Thursday, January 29, 2015
Monday, December 15, 2014
My husband has been enjoying a nostalgic trip to the early 1960’s since he’s found a YouTube channel that streams “Mr. Ed” shows. Mr. Ed was a horse that could talk, but he would only do it with his owner. Mr. Ed was quite neurotic and was always getting into various difficulties (it seems that the basic premise of the show was so outrageous that the writers realized they could take it just about anywhere).
When Mr. Ed was “talking,” his lips would move and a deep voice would speak. It’s a funny experience because part of your mind knows—of course—that that voice isn’t coming from the horse, but another part suspends disbelief and all of a sudden you’re ascribing human thoughts and emotions to Ed. (According to Wikipedia, the horse’s trainer at first got the horse to move his lips by putting nylon string in his mouth, but it didn’t take long for Mr. Ed to start moving his lips when touched on the front hoof by his trainer.)
One of the basic premises of We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity is that we are not aware of reality itself, but a mind-generated version of reality. Our senses take in various perceptions, and these are filtered through both hard-wired circuits (inherited from our animal ancestors) that construct a version of physical reality, plus beliefs, assumptions, and memories we have formed in our lifetimes. All this filtration and reality-construction happens before we become aware of the perceptions.
The illusion that Mr. Ed is talking is one example of the distortion caused by this process. When we see a mouth moving—even if it’s a horse’s mouth—and hear words being spoken, our minds naturally link them up.
Ventriloquists exploit this same illusion to trick us into believing that their voice is coming out of their puppet’s mouth. I love Triumph the Insult Comic Dog by Robert Smigel. Triumph is a crude rubber dog, and it’s absurdly obvious that “his” voice is coming from off-screen, yet the illusion is created that Triumph is really speaking or singing. In a video on Conan Late Night about the cruise ship that lost power in early 2013 in the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Smigel plays with the ventriloquism illusion. Sometimes the camera backs off and you can see Smigel’s mouth moving when it’s supposed to be Triumph speaking; at other times you see a close-up of Triumph “speaking” and his mouth isn’t moving. My mind said, “Something’s wrong! How can he be speaking if his mouth isn’t moving?” In other words, my brain was totally buying into the illusion.
The art of foley is another example of how our brain’s processing of visual and aural cues can create an illusion of reality. We see someone’s leg breaking and we hear celery snapping, we see someone being punched and we hear a raw steak being hit, we see someone riding a horse and hear two coconut halves banging together (see Monty Python’s The Holy Grail for an amusing riff on this illusion; at the very beginning of the clip you can see the servant with coconuts), and we really believe we’re hearing the actual sound of whatever action we’re seeing. I’ve thought about this while watching action movies—how does anyone know what the sound of a fifty-foot monster kicking around buses on a city street sounds like?
I saw a short film on Vimeo recently that provides an example of another way the brain’s reality-construction algorithms distort reality: we tend to interpret actions as the volitional choices of an agent. Psychologists have described how research subjects will watch shapes move on a computer screen, and then come up with stories that explain why the shapes move the way they do. “The triangle wanted to get away from the circle,” they might say. Our minds were clearly designed to look for signs of agency in the world, and then come up with explanations for our observations that ascribe intent to the moving object. You can see how this would have been a benefit to us in this past. For example, imagine seeing grass moving in the wind, and a lion stalking through the grass. We distinguish between the movement of grass and lion, because the lion has the intent to move towards the antelope to attack, while the grass’s movement has no intent, it is the passive response to the wind.
Watch “A Girl Named Elastika” and notice the sensations of belief popping up, that even in this short animation using push-pins and rubber bands, the illusion of action and volition seem real.
