Monday, June 16, 2014

Riding The Big Blue Avatar



You don't see many blue people around. Or on the other hand, maybe you see a lot of them. The blue people, who actually are blue, mostly live in one of our imaginary worlds, like the cat people in the movie Avatar. Or the shapely, shape-shifting mu-tant in the X-Men movies. The Blue Man Group, or Smurfs!
 All the other blue people we see, the ones who just feel blue, usually feel that way because their minds have been cast into some sort of sadness. Such is Life.  

There is another well-known blue man, probably the original, and that's the Hindu deity Krishnaan incarnation of the spiritual preserver and sustainer of our Universe, Vishnu. He is God as an avatara (the origin of the movie's title), in human, albeit blue human, form. In the amazing Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna appears on Earth as the chariot driver of a confused warrior, and takes the opportunity to instruct the poor fellow about how to best occupy his human form in this life. He simply teaches him all about life. It's like having God as your cab driver in New York City.

Body
Sporting a beautiful blue body is obviously unusual, which is no doubt why Krishna picked it. It's quite likely that you'll pay very close attention to everything that comes out of a beautiful blue persons mouth. The first, and most obvious point it makes is that our bodies are simply vehicles that can be colored differently, like cars. And Krishna is very clear when he talks about our relationship to our bodies:

"The body is mortal, but he who dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable."   Bhagavad Gita 2:18

"As a man abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.
The Self cannot be pierced by weapons or burned by fire...cannot be made wet or dry. It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundation of eternity."  
BG 2:23-25

So we are really just the rider, and as we occupy these different bodies, we begin to learn the things we can only learn by living in this particular human form. I like to think of it like this: when I see a middle-aged asian guy, for example, I try to think to myself, "There's one of us – in that form." When I see a freckled, red-headed teenage girl, I think, "There's one of us – in that form." And when I see myself in the mirror, I think, "There's one of us (that happens to be me) – in that form." Sometimes, that's what makes me a little blue. Sometimes it's an easy ride, sometimes not.

Listen up, because here's what's so important about all this. It means that we are a race of energy beings assigned to living in these human bodies, surrounded by a world of changing forms. We are truly one race, with or without the bodiesthat's why human racial distinctions are so antithetical to our truest natures, but are also so necessary for pointing out our shared underlying reality.

It sounds a lot like science fiction, doesn't it? Well, that's one of the big problems with our limited human perception. We tend to want to think of it in terms of science fiction, because that's the funny, "self-protective" twist our body/minds use to label the spiritual facts of our unusual existence. Within our truest self – our shared being – of course we know it's true. Even "skeptics" know it. If any one of us has realized this, there's a very good chance that everyone may realize it too.

I know because I'm a person who's had multiple near-death exper-iences that eliminated whatever choice I had. It usually takes something to help you get it, just listening to an imaginary blue guy may not be enough. You can gain some real understanding through deep meditations, or by taking the testimony of certain teachers to heart. You may also tell it's true by the simple fact that your inner spirit – your inner experience of life– never changes all that much, while if you're anything like me, your body keeps changing whether you want it to or not.

Mind
If our spirit is animating our changing body, then what, exactly, is our mind? Generally, I think it's what I think with, but body-wise it's really my brain that's doing that. My thinking organ. My mind seems to live in three different ways: The part where I learn and apply knowledge – my "rational intellect." Observing, comparing, labeling, analyzing, planning…all that. Then, there's a reactive, much less rational part which is unfortunately often fearful and opinionated. That's the part we usually call ego  our kind of fussy (sometimes neurotic) interface with Life. Hindu yogis call these aspects of mind "chitta." They function in the realm of the seen and known.

But then there's that third way my mind works – as all the things I know but have never had to learn. Everything I just know. That's a deeper kind of shared, instinctual mind an intelligence that doesn't change, and accepts life in what ever form it takes,  without labeling or judging. This part of my mind just is. I don't make it up or change it, I access it. Yogis call this "purusha." Where the mind functions in the psychic realm of the spirit. What's largely unseen, but very deeply known and felt. 

