Categoriearchief: Matthieu Ricard

BEYOND THE [CREATED] SELF

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.]

 

________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

[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.

BEYOND THE [CREATED] SELF

 

PART II

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.

 

CHAPTER 2:

DEALING WITH SUBCONSIOUS PROCESSES AND EMOTIONS

 

ON THE NATURE OF THE UNCONSCIOUS

What is the unconscious? For the Buddhist monk the most profound aspect of consciousness is alert presence. In Buddhism there is the concept of habitual tendencies that are opaque to our awareness. For Buddhism, the deepest, most fundamental aspect of consciousness is this sun-like awareness, not the murky unconsciousness. [I’m always distinguishing awareness and consciousness as follows: awareness is crystal clear consciousness, while what here is called unconsciousness is, to me, colored consciousness – i.e. coloring or interpreting of what is observed through crystal clear consciousness or sun-like awareness.]

Usually we are not aware of the rules that govern the interpretation of sensory signals, the construction of our percepts, or the logic according to which we learn, decide, associate, and act. [This logic is using my Crucial Dialogue Model: observe and interpret (i.e. learn), feel, associate and imagine (i.e. create), decide and finally act… followed by … starting all over again; and indeed we are usually not aware of what I call the Crucial Dialogue Model.]

Abundant evidence indicates that attentional mechanisms play a crucial role in controlling access to consciousness. When attended to, most signals from our senses can reach the level of conscious awareness. It cannot be emphasized enough, however, that signals permanently excluded from conscious processing as well as transitorily excluded signals such as nonattended sensory stimuli still have a massive impact on our behavior. In addition, these unconscious signals can control attentional mechanisms and thereby determine which of the stored memories or sensory signals will be attended and transferred to the level of conscious processing.

The phenomenon of change blindness, the inability to detect local changes in two images presented in quick succession, demonstrates impressively our inability to attend to and consciously process all features of an image simultaneously.

Perception is actually not as holistic as it appears to be. We scan complex scenes serially, and actually much of what we seem to perceive we are in fact reconstructing from memory. It appears also that we are not always capable of controlling which contents enter consciousness.

Wolf considers the workspace of consciousness as the highest and most integrated level of brain function. Access to this workspace is privileged and controlled by attention. Moreover, the rules governing conscious deliberations such as consciously made decisions most likely differ from those of subconscious processes. The former are based mainly on rational, logical or syntactic rules, and the search for solutions is essentially a serial process. Arguments and facts are scrutinized one by one and possible outcomes investigated. [Makes me think of a tool I’ve used a zillion times in my Safety years: Root Cause Analysis] Hence conscious processing takes time. Subconscious mechanisms seem to rely more on parallel processing, whereby a large number of neuronal assemblies, each which represents a particular solution, enter into competition with one another. Then a “winner-takes-all” algorithm leads to the stabilization of the assembly that fits the actual context of distributed activity patterns. [Which makes me think of a phenomenon I disliked a zillion times in my Safety years: Jump to Conclusion or Groupthink] Thus, the conscious mechanism is suited best to circumstances in which no time pressure exists, when not too many variables have to be considered, and when the variables are defined with sufficient precision to be subjected to rational analysis. The domains of subconscious processing are situations requiring fast responses or conditions where large numbers of undetermined variables have to be considered simultaneously and weighed against variables that have no or only limited access to conscious processing, such as the wealth of implicit knowledge and heuristics, vague feelings, and hidden motives or drives.

The outcome of such subconscious processes manifests itself in either immediate behavioral responses or what are called “gut feelings”. [The “problem” with Jump to Conclusion or Groupthink is that the “solution” or behavioral response is at first sight the “right” one and after a while – humans being lazy – Jump to conclusion becomes a habit… until…]

What is said above corresponds with what Daniel Kahneman explains in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.[ii]Although we are generally convinced that we are rational, our decisions, economic or otherwise, are often irrational and strongly influenced by our immediate gut feelings, emotions and situations to which we have been exposed immediately before taken a decision. Intuition is a highly adaptable faculty that allows us to make fast decisions in complex situations, but it also lures us into thinking that we have made a rational choice, which actually takes more time and deliberation.

By dwelling in the clarity of the present moment, you are free from all ruminations, upsetting emotions, frustrations, and other inner conflicts. If you learn to deal, moment after moment, with the arising of thoughts, than you can preserve your inner freedom, which is the desired goal of such training.

 

SIDE EFFECTS OF MEDITATION

In the end what we need is to be freed from inner conflicts, one way or the other. If you become an expert in meditation methods, the so-called afflicted thoughts no longer have the power to afflict you because they undo themselves the moment they arise. But that is not all. Experience shows that by repeatedly doing so, you not only deal successfully with each individual arising of afflictive thoughts but you also slowly erode the tendencies for such thoughts to arise. So in the end, you are free of them entirely.

To openly confront our differences can be a way to pacify a conflict, but it is not the only way. To begin with, a conflict requires two protagonists confronting each other in antagonistic ways. As the Tibetan saying goes “One cannot clap with one hand only.” In fact, if one of the persons involved disarms his or her own antagonistic mind, then it will contribute greatly to reduction the conflict with the other person. [This is done through living Creative Interchange from within due to postponing an insight or your ‘conclusion’ and starting to appreciatively understand the point of view of the other person. “Oh Master grant me … that I understand before being understood” – The Song of Saint Francis.]

As far as your own inner conflicts are concerned, if you use meditation simply as a quick fix to superficially appease your emotions, you temporarily enjoy a pleasant deferral of these inner conflicts. Unfortunately, these cosmetic changes have not reached the root of the problem.

True meditation is not just taking a break. It is not simply closing one’s eyes to the problem for a while. Meditation goes to the root of the problem. You need to become aware of the destructive aspect of compulsive attachment and all of the conflictive mental states that conflicts create. They are destructive in the sense of undermining your happiness and that of others, and to counteract them you need more than just a calming pill. Meditation practice offers many kinds of antidotes [cf. Creative Interchange practice]

One of the antidotes is to be aware of desire or anger, instead of identifying with it. Then the part of our mind that is aware of the anger is not angry, it is simply aware. In other words, awareness is not affected by the emotion it is observing. Understanding this makes it possible to step back and realize that the emotion is actually devoid of solidity. We need to provide an open space of inner freedom, and the internal affliction will dissolve by itself.

 

LOVE VERSUS ATTACHMENT

As for romantic love, there is usually a strong component of grasping and self-centeredness that will most often turn into a cause of torment. In this kind of love, one often loves oneself through the guise of loving someone else. To be a source of mutual happiness, genuine love has to be altruistic. This does not mean at all that one will not flourish oneself. Altruistic love is win-win, whereas selfish love soon turns into a lose-lose situation. [This part makes me strongly think of the love between Tereza, one of the main characters of Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and her dog Karenin. Milan writes extensively about the love between Man and Dog. In chapter 4 one can read:

It is a completely selfless love: Tereza did not want anything of Karenin; she did not ever ask him to love her back. Nor had she ever asked herself the questions that plague human couples: Does he love me? Does he love anyone more than me? Does he love me more than I love him? Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company.
And something else: Tereza accepted Karenin for what he was; she did not try to make him over in her image; she agreed from the outset with his dog’s life, did not wish to deprive him of it, did not envy him his secret intrigues. The reason she trained him was not to transform him (as a husband tries to reform his wife and a wife her husband), but to provide him with the elementary language that enabled them to communicate and live together.
Then too: No one forced her to love Karenin; love for dogs is voluntary.
 (…)
But most of all: No one can give anyone else the gift of the idyll; only an animal can do so, because only animals were not expelled from Paradise. The love between dog and man is idyllic. It knows no conflicts, no hair-raising scenes; it knows no development.”]

The universal nature of extended altruism does not mean that it becomes a vague, abstract feeling, disconnected from reality. It should be applied spontaneously and pragmatically to every being who presents him or herself in the field of our attention. [i.e. Living Creative Interchange from within]

You give your full, undiminished love to those who are close to you; those for whom you are responsible, andyou also reserve a complete openness and readiness to extend that altruism to whoever crosses your path in life.

Unconditional altruism is a state of benevolence for all sentient beings, a state of mind in which hatred has no place.

The aspiration of the bodhisattva: “May I transform myself and achieve enlightenment so that I become able to free all things from suffering.”

 

ON THE JOY OF INNER PEACE

Having inner peace and equanimity does not mean that you cease to experience things with depth and brilliance, nor does it necessitate a reduction in the quality of your love, affection, vivid openness to others, or joy. In fact, you can be all the more present to others and to the world because you are remaining in the freshness of the present moment instead of being carried away by wandering thoughts.

