The Universe Is Alive

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Many times, when I am fully engaged in stillness and practicing my own personal version of mindfulness—giving up my normal attention to the present living moment—it’s almost like drifting back through time; with eyes closed, in near-perfect silence, I seem to be drifting not only away from the temporal awareness of the everyday world, but also through the eons of time. When we are properly and fully immersed in our “inner world,” our sense of temporal time disappears altogether, or at least, we could say, that time becomes irrelevant in any meaningful sense—more “apart” from life on Earth, than “a part of it.”

And yet, even in our measured and deliberate withdrawal from temporal awareness, “drifting away,” from what we know and experience as our daily lives, we are still part of the “universe of existence,” the foundation of which is only marginally and mysteriously accessible to us as temporal beings, but we still have a sense of our own personal reality, as we do when we are immersed in a tub full of pleasingly warm water, as the sound of our favorite music reaches our ears, as our lungs expand, pressing against our inner body with our rhythmic breathing, reminiscing about some delightful memory from long ago. Even as we might close our eyes, and contemplate our circumstance without the benefit of input from our visual cortex, we can still see—still conjure images—and ways of knowing without our full array of senses.

We all know of stories of individuals who have been deprived of one or more of the normal channels of sensory perception, either from birth or through some malady or accident, who have gone on to achieve in spite of the deficit, and who have been able to discern, without these benefits, the existence of the human spirit, and to “see” the world, just from a completely unique and extraordinarily challenging viewpoint.

Regardless of sensory deprivation or cultural limitations or disadvantages of every sort, throughout human history, there have been individuals who succeeded in spite of such obstacles to discover or affirm one very significant idea:

 

                                                                  ***        THE UNIVERSE IS ALIVE!    ***

 

I do not say this lightly, and I do not express it as a euphemism for something else. It is a fact. It is not only a physical fact; it is also a metaphysical fact, only knowable as temporal beings in this very human way. Knowing that what transpires when we are not physically existent is of a totally separate nature, we must acknowledge that our awareness of the true nature of non-material components of our existence cannot be adequately expressed in temporal terms.

To each of us in the current range of existent generations, it is a mystery—a conundrum which cannot be resolved quickly or without effort—without some deliberate approach to the spirit of life. We must reach for this aspect of our existence in stillness and in silence; and it is not guaranteed that in one lifetime, we can expect to unravel it all. It should be obvious by now, to anyone who has any sense of the mysterious at all, that consciousness is not wholly the result of or manifested solely by physical systems; it is manifested with the cooperation of and through our possession of the complex natural faculties that physical systems provide us.

However, the source, the origin, or the place where it comes from, is not in the physical universe. It is my belief, that the physical universe itself is a manifestation of a non-physical source, and everything within the physical universe has aspects and characteristics, which are direct results of the supporting non-physical world.

We use the phrase, “non-physical world,” knowing full well, that attempting to describe any aspect of our understanding, which addresses aspects of these ideas which are not physical, cannot be put in a context that would translate accurately as a “world” per se, or even as a dimension; the best we might hope for might be to refer to the ineffable as access to something beyond the physical. We can’t express it in more specific phenomenal terms in the physical universe because it has no corresponding link to any physical process or known physical laws.

Mother Nature, in her wisdom—the universe as a living entity—has indications, signs, intuitions, and inferences we can make in order to recognize that while we interpret the temporal nature of the physical universe generally as being composed of matter and energy, we also suppose that the non-material aspects and awareness of the spirit of life, suggest a simultaneous link to a kind of “divinity.”

Our complex human physiology and our extraordinarily complex neurophysiology may provide a window into our inner worlds, but is more correct to phrase our understanding of our physical nature as “a means to an end.”

Stillness After The Storm

Recently, it seems that we are hearing more frequent reports of a chaotic climate and an increase in unpredictable storms that disrupt the everyday lives of people everywhere, and while the debate continues over what steps we should take now in response to our changing climate, very little has been written about the disruptions which occur within us as we endure the turmoil all around us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1833, recorded these words in his personal journals:

“The wise man in the storm prays God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear. It is the storm within which endangers him, not the storm without.”

