Part Two: The Free Spirit

  

Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Free Spirit”

Friedrich Nietzsche introduces the “Free Spirit” in ‘Human, All Too Human’, it’s subtitle being ‘A book for Free Spirits’. What resonates with me the most is Nietzsche’s take on the “Free Spirit”: one “who goes against the herd”, and “onwards along the path of wisdom” in order to “improve society.”

So, what does this mean, a “Free Spirit”? Nietzsche has first of all in mind the prototype of the“Enlightenment”philosopher, the ‘enlightened’ spirit who fights moral prejudices, religious fanaticism, superstition and arbitrariness of political power. By the way ‘Human, All Too Human’ is dedicated, in a significant way, to the memory of Voltaire on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of his death. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche will retrospectively say that by introducing the figure of the “Free Spirit” the goal was to “emancipate from a foreign body”, and this foreign body is idealism.

“Human, All-Too-Human” is the monument of a crisis. It calls itself a book for free spirits: almost every sentence in it expresses a victory — with this same book I freed myself of that which did not belongto my nature. Idealism does not belong to me: the title says, “Where you see ideal things, I see — things human, alas all-too-human!”…I know humanity better…In no other sense is the term “free spirit” to be understood here: a spirit that has become free, that has once again taken possession of itself.[i]

Nietzsche describes his underground approach very suggestively? This approach is undermining, methodical and irresistible and overcomes all idols, all ideals sanctified by the European culture whether in matters of morality, philosophy, religion or art, holiness, genius, moral superiority, essence, the absolute, etcetera… :

If one looks more closely, one discovers a merciless spirit that knows all the hideouts where the ideal is at home — where it has its castle keeps and final security, as it were. With a torch in hand that gives off absolutely no “torch and go” light, with a penetrating brightness this netherworldof the ideal is brought to light. It is war, but war without powder and smoke, without warlike poses, without pathos and dislocated limbs — all this would itself still be “idealism.” One error after another is put on ice, the ideal is no longer opposed — itfreezes…Here, for example, “the genius” freezes; a little ways further “the saint” freezes; beneath a thick icicle “the hero” freezes; in conclusion “faith” freezes, so-called “conviction” freezes; “pity” also cools down considerably — almost everywhere “the thing-in-itself” freezes…[ii]

“The thing-in-itself” is an allusion to the Kantian philosophy which, although critical and embodying the spirit of the Enlightenment par excellence, does not manage to permanently expel the last vestiges of a metaphysical thought, and continues to postulate an essence of things, beyond their simple appearance. So, if Nietzsche salutes the emancipatory momentum prompted by the Enlightenment, he warned against a criticism that would not go until the end, until its last consequences. A criticism that would depend still too much on dualistic thought patterns and the Christian matrix (there is a good, there is a bad; there is an essence, there are appearances; there is a relational, there are absolutes). The risk of an incomplete critique being to replace one thought content with another, without calling into question the type of thought, its hidden springs; the danger being basically to replace an idealism by another idealism, God by Man, Faith by Reason, a dogmatic belief by an equally dogmatic atheism. To Nietzsche, professed atheism by his contemporaries is very often an idealism which ignores itself. One of the figures of this atheism is, according to Nietzsche, the “Free Thinker” (“der Freidenker”) who he resolutely opposes to the “Free Spirit” (“der Freigeist” or “Freie Geist”) – one should be careful not to confuse those two!

One of the characteristics of the “Free Spirit” is its ability to break with cultural habits and to escape from the pernicious constraint of tradition:

Free Spirit a relative concept– He is called a free spirit who thinks differently from what, on the basis of his origin, environment, his class and profession, or on the basis of the dominant views of the age, would have been expected of him. He is the exception, the fettered spirits are the rule [ … ] – In any event, however, what characterizes the free spirit is not that his opinions are the more correct but that he has liberated himself from tradition, whether the outcome has been successful or a failure. As a rule, though, he will nonetheless have truth on his side, or at least the spirit of inquiry after truth: he demands reasons, the rest demand faith.[iii]

So, Nietzsche says that the criterion is not the correctness of the vision, nor the success of the enterprise, but rather the desire to emancipate and the pulling force that imply a courage and an increase of energy of which only a few are capable. And this will and force are constantly needed to break the lethargy of cultural evidence that constantly threatens to lull individuals into a prefabricated, stereotypical thought. In other words, the “Free Spirit” wants to break free from its cultural cage. Nietzsche uses in another passage of ‘Human, All Too Human’, a metaphor, that of  “The spider’s web”, in which habits surround us, imprison us. The “Free Spirit” must hate habits, rules, norms, conventions,  as so many intellectual laziness, narcotics that anesthetize the body as well as the mind. And this wrenching is painful because it’s actually a kind of self-mutilation. It is of one’s self that one must eradicate routines and inheritances. Bad habits, they lodged themselves in all the fibers of our body, in every nook and cranny of our brain:

That is why the free spirit hates all habituation and rules, everything enduring and definitive, that is why he sorrowfully again and again rends apart the net that surrounds him: even though he will as a consequence suffer numerous great and small wounds – for he has to rend those threads from himself, from his own body and soul. [iv]

Nietzsche uses a German term that characterizes the breaking attitude of the “Free Spirit” – or whoever aspires to be, for the mind is never free immediately, spontaneously; it is a “spirit becoming free” says Nietzsche, and becoming free continuously. The term that characterizes this attitude – its positioning marginal or out of step with the mainstream of the time, with the doxa – is  the term: “unzeitgemäß”. “Unzeitgemäß” literally means “who is not in conformity with the present time “, with the time, which is out of step, thus inopportune, untimely. Nietzsche loves this word and idea, and gives the elements of definition, of what he means by unzeitgemäß:

It was thus truly roving through wishes to imagine I might discover a true philosopher as an educator who could raise me above my insufficiencies insofar as these originated in the age and teach me again to be simpleand honestin thought and life, that is to say to be untimely, that word understood in the profoundest sense; for men have now become so complex and many-sided they are bound to become dishonest whenever they speak at all, make assertions and try to act in accordance with them.[v]

The “Free Spirit” does not live a comfortable life and he does not really care. To him, the essential factor of living close to his needs lies in the intensity that this lived experience brings him; a life that is attentive to its own laws of development:

[The Free Spirit] will, to be sure, destroy his earthly happiness through his courage; he will have to be an enemy to those he loves and to the institutions which have produced him; he may not spare men or things, even though he suffers when they suffer; he will be misunderstood and for long thought an ally of powers he abhors; however much he may strive after justice he is bound, according to the human limitations of his insight, to be unjust: but he may console himself with the words once employed by his great teacher, Schopenhauer: “A happy life is impossible: the highest that man can attain to is a heroic one.” [vi]

The “Free Spirit” is therefore untimely. Not only out of step with its time, but even more so, as suggested by this quote, contrary to his time, against his time. Why this radicality? Because, according to Nietzsche, it is necessary not only to challenge such and such aspects of its culture (for example: a trait of the German mentality, Bismarck’s government policy, a literary fashion), but more generally and more fundamentally to reverse the hierarchy of values ​​prevailing within the German and even European culture.

The inadequacy of the “Free Spirit” with its culture must be reduced, Nietzsche hopes, in a future time. In fact, Nietzsche very often refers to the “philosopher of the future” who, finally, will be understood by subsequent generations. Meanwhile, the “Free Spirit” is condemned to be misunderstood, condemnation that he accepts willingly,  according to Nietzsche, as an elector sign of its exceptionality:

We incomprehensible ones– Have we ever complained about being misunderstood, misjudged, misidentified, defamed, misheard, and ignored? This is precisely our lot– oh , for a long time yet! Let’s say until 1901, to be modest – this is also our distinction; we wouldn’t honor ourselves enough if we wanted it otherwise.[vii]

How ironic that Nietzsche evokes the year 1901 – he who died in 1900. As he wrote in Ecce Homo: “My time has not yet come, some people are born posthumous”[viii] and in the preface of the AntiChrist: “Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some people are born posthumously.”[ix] So, the “Free Spirit” is also untimely in its relation to the past, even to history. Basically, the “Free Spirit” is inactual by default, although he would like to be deeply actual; he aspires to shape the culture of the future. The “Free Spirit” must face the reality of life whatever the narcissistic wounds it causes. Nietzsche rejects idealistic worldviews, he accepts the share of cruelty, inequality, absurdities. What does life hold? According to Nietzsche, it basically accepts the Dionysian part which constitutes it and which animates all existence. To be able to accept that is to be intellectually honest and have courage. Knowledge remains an ideal, in fact, for Nietzsche, but an ideal for the strong, for the “Free Spirit”:

The final, most joyful, most excessively – exuberant yes to life is not only the highest insight, it is also the deepest, the one most strictly confirmed and supported by truth and science. Nothing is to be neglected, nothing is to be dispensed with — those aspects of life which Christians and other nihilists reject are of an even higher order in the ranking order of values than those, which the decadence-instinct might think good and call good. To grasp this requires courage and, as a condition of that, an excess of strength: for exactly as far as courage dares to venture forward, exactly to that degree one approaches the truth. Knowledge, the yea-saying to reality is just as much a necessity to the strong as cowardice and the flight from reality — the “ideal” — is to the weak, inspired by weakness…[x]

“How much truth can a spirit endure, how much can it dare?”[xi] It’s a question Nietzsche asks in Ecce Homo and which indicates the criterion of what is a “Free Spirit”. Truth, in this quote, does not mean, it has been well understood, an ideal of truth, but the capacity to accept reality as it is. The ideal of knowledge that animates the “Free Spirit” is not the quest for truth, with a great T – the truth as absolute knowledge, closed, definitive – for  Nietzsche it is the “gay knowledge” or “Gay Science.”  The formula seems to hold an oxymoron. This becomes even clearer when we look at the original language: in German, the work is entitled “Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft”: “The Joyous, Gay Science”.  How to interpret this idea of ​​”The Gay Science”? There is at first a form of provocation, the will to take the opposite of the German university philosophy and in particular that which is its core target: the “Idealist” philosophy, represented by Kant, Hegel or Fichte. The goal of these thinkers was precisely to make philosophy an absolute knowledge. Now, to Nietzsche, this science is anything but joyful, anything but liberating or light;  it encloses the individual in complex, oppressive, closed systems. Systems who, in the end, fail to satisfy the legitimate thirst for knowledge, that the human being feels, and which restrains his need for freedom. In place of this heavy science, Nietzsche therefore claims a joyful science. To what extent can science, knowledge, be joyful? Why should they be so, by the way? Because knowledge, to Nietzsche, must be considered for what it is: the product of a lived experience, of an experimentation, still in progress, which allows to adopt a multiplicity of points of view on the existence, and thus to give a greater amplitude to this existence. Life is not always joyful, of course, but the certainty, viscerally tested, of being able to draw from moments of exaltation, enjoyment, to be able to move upwards, inseparable from downward movements, inclined to a form of confidence, lightness, and serenity.  Nietzsche uses in many places of his work a specific word for this quiet state of assurance: the word “Heiterkeit”, which is translated in different ways in English: serenity, but also joy, good mood, serene mood, like a clear sky. The adjective “heiter” qualifies, in German, a sky which no cloud obscures. And indeed, Nietzsche often makes this association between the state of the sky and his own state of mind. A serene sky is to him more and more indispensable, a condition of physical and mental health. Well, Nietzsche will find this sky, this favorable climate, in Genoa, Italy, during the winter of 1881-1882, which are months of calmness on the front of his disease and where he will write most of the Gay Science – in particular during the month of January, 1882. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche returns to the genesis of Gay Science, six years later, in passing this biographical detail:

“Daybreak” is a yea-saying book, deep, but bright and kind. The same applies once more and in the highest degree to the gaya scienza: in almost every sentence of this book profoundness and playfulness go softly hand in hand. A verse, which expresses my thankfulness for the most wonderful month of January I have ever experienced – the whole book is a gift – sufficiently reveals from out of what depths the “science” here has become gay:

You who with a fiery spear

Melt the ice of my soul,

So that it roars down to the sea

Rushing toward its highest hope:

Ever brighter and even healthier,

Free in most loving necessity —

Thus it praises your wonders

Fairest January [xii]

“Profoundness and playfulness goes softly hand in hand,” says Nietzsche nicely in this quote: it is, again, the idea that lightness is acquired at the price of many experiments, at the price of a wrenching out of gravity; a wrenching sometimes painful, but whose pain ends up being overcome. We can be happy and deep, it is not contradictory, it is even probably complementary.

So what the“gaya scienza”says is that life is the source of our values and not the truth. This makes me think of a famous quote of Parker Palmer:

“Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” [xiii]

The drive and affective determinations are paramount, it is they who produce the thoughts and various interpretations of reality. And among these impulses, Nietzsche values ​​those that stimulate creativity, pugnacity, and self-transcendence.

In the aphorism §324 of Gay Science, Nietzsche writes:

‘Life as a means to knowledge’ — with this principle in one’s heart one can not only live bravely but also live gaily and laugh gaily![xiv]

We tried in this part to make a small inventory, non-exhaustive, of the main features of the “Free Spirit”: he/she has the strength and the courage to break with traditions, forms of cultural habituation, even, and especially, with the habits who have insinuated themselves into their own fibers; it is an untimely spirit, who navigates against the current, who puts an offbeat and is skeptical regarding his time, which abstains from all hypes; it is a viscerally anti-idealistic mind, who considers that ideals are inventions designed to divert us from life; it is a light spirit, because it has been able to emancipate itself from the authority prohibitions and absolutes (political, religious or moral), light also because he/she is the bearer of a “gay knowing” (the fact that life is an experiment and that it belongs to him/her, the free spirit, to be the active subject of knowledge and to set one’s own scale of values). Let’s finally add that the free spirit understands that one can only acquire all these features, in struggle, trial and error, falling and rising up and mostly in loneliness.