Researchers in positive psychology, such as Barbara Frederickson, have concluded that love is the “supreme emotion” because, more than any other mental state, it opens your mind and allows us to view situations with a vaster perspective, be more receptive to others, and adopt flexible and creative attitudes and behavior.[iii]

 

WATCHING THE MIND, TRAINING THE MIND

Figuring among the similarities Aaron Beck noticed was elimination the “six main mental afflictions: attachment, anger and hostility, arrogance [i.e. pride], [ignorance, doubt] and mental confusion [i.e. afflicted views]”, which are to be slowly replaced by serenity, compassion and inner freedom. He also noted similarities in the application of procedures and meditation techniques aiming to reduce the mental fabrications leading to these afflictions: in particular being absorbed in intransigent egocentricity.

Beck notes that people suffering from psychotic problems experience intensified self-focalization: They relate everything to themselves and are exclusively concerned with the fulfillment of their own wants and needs. It must also be said that “normal” people often display the same type of egocentricity but to a lesser extent and in a more subtle way. Buddhism tries to diminish these characteristics.

We need to be more skillful in paying attention to all the nuances of what is actually happening in our mind and in successfully freeing ourselves from being enslaved by our own thoughts. This is how we can gain inner freedom.

If we are able to transform the way we perceive things, then we will transform at the same time the quality of our lives. [Makes me think of what my friend Carol Lischalck used to say:Change Management IS Perception Management.”]

Society and its institutions influence and condition individuals, but those individuals can in turn make society and institutions evolve as well. As this interaction continuous over the course of generations, culture and individuals keep on shaping each other. [To me, society can’t transform if the individuals do not. W. Edwards Deming once stated: “There is no change without personal transformation.”]

 

 

CHAPTER 3:

HOW DO WE KNOW THAT WE KNOW?

 

WHAT REALITY DO WE PERCEIVE?

Can we understand reality as it is? On the level of ordinary perception, the neuroscientist and the Buddhist thinker say no: We never stop interpreting sensorial insights and construction ‘our’ reality.

Is there an objective reality independent from our perception? In this chapter the first-person approach will be distinguished from the second- and third-person exterior approaches.

We have two different sources of knowledge to call on. The primary and most important source is our subjective experience because it results from introspection or our interactions with the world around us. The second source is science, which attempts to understand the world and our condition by extending our senses with instruments, applying the tools of rational reasoning to interpreting observed phenomena, developing predictive models, and verifying our predictions through experiments.

Emanuel Kant distinguished between a hypothetical Ding an sich– literally the ‘thing in itself’, or the essence of an object of cognition that cannot be reduced further to anything else – and the phenomenological appearance of that object, which is accessible to our senses.

Objectivity of perception (i.e., the ability to recognize the hypothetical Ding an sich) has never been a selection criterion. We know today that we only perceive a narrow spectrum of the physical and chemical properties of this world. We use those few signals to construct our perceptions, and our naïve intuition is that these provide us with a complete and coherent view of the world. We trust our cognitive faculties; we experience our perceptions as reflecting reality and cannot feel otherwise. In other words, our primary perceptions, whether mediated by introspection or sensory experience, appear to us as evident. They have the status of convictions.

We believe that we experience reality as it is, without realizing how much we interpret and distort it. Indeed, a gap exists between the way things appear and the way they are.

Neither our sensors nor our cognitive functions have been adapted by evolution to cope with these aspects of the world because they were irrelevant for survival at the time when our cognitions evolved.

For example, it is quite difficult to imagine something that appears either as a wave, which is not localized, or a particle, which is localized depending on the way we look at it.

When Buddhism speaks of apprehending ‘reality as it is,’ it does not refer to mere perceptions but to the logical assessment of the ultimate nature of reality. Buddha himself called the proper investigation of the ultimate nature of reality: the sublime path.

 Our basic cognitive functions were initially selected to help us cope with the conditions of a pre-social world. At later stages of biological evolution, there was with all likelihood some coevolution between the emerging social environment and our brains, a coevolution that endowed our brains with certain social skills, such as the ability to perceive, emit and interpret social signals. These abilities were then further complemented and refined by epigenetic modifications of brain architectures that occur during the development of individuals and are guided by experience and education.[Cf. Henry Nelson Wieman’s basic question: ”What can transform the mind since the mind cannot transform itself?” and the answer he gave to his question: “The Creative Interchange Process!”].

Epigenetics refers to the fact that we inherited a set of genes, but the expression of these genes can be modulated by influences that we encounter during our lifetime.

Our brains are the product of both biological and cultural evolution and exist in these two dimensions.

The possibility needs to be considered that, not only our perceptions, motivations, and behavioral responses, but also our way of reasoning and drawing inferences are adapted to the particular conditions of the world in which we evolved, including the world of social realities that emerged during cultural evolution.

 

HOW DO WE ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE?

We consider perception as an active, constructive process, whereby the brain uses its a priori knowledge about the world to interpret the signals provided by the sense organs.

Brains harbor a huge amount of knowledge about the world. The use of this knowledge is implemented in and determined by the functional architecture of the neural network This functional architectureis the way in which neurons are connected to each other, which particular neurons are actually connected, whether these connections are excitatory or inhibitory, and whether they are strong or weak. When a brain learns something new, a change in the functional architecture occurs: Certain connections are strengthened, whereas others are weakened. Hence, all the knowledge a brain has at its disposal, as well as the programs according to which this knowledge is used to interpret sensory signals and structure behavioral responses, resides in the specific layout of its functional architecture.

This leads to the identification of the three major sources of knowledge about the world. The first, and certainly not the least important, is evolution because genes determine a substantial part of the brain’s functional architecture. This knowledge resides in the newborn’s brain and is implicit – we are not aware of having it. Still we use it to interpret the signals provided by our sense organs.

Extensive epigenetic shaping of the brain’s neuronal architecture, which adapts the developing brain to the actual conditions in which the individual lives, subsequently complements this inborn knowledge. Because after birth neuronal activity is modulated with the environment, the development of the brain architectures is thus determined by a host of epigenetic factors derived form the natural and social worlds.

Although young children learn efficiently and store contents in a robust way through structural modification of their brain architecture, they often have no recollection of the source of this knowledge. Because of this apparent lack of causation, knowledge acquired in this way is implicit, just as evolutionary acquired knowledge is, and often assumes the status of conviction – that is, the truth is taken for granted.

Like innate knowledge, this acquired knowledge is used to shape cognitive processes and structure our perceptions. Yet we are not aware that what we perceive is actually the result of such a knowledge-based interpretation. This has far-reaching consequences: The genetic dispositions and, even more important, the epigenetic, culture-specific shaping of different brains introduce profound interindividual variability. Thus, it is not surprising that different persons, particularly those raised in different cultural environments, are likely to perceive the same reality differently. Because we are not aware of the fact that our perceptions are constructions, we are bound to take what we perceive as the only truth and do not question its objective status.

According to two American researchers, Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson, two evolutions occur in parallel: the slow evolution of genes and the relatively fast evolution of cultures, which allows psychological faculties to appear that could never have evolved under the influence of genes alone – hence the title of their book ‘Not by Genes Alone.’ They think of culture as a collection of ideas, knowledge, beliefs, values, abilities, and attitudes acquired during teaching, initiation, and every other kind of socially transmitted information.[iv]

For normal human perception, assume linearity is a well-adapted strategy. As a consequence, we seem to have difficulty imagining processes that have nonlinear dynamics and drawing the right conclusion about these processes. For example, because we intuitively assume linearity, we misperceive the complex dynamics of economic or ecologic systems, nurture the illusion that we can forecast and hence control the future trajectories of these systems, and then are surprised when the outcome of our interventions differs radically form what we had expected. Given these evolutionary limitations of our cognitive abilities and intuitions, we are left with the burning question of which source of knowledge we should trust. Especially when we are confronted with contradictions among our intuitions, primary perceptions, scientific statements and collectively acquired social convictions.

Buddhism also emphasizes the fact that a correct understanding of the phenomenal world acknowledges the fact that all phenomena arise through almost numberless interdependent causes and conditions that interact outside of a linear causality.

 

CAN THERE BE VALID COGNITION OF SOME ASPECTS OF KNOWLEDGE?

Consciousness associated with sensory experiences never directly experiences reality as it is. What we perceive are images of past stages of a phenomenon that are already devoid of intrinsic properties. On a macroscopic level, we know, for instance, that when we look at a star, we are looking at what that star was many years ago because it has taken that many years for the light emitted by the star to reach our eyes. In fact, this is true of all perceptions. We are never looking directly at phenomena in real time, and we always distort them in some way

What’s more, the mental image of a particular flower (or any other object) is also deceptive because we generally perceive that flower as being an autonomous entity and believe that the attributes of beauty or ugliness belong intrinsically to the flower. All this proceeds from what Buddhism calls ignoranceor lack of awareness. This basic ignorance is not just a mere lack of information (re. the flower for instance), ignorancehere refers to a distorted and mistaken way of apprehending reality at a deeper level.

