the origins of laughter can be traced back to play among mammals, such as chimpanzees. Have you watched chimpanzees at play? It is fun to watch, almost as joyful as watching toddlers play and laugh. Laughter in humans is an invitation to play or to be playful. Laughter makes us drop our inhibitions. Inhibitions are our way of protecting our self-image. When we laugh we drop our mask and connect with the depth of our being-our soul. Laughter among friends (and strangers) is a communion of souls. Laughter cannot be faked, it is an authentic expression of the joy within us.

As we get older, we become uptight and laugh less, when just the opposite is good for us. Laughter is the best medicine for ageing. We are conditioned into believing that older people should be serious not silly. In fact, every family needs a silly uncle.

Silliness as a positive trait is underappreciated. We should all be sillier. Being silly gives others permission to drop their pretenses too. Silliness is actually an act of humility; it makes one vulnerable. It takes courage to be silly.

In medieval times kings had court jesters to lighten the burden of statecraft, Shakespeare had Puck, the clever, mischievous and wise knave in English mythology, Hinduism has the lovable and mischievous Lord Krishna[ii] and Catholicism has the angelic Cherubs. Laughter, play, mischief and even silliness has a role in the journey from the “head to the heart”

“There are at least three ways of talking about Spirit: You can say what Spirit is like, you can say what Spirit is not, or you can have a direct experience of Spirit.”  Brother David Steindl-rast, a Benedictine priest.[iii] Laughter is a direct experience of the Spirit, I believe.

This I believe:

  1. A full-throated belly-laugh breaks through our inhibitions- our false self and connects us to our and others’ authentic selves. They say cleanliness is next to godliness, I believe silliness is godliness.

[i] (https://chopra.com/articles/laughter-meditation-5-healing-benefits-and-a-10-minute-practice, n.d.)

[ii] (Krishna Leela, n.d.)

[iii] (https://onbeing.org/programs/david-steindl-rast-anatomy-of-gratitude-dec2017/, n.d.)

Got rhythm?

 

“There is perhaps no stronger behavior to unite humans than coordinated rhythmic movement. This is possible because humans have the capacity to become entrained with one another or with an external stimulus. Entrainment can facilitate complex and interdependent coordination that can be seen in human activities including sport and play, verbal communication and emotional expression, and in the epitome of rhythmic entrainment: music and dance (McNeill, 1995). These kinds of activities are powerful, perhaps because they indicate a mutual perceptual and social experience originating from the sharing in time and space of embodied rhythm….

⦗…⦘

…It seems then that entrainment is rooted in physical, emotional and social aspects of the human experience, aspects that are quintessentially captured in music and dance.” According to a study by Phillips-Silver, et al published in the US Library of Medicine[i],

Neuroscience provides evidence that music and dance are powerful experiences which enable one to transcend self and be entrained with others. “When two people interact, numerous mechanisms are at play that create a connection between the individuals. For instance, without knowing it, people often tend to mimic each other’s postures and speech styles during discussion. Also, emotions are contagious…. This mimicking and contagion of emotions may rely in part on the putative human mirror neuron system: neurons that are active when you produce a certain movement but also when someone else does the same – neurons to which you and other people are the same person. A rich amount of emotional information is conveyed through movement, including prosody, posture and facial expressions.”[ii]

 

Sufi dance is a form of active meditation still practiced by the Sufi dervishes of the Mevlevi order. The essence of the Sufi Dance however is a communion with the divine and not just a blind imitation of the familiar whirling and spinning movements[iii]. It is quite normal to feel disorientated or dizzy and indeed it is said to be an essential part of learning the dance and preparing the dancer to enter the state of ecstasy known as mystical intoxication which varies in intensity from person to person. Perseverance and self-discipline are the pathway to enlightenment where spirit and body fall by the wayside in the liberation of the soul” The Sufi Dance creates a personal space in which the dancer is free to explore a more intimate journey experienced using the whirling and spinning technique.

The Buddhist Drum circles and the hypnotic shamanic drumming are other examples of old traditions of connecting to the rhythms of universe through drumming, chanting and dancing.

Each of us has a signature rhythm that puts us in harmony with the rhythm of the universe. Like our fingerprint, our heartbeat is unique, no one else has the same beat, not now, not before us nor after us, similarly, we have a unique pattern of neuronal firings or rhythm in our brains that gives rise to our personhood.

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature” Joseph Campbell.