 

Henry Nelson Wieman’s view on Nietzsche’s “Free Spirit”: the “Creative Self”

Nietzsche’s point of view of the “Free Spirit” brings me to Henry Nelson Wieman’stake on the “Creative Self”. Warning: what I’ll write in the sections of this essay regarding Henry Nelson Wieman are my interpretations of Nelson Wieman’s philosophy based on some of his books and, mainly, of what I’ve learned through the help of my mentor, Charles Leroy ‘Charlie’ Palmgren, whose mentor precisely was Henry Nelson Wieman:

In 1966, Wieman met and formed a working relationship with Dr. Erle Fitz, a practicing psychiatrist, and Dr. Charlie Palmgren. Together, the three founded the Center for Creative InterChange. Fitz, Palmgren, and Wieman met regularly in Wieman’s home to focus on how creative interchange could be the basis for psychotherapy, applied behavioral sciences, and organizational development. After Wieman’s death in 1975, Palmgren continued to nurture the creative interchange philosophy, identifying the conditions necessary for the CI process to occur and developing tools to help people remove the barriers to those conditions. [xv]

Charlie Palmgren puts it this way:

We were born with our Creative Self and we are conditioned into a created self. Our Creative Self enters the world aware. That awareness is conditioned into a conscious created-self. They are not two “separate selves.” They are two aspects of the same self. Unfortunately, in the conditioning process most of us end up being conscious of and identifying with the conscious aspect of our Creative Self. In short, we become conscious at the expense of remaining aware of our awareness.[xvi]

Indeed, Henry Nelson Wieman underlines the importance of being and staying aware. Awareness is obtained through observation of reality. To understand this ‘reality’ awareness is combined with consciousness:

All observation involves sense experience, but it is sense experience combined with some interpretation. This interpretation may bring into action the resources gathered by a lifetime devoted to absorbing thousands of years of culture combined with emerging insights rising out of profound struggles to find the way of life for humankind. [xvii]

The “Creative Self” is, to Wieman, aware and conscious and holds itself subject to correction and receptive to ever-deeper insights that may help to save him from a misdirected commitment. Awareness and Consciousness are both needed. In Wieman’s words: Sense experience (Awareness) is interpreted (Consciousness) in context. In other words awareness is giving meaning by the way the individual interprets it. This interpretation is done using one’s individual mindset. So, the ‘Creative Self’, who transforms the created self, is my interpretation of what Nietzsche calls the ‘Free Spirit’. This “Creative Self” is not the prisoner of the Vicious Circle” as the “Free Spirit” is not a prisoner of its foreign body(or “the spiders web”). Both, the Vicious Circleand the foreign body are metaphors for the actual created self. The “Creative Self” should continuously transform this created self towards the Original Self. Wieman writes that man is made for this creative transformation:

Man is made for creative transformation as a bird is made for flight. To be sure he is in a cage much of the time. The bars of the cage are the resistances to creative transformation, which are present in himself and in the world round about. Also, like most birds long confined, he settles down in time     and loses both the desire and the ability to undergo creative transformation. But in childhood creativity dominates. The mind expands its range of knowledge and power of control, its appreciative understanding of other minds and its participation in cultural heritage. At no other time there is so much expansion and enrichment of the mind and the world, which the mind can appreciate. But resistances are encountered which bring on anxiety, frustration, failure and misunderstanding. To avoid suffering, the mind becomes evasive and creativity dies down. The bird ceases to beat against the bars of the cage.[xviii]

This means that the “Creative Self” is in the cage of its created self much of the time. Charlie Palmgren has identified this cage and coined it the Vicious Circle:

Consider the following logic spiral. When an adult’s demands are disrupted, frustration sets in. If the demands are important enough, or if such disruption occurs repeatedly, stress erupts, and the adult fight-or-flight emotions of anxiety, hostility, shame and blame are triggered. Once caught in this negativity, the adult begins to reject herself and her own behavior.  Because such rejection is in direct violation of her sense of worth, the cycle begins again of conditional worth, striving to overcome inadequacy, gaming, demands and expectations, frustration and stress. This is the vicious circle. And unfortunately, we are all caught in it to varying degrees at various times in our lives.[xix]

When we are locked up in our Vicious Circle, we are disconnected from our Intrinsic Worth. Charlie Palmgren beliefs that this human worth is the capacity to participate in transforming creativity [i.e. Creative Interchange]:

Human worth is our potential to continually expand what any one of us can know, appreciate, imagine and do. We are designed especially for this transformative process – just as the eagle was designed for flight. The ability to learn, grow, change, develop, imagine, and discover is what constitutes our human worth and fulfills the purpose of our design. While our worth originates in this capacity, we live out of our worth by engaging in transforming creativity. In this way, human worth is both about “being” and “doing”.[xx]

Our purpose should be to continually transform our created self towards our Original Selfthrough our “Creative Self. In order to be able to do so, we must be committed to the transformative process, to Creative Interchange; and in order to commit ourselves to creative interchange, three conditions should, according to Henry Nelson Wieman, be met:

The first of these three required conditions is not in itself sufficient. It is one necessary condition when taken in conjunction with the other two. It is the requirement that worshipful commitment be directed to what is accessible to empirical inquiry. […]

A second condition must be met if worship is to combine ultimate commitment with a mind open to correction and continuous inquiry. The commitment must be to what creates in me appreciative understanding of the basic values motivating the lives of other people with whom I deal. […] When ultimate commitment is given to this creative kind of interchange, my mind is open to new insights, to learning, to correction, and to inquiry […]

The third condition required for an ultimate commitment combining the most complete self-giving with a mind open to inquiry and subject to correction is to practice commitment to creative interchange on two levels. […] If one can be mistaken, there is a truth that can be missed. This is the certainty sustaining the two-level commitment, giving it a foundation at the deeper level more secure than any other. […] In the two-level commitment one is committed to the good, win or lose. […][xxi]

I love Charlie Palmgren’s paraphrase of Wieman’s two-level commitment:

The Original [Creative] Self and the created self can become integrated into a whole self that is both being and becoming. You can be a chicken and an eagle […]

To integrate our self and become mutually supportive of others who are being [becoming] their original selves, we must practice a two-fold commitment. It isn’t enough to be committed to being and doing our best to be open to change, growth, and transformation. It isn’t sufficient to be committed to ongoing learning and transformation if we’re unwilling to be and act on the best we now know.[xxii]

So, Henry Nelson Wieman spoke of the need for two levels of commitment. I like to present those two levels this way, making a synergy between the definitions of Henry Nelson and Charlie:

  1. On the first level we should commit ourselves to the best we now know (empirically, scientifically, experientially) about the source of human good, the “Creative Self”; to that which transforms human life by expanding the range of what we know, appreciate, imagine and control from the inside-out; and
  2. On the second and deeper level, we must finally (ultimately in the words of Henry Nelson Wieman) be committed to whatever it is that in fact transforms human life in the direction of the better, no matter how different that operating reality, which is creative interchange, may be from our ideas about it.

So our interpretation of Nietzsche’s “Free Spirit” is Wieman’s “Creative Self”, who is committed to be and act on the best he/she now knows and stays open to the transforming power of Creative Interchange in order to upgrade that best he/she now knows. So the “Creative Self” is Authentic and Humble, stays open and trusts Creative Interchange, which is, to me, Yoda’sForce; “May the Force be with you!”

 

Nietzsche’s “Free Spirit” vs. Wieman’s “Creative Self”

Both – the “Free Spirit” and the “Creative Self” – are what Nietzsche called ‘inactual’ and therefor do not live a comfortable life. And both do not really care since both know that their lived experience will develop them to a ‘higher’ level. Both know that one has to break “the spider web” of habits.

To become a “Free Spirit” and to live from your “Creative Self”, both, Nietzsche and Wieman underline that courage is needed. Wieman add a second characteristic, which is, I assume, not Nietzsche’s cup of tea: humility. Being “untimely” means for Nietzsche: “being again to be simple and honest in thought and life”, which combines the ideas of being authentic and humble of Henry Nelson Wieman.

Both the “Free Spirit” and the “Creative Self” aspire to shape the future. Nietzsche and Wieman understood that the inadequacy of the “Free Spirit” c.q. “Creative Self” with its culture must be reduced. Therefor a transformation of the culture – a culture paradigm shift – is needed.

Friedrich Nietzsche very often refers to the “philosopher of the future”. I hope you’ll understand by now that to me that philosopher is Henry Nelson Wieman.

To Nietzsche and Wieman, knowledge must be considered for what it is: the product of a lived experience, of an experimentation, still in progress, which allows to adopt a multiplicity of points of view on the existence, and thus to give a greater amplitude to this existence by obtaining wisdom.

Both, Nietzsche and Wieman reject idealistic worldviews, they accept the reality of cruelty, inequality and absurdities. Nietzsche states that profoundness and playfulness goes hand in hand, while Wieman states that “We have to live richly with dark realities.” [xxiii]

While Nietzsche’s “Free Spirit” has once again taken position of itself, Wieman’s ‘Creative Self’ evolves the created self in the direction of the “Original Self”; so Wieman’s “Creative Self” is capable of creating – once again – the “Original Self”, the Self we’re born.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

[i]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Ecce Homo: How One becomes how One Is. Translation by Thomas Wayne. New York, NY; Algora Publishing, 2004, p. 58.

[ii]Ibid. pp. 58-59.

[iii]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Human, All Too Human, A Book for Free Spirits, Translation by R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996, Aphorism 225.

[iv]Ibid. Aphorism 427.

[v]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Untimely Meditations, Translation by R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997, Schopenhauer as Educator, p. 133.

[vi]Ibid., page 153

[vii]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Gay Science, Translation by Josefine Nauckoff. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001, Aphorism 371

[viii]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Ecce Homo: How One becomes how One Is. Op. cit. p. 40.

[ix]Nietzsche, Friedrich, The AntiChrist: A  Curse on Christianity. Translation by Thomas Wayne. New York, NY; Algora Publishing, 2004, page 101.

[x]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Ecce Homo: How One becomes how One Is. Op. cit. p. 50.

[xi]Ibid. p. 8.

[xii]Ibid. p. 66.

[xiii]Palmer, Parker J. Let your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a trademark of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2000, Chapter 1, p. 5.

[xiv]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Gay Science, Op. cit. Aphorism 324, p. 181.

[xv]http://iichange.net/uploads/docs/Henry%20Nelson%20Wieman.pdfop.cit.

[xvi]Palmgren, Charles. http://www.creativeinterchange.org/?p=168

[xvii]Wieman, Henry, Nelson. Commitment for Theological Inquiry, Journal of Religion, Vol XLII (July, 1962) No. 3, pp. 171-184.

[xviii]Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment.Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958. p. 72.

[xix]Hagan, Stacie and Palmgren, Charlie. The Chicken Conspiracy. Breaking the Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore, MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998, p. 77.

[xx]Ibid. p. 21.

[xxi]Wieman, Henry Nelson. Seeking the Faith for a New Age. Essays on the Interdependence of Religion, Science and Philosphy. Edited and Introduced by Heppler, Cedric. L. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1975. pp. 134-142.

[xxii]Palmgren, Charlie. Ascent of the Eagle. Being and Becoming your Best.Dayton, OH: Innovative InterChange Press, 2008. p. 129.

[xxiii]Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment. Op. cit. pp. 56-77.

PART III

In these series of columns I’m using a lot of paragraphs of “Beyond The Self’[i] and add comments regarding the links I see with the Creative Interchange process. To me, Creative Interchange, is a process of inner transformation – and after reading this book I add – not only through dialogue, also through meditation. I’ve put my comments between vertical brackets and in italic. These series will give you a good insight of the content of the book and I recommend you to read and comment this brilliant book yourself.

[i]M. Ricard and W. Singer, Beyond the Self: conversations between Buddhism and neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017.

 

CHAPTER 4:

INVESTIGATING THE SELF

The Buddhist monk deconstructs the idea of the unitary, autonomous self, whereas the neuroscientist confirms that no cerebral zone takes on a central role in the brain. The idea of the self as conductor is a convenient illusion to function in existence.

Let’s first examine why we entertain the feeling that we have an autonomous self. At any time, I feel that I exist, that I am cold or hot, hungry or replete. At every moment, the ‘I’ represents the subjective, immediate component of my experience.

There is also the story of my life, which defines me as a person. This is the continuum of all that I have experienced through time. The ‘person’ is the complex, dynamic story line of our stream of consciousness.

These two aspects, the real-time ‘I’ and the experiential continuum of the ‘person’ enable us to function in this world. There is no problem with these two. But then we add something else: the concept of an autonomous self.

We know that our body and mind change at every moment. [cf. the episode in one of the Systems Thinking in Action Key Note videos of Peter Senge when he asks the audience: “What is this?”, showing his right hand. He goes then on with is reasoning, this is not a ‘hand’, it’s a process] Yet we think that something within all this defines us now and has defined us through our life. We refer to this as ‘me’, ‘self’ or ‘ego’. Not content to be a unique continuum of experience, we assume that at the core of it all, there is a separate, unitary entity that is our true self, something like a boat that travels along the river of our experience.

