Ghosts and Other Intangibles

I am going to change tack now and this is prompted by the events of yesterday and a dream I had last night. Yesterday was an example of synchronicity, I was writing on the blog about buttering up and then went into town, lo and behold someone tried to butter me up. One cannot prove a causal link, but I am providing some anecdotal evidence, albeit sketchy, for synchronicity. This is an intangible and not really suitable for quantitative measurement. In my position I do not need to preserve scientific credibility any longer, because whatever I say here will not harm my job prospects any more. So why not?

I have long been interested in the workings of mind. If one uses MBTI, then I am an INFJ. Which means that introverted intuition is big in me. In fact, I scored top of the scale for this. Incidentally, despite the rarity of this type, the wife has been banging into an unrepresentative number of these INFJ weirdos of late. Statistically INFJs are the rarest of all types. When does introverted intuition become psychic, clairvoyant, savant, seer or hallucinatory? It is a moot point.

I have done a lot of meditation and a while back I bought myself a frontal lobe EEG, which measured electroencephalograms by using a fast Fourier transform (FFT) algorithm. Before I started using it, I wanted to understand its signal to noise characteristics. I took it apart, inspected the circuitry and downloaded the patent from Espacenet. I know a fair bit about instrument design and a bit about FFT. Happy that I understood the instrument I began experimenting, recording video and EEG data simultaneously. Like a mad scientist I tested it out on family and friends. The samples were not large, but sufficient to give indications. I kept lab books. What I found is that I can pretty much flat-line an EEG. There is only residual very low frequency and amplitude signal. The same “signature” is achieved doing Toltec dreaming practice and mantra induced Raja yoga states. Though the path to these states is different. I have very low wakeful EEG activity consistent with a reduced chitta and this is low compared to some others allegedly skilled in meditation. This machine works via the electromagnetic force and is therefore suited to only those things in which there is a change in this force for whatever reason. It says absolutely nothing about the quality of state attained. It measures a tangible, but that tangible does not speak in depth about an intangible. I can turn alpha and beta states on and off pretty much at will which suggests, though does not prove, that I have some control over my mind.

I’ll make a statement here and it goes something like this; it is from the intangibles in life that the quality of living stems, the je ne sais quoi is what gives life meaning and depth, they make life more exciting than scheduled and acquisitional living. If one is bold one could say that feelings change life from monochrome into HD. These intangible and unmeasurable things are the true richness of life. Overly rational mind is a bit barren.

Now in many there is a disconnect. The rational, evidence based scientist, does not often believe in ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. To admit such is to face ridicule. But put such a being in an old creaky house at night, alone, and the surety of their position may falter. They say one thing but when the hackles on the back of the neck rise, they are unconvinced by their rationalisation. They profess and opine one thing, but…

Traditionally ghosts are seen as remnants of beings once alive. There are a lot of paranormal programmes on TV which speak of demons and demonic portals from other dimensions. In some of these people use instruments. I’ll hazard a guess that these demon hunters don’t understand their instruments all that well. This subject sells, it sells movies and books, there is a fascination.

It would be interesting do a poll to find out what proportion of the population have seen a ghost or something supernatural. I personally have been aware of dead people on a number of occasions. My experiences do not match any movie portrayal.

There are other kinds of ghost of a more metaphorical nature. These are the ghosts of the living, of the missing and of unrealised potential. I am going to term these intangibles karmic ghosts (vide infra). These ghosts also haunt us.

It is in this intangible, the mystery beyond solution and past a solid evidential base where life gets interesting. Rarely is it spoken of, maybe after a few glasses of wine around an open fire, it is mentioned tentatively as a test. If the ground is fertile, people open up a little more.

I have now cued up the intangible, ghosts and karmic ghosts. If I can verbalise it, I’ll return to the latter first.