These past few weeks have seen an increase in the number of violent thunderstorm systems in the northeastern United States and several of them have passed through the local area here. Strong winds and numerous lightning strikes have occurred during each of these weather fronts, producing downed trees and isolated damage to the areas affected. During these chaotic events, it is easy to see why people are sometimes overwhelmed by the intensity of the wind and rain. Severe weather alerts and flood warnings have become more frequent during these episodes.

This past weekend, during the most recent appearance of one of the local storms, I became concerned as the skies darkened and the winds became more intense while at the supermarket. With no small amount of anxiety, I quickly scrambled to load the car after about an hour shopping for groceries, and was thoroughly soaked in the downpour that resulted from the release of those black clouds that appeared so suddenly overhead. Within a few short minutes, it went from merely overcast, to a veritable deluge. The drive home was a mixture of soaking rain and intense winds, coupled with brief periods of no rain at all as I crossed between long stretches of intermittent storm activity along the interstate highway. It took several minutes to unload the groceries once I returned home, and as soon as the refrigerated items had been safely stowed away, I took the opportunity to change out of the wet clothes and took a few deep breaths.

The early afternoon chaos eventually settled down enough to make it possible to sit out on the deck out in back of the house, as the daylight once again slowly returned to display a gentler and brighter sky. Since the view in the summer months out back is normally filled with the greenery of all the plants and trees that surround the yard, once the sky cleared, the verdure once again appeared in full bloom. I sat in stillness for some time, simply being present in the moment, gazing out into the yard and pondering the transition from an anxious traveler in the storm to casual observer of nature’s play. Participating in the scene in this way became so appealing, it prompted me to record the view, with the intention of capturing the highlights of raindrops which lingered on the leaves and branches all around me. The stillness in this instance did indeed direct my words and actions.

I love how the raindrops lingered upon the tiny leaves and glistened in the radiant sunlight.

They almost seem to be glowing from within.

The sunlight found its way momentarily even to the tiny shrub on the ground next to the backyard fence.

Right above it, the leaves seemed to form a green stairway to the brightening sky…

My eyes were easily led to look up, although I had to avert them to capture the moment.

Every year, tiny new branches appear, sprouting off the main trunk, highlighted by the resurgent sun.

A closer look shows the raindrops have already begun to evaporate, much in the same way as my anxiety.

The newly emergent sunlight illuminates even the densest cluster of leaves on the backyard tree.

The contrast of the aging surface of the tree bark and the newly born sprout was prescient.

As I pondered both the violence of the storm and the display of beauty from the aftermath, I was reminded of an encounter I had years ago with a passage about suffering from “The Oresteia,” a trilogy written by the Greek playwright, Aeschylus:

The translation of this passage is by Robert Fagles, from part one, “Agamemnon,” by Aeschylus:

“Zeus has led us on to know, the Helmsman lays it down as law that we must suffer, suffer into truth. We cannot sleep, and drop by drop at the heart, the pain of pain remembered comes again, and we resist, but ripeness comes as well. From the gods enthroned on the awesome rowing-bench* there comes a violent love.” *-the bench of the ship where the helmsman sat

After a few minutes my curiosity got the better of me, so I looked up the passage from Aeschylus and came across an excerpt from the introduction to “The Oresteia,” from the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces:

“The Aeschylean Trilogy is nothing less than an attempt to “justify the ways of God to men.” In the opening ode it announces the law of Zeus that we must learn by suffering, but out of all this suffering comes an important advance in human understanding and civilization. The suffering is shown to us as the fulfillment of a purpose we can understand, a purpose beneficent to humanity.”

If indeed it is suffering that brings us a better understanding of our nature, and if it serves the purpose of helping us to learn and gain in wisdom, then perhaps all of our suffering, whether it seems to help us specifically in our own lives or not, may not be completely without at least some merit. In this instance, enduring the storm and waiting patiently for the skies to clear did at least grant me a pleasing perspective, right in my own back yard.

Solitude and Connection

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

–excerpt from “Nature,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

A recent conversation with a friend sent me digging through the archives to locate a brief essay I wrote years ago entitled, “Why It Is Not A Good Idea To Live Alone,” which was part of an ongoing debate about the merits of solitude, which exist independently of the benefits of healthy regular relationships with others. Since I have been writing about solitude in recent postings, I thought my readers might enjoy this brief look back at, what was then, an earnest attempt to make a case for cohabitation:

“Why It Is Not A Good Idea To Live Alone”

Everything that lives, lives not alone, nor for itself.” –William Blake

Virtually all common human activities have some social aspect in that people generally engage in them together, rather than alone, and mutually influence one another. Throughout human history, in nearly every civilization, the overwhelmingly dominant characteristic arrangement of our species has been found in the many varieties of living together.