Optical illusions are a great way to explore how the mind creates our reality. Neuroscientist and artist Beau Lotto gave a TED talk in 2009 entitled “Optical Illusions Show How We See.” One of Mr. Lotto’s demonstrations involves a drawing of various geometric shapes. He isolated two sections of the drawing that conveyed exactly the same visual information to the viewer’s brain—same shape, size, and color. Then he revealed where these two areas fit into the larger diagram: one was the shaded side of a yellow box while the other was an illuminated side of an orange box. They may have conveyed exactly the same information to my retina, but when I looked at the complete picture I saw different colored boxes, one in shade and the other not. The two surfaces didn’t look the same to me, even though I knew they were identical.
The lesson I take from this is the importance of humility: always be willing to question my perception of reality. If I can be so wrong about reality as to think a horse is talking, what else might I be deluded about?
Saturday, March 22, 2014
On an internet forum I participate in someone started a thread called “personal zeitgeist.” She asked,
What do you think contributed to your own current set of intuitions, worldview, etc.? For example:
- Noteworthy historical events that really made an impression during a formative period in your thinking
- Pop culture of the time
- Personal experiences
- Geographic region you were born in/local culture/travel, etc.
- Personal values, as in it was part of your nature to value critical thinking, emotions, religious beliefs, etc.
I found it quite an amazing process to write a list in response. In We Are all Innocent by Reason of Insanity I talk about what I call My Story, and how we all write narratives that define our lives. The beliefs and assumptions that we form in our early development become filters of our perceptions; these filters construct our mind-generated reality (and it’s the confusion of our mind-generated reality with actual reality that makes us insane). This mind-generated reality is our narrative, our Story.
In the book I talked about the influence of my family and some of my personality quirks, but her question helped me frame My Story in a broader sense, based on the cultural influences of my time. Here’s what I posted:
- Childhood in the 60’s. I thought revolution was normal and liberation (of all kinds—race, gender, sexual) should be easy.
- Travel to the Soviet Union in 1979. I realized my government had been lying to me my entire life (trust me, it was obvious to a 21-year-old that the USSR at that point was not the threat it was made out to be).
- My parents’ divorce when I was 14. Agony at the time but started me questioning everything. My family had seemed like “Leave it to Beaver” and then it all crumbled overnight, out of the blue. Nothing seemed dependable anymore, but I also became less interested in living like everyone else.
- Learning, when I was about 12, that Jesus was a special case, the only son of God, and the rest of us are cursed with original sin. This really pissed me off; I couldn’t see any point in Christianity after that.
After I wrote the line, “revolution was normal and liberation (of all kinds—race, gender, sexual) should be easy,” I realized what a defining influence that perspective has had on my life. It has certainly skewed my perception of politics; I’ve been angry and bitter about what I saw as lack of progress because I couldn’t understand why things didn’t change faster/more easily.
What also comes clear to me from this list is a problem with trust—numbers 2, 3, and 4 are all about feeling betrayed, lied to, made a fool of. And the truth is a good portion of my adult life was spent trying not to be a fool—I was a cynical skeptic distrustful of any organization, be it environmental, political, or spiritual. I never wanted to be a member. I didn’t want to get trapped in the conventional world because it was, I believed, built on a pack of lies, so I have lived an alternative lifestyle on the fringes of society. Those perceptions made before I was 21 have had an enduring effect on my life. Now I can see why I’ve never been a “joiner,” the pejorative term I used when someone asked why I wasn’t part of a local environmental group.
What I learned from this little exercise is that understanding your personal zeitgeist is a good idea—it can help you become more aware of the assumptions and beliefs skewing your perception.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
A friend of mine loves to sing and play the guitar, but she has been too shy to play for Arthur, my husband, who is a professional musician. One night recently when she was visiting she grabbed Arthur’s guitar and played a song for us. When we expressed our delight in her performance, she said, “Now that I’ve read We Are ALL Innocent and realize that I’m crazy, it was liberating. I knew that it wouldn’t matter to you how it sounded, because you know I’m nuts!”
Crazy means nothing left to hide. Am I less than perfect? Big deal…I’m crazy. Did I do something embarrassing in the past? I was nuts. Did I do