Someone with insight will understand that the world we perceive is defined by a relational process taken place between the consciousness of the observer and a set of phenomena. It is therefor misleading to ascribe intrinsic properties to outer phenomena, such as beauty, ugliness, desirability, or repulsiveness. This insight has a therapeutic effect: It will disrupt the mechanism of compulsive attraction and repulsion that usually results in suffering. [cf. Anthony de Mello – Awareness: Labeling]

It is possible to transcend the deluded perception and achieve a valid understanding of the nature of the phenomenon (for instance the flower) as being impermanent and devoid of intrinsic, autonomous existence, as being devoid of any inherent qualities. Achieving this understanding is not dependent on our sensory perceptions or past habits. It comes from a proper analytical investigation of the nature of the phenomenal world, culminating in what is known in Buddhism as all-discriminating wisdom, an insight that apprehends the ultimate nature of phenomena without superimposing mental constructs on them.

Evidence from psychophysical investigation of perception and neurophysiological studies on perceptions underlying neuronal processes suggests that perceiving is essential reconstruction. The brain compares the sparse signals provided by our eclectic sense organs with the vast basis of knowledge about the world that is stored in its architecture and generates what appears to us as a percept of reality.

When we perceive the outer world, we first arrive at a coarse match between sensory signals and knowledge-based hypotheses about the world, and then we usually enter an iterative process to obtain approximations that gradually converge to the optimal solution – a state with a minimal number of unresolved ambiguities. In other words, we perform an active search for the best matches between signals and hypotheses until we obtain results with the desired clarity. This latter process of active search-and-match requires the investment of attentional resources, takes time, and is interpretative in nature. What is actually perceived is the result of that comparative process. It appears that this scientific scenario is fully compatible with Buddhist views! It suffices to replace what science addresses as ‘a priori knowledge’ with the Buddhist term ‘consciousness’.

So, there are two different ways of phrasing that: one from the third-person perspective, in the language of neuroscience, and the other from the first-person perspective, based on introspective experience. The first described how our perception of the world is shaped by evolution and the increasing complexity of the nervous system. From a Buddhist perspective, one would say that our world, at least the world we perceive, is intimately intertwined with the way our consciousness functions.

Buddhism says that our phenomenological world, the only one we perceive, depends on the particular configuration of the consciousness we have and is shaped by our past experiences and habits.

 

IS COGNITIVE DELUSION INESCAPABLE?

Perceiving is always interpreting and hence attributing properties to sensory signals. In this sense, perceptions are always mental constructs.

However, when we think, “This is truly beautiful” or “This is intrinsically desirable or detestable” we are not aware that we project these concepts onto outer phenomena and then believe that they are intrinsically belong to them. This gives rise to all kinds of mental reactions and emotions that are not attuned to reality and will therefor result in frustration.

Buddhism calls phenomena events. The literal meaning of samskara, the Sanskrit word for ‘things’ or ‘aggregates’ is ‘event’ or ‘action’. In quantum mechanics, too, the notion of object is subordinate to a measurement, hence an event. To believe the objects of our perception are endowed with intrinsic properties and autonomous existence is, to take again a comparison with quantum physics, like attributing local properties to particles that are entangled and belong to a global reality.

The problem is that in the case of the perception of social realities, there are no ‘objective’ measurement devices. There are only different perceptions: there is no right or wrong. This has far-reaching consequences for our concepts of tolerance. Solving such problems with majority votes is clearly no fair solution. What we therefor should do is grant everybody that her or his perceptions are correct and assume that this attitude will be reciprocated. Only if this agreement on reciprocity is violated have the dissenting parties the ‘right to exert sanctions’.

One must be fully aware of people’s ingrained beliefs and moral values and take them into consideration. This being said, social and cultural perceptions can be as deceptive as cognitive delusions, and they are built up in similar ways. From our mental fabrications arise many of our human-made problems.

The purpose of the Buddhist approach is not to confront people’s views head on by imposing another view that one considers to be superior but to help people see that all such views can be misleading and that we should not casually take them for granted. The idea is not to coerce people into seeing things as we see them or adopt our own aesthetic and moral values and judgments, but to help them reach a correct view of the ultimate nature of things as being devoid of intrinsic reality.

In truth, people from different cultures are all superimposing their particular mental fabrications on reality. The problem can be solved if these people investigate reality through logical reasoning and realize that they are simply distorting reality and that neither the object they are looking at nor the subject who perceives it exists as independent, truly existing entity.

Let’s remember that the goal of Buddhism is to put an end to the root cause of suffering. As long as the mind is under the influence of delusion and of any afflictive mental state such as hatred, craving or jealousy, suffering is always ready to manifest itself at any time.

To take the example of impermanence, at each moment everything changes, from the change of seasons and of youth at old age, to the subtlest aspects of impermanence that that take place in the shortest conceivable period of time. Once we have recognized that the universe is made not of solid, distinct entities, but of a dynamic flow of interactions among countless fleeting phenomena, it has major consequences in weakening our grasping onto reality we see before us. A proper understanding of impermanence helps us to close some of the gap between appearances and reality. [And helps us to continue to stay in Creative Interchange with everything and everyone, or in other words, in constant dialogue with our surroundings. All this means to me: Continuous Improvement in closing the gap between our perceptions and realities through Creative Interchange.]

 

EACH PERSON TO HIS OR HER OWN REALITY

There is no way to prove that a reality exists out there behind the screen of appearances, a reality that exists in and of itself, independent of us and the rest of the world. Even before the advent of the quantum physics, the mathematician Henri Poincaré said, “A reality completely independent from the mind that things, sees or feels is impossible. Even if it did exist, such a world would be utterly inaccessible to us.”[v]

We all keep on assigning an element of truth in our superimpositions on the world. What Buddhism does is deconstruct ordinary perceptions by conducting an in-depth investigation of the nature of what people see to make them understand that they are all distorting reality in different ways. One should not say, “distorting” because if there is no objectivity, you can’t distort anything – there is nothing objective to distort. People simply give different interpretations.

 

IS THERE AN OBJECTIVE REALITY “OUT-THERE”?

Objective is not just one of the many versions of what various people perceive but the irrefutable understanding that all phenomena are impermanent and devoid of intrinsic characteristics. This applies to all appearances, all perceptions, and all phenomena. Distortions, therefore, is not defined in comparison with a true, self-existing reality. Distortion is to attribute any kind of intrinsic reality, permanence or autonomy to phenomena.

The realization that the phenomenal world is a dynamic, interdependent flow of events and the knowledge that what we perceive is the result of the interactions of our consciousness with these phenomena is, in fact, the understanding of the process of delusion. That understanding is correct in all situations.

 

CAUSALITY AS CORRELATE OF INTERDEPENDENCE

In Buddhism, absolute truthrefers to the recognition that phenomena are ultimately devoid of intrinsic experience. Relative truthis to acknowledge that these phenomena arise not in haphazard ways but according to the laws of causality.

There is a difference between apparent, relative, conditioned properties and intrinsic ones, but typically we ignore it. This not a mere intellectual distinction – ignoring its causes us to act in ways that stands at odds with reality and are, therefore, dysfunctional.

To conclude that phenomena are impermanent and interdependent is the only outcome of a careful, logical investigation.

Conclusion, if you think, “Phenomena appear as interdependent events devoid of autonomous, inherent characteristics and existence,” since such understanding is congruent with reality, you are much less likely to relate to objects in ways that lead to disappointment and suffering.

 

CONSTRUCTING AND DECONSTRUCTING REALITY

Brains construct their views of the world on the basis of inherited and acquired knowledge. Because different brains have different knowledge bases, they may arrive at different views. We perceive the world as we do because our brains are the way they are. Because the genetically and culturally transmitted cognitive schemata (priors) are quite similar, we tend to perceive the world in a similar way [if we are ‘member’ of the same culture].

The goal is not to agree on sensory perceptions but to understand that these perceptions result from constructing a fictitious reality [we call this Appreciative Understanding, the goal of this is not to agree on what the other ‘sees’ but to appreciatively understand that what one sees is constructed and not the ‘reality’]. All parties can free themselves from cognitively deluded ways of apprehending reality. In other words, one would continue to see what one sees, but one would become aware that this not the only way that it can be seen. And it doesn’t stop there. One would further acknowledge that one’s way of seeing is fabricated. Analytical meditation and mental training would allow one to recognize that one’s habitual tendencies causes one to attach various qualities to objects even though these qualities are not invariable attributes of the objects.

