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There is no consciousness in brain activity

The brain is a magical thing and consciousness is extra magic on top. Now, it turns out that consciousness is not a thing at all - it is an artifact, a ghost in the machine. One way to get to grips with this is to look at brain activity. Brain activity is a crazy rush of jumbled up lights - you can get an idea of the lights by relaxing your mind and having someone clap in your ears, or have someone punch you in the face, or have a spinal tap and have the nurse jolt one of the electrodes running down your spine. In these cases, you will get a blinding flash of light. There is no consciousness in these lights, they are just there, but they are most certainly your lights. Consciousness is formed after, in some other way.
Now, the next thing to look for is consciousness forming from the brain activity, like a shadow emerging from a sparkling mist of pure twinkliness. Then you might ask yourself, what am I? 
(I made a picture to represent what a flash of light might look like in case you …

Why do we do anything we do?

The answer to this is:

to feel good

You might like to think about that the next time you do something. Then the next question is:

did I know I was doing it to feel good?

The answer is probably not. You probably layered a thousand other explanations on top of your actions, but ultimately we are slaves to feeling good.

The final question is:

did the good feeling last?

Usually, not for very long. Which is a bummer.

Dealing with struggle

I have much to say about struggle but I decided to do a picture instead. 
Struggle is necessary in some ways, but pointless in others. Rehabilitation requires struggle but we also have to know our limits. It's a balancing act between two extremes - doing and not doing. Action and inaction. Being and not being. We test ourselves and we live in the consequences ...




Think amazing thoughts

Surprisingly a lot of our thoughts are given to us by the world we live in. I'm not judging the world but when I look at TV and movies and the media, it's not surprising that many of us are reaching for the citalopram.

Luckily we can clean up our mind and think amazing thoughts instead. What does an amazing thought look like (in case you have never had one)? Here's a few:

- I'm OK
- life's not so bad
- there's something deep inside me that is so amazing that it blows the concept of happiness clean off the planet and onto that comet they've landed on

It's all in there. Waiting for you to think it. Clean, spacious, amazing.

The same thing over and over again

I realise that I am writing the same thing over and over again, gradually getting more abstract as time goes by.

This is essentially what I am trying to say:

1. Learn to relax
2. See the workings of the mind
3. Keep repeating this process

It turns out to be quite a remarkable thing to do.

The mind wants to believe anything it encounters

This can be a good thing or a bad thing.
It makes us highly susceptible to suggestions - I could say anything and you would have a tendency to believe it, even if you thought it was not true. It also means we are at the mercy of our thoughts and thought patterns - and these are generally negatively biased in order to protect ourselves from hurt. We have an alarming habit of believing what we think and what we think can be a little dark at times.

That's the bummer. The good news is that if we give it positive messages and we prime it with wholesome things, the entire atmosphere of the mind will change. This is quite a challenge but one worth pursuing. You could start by eating brown rice and some salad, then move into neurolinguistuc reprogramming, followed by some bliss enhancing visualisations, and rounded off with some practical wisdom and teachings. Rinse with mantras and body therapy and then have a nice bath. 

A sea lion will do anything for a fish

We like to think we have free choice but this is kind of an illusion. We only have freedom to choose when we act from awareness and wisdom. Most of the time we are not very wise or aware, we are reacting to circumstances with the faulty set of reasoning that life has bestowed upon us.

Now, the secret mechanism that underpins our reaction is pleasure or a reward. A sea lion will do anything for a fish and we are constantly acting in ways that will release pleasure into our system - probably in the form of dopamine, but let's not get technical. We are constantly driven by this pleasure seeking - we get rewards for thinking the right thoughts, for behaving in a certain way, for eating biscuits, for going shopping - there is a constant action / reward cycle. There's also the opposite - avoiding unpleasantness - but I'm tired so let's leave that for now.

You might think we are more complex than this, and we are tremendously complex in the way we behave and think, but this s…

Be still

I have learned many, many techniques over the years but it's useful to remember that they are only techniques - they are tools that help get back to the open pastures of a calmly contented mind. The alternative is a reactive sense of functional helplessness.

