Archives 2022

Leaving the Road Behind

Final Reflective Essay: Leaving the Road Behind

For me, the most direct and observable impact of this course has been my decision not to continue pursuing a transpersonal path.  While difficult to communicate without sounding arrogant or aloof, there is a great deal of simplicity in embracing mystery.  There is an abiding knowing, beneath the known, which dissolves itself in silence – and in that silence finds itself.  Faced with the difficulty of trying to articulate the indescribable, amidst the vast expanse of collected transpersonal theories and personal belief systems, I find myself drawn toward greater and greater simplification, toward greater and greater silence. 

My general personal impression is that the transpersonal field feels too broad, too undisciplined, and too focused on experience – too invested in the transcendent, or in trying to make the transcendent appear scientific.  I don’t mean for this to sound critical – it’s not.  There are as many opinions on the subject as there are people in the world.  I’m just drawn to silence, simplicity, and solitude – seeing these as a suitable remedy for what ails us in society today.  As I captured in an email to Dr Erickson last week, “After 20 years of contemplative practice and ten years of pointing others in the direction of experiential non-dual insight, silence really is the substrate of wisdom.  I always feel it important to weave this point into all of my writings, just in the same way that all of my teachings simultaneously provide and demolish liberating concepts so that clients and students can begin to see for themselves just how the mind operates; always trying to find an answer – and yet every answer gives way to more questions in an endless cycle that starts to look like a spiritual hamster wheel.  And here we are, sort of laser focused on various conceptualizations of transcendence.  From where I stand though, there is no ‘transcendence’, one must actually transcend the mechanics of mind to the point where one transcends transcendence itself and just resides in Being – whole, complete, fulfilled.  No more questions, no more discontentment; just being at one with the mystery, living in dynamic harmony with the way of things”.

In practical terms, the tendency toward silence and simplicity is now drawing me toward working with others, in a clinical setting, to address “stress, anxiety, and anxiety-related mental health conditions among working adults”.  This feels more meaningful, concrete, and actionable.  My intention, therefore, is to leave the transpersonal domain behind and focus on something more clinical – something where I can honor my own inner silence while working with others.  This is by no means a negative outcome.  Indeed, if the class brought forth clarity for me, dispelling what I ‘thought’ while also exposing where some of my unobserved attachments lay dormant, then I consider that a success.  What will happen next is just as mysterious as everything that has led to this point – so, I’m okay with not knowing and with not needing to know.  I’m okay with letting go of this direction and opening myself to other possibilities that feel more true to me… and to my work with others.  Whatever I say though is riddled with paradox and ambiguity – so I just find myself stepping back into silence and relaxing into the way of things. 

Thank you all for our time together… it has been a pleasure. 

~Bradley

Reflections on Emptiness

Reflections on Emptiness

    I must say that I’ve been enjoying this week’s reading a great deal.  It covers much the same ground that I teach and address in my client work.  For instance, the conceptual frame of the empty self (Cushman, 1995) is similarly expressed in Buddhism as “the hungry ghost”.  Bringing this concept into the proper contextual relevancies of our time, I’ve been speaking of it as an insatiable seeking; seeking ‘that’ which seems so elusive – consuming everything in an effort to fill an inexplicable void of emptiness.  Coming at this topic from the perspective of nonduality, I always follow this statement by explaining how, when we fill that emptiness with emptiness itself, we discover our true fullness. 

     Here is where I find a bit of mirth.  How radically different the same word can be when approached from radically different perspectives.  On one hand, we are talking about feeling empty, incomplete, lacking somehow – what Cushman powerfully describes as “an absence” (p. 225).  On the other hand, we are talking about dissolving our conceptual boundaries until we have been rendered empty of concepts (or rather they’ve lost their solidity).  I don’t mean this literally of course – it’s just one way to describe something indescribable. Now the interesting problem that emerges, in saying this, takes on two very relevant forms.