When all mental fabrications are unmasked, you perceive the world as a dynamic flow of events, and you stop freezing reality in various deluded ways. And if we don’t freeze reality, we will not be caught in reifying it as something solid, endowed with true, intrinsic existence, and we will not be deluded. [Makes me think of the ‘Change Model’ of Kurt Lewin vs the ‘Change Model’ of Charlie Palmgren; the first uses stages as ‘unfreezing’ – ‘changing’ and ‘refreezing’ and the second sees ‘Change’ as a continuous process – see Part I, chapter 3: ‘Change is a Process’ of my book ‘Creatieve wisselwerking’ [vi]]

 

REFINING THE TOOLS OF INTROSPECTION

Therefor you need to make the mind’s telescope more focused, clear and stable. Introspection has long been discredited because the subjects who were asked to engage in it in laboratory studies did so with minds that were distracted most of the time. Distraction creates an unsteady mind. In addition, an untrained mind lacks the limpid clarity that allows one to see vividly what is happening within oneself. So whether the mind is carried away by distractions or sinks into a cognitive opacity, it will not be able to pursue proper introspection.

A clear and stable mind brings inner peace and deeper insights into the nature of reality and the mind itself.

Your experience is your world.

 

FIRST-, SECOND- AND THIRD-PERSON EXPERIENCE

The second-person perspective involves an in-depth properly dialogue between the subject and an expert who leads the dialogue, asking appropriate questions and allowing the subject to describe his or her experience inall its minute details.

Meditation is not mathematics but rather a science of the mind, and it is conducted with rigor, perseverance, and discipline. [vii][as is living Creative Interchange from within]

The Buddha encouraged contemplatives to practice assiduously by saying: “I’ve shown you the path, and it’s up to you to travel it by yourself. Don’t believe what I say simply out of respect for me, but examine the truth of it very thoroughly, as when examining the purity of a piece of gold by rubbing it on a flat gold, beating it and melting it.” We should take not things for granted without verifying them for ourselves.

What is not clear to you can become completely clear in the future through investigation and training.

A trained contemplative will be highly aware of his cognitive processes, of the way thoughts unfold, and of the way emotions arise and how they can be balanced and controlled. The meditator will also have some experience of what is known as pure awareness, which is a clear and lucid state of consciousness devoid of mental constructs and automatic thought processes. The meditator may also understand that there is not such thing in the mind as a central, autonomous self, which I think fits quite well with the views of neuroscience.

 

A PHYSICIAN AND A CURE

It is the reality of recognizing the nature of pure awareness, as well as the nature of suffering and its causes – the mental toxins – and the possibility of getting rid of these causes through cultivating wisdom. And it is also apprehending outer reality in a more correct way, as interdependent events devoid of intrinsic existence.

Not all information is equally useful. It also depends on your purpose. Valid knowledge about the process of cognitive delusion is immensely useful if one falls prey to compulsive attachment or hatred because this will help dispel suffering.

 

THE ETHICS OF PRACTICE AND SCIENCE

Knowledge obtained through scientific inquiry has no moral value on its own. It is the way we make use of such knowledge that morality comes in.

In Buddhism, which invokes no divine authority, ethics is a set of guidelines from empirical experience and wisdom to avoid afflicting suffering on others and yourself. The Buddha is not a prophet, a God, or a saint but rather an awakened one. Ethics is really a science of happiness and suffering, not a set of rules proclaimed by a divine entity or dogma thinkers. Because ethics is all about avoiding inflicting suffering on others, having more wisdom and compassion, together with gaining a better understanding of the mechanics of happiness and suffering and the laws of cause and effect, [meditation] will foster ethical systems and practices that are more likely to fulfill their purpose.

 

THREE ASPECTS OF BUDDHIST PHILOSOPY

One is the philosophical, epistemic position of Buddhism, which is clearly a rather radical, constructivist position that declares that most of what we perceive outside of our own mind, and for untrained, naïve humans, also most of what one experiences with one’s inner eye, as delusive.

The second aspect is the conviction that it is possible to fine-tune one’s inner eye through practice to experience what one’s mind and reality is all about.

Thirdly – and this seems the most important point and consequence of the first two – if the goal is to purify one’s mind is achieved and perception is no longer contaminated by false beliefs, then one changes basic traits of one’s personality and thus becomes a better person who can contribute more effectively to the reduction of suffering.

Once again, in Buddhism knowledge is used to relieve suffering. So one needs to distinguish the kinds of actions, words, and thoughts that will cause suffering from those that will bring fulfillment and flourishing.

Values can also be related to a correct understanding of reality. Understanding the interdependence of all beings and phenomena is the logical ground for growing altruism and compassion.[viii]

Reality is neither good nor bad, but valid and invalid ways of apprehending reality exist. These various ways have consequences: A mind that does not distort reality will naturally experience inner freedom and compassion, instead of craving and hatred.

If you recognize that reality is interdependent and impermanent, you will adopt the right attitude and be much more likely to flourish. Otherwise, as Rabindranath Tagore wrote: “We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.”[ix]

The brain can impose on itself a training process that induces lasting changing in its own cognitive structures [We call this process, the Creative Interchange process]. And this is more than mere theoretical understanding. Training implies cultivation, repetition that leads to slowly remodeling your way of being, which will be correlated with a remodeling of your brain. You need to acquire correct understanding and then cultivate that understanding until it becomes fully part of yourself [Thus not only understanding the Creative Interchange process, one has to live it fully from within until it becomes fully part of oneself].

The internal drive [to live the Creative Interchange process from within] arises from a deep aspiration to free oneself from suffering [i.e.from the counter process, the Vicious Circle]. This aspiration, in turn, reflects the potential that we have for change and flourishing. A qualified teacher plays a crucial role in showing and explaining us the means to achieve that change. [In order to learn the skills of the Creative Interchange process a role model plays a crucial role].

 

A SUMMARY

Clinging and attachment act like distorting filters on one’s perceptions that prevent us from perceiving the real world – and should therefor be avoided. [Clinging and attachment are elements of the Vicious Circle]

Mental practice, introspection, and cultivation of the mind are used to attain more objectivity. In addition, this ‘science of the mind’ can serve as the basis of an ethical system. [cf., once again; the Creative Interchange process, the process that transforms the mind, whilst the mind cannot do this on its own].

We have to understand ethics as a science of happiness and suffering, not as a dogma disconnected from lived experience.

The premise is that mental practice leads to the construction of realistic models of oneself and the world. These novel insights, together with the effects of the practice, would then entrain changes in attitude, which, if shared with many in the long run, could improve the human condition [in and through the new Creative Interchange paradigm].

This will arise from a way of being that has become free of those biases and mental entanglements, and therefore naturally expresses itself as altruism, compassion and genuine concern for others.

If you maintain proper understanding or perspective, proper view, proper motivation, proper effort, and proper conduct, then it will certainly work in the best possible way. Even if life events and circumstances are unpredictable and beyond our control, we can always (try to) maintain our direction using our inner compass of right view and right motivation [i.e. using our Intrinsic Worth]. This is the best way to achieve the goal of freedom from suffering for oneself and others.

A correct understanding of reality leads to a correct mental attitude and moment-by-moment behavior that is attuned to that understanding. This in turns leads to a win-win situation of flourishing oneself while acting in a way that is also beneficial to others. Such an optimal way of being will have positive effects first in the family and then in the village or local community and gradually in society at large. As Ghandi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Unless a substantial fraction of individuals follow the path of individual transformation, the danger remain that those clinging to power and selfishness will usurp the benevolence of a peaceful minority for their interests.

___________________________________________________________________________

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

[ii]D. Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2011.

[iii]B. Frederickson, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do and Become.New York NY: Hudson Street Press, 2013.

[iv]R. Boye and P. J. Richerson, Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution.Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004. 5.

[v]H. Poincaré, La Valeur de la science.Paris: Flammarion,1990.

[vi]J. Roels, Creatieve wisselwerking, Apeldoorn-Leuven: Garant, 2001, pp 117-147.

[vii]M. Ricard, Why Meditate? New York, NY: Hay House, 2010.

[viii]M. Ricard, Altruism:The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World. New York, NY. Little, Brown and Company. 2015.

[ix]R. Tagore, Stray Birds. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1916, LXXV.