Anyway, enough of that. This month I am using stillness as a focus. There is a great deal of pleasure in being still - silence, no movement, a sense of being present without being engaged, all that kind of stuff. One interesting thing to notice is what gets in the way of stillness? Why can't we just be still? Notice the resistance in the mind and then return to sense of silence. The mind will wander. Focus on no sound. Experienced practitioners will know the terroritory well but they will also know what lies beyond the tussle between the busy mind and the silence. The sense of release, of openness, of being fully together - calm, contented, clear, relaxed and basically happy.

Free will

Here is an important notion - do you have free will?

The answer is no. 
My interest in this has been rekindled by finally finishing war and peace - there is a long piece at the end and how history is made and whether individuals who make history are acting through free will or through necessity. In this case, necessity is another way of expressing causality - if that happens then this is the response. Theoretically if you could work all the contributing factors to a particular moment in your life then you'd know what would happen next. This is impossible in reality but it's a nice theory.
So, to cut a long story short, we are programmed by the conditions of our life to behave a certain way.   This programming comes from all different directions but the most worrying is the conditioning we receive from the media and entertainment - mainly because we have a tendency to believe anything we hear. This makes us behave in a certain way that we are almost powerless to control. I thin…

Everybody wants more

We are created with the urge to want stuff. You may think this is obvious but when you observe your own behaviour you will begin to realise just how pervasive wanting is - from the chocolate biscuit to the latest gadget to the lipstick on your face (not that I have any, ahem), it rules the roost. Indeed, sometimes we just want anything to satisfy that little urge in our lives. We want without knowing what we want - if you want something but you don't know what, observe the mind creating a thing that you will suddenly want.

Now, the next thing we observe is that we always want more. Once we go through the cycle of wanting/getting, we want to do it again. There is no such thing as getting enough, because it is the act of wanting/getting that is the good part - the thing we get is largely irrelevant.

So what are to do? Well, nothing. That is the beauty of wisdom - we see something and then it goes away. Once we realise what is going on we can take it or leave it - until that moment w…

Everybody wants something

This underpins a lot of behaviour and is quite invisible most of the time. It's an extraordinarily powerful driver of people but we don't like to see it. It makes us contradict ourselves, makes us divisive, manipulative and all those other self serving things. We can see it happening in Scotland. We judge people because of it, but there is nothing to judge. It is just wanting attaching itself to the next thing that comes along. We just have to be careful what we wish for.

Feeling the bias blind spot

The mind is very clever at doing things for us but it is ultimately operating in a world of its own - i.e. it is not seeing the world as it really is, just a constructed view of it. This constructed view is inherently full of flaws or delusions or tendencies to think in certain ways - cognitive biases.

I like cognitive biases because they remind me that I have been caught in some whirl of thinking that is not rational or balanced. The bias blind spot is when you operate under the assumption that you are not operating under any cognitive bias at all, but this is impossible. We are all operating under some form of interpretation of this world - one common analogy is that the fish cannot see the water it is swimming in, or another one might be the case where the eyeball cannot see itself. We all certainly have eyeballs but we'd be hard pressed to see it from the inside.

So first lesson in cognitive biases - we all have them and, if you have a constructed thought, you are operating wi…

Is Platon Karataev enlightened?

Platon Karataev is a character in War and Peace by Tolstoy, in case you were wondering. This book is very surprising because it contains a lot of epiphanies and transcendent references, but the Platon character takes it one step beyond - he seems to have many qualities that you might find in enlightened monks. The question then becomes, do we want to be like Platon Karataev?

(A side question might be, how did he end up prison?)

Saturate the body with happiness

Every month I like to give myself a little exercise or mantra to work with. This is what I am going to be exploring next month. The body is an amazing thing (also quite annoying when it goes wrong, but let's stick to the good bits) and it is chock full of nerves and sensations. Most of the time we ignore these things, and we can also numb them out by tensing our muscles. Unfortunately we are unconsciously tensing our muscles all the time, but if we relax we can open up to the full gamut of information coursing through our system. Initial attempts at relaxation can result in showering sensations of rapture or surging ecstasy, possibly even shaking and delicate tingling of pleasure. Once these subside we can fully relax into things and feel a deep sense of happiness in every cell of our body. If you wanted a feel good technique then this is it. It cures most poopoo  moods and sets you up nicely to experience the body as something akin to pure light.

Follow your own path

There is no other way really. I have forgotten what it's like to live a normal life but there is no normal really. Discover something better than normal. Discover yourself.

