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3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words come alive — for this exercise I am indebted to Eknath Easwaran‘s excellent and accessible book Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life

Among the advice he gives is this (Pages 39-40):

In meditation, the passage becomes imprinted on our consciousness. As we drive it deeper and deeper, the words come to life within us, transforming all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. . . . . As you commit a new passage to memory, it is good to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of the words and their practical application to your life. But please don’t do this while you are actually meditating. . . . . And avoid choosing passages that are negative, that take a harsh and difficult view of the body, of our past mistakes, or of life in the world. We want to draw for our positive side, our higher Self, and the passages should move you to become steadfast, compassionate, and wise.

KYTS Following the Word

Because I am aware that not everyone would connect with Bahá’í Scripture, clearly we can choose any positive passage to which we strongly resonate.

How to Learn Passages:

There is a method I have found useful to help with memorising. I have adapted it from a method for memorising poetry. I sorry to say that I have no record of whose original idea I have borrowed here.

This is the method:

  1. Read the passage once. Then divide it into convenient short sections, each equivalent to a line of poetry.
  2. Now read the first section out loud. Take your eyes from the page & immediately say the section again. Glance back to make sure you got it right. If you made a mistake try again. Now do the same with the second section. Repeat the procedure for every section in the passage.
  3. Go back to the beginning. This time, read the first two sections out loud, look away and repeat them aloud. Check. If you made a mistake, try again. Now move onto the next two sections, going through the whole passage two sections at a time.
  4. Repeat the passage three lines at a time, then four lines at a time, then five and then six. By the sixth pass, no matter how long the passage, you will have memorised it.
  5. Recite the whole passage just before going to bed at night.
  6. Crucial: stop thinking about the passage. Your sleeping mind is very important for memory.
  7. The next day, you should find (after a glance at the first line to bump-start your memory) that you can recite the whole passage.

In using this method I have found it important, if I am to retain the whole passage permanently, I need to slowly reduce the frequency of repeating it over a reasonable period of time. At first, perhaps for a week, I repeat it every night. Then every other, then every third night and so on until I repeat it only once per week. I can then choose to use it whenever I wish in my daily meditations. It is important to keep it fresh by revisiting it occasionally, may be once every month or two in this way.

3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words come alive — I called it Remembrance because it resembles the Sufi practice of Dhikr or zikr.

KYTS Remembrance

 

Because I was aware that not everyone would connect with this phrase, I tweaked the exercise so that people could choose a word or phrase that they felt expressed the highest good they good imagine.

Bahai Mantra

Lemn Sissay columnThere are two trends in current culture. One is exemplified in the sad situation described in the post from this morning. Such traumatic events suggest we are on a downward spiral of exploitation and injustice.  That is not the whole story though, thankfully. There are tales of progress which are inspiring and hopeful. The recent BBC programme on Arthur Ashe gave one powerful example of someone who rose to fame and prominence against all the odds without sacrificing his integrity. Lemn Sissay’s life is another one.  describes how in last Friday’s Guardian article. Below is an extract: for the full post see link.

In October the University of Manchester is going to have to clone Lemn Sissay, or at least, he suggests, “make a hologram of me”. That’s the month the 48-year-old poet is due to collect an honorary PhD, which, as the university’s newly-elected chancellor, he is also responsible for presenting.

“It’s mad,” agrees Sissay – who left school at 15, and this week beat Peter Mandelson and the Halle Orchestra’s Mark Elder to secure the ceremonial position. “Maybe I will shake hands with myself and say, ‘Well done, lad.’”

When we meet, Sissay is sitting on the roof terrace of a private members’ club in a black T shirt, black jeans and sunglasses. In other words, he looks like a performer whose poetry has appeared everywhere from Leftfield’s award-winning album Leftism to the Olympic Park – and not much like an academic grandee.

It’s impossible not to warm to Sissay. When I ask how he feels about winning the election (by more than 1,000 votes), he refuses to reflect on his own success, instead focusing on what such victories mean for the black community. He quotes a friend who wrote to him saying, “‘It’s a new day. It’s Sir Lenny Henry, it’s Chancellor Jackie Kay [the poet and novelist recently elected to Salford University] and Chancellor Lemn Sissay.’ Things are changing and that’s a good thing.”

But how does a poet beat a politician in an election? And not just any politician, but Mandelson? The writer denies having had a strategy – his campaign video, in which he performs a poem called Mercurial Graphene in Manchester, was shot four days before voting closed. . . . .

He is clear about his intention as the figurehead for the university: “To encourage as many care-leavers as possible to pursue education.” It’s a cause he is already working towards. At the University of Huddersfield there is a PhD scholarship in his name for care-leavers. He has inspired another in Leeds, and hopes Manchester will follow suit.