BEYOND THE [CREATED] SELF

 

Part I: Meditation and the brain

Charlie Palmgren brought this book[i] to my attention. As he pointed out it one of the best descriptions of the working of the Creative Interchange process I’ve read thus far. The book itself contains, as the subtitle points out, conversations between Buddhism and Neuroscience; conversations between the two authors: Matthieu Ricard a French Buddhist and Wolf Singer a German neuroscientist.

In this series of columns I’ll paraphrase a lot of paragraphs of this book and add 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 – 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 the reader to read and comment this brilliant book oneself.

 

CHAPTER 1 Meditation and the Brain

 

A SCIENCE OF MIND

Most of our innate capacities remain dormant unless we do something, through training, for instance, to bring them to an optimal, functional point.

If we transform our way of perceiving things, then we transform the quality of our lives. The form of mind training, known as meditation, brings about this kind of transformation. [This mind training and thus meditation is in my point of view another application of Creative Interchange. A sort of inner crucial dialogue so to speak.]

Nature gave us the possibility to understand our potential for change, no matter how we are now and what we have done. This notion is a powerful source of inspiration for engaging in a process of inner transformation. You may not succeed easily, but at least be encouraged by such an idea; you can put all our energy into such a transformation, which is already in itself a healing process.

The most fundamental aspect of the mind is luminous awareness.

In the freshness of the present moment, the past is gone, the future is not yet born, and if one remains in pure mindfulness and freedom [i.e. inner dialogue the Creative Interchange way], potentially disturbing thoughts arise and go without leaving a trace.

A piece of gold that remains deeply buried in its ore, in a rock or in the mud. The gold does not lose its intrinsic purity, but its value is not actualized. Likewise, to be fully expressed, our human potential needs to meet suitable conditions [That human potential is what Charlie Palmgren calls the intrinsic Worth i.e the intrinsic individual capacity for Creative Interchange].

AWARENESS AND MENTAL CONSTRUCTS

The basic quality of consciousness is called in Buddhism the fundamental luminous nature of mind. It is luminous in the sense that it throws light on the outer world our perceptions and on our inner world through our feelings, thoughts, memories of the past, anticipation of the future, and awareness of the present moment. It is luminous in contrast to an inanimate object, which is completely dark in terms of cognition.

The basic awareness is a quality that can be called basic cognition, pure awareness or the most fundamental nature of mind. There are not two streams of consciousness. It has more to do with various aspects of consciousness: a fundamental aspect, pure awareness, which is always there; and adventitious aspects, the mental constructs, which are always changing. [I call the first sometimes the ‘naked’, uncolored, transparant and non-dual consciousness and the second the ‘clothed’, colored, opaque and dual consciousness]

The mind can be aware of itself without requiring a second mind to do so. One aspect of the mind, the most fundamental aspect of it, pure awareness, can also be awareness of itself without requiring a second observer. [This capacity of the mind is fully used in the so-called Process Awareness Creative Interchange skill]

The point is not to fragment the self but to use the capacity of the mind to observe and to know itself to free oneself from suffering. We actually speak of nondual self-illuminating awareness, which emphasizes this point. There is no need for a dissociation of personality because the mind has the inherent faculty to observe itself, just as a flame does not need a second flame to light itself up. Its own luminosity suffices.

The practical point of all this is that you can look at your thoughts, including strong emotions, from the perspective given by pure mindfulness. Thoughts are manifestations of pure awareness, just like waves that surge from and dissolve back in the ocean. The ocean and waves are not two intrinsically separate things. Usually, we are so taken by the content of thoughts that we fully identify ourselves with our thoughts and are unaware of the fundamental nature of consciousness, pure awareness. Because of that we are easily deluded, and we suffer.

Example of a strong emotion is anger. Anger fills out whole landscape and project its distortion of reality on people and events. If we are able to dissociate from anger and look at it dispassionately with bare mindfulness, then we can see that it is just a bunch of thoughts and not something fearsome. Anger does not carry weapons, it does not burn like a fire or crush someone like a rock, and it is nothing more than a product of our mind.

Instead of ‘being’ the anger and fully identifying with it, we must simply look at anger and keep our bare attention on it. When we do so, what happens? Just as when we cease to add wood on fire, the fire soon dies out: anger cannot sustain itself for long under the gaze of mindfulness. It simply fades away.

WORKING WITH EMOTIONS

Your object of inquiry appears to be the mental apparatus and your analytical tool, introspection. This is an interesting self-referential approach that differs from the Western science of mind because it emphasizes the first-person perspective and collapses, in a sense, the instrument of investigation with its object. The Western approach, while using the first-person perspective for the definition of mental phenomena, clearly favors the third-person perspective for its investigation. I am curious to find out whether the results of analytical introspection match those obtained by cognitive neuroscience.

GRADUAL AND LASTING CHANGES

What really matters is the way the person gradually changes. If, over months and years, someone becomes less impatient, less prone to anger, and less torn apart by hopes and fears, then the method he or she has been using is a valid one. If the person has gradually developed the inner resources to successfully deal with the ups and downs of life, then real progress has occurred.

When you are confronted with someone who criticizes or insults you, if you don’t blow a fuse but know how to deal skillfully with the person while maintaining your inner peace, you will have achieved some genuine emotional balance and inner freedom. You will have become less vulnerable to outer circumstances and your own deluded thoughts.

Practitioners of meditation retain the capacity of being fully aware of something and they succeed in not being carried away by their emotional responses. People who do not practice meditation either do not perceive the stimuli so do not react to it or perceive it and react strongly.

The positive or negative nature of an emotion should be assessed according to its motivation – altruistic or selfish – and its consequences in terms of well-being or suffering.

OUTER AND INNER ENRICHMENT

The mind obviously has the capacity to know and train itself.[if it uses Creative Interchange] People do that all the time without calling it meditation. Meditation [i.e. using willfully – intention and attention – Creative Interchange on one’s own mind ] is simply a more systematic way of doing this with wisdom – that is, with an understanding of the mechanisms of happiness and suffering.

The process requires perseverance. You need to train again and again. With meditation, the effort is aimed at developing not a physical skill but an inner enrichment. I understand that the development of brain functions comes from exposure to the outer world. However, most of the time, our engagement with the world is semi-passive. We are exposed to something and react to it, thus increasing our experience. One could describe this process as an outer enrichment.

In the case of meditation and mind training, the outer environment might change only minimally. In extreme cases, you could be in a simple hermitage in which nothing changes or sitting alone always facing the same scene day after day. So the outer enrichment is almost nil, but the inner enrichment is maximal. You are training your mind all day long with little outer stimulation. Furthermore, such enrichment is not passive, but voluntary, and methodically directed.

When you engage for eight or more hours a day in cultivation certain mental states that you have decided to cultivate and that you have learned to cultivate, you reprogram the brain.

In a sense, you make your brain the object of a sophisticated cognitive process that is turned inward rather than outward the world around you. You apply the cognitive abilities of the brain to studying its own organization and functioning, and you do so in an intentional and focused way [cf. intention and attention], similar to when you attend to events in the outer world and when you organize sensory signals into coherent percepts. You assign value to certain states and you try to increase their prevalence, which probably goes along with a change in synaptic connectivity in much the same way as it occurs with learning processes resulting from interactions with the outer world.

The brain developmental reorganization continues until the age of about 20. The early stages serve the adjustment of sensory and motor functions, and the later phases primarily involves brain systems responsible for social abilities. Once these developmental processes come to an end, the connectivity of the brain becomes fixed, and [according to actual western brain science] and large-scale modifications are no longer possible. The existing synaptic connections remain modifiable, but you can’t grow new long-range connections.

A study of people who have practiced meditation for a long time demonstrates that structural connectivity among different areas of the brain is higher in meditators than in a control group. Hence, there must be another kind of change allowed in the brain.

PROCESSES OF NEURONAL CHANGES

Neuroscience has no difficulty in accepting that a learning process can change behavioral dispositions, even in adults. There is ample evidence of this from reeducation programs, where practice leads to small but incremental behavior modifications. There is also evidence for quite dramatic and sudden changes in cognition, emotional states, and coping strategies. In this case, the same mechanism that support learning – distributed changes in the efficiency of synaptic connections – lead to drastic alterations of global brain states. The reason is that in highly nonlinear, complex systems such as the brain, relatively small changes in the coupling of neurons can lead to phase transitions that can entrain radical alterations of system properties. This can occur in association with traumatic or cathartic experiences. [cf. my personal traumatic and cathartic experience which I call my personal paradigm shifts in my life – see my four Professional lives story on this website)

The training phase in meditation is probably capitalizing on the slow learning related modifications of synaptic efficiency, whereas the fast engagement in a particular meditative state of which experts seem to be capable relies on more dynamic routing strategies.