     First, Cushman rightly and repeatedly warns of what can happen to those who abandon their own ability for critical reflection and succumb to the will of another (pp. 211-278).  In many ways, asking a person to confront their perceived perceptual boundaries is tricky work – work that must be handled thoughtfully, compassionately, and ethically.  Second, as both Cushman (1995) and Daniels (2021) highlight, giving something form gives something form.  By this, I mean Daniels’ example of self-actualization as something that created the idea of self-actualization as a ‘thing’ to be ‘achieved’ (pp. 124-130).  In the same way, anything we might say about emptiness gives emptiness form and is no longer truly empty. 

     Those are my reflections for the week.  As I said, I’m really enjoying the reading.  I loved the historical portrayal of self over time (Cushman, 1995) and cautionary reflections on the unintended consequences of myth-making (Daniels, 1995).  I also appreciated how Berkhin and Hartelius (2011) took a steadfast position on defending specific Buddhist teachings from transpersonal misunderstanding and misuse.  And, of course, exposure to a number of feminist perspectives was also insightful and thought-provoking.  To summarize, I remain deeply appreciative of the path that brought me to this program – and to this class.  All I hear are voices of great wisdom ringing through.   

References

Berkhin, I., & Hartelius, G. (2011). Why altered states are not enough: A perspective from Buddhism. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 30(1-2), 63-68

Cushman, P. (1995). Self-Liberation through consumerism. In Constructing the Self, Constructing America (pp. 210–278). Da Capo Press.

Daniels, M. (2021). Shadow, self, spirit – revised edition: Essays in transpersonal psychology. Imprint Academic.



 

Toward a More Complete Model of the Brain, Mind, and Consciousness

Toward a More Complete Model of the Brain, Mind, and Consciousness

     The study of consciousness, it seems, cannot advance beyond its own limited premise without incorporating a lightly held balance of both science and ontology; a balance between knowledge and mystery.  As evinced by Koch (2018), one of the common perspectives held by the larger scientific community is that consciousness is, in some necessarily quantitative manner, a byproduct of brain activity – and yet, at the very same time (and counter to that proposition), consciousness does not appear to be the sum total of the brain and its parts.  It is not easily explainable through a reductionistic, materialist view of the ‘brain’ as the origin of consciousness – hence the “hard problem of consciousness” that pervades to this day.  Another perspective could shed a very different kind of light on the “hard” problem of consciousness by shifting our perceptual frame of reference just enough to catch that light.

     Prenter (2021), for instance, has prepared a nondual account of the interaction between perception and consciousness which, among its many other well-made points, states that “there is no question of whether matter is ‘intrinsically’ conscious, since material objects are icons on interfaces” (p. 101).  When this perspective is turned toward consciousness itself, we must question whether or not we have made consciousness an icon, projected upon an interface, from the very outset – causing a great deal of confusion on the matter.  In sharp contrast to this deep examination of foundational assumptions, the account of Pepperell (2018) seeks to present arguments in favor of a physical and energetic explanation for consciousness that emerges from neuroscience, biological processes, and the physical sciences.  He suggests that complex organizational structures, producing a dynamic range of energetic patterns, are responsible for creating a “recursively self-referential” mechanic of differentiation which we could then describe as consciousness (p. 9).  Neither model, in and of itself, sufficiently explains consciousness or answers to the origins of consciousness though.  Perhaps by holding both in the same space, we can seek a resolution in the ‘and’ that exists between them. 

     Held together in the ‘and’, this balance between science and ontology allows for a very different relationship between the various models of mind being used to explain consciousness.  Indeed, when we see consciousness as the byproduct of brain activity, we quickly arrive at a limitation in our abstractions of mind.  Whereas opening ourselves to the possibility that the brain could be an object of consciousness, made manifest through conditional conceptual models and the unquestioned acceptance of authoritative knowledge, may allow us to step out of the view which sees the physical as primary and consciousness as secondary; enough so that the two reverse – and then find equilibrium.  Rather than choosing one position over the other, it is in being able to hold both positions at once, without conflict or paradox, which allows us to construct a more complete model of the brain, mind, and consciousness.   