George Leonard in the introduction to his book The Silent Pulse, writes “At the root of all power and motion, at the burning center of existence itself, there is music and rhythm, the play of patterned frequencies against the matrix of time. More than 2,500 years ago, the philosopher Pythagoras told his followers that a stone is frozen music, an intuition fully validated by modern science; we now know that every particle in the physical universe takes its characteristics from the pitch and pattern and overtones of its particular frequencies, its singing. And the same thing is true of all radiation, all forces great and small, all information. Before we make music, music makes us. The blessed gift of hearing serves as a channel through which we can be reminded of our deepest origins. For music is a reflection in sound of the world’s structure, making explicit the rhythmic quality in all things, which otherwise we might only deduce or infer.”    George Leonard. The Silent Pulse: A Search for the Perfect Rhythm that Exists in Each of Us (Kindle Locations 57-62). Kindle Edition.

Each of us has a unique rhythm, a beat that puts us in harmony with the universe. Our “spiritual” journey is about connecting to our silent pulse, our unique rhythm.

 

This I believe:

  1. Like our heartbeat or our fingerprint each of us has a unique signature in the universe, this signature is our unique rhythm which is in harmony with the universe. There never was nor will there ever be a perfect rhythm like ours.

 

 

[i] (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21776183, n.d.)

[ii] (http://syncproject.co/blog/2015/7/21/music-and-emotion, n.d.)

[iii] (http://www.ranagorgani.com/10-things-about-sufi-dance/, n.d.)

Music, mathematics and the experience of Reality

“Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe.”
― Douglas Adams

“Music has been reported to evoke the full range of human emotion: from sad, nostalgic, and tense, to happy, relaxed, calm, and joyous. Correspondingly, neuroimaging studies have shown that music can activate the brain areas typically associated with emotions: the deep brain structures that are part of the limbic system like the amygdala and the hippocampus as well as the pathways that transmit dopamine (for pleasure associated with music-listening). The relationship between music-listening and the dopaminergic pathway is also behind the “chills” that many people report experiencing during music-listening. Chills are physiological sensations, like the hairs getting raised on your arm, and the experience of “shivers down your spine” that accompany intense, peak emotional experiences.” (http://syncproject.co/blog/2015/7/21/music-and-emotion, n.d.)

Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Ravi Shankar, Madonna, Michael Jackson, the Beetles and other great musicians have created works that transport us to realms of consciousness that mere words cannot. We know from neuroscience that music activates the brain areas associated with feelings, but the feelings that certain music evokes in us have a quality that is otherworldly and transcendental. There is magic in music.

Music that moves us has pattern and structure and movement and timing. “There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.” — Pythagoras. “Counting, rhythm, scales, intervals, patterns, symbols, harmonies, time signatures, overtones, tone, pitch. The notations of composers and sounds made by musicians are connected to mathematics. The next time you hear or play classical, rock, folk, religious, ceremonial, jazz, opera, pop, or contemporary types of music, think of what mathematics and music have in common and how mathematics is used to create the music you enjoy.”[i] There are numerous examples of the connection between music and mathematics on the American Mathematical Society’s web site www.ams.org. The genius of Beethoven and the underlying mathematical structure of his Moonlight Sonata is beautifully explained in this TED talk:

Both music and mathematics are abstractions they cannot be objectified, yet they impact us in real ways. Their effect on us reveals aspects of our selves that are non-physical and beyond the reach of our intellect, some call this our spiritual self or our soul. William James, the pioneering psychologist and philosopher, describes this other aspect of our being thus “Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question — for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.”[ii]

The effect that music has on us might be because music, in William James’ terms, is the “requisite stimulus” that connects us to this other consciousness that is so “discontinuous with ordinary consciousness”.

Lorenzo Candelaria[iii], professor of music history and literature, at The University of Texas, writes

 “Painting, sculpture, and architecture might spur us toward holiness, but none can unite us quite like music. This is particularly true of singing — an art that invites group participation and can often arise spontaneously around a shared sentiment and a decent tune.”

Music plays a central communal role in every culture. Music is performed in churches, in mosques and in temples, because it entrains separate minds into producing a singular, powerful experience. A group of individuals become one. It becomes a spiritual experience, for many.

“Without music life would be a mistake”, Nietzsche on the Power of Music

This I believe:

  1. Among all modes of expressing human feelings music is unique in its ability to entrain minds into producing a singular experience. The oneness of life that so eludes our senses can be experienced through music.

[i] (American Mathematical Society, n.d.)

[ii] (Brain Pickings, n.d.)

[iii] (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/lorenzo-candelaria, n.d.)

Be love and be loved

Most people have a hole in them. A giant hole. I had one. This hole is the gap between who they really are and who they go through life pretending to be. Most people do not even know that they have this hole in them, but the hole shows up in their lives, in its mild form as discontent and in the more extreme form as a dis-ease. This hole was the cause of my discontent, I know now.

The hole is like a baby crying for attention and seeking love. To escape from this noise, some turn to self-destructive behavior such as drugs, alcohol, gratuitous sex and violence others chase after fame, fortune and pleasure of one kind or another. But this noise does not go away, no matter how much one tries to escape from it through external objects.  Many wealthy and famous people, who lack nothing are miserable, and by contrast some of the poorest people are happy with very little. No amount of external fame, fortune or pleasure seeking will stop this noise within us. Only love can fill this hole.