Once we believe in such a self-entity, with which we identify, we want to protect it and fear its disappearance. This powerful attachment to the notion of self engenders the notion of ‘mine’: ‘my’ body, ‘my’ name, ‘my’ friends, and so on. [cf. the paragraphs in Anthony de Mello’s book “Awareness” regarding our ‘labels’]

We cannot but conceive that this self is a distinct, unitary entity, and despite the fact that our body and mind undergo ceaseless transformations, we obstinately assign to this self the qualities of permanence, uniqueness, and autonomy. The main effect of this belief is not a genuine sense of confidence but, paradoxically, an increased vulnerability. First by assuming that the ego is an autonomous, separate, unitary entity in the midst of our experience, we are basically at odds with reality. We only exist through interdependence, relations, mutual causality, and numberless causes and conditions. Our happiness matters of course, but it can only happen through and with the happiness of others. [cf. the ‘Purpose game’ I’ve learned from Charlie and I’ve ‘run’ hundreds of times to ‘prove’ that point!] Furthermore, the self becomes a constant target for gain and loss, pleasure and pain, praise and criticism, and so on. We feel that the self must be protected and satisfied at all costs. We feel aversion to anything that threatens the self and attraction to whatever pleases and reinforces it. This two basic impulses of attraction and repulsion give birth to a whole see of conflicting emotions – anger, craving, arrogance, jealousy, to name but a few – and, in the end, suffering. [cf. we are prisoner of our ‘demands and expectations’ box or ‘nine-dot’ box of our personal Vicious Circle and try to hide in our constructed, created ‘self’]

On one hand, it is natural and desirable to protect one’s life, avoid suffering, and strive to genuine happiness; on the other, it is a dysfunctional drive to protect the ego. From that exacerbated self-centeredness comes most afflictive mental states. When we entrench ourselves in self-centeredness, we also create a much deeper divide between the world and us.

An example. Let’s compare the stream of consciousness to the Rhine River. It has of course a whole history, but it is also changing all the time – “One can never step twice in the same river,” said Heraclitus – and there is no such thing as a “Rhine’ entity.

 

THE SELF EXISTS IN A CONVENTIONAL WAY

There is indeed a conventional, nominal self-attached to our body and mind. The concept is fine and functional as long as we don’t conceive it as being a kind of central, autonomous, lasting entity that constitutes the heart of our being.

The misconceived self is a projection, not an integral part of you that exists on its own. It is a mental construct detached form the roots of the person, and therefor needs continuous reassurance, reconfirmation, and efforts to make it appear as what you want it to be.

The conventional self is a mental projection. The Buddhist analytical approach aims at deconstructing this mental fabrication through logical and experiential investigation and comes to the conclusion that we are not that imaginary entity with which we identify ourselves but rather a continuous, dynamic stream of experience.

And we are certainly people, with a continuum of experience relating to a body and the outer world. Yet this continuum is in perpetual transformation, and we cannot find anywhere a singular well-circumscribed entity that would be the ‘one’, the concrete essence of our being. [cf. we are a created, though (hopefully) evolving, self toward an original self, a metaphor for our Intrinsic Worth/Self. Thus we are an ‘ongoing process’ surfing on the Creative Interchange Process]

 

THE SELF AND FREEDOM

The more sustained feeling of freedom is being unconstrained, is being in harmony with oneself. Real freedom is when the various drives, desires, and constraints within oneself are in harmony with one another. We are programmed to strive for novelty [i.e. we are born with the Creative Interchange Process], and the same time we have a strong inclination for bonding and stability [i.e. we are prisoner of the Vicious Circle] because, in such situations, there is no need for the intervention of the intentional self to settle conflicts by initiating a change. [i.e. we cling to the status quo]

These internal conflicts are basically related to two fundamental impulses of attractionto what is deemed pleasurable and repulsiontoward the opposite.

Inner conflicts are also unnecessarily created by an exacerbated sense of self-importance, as it becomes increasingly demanding. If you don’t feel the need to defend the self because you have understood its illusory nature, then you will be much less prone to fear and inner conflicts. True freedom means to be free from the diktats of this self [i.e. the demands and expectations of the Vicious Circle], rather than following every single fanciful thought that comes to mind. [i.e. jump to conclusion caused by intolerance for ambiguity]

 

WEAK SELF, STRONG MIND

It seems that many problems arise if one has a weak self that depends too much on others to define itself. Only then does one enter the vicious circle [sic!] of wanting and repulsion.

There can be quite different reasons for this. Some people are tormented by the feeling that they are unworthy of being loved, they lack good qualities, and they are not made for happiness. These feelings are usually the result of scorn or repeated criticism and contempt by parents or relatives. Added to this is a feeling of guilt: Such people judge themselves responsible for the imperfections attributed to them. [i.e. they are victim of their personal outside-in inducted Vicious Circle] Besieged by these negative thoughts, they constantly blame themselves and feel cut off from other people. For these people to go from despair to the desire to recover in life, we must help them establish a warmer relationship with themselves and to feel compassion for their own suffering instead of judging themselves harshly. From there, they will also be able to improve their relations with others as well. The benefits of cultivating self-compassion have been clearly shown by researchers and therapists such as Paul Gilbert and Kristin Neff.[i]

The illusory self wants to assert its existence by either over-demanding or defending itself as victim. A person who is not preoccupied by self-image, self-assertion, and so on is actually much more confident, neither a narcissist nor a victim. A person with transparent self is not vulnerable to pleasant and unpleasant circumstances, praise and criticism, good and bad image, and the like.

A so-called strong ego is in fact only strong in grasping and therefore more vulnerable because, within its self-centered universe, everything becomes either a threat or an object of craving. In addition, the stronger the ego, the larger the target you offer the arrows of outer and inner disturbances. Praise preoccupies you as much as criticism because it inflates your ego further and makes you worry about losing your good reputation. When ego grasping dissolves, the target disappears and you stay at peace.

The ego can attain only a contrived confidence built on unreliable attributes such as power, success, beauty, and fame and on the image that we want to project onto others.  The sense of security derived from that illusion is eminently fragile. When things change and the gap with reality becomes too wide, the ego becomes irritated and depressed, freezes up, or falters. Self-confidence collapses, and all that is left is frustration and suffering. The fall of Narcissus is a painful one.

I think the main point here is to distinguish between a strong self and a strong mind. A strong selfcomes with excessive self-centeredness and a reified perception of a self-entity. A strong mind is a resilient mind, a free mind, a wise mind that is skillful in dealing with whatever comes one’s way in life, a mind that is not swayed by anger, craving, envy, or other mental disturbances. [i.e. a mind constantly transformed by living Creative Interchange from within]

By understanding the fundamental interdependence of oneself and others, of oneself and the world, we form the logical ground for developing altruistic love and compassion [through living Creative Interchange from within].

The clearer your realization that the self has a merely conventional existence, the less vulnerable you will be and the greater inner freedom you will gain.

Someone who can rest in a natural, unperturbed, selfless state of mind is not at all indifferent to others and aloof from the outer world but can rely on readily available inner resources [the characteristics and skills of the Creative Interchange process].

To recognize the effects of self-clinging clearly, you need to somehow let the self manifest in its full force and observe what it does in your mind. Then you have to investigate its nature and, having recognized its conceptual nature, deconstruct it. In other words, you should not ignore it but observe how it works and transform it into a state of freedom. At this point, genuine confidence will arise.

A person whom we call free is thus called because that person is free of all kind of fetters, whether the inner fetters of clinging or the outer fetters that come from unfavorable circumstances. Self-reliance comes with freedom, not with an emperor-like, overarching ego.

 

EGO AND EGOLESSNESS

People with a transparent self feel much more connected to others because many of our problems come from creating an artificial gap between self and others as being fundamentally separate entities. By doing so, the self negates its interdependence with the world and wants to confine itself within the bubble of the ego. The French existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre wrote “L’enfer c’est l’autre” (Hell is the other), Buddhism rather says, “Hell is the self”. Not the functional conventional self, but the dysfunctional superimposed self that we take as real and that we let rule our mind.

You can only truly be at home within the freedom of pure awareness, not within the bubble of self-grasping. The ego bubble [metaphorically the ‘Nine Dots’ or ‘Demands and expectations’ box of the Vicious Circle model] is a narrow mental space in which everything gravitates around the‘I.’ You actually form that bubble with the illusory hope that it will be easier to protect yourself within the confined space that constitutes a kind of refuge for the ego [metaphorically the cage of the bird in Henry Nelson Wieman’s Man’s Ultimate Commitment]. In fact, you have built an inner jail in which you are at mercy of the endless thoughts, hopes, and fears that keep swirling around within that bubble. This feeds an exacerbated feeling of self-importance and self-centeredness that thinks of nothing but achieving its immediate satisfaction, with little concern for others and the world, except for the ways in which it might use them or be affected by them.

People who are engrossed in self-centeredness often want you to experience the world the same way they do, lest they feel rejected. For instance, some may entertain pessimistic views about the world and other people, which lead them to distrust others. To feel appreciated, they want you to enter their ego bubble, adopt the same attitude as them, and function just like them. We could be quite prepared to earnestly take their viewpoint into consideration and be open to their way of being [i.e. appreciatively understanding their mindset], but we can’t adopt their way of thinking and worldview just to make them happy [i.e. appreciatively understanding a mindset does not equal adopting that mindset!].

 

THE SCOURGE OF RUMINATION

It is largely believed that psychoanalysis tries to create an integrated self, but the procedure differs radically from contemplative strategies. It emphasizes the role of the self, encourages the self to become the judge, and, contrary to meditation, encourages rumination, the exploration of conflicts.

In psychoanalysis, it’s indeed always about me, me, me, my dreams, my feelings and my fears with a lot of rumination about the past and anticipation about the future. The psychoanalytic approach is like trying to find some sort of normalcy within the ego bubble instead of breaking free of that bubble.

In Buddhist practice, one wants to break free from these entanglements, not just come to terms with them. The limpid awareness of the present moment is a complete freedom from ego grasping and rumination. Rumination is the scourge of meditative practice and inner freedom. Now, rumination should not be confused with analytical meditations, which will, for instance, deconstruct the concept of the independent self. Rumination is also different from the vigilant observation of your states of mind that will allow you to recognize the arising of an afflictive emotion and defuse the chain of reaction that usually occurs.

One of the outcomes of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is to distance oneself from those ruminations through mindfulness meditation.

Proper meditation cannot be considered a selfish endeavor since one of its main goals is to get rid of selfishness. Rumination is a troublemaker because it feeds endless chains of thought that keep people exclusively preoccupied with themselves. This is the opposite of remaining in the freshness of the present moment, in which past thoughts are gone and future thoughts have not yet arisen. You simply remain in pure awareness. Whatever thoughts might arise, you let tem go without leaving a trace. This is freedom.

The constructive effects of meditation must be maintained during the post meditation period. Meditation is a technique to escape from the vicious circle of negative thoughts, distrust, revenge, and deception. Those mental fabrications are contagious across the members of a social group. Once one begins to take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – as Ghandi said, if one keeps going on doing so, the whole world will become toothless and blind. The contemplative methods are created precisely to escape the vicious circle and negative thoughts.

Buddhists say that the signs of a successful meditation practice are a well-tamed mind, a vanishing of afflictive mental states, and a conduct that is in harmony with the inner qualities one has endeavored to cultivate. Meditation practice has to translate into real, gradual, lasting change in the way you experience your own inner life and the outer world.

 

WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?

Neurobiological evidence shows that there is no Cartesian center in the brain. Rather, we face a highly distributed system that consists of multiple interconnected modules that operate in parallel, each devoted to specific cognitive or executive functions. These subsystems cooperate in ever-changing constellations depending on the tasks that are to be accomplished, and this dynamic coordination is achieved through self-organizing interactions within the networks rather than through a top-down orchestration by a superordinate command center.

Our intuition suggests that our self or our mind is somehow at the origin of our thoughts, plans and actions. It is only through neuroscientific exploration that we discover that there is no singular locus in the brain where this intentional agent could be located. All we observe are ever-changing dynamic states of an extremely complex network of densely connected neurons that manifests themselves in observable behavior and subjective experiences.

The brain is a complex system with nonlinear, self-organizing dynamics. It has been adapted by evolution, education, and experience to pursue certain goals and actually can accomplish all the functions we attribute tot the self – at least this position is held by the majority of cognitive neuroscientists today. Those nonlinear, self-organizing systems are creative of behavior that a naïve observer would characterize as intentional, goal directed, and sensible. We tend to deny that such properties can emerge from the dynamics of our brains because we have intuition for the complexity and nonlinearity of this organ.

We need to translate a complex process into something simpler and that we feel more comfortable imagining that there is a unitary entity that is in charge. The problems start when you conceptualize this process as being a truly existent, distinct entity.[ii]

Mental constructs like the self or ego provide simplifying explanations, but at some point they stop being helpful because they do not reflect reality. Conversely, if instead of perceiving the ego as an inner lord we see it as an interdependent stream of dynamic experience, it might be a bit uncomfortable at first, but it helps to free us from suffering, for the very reason that it offers a vision more attuned to reality

 

CHAPTER 5:

FREE WILL, RESPONSIBILITY, AND JUSTICE

 

THE PROCESS OF DECISION MAKING

Does free will exist? If all our decisions are made by neuronal processes of which we are only partly conscious, are we really responsible for our actions?

For a neurobiologist, it is obvious that neuronal processes that take place in his brain prepare everything a person does. As far as we know, these processes follow the laws of nature, including the principle of causality.

Neurobiology posit that all mental processes – including those that appear to be remote from material processes such as having feelings, reaching decisions, planning, perceiving, and being conscious – follow neuronal processes rather than initiate them. In such a framework of explanations, it is inconceivable that an immaterial mental entity makes the neural network execute what this entity wants them to do to generate an action. Neurobiology takes the strong position that whatever enters our consciousness is the consequence of neuronal activity in the large number of centers in the brain that need to cooperate to produce the specific states that we experience as perceptions, decisions, feelings, judgments, or will. Thus, from this perspective, all mental phenomena are the consequence and notthe cause of neuronal processes.

Isn’t it true that all you can really speak about are correlations between neural processes and mental events? The question of causality does not appear to have been solved so far. I may just as well argue that directly training the mind affects neuroplasticity. Se there seem to be a two-way, mutual causation.