The family unit, however loosely arranged or tenuously held together, is the foundation of life among most living creatures on our planet, and the building block of civilized society. Early humans, not restricted by social convention or modern ethical and sociological considerations still instinctively lived together in social groups for protection and survival. Due to the dangers inherent in the world of predatory dominance, a person living alone was virtually non-existent in those ancient epochs. As the human species evolved, with the advent of agriculture and the subsequent development of communities, humans became more diverse in their social arrangements and the nuclear family eventually emerged as the dominant social unit.

Around the third century A.D., the first indications of the eremitic life were discovered in Egypt. From the Greek word, “eremites,” meaning “living in the desert,” the word “hermit” is derived. Known in many cultures, the hermit generally adopts a solitary life out of an impulse to pray or to do penance.

In the fourth century, the eremitic life became known in Western Europe. In order to combine the personal seclusion of individuals with the common experience of religious duties, gradually these hermits formed groups of disciples under a particular spiritual leader. Thus, even the extreme eremitic life eventually gave way to the less rigorous community life that was the basis for monasticism. The early hermits who formed these communities had a group of separate cells called “laura,” to which they could retire after discharging the common life duties, combining the communal with personal solitude.

In modern society, there is a much heralded emphasis on the individual, and a much more flexible attitude toward unorthodox lifestyle choices, resulting in a variety of societal living arrangements. Despite this increased freedom of choice and available options, human evolution has not yet progressed to the point where we do not require close personal relationships that are developed during cohabitation.

The late Leo Buscaglia, Ph. D., former associate professor of education at the University of Southern California, and well-known author of “Loving Each Other,” asserts the vitally important role of relationships:

“Human survival is dependent upon healthy relating. The complex ongoing process of people interacting with others in harmony through each stage of life is the highest and most demanding form of human behavior. As we mature, we become more deeply aware of the devastating effects arising from aloneness.”
Instinctively, we seek out others, even though modern society tells us that strength lies in independence.

Dr. Buscaglia says, “We see ‘need’ as immature, and ‘dependence’ as weakness. We fear commitment in that it may destroy our individuality and our much coveted freedom. In so feeling, we build self-imposed barriers to genuine encounter and the deep unions we so desperately seek.”

It can also be said that while living alone can be challenging, enlightening, and even joyful, humans are by nature social beings. With each close relationship to another person, we are brought closer to ourselves. Without these close ties to other human beings, our development is seriously hindered. Recent studies by a variety of behavioral experts indicate, “…a positive correlation between human concern and togetherness, and human growth and development.”

There is no question that solitude and time to one’s self is vitally important to a balanced individual life, but the prospect of living alone for extended periods and avoiding intimate, long term association with other humans can only be a limiting and potentially harmful lifestyle.

Clearly, it is possible to live alone and to flourish, assuming some form of regular attention to maintaining and developing friendships, and at least some form of interaction with others outside of the home. It is quite another matter, to achieve a balanced life, without some exposure to both close relationships and to opportunities for solitude.

I once wrote about my appreciation for the opportunity to experience solitude, since it forced me to contemplate the importance of a particular memory, which might otherwise have escaped notice:

“I remember hearing the seagulls. Perhaps the natural spring was in a mountain near a beach. There was no other sound aside from the water, the birds, and the music in my soul. With eyes closed, the memory of the experience was fully engaged. It was a moment of repose, of silence, of solitude, forcing me to contemplate a memory of a feeling. I cannot completely or precisely replicate them. They only rise up within me in my solitude. In spite of the difference in time and possibilities, the unknown, the uncertain, the vague, all of it comes together in a moment of solitude. “

Gazing upon someone we love, and sharing the special closeness that can only come from such connections, creates a lovely memory of the experience when it happens. The memory of that experience holds particular pleasure because those aspects which we hold on to, those which mean the most to us, are the parts that we remember. And there are lots of parts–tender embraces and loving glances, but also heartaches and tears, and even profound sadness sometimes. We tend not to want to remember the difficult parts in these special relationships, because they take away from the feelings of joy and fulfillment that we associate with them. Integrating all the different aspects of our lifetime of memories takes time, and requires dedicating deliberate effort in quiet contemplation.