Not ordinary love. Not love of the flesh (Eros) but an all-inclusive love, a transcendental love (agape). This hole is so big that only the love of God or the love of self can fill this hole. Many people turn to religion and their love for their God fills them up completely and fully. Karl Marx is said to have remarked that “religion is the opiate of the masses”. He was an atheist and his remark was harsh, but not untrue, if taken as a metaphor. The alternative to religion, as Krishnamurti teaches, is self-knowledge. Knowing oneself is to love oneself, and to love oneself is to love all of existence. This is all-encompassing love, call it love for God or love for the self. This is what it takes to fill the hole inside of us.

This hole in us is the gap between our ego and our authentic self. It is the gap between our human nature and the divinity within us, folks who believe in the immanence of the spirit believe. Our unease in life comes from this gap. This gap is the black hole in our being, this hole can become and often is our personal hell. It sucks the life out of us. Until and unless we recognize this hole and fill it with love we can never be at peace with ourselves. The love that is needed most is self-love, not of the narcissistic kind but of the kind that accepts us for who we are without judgement and unconditionally. If only we could love ourselves the way our dog loves us we would be whole. Our deepest yearning is to become whole Holiness is being whole.

“Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.”  Victor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.

“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung….

There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be

It’s easy

All you need is love, all you need is love

All you need is love, love, love is all you need”

The Beatles

 

This I believe:

  1. Love that is needed most is self-love, not the narcissistic kind but agape. Transcendental love is unlimited and unbounded, it envelops all.

Be A Voyeur

“You can observe a lot just by watching” –Yogi Berra

I have become a voyeur-a silent witness-of my inner self. I can watch my thoughts, my emotions and my bodily sensations. I am a voyeur of “me”. I can watch all of “me” dispassionately, like a scientist. This is the single biggest step forward in my journey of self-discovery. One small step for the new me and one giant step for the old me. Apologies to Neal Armstrong.

I have learnt a lot about myself and the world around me just by watching my thoughts, emotions and sensations in my body. It took me many years to develop an ability to watch my thoughts and emotions without judging them. It is a skill I developed through practice. Normally, I get swept up in my thoughts, one thought leads to another and another, and the mind wanders off. I had to work at breaking this habit. I had to learn to let go of a thought as soon as it appeared. I had to train myself to look at a thought as a cloud wafting through the sky, to just watch without any attachment. Slowly the thoughts stop coming.

The act of watching, non-judgmentally, quietens my mind, quells my emotions and removes tensions in my body. My mind, body and emotions become harmonized. Borrowing the language from the Vedas, my chakras become aligned and my nadis open, and I feel connected to the universe. In this state there is no “I”. There is just emptiness. I am like an empty vessel, open, spacious and accepting. And, attuned to the wisdom of the universe. Paraphrasing Yogi Berra, I observe a lot just by watching. There is no need for a guru, there is wisdom within us. There is a knowing beyond knowledge. We can access this wisdom. Unfortunately, we are not taught to get in touch with the wisdom within us. Some, like me, stumble into it, many look to religion, most never discover it.

Scientific methods cleave the observer from the observed. But the voyeur in us, or the silent witness, turns us, the observer, into the observed. Only humans have this capacity to observe themselves. I am an object to the voyeur in me that can be watched and studied “scientifically”. That is, after much practice, I am now able to watch my thoughts, feelings and sensations dispassionately and objectively. I can gather data on the workings of my mind and analyze it like a scientist. Equally importantly just by watching and witnessing the contents of my mind I change them, as Yogi Berra so astutely observed “you can observe a lot just by watching”. Quantum physics has proven that the very act of observing a phenomenon changes it.

The Vedic sages were scientists of a kind. Their method of inquiry was from the inside out. Their starting point of inquiry was their mind (and emotions). Through this process they transcended their minds and accessed “truths” that western science is just beginning to approach. The process of the sages was the inverse of the process of western science. The Vedic sages started with the subjective, the self, and discovered that the rest was a projection of the self (mind). Modern scientific methods exclude the personal, the self, from their study of the phenomenological world. Thus, western science has not yet made the connection between the subjective and the objective—the world inside and the world outside.

“Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe.” Ursula K. Le Guin.[i]

The voyeur in me is a scientist. The voyeur observes and collects data on me, just like a scientist. The very act of observing “me” changes me. The practice of witnessing one’s thoughts and feelings is transformational.

This I believe:

14.We can observe the workings of our mind objectively and dispassionately. We can observe our thoughts, our emotions and our bodily sensations. We can be scientists of our own mind. I have learnt a lot about myself by observing my mind.

[i] (Brainpickings, n.d.)