This more shared, less individual, form of intelligence can be difficult to recognize because it's so natural, so unconscious. How do I even know how to walk and talk? Or when I'm going to laugh? Or what is really to be feared (and what will probably be okay)? We all share all that rather critical information, that "common sense," without really having to think about. It doesn't matter whether we're yellow, or red, or blue.

 Now notice the similarity, even the simultaneity of our shared mind and all it's little parts, like say, the next time you're standing in a slow-moving line at a bank or in a store. If you could hear the thoughts of each person in line, it would sound like a chorus of complaints in unison. First the rational intellect: If they opened another window, they could take care of all of us in a much more efficient manner. Then, there's the ego: Doesn't anyone here know what the hell they're doing? I can't wait in this line all day!  Then there's our shared mind, our "common sense:" I'm either going to do this now, or some other time, and now is the only time things actually happen.

While the first two "personal" forms of mind lead us to believe we are in control, the third, shared form, is evidence of a much deeper reality where, as Joseph Campbell put it: "We don't live life, life lives us." 

Then there's this too – we are subject to the ways of the world, which, like each of us, is comprised of all its parts, demanding, contributing, reflecting. It's another even greater body/mind in which we all share – the mind and body of our planet and it's inherent cumulative intelligence. Its life. You may have heard it called "Gaia."

Astrologers recognize this form of the spiritual occupation of the planets, and the greater life of the cosmos. By spiritual fact – not by science fiction – we are a part of that greater shared intelligence, expressed by what we, as riders, demand from, and contribute to, the body and mind of the living Earth. Sometimes it's an easy ride. Sometimes not. We learn what we can only learn by riding on our planet – and it doesn't matter if our planet is yellow, like Venus; or red, like Mars. Or, like the body/mind of our Earth, if it's blue too.

"In this world there are two orders of being: the perishable, separate creature and the changeless spirit. But beyond these there is another, the supreme Self, the eternal Lord, who enters into the entire cosmos and supports it from within."
The Bhagavad Gita, 15:16,17


The book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyondbased on lessons (learned the hard way) by a three time near death survivor is now available everywhere – but ask for it it at your local bookstore! How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying) is due out early 2018, from Llewellyn Worldwide.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Neuroscientists' Map of Heaven



Recently, I was being interviewed about my three Near Death Experiences and the spiritual realizations that grew from them. The interviewer asked me if there was any scientific support for my views, or if my assertions were "just a matter of opinion."  But all profound spiritual experience is a matter of opinion. There is no proof I could give her, other than to show her what's in my heart. What has happened for me. 

For that variety of spiritual skeptic devoted to "proof" – to results of the scientific method – profound spiritual experiences always present an intriguing problem: finding a provable explanation for mysterious, personal phenomena. When one has predetermined that any extra-dimensional cause, or “magical” explanation is impossible, the problem is how to simply reveal the source of the phenomenon by applying scientific methodology. Like flicking on the lights on at a fraudulent séance. 
These days, the favorite way to conduct that search comes through "mapping" the human brain, whose incredibly complex workings are currently being captured and cataloged by ever-expanding artificial intelligence. Since there's so much going on inside of our brains, naturally the paranormal – even "The Divine" – has simply got to be in there somewhere too.
  
The idea that there's a spiritual part of the brain, an area where cellular electro-chemical activities generate sensations of unity and transcendence (neurotheology) isn't really new, but thanks to advances in brain-mapping, it's been getting a lot more airplay lately. Locating and documenting the "God Part" of the brain could provide a tidy explanation for the persistent belief that an external, or even cumulative, intelligence is at work in the world. It could decisively debunk all the claims of transpersonal, extra-dimensional spiritual experiences, like those made by the growing ranks of near death survivors, and other such witnesses of the sublime. 
After all, even we mystics and navel-gazers ourselves suggest that it’s an inward path to spiritual realization, so doesn't it just make scientific sense that divine experience doesn’t originate from without, but from somewhere within – within the circuitry of our brains, that is?