Neurobiology has more than just correlational evidence. Specific lesions lead to specific loss of function, and electrical or pharmacological stimulation of particular brain systems induce specific mental phenomena and feelings of well-being or fear, and modifies perceptions and actions in predictable ways. If you train your mind, there must be a motivation for you to do so. This motivation is a reflection of a particular neuronal state (i.e., specific neuronal activity patterns that eventually generate the motivation patterns that make you sit and contemplate). Thus, once sufficient motivation has built up, you will sit and engage in mental training, which is again associated with specific activation patterns. If sustained over a sufficient long period of time, these patterns in turn will induce changes in the couplings among neurons and thereby generate long-term modifications of brain functions – just as training a movement will change the brain architectures responsible for the generation of the movement.

The arguments of others also have a neuronal correlate in the brain of the receiver. A verbal argument is translated by the ear into neuronal activity; this is decoded semantically in the speech centers of the brain, and the resulting neuronal activation patterns then impact other brain centers and ultimately those that prepare the decision.

Thus, neuronal activity in the decision networks can converge toward a result – the decision – before the subjects become aware of having decided. [I have the strong impression that the authors do not appreciate enough the difference between the concepts conclusion and decision. In my mind I ‘hear’ the sentence as follows: “Thus, neuronal activity in the conclusion networks can converge toward result – the conclusion – before the subjects become aware of having concluded]

The ‘deliberator’ is, however, a neuronal network, and the outcome of the deliberation, the decision [conclusion] is the consequence of a neuronal process that is in turn determined by the sequence of immediately preceding processes. Thus, the outcome of this process depends on all the variables that have shaped the functional architecture of the brain in the past: genetic predispositions, epigenetic effects of early imprinting, the sum of past experiences, and the present constellation of external stimuli. In brief, a pending decision [conclusion] is influenced by all the variables, that determine how a particular brain is programmed and all the influences that act on the brain in the moment of making the decision [conclusion].

Therefor, even if during the few tenths of a second preceding a decision [in fact aconclusion] there has been unconscious processing in the brain, the final decision is essentially the culminating point of a life-long experience.[to me (JR) I appreciatively understand all this as that the brain concludes and the free will decides. As being said the two authors are not seeing clear enough the difference between concluding and deciding, at least Wolf seem to see both as a mutual synonym, which they are not].

This also means that through mind training, we can fashion our conscious and unconscious processes, our ways of thinking, emotions, moods, and eventually our habitual tendencies. In particular, we are responsible for taking this process in the right direction and cultivating a moral, constructive way of being rather than pursuing unethical, harmful behavior. [A sound habit, to me (JR) is to have between the conclusion – of the brain – and the decision of the will a pause, during which we think things through using our values and thus our valuing consciousness].

The way we decide [conclude], the way our neuronal machinery converges toward a decision [conclusion], depends on all the variables that influence the dynamic state of the brain in the moment of the decision [conclusion]. Several factors have shaped the functional architecture of our brains – genes, developmental processes, education, experiences – as well as the influences of the recent past – arguments, context, emotional dispositions, and countless others.

Most people have limited awareness of their own consciousness, of the tiny mental process that keep occurring in the mind, as well as little, if no, perception of the pure awareness that is always present beneath mental constructs. While focusing on neurons and brain structure, we neglect to experience our own consciousness in the present moment, which could give us valuable insights into the nature of consciousness.

What you allude to here is maybe a form of meta-consciousness, the ability to be aware of being aware. To cultivate this meta-consciousness surely requires one to take a step back and escape from the hamster wheel, but why should reflections about underlying neuronal processes distract one from cultivating meta-awareness?

Because the capacity of working memory is limited and shows interindividual variability, the number of arguments that can be held simultaneously in working memory and weighed against each other differs from subject to subject.

Once the decision [conclusion] becomes conscious – “I want to do this, I want to steal, I want to lie” – even if that decision [conclusion] has been built up unconsciously in the brain and you have been driven to it, a regulatory process also takes place and says, “Hey, do you really want to do this? This doesn’t feel right.” I may sense that I cannot resist my urges and yet still struggle against them, so that a regulatory process takes place and modifies or overrides the initial decision [conclusionyou see to conclude is not the same as to decide; between the two you have – according to Matthieu – a regulatory process, which one could call the ‘reason test of the free will’]. Such regulatory processes exist and can be called on. They allow for emotional regulation. They can also be strengthened by trying repeatedly to exercise this regulation, reflecting on the negative consequences of your impulses on others and yourself, being inspired by role models, and so on. The a strong aspiration might come to your mind: “I really should not do this.” So although you may not be “responsible’ at a particular moment for wanting what you want and for the strong urges that arise, you have a certain responsibility to put this regulatory into action, instead of avoiding or suppressing it. You are responsible for putting into action the steps to become what you want to be in one month, one year, or the rest of your life [So you might not be ‘responsible’ for the conclusion, you still are responsible for the ultimate decision and thus action].

Apparently the organization of our brains is such that feelings of uneasiness are generated if set goals are not pursued. It seems to be the same uneasiness that drives us to resolve conflicts. In this way, repeated experience with the outcome of decisions, positive or negative, can eventually induce a lasting change in the functional architecture of the brain and hence its behavioral dispositions. This in turn will impact the outcome of future decisions [conclusions].

We can certainly improve our emotional regulations through learning. One of the roles of the higher functions of the human brain is precisely to allow for a sophisticated form of emotional regulation, which is again a form of responsibility.

My point was that at any time, even when we feel a strong urge to do something, we have the capacity to evaluate the degree of desirability of the action and master our will and mental strength to refrain from engaging in this unwholesome action, even if the urge is strong.

When you sense that a behavior is unwholesome, you are aware that you could use your ability to regulate your emotional impulses and yet still you ignore both of these facts, your liability or responsibility seems to be greater.

However, once language understanding starts, most of the rules and imperatives of conduct are communicated through verbal instructions and rational arguments. One is supposed to be aware of them and be able to include them in one’s deliberations. If one violate those rules, one is held guilty because one is supposed to respect them during the decision-making process. Again, we distinguish between actions resulting directly from one’s subconscious drives and those that we initiate intentionally after some conscious deliberations of the pro and cons. [Once again, Wolf, doesn’t make correctly the distinction between a conclusion and a decision].

Kant said that if you can internalize the rules that are imposed on you, the external imperatives for ethical conduct, such that they become your ownimperatives, then you are at peace. We should experience this more if this were possible to enhance the congruence between unconscious and conscious processes through mind training.

There can be a serious problem when the social imperatives set from the outside are not truly ethical, in the sense of being attuned to the well-being of others, but rather a dogmatic and oppressive, as may happen under a totalitarian system or in some of the oppressive ancestral traditions that led to slavery, human sacrifices, domination of women and so on. In such cases, it would be quite good and reasonable to feel at odds with the outer imperatives and not accept them blindly.

The philosopher Charles Taylor wrote, “Much contemporary moral philosophy … has focused on what is right to do rather than on what is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of good life, and it has no conceptual place left for a notion of the good as the object of our live and allegiance or as the privileged focus of attention and will”[iii]

As Francisco Varela also wrote, a truly virtuous person “does not act out of ethics, but embodies it like any expert embodies his know-how, the wise man is ethical, or more explicitly, his actions arise from inclinations that this disposition produces in response to specific situations.”[iv]

 

THE RESPONSIBILITY TO CHANGE

We may have no choice now about what we are; otherwise, everyone would certainly choose to be someone filled with admirable qualities rather than a criminal or sex addict, an object of contempt for others. We may also have no choice about the way we behave in the spur of the moment. But we have the responsibility to change when change is desirable, and we are responsible, to some extent, for not having engaged in a process of transformation in the past. [Thus, according, to Matthieu Ricard we are to some extent responsible for not having engaged in the Creative Interchange process].

Doing something when it can be done and seeking the right kind of help is part of our global responsibility.

Because everything is the result of causes and conditions, when all the causes for an event, whether in the brain or elsewhere, are gathered, that event has to happen. Yet over time we can create new causes and conditions and influence this dynamic process. This is the virtue of the mind training and of brain plasticity: Being exposed to new conditions induces brain changes, including in so-called unconscious processes. [What can change the mind, since the mind cannot change itself. Living the Creative Interchange process from within, what Matthieu Ricard calls ‘mind training’]

Instead of engraving judgments about people in stone, we should view them – and ourselves as well – as flowing, dynamic streams that always have a genuine potential for change.

Humans also go through a process of cultural evolution in which the transmitted traits are encoded not in genes but in codified moral conventions that get expressed in social conduct and habits. The important difference is that cultural evolution has an ‘intentional’ component because we intentionally design the architectures that impose the constraints for adaptation and selection. [So we can intentionally design the architectures for Creative Interchange].

Another strategy is to codify moral values and design education systems by which these values can be transformed into action-constraining imperatives that are internalized by individuals and transmitted from generation to generation. These are then complemented by normative systems that put further constraints on the range of tolerated behavior.

A third option is apparently favored by the Buddhist traditions, consisting of attempts to alter the behavioral disposition of individuals through mindfulness training. In all cases, the goal would be to eventually obtain as much agreement as possible between the outer imperatives and the inner dispositions., both being directed toward the good. [cf. Henry Nelson Wieman’s concept of the Greatest Good] The functional architecture of our brains can be modified by education, positive and negative experiences that act as rewards and punishments, insight, training, and practice. The incentives to change are provided by the reward systems in our brains.

Values and norms installed early in life, before the development of episodic memory, remain implicit and deeply anchored in our subconscious, and therefore they are experienced as integral parts of our personality. They are experienced as our own goals, drives, convictions, and moral judgments. Set points imposed on us during later life are more often explicit, we are conscious of their origin and therefore experience them as imposed social constraints that need not necessarily agree with our internal convictions. Nevertheless, we wish to comply with them to reduce conflicting states in our brains and strive for a coherent state.

We also fashion our culture through our thoughts, personal transformation, and intelligence. Individuals and cultures are like two blades that sharpen each other. Because it is possible to train our mind and gradually modify our traits, the accumulation of individual changes can also shape a new culture. [cf. my point of view regarding the transformation the transformation of an Organizational Culture through transformation of the individual ‘culture’ towards what I call the Creative Interchange Culture].

In the beginning, any practice is contrived and unnatural. With familiarization, we begin to do it well and with ease, and, finally, it becomes fully part of us. [cf. the practice of the Creative Interchange skills].

It is conceivable that practicing these novel attitudes over and over again eventually anchor them in brain structures that execute their functions without requiring cognitive control. In this case, the novel behavior would become more and more a new trait of character.

If a certain number of individuals can thus undergo personal change, this will naturally induce gradual changes in the surrounding culture [cf. W. Edwards Deming: “There is no change without personal transformation] – which will have a reciprocal impact on individuals.

We should exploit both options for change: working on the individual and designing interaction architectures for societies that provide incentives for peaceful behavior [these interaction architectures are the conditions in order for Creative Interchange to thrive].

 

FREE WILL AND THE RANGE OF CHOICES

The range of options available at any particular moment in time varies widely. The range of options can be large when there is no external pressure, no compulsive internal drive, when consciousness is fully awake, and there is ample time for deliberations and examining all possible outcomes. However, says Wolf, even in this optimal case, the taken decision [conclusion] is the only possible one; if another decision [conclusion] would have been taken, then it would have been the only one that the brain could come up with at that moment under these circumstances. Schopenhauer clearly recognized that we decide according to our wish and will, but we cannot want otherwise that what we actually wanted in the moment of deciding [concluding, since the decision is done after the conclusion: do I really decide to realize the conclusion?]

Assume that we don’t make use of our ability to consciously exert control over our impulses [through not using what I call the ‘reason’ test after I’ve made up aconclusion spurred up by a trigger – i.e. a dialogue in the time lapse between the impulse and the reaction; the proposed chain being impulse àconclusion àreason test àdecision àreaction]. Don’t you risk ending up with nothing more than a tautology: “At any moment, only what is can be?” Surely you cannot claim that at any moment, what is could have been otherwise. It is quite true that there is no point in denying what already is or demanding that what already is should be different. Yet we could possibly have prevented its happening, and we can certainly prevent it from happening again. This can be achieved, for instance, by acquiring new knowledge about what is desirable or undesirable to do and by training our minds. [cf the tool I’ve used thousands of times during my second Professional life: Root Cause Analysis].

Wolf comes here to a problem that he wants to address: Our legal system posits that people are in principle free to decide. If they do not decide the right way, they are considered guilty, and the depth of the guilt depends on the options available at the moment of decision. Put another way, the amount of attributed guilt is dependent on the amount of attributed freedom. However, ‘freedom’ in this context only extends as far as the range of options available at the moment of decision making. If this range of options is small because of identifiable inner or outer constraints, then one could argue that the person did not have much of a choice and any other person in this situation would have decided and acted similarly. [To me, Wolf, presents this a bit too much as a ‘Sophie’s Choice’, when in most cases one can created a third, better choice, through what I call the ‘reason-test’, which is in fact a crucial dialogue based on Creative Interchange, to find a better option and thus a better decision.]

 

ATTENUATION CIRCUMSTANCES

Even if our will is not as free as our intuition suggests, then we are of course responsible for what we do because we are the agent: decisions are our decisions, and acts are our acts. We are the authors, and just as we want our merits to be attributed to us and rewarded, we also have to accept the sanctions for our misconduct.

The Buddhist view states that we are all sick because of ignorance, greed, hatred, craving and other mental toxins [i.e. the products of the Vicious Circle] and therefore need to follow the advice of a skillful physician – a qualified teacher – to undertake a treatment of inner transformation so that we may be cured of those mental toxins. You don’t retaliate against people for what they do under the sway of mental illness. They [We] need help from outside, from the wise and experienced persons who have insights on how all this happens and can show them methods to change. [Persons who help us to reconnect with our Intrinsic Worth, thus our intrinsic capacity for creativity, i.e. reconnect us with the Creative Interchange process, we’re born with] From their side, they need the intelligence to recognize the need to change and the determination to use appropriate methods to gradually bring about the transformation [i.e. the determination to live Creative Interchange from within, thus to use the CI ‘tools’].