Even as a younger person, who was essentially on his own, I still never felt alone, at least, not in the way that I do now. I think because I am older now, I feel this aloneness more profoundly, while still recognizing and acknowledging the unity of everything that lives. The feeling combined with this recognition suggests the dual nature of all aspects of life, especially to be alone, but also to be one with all life simultaneously. It is a gift. It is a consequence of our humanity–a temporal manifestation of the infinite, the spiritual, and the ineffable. It is a paradox to know for certain that there is unity among all people, all creatures, all parts of the universe, and to feel so desperately, profoundly alone simultaneously.

Walking alone down the street, I am, all at once, completely unified with everything I see and feel and sense, in every way, and yet, distinctly alone, individual, apart. The differences between myself and other living entities is a signal that there is a variety and a number of differences in the way that consciousness manifests in the world. If you go down deep, and when we say “go in deep” or “go inward” we mean not temporally, but spiritually within us–when we do that–it emphasizes both our unification with all life and our inner separateness from it, and the simultaneous recognition of both becomes clearer when we withdraw within.

Here’s to the hope for all those who wish to find a connection to the path that leads away from being alone, that they will find that path, and truly flourish and grow into a fullness of life underway.

Transcendent Awareness

ImaginedWorld

“The transcendental law, Emerson believed, was the ‘moral law,’ through which man discovers the nature of God, a living spirit…The true nature of life was energetic and fluid; its transcendental unity resulted from the convergence of all forces upon the energetic truth, the heart of the moral law.” — excerpt from The American Tradition in Literature, Vol. 1, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1967

“Undoubtedly, we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his introduction to “Nature.”

With milder temperatures and the blossoming of the natural world underway, I am reminded of years past and the turmoil within me that has always accompanied the onset of Spring. Each time the Earth is in renewal, the passage of time seems more pronounced as the clearly defined changes of the season manifest all around us. All throughout Winter’s cold and extended hours of darkness, we long for the warmth and the sunshine to come. We huddle together against the cold in order to survive. When we first feel the warm Spring air blowing against our faces, and witness the plants and trees begin to sprout their leaves and blossoms, something within us also stirs. Our hearts and minds acknowledge this transformation not only by sensation, but also by intuition.

spring flowers

Somehow, I have been brought to this day and time to fulfill, what must be, some discernible purpose. My heightened sensitivity and enhanced intuitive senses since the events in Massachusetts blew the lid off my steaming pot of consciousness, and I found that I was no longer able to contain the inner struggle. It was a gradual process of unfolding, after the initial burst of energy that one Sunday afternoon, but the flow has been maintained these many years by determined effort to unravel it all. In my temporal world, it seems that life continues to plod along relentlessly. But within me, on rare occasions, particular individuals continue to evoke an awareness of powerful longings, and in several of those instances, it became clear that the consciousness within ME, was connected intimately with the consciousness of the other. It seems, in view of the existence of these intimate connections, that consciousness is a word that describes a transcendent awareness–a manifestation of a non-physical source. By this reckoning, the Universe itself must also be a physical manifestation of a non-physical source. Human consciousness must involve a transformational process through which our transcendent awareness is expressed.

dandelion

During one such experience of transcendent awareness, one connection in particular struck at the very core of my being. Although it seemed on the surface to be a formidable task to reconcile my temporal existence with this connection, I made every effort to maintain the connection, in order to convey the deeper meaning of my attention. In my previous post, I acknowledged the struggle between my heart and mind, trying to distinguish for myself the true nature of the connection, and wrote what follows.

Declaration of Affection

I will never forget the joy and unbridled energy of the first days of our acquaintance. Whenever I close my eyes, I can see you clearly in my mind as you looked on the day when I first saw your face–a shy and giggling gem glittering before my eyes. I remember thinking how beautiful you were; your gently flowing hair surrounding your radiant face and your exquisitely grayish-blue eyes–with a smile that seemed to fill the room with a glow that lingered long after my eyes could no longer see your face. The image of your face will never leave me now.