So far, the results of the studies conducted with trained meditators indicate that they have the faculty to generate clean, powerful, well-defined states of mind, and this faculty is associated with some specific brain patterns. Mental training enables  one to generate those states at will and to modulate their intensity, even when confronted with disturbing circumstances, such as strong positive or negative emotional stimuli. Thus, one acquires the faculty to maintain an overall emotional balance that favors inner strength and peace.

The taxonomy of mental states should become more differentiated. If this is the case, then cultures exploiting mental training as a source of knowledge should have a richer vocabulary for mental states than cultures that are more interested in investigating phenomena of the outer world.

Buddhist taxonomy describes 58 main mental events and various subdivisions thereof …

EMOTIONAL NUANCES

If you look careful at anger, you will see that it contains aspects of clarity, focus en effectiveness that are not harmful in and of themselves. Likewise, desire has an element of bliss that is distinct from attachment; pride has an element of self-confidence that does not lapse into arrogance, and envy entails a drive to act that, in itself, is not yet deluded, as it will later become when the afflictive state of mind of jealousy sets in.

EFFORTLESS SKILLS

When you are able to preserve a clear state of awareness, you see thoughts arise; you let them pass through your mind, without trying to block or encourage them, and they vanish without creating many waves.

One study with meditators showed that they could maintain their attention at an optimal level for extended periods of time. When I (Matthieu) did this task myself, I noticed that the first few minutes were challenging and required some effort, but once I entered a state of “attentional flow”, it became easier.

This resembles a general strategy that the brain applies when acquiring new skills. In the naïve state, one uses conscious control to perform a task. The task is broken down into a series of subtask that are sequentially executed. This requires attention, takes time and is effortful. Later, after practice, the performance becomes automatized. Usually, the execution of the skilled behavior is then accomplished by different brain structures than those involved in the initial learning and execution of the task. Once this shift has occurred, performance becomes automatic, fast and effortless and no longer requires cognitive control. This type of learning is called procedural learning and requires practice. Such automized skills often safe you in difficult situations because you can access them quickly. They can also of the cope with more variables simultaneously due to parallel processing. Conscious processing is more serialized and therefor takes more time.

Highly advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state with less effort; they are so to speak ‘in the flow’. This observation accord with other studies demonstrating that when someone has mastered a task, the cerebral structures put into play during the execution of this task is generally less active than they were when the brain was still in the learning phase.

RELATING TO THE WORLD

Mind training leads to refined understanding of whether a thought or an emotion is afflictive, attuned to reality or based on a completely distorted perception of reality.

Afflictive mental stages begin with self-centeredness, with increasing the gap between self and others, between oneself and the world. They are associated with an exaggerated feeling of self-importance, an inflated self-cherishing, a lack of genuine concern for others, unreasonable hopes and fears, and compulsive grasping toward desirable objects and people. Such states come with a high level of reality distortion. One solidifies outer reality and believes that the good or bad, desirable or undesirable qualities of other things intrinsically belong to them instead of understanding that they are mostly projections of our mind.

The strength of the ego or self-centeredness is the troublemaker. A deep sense of confidence that comes from having gained some knowledge about the inner mechanisms of happiness and suffering, from knowing how to deal with emotions, and thus from having gathered the inner sources to deal with whatever comes your way.[ii] [This makes me think of the concept ‘Inner Security’ of my fourth father Paul de Sauvigny de Blot SJ.[iii]]

HOW YOUNG CAN YOU START TO MEDITATE?

In a traditional Buddhist setting, young children are mostly taught through example. They see their parents and educators behave on the basis of principles of nonviolence towards humans, animals and the environment. One cannot underestimate the strength of emotional contagion, as well as the way of being’s contagion. One’s inner qualities are immensely important on those who share one’s life. One of the most important things is to help children become skilled in identifying their emotions and those of others, and to show them basic ways of dealing with emotional outbursts.

MENTAL DISTORTIONS

The ties that binds – Bruce Springsteen

In Dutch there is a saying, “Kom tot jezelf,” which means “cut the strings” – the ties that attach you to something, that makes you do what others want, that make you believe what others believe, that makes you be kind because somebody else makes you to be kind. If you get caught in this net of dependencies, than we say that you “lose yourself.” This is why a protective environment that generously grants self-determination is indispensable, as long as the cognitive control mechanisms of children are strong enough to protect them from losing themselves in the face of imposed intrusions and expectations.

[All this makes me of course think of Charlie Palmgren’s concept the Vicious Circle.[iv]]

If you let an emotion, even a strong one, pass through your mind without fueling it, without letting the spiral of thoughts spin out of control, the emotion will not last and will vanish by itself.

ATTENTION AND COGNITIVE CONTROL

It is conceivable that mental practice can do the same thing to the cognitive abilities of the brain and sharpens awareness of one’s own cognitive processes. This does require a substantial amount of cognitive control because the attention has to be directed towards processes originating within the brain. [cf. the duo ‘intention & attention’!]

Because it involves an internal process to decide which of the available sensory signals should have access to consciousness, intraocular suppression is frequently used as a paradigm to investigate the signatures of neuronal activity that are required for any neuronal activity to reach the level of conscious perception. In this context, it is noteworthy that practitioner of meditation can deliberately slow down the alternation rate of binocular rivalry.[v]

You can intentionally activate internal representations, focus your attention on them, and then work on them in much the same way as you process external information. You apply your cognitive abilities to internal events.

For example, you keep a meta-awareness of a particular state that you are trying to develop, such as compassion, and maintain this meditation state moment after moment … keeping your attention focused on particular internal states, which can be emotions or contents of imagination. In essence, it is the same strategy as one applies with the perception of the outer world – except that most of us are far less familiar with focusing attention on inner states.

This fits with the definition of meditation, which is to cultivate a particular state of mind without distraction. Two Asian words are usually translated in English as ‘meditation’: in Sanskrit, bhavana means to cultivate, and in Tibetan, gom means to become familiar with something that has new qualities and insights as well as a new way of being. So meditation cannot be reduced to the usual clichés of emptying the mind and relaxing.[vi]

To fully integrate altruism and compassion in our mind stream, we need to cultivate them over a longer period of time. We need to bring them to our minds and then nurture them, repeat them, preserve them, and enhance them, so that they can gradually fill our mental landscape in a more durable way.

Elements of repetition and perseverance are common to all forms of training. However, the particularity here is that the skills you are developing are fundamental qualities such as compassion, attention, and emotional balance.

Meditation, then, is a highly active, attentive process. By focusing attention on those internal states, you familiarize yourself with them, you get to know them, and this facilitates recall if you want to activate them again.

This must go along with lasting changes at the neuronal level. Any activity in the brain that is occurring under the control of attention is memorized. There are modifications in synaptic transmission, synapses will strengthen or weaken. This in turn will lead to changes in the dynamical state of neuronal assemblies. Thus, through mental training, you create novel states of your mind, and you learn to retrieve them at will.

ATTENTIONAL BLINK

The inability to process the subsequent images – presented in a rapid succession – is called attentional blink. The idea is that attention, while it is engaged in processing one consciously perceived image, is not available for the processing of the next one. Heleen Slagter and Antoine Lutz have shown that after three months of intensive training in meditation on full awareness, attentional blink was considerably reduced.

Robust and convincing data show that meditation is associated with a special brain state and does have lasting effects on brain functions.

Regarding attentional blink, from an introspective perspective, it would seem that usually the object captures someone’s attention because it goes to the object, sticks to the object, and then disengage from object. There is a moment of thinking, “Oh, I have seen a tiger” or “I have seen that word.” Then it takes some time to let it go. But, if you simply remain in the state of open presence, which is the state that works best to reduce additional blink, you simply witness the image without attaching to it and therefor without having to disengage from it. When the next image flashes, a 20th of a second later, you are still there, ready to perceive it.

So the process of meditation has two effects: You learn to work on your own attentional mechanisms, and then you become an expert in engaging and disengaging attention at will.

Buddhism says that if we don’t engage constantly in the process of attraction and repulsion, this is liberating. From a contemplative perspective, fine tuning one’s introspection toward perspective and mental processes, rather than being powerless against and blindly caught in their automatisms, corresponds to enhancing the quality and power of the mind’s telescope. This allows one to see those processes happening in real time and not be carried away and fooled by them.

People who do better at recognizing very subtle emotions (i.e. micro expressions) are more interested, curious, and open to new experiences. They are also known to be conscientious, reliable, and efficient.