This commitment stems from his own childhood in care, a subject he has returned to with heartbreaking effect in his plays, poems and documentaries. Sissay’s mother came to the UK from Ethiopia not knowing she was pregnant, and when he was a few months old asked for Sissay to be temporarily fostered while she studied.

. . . . He was moved from homes to foster placements while his birth mother wrote anguished letters from Ethiopia asking when he would be returned. As the only black boy in each home, he was nicknamed Chalky White and spat at on public transport. At 16 he took to refusing to wear shoes, continuing to walk barefoot through snow, and to hospital for his cut feet.

Flat screen cost

Rosa Moreno hasn’t been able to afford prosthetic hands. Photograph: Alan Pogue/Texas Centre for Documentary Photography

Our fancy gadgets are more costly than we care to remember. There is a powerful piece by  on the Guardian’s website bringing that reality vividly to our minds. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

Injured workers like me don’t ask for much of the billions these companies make off of our work. We just want enough to take care of our families.

On February 11, 2011, I lost both my hands.

I was working an overnight shift at my job in Reynosa, Mexico, where I was cutting metal for parts used in assembling flatscreen televisions. I was working in my usual area, and the boss was pressuring us.

“I want you to work faster, because we need the material urgently,” he said.

I was moved to Machine 19, which can rip and cut metal and takes two hands to operate. It is heavy, weighing at least one ton, maybe two, and no one liked to work on it because it was too difficult. They always seemed to assign it to me.

I started work at 11pm. Around 2 or 2:30am, I was positioning metal inside Machine 19. My hands were actually inside the machine, because I had to push the metal in until it clicked into place.

That’s when the machine fell on top of them.

I screamed. Everyone around me was crying and yelling. They stopped the assembly line on the female side of the room, but the men were told to keep working.

Meanwhile, I was stuck. No one could lift the machine off my hands. They remained trapped for 10 minutes, crushed under the machine.

Finally, a few fellow employees created a makeshift jack to lift the machine up just enough for me to pull my hands out. I wasn’t bleeding very much, because the machine actually sealed the ends of my arms and forged them to the piece of metal. They took me to the hospital with the piece attached to my hands. The doctors were surprised when I showed up like that. I remember saying, ‘Take the piece off. Take it off.’ But they didn’t want to.”

My hands were flattened like tortillas, mangled, and they both had to be amputated. I lost my right hand up to my wrist and my left a little higher. I didn’t know how I’d ever work again.

Immediately, I started to worry about my children. I have six children at home, who were between the ages of 9 and 17 during the accident, and I am both mother and father to them. How would I take care of them now?

Working six days a week, I made 5,200 pesos a month ($400). Without my hands, I knew I wouldn’t even be able to make that much.

After five days in the hospital, I checked myself out. But I didn’t go home first. I went directly to the factory where I worked for HD Electronics. I asked to see the manager. He offered me 50,000 pesos ($3,800).

“I’ve lost both my hands,” I said. “How will my family survive on 50,000 pesos?”

“That’s our offer,” he said. “Stop making such a big scandal about it and take it.” I eventually got about $14,400 in settlement money under Mexican labor law, an amount equal to 75% of two years’ wages for each hand. But I knew I had to do better for my family. So I looked across the border, to Texas, where my former employer is based.

The Letter ‘T’ is inextricably connected in my mind to Time Lords and time travel, but this would usually be in connection with a Tardis and not with a toilet.

IMG_2409

However, in Cardiff last week, outside Waterstones near the St David’s Centre, I stepped back more than 100 years in less than 100 seconds.

IMG_2407

Admittedly it wasn’t completely plain sailing, if that’s the right word to use of time travelling. A notice at the top of the steps warned me that I wouldn’t get in without a code from the coffee stall nearby.

IMG_2406

Rehearsing my three digit code I descended the steps totally unprepared for what I would discover. You don’t expect a key pad to whisk you back to Victorian times after all, do you? That the place was deserted helped the illusion. Any occupant in modern dress, apart from me of course, would have destroyed it.

IMG_2404

Nor do you expect a free etymology lesson, showing you exactly where the word ‘crap’ comes from in no uncertain terms. For obvious reasons, I am not sure whether the Ladies’ Toilet in Cardiff offers these same opportunities.

IMG_2405

I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted by the toilet bowl itself. I had to adjust my mind as well as my dress before I returned up the steps to the modern world.

