Neuroplasticity as Explanation and Inspiration to Change Outdated Perceptions.

So, the other day I was listening to two different speakers and found much juicy content to contemplate and chew on. I was listening to Rick Hanson’s audible book “The Enlightened Brain”, and a talk by Allan Watts’, titled “The Nature of Consciousness”.

Rick Hanson was describing the relationship between our Mind and our Brain, about how not only our perceptions effect our neural substrates, but how our neural substrates effect our perceptions. Reflected in other neuroscience material I’ve studied (such as Positive Psychology and Pain Science), Rick was basically discussing the fact that what we focus our attention on today effects how our brains and minds function tomorrow. He also shared that the buck doesn’t stop there: the neural substrates we favor and strengthen (with our attention) effect the neural genetic inheritance of our offspring! This also translates to mean that the neural hardware we’ve inherited is the result of what our ancestors focused on. So, ultimately we’re getting around with brains equipped to face yesterday’s challenges. Now, consider how rapidly and drastically our world and culture has evolved over the last few centuries; I know I’m not alone in wondering if the outdated nature of our hardware is in fact a significant obstacle to meeting the demands of today, inviting us to adapt and evolve. The beautiful news is that although we’ve inherited brainy blueprints suitable for yesteryears, we have been in fact gifted with one of the most potent self-directing and neural substrate gardening tools available: our here/now presence and free will. As our brains are shaped by what we rest our minds on (I’m paraphrasing the Buddha here), by wisely choosing to focus our here/now attention on uplifting information, we can skillfully grow the brain and mind we need and want, enabling us to greet today with authentic brilliance and resilience.

Bringing Allan Watts back on the scene. His talk is basically about inspiring listeners to A)reflect on limiting perspectives they may be employing (or employed by), and B) to consider shifting these perspectives to a more holistic and sustainable one. The two dominant and outdated views he describes are what he calls “The Ceramic” and “The Fully Automatic” perspectives. I likely won’t do justice to his description of them, so please follow up by listening to “The Nature of Consciousness” talks yourself (available through Sounds True), but basically he asserts that “The Ceramic” view is hinged on a religious position that there is an ultimate Architect (or Potter) of reality and “he” is directing and determining our lives, much like a potter sculpts clay, it is not up to the clay what shape it takes on. “The Fully Automated” position describes reality as a complete fluke, empty of meaning or intelligence. In this model, reality and everything in it are all just randomly moving billiard balls, chaotically banging into one another and it is only by chance that we experience beauty, intelligence or love. There is no meaning; there is no purpose; it is just empty chaos. Allan then follows up by inspiring listeners to consider a reality that is intelligent, co-creative, and completely interconnected. He offers that our experience of separateness is a falsehood. Instead he offers that we are like the experience of a wave in a massive ocean: expressed and differentiated, but not ever actually separate.

Now, I’ve heard this philosophy many times, from many sources. And, admitedly, it aligns well with what I believe. However, in a moment of listening to his talk, I suddenly thought to “Why, truly, if this IS how reality really IS do I not experience it this way? If we are truly NOT separate, why do I experience and feel my self as separate? Why wouldn’t my experience of reality be an experience of oneness? If oneness is the greatest truth, why in this all mighty oneness do I experience separateness? Why why why? I mean, no matter how hard I try, I just haven’t managed to feel what a Tree feels, or a Squirrel feels, or even what my Neighbor feels. And although I often assume I know what my husband or children feel (and often tell them as such), the truth is, I don’t (hope hubby’s not reading this) 😉 . Information from my environment flows through my senses, triggering reactions in my nervous system that helps me decode the information and create my perception of my environment; however this entire process still happens with in my self.   I can only feel my feelings, my sensations, my experiences of reality, not any ones or any other things experience. Allan’s philosophy and theory of reality align with my reasoning, but they don’t align with my experience…

“Don’t believe something just because somebody tells you it’s true, or you read it in scriptures. Don’t even believe what your teachers tell you unless your own reason and experience confirms what they say.” -The Buddha

My reason aligns with Allan Watts, but my experience doesn’t…how to resolve?

Inherited Neural Substrates and Self-Directed Neuroplasticity to the rescue!!!

So, of course, as is usually the case, I’m out for a walk and BAM, resolutions hits me (the “usually the case” phenomenon is that it is generally when I am moving my body while moving my mind that creativity and solutions emerge…do you experience this? Try it!).

Resolution: (somewhat long-winded)

My experience of reality is greatly determined and influenced by the limits of my neural substrates, which are defined by yesterday’s challenges (thanks Rick). If we could just assume Allan Watts’ position of reality for a moment (that we are one mega consciousness-ocean experiencing differentiated waves as “selves”, but not actually separate), then perhaps the explanation for why we only FEEL ourselves is that this is simply the result of what our mega consciousness-ocean has been practicing… for eons (likely the beginning of time/space!!). Mega consciousness-ocean has been practicing focusing on perceptions that reinforce selfhood, thus forms/structures that are skilled at perceiving this type of information (that which informs selfhood) is what have A) developed and B) been passed on/inherited. Perhaps humans, or anything/being with a brain that supports perception of self/other, are the tangible neural substrates/forms that have simply arisen due to use and practice. Through millennia we’ve become better at experiencing selfhood due to the cause and effect reality of “You Are what you repeatedly Do”. But that does not mean there is no other bits of information flowing through the universe and reality. There is likely heaps of bits of information flowing through the universe that supports the reality of oneness and interconnectedness, where just not skilled at tuning into it! We know that billions of bits of information, like radio waves, different light waves/rays, and telecommunication waves are continuously flowing through us, undetected, unperceived, but that information is still there. Just because we don’t sense it doesn’t not discount its existence. I’m suggesting that perhaps the only reason I and we only experience information that confirms our selfhoods, and our as separateness, is simply because that is what we and all our ancestors and consciousness Itself has been practicing, and thus we are very skilled at it.