The Mind of Another

If someone looks a bit like us, dresses a bit like us and talks a bit like us, there is a kind of assumption that they may think like us, well a bit anyway. The truth is we may never know what is going on in the mind of another. Many have bought a Prisoner T-shirt at Portmeirion, I am wearing one now. The extent to which the sentiment of the T-shirt is embodied, varies. I have earned this T-shirt. I did not simply buy it. We all make assumptions everyday of our lives, some are better than others. Many are “experts” on where someone else is coming from, but without knowing their influences. Needless to say, that vocalised expertise may not be all that good. When I was much younger, I was an avid watcher of Kung Fu, something which my parents scoffed at. It spoke to me and not to them, they would talk over it and this pissed me off. As it turned out, it had a hint of prophecy for me. Some of the things we are drawn to in childhood, can play out later in life, thematically if not verbatim.

It is a common “parlour game” to speculate on the motivations of others. I have, over the years, sat in many meetings and I am prepared to bet that few had little if any idea of my motivations or what was going on in Alan-world. These days my mind is largely silent so even that is unexpected. I do not try to be secretive, but to explain all the connections would take a very long time, which most people do not have. Insofar as I can tell, many is the time when people have thought that I am “on the same page” as them, when I am not in the same book or even in the same section of the library. People assume nevertheless.

“Use don’t know mind”, is the recommendation of Zen master Seung Sahn and this goes a long way to erasing preconceptions. Couple this with; “A warrior has nothing to defend” and you are on your way to understanding yourself and relating to people in a deeper more meaningful way. It takes a little time and effort. Which is better, to know it all already or to explore?

Have a think about it, do you really and have you ever, known accurately what is going on in the mind of another? Even the people we think we know have things we are unaware of. I personally have been surprised on many occasions by the things people do and how they behave. In some cases, I have been shocked. People do change in life, sometimes for the better but not always. If you are a control junkie, you may seek to control everything, sometimes it can be better to let things evolve and have a few surprises along the way. If you want to find out, then asking is better than assuming. Any scientist knows that one needs to check data. Our detectors can need recalibrating from time to time, and noise or mind-stuff, limits their accuracy.

The only safe assumption is that we can never fully know the mind of another. This is a good place to start.

Selective Perception

Having cued up this with some quotes from Patanjali translations I am now going to turn to a favourite topic of mine. To kick off, if you do a Google or Bing image search for yoga, who will get images of young, white, lithe and perhaps attractive women in various poses. If you search for yogi, you will get images of Indian men in orange robes, yogi bear or somewhat emaciated older Indian men with beards in poses. You will not get a hefty middle aged white guy, I don’t have a groovy beard, and I cannot do any but the most basic asana. If you get my drift, even by naming the blog in the way I have done, it is in slight contrast to the search engine perceptions. There is a perception, a view of what yoga is.

According to Wiki:

“The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation), although the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated.”

This brings things perhaps a little more in line with what I have been banging on about here.

With some inevitability, each of us carry some preconceptions. This statement is logically accurate, for all but genuinely omniscient or liberated beings. Yet most forget or act as if they have no preconceptions whatsoever. The inevitability of preconception is neglected and remains not factored in to world view or world-version. This means that because there are preconceptions, the perception is likely to be coloured by these and therefore selective. Semantically any selective perception cannot cover all the set of possible perceptions and is therefore not objective. Selective perception looks at only one part of the wider picture.

People can feel affronted if one suggests that their perception is selective and not comprehensive. It is somehow an attack on intellect or something else, maybe their self-image, in which they have sage-like neo-omniscient understanding. Maybe they are expert and erudite scholastic geniuses who are clever and smart. To be affronted at a suggestion of selective perception is to demonstrate the validity and applicability of the suggestion in the first place, Q.E.D.

I don’t believe it possible for a human being to live and not to have at least one episode of miscommunication. In this someone might say something, and we take it in an entirely different way than it was intended. We get the wrong end of the stick, so to speak. We have selected the wrong perception and maybe gotten all huffy or sad. Selective perception is all around us. And there is no guarantee whatsoever, that I am effectively communicating here, because you as the reader will select some perception or other from what I am writing. I cannot control this sat here this windy November morning.