At first, there was only unencumbered joy when we shared conversation. Your heart and mind were totally open to me. Each new day brought my heart and mind within proximity to a miracle. Your spirit was so dynamic and wondrous, that whenever we spoke, my very life force seemed to tremble, as though I might, at any moment, leave my body and fly swiftly to you. The first time I looked deeply into those eyes, it only took a moment to realize that the world would never again be the same. After several starts and stops, far removed from the everyday routines, when you finally opened your heart to me, my own heart was flung wide open, and pumped wildly as I held you in my arms for the first time. I wanted that moment to last forever.

beginning

The chaotic chain of events that followed made me feel like I was hanging off the side of a moving roller coaster. I can scarcely remember anything from those days other than being with you; as if life began when we were together and was suspended when we were apart. Every encounter with you made me feel intensely awake and alive. After one particularly intense moment of sharing, I realized for the first time, how much you meant to me, and I knew at that moment, with absolute certainty, that I loved you. And yet, even as I contemplated the mysterious swirling hurricane that had become my life, the winds of change had begun to stir. All I knew, was that the feelings evoked by our connection were unlike any feeling I knew or had felt before under any circumstances. When it all fell apart, I was unavoidably altered and shaken to my very roots.

The unfolding of events since then do not fit neatly into any sensible or clear explanation, nor do they seem to lead to any satisfactory resolution. The reality of the temporal world has slowly steered us away from the magical world we had once inhabited, and left us in a twilight world of uncertainty and solitude. How the fibers of our mutual memories will weave themselves into a future cloth is hidden from us now. But one thing is abundantly clear. In any Universe, there could be no greater world than the one that includes your bright spirit. I pray that both of our spirits will endure and remain connected to the wisdom that brought them together one beautiful day, not so long ago.

To Everything…There is a Season

time enemy

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Time is my enemy now. Not only does it often seem to be in short supply when the work of writing begins for me, but over the years, it has been so heavy-laden with intrusions which divert me from the task, that many times, I have found myself near despair. Recently, I have only been able to manage short bursts of productive effort, and with all the chaos of late, I have been so frequently interrupted by a host of other considerations, it seems amazing to me that I’ve accomplished anything at all.

Modern technology has made great strides since the time I began this work, and I have been fortunate to have access to materials and resources that have helped me to make even the meager progress I have managed so far. With only a very limited budget over the years, and many competing priorities for the funds that were available, it has only recently become possible to acquire the tools needed to truly begin to construct a comprehensive summary of what has occupied me for more than thirty years now. At first, much of the work was recorded on hand-written loose-leaf papers, and whatever else I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, many of my original papers have been lost after moving and all the various changes which occurred in those years. However, I was able to preserve the core elements of the writings in the subsequent revisions and copies which I recorded in a series of paper-bound journals that I kept relentlessly during that time.

In recent years, as I was able to acquire a computer and access to the digital world, I was able to preserve and store the accumulating documents on compact discs, along with the many photos which were taken during the early days of my struggle to come to terms with the extraordinary events which led to my ongoing investigations. This blog represents my best efforts to gather the materials from my research and writing, and to make some kind of sense of it all.

Secret Double Magritte
Secret Double by Magritte

“If a man sits down to think, he is immediately asked if he has a headache.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson from a journal entry in 1833

In the autumn of 1973, I experienced what C.G. Jung described as “an eruption of unconscious contents,” which led me to create a document entitled, “The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance.” Although I did not recognize it as such at the time, I have gradually come to view the experience as a pivotal event in my life, and I have spent much of the time since it occurred attempting to decipher the meaning contained in the document. The bulk of the document’s contents remained poorly understood by me for many years afterwards, and only in recent years have I finally begun to comprehend it more fully, and to begin to place it in a broader perspective. Magritte’s image above seemed an appropriate illustration of what felt like an agonizing struggle to reveal the inner workings of the process, which I subsequently engaged in attempting to discover what it was that erupted from within me.