References

Koch, C. (2018).  What is consciousness? Nature 557 (S8-S12) doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-05097-x

Pepperell, R. (2018). Consciousness as a physical process caused by the organization of energy in the brain.  Frontiers in Psychology 9(2091)

Prentner, R. (2021). Dr Goff, tear down this wall! The interface theory of perception and the science of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 28(9), 91–103. https://doi.org/10.53765/20512201.28.9.091

Getting Started: First Things First

Getting Started: First Things First

     My starting point for this class is well summarized by Laughlin and Rock (2013) in their description of mature contemplation, natural attitude, and the transcendental epoch that appear within Husserlian transcendental phenomenology (pp. 266-268).  Indeed, some of the key points made are the very reason for my interest in completing the ITP doctoral program (with a concentration in consciousness studies and contemplative neuroscience).  My focus, for the past several years, has been on teaching contemplative wisdom practices that help clients clarify, for themselves, the “numerous realizations pertaining to the essential structures of consciousness” (p. 269) that tend to emerge from experiential nondual insight. 

     The core challenge, as I have come to see it, is also reflected here (p. 273) – an acknowledgment of the inherent difficulties in communicating a wordless understanding, using words; combined with the general disinterest that most people have in the kind of rigorous, and often deeply confronting, self-reflection that is required.  This, at least, characterizes early elements of the deconstruction process that usually occur for one’s cup to be made empty.  Once empty, the use of language, models, and liberating concepts become vehicles of conveyance rather than a literal description or interpretation of reality, truth, and being.  This, in turn, becomes a doorway to further integration and embodiment, where nonduality reveals itself as something akin to a lived mystery that is celebrated with curiosity and appreciation in our everyday experience.       

     This reminds me of a paper that I came across, a couple of years ago. Hanley, Nakamura, and Garland (2018) conducted a study of nondual awareness that attempted to identify the traits and states of consciousness that correlated with the subjective experiences of its participants.  After this week’s reading, and my introduction to the formal study of phenomenology, I am quite excited to see how the new models, methods, and approaches that I am learning about now can be applied to defining, measuring, and communicating esoteric principles such as those that become obvious and undeniable through contemplative practice but are impossible to convey through the limits of language.  In essence, I am learning new linguistic and symbolic references that can be used to further peel apart the common misconceptions that create so much inner and outer conflict in the world.   

     Given the sample discourse between Pinker and McGilchrist (2013), for instance, what we are observing is a conflict of perspectives that appear somewhat entrenched and positional.  Yet what is really being argued here are deeply biased, conceptual, and perceptual maps that differ in the way they approach the intersection between the sciences and humanities.  If we adopt the use of model agnosticism introduced last week (Erickson, 2020) perhaps discussions such as this could be more fruitful.  No longer so deeply identified with the content of our various positionalities, we can be more open to discourse without personalizing (or needing to defend) our varied interpretive stances.  This is where I want to take my own research work, so this class is already very exciting for me. 

References

Erickson, J. (2020). “Model agnosticism” in Imagination in the Western psyche. (pp. 12-18). Routledge.

Hanley, A. W., Nakamura, Y., & Garland, E. L. (2018). The Nondual Awareness Dimensional Assessment (NADA): New tools to assess nondual traits and states of consciousness occurring within and beyond the context of meditation. Psychological Assessment, 30(12), 1625–1639.

Laughlin, C. D., & Rock, A. J. (2013). Neurophenomenology: Enhancing the experimental and cross-cultural study of brain and experience. In H. Friedman, & G. Hartelius (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology (pp. 261-280). Wiley Blackwell.

Pinker, S., & McGilchrist, I. (2013, August). Science and the humanities. Channel McGilchrist. https://channelmcgilchrist.com/steven-pinkers-essay/