I’m going to take this one step further and hark back to a previous blog where I talked about why consciousness, as the All, would dream a dream of separateness. In that blog, titled “Off the Camino and Back on Track” I try to describe (which I know is an oxymoron) the ineffable, and Its inspiration to dream of separateness. Summing up some of my expressions in that blog: I perceive the ineffable as All, as the ocean of consciousness, as unending, unrelenting, All and oneness. It is not a zero, it is not a one; it does not begin or end; it is not time and space OR timeless and spaceless. It is uncontainable and simultaneously it contains all and is also all that is contained. It is All, unfathomable, unperceivable, undiscernible. Description is hinged on contrast, and the ineffable has no contrast (nothing is outside of It, It is ALL); thus, how can we describe it? An admittance of ignorance is truly essential to any attempt at explaining or understanding it:-) But, if It is anywhere/anything close to what I just described, then I imagine that It would want nothing more than an or many Experience/s. The only way to have Experience is to enable Contrast, is to have two instead of one, or Dualism within Monism. Dualism creates contrast, something other than sameness to consider and contrast reality to. We need “other” to KNOW and PERCEIVE “self”. I feel this understanding explains us, the experience of separateness and selfhood. We are the symptom and result of the understandable desire to be known.

Can you relate to this dream/desire? Imagine if you were the All. If you were All, and nothing was other than you, and you didn’t even KNOW yourself. You were entirely unaware of your experience as there existed no thing other from you, or different to you. Your oneness was All there was. Without contrast to your oneness, you didn’t KNOW your self…there was no self to be known. Wouldn’t you revel and desire a bit of change, a bit of contrast, maybe even a bit of drama?…I mean, come on, someone change the channel already! I would. If I was the unperceivable All, there would be nothing I would want more than to perceive, to know, to experience! Not only would it be a relief to experience change, it would be ecstatic! Perception, experience, change, contrast…bring it all on!! Any and all experience is hinged on and conceived by the relationship of Witness (the self) and the Witnessed (the other). We need both an Eye and the Scene/Seen to See.

I am not prostrating absolute truth here…ick; but, I am suggesting that the reason we FEEL and PERCEIVE information that confirms selfhood is A) due to neural substrate inheritance (we inherit brain structure that reinforces our perception of selfhood because this what our ancestors paid attention to) and B) that the All-mighty sea of Consciousness dreamed a reality that enabled perception, because it was the only dream worth dreaming, and thus consciousness created and continues to support perceptive structures (such as brains) that reinforce and sustain the dream of selfhood. What do you think?

Taking it one step further, aside from the fact that I am curious and excited to share new-to-me ideas, I am also sharing as a means to be a part of uplifting change. Quoting the Buddha again, “ignorance is the source of all suffering”, and as such it is be wise and skillful to pay attention to a reality we wish to invest in. If we are simultaneously both the symptom of consciousness’ dream and consciousness itself, then likely we are much more powerful as dreamers and co-creators of reality than we may currently believe. Don’t you reckon it begs to question our mythologies and inherited bias perceptions, if we can discern that our world is not as peaceful as we would like it to be?   Maybe it is our limiting beliefs, thoughts and neural substrates that are perpetuating a global nightmare? It seems, instead, we can choose to wake up and co-create a more holistic reality, one that sustains peace, harmony, love and respect for all.

Sound too good to be true? Perhaps that’s only because you are firing off of inherited neural substrates shaped by the hopeless and traumatic experiences of your ancestors past. Though past trauma is worthy of compassion and serious healing work, it doesn’t have to perpetuate within and shape our future.

Allan Watts describes two pervading world myths that ignorantly limit our view of reality and Rick Hanson offers evidence for why our brain structures express themselves in their current state, and what we can skillfully do to evolve them. Both of these philosophers and scientists are describing states of suffering that we have the means to effectively transfigure. I am started to fathom our potential as conscious co-creators; starting to perceive the power of wise and compassionate presence. This tasting of this new, uplifting reality is inheritably motivating, it feels good to imagine a more peaceful reality. It also does not feel false, and I’m starting to see it becoming. We have free will, it is up to us to de-shackle ourselves from the falsehoods inspired from traumatic pasts: fear, competitive comparison, hierarchal judgment, greed and hatred don’t have to contract our potential. Without enabling and being employed by an outdated “eye for an eye” vengeance, we can still acknowledge our painful pasts, and skillfully bring compassionate healing to it, all the while creating a future of sustainable, co-operative abundance. There is no us against them, no me against you; we can choose to abide in the reality that we are interdependent waves of the same one ocean. If I choose to gauge you I am only assaulting myself. We are all in this together; we are not separate; we are all relations.

“Love thy neighbor as thy self” seems like good food for thought (thanks Jesus).

Giving is receiving (which is entirely different than taking).

So my loves, with complete admittance to self-serving and self-involved action/expression:

I Love You!

May you experience peace; May you be happy; May you know love.

(And, just so it’s clear. I am not of one religious faith or another. I am a Mystery, and love is my North Star. Any Spiritual Teacher I quote is because what they said resonated).

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