Reviewing the cryptic writing in this document has always been problematical for me, as doing so not only reminded me of how it came into existence, but also of how much I struggled to make some kind of sense out of what initially seemed like a “stream of unconsciousness.” Over the years, even though the opportunities to spend time on the writing have been far fewer than my own inclinations would have provided, I have devoted every available temporal and mental resource in the service of enhancing my understanding of both the experience itself, and of the content in the original document. My temporal life during this time, all too often, “pushed” active pursuit of my goals to “another day.” Forced to find ways of getting to the research, I resorted to recording my incremental progress and my relevant observations in those journals, which at least provided a consistent location where I could continue to work as time permitted.

collective unconscious

According to the famous Swiss psychiatrist and scholar, C.G. Jung:

In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually, but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. It is man’s task to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.”

After several exposures to what Jung described as “unconscious contents,” in my early twenties, it became apparent to me that a greater comprehension of my own cognitive processes was necessary if I was ever going to come to terms with the inexplicable nature of these extraordinary personal experiences. The learning process has engaged my own consciousness in ways that have been both rewarding and challenging. In the coming months, it is my goal to organize and communicate this process, as a means of formalizing a theory which will summarize and bring together all of the many pathways which I have been traveling these many years.

To all of the many wonderful readers and visitors here, I extend my best wishes for much success to you all in the coming year……

Consciousness in the World: Memory and the Extended Mind

100_3740 (2)

“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Nature.”

Every year, particularly for those living in regions which experience the full range of seasonal changes from Spring through Winter, Emerson reminds us to use an “attentive eye,” to see the beauty contained in every season. Each period of the year has its particular rewards: the renewal of all life in the Spring is an affirmation of life; the warmth and lush greenery of Summer is an experience of the fullness of life; the brilliant colors and easing of the summer heat provide both beauty and solace at its peak; and scenes of pristine snowfalls and brilliantly clear winter skies at night remind us that all life is finite in one sense, and limitless in another. Emerson also reminds us that beauty is not confined to the temporal world:

“Beauty is the form under which the intellect prefers to study the world. All privilege is that of beauty;for there are many beauties; as, of general nature, of the human face and form, of manners, of brain, or method, moral beauty, or beauty of the soul.” – from his essay, “Beauty,” (1860)

100_3706

It was in the Autumn of 1956 when I first began to establish moments of conscious experience in memory, and had the first recollections of acknowledging my existence as an individual person. I can recall only brief moments of awareness for the most part, but they are potent and remarkably clear to a degree I find surprising these many years later. The image above was an attempt to recreate one such moment, in which I found myself staring at length at a patch of autumn leaves on the lawn of my childhood home. While similar scenes are easily reproduced each year as the leaves begin to accumulate wherever there are trees in seasonal transition, as Emerson suggests, every moment is unique in its own way, and will never be repeated precisely.

At this tender age, even though I had acquired a fair talent for both language and the association of words with objects and people, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend the implications of my experiences, nor was I fully competent cognitively. My brain was clearly functional in every way that the age would permit, and my ability to learn and respond to typical social interactions was well established, but the level of awareness was still in the process of unfolding to fullness, in spite of all that I was capable of doing with my brain. We tend to think of memory as something that only accumulates in the immediate experience of our lives, but as an emerging adult and after years of deliberate and steady contemplation of the significance of my life experiences, so many of the notions of familiarity with the content of those experiences are remarkably varied in their character that it seems possible their origins could be the result of a much wider range of sources and levels of consciousness. The theory of a “collective unconscious” from C. G. Jung suggests a framework for a collection of forms or “archetypes,” elementary constructs that already exist within us, which are filled in by conscious experience, and which resonate in the psyche in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

Copy of BrainSparks

We know now that memory is not an isolated process that takes place in any localized region of the brain, but is rather a symphony of processes acting fluidly in harmonious cooperation to stimulate an astonishing array of neural pathways, which reassemble the components of our recollections. We also know that memory is not like a video recording of events reproduced in exacting detail, but rather more like reconstructing those elements as we perceived them when they occurred. In many cases, we remember more precisely how we felt at the time the memory was formed. The more significant the event or the greater importance our interpretation of the event holds, the more profound and detailed the memory may be. This fluid processing is directly linked to the structure of the brain, formed as the human embryo develops during a nearly miraculous process of cell migration governed by instructions from our inherited genome. As complex and intricately woven as these neural pathways end up, since memory is a combined form of energy and information, stored and recalled through electro-chemical impulses between neurons, the process necessarily depends on particular structural foundations in order to function properly and must, at least to some degree, reflect the nature of that structure.