ATTENTION, RUMINATION AND OPEN PRESENCE

One of the great Tibetan masters used to face the palm of his hand outward. Then he would turn his palm inward, commenting: “Now we should look within and pay attention to what is going on in our mind and to the very nature of awareness itself.” This is one of the key points of meditation.[vii]

Rumination is letting your inner chatter go on and on [i.e. the Monkey mind], letting thoughts about the past invade your mind, becoming upset again about past events, endlessly guessing the future, fueling hopes and fears, and being constantly distracted from the present. By doing so, you become increasingly disturbed, self-centered, busy, and preoccupied with your own mental fabrications and eventually depressed. You are not truly paying attention to the present moment and are simply engrossed in your thoughts, going on and on in a vicious circle, feeding your ego and self-centeredness. You are completely lost in inner distraction, in the same way that you can be constantly distracted by ever-changing outer events. This is the opposite of bare attention. Turning your attention inward means to look at pure awareness and dwell without distraction, yet effortlessly, in the freshness of the present moment, without entertaining mental fabrications.

It’s not focused attention on any content – but it’s never distracted either. You open your window of attention – yes, and without any effort. There is neither a mental chatter nor particular focus of attention except resting in pure awareness, rather than focusing on it. I cannot find any better word; it is something that is luminous, clear, and stable, without grasping [It’s pure consciousness i.e. awareness or non colored, crystal clear,’transparant’ consciousness].

MINDFULNESS AND DISTRACTION

As we cultivate attention, we should understand that it is a powerful tool, so it should be applied to something that contributes to freedom from suffering. We can also use effortless attention to simply rest in the natural state of mind, in clear awareness that is imbued with inner peace and makes us less vulnerable to the ups and downs of life. Whatever happens, we will not suffer much emotional disturbance and can enjoy greater stability. Obtaining this pure mindfulness of the present moment has many advantages. We may also use attention to cultivate compassion. If the mind is constantly distracted, even though it looks as if one is meditation, then the mind is powerlessly carried away all over the world like a balloon in the wind. So the increased resolution of your inner telescope, combined with sustained attention, is an indispensable tool to cultivate those human qualities that can be developed through meditation. In the end freedom from suffering becomes a skill.

This process is somehow different from a motor skill such as riding a bike, swimming a certain style or sailing – you have to practice over and over again until you become an expert and the skill comes becomes automatic. This is procedural learning and thus engages procedural memory. You have to practice, and you have to do it in a precise practical way. In the beginning of skill acquisition, practice is very much under control of attention and consciousness, you have to dissect the process into steps, and you need a teacher who tells (and show) you how to do it, or you do it by trial and error, which is less efficient. Having a skilled teacher is very important, especially when engaging in meditation.
Teachers help, they speed up the process, but you have to practice yourself. The neuronal substrate that supports these skills cannot shift instantly into a new state. You have to tune your neural circuits little by little over a long period of time, finally, when the skill is acquired; it becomes less and less dependent on attention and becomes more and more automatized. Imaging driving your car; you don’t invest any attention any more in driving your car through a region in your city that you know well, although you should. You can engage in an attention demanding conversation while you drive and execute a complex sequence of cognitive and executive acts without conscious control.

This can be said about meditation: In the beginning, meditation is contrived and artificial, and gradually becomes natural and effortless [this is exactly the same with the Creative Interchange skills].

CONSOLIDATING LEARNING THROUGH SLEEP

Before falling asleep, if you clearly generate a positive state of mind, filled with compassion or altruism, it is said that this will give a different quality to the whole night. Oppositely, if you go to sleep while harboring anger or jealousy, then you will carry it through the night and poison your sleep.

The cultivation of skills and their consolidation is actually the main work of meditation. A study carried in Madison, Wisconsin, in Giulio Tomoni’s laboratory, in collaboraton with Antoine Lutz and Richard Davidson, showed that, among meditators who had completed between 2000 and 10000 hours of practice, the increase of gamma waves was maintained during the deepest phase of sleep, with an intensity proportional to the number of hours previously devoted to meditation.[viii] The fact that these changes persist in these people at rest and during sleep indicates a stable transformation of their habitual mental state, even in the absence of any specific effort, such as a meditation session.[ix]

The brain’s memory is associative; it’s not like computer memory, where you have distinct addresses for distinct contents. In the brain different memories are stored within the same network by different changes in the coupling of neurons. The equivalent of a particular engram is a specific dynamic state of the network, a state characterized by the specific spatiotemporal distribution of active and inactive neurons of the network.

COMPASSION AND ACTION

If you are not caught inside the bubble of self-centeredness and are less involved in relating everything to yourself, then the ego ceases to feel threatened. You become less defensive, feel less fear, and are less obsessed with self-concern. As the deep feeling of insecurity goes away, the barriers that the ego created fall apart. You become more available to others and ready to engage in any action that could be benefit them. In a way, compassion has popped the ego bubble. That’s our interpretation. That’s why those states of compassion and open presence give the strongest gamma waves of all meditation states, more than focused on attention, for instance.

The technical term in Tibetan for the latter meditation translates to “one-pointed focused attention.” Another term to use for this is “open presence”. Of course, these words are approximate. It is quite difficult to put such experiences into words. But it turns out that unconditional compassion produces even higher gamma activation than open presence.

Compassion and altruistic love have a warm, loving, and positive aspect that ‘stand-alone’ empathy for the suffering of the other does not have. The latter can easily lead to empathic distress and burnout. While collaborating with Tania Wolf, we arrived at the idea that burnout was in fact a kind of “empathy fatigue” and not a “compassion fatigue” as people often say.[x]

COMPASSION, MEDITATION, AND BRAIN COHERENCE

We call it fulfillment, wholesomeness, inner peace. That brings us back to what His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says, with a good touch of humor, when he explains that the bodhisattva – the ideal embodiment of altruism and compassion in the Buddhist path – has in fact found the smartest way to fulfill his own wish for happiness. The Dalai Lama adds that when thinking and acting in an altruistic way, it is not at all guaranteed that we will actually benefit others or even please them. When you try to help someone, even with a perfectly pure motivation, they might look at you suspiciously and ask, “Hey, what do you want, what’s the matter with you?” But you are 100% sure to be helping yourself because altruism is the most positive of all mental states. So the Dalai Lama concludes, “The bodhisattva is smarty selfish.” In contrast, the one who only think of himself is “foolishly selfish” because he only brings distress on himself. [That makes me think of an exercise I’ve learned from Charlie Palmgren and what he uses to call ‘The Purpose Game’. During that game (exercise) every person of each dyad playing the game thinks of an action he or she repeatedly do over time, without being forced. She or he has to express the activity and the other person has only one question to ask: “What the purpose of that?”. The first player has to answer authentically to that question, which means, “What’s in for me?” One has to stay with one self while being authentic. The second one questions each answer of the first person: “What is the purpose of that?” This game until the first person repeats in paraphrases his ‘final’ purpose’. Then the roles of the dyad game change, but not the rules of the game, until the second person reaches his ‘final’ purpose. I’ve played that game with hundreds of dyads and every person came to the following ‘final’ purpose: be happy, be content, and be in inner peace and the kind. So the Dalai Lama’s right: we are smartly selfish.]

Many people are literally destroyed by inner conflicts and those go together with a lot of rumination. Yes, and we ignore the nature of the activity patterns representing conflicts and ruminations. Maybe it is a condition where mutually exclusive assemblies compete for prevalence, thereby causing instability, a permanent alternation between metastable state – that are simply called “hope and fear” – if no stable state is reachable, if the internal model of the world that the brain permanently has to update by learning continues to be in disagreement with “reality.” If the brain is striving for stable, coherent states because they represent results and can be used as the basis for future actions, and if pleasant feelings are associated with these consistent states, the one purpose of mental training could be to generate such states in the absence of any practical goals. However, to generate such states right away, detached from any concrete content, may be difficult. This is probably the reason that the meditator initially imagines concrete objects – why you try to focus attention on specific, action-related emotions to evoke positive feelings such as generosity, altruism, and compassion, which are all highly rewarding attitudes.

As opposed to selfish behavior. Exactly. So you use this imagery as a vehicle to generate coherent brain states, and if the contents are pleasant, then a joyful condition is created. Then, once you gain more expertise in controlling brain states, you learn to detach these states from their triggers until they become increasingly free of content and autonomous.

ALTRUISM AND WELL-BEING

Altruism, inner peace, strength and freedom, and genuine happiness grow together like the various parts of a nourishing fruit. Selfishness, animosity, and fear come together as parts from a poisonous plant. The best way to become truly compassionate is out of wisdom, by deeply realizing that others do not want to suffer, just like you, and want to be happy, just as you do. Consequently, you become genuinely concerned with their happiness and suffering. Helping others may sometimes not be “pleasant,” in the sense that you might have to deliberately endure some “unpleasant’ hardship to help someone, but deep within is found a sense of inner peace and courage and a sense of harmony with the interdependence of all things and beings.