The real problem is that every direction you look in turns magical pretty quickly. Looking outside of our brains, we’re immediately assailed by the totally incomprehensible domain of our very being. That darn infinite cosmos. First, there's the fabric of Time/Space, loaded with the galaxies and question marks that we see when we look into the night sky. Then, there's the limitless sub-atomic universe, described by the ridiculously magical – yet scientifically reliable – quantum mechanics. In both cases, Science's very best explanations are at best conditional, and otherwise reliably subject to change.

In our larger, avowedly "magical" context, mapping the mysterious processes within our brain may someday function to demonstrate how the neural pathways of the brain work, but not necessarily what the brain may actually be capable of doing. It's a bit like capturing lightning in a bottle.There's a whole lot more to it than just how it works.  

It seems to me that the real questions posed by the neuroscientific skeptics are: How are all of our sensory – and "extra-sensory" – expe-riences explained by the idea that each of our brains is independently conscious? Are our brains exclusively the generators of everything we perceive (including "God") – or aren't they quite possibly receivers, and projectors too? The answers to those questions almost seem obvious.  

Naturally, there's a part of my brain that experiences spiritual sensations. There's a part of it that experiences heat and cold and hunger and heartbreak, too. There's a degree to which all sensations are received, and generated, and projected out into my life (and yours sometimes) by me, and my little ol’ eight pound brain. And the same is true for you too. That’s how we process this life, whether our “reality” reaches us from the outside, or grows out of the many ways we create it ourselves, utilizing these clunky (but elegant) vehicles we run around in. (No wonder they're so expensive to maintain.) 

No scientist worth his salt would suggest that temperature only exists because my brain tells me it does, though how sensitive I am to it, or how much of it I generate myself can vary quite a bit. The same holds true for the experience of profound spiritual realizations. The reality of spiritual awareness, consciousness, and extra-dimensionality is, no doubt, realized in the part of our brain that takes care of all that for us. Why wouldn’t it be? We’re only human, after all.

For thousands of years, we have been describing spiritual experiences of an extra-dimensional nature with far more solidarity and consistency than the scientific community has managed to muster in its comparatively brief life. And  even the proposition that there's an individual, brain-centered experience of the spiritual, that manifests a kind of spiritual mass delusion throughout humanity, suggests the participation in a shared field of consciousness  the conceptual lightning that quantum mechanics let out of the bottle long ago.

And what of the human heart? Can we map that as well? Studies now demonstrate conclusively that the heart, with cellular similarities to the brain, serves a cognitive function, at times controlling intellectual judgment, as well as emotion. 

Feelings of sublime connectedness, the generation of Love, and our compassionate impulses are all processed by a mixture of mind and heart. So, too, those deep, transformative realizations of a spiritual reality, most convincingly testified to by meditators and trauma survivors (including near death experiencers). But as usual, the people who have the most trouble “scientifically” squaring these kinds of testimonials with their own expectations are those who may never have had such profoundly spiritual experiences themselves. Once they do, they usually change their tunes in pretty short order.

While we don’t seem to be evolving much physically these days, we unquestionably are spiritually. The internet, synchronicity (a connecting principle without cause, according to Jung), measurable instances of global consciousness, spiritual realization of all sorts on a mass scale (not just on Oprah), as well as the incredible potential revealed by mapping the human brain, all point to an increasing awareness that demonstrates this evolution. 

Like the evolution of those parts of our brains that have allowed us to process logical thought, vision, communication, creativity, and cooperative effort, our brains –and hearts– are evolving to process our growing spiritual potential. We’re not just simply generating spiritual sensation, we’re becoming more and more capable of observing, receiving, and projecting spiritual energy through our shared field of consciousness.

I hope the skeptics discover what we believers found “within” a long time ago – namely serenity, compassion, and the deep understanding of the nature of our absolute unity. And that maybe, Love is a kind of quantum field itself.


The book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is now available everywhere.