extend mind

http://consc.net/papers/extended.html

With the publication of their essay, “The Extended Mind,” – – David Chalmers and Andy Clark began the conversation about just how far the process of mind may actually go. We tend to think of the mind as something inside our heads, or at least contained within or constructed by the brain, but as we investigate and contemplate these matters in the 21st century, we are beginning to see that our understanding generally may only be scratching the surface. There are clearly very specific and necessary neural substrates which support our ability to access consciousness, and if they become compromised by some sort of injury or illness, that access can be diminished accordingly. What is not so clear is the exact relationship between the source of consciousness and the temporal structures which support our access to it. Homo sapiens required hundreds of thousands of years to achieve a level of useful cognitive awareness before even the simplest demonstrations of possessing a mind could be made.

In this important essay, Clark and Chalmers make the case for categorizing some of our uses of modern technologies as not simply a means for producing gadgets for consumption, but as manifestations of our cognitive abilities–an actual “extension” of our human mind out into the world:

“Language appears to be a central means by which cognitive processes are extended into the world. Think of a group of people brainstorming around a table, or a philosopher who thinks best by writing, developing her ideas as she goes. It may be that language evolved, in part, to enable such extensions of our cognitive resources within actively coupled systems.”

“It is widely accepted that all sorts of processes beyond the borders of consciousness play a crucial role in cognitive processing: in the retrieval of memories, linguistic processes, and skill acquisition, for example. So the mere fact that external processes are external where consciousness is internal is no reason to deny that those processes are cognitive.”

Excerpts from “The Extended Mind” (with Dave Chalmers) ANALYSIS 58: 1: 1998 p.7-19

What I am proposing in my own work here, while advocating my own interpretations with enthusiasm, is not an especially radical departure from the mainstream views found elsewhere, but might be viewed by some as being a bit “outside-the-box,” in both its premise and development. My life experiences in my years on this planet encompass qualities and characteristics which suggest a range of possibilities which might explain the nature of the mind and consciousness in ways that mirror ideas like the extended mind. Many of the writings and ideas of history’s most notable philosophers and revolutionary thinkers and innovators have been met with great resistance initially, and only gained more widespread acceptance after much consideration and review by a more measured or deliberate approach.

Characterizing external processes and devices as extensions of the human mind, as controversial as this may seem to some, is an intriguing component of the search for a comprehensive understanding of the mind, and the arguments put forward by Clark and Chalmers are coherent and substantial in supporting their premise. It clearly requires a profoundly sophisticated cognitive structure to produce devices which qualify as extensions of those structures. The parallels between our own cognitive components and those which we have produced as cognitive creatures in the modern world are not so far fetched as some would suggest. There are arguably several potential fields of endeavor currently which may well produce what may appear as a genuine cognitive system, with some degree of similarity to our own. At the same time, we should not expect those devices to begin spontaneously producing other extensions of themselves, nor should we expect them to be on a par with the human mind by any comprehensive standard. My overriding sense is that no manufactured device could be expected to appreciate human experiences without actually having them. Not every human can fully appreciate the experience of another human in every case. As C. G. Jung wrote:

“The collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual. In their present form, religion, science, philosophy, and ethics are variants of archetypal ideas. It is the function of consciousness to not only assimilate the external world through the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.” – from Jung’s “Symbols of Transformation.”

Learning, Sensory Experience, and Consciousness

Max Planck Florida Institute Study Shows: Persistent Sensory Experience Is Good For The Aging Brain Jupiter, FL May 24, 2012

“Despite a long-held scientific belief that much of the wiring of the brain is fixed by the time of adolescence, a new study shows that changes in sensory experience can cause massive rewiring of the brain, even as one ages. In addition, the study found that this rewiring involves fibers that supply the primary input to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for sensory perception, motor control and cognition. These findings promise to open new avenues of research on brain remodeling and aging.”

Published in the May 24, 2012 issue of Neuron, the study was conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Florida Institute (MPFI) and at Columbia University in New York.