 

LOOKING WITH THE EYES OF A DOCTOR

As already mentioned, in Buddhism we consider ourselves sick people who err in the cycle of conditioned existence, what is called samsara, or the world of mental confusion and ignorance [the world of our Vicious Circle]. This is not like the idea of inherited sin in Christianity, since it’s quite different. It is not a fundamental trait of human nature. It is rather due to having lost sight of our fundamental nature [our Intrinsic Worth]. When you are sick, you say, “I have the flu.” You don’t say, “I am the flu.” So the sickness that cause suffering are that of hate, craving, and other mental toxins. These sicknesses are not intrinsic but result from ever-changing causes and conditions [from the Vicious Circle we’re in]. Sickness is not the normal baseline of living but an anomaly that reduces our chance to survive. According to Buddhism, the normal healthy state, the basic human nature, which is also the fundamental nature of mind, when it is not obscured by mental clouds, is more like a nugget of gold that remains pure even when submerged in thick mud [like the Intrinsic Worth that remains pure even when submerged by the Vicious Circle]. So, Buddhism leans more toward the view of original goodness than that of original sin. [cf. Henry Nelson Wieman’s concept of the Greatest Human Good, which is, to him, the most complete transformation of the individual toward the qualities that life can yield and the fullest development of her/his humanity this world] This does not mean that hatred and obsession are not ‘natural’ and are not part of the repertoire of the human mind. We know that well enough! Rather, it means these afflictive states of mind result from mental fabrications that obscure our understanding of the basic nature of mind, pure consciousness, as the ore conceals the gold it contains. We need to differentiate the fundamental nature of our mind form the various afflictive mental states that lead to all kind of suffering. Accordingly, no one in this world is fundamentally evil but rather sick because of the effects of mental poisons. A person Is not fundamentally defined by his sickness.

Likewise, the basic nature of the man can be obscured by afflictive mental states, but pure awareness can always be recognized beneath the screen of deluded thoughts.

The nature of the mind is pure cognition or basic awareness. It can be populated by all kinds of content, all of which are impermanent and changeable. The potential for change always exists.

No one is intrinsically bad because mental constructs are impermanent. It may take time change the contents of the mind stream, and this process might be more or less difficult to achieve, but the potential of change always exists.

Change does not occur easily and all at once. It is a matter of beginning a process that will bring gradual change, with patience and perseverance. Of course, for that to happen, there must be at least some eagerness on the part of the dysfunctional person. Here, too, one may help that person become aware that he is not ‘fundamentally bad’ but some unfortunate aspects of his mind and behavior bring all kinds of suffering on others and himself, and he would be much better off if he accepted the idea of undertaking a process of change.

 

TRUE REHABILITATION

 

HORRENDOUS DEVIATIONS

To be deeply deluded is a mark of fundamental ignorance, extreme distortion of reality, and a lack of compassion and understanding of the law of cause and effect. To consider hate as acceptable or even promote it as a virtue is the archetype of mental delusion.

 

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF HATE

Forgiveness is breaking the cycle of hate. It does not help to be caught in the same kind of hate that we want to punish. From the Buddhist point of view, there is no question of escaping the consequences of one’s actions. The notion of karma is nothing but the application of the general laws of cause and effect to the consequences of people’s motivations and actions. All actions have short- or long-term consequences. If you forgive someone and forgo retaliation, the person will still face the consequences of her actions.

 

IS THERE A SELF THAT BEARS THE RESPONSIBILITY?

From the Buddhist perspective, the self is nothing but a mental construct that we use to name our mind stream. There is no such thing as a separate, autonomous, unitary entity that we could pinpoint as being the ‘self.’ So it is not the self that is immaculate; it is the fundamental nature of our consciousness, our basic, primary faculty of knowing, which is not modified by its content. If we are able to refer back to this pure mindfulness, then we have a way to deal with afflictive emotions.

You train to become increasingly aware of the content of your mind so that you can rest in this awareness and continually recognize it without being carried away by your mental constructs and powerful emotions and without actively trying to suppress them [let them go!]

We need to experience this state of awareness and perceive awareness as being always present behind the screen of thoughts. We do have moments of peace, when we are spared for a while from the constant mental chatter that usually keeps our minds busy, when you sit quietly by the side of a mountain, for instance, or when you are exhausted after intense physical exercise. For a while, you may experience a quiet state of mind with few concepts of inner conflicts. The experience might give you a glimpse of what clear awareness, unencumbered by thoughts, might be. To recognize the basic component of awareness might give you confidence that change can indeed take place.

 

CAN ONE PROVE FREE WILL?

Matthieu: I intuitively feel that an element of consciousness is pushing the decision to prove ‘free will’ forward, and that my respect for reason and wisdom makes it important for me to clarify the issue of free will.

Wolf: This intuition is at the origin of the fascinating question of mental causation, the question whether thoughts or insights that appear in consciousness can influence future neuronal processes. This question is intimately related to theories of the nature of consciousness – a vast subject indeed, to which we should devote a separate discussion session (chapter 6).

 

ARCHITECTURE OF THE FUTURE

Trinh Xuan Thuan: “The uncertainty principle states that any measurement implies an exchange of energy. The shorter the time for the measurement, the more energy is needed. An instantaneous measurement would therefore require infinite energy, which is impossible. So the dream of knowing all the initial conditions with a perfect precision is mere delusion.”[v]

Interdependence, a central Buddhist concept, refers to a coproduction in which impermanent phenomena condition one another mutually within an infinite network of dynamic causality, which can be innovative without being arbitrary and which transcends the two extremes of chance and determinism. It thus seems that free will can exist within such an unlimited network of causes and conditions that include consciousness.

The brain is an established feature of complex systems with nonlinear dynamics, but it sounds counterintuitive to us because our cognitive systems generally assume linearity. Assuming linearity is a well-adapted heuristics because most of the dynamic processes that we have to cope with in daily life can be approximated with linear models from which we can derive useful predictions for appropriate reactions. Think of the kinetics of objects moving in the earth’s gravitational field – a pendulum, for example. Once set in motion, its trajectory is nicely predictable. The same holds for a spear or a ball. However, if you take three pendulums and tie them together with rubber bands and set in motion, their swings soon become completely unpredictable because of the complexity of the interactions among the three pendulums and the flexing rubber bands.

When it comes to inner phenomena or mind events, the impossibility of knowing all conditions to make a prediction abut future mental states becomes even clearer. Take, for instance, the knowledge of the ‘present moment’:  The moment you know the present moment, it is no longer present.

According to the Buddhist view, our thoughts and actions are conditioned by our present state of ignorance and the habitual tendencies that we have accumulated in the past. But wisdom and knowledge can put an end to ignorance, and training can erode past tendencies.  [Transforming the mind through living Creative Interchange from within] So, ultimately, only someone who has achieved perfect inner freedom and full enlightenment   can truly have free will. [i.e. one who has achieved, once again, his Original Self and thus his full Intrinsic Worth].

Freedom from conditioning [from the personal Vicious Circle] could be the essence of free will. An enlightened being acts appropriately according to the cause and needs of everyone and is not influenced by past tendencies. It also seems that even before achieving the goal of enlightenment, when someone is able to remain for a moment in the limpid freshness of the present moment, a state of pure awareness on which rumination on the past and anticipation of the future haven no bearing, this should be a state conducive to the expression of free will.

Even if we are the product of the past, we are still the architects of our future.

 

CHAPTER 6:

THE NATURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS

 

SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING

 Consciousness is fundamentally a fact of experience. In Buddhism consciousness is considered to be a primary fact.

There are two main methods of approaching consciousness: studying it from the outside (the third-person perspective) or studying it from the inside (the first-person perspective). By ‘outside’ and ‘third-person’ perspectives is meant the study of the correlate of conscious phenomena in the brain, the nervous system, and our behavior as it can be observed by a third person, who does not experience what the first-person experiences. By ‘inside’ is meant the actual experience of the first-person.

We can also question someone in great detail on how he can describe what he feels. This is called the ‘second-person perspective’ because it is achieved through an interaction with someone [the second-person] who is helping you [the first-person] to describe your experience in depth.

But truly, without subjective experience that we can apprehend introspectively, we could not even talk about consciousness. The experience can never be truly and fully described from a third-person perspective. Buddhist scriptures tell the story of two blind men who wanted to understand what colors were. One of them was told that white was the color of snow. He took a handful snow and concluded that white was cold. The other blind man was told that white was the color of swans. He heard a swan flying overhead and concluded that white went swish, swish.

Once again, ‘consciousness’ would not really mean anything without subjective experience. Therefore, to be coherent, we must fully pursue its investigation from that perspective, without constantly jumping from outside in and from inside out as we please. We must follow a consistent line of investigation until its ultimate point.

The naked experience of awareness devoid of mental constructs is transparent to us. I end up there when I refine and pursue further and further my investigation of subjective experience: pure awareness, basic consciousness, and the most fundamental aspect of cognition. This basic awareness does not necessarily need to have particular content, in terms of mental constructs, discursive thoughts, or emotions. It is pure awareness. As is described earlier, this is sometimes called the ‘luminous’ aspect of mind because it allows me to be aware of both the external world and my internal world. It allows me to recall past events, envision the future, and be aware of the present moment.

If people conclude that a given condition evokes consistent experiences, they usually coin a term for the respective experience. Henceforth, this experience assumes the status of a social reality, of an immaterial object, of a concept on which different subjects can focus their shared attention. [cf. the given condition of CI evokes consistent experiences, which we coin ‘Creative Interchange. Henceforth, this experience of CI assumes a status of a social reality, of an immaterial object, of a concept on which different subjects can focus their shared attention]

If we take the first-person perspective as a source of insight into brain processes, we are aware of perceptions, decisions, thoughts, plans, intentions, and acts; we experience these as ours; and we can even be aware of being aware and communicate this fact. Experienced meditators can apparently cultivate this meta-awareness to the point that they are aware of being aware without requiring any concrete content of that awareness.

Humans are embedded in a dimension of social realities that they have created by interacting with one another, observing one another, and sharing their observations and subjective experiences. Through these communicative processes, humans exchange descriptions of their first-person experiences, establish consensus about the congruency of these experiences, and assure each other that these experiences are common to all human beings. In this way, these immaterial phenomena, accessible only form the first-person perspective, gradually acquire the status of reality that one can talk about, attribute to others, and integrate in one’s own self-model [i.e. transform one’s own mindset]

In Buddhism, the matter/consciousness duality, the so-called mind-body problem, is a false problem, given that neither of them has an intrinsic, independent existence.

Because Buddhism refutes the ultimate reality of phenomena, it also refutes the idea that consciousness is independent and exists inherently, just as much as it refutes that matter is independent and exists inherently. The fundamental level of consciousness and the world of apparent phenomena are linked by interdependence, and together the form our perceived world, the one we experience in our lives. Dualism lacks the concept of interdependence and postulates a strict separation between mind and matter; Buddhism states that emptiness is form and form is emptiness. Accordingly, the dichotomy of ‘material’ and ‘immaterial’ makes no sense.

In other words, Buddhism says that the distinction between the interior world of thought and the exterior physical reality is mere illusion. There’s only one reality or, rather, one lack of intrinsic reality! Buddhism does not adopt a purely idealistic point of view or argue that the outer world is a fabrication of consciousness. It just points to the fact that without consciousness, one cannot claim that the world exists because that statement already implies the presence of a consciousness.

It seems that we never place ourselves ‘outside’ consciousness, even if we try to determine its nature and origin. This argument resembles Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem, which says that mathematical theories cannot demonstrate their own consistency, which can also be understood more generally as saying that we are always limited in our knowledge of any system when we are part of that system.

Consciousness is the ability to not only have an experience or a feeling, but also to be aware of that fact. We probably need to distinguish between consciousness as such and the state that allows one to be conscious of something [which is in fact awareness, so indeed one need to distinguish between awareness (‘naked consciousness’) and consciousness (‘colored consciousness’)] The latter can vary substantially because brain states are graded [i.e. brain states ‘alter’ one’s awareness]. It is commonly held that one can only be conscious or aware [see how the authors are themselves struggling with the concepts ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’, despite what they’ve said that one should distinguish the two!] of something if it is attended to, if the focus of attention is on this particular content [one could easily argue that one should have the intention to attend to something]. The focus of attentioncan be shifted, either intentionally, in a top-down fashion, or in a bottom-up way by salient external stimuli [one could easily argue that here top-down = outside-in and bottom-up = inside-out] – the sudden appearance of an object or a sudden change in the environment automatically attracts one’s attention [outside-in]. Thus, attention is one of the mechanisms required to bring content into consciousness [awareness], suggesting that there is a threshold for contents to reach consciousness [awareness].

What could it be that it makes us aware of ourselves? Let us talk about the different levels of awareness [sic!]. First, the most basic level is phenomenal awareness, to ability to be aware of something [which we call awareness, i.e. naked, non-colored consciousness]. Then there comes the ability to be aware that one is aware of being aware of something [which we call meta-awareness, i.e. meta – naked, non-colored consciousness]. Finally, there are the more self-related aspects of consciousness [awareness! – we’re talking aboutawareness, aren’t we?!?]. One is aware of being an individual who is autonomous, which capable of intentional acts, and separate from other individuals. One is also aware of one’s conscious self [i.e. one’s ‘created’ self], which is probably the highest level of meta-cognition   [!?! Aren’t we always interconnected? I claim we are never autonomous, since we only exist through interconnectedness! To me the highest level of meta-cognition or meta-meta-awareness is that we are aware that we’re always somehow interconnected and do not exist on our ‘own’].

This highest level of meta-cognition is [in Buddhism] called self-illumination awareness. The expression conscious self could be easily be misunderstood as assuming the existing of an autonomous self at the core of ourselves [at the core of ourselves their exist an Original Self and an Intrinsic Worth – expressions that describe the Creative Interchange process at that level – i.e. the autonomous self is an illusion, the CI process is a reality, we’re born with it, what we do with it… is our responsibility!].