To come back to inner conflicts, they are mostly linked with excessive rumination on the past and anxious anticipation of the future, and thus they lead to being tormented by hope and fear.

One can see it as an exaggeration of the otherwise well-adapted and necessary attempt to use past experience to predict the future, an attempt that is likely to not always converge toward a stable solution because the future is not foreseeable. Maybe it is the clinging to the fruitless search for the best possible solution – that is by definition impossible to find – that frustrate the system and causes uneasy feelings.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Hiding in the bubble of self-centeredness to protect oneself reinforces the feeling of insecurity. In fact, within the confined space of self-centeredness, rumination goes wild. Thus one of the purposes of meditation is to break the bubble of ego grasping and let these mental constructs vanish in the open space of freedom. [This makes me think of hiding in the nine-dot space of the Vicious Circle, the space of the demands and expectations we can just cope with. Thus, one of the purposes of meditation could be to break the Vicious Circle of ego surviving.]

When in daily life people experience moments of grace or magic, what happens? All of the sudden, the burden of inner conflict is lifted. It is great to fully enjoy such magical moments, but it is also revealing to understand why they felt so good: pacification of inner conflicts and a better sense of interdependence with everything, rather than fragmenting reality into solid, autonomous entities, a respite from mental toxins. All of these are qualities that can be cultivated through developing wisdom and inner freedom. This practice will lead not to just a few moments of grace but to a lasting state of well-being that we may call genuine happiness. It is a satisfactory state because the feelings of insecurity gradually give way to a deep confidence. i.e. Confidence that you will able to use those skills to deal with the ups and downs of life, sensations, emotions, and so on in a much more optimal way. Your equanimity, which is not indifference, will spare you from being swayed back and forth like mountain grass in the winds by every possible blame and praise, gain and loss, comfort and discomfort, and so on. You can always relate to the depth of inner peace, and the waves at the surface will not appear as threatening as before. [Living Creative Interchange from within will create magical moments and generate inner peace. The confidence Matthieu talks about is the confidence in the Creative Interchange process. The confidence that you will able to create the conditions and use the skills so that you can deal with the tides of life and that you are not steered from the outside, by blame and praise, but from the inside, the inner peace, the inner security through living Creative Interchange.]

COULD FEEDBACK REPLACE MIND TRAINING?

Thus through mental training, you familiarize yourself with states of inner stability, thereby protecting yourself against fruitless ruminations. If these desired states have a characteristic electrographic signature that can be measured and monitored, then we could use bio-feedback to facilitate the learning process required to obtain and maintain these states. It might help to familiarize oneself with these states more quickly. Admittedly, this approach is typical Western aspiration to circumvent cumbersome and time-consuming procedures and look at shortcuts on the way to happiness… [Learning to live Creative Interchange from within surely is cumbersome and time-consuming, that’s why a lot of people who want that search for short-cuts, although they know that is not possible. Western people are still desperately looking for quick fixes…]

Matthieu is convinced that any shortcut will result more in a state of addiction than in a deep change in your way of being, as it is acquired through mind training. The perception of inner peace and fulfillment is a byproduct of having developed an entire cluster of human qualities [through living Creative Interchange from within.]

A meditator would relate alpha waves to mental chatter, the little chaotic conversations that seems to be going on most of the time in the background of our mind.

As mentioned earlier, we should correct the naïve image of meditation that still predominates in the West as sitting somewhere to empty your mind and relax. Of course, an element of relaxation is present, in the sense of getting rid of inner conflict, cultivation inner peace, and freeing one from tensions. Also, an element of emptying your mind can be seen, in the sense of not perpetuating mental fabrications of linear thinking and resting in a state of the clear freshness of the present moment. However, this state is neither “blank” nor dull relaxation. It is a much richer state of vivid awareness. Also, one does not try to prevent the thoughts from arising, which is not possible, but frees them as they arise.

Research done by the neuroscientist Scott Barry Kaufman has indicated that brain states favorable to creativity seems to be mutually exclusive with focused attention. According to him, creativity is born from a fusion of seeming contradictory mental states that can be limpid and messy, wise and crazy, exhilaration and painful, spontaneous and yet arising from sustained training.[xi] [cf. The Polarity exercise in Creative Interchange Mindset Training of Charlie Palmgren.]

ARE THERE LIMITS TO MIND TRAINING?

Understanding the deeper causes of others’ suffering and generating the determination to alleviate them also arises from wisdom and ‘cognitive” compassion. The latter is linked to the comprehension of the more fundamental cause of suffering, which, according to Buddhism, is ignorance – the delusion that distorts reality and gives rise to various mental obscurations and afflictive emotions such as hatred and compulsive desire. So this cognitive aspect of compassion can embrace the infinite number of sentient beings who suffer as a result of ignorance.

MEDITATION AND ACTION

Freeing oneself from the influence of self-centeredness and ego clinging is precisely what makes you more concerned with others and less indifferent toward the world. Meditation is a key process for developing and enhancing altruistic love and compassion.

You need time and concentration to cultivate a skill. While thrust into the often-hectic conditions of the world, you might be too weak to become strong, too weak to help others and even to help yourself. You don’t not have the energy, concentration, and time to train. So this development stage is necessary, even if it does not appear to be immediately useful to others.

The idea is to develop skills in an environment that is conducive to mental training, so that one becomes strong enough to display and maintain genuine altruism and compassion even in the most trying and adverse circumstances, when it is most difficult to remain altruistic. The advantages of spending dedicated time to develop human qualities are obvious. You thus gain inner strength, compassion, and balance before embarking on serving others.

Developing the right motivation is a crucial factor in everything we do. In the Buddhist path, the core motivation of the apprentice bodhisattva is, “May I achieve enlightenment in order to gain the capacity to free all beings from suffering.” If such an aspiration is genuinely present in your mind, then your practice is the best investment you can make for the benefit of others. This is not the result of indifference but of the sound reasoning that you have to prepare yourself and build up the necessary strength to be of use to humanity.

It also makes sense to see that as long as you are still a mess yourself, there’s no point of going around and messing around with other people’s live as well. You need to be skillful in recognizing when you are mature enough to meaningfully help others. Otherwise it is like cutting wheat when it is still green. Nobody benefits from it.

We would not underestimate the power of the transformation of the mind. We all have the potential for change [since we’re all born with the Creative Interchange process and have our intrinsic Worth], and it is such a pity when we neglect to actualize it. It is like coming home empty-handed form an island made of gold. Human life has immense value if we know how to use its relatively short time span to become a better person for one’s own happiness and that of others [and become the Leader we were born to be: “Becoming a Leader Is Becoming Yourself.” – Warren Bennis and Russ S. Moxley.] This requires some effort, but what doesn’t? [as Herman de Coninck – a Flemish poet – once said: “What doesn’t cost effort is mostly not worthy of the effort.”]

So let’s end this first part on a note of hope and encouragement: “Transform yourself to better transform the world.” [quotes of Ghandi, Archimedes, and so on]

 

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

[ii] M. Ricard, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. New York, NY. Little, Brown and Company. 2006

[iii] http://pauldeblot.nl/2009/11/16/we-hebben-geen-houvast-meer/

[iv] S. Hagan and C. Palmgren, The Chicken conspiracy. Breaking the Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore. MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998.

[v] O. L. Carter, D. E. Pretl, C. Callistemon, Y. Ungerer, G. B. Liu and J. D. Petigrew, “Meditiation alters perceptual rivalry in Tibetan Buddhist monks,” Current Biology, no. 11 (2005): R412-R413.

[vi] M. Ricard and W. Singer, Beyond the Self: conversations between Buddhism and neuroscience. op.cit. p. 33.

[vii] M. Ricard and W. Singer, Beyond the Self: conversations between Buddhism and neuroscience. op. cit. p 36.

[viii] F. Ferrarelli et al. “Experienced mindfulness meditators exhibit higher parietal-occipital EEG gamma activity during NREM sleep.” PloS One 8 no. 8 (2013): e73417.

[ix] A. Lutz. H. A. Slagter, N. B. Rawlings, A. D. Francis, L. L. Grieschar, & R. J. Davidson, “Mental training enhances attentional stability, neural and behavioral evidence,” Journal of Neuroscience 29 no. 42 (2009): 12418-13427.

[x] O. M. Klimecki, S. Leiberg, M. Ricard, and T. Singer, “Differential pattern of functional brain plasticity after compassion and empathy training.” Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience 9, no. 6 (2014): 873-879.:

[xi] S. B. Kaufman & C. Gregoire, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. New York NY: Targer Perigee, 2015.