“This study overturns decades-old beliefs that most of the brain is hard-wired before a critical period that ends when one is a young adult,” said MPFI neuroscientist Marcel Oberlaender, PhD, first author on the paper. “By changing the nature of sensory experience, we were able to demonstrate that the brain can rewire, even at an advanced age. This may suggest that if one stops learning and experiencing new things as one ages, a substantial amount of connections within the brain may be lost.”

http://www.maxplanckflorida.org/press.html?newsid=129

Consciousness is not only about interpreting the world around us and organizing all the data and stimulus we receive through our senses. Experience, while vitally dependent on cognition and our central nervous system, is not simply and only a phenomenon of the intellect and the body. Our biological organs and systems support our existence and are each dependent on the other. When all systems are nominally balanced there is harmony. Our brain and nervous system provide a platform for our intellectual powers and organize the relentless stream of data received from our environment.

“In the woods, a man casts off his years, and at whatsoever period of life is always a child…In these plantations of God…a perennial festival is dressed, and the visitor sees not how he could tire of it in a thousand years.” –Emerson in “Nature.”

This excerpt from Emerson struck me upon first reading as precisely my own sentiment regarding the “experience” of being in the forest while camping. Simply visiting the woods on a particular day would be uplifting in its own way, and one could get a sense of what Emerson was describing, but staying in the woods for days at a time, experiencing everything from daybreak to nightfall, participating at every moment in the daily rituals of our lives outdoors, one begins to actually “dwell” in the plantation, and a richer understanding of Emerson’s words begin to unfold.

My own interests in camping for days at a time cover everything from a temporary escape from the trials of everyday life to the pleasure provided by the natural settings, to the solace and quiet of remote areas which are absent the noise and traffic of modern living. I often spend time in contemplation of the sunrise, (a particularly sought after experience) where the stillness of early morning is so soothing as to be a sedative of the most pleasant sort, and the gradual brightening of the sky awakens and stirs the forest creatures to their daily routines almost imperceptibly increasing as the sun ascends.

Behind the tent is a sunlit path leading through a brilliant array of greenery which is immensely inviting. A nearly cloudless blue sky, dotted with an occasional floating cloud brings the day to life in a most satisfying way. Having arranged in advance for a visit which happened to coincide with a period of moderate temperatures and congenial weather, increases the pleasure ten-fold, as experience has taught me, that the adjustments for inclement weather, while necessary and appealing in their own way, alter the experience by occupying my attention and time, which I would prefer to spend reading, or writing, or just walking along a trail, or paddling in a canoe.

But beyond even these temporal concerns, with all conditions being optimal, my focus almost always ends up turning within, and from dawn to dusk, my heart and mind embrace the awareness of the natural beauty and inherent pleasure of communing directly with the natural world, unmitigated by the trappings of civilization to which we have grown accustomed, and in a way that is far easier and agreeable than it is during the course of everyday life in the modern world.

By far though, is the appeal of preparing and tending to the campfire each night, which may include gathering and chopping of the wood for consumption in that evening period, as well as the many adjustments to the supply as the night progresses. After many years of practice, I have managed to accomplish these tasks with minimal effort and attention needed to sustain the flames, which provides the maximum enjoyment of the experience, as well as ample opportunity for contemplation. I often find myself reluctant to relinquish this portion of the experience as it provides much of the solace from the concerns which normally occupy my travels. In a way, the fire evokes a fundamental connection to the ineffable which escapes me many times otherwise, and immediately upon recognition of my arrival at the doorsteps of my inner world, I feel a sense of fulfillment and reconnection to the vastness of the world of contemplation, made possible by an unrestricted pathway to the invisible. Watching the fire dance and swirl, smoke rising swiftly, illuminating the surrounding area with fluctuating shadows from the flames, the aroma of burnt timbers mingles with my thoughts as I drift into reverie.

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Increased stimulation of our sensory experience now appears to be essential to our continued growth and to the expansion of our evolving consciousness as a species. We cannot stop learning and experiencing new things and must continue to challenge ourselves by seeking out different environments and opportunities to expand our awareness. As the foundation for our awareness of possessing consciousness, neurological functioning may facilitate its unfolding, allowing it to become manifest in the physical universe of human endeavor, and provide a common platform for meaningful interaction amongst our fellow cognitive creatures, but it cannot constitute the whole of it.