The phenomenon that we address with the term consciousnesswould not exist without dialogue among human minds, without education, without the embedding in a rich sociocultural environment, and without the mutual attribution of mental constructs.  These constructs are internalized and become implicit properties of our selves [they become the so-called Mental Models]. We experience them as part of our reality and invent terms to name and describe them. They are similar to values.  These, too, are social constructs and are not found in the brain; all we can do is identify systems that assign value to certain brain states and couple them with emotions. The same holds for all the characteristics that one associates with consciousness. We do not find consciousness in the brain, but we can try to identify structures that are necessary for consciousness to manifest itself.

Buddhism uses the term the ‘coarse’ aspect of consciousness, which is the aspect of consciousness involved with the complex world of information, perceptions and their interpretations, relating things with each other, and feeling emotions in reaction to outer events or inner recollections. [This ‘coarse’ aspect of consciousness is in fact the left part of the Crucial Dialogue model: Observation of facts and Interpretation of those which leads to – the middle of the Model – Emotions]. None of these would ever arise without the constant interaction with the environment and other sentient beings [we call that particular interaction Creative Interchange].

But we still have to understand the most fundamental aspect of ‘pure awareness’, what Buddhism refers to as the ‘subtle’ aspect of consciousness. A good metaphor is a beam of light – it reveals what there is without being modified by it. Likewise, according to Buddhist contemplatives, pure awareness [naked or non-colored consciousness in my personal language] is neither obscured nor modified by the content of thoughts; it is unqualified and unaltered [we see reality as it is, not as we are – pure awareness is non dual]

 

CULTIVATING STATES OF SUBTLE CONSCIOUSNESS OR PURE AWARENESS

The process of non-dual awareness can become effortless and uncontrived. During pure awareness state of mind, you are not trying to prevent anything from arising, but when something presents itself, you just let it come and let it go so that it doesn’t make waves. [i.e. your non-colored awareness is not influenced by your colored consciousness]. In other words, you don’t try to stop it [the colored consciousness] neither do you encourage it.

[In fact what you do is to pay no attention at all to what’s sometimes called the Monkey Mind] This internal chattering is usually due to the proliferation of simple thoughts.  Without repressing them, you can simply let them vanish as they arise.  There is no point trying to stop perceiving the outer world, hearing the birds that are singing. You simply let [i.e. do not prevent] thoughts and perceptions arise [i.e. the ‘coloring’ of awareness] and undo themselves [i.e. return to ‘white’, pure awareness, the bright light beam]. In other words, there is no point in trying to prevent thoughts that are already coming in and you can certainly prevent them from invading your mind [i.e. coloring your pure awareness].

The essence of meditation freeing the mind from randomly intruding contents, and then you fill it with selected contents that you call on through intention – for example, empathy or compassion – granting them a privileged space. It means that we become familiar with something and cultivating a skill in a methodic, no chaotic way. This is not a semi-passive way of learning [as sometimes meditation is seen] but a fully engaged one in a coherent way. After a long period of time such a skill can become consummate and effortless. It is not an ‘automatic’ mental process, which often perpetuate deluded habitual patterns and perceptions. Meditation does not require forceful attention. So you are not effort fully attentive, but you are not distracted at the same time.

 

ON VARIOUS LEVELS OF CONSCIOUSNESS

So one of the levels of consciousness is the content-free or empty state of awareness. Empty in the sense of being free from content, not empty in the sense of perfect clarity. It is a state of extreme awareness of its own clarity. Light can shine on a dark sky, and yet it doesn’t light up anything in particular. This awareness is called in Buddhism nondual consciousness, because there is no separation between subject and object. Neuro scientists call this meta-awareness, the awareness of being aware of being aware or conscious. If a content then appears, one becomes aware of that, but from the perspective of being an observer of one’s own awareness [BTWAwareness and Observing are part of the first phase of the Crucial Dialogue Model, where the object, content is observed, not ‘colored’]. So, there is pure awareness, where there is no split between a subject that knows something and an object that is known [i.e. nondual consciousness].

The most fundamental form of experience is called in Buddhism: dwelling in nondual awareness. So the scientific question becomes: “What is the nature of that most primal pure awareness?” For the moment science has not answered that question. From the Buddhist perspective, the mind’s ability to act on itself, transform itself, recognize its basic nature, and gain freedom from afflictive mental states is crucial and lies at the center of the spiritual path. It is hard to imagine that someone could achieve such a freedom – which is the same as achieving mastery of the mind because freedom is to be in charge of one’s own mind instead of being the powerless slave of every single thought and emotion that arises – if consciousness were just an irrelevant phenomenon. Anyway, consciousness is a fact. Without it, our subjective world entirely disappears. [From Creative Interchange perspective, CI is the process that can change the mind, since the mind cannot change itself. So to us CI is at the center of the spiritual path]

From the Buddhist perspective consciousness actually influences neuronal processes, in order to transform itself. Please remember that, as the philosopher David Chambers remarked, all biological functions, including the articulation of language that allows communication between two organisms, as well as meta-representation, can be formulated without having to refer to subjective experience. This finding shows that experience is not a particular moment in objective biological functions but something we are aware of prior to any study of these functions. This makes it difficult to establish a causal relation between neuronal processes and consciousness.

If consciousness did not have the capacity to transforms itself, know itself, and work to deeply change its contents, then it would really be worthless. Buddhism starts from the other end of the spectrum: pure awareness. Then it investigates how thoughts, emotions, happiness, and suffering arise from this pure awareness. It tries to understand the processes of wisdom and delusion that are related to recognizing or losing recognition of this pure awareness.

This allows one to maintain the recognition that all mental events arise within awareness simply because of many causes and conditions, which do not belong to pure awareness. Pure awareness is unconditional, in the same way that space do not alter when clouds form – or don’t – within it. As mentioned earlier, pure awareness is a primary fact.

Pure awareness is what allows all mental constructs and discursive thoughts, and it is not a construct itself. It leads you to recognize that, thanks to this, you always have the possibility to change the content of your mind because mental states are not intrinsically embedded in pure awareness. Consequently, with training and mindfulness [Creative Interchange I would say], one can rid of hatred, craving, and other afflictive emotions [embedded in the Vicious Circle]

Matthieu Ricard postulates that awareness impacts future neuronal processes. If we consider pure awareness as a primary fact, and there is nothing that goes against this view, there is no reason to deny that mental constructs arising within the space of awareness could act through neuroplasticity. Thus, through the work of interdependent, mutual causation, one may have downward, upward, and same-level causation.

The evolution of brains capable of performing cognitive operations that we address as ‘conscious’ permitted modes of social interactions that ultimately catalyzed cultural evolution with all its consequences on the further differentiation of human cognition. One could talk about top-down causation in the sense that the immaterial constructs of cultures, the social realities, influence brain functions. In this case, the mechanisms are well established and not in conflict with the laws of nature. The belief systems, norms, and concepts shared by a society influence the self-understanding and action of its members. They act directly on the members’ brains through the exchange of social signals. [i.e. Creative Interchange] Moreover, they imprint the brains of the next generation through education and epigenetic shaping and thus also have long-term effects on brain functions.

Top-down causation is a problem only in the context of a dualistic stance positing material matter, which is supposed to exist as solid reality – a notion that is challenged by both Buddhism and quantum theory – and a supposedly ‘immaterial’ consciousness, which would be a bizarre, indefinable phenomenon devoid of any status. For Buddhism, both matter and consciousness belong to the world of forms. Both exist inasmuch as they are manifest, but they are also devoid of intrinsic, solid reality. Hence the statement, “Void is form, form is void.” Consciousness cannot be reduced to gross matter because consciousness is a prerequisite to conceive of matter and make any description of it.

The Dalai Lama says that consciousness precedes anything we could ever say about it and precedes any possible perception and interpretation of the phenomenal world. We cannot step out of consciousness to examine it as if it were merely one aspect of our world. The Dalai Lama states: “We risk objectivizing what is essentially an internal set of experiences and excluding the necessary presence of the experiencer. We cannot remove ourselves from the equation. No scientific description of the neural mechanisms of color discrimination can make one understand what it feels like to perceive, say, the color red.”[vi]

Buddhism says that the ultimate nature of consciousness is beyond words, symbols, concepts, and descriptions. You may speak of pure awareness devoid of mental constructs, but it is like pointing the finger at the moon and calling it the moon itself; unless you have a direct experience of this pure awareness, these words are empty. [That’s the problem with  CI too: unless you have a direct experience of what we call CI, our words are empty]

Contemplatives who have mastered the capacity to clearly identify this pure awareness or this platform without content describe it as vivid and fully aware, as having a quality of peace. They see that thoughts arise from the space of awareness and dissolve back into it, like waves that surge from and dissolve back into the ocean. The mastery of this process eventually leads to people who have an extraordinary emotional balance, inner strength, inner peace, and freedom. So there must be something quite special in having access tot such deep levels of mental processes.

Pure awareness goes beyond attention, because attention implies being attentive to something, in a dualistic mode of a subject who pays attention to an object. It is more correct to say that within pure awareness, various mental functions can unfold, including attention focused on perceptions or any other mental phenomenon. But an satisfactory explanation of the training aspect of attention is not enough to explain the whole range of experience; especially the fact that experience always comes first. This fact is inescapable fact!

 

PUZZLING EXPERIENCES

It would be interesting to consider phenomena that would, if they were valid, make us reconsider the general assumption that consciousness is entirely dependent on the brain. One can think of three of those that merit consideration and for which we certainly need to distinguish illusions from reality, fact from rumor: (1) people having access to the content of someone else’s thoughts; (2) people describing memories of past lives; and (3) people having near-death experiences or reporting on details of their surroundings at the time that they were apparently unconscious, with a flat EEG, which suggest an absence of electrical activity in the main parts of the brain.

One major problem with all these phenomena is their lack of reproducibility. They cannot be generated intentionally and hence cannot be investigated experimentally. One could of course again argue that they belong to the class of phenomena whose constitutive property is irreproducibility, that they are singularities of a dynamic that never repeats itself. In that case, one can’t study them with the scientific tools at hand. [Something similar is going on with Creative Interchange. CI is a process that cannot be controlled, not from the outside in, and not even from the inside out. One can only provide for the conditions needed for CI to thrive, and CI will happen, we just cannot predict when it will happen. We cannot really trigger it consciously and therefor CI can’t be studied with the scientific tools at hand. Perhaps that is the reason why the scientific world seems not be interested in Creative Interchange (at least the professors I’ve contacted were not willing to – another reason can be that it is a natural process that already has been identified by Henry Nelson Wieman and cannot be invented.]

 

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[i]P. Gilbert and C. Irons, “Focused therapies and compassionate mind training for shame and selfattacking,” in Compassion: Research in Psychotherapy, ed. P. Gilbert. New York, NY: Routledge, 2005. 263-325

K. Neff, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2011.

[ii]D. Galin, “The Concepts of ‘Self’, ‘Person’ and ‘I,’ in Western Psychology and Buddhism,” in Buddhism & Science, Breaking New Ground, ed. B. Alan Walace. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2003.

[iii]C. Taylor, Sources of Self: The making of Modern Identity.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

[iv]F. J. Varela, Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom, and Cognition. Stanford, CA: Standford University Press, 1999.

[v]M. Ricard and T.X. Tuan, The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet. New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2004.

[vi]Dalai Lama, The Universe of a Single Atom.New York, NY: Morgan Road Books, 2005. p. 122.

 

May 19th 2018 was marked red in my calendar and this not because it was the day of the marriage of Harry and Meghan. Saturday May 19th 2018 was the day of the yearly FA Cup Final, a football (soccer) match that is, at least in my eyes, THE soccer match of the year. This year for the sixtieth time since I saw my first FA Cup Final the year I turned twelve. That year Manchester United captured the hearts of the British nation by reaching the final in the aftermath of the Munich air crash. A year earlier, Busby’s Babes had tried in vain to become the first team of the century to achieve the League and FA Cup double and their return trip to Wembley saw the whole of Britain cheering Manchester United on. Once again in vain, since the Bolton Wanderers won the cup and the FA Cup final became my yearly appointment with the heart of soccer.

This year, Manchester United reached, once again, the final. This time Chelsea was their oponent, and since three of our Belgian national soccer players (Romelo Lukaku, for United and Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois for Chelsea) were expected to be in the game, that day was even marked in bold. My plan was to tune in on BBC from the very start of their program, this is three hours before the start of the soccer match. BBC is renowed to build up towards the climax.

And … end last year I read the news that prince Harry was engaged to an American lady. I’m not one of the fans of the Britisch Royal Family (not of any Royal Family, not even the Belgian one), and during months it was impossible not to see the news items around the engagement and marriage of prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I confess, the news that Meghan Markle had to be baptized and confirmed into the Church of England made me smile. The American Roman Catholic and divorced lady Meghan must have agreed wholeheartedly with the condition put upon here by her future family and must have willingly followed the foodsteps of King Henry VIII: her first marriage being annuled, in order to be ready for a new one.

For reasons I do not know the marriage was scheduled on the same day of the 137th final of the FA Cup. Since I had a free afternoon I tuned in on BBC earlier than planned to witness the BBC coverage of the Royal marriage with my beloved Rita. Rita was thrilled by the dresses of the ladies, especially Meghan’s wedding dress, and, I must confess, I was waiting for the sermon. I had read that an American preacher was asked by the young couple to deliver this address. A Bishop of the Episcopal Church in St. George chapel of Windsor Castle and apparently nobody really knew what to expect. However, since my dearest American friend, Charlie Palmgren, is among al lot of other things an Episcopalian priest I had some idea of what it could be. I voyaged in the period (1994 – 2001) regularly to Atlanta to meet and work with Charlie and during those stays I followed several times an Episcopalian Sunday Service and especially liked the sermons of the Episcopalian priests and certainly of Charlies.