For source of adapted image see link

For source of adapted image see link

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words come alive.
Unhooking Ourselves

 

More recently I reformatted this for a workshop I was running: it looks prettier and is possible easier to read.

disidentification-exercise

 

Mirroring the Light

Mirroring the Light

My recent sequence on the Three Brain Issue triggered an important question from someone who commented on the third post in that sequence: she asked “Could you add something here about what you feel that intuition actually is?” I hadn’t addressed that because a much earlier sequence had gone into the matter in some depth. I felt it was worth republishing it now in the hope it would be helpful.

In an attempt to shed light on what is meant by the phrase ‘understanding heart’ in the Bahá’í Writings, it seemed a good idea to use metaphors to explain a metaphor, given that logical language would probably not be up to the task.

I have reflected so far upon two images, used in the same scriptures, which shed some light on the matter: a lamp/candle/fire and the garden. These two images are not all we have to go on though. The mirror image is equally fruitful to contemplate.

O My Brother! A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn. Then wilt thou clearly see the meaning of “Neither doth My earth nor My heaven contain Me, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me.”

(Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys: pp 21-22)

In previous posts I have discussed the value of reflection, though not in the sense of the way that mirrors reflect, yet the link is interesting. I have drawn on writers such as Koestenbaum who describes how reflection is a process of separating consciousness from its contents. I have used the analogy of the mirror to illustrate what this might mean. What is reflected in the mirror is not the mirror. In the same way what we are thinking, feeling and planning may not be the essence of our consciousness, simply the ‘objects’ that are reflected in it.

This discussion tended to presuppose that the mirror of our consciousness was clean enough to reflect what it was turned towards. This pins down the two essential aspects of the mirror of the heart that concern us here. Let us side-step for now whether the deepest and usually inaccessible levels of consciousness are what Bahá’u’lláh means by the heart: I will return to that topic again shortly.  Let’s consider instead the issues of dust on the mirror and the direction of its orientation.

In Bahá’í terms, as I understand them, turning the mirror of your heart towards debased objects defiles or dirties it.  It therefore has to be cleansed before it can reflect higher spiritual realities even if it is turned towards them.

The mirror referred to in the quote above is one of the ancient kind made of metal. It would need to be burnished with chains not with a soft cloth and polish – altogether more effortful, even painful. And the burnish is defined as love and detachment from all save God. This suggests that we are back with the idea that all the many different attachments we harbour in our hearts, all the different kinds of meaning systems we have devised as lenses through which to experience reality, are just dirt on the mirror of our heart.

It is fairly obvious then that metaphors such as weeding or purifying by fire, as one can do with metals when they’re mined, all add to our idea of what to do and how to do it in order to further this process that is described in terms of a mirror as ‘burnishing.’ We can set aside time to be mindful and locate in our own being the weeds of hatred and envy, for example, and see refusing to act them out and replacing them with kindness and admiration as a kind of weeding or burnishing depending upon what most vividly makes sense to and motivates us. Our minds all work in different ways and there is no one method that suits all.

Whatever method we use to step back from identifying with what impedes us (see link for one example: Disidentification exercise), I feel it could therefore be argued that if we were able to peel back all this dross that veils our hearts from discerning reality for what it truly is we would in effect be unhooking our consciousness from all the curtains that hide reality from us.

Wert thou to cleanse the mirror of thy heart from the dust of malice, thou wouldst apprehend the meaning of the symbolic terms revealed by the all-embracing Word of God made manifest in every Dispensation, and wouldst discover the mysteries of divine knowledge. Not, however, until thou consumest with the flame of utter detachment those veils of idle learning, that are current amongst men, canst thou behold the resplendent morn of true knowledge.

(Kitáb-i-Íqán: pages 68-69)

It’s intriguing that Bahá’u’lláh seems to be saying there that detachment will enhance our understanding of symbolic terms such as the metaphors we are examining here. If I was more detached I would not need to struggle so hard to understand what the metaphor ‘heart’ means in the first place!

Road less travelled

Scott Peck, in spite of his well documented failings as a human being, was one of the first writers I came across who made it clear that love is not just a feeling if it’s a feeling at all in our usual sense of that word. He stated strongly that love is not a feeling: it is a kind of work (The Road Less Travelled pages 116-119):

. . . love is an action, an activity. . . . Love is not a feeling. . . . Genuine love . .  implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. . . . . In a constructive marriage . . . The partners must regularly, routinely and predictably, attend to each other and their relationship no matter how they feel. . .  Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy takes much the same line (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – pages 218-19):

Marrying because of love is considered quite reasonable in our culture, and love is dominantly thought to be a feeling, not a kind of choice. The feelings of love are extremely unpredictable. We speak of love as if it were an accident; we say that we fall into and fall out of this emotional state, for example. It should not then be a surprise when we fall into and fall out of marriages in much the same way. . . . Consider how much easier it is to keep a marriage vow if marriage is based on a choice to marry and love is considered to be a choice to value the other and hold the other as special.