It is not possible for the human mind to hold all possible perceptions. Even were we able to hold many, we would still have select some operative perception, in order to function. Cognitively we would have to act from a perception of the world, which if we are honest, might be our best guess as to what is transpiring. What we can do is to try to develop our accuracy and acuity of perception by being inclusive and by understanding the observational instrument, which makes the perception, ourselves. Even should we do this we will still have to select a perception from which to operate.

The more open-minded we are, the greater our self-knowledge is, the better that perception is likely to be. If you are awake you will notice that I used the word better which is slightly conditional as opposed to the less coloured, accurate. I did this to demonstrate how comparison and ranking is introduced by our cognitive and social apparatus. Who is to say what is better? Is it consensus?

Our perception is filtered not only through our preconceptions but our baggage, our emotional baggage. It is also coloured by mood. If we are anxious then a simple word can send us into fight or flight mode. If we are self-righteous we can become indignant and offended at the drop of a hat. None of which may have anything to do with what is transpiring. If there is at least some detachment, then the emotive colouration can be lessened.

Pure awareness is just seeing, itself; although pure, it usually appears to operate through the perceiving mind.

I like to think of the perceiving instrument, which is both our biological apparatus, the sum total of our experiences and our own personal predilections. Each instrument has a cognitive apparatus and an intellect, the ability and capacity of these has variance in the population. Accurate perception is the signal and everything else is the noise. To extract the signal one has to work at increasing the signal to noise ratio. How does one do that? Well by calming the mind, reducing the chitta or internal dialogue and by becoming much less attached. Strangely in being less attached one can perceive more accurately and in greater depth. If we are prone to fly of the handle, our perceptions are unlikely to have acuity. Though we may demonstrated our love of drama, sometimes for all to see.

When you buy a computer or some other device, they can go wrong. The favoured method of fixing something with software is to turn it off and reboot. This means you have one control parameter. If you can’t turn off your mind, what can you do about any wayward software running? Not a lot. But if you can silence your mind, turn it off, you at least have a chance of a reboot and the ability to treat again whatever is transpiring

When one can select, with awareness that one is doing just that, selecting, one from any number of perceptions, there is a modicum of control over how we choose to interact with the world. Choice has more freedom than Pavlovian reflex or reaction. More choice in behaviour, leads to more freedom, which will point at moksha in the fullness of time.

Some Equanimity

One can become fully absorbed in any object, whether vast or infinitesimal.

As the patterning of consciousness subsides, a transparent way of seeing, called coalescence, saturates consciousness; like a jewel, it reflects equally whatever lies before it – whether subject, object, or act of perceiving.

The Yoga-Sûtra of Patañjali translated by Chip Hartranft

Modern living is more than a tad dramatic, we can lurch from one drama to another. It would be nice to experience some equanimity in the day to day. That is to unify meditation practice with actual living and sustain that state. Complete absorption {or zen} is difficult whilst the ‘phone rings, the text messages arrive or the kids nag. In order to do this one has to unplug both in physical terms and mentally. There is no point turning off the ‘phone or computer if your chitta is always concerned about what you might be missing. This patterning of consciousness towards what is or might be occurring, is a modern impediment and related to the fear of missing out. To start to let go of this patterning is to start to change life and even the perception of the world we live in.

It would be good to be open-minded and free of prejudice. To have clarity in life and perception thereof. Complete absorption in the task at hand develops concentration. And in this concentration minutiae, hitherto missed, can be seen. Patience increases and the “I must rush” mentality slowly fades, but not without fighting many a rear-guard action. There is a lot of drama associated with rushing and slapdash actions do not bring equanimity. It is socially acceptable to be rushed and stressed and hectic. Some consider it a badge of honour, the mark of a successful being. Unless one simplifies life, it is difficult to stop this whirligig living. One must choose between equanimity and being hectic. Being spread too thin prevents complete absorption, because the next beckons and one never finishes the current.

What patterns your consciousness?

Can these patterns be broken?