So I was expecting something great. After opening remarks by the Dean of Windsor, David Conner, and before the marriage vows, officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the assembled guests – plus near 2 billion (!) souls watching on television around the world – heard the sermon delivered by American preacher Michael Bruce Curry, the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. He surely wake up the royal wedding guests.

Michael Bruce Curry, the first Afro-American presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, delivered indeed a searing, soaring 13-minute speech, imploring Christians to put love at the center of their spiritual, organizational and political lives. With his use of repetition and emphasis, his sermon drew upon the devices of black ecclesiastical tradition. One immediately understood why the couple, and especially Meghan Markle I presume, had invited the the Most Reverend bishop for this special address.

The style of his address was surely a wake up call for the royal guests. Although the British Royal family members are extremely well trained in keeping their faces ‘straight’, some were trying to figure out what was happening (Prince Charles and Camilla), some were smiling (Kate) and perhaps some were  thinking to book that priest for their upcoming marriage (Beatrice). The head of the Anglican church (one could say the ‘boss’ of Michael),  Queen Elisabeth II, and her husband Prince Philip looked bemused. Some other guests facial reactions went from a big jaw drop (Harry’s niece Zara Philip) over a broad smile (‘bent it like David Beckham’) to a grinn (pop singer Elton John).

But more important than the style of the sermon was its content. The energetic sermon, started and finished with quotes from minister and civil rights activist dr. Martin Luther King and made me continuously think of the Creative Interchange process discovered by dr. Henry Nelson Wieman.

Here some passages of his Michael Curry’s address:

The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said and I quote:

We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this whole world a new world. But love, love is the only way.”

[ … ]

There is power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over sentimentalize it. There is power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think of a time when you first fell in love. [Some of you know that to me the ‘power in love’ is precisely the Creative Interchange process, We’re all born with it and I live it as good as I can for some 25 years, so you can understand that I was captured from the start of the sermon on.]

[ … ]

Ultimately, the source of love is God himself; the source of all our lives. [Henry Nelson Wieman, who discovered Creative Interchange, finaly stated: “God = Creative Interchange!”]

[ … ]

There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live. Set me as a seal on your heart, a seal on your arm. For love, it is strong as death. [Henry Nelson Wieman identified the process that gives birth to the mind and sustains and transforms it. He called that process Creative Interchange. This process, unique to the human mind, is at the very root of civilization, scientific evolution and human transformation. It is what makes us truly human. Creative Interchange is, indeed, “strong as death.” ]

[ … ]

Everything that God has been trying to tell the world: Love God. Love your neighbors. And while you’re at it, love yourself.

Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history. A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world. And a movement mandating people to live and love ad in so doing, to change not only their lives but also the very life of the world itself. I’m talking about some power — real power. Power to change the world. [Creative Interchange has the power to transform every human mind, thus every human being on this world, thus “the very life of the world itself.”]

[ … ]

Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial.

And in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change this world.

[ … ]

When love is the way — unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way. Then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way. We will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. Wen love is the way poverty will become history. When love is the way the earth will become a sanctuary. When love is the way we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way there’s plenty good room, plenty good room for all of God’s children.

[ … ]

Cause when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way we know that God is the source of us all.

[ … ]

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin — and with this I will sit down. We got to get you all married. [This last sentence made the whole congregation laugh, not in the least Harry and Meghan and I was truly interested in what the bishop had to say about Theilard de Chardin. Henry Nelson Wieman has often been cited, along with the Jesuit paleontologist, P. Teilhard de Chardin as being one of the great pioneers during the first half of the twentieth century who began to forge an interpretation of Western religion that would constructively relate it to contemporary scientific views of the nature of things.]

[ … ]

In some of his [Teilhard de Chardin’s] writings he said, as others have, that the discovery or invention or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history. [ … ] And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harness the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire. [And of course, to me, this sound as Fire = Energy = Yoda’s ‘May The Force’ be with you = May Creative Interchange be with you]

And the Rev. Michael Curry concluded:

Dr. King was right. We must discover love the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. My brother, my sister, God love you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

After this stunning address, The Kingdom Choir led by Karen Gibson performed “Stand By Me”. The song was a significant choice being sung just before the vows of the British Royal Prince Harry and the American lady Meghan with biracial roots. First recorded by Ben E. King and released in 1961, it became an anthem for political progress and has been heard at many a black church service.

The rest of the coverage of the Royal wedding continued to be interesting; and … by the way … the next set of programs on BBC that day around the FA Cup Final, including the soccer match itself, were less captivating.

Creatively,

Johan

 

 

 

 

Paraphrasing Richard Rohr[i] in Creative Interchange language

Contemplation helps us to actually experience our experiences so that they can become transformational. Contemplation exposes our created self so that we can be open to our Creative Self. In this column we will explore the contemplative mind and the necessity to rediscover our inherent Intrinsic Worth and grow into our Creative Self. Without contemplative consciousness, we live on the surface of our own experiences and thus our created self.

The Second Gaze

The world today tends to be cynical about most things. Why would it not be if we see only at the surface level? Everywhere we turn, every time we watch the news, we see suffering. We have become skeptical about human goodness, humanity’s possibilities, and our planet’s future. We can’t help seeing what is not and are often unable to recognize or appreciate what is. What we should do is to force ourselves for a second gaze, a deeper seeing. This should be our daily dialogue with us as observers, not as interpreters; being more pure aware than colored conscious.

In the very beginning, i.e. from the start of what Henry Nelson Wieman called the development of our ‘valuing consciousness”[ii], we see that nature is good, humans are good, and, later, some of us understand that God is good, while others say then that Creative Interchange is good, since they believe that God equals Creative Interchange. I have never met a loving human being who did not also believe in the foundational goodness of people and all of creation. Remember, all people objectively hold Intrinsic Worth, and each of us has to choose to grow toward our Original Self through our Creative Self. That is, to me, our primary task on this earth.

Indeed, all each of us can give back to Life is what Life has already given to us. We must choose it, respect it, and allow it to blossom. The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality, to trust our Intrinsic Worth and evolve our created self toward our Original Self through our Creative Self (i.e. living Creative Interchange from within). It is simply a matter of becoming who we already are.

The Vicious Circle

Unfortunately, the Vicious Circle[iii] led us to rely on dualistic thinking, which is incapable of comprehending, much less experiencing, the mystical, nonviolent, or non-dual level. With the rational mind, we literally cannot imagine the Divine and humanity being one, or being one with our neighbor, because the dualistic mind always splits things apart and takes sides. The contemplative mind or non-dual thinking allows us to see things in wholes instead of in parts.

The lost tradition of Contemplation

An awesome and even presumptuous message of divinization is found in the Judeo-Christian story of Creation: we are “created in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27 and 5:2). Many tomes of theology have been written to clarify this claim, and this is theologians’ primary consensus: Image is our objective DNA that marks us as creatures of God from the very beginning; whilst likeness is our personal appropriation and gradual realization of this utterly free gift of the image into our Creative Self.

It’s all too easy to recognize our daily created self as being unlike our meant Creative Self, as well in ourselves as in others, so we have a hard time believing our Creative Self could be true in ourselves or others. But some form of contemplative practice will allow us to rest in and trust this deeper and truest Original Self.

Actually, our Creative Self is the only Original Self or real self that has ever existed. It’s the only self that exists right now. The trouble is, most people don’t know it. It’s not their fault; they’re just trapped in their own Vicious Circle and they’re not always given the necessary tools they need to connect with who they really are and those tools are the tools of the Creative Interchange Process. The dualistic and argumentative mind of the created self will never get you there. Thus we have an identity crisis on a massive scale!

Unfortunately, the contemplative mind has not been systematically taught in the West for the last five hundred years. The Spanish Carmelites Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) and John of the Cross (1542-1591) were the last well-known teachers of contemplative awareness in European thought. With the so-called “Enlightenment” and the argumentative Reformation, Western Christianity almost abandoned contemplation in favor of dualistic thinking and its own strange form of “rational” thought, which actually produced fundamentalism in both its Catholic and Protestant forms. Thomas Merton (1915-1968) felt that even the monasteries no longer taught the contemplative mind in any systematic way, as monks just “said prayers” with their old dualistic minds.

You cannot know God the way you know anything else; you only know God or the soul of anything subject to subject, center to center, by a process of “mirroring” where like knows like and love knows love—“deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7). The Divine Spirit planted deep inside each of us yearns for and responds to God—and vice versa (see James 4:5). The contemplative is deeply attuned and surrendered to this process; the process we call Creative Interchange.

We are not so much human beings trying to become spiritual. We’re inherently spiritual beings and our job is learning how to be good humans! Richard Rohr “Jesus came as a human being: not to teach us how to go to heaven, but how to be a fully alive human being here on this earth.”

Learning to See

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to [us] as it is, infinite. — William Blake [iv]

Contemplation is about seeing, but a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see, but teaches us how to see what we behold. Being contemplative is being fully aware!

Contemplation allows us to see the truth of things in their wholeness. It is a mental discipline and gift that detaches us—neurologically and spiritually—from our addiction to our habitual way of thinking, which likes to be in control. Through contemplative practice we stop identifying solely with our small binary, dualistic mind, which strips things down to two choices and then usually identifies with only one of them. Gradually we begin to recognize the inadequacy and superficiality of that limited way of knowing reality. Only the contemplative, or the deeply intuitive, can start venturing out into much more open-ended horizons. The rational, dualistic mind does not have the capacity to hold the big questions of life like love, death, suffering, sexuality, the Divine, or anything infinite.

We need a contemplative, non-dual mind to accept or even have an elementary understanding of what is meant by Jesus being fully human and fully divine—at the same time. Western Christianity has tended to overemphasize his divinity, and we thus lost sight of how Jesus holds these two together. Since we couldn’t put together this paradox in Jesus, we couldn’t recognize the same truth about others and ourselves. We too are a paradox, a seeming contradiction that is not actually a contradiction at all. Yet we ended up being “only” human and Jesus ended up being “only” Divine. We missed the major point! Only a non-dual mind can discover that to be human is to also be divine.

How do we learn contemplative consciousness—this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of seeing, of being with, reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Many people experience this knowing in small glimpses, in brief moments of intimacy, awe, or grief. But such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. Contemplation is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul. And that takes a lot of practice. In fact, our whole life should become one continual practice and we should do this in an interdependent way, forming what I call a “Community of Practice of Creative Interchange’.

Mirroring the Divine

In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping-stone to an awareness of God. Man is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees Himself, but reveals Himself to the “mirror” in which He is reflected. Thus, through the dark, transparent mystery of our own inner being we can, as it were, see God “through a glass.” All this is of course pure metaphor. It is a way of saying that our being somehow communicates directly with the Being of God, Who is “in us.” If we enter into ourselves, find our true self, and then pass “beyond” the inner “I,” we sail forth into the immense darkness in which we confront the “I AM” of the Almighty. — Thomas Merton[v]

Your life is not about you; you are about Life. You are an instance of a universal, eternal pattern. The One Life that many call “God” and others, like Henry Nelson Wieman “Creative Interchange”, is living itself in you, through you, and as you! You have never been separate from God [Creative Interchange] except in your mind. Can you imagine that?

This realization is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution in the mind, and a paradigm shift in consciousness. Yet most of us do not seem interested in it. It is too big to imagine and can only be revealed slowly. So it takes time, courage and perseverance and we lack them all.

Luckily, there is hope, since we are much more prepared to understand this in a post-Einstein world—where energy, movement, or life itself is the one constant movement, and not an isolated substance.

Awe and Surrender

To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well practiced in just a few predictable responses. Not many of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us. The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, defensiveness, dismissal, and being judgmental. These are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!

To let the moment teach us, we must allow ourselves to be at least slightly stunned by it until it draws us inward and upward, toward a subtle experience of wonder.

The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. Then we universalize from that moment to the goodness, truth, and beauty of the rest of reality, until our realization eventually ricochets back to include ourselves! This is the great inner dialogue some call genuine prayer. We humans resist both the awe and, even more, the surrender. Both are vital, and so we must practice.

Practice: Watching the River

To live in the present moment requires a change in our inner posture. Instead of expanding or shoring up our fortress of the small self—the ego or created self—contemplation waits to discover who we truly are. Most people think they are their thinking. They don’t have a clue who they are apart from their thoughts. In contemplation, we move to a level beneath thoughts and sensations, the level of pure being and naked awareness.

In contemplation (in the West) and meditation (in the East), we calmly observe our own stream of consciousness and see its compulsive patterns. That’s the essence of mindfulness: We wait in silence with an open heart and attuned body. It doesn’t take long for our usual patterns to assault us. Our habits of control, addiction, negativity, tension, anger, and fear assert themselves; this is the devastating work of the Vicious Circle.

Many teachers insist on at least twenty minutes for a full contemplative “sit,” because you can assume that the first half (or more) of any contemplation time is just letting go of those thoughts, judgments, fears, negations, and emotions that want to impose themselves. We become watchers and witnesses, stepping back and observing without judgment. Gradually we come to realize those thoughts and the corresponding feelings are not “me.”

Thomas Keating teaches a beautifully simple exercise. Imagine yourself sitting on the bank of a river. The river is your stream of consciousness. Observe each of your thoughts coming along as if they’re saying, “Think me, think me.” Watch your feelings come by saying, “Feel me, feel me.” Acknowledge that you’re having the feeling or thought. Don’t hate it, don’t judge it, don’t critique it, or move against it. Simply name it: “resentment toward so and so,” “a thought about such and such.” Then place it on a boat and let it go down the river. When another thought arises—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river.[vi]

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

[i] Rohr, Richard. https://cac.org/contemplative-consciousness-weekly-summary-2018-01-13/

[ii] Palmgren, Charlie. http://www.creativeinterchange.org/?p=172

[iii] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren, The Chicken Conspiracy: Breaking The Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore, MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998.