Everything in the mind

Literally everything we experience, we experience through the mind. The good news is that the mind is 100% adaptable - we can change it. This means that if the world looks wonky then we can alter our mind to make it look a bit more super fantastic. You might not believe this is true but it is.

The first step in taking your mind under control is to see the mind at work - this is a bit tricky since we are using our minds all the time. One way is to take a step back, drop down and relax. Then relax some more until we are calm, and letting things go. Then, anything that appears in your awareness is the mind at work - marvel at its ability to twist and turn, to get lost, to create ideas, to get agitated, to make up stories, to see things, hear things, imagine things, feel things.

The mind is creating it all.


Surrender into the greater space and bear witness to phenomena

Every month I write a little message in my notebook suggesting what I might look into relaxation wise. Here's one about surrender and witnessing. Nothing more to say really, other than it is interesting to investigate this concept of internal space in the mind. Does your mind feel spacious? If not, or if you can't see any space at all, then what happens if you take mental step back to look at what is going on? What do you step back into? Then, what happens if you relax further into that space behind the thoughts? How big does it get? Then, where is the real you - in the space, looking, or in the tight ball of the thoughts? Which one is more relaxing? Which one feels better?

Relax, relax, relax

If there's one technique I value above all others, it is this one. Do whatever it takes to relax the body and relax the mind. Then once you are relaxed, use mindfulness to see the difference between your relaxed self and your non-relaxed self.

You may ask, what next? If you are asking this question, you need to relax a little bit further. Find the gaps between the question.

Allow the mind to drop into bliss

I've come to the conclusion that letting go is the key that unlocks many liberating doors. If you want to keep your quest for happiness simple, just let go. Indeed, let go of the person who is even trying to let go - and then let go some more, right down to the bottom of the euphoric well of pleasantness.

Ah, more gobbledygook nonsense I hear you say. Give me something simple, more practical, to work with.

So, here we are. We wake up in the morning and we start thinking. We think all through the day and then we go back to bed again, trying to let go of our thoughts. We are locked in a struggle with our minds, fighting a process we cannot see. We need an alternative, a new perspective. Luckily, there is one available right beneath our neck - our bodies.

We take a deep breath in and, as we exhale, we allow the attention to drop into our bodies. As our attention drops so does the tension in our heads that keeps the thoughts running round - you might not feel it immediately, but there…

Strawberry, mint and cucumber drink

This is the last of the mini series on smoothies or blended fruit and vegetable drinks. I drink one everyday because:

a) they taste nice
b) I have a restricted, healthy diet and I would be very hungry without them

Here's a refreshing summer drink:

- some fresh pressed apple juice (or the best you can get)
- 12+ strawberries, depends on the size ( get ones that smell nice)
- a couple of mint leaves
- a big chunk of cucumber

Blend until smooth. This one is nice on a hot day.

Explore the beautiful mind

A mind at rest is a beautiful thing and it underpins the transcendental expression of being alive. It is the gateway to deep contentment, and it is what we are all looking for. We let go completely and it is marvellous.

So, how do we get there.

1. Cultivate happiness in all things.
2. See thoughts as optional.
3. Experience the body directly.
4. Dare to release yourself. Surrender.

You only have to do it once.

Avocado and courgette smoothie

The Krebs cycle needs all kind of compounds and elements to get the most out of food, so I like to mix things up a little bit. Courgettes are easy to grow and they are good in smoothies. The avocado makes things creamy.
Here's how I make it:
- juice of two oranges  - half a small avocado - half a medium courgette - a young one is best, without too many seeds - a peach - a pear, core removed
Put it in your blender and enjoy.

Peach and beetroot smoothie

Now summer is here I can finally add some variety to my daily breakfast smoothie of tomato, cucumber and beetroot - I think you can probably already guess what that variation is. I would also like to add that, in my opinion, these smoothies have been greatly beneficial to my health. My latest blood tests also show some improvement - this can either be attributed to time or changes to my diet (over several years).

Here is the smoothie:

- juice of 2 juicy oranges
- 1 cooked beetroot
- 1 peach
- a 2 inch segment of cucumber
- a few strawberries if you have them, e.g. on a plant outside your kitchen window

The peach adds a velvety texture.