They go on to speak of the importance of commitment.

It’s taken a long time to get to this point. Better late than never though.

Obviously now one of the things that bedevils our ability to understand what the heart is in a spiritual sense, apart that is from taking it too literally and piling on too much baggage from our culture, is that we base our idea of the heart on feelings that come from the gut. We discount the possibility that the feelings that originate in the heart as the doorway to moral and spiritual progress may not feel like feelings at all in the same way. The feelings from the gut promise much and are so easy to give expression to, lie so close to what we see as our comfort zone, but they all too frequently fail to deliver on their promises and bring profound discomfort in their wake.

The feelings from the heart, on the other hand, compel us upwards, involve effort and even hardship often, but the rewards are beyond my ability to describe – of course, that applies only as long as it’s not for the rewards that we follow them. They seem more to do with enacted values than emotions in the usual sense of that word. We tend to forget that emotions and motives have the same root in the idea of movement. We all too often feel moved without moving, or else set off in the wrong direction!

We need to remember, not just sometimes but always, the words of Al-Ghazali: ‘You possess only whatever will not be lost in a shipwreck.’ Near Death Experiences have a similar message. In Lessons from the Light one woman reports that the being of light sent her back and, when she asked what she should do, she was told that she could bring with her to the next world only what she had learned of love and wisdom. This seems a general lesson from such experiences:

One task that NDErs seem to agree on is to learn about love. We do that in a world limited by time and space where we have to make our choices. Many NDErs will agree we have a free will and we are free to choose our way through our world. But since we are part of a Unity Universe our interconnectedness makes that everything we do has an effect somewhere else. All our actions, even the seemingly insignificant ones, ripple through the universe. They have an effect.

So, in the end, it seems that I will only be able to get a better hold of what it means to have an understanding heart by increasing my level of detachment by way of a strenuous and continuous attempt to live in as wise and loving a fashion as I am capable of.

The evidence from research in neuropsychology is clear now that focused and deliberate effort changes the brain, and some research is said to suggest that years of meditation can lead to a synchronisation of the two halves of the brain that creates a very significant change of consciousness. Given that the left-brain is connected with logic and the right-brain with deep intuition, perhaps this gives some idea of the possible physiological substrate of an understanding heart as well as of the prolonged effort that would be necessary to connect with it consistently in consciousness.

Easier said than done, then, but I suspect I have no choice.

So, it has become clear that the heart cannot be the seat of understanding if we coast comfortably along assuming that it is the natural home of feelings in a conventional sense. If it were, how could the understanding heart, for example, protect the flame of love we are encouraged to kindle there from the gusts of negative feeling that blow from the emotional centres of the brain? If we are treating these feelings as though they are what the heart is evolved to house all the time, we’re in trouble. The heart, in the sense we are concerned with here, can’t both harbour the gales of emotion and at the same time shield us from them. The light of love will end up inevitably and rapidly extinguished.

kenmare-reflections2

This is where the mirror image is so helpful. It assists us in separating out what is part of the heart in its true sense and what is not. An account of a dream I had many years ago might help here.

There is a lake in the mountains. By its shore a rabbit squats munching leaves or grass. Overhead a hawk flies. A slight breeze wrinkles the surface of the lake so the image of the sky and clouds is crumpled too. Only my eye is there to see this scene: I am not aware of my body at all.

To simplify somewhat, as the dream has other implications as well, after some work on its content I came to see it as an image of my mind. The hawk is my anger, the rabbit my fear, the surface of the lake my superficial consciousness. Not only the sky but the hawk and rabbit are reflected in it.

If I see the surface of the lake as who I truly am I will live my whole life a prey to fear, anger and all the other changes in the mental weather – the clouds, winds, rain and so on of my inscape – that disturb and distress me. But in essence I am not these things. They are only the contents of my consciousness just as they are not the lake itself in the dream, only reflections in or perturbations of its surface.

My mind is the lake itself and the more deeply I allow myself to experience its full reality the closer I get to the ground of my being, where the essence of who I truly am is most closely in touch with the foundation of my existence. If I live my life from this level of awareness I will be authentic, I will be who I really am in essence rather than the person I seem to be in appearance: I will be in touch with my understanding heart. Heaven knows, if I persevere sincerely enough for long enough, one day I might even become capable, before I die, of being my understanding heart, at least for fleeting moments here and there. 

Thanks to all those who have stuck with me this far and I’m sorry if the final conclusion seems disappointingly modest after all the high-flown expectations!

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