[iv] Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Complete Poems, ed. Alicia Ostriker. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, Penguin Books USA, Inc. 1977, 188.

[v] Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation New York, NY: HarperCollins. 2004, 10-11.

[vi] To further explore this centering prayer practice, see Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel. New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc. 2006, especially chapter 9.

 

Henry Nelson Wieman suggests in his book Man’s Ultimate Commitment that we have a natural need to achieve in our lives the infinite potentialities present in us at birth. He goes on stressing the importance of our commitment to a life-long process that enables us to live our lives to the fullest. In order to have the Greatest Human Good he argues one has to commit to live Creative Interchange from within.

This special human interchange that Henry Nelson Wieman coined Creative Interchange is our ability to learn what others have learned, to appreciate what others appreciate, to feel what others feel, imagine what others imagine and to creatively integrate all this with what we have already acquired and form this way our true individuality. This Creative Interchange uniquely distinguishes the human mind from everything else.

The choice to commit oneself to live Creative Interchange from within is in fact a big decision that involves a choice to have experiences that teach us things we cannot know about from any other source but the experience itself. Someone who has never been fully aware of being in genuine Creative Interchange with another person can only know what contemporary science can tell him or her about the experience of Creative Interchange and/or what friends can describe to him or her, as best they can, what it is like to engage in Creative Interchange. Before engaging in Creative Interchange one might imagine undergoing some sort of experience that is surprising and intense and emotional. As it turns out, many of life’s big decisions involve choices to have experiences that teach things that we cannot really know from any other source but the experience itself.

When we face the choice whether or not to commit oneself to Creative Interchange, we can’t know what our lives will be unlike we’ve undergone the new experience, and if we don’t undergo the experience, we won’t know what we are missing. I know from experience that committing oneself to Creative Interchange is life changing, thus personally transformative. In the case of commitment to Creative Interchange you make the choice without knowing what it will be like if you choose to have that new experience, but the choice is big, and you know it is big. You know that undergoing the experience will change what it is like for you to live your live, and even change what it is to be you, deeply and fundamentally.

What makes it even more fundamental, that it is not just a one-time choice committing oneself to live Creative Interchange from within and not just a commitment to one person, like a marriage; it is a life-time commitment to every person you’ll meet from the moment you commit yourself to live Creative Interchange from within. And the outcome of this commitment is far from sure. While committing to live CI from within is a personal life-changing decision – for after all, your decision concerns mainly your personal future – we find ourselves confronted with the brutal fact about how little we can know about our futures, just when it is most important to us – speaking rationally – that we do know. The choice for Creative Interchange is no different as for many other big life choices, where we only learn what we need to know after we’ve done it, and we change ourselves in the process of doing it. To me, in the end, the best response to this situation is to choose based on whether we want to discover who we’ll become, what our beyond the actual, created self will be.

When a person has a new and different experience that teaches her something she could not have learned without having that kind of experience, she has an epistemic transformation. Her subjective point of view, her knowledge of what something is like, changes. With this new experience, she gains new abilities to cognitively understand certain contents, she learns to understand things in a new way, and she may even identify new information.

I had such an experience in 1977 during the start up of a Sulfuric Acid Plant in Visag (India). I was the start up engineer and thus overall responsible for the success of the start up of the new facility. During that start up an Indian engineer was heavenly burnt having been splashed with hot sulfuric acid when the valve he was opening on the sulfuric acid circuit suddenly burst open, while his body was just protected by a cotton work overall. This experience changed completely my mindset regarding safety, which ultimately changed completely my professional life. It was indeed the starting point of what I called later my second professional life. Safety became in one split second one of my values, a subjective personal value grounded by what it is like to have lived that particular experience.

The sorts of experiences that can change who you are, in the sense of radically changing your point of view, are experiences that are personally transformative. In my life those experiences included: experiencing a traumatic accident (as described above), having a daughter (Daphne 1972), experiencing the death of a parent (father Richard 1982 and mother Donatine 1987), fundamentally changing my career path (1988 and 1995), having a career setback (losing the ISRS rights in 1992), becoming grand father (Eloïse 2002, Edward 2004 and Elvire 2008), living through a deep depression (2008 – 2010), undergoing radiation and chemical therapy and a major surgery (colon cancer 2013), to name the most important ones. Those experiences were life changing in that they changed what it is like for me to be me. In other words, those experiences can change your mindset, and by extension, your personal preferences, and perhaps even your values and thus even change the kind of person that you are, or at least take yourself to be. In my case each of those experiences turned out to be a personally transformative experience.

So, such experiences are very important from a personal perspective, for transformative experiences can play a significant role in one’s life, involving options, that, metaphorically speaking, function as crossroads in one’s path towards self-realization. The path you choose determines where you take your life, what you will become, and thus by extension, your subjective future. While some of those experiences happen to you without you having chosen them, I learned through the years than you can have your own choices involving transformative experiences. Those transformative choices allow you to causally form what it will be like to be you in your future. In this sense you own your future (Peter Senge would say, you create your future), because it is you who made the choice to bring this future – your very own future self – into being.

The problem is that when you face a transformative choice, that is, a choice of whether to undergo an epistemically and personally transformative experience, you cannot rationally make this choice based on what you think the transformative experience will be like. Consider, for instance, the transformative choice of marrying ‘The One’. When you decide to marry someone, you are not deciding to be married at that time or for just a couple of weeks. It is not as deciding where you will spend your holidays: at the coast side or in the mountains. In fact you are deciding whether you want to commit yourself to an extended life event. This extended life event is in fact a continuous relationship between your future self and the future self of another person. You’re about to marry someone not just for the here and now, you are marrying this person for a long term. You are marrying to be part of each other’s life as you grow and transform, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

Is the decision regarding getting married rational? In my personal case I dare to doubt this. We both made our decision by attempting to project forward our subjective future, to see what it would be for us to make a life with each other. Since we were the last of the Mohican’s (a metaphor I often use since we were both virgins when we got married) and thus did not live with each other for many years, like young people do nowadays, we did not know what being married really meant, let alone having an extended marriage. So we did not marry based on knowing what our future life would be like; we married based on a commitment to discover our future life together. This meant that we took on commitments that involved providing mutual support even though we knew that unexpected events and other kinds of events that life brings – for instance having a child – would happen. We committed ourselves that we would face these new experiences as one unit, a couple, not as a single person. While we knew some things before we got married, such as our current dispositions and inclinations, we could not know what it would be like to have the marriage that we would actually have. The only thing we knew was that our marriage would be an extended transformative experience.

Milan Kundera described beautifully what such a transformative experience is in his bestseller ‘The unbearable lightness of being’ in which he quotes Friedrich Nietzsche and uses the German proverb: “Einmal ist keinmal’. Gallimard first published this book, although originally written in Czech two years before, in French: ‘L’insoutenable légèreté de l’être’ in 1984. I bought this French edition in Paris in the fall of that same year and I enjoyed it so much that I read it all in one sitting.

The phrase “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is Kundera’s own, but to understand it we actually have to start with Friedrich Nietzsche and the idea of eternal return. Eternal return is the idea that our universe and our existence has occurred an infinite number of times in the past, and will continue to occur ad infinitum. In this theory, time is cyclical rather than linear. The idea of eternal return is an ancient one, but Nietzsche, a 19th century German philosopher, popularized it for modern times. That’s why the narrator of Unbearable Lightness refers to it as Nietzsche’s concept. Nietzsche explored what the consequences of such eternal return would be. In his eyes, eternal return was das schwerste Gewicht, or “the heaviest weight.” It was a petrifying concept to imagine that our lives have been and will continue to be repeated endlessly. But one could learn, through philosophy, to love the idea. The proper mind can embrace this weight, rather than be terrified by it. Nietzsche seems to conclude in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that we must live and act as though our lives functioned in eternal return, suggesting that we give our own lives meaning and weight by behaving this way.

Kundera argues that Nietzche was wrong and states: “Human time does not turn in a circle,” he argues; “it runs ahead in a straight line”. Nietzsche said that eternal return gives our lives the heaviest weight. So if our lives only occur once, it must mean – according to Kundera – that they are filled with lightness. This is where Kundera’s phrase einmal ist keinmal comes into the picture. And Tomas, one of the main characters of the book, translates this for us: “What happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all”

The point which is interesting in our context is that if we live only once, then we can never compare the decisions we make to any alternatives. And if we can never compare different outcomes, we can never know if the decisions we made are correct or not, which means – according to Kundera – we can never judge them properly or take responsibility for them. Hence, Kundera suggests that to live only once is to live with lightness.

The question then becomes: “Do we want lightness, or do we want weight?” Which do we choose? Kundera takes a look at Parmenides, a Greek philosopher in the 5th century B.C. who considered the same question. Parmenides argued that lightness was positive and to be desired, while weight was negative. The narrator of The Unbearable Lightness of Being isn’t so sure about this. “The heaviest of burdens is […] simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment,” he says. “The heavier the burden, […] the more real and truthful [our lives] become”.

During the course of the novel, the narrator refers to the lightness of being in two different ways: the sweet lightness of being, and the unbearable lightness of being. Kundera argues that lightness is unbearable, but it is up to us as readers to understand the reasons behind his argument. The lightness may seem at first to be a sweet deal – no responsibility, no judgment, no meaning. Sounds like fun – at first. But eventually, as I’ve argued in my previous column[ii], we desperately would like for our lives to mean something. We want them to have weight and significance, because we want them to matter. The problem is then, still according to Kundera, try as we might to give our lives weight…we cannot. Our lives are fundamentally light precisely because they occur only once. So Kundera’s argument is two-fold:

  1. Nietzsche was wrong; there is no eternal return; our lives occur only once, and that makes them light.
  2. Parmenides was wrong; such lightness is not sweet, it is unbearable.

Notice that both these arguments are established right in the title of the novel and it takes (Kundera) the entire novel for the argument behind these ideas to unfold. By the way, as I’ve argued in my last book ‘Cruciale dialogen’, the title is a metaphor.

For what it’s worth, let me express my view on Kundera’s argument. I agree: ‘Einmal ist Keinmal’; you simply cannot live two lives in parallel. I cannot, at the same time, be married to Rita and be single. The consequence of that is that I cannot compare those two ‘lives’ the moment of the decision and throughout my whole married life, neither can Rita. Regarding Kundera’s question: “Is ‘being’ light or unbearable?” the only right answer is, as I learned from my mentor Charlie Palmgren, since the question is a ‘or’ question: YES![iii] Finally I really can’t say Amen to Kundera’s statement that because we cannot judge we are not responsible for the consequences of our decisions. To me we definitely are responsible for those consequences and what’s more they become bearable if we live Creative Interchange from within. In other words we should stay aware of the unfolding of our lives and take the right measures and decisions when needed. We are responsible for our actions, period.

Personally, I adhere to Wieman’s two-fold commitment, which keeps the “old” from obstructing the emergence of the “new” and keeps the “new” from abandoning and discarding the value of the “old.” Wieman’s said this requires following two-fold commitment: “A commitment to act on the current best we know and a commitment to remain open to what in truth can transform our current best to what is better.” Through living this two-fold commitment from within we will continually transform our mind as it cannot transform itself. The language surrounding the death of the old self and the creation of a new self takes on a new kind of significance. For Wieman, such a person is able to have the old self transformed in a way that takes on a wider world, a wider range of concerns, experiences, and valuations. For him, the greatest barrier to emergence of the new is the convulsive clinging to present beliefs, values, and habits giving them the loyalty and commitment that should be given to the Creative Good (i.e. Creative Interchange). Wieman’s central theme is self-commitment to growth and transformation through Creative Interchange; in other words, a self-commitment to the Creative Interchange process that transforms human life toward the Greatest Human Good.[iv]

So, Creative Interchange changes the mind in ways that the mind cannot do this by itself. The challenge of life is not to realize goods that we can now imagine but to undergo a change in consciousness in which there will arise possibilities of value that we cannot imagine on basis of our present awareness. This transformation of the mindset cannot be imagined before it arises and therefor cannot be planned or controlled, neither from the outside nor from the inside. One must cultivate a willingness to set aside present held values and open oneself to a creativity that leads the mind toward a wider awareness and a new consciousness. The human task is not to contrive a better form of living based on present understanding but rather to set the conditions under which creative interchange may operate to expand our awareness. The good of human life increases, as the mind becomes a more richly interconnected network of meanings.

Charlie Palmgren took the challenge of continuing the search for the conditions necessary for Creative Interchange to thrive. One of his first contributions was to make the barriers within ourselves to Creative Interchange visible by discovering the counter productive process: the Vicious Circle, his articulation of Wieman’s greatest barrier to the emergence of the new. The Vicious Circle is Palmgren’s view of how humans become disconnected from their innate Worth. He believes that human worth is the capacity to participate in transforming creativity. Worth is innate, in other words Worth is the innate need for creative transformation. He drives home his point clearly: “Our need for creative transformaton is to our psychological and spiritual survival what oxygen, water, food, exercise, and sleep is to physical well-being.”[v]

Concluding note: Man’s Ultimate Commitment – i.e. providing for the conditions for and living Creative Interchange from within in an awareness way – leads to a continuous transformative experience.

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[i] This column is based on three books:

  1. H.N. Wieman. Man’s Ultimate Commitment. University Press of America®, Inc., Lanham, Maryland, 1991
  2. L.A. Paul. Transformative Experience. Oxford University Press. Oxford UK – New York NY, 2014
  3. M. Kundera. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. New York NY, 1984.

[ii] http://www.creativeinterchange.be/?p=811

[iii] http://www.creativeinterchange.org/?author=2

[iv] https://www.slideshare.net/johanroels33/essay-creative-interchange-and-the-greatest-human-good

[v] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren, The Chicken Conspiracy: Breaking The Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore, MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998. p. 21.