More summer smoothies to follow

Misery is optional

There's no escaping from the fact that new things get worn down, no-one will remember you in a hundred years time (10 years if you're lucky), and everything you think you have can be lost very quickly. Take heart though, the misery we experience is optional. I'm not exactly singing and dancing through my particular brand of imperfect life experiences, but they are not who I am, they are just what is happening.

Then we might ask the question, who am I? It's hard to be miserable when we start exploring this for ourselves.

Explore the moment before your mouth opens

This is quite an interesting line of enquiry. Quite a lot of what make me feel bad is the stuff that comes out of my mouth - namely, words. In order to feel good, it seems like a sensible idea to curb what makes me feel bad. Easier said than done.

The first thing to notice that a lot of speech happens by itself. Things occur, I react to them, words come out of my mouth. A lot of speech is driven by the need to be seen, to be someone, to assert my existence. This seems natural but as soon as a self exerts itself there is something quite ugly going on. Anyway, let's not go into the reasons for this.

Luckily, there are moments before we speak that allows us to choose what we say - these are called gaps. The first gap is between sense contact and the arising of thought. You can explore this right now - run a finger along the palm of your hand, notice the raw sensation occurring in the hand space, notice a teeny gap, then notice the thought magically appearing in your head (this is nic…

The mind throws up junk

If we sit still for a bit we start to get a sense of what goes through our mind at any given moment - impressions, memories, words, phrases, visions and so on. A lot of this is basically junk that we discard because it is not relevant in the moment, however there is a deeper current of thought that runs through us that we do believe in - our view of the world. In order to know that this is also junk, we need to see the world through different eyes - we need to experience things differently. Then we understand that what we think is real is not real at all - indeed anything could be true if we thought about it that way. Still with me? Look at how you feel in particular situations and look at the thoughts that shape those feelings (and vice versa). The thoughts and feelings are entirely arbitrary - they are a manifestation of circumstances. You could equally be having the opposite thoughts and feelings if you'd been built that way. Indeed, if you keeping watching your mind you can ob…

Understanding the mind

The mind is a very complex, sophisticated piece of equipment but we all have one and we have a choice about how it behaves. Now, seeing this for ourselves is a tricky business because the mind that wants to know what is going on is operating in a different way to the mind that is simply experiencing what is going on. I will be attempting to explore some of this in my next few posts if possible - once you get the mind tamed, feeling good becomes your buoyant state of being.

The first step in this rather complex deconstruction is accepting that the mind is painting a picture for us about the world that we can understand and relate to. This picture is biased in a number of different ways but the main bias is to hide the fact that we are not the centre of the universe and we are not going to be here forever. You can see this bias by recording some thoughts: we are nearly constantly thinking about ourselves. This offers us some light relief about some the things we might worry about - how …

Learn to develop the glorious part of yourself

The amazing thing is that we all have a glorious part to cultivate. It might be hidden by the jungle like growth of our lives and our needy greedy minds, but there is a part of us all that is vast, open and free. You might wonder how to cultivate it - the simplest technique is to learn to let go and then keeping letting go of everything (obviously in a controlled, safe environment).

So, take a nice comfortable seat and spend five minutes letting go. Thought arises, let it go. Urge arises, let it go. Thought arises, let it go. You might like to ask yourself 'what am I letting go into?', at which point you may turn yourself inside out, but that's all part of the fun.

Blossom

I must be getting old





The mind and the world are one in the same thing

Now, this is quite a bold statement and is probably meaningless to most of the people on the planet, but this is something that is quite liberating if you are able to see it for yourself. So, how do you see it for yourself? Here's the theory: just as a rock is shaped by the wind or the action of the ocean, so too are our minds shaped by the world. Can you separate a pebble on the beach from the ocean that made it? - (you can take it home and put it on your table, but that's not quite the point) - they are bound together by conditions - the rock expresses the ocean, the ocean is expressed in the rock. Likewise, the way we think and make thoughts is an inevitable consequence of the world we live in.

Still with me, probably not. Best not to try and explain these things. Instead, try and experience it for yourself. Get the mind very quiet and listen to the birds (or cars, or trees) - at a certain point there is no you and bird, there is just what is out there - no mind, no bird, j…

Unify mind, body and breath

Knowing what this means involves trying to do it. One day you will get there, like riding a bike. Then, once you can ride your bike, you ride your bike like crazy; no hands, feet on the handle bars - you become highly accomplished at it.

So then, enough chatty chit. How do you it?

- take a seat
- drop your attention into the body
- become aware of the feet, legs, body, arms and head. Hold the living sense of them in your mind.
- then maintain this awareness as a breath comes in
- if it helps, imagine the breath travelling through the body as you breathe in, down into the toes. Then imagine the breath flowing through the body as you breathe out.
- remember to include your head in your breathing
- breathe in, breathe out - keep awareness of your body
- this feels pretty good and is good progress for a busy mind, spend time enjoying this sense of awareness
- to go further, feel the pleasure of whole body awareness and relax into it. You could imagine the breath massaging the body and min…

Live life on your terms

It's easy to be hijacked by other people and live life on their terms - we are quite competitive, judgemental people after all. So when we see our friends in new cars with their new houses and interesting careers, it's easy to be sucked into their frame of reference, i.e. It's good to have all these things. This is even more compelling when it backed up by the consensus view of society.
However, do not despair! These things only have meaning if you believe in them. If, like me, you have been forced down a different path then these things are meaningless and inconsequential. From where I've been, seeing my children grow up and having a pleasant day are far more compelling achievements. 
You might not see this because the way you see the world has been shaped a certain way. If you can, strip things back to what is important and live life through your own frame of reference. Avoid the other way, and start to enjoy what has real meaning to you.

A meditation process roadmap

Meditation means different things to different people - most of us start out thinking that it is about getting blissful and relaxed, which is perfectly reasonable. Then after we've been doing it for a while we realise that pleasure and contentment do arise, but there's also a lot of other things that happen that seem to get in the way - these are commonly known as the five hindrances in certain circles. We work with these for a bit and then we start exploring the mind a little more - pleasant things still happen, but there's also a lot of other things to see too. We see things coming and going, we see how the mind contracts around experience, and we start to see that nothing is personal - life just happens. Once these ideas sink in, we continue the process of letting go of our preconceptions about who and what we are - this letting go brings with it more bliss and happiness. As we let go, the mind becomes less reactionary and we start to experience the freedom of a mind th…

Calendula

Still going

Overcoming cognitive bias

Cognitive bias is where our behaviour appears to be irrational and not following correct logical reasoning - a Buddhist might describe this as delusion. A huge amount of what we do is based on illogical assumptions because life is easier that way - it takes a lot of effort to analyse things rationally. So, we are flawed.

The good news is that it does not really matter and this perhaps is how we should  live with it. We will make bad decisions, things will go wrong, we will lose out to other people - it does not really matter at the end of the day. Everything has already gone wrong. The river keeps on flowing. All we need to do is adjust how we see the world and then everything seems ok.

This then is the overwhelming truth to feeling good: if we change the way our mind perceives things then happiness is sure to follow. Everything is governed by the mind and by understanding the mind we can give ourselves all the happiness we want.

Obviously, easier said than done ... well kind of.

Hallelujah

I like words and here is an interesting word to say to yourself every now and again. You might think it is just a word, but words have a tremendous effect on the mind - they can turn it in an instant. Try it now, say:

Hallelujah

It may make you feel relieved, or thankful, or joyful, or all of these things.

This is just one word - imagine if you had a bunch of words that somehow combined to bring your mind into a more positive state of thinking. What might those words be?

Everything is the seen through the mind

You might think the world is a certain way and that people are a certain way, but that is just the way your mind sees it. This view is no better than the view of another. It doesn't matter. The real problems start when you believe it. This is why you should also question your assumptions - what if they are incorrect? Do you think you are unhappy? Is that really true? Do you think you are less worthy than another person? Is that really true?

You might dispute this idea. Good luck.

Brown rice

Diet is a key component in feeling good. In particular, if your body is highly sensitive to things then you will know what a crappy effect a bad diet can have - I have spent years dealing with this. So, enter the saviour - brown rice. That's all I wanted to say really. It's been a marvellous tonic for me.

If you've been meditating on the body these last few weeks then you will have experienced the powerful force that is food - it contains all the components of addiction. If we look at this addiction then we stare straight into the face of all human struggles, and, perhaps, if we are feeling humble we might judge other addictions less harshly in the light of our struggles with the fat/sugar pick me up. What makes you reach for the chocolate cake?

Further exploration of body and mind

The thing I forgot to mention in my last post is to recognise the quality of  experience when you are paying attention to the body or doing the normal mind thing.

You might also like to try this exercise. Calculate:

((15 x 2) + 10 ) / 4 - 9 = ?

As you did the sum, were you worried about the past or future? Were you anxious? Probably not. This way of using the mind to solve things or fix things is one of the ways we avoid facing the difficulties that may be in our lives. In my last post, I suggested that putting awareness into the body had much the same effect. However, being in the body cultivates a spacious sense of awareness and the sensation of letting go, whereas distracting ourselves with focused thought has the tendency to contract our field of awareness and bunch our muscles up. It seems easier to the bunching up, but this uses energy and relies on us having resources to feed this habit. Over time this becomes habituated and drives other behaviours such as eating and drinking t…

The body and the mind

One of the interesting things about meditation is that once you relax your mind, you start to inhabit your body. Seeing the difference between these two aspects of yourself can seem mundane, but this is the cusp of 'where it all begins'. Moving your attention into your body at will is a powerful technique.

Try it now: take a deep breath in, put the mind in your body, and then take a long satisfying breath out (saying 'ah' has you do it is quite nice). Were you worrying? Were you planning the future? Now, try and sustain it for four or five minutes - give your mind some time off in the body.

Reprogramming the subconscious depths

How's your meditation practice?

Unless you have an urgent need to do it, then you probably have a go for a little bit and then do something else to entertain your mind. This is like being seduced by the lotus eaters and no real change happens. One lazy way to start changing your life for the better is to have a go at changing your subconscious thought patterns. You can do this through hypnosis or, surprisingly, by brainwashing yourself repeatedly with phrases and ideas. You could start by listening to some guided meditations over and over again, or create some mantras and repeat them  to yourself. The amazing thing is that it works really well.

Try these handy phrases to get yourself going: may I be happy, may I be free.

Repeat constantly until you become happy and free. It works. Seriously.

Meditate every day

The mind is plastic and shapes itself to whatever you expose it to. Repeated meditation opens up a new window of thought in the mind that is deeply beneficial and rewarding. Unfortunately it requires repeated practise for this window to begin to open. Tedious you might say, even boring - this is the kind of thinking you need to look into and question. It is not doing you any good.

The other common complaint about meditating every day is that there is not enough time in the day to do it. This also needs to be looked at. If you do not have fifteen minutes in your day that you can spend cultivating self relaxation then:

- your life is not balanced
- you are not being generous with yourself

Being balanced and generous are positive attitudes - by giving yourself fifteen minutes you are beginning to take care of yourself properly. Once your meditation window opens, these positive mind states begin to blossom into incredibly satisfying things.


Another body awareness technique, grounding

The number of techniques for working with the body are numerous. Here is another way using an elemental approach - tuning into the physical nature of the body through the sense of hardness, softness, heaviness, etc. This type of meditation is good for highlighting the difference between mind and body.

Awareness of the body

I have started this year by going through the meditation techniques that have helped me the most. Awareness of the body is a true gift to yourself (even without doing anything else). Here's what it can do for you:

- you will be calmer and less anxious. Placing your mind in the body means it is not doing what it normally does - ruminating.
- you have somewhere to go outside your everyday mind.
- you get better posture
- you look cool while you are walking
- cats will gather round you

It sets you up for life basically. Once you have trained the mind like this, you have the ability to go even deeper. So what are you waiting for, do a body scan right now!

Learn to meditate

I'll be going through my particular approach to meditation which is simple and pragmatic and something you can do by yourself, no teacher required. I did it this way because I was too ill to find a teacher or go on a retreat, and when I tried to find one I was knocked back. Anyway, the techniques I will describe will take you where you need to go - there's nothing new here, no magic, and you can take it or leave it. If you feel like you need a break, some relief from life, some outlet, some bliss, then give it a go.

So then, to begin, start with two things:
- a sensible diet - a body scan meditation

It's a good idea to do something every day. You can try my body scan but a good way to embrace the technique is to record your own version. Changing your diet to something healthy is not a trivial thing  - the urges and impulses related to eating are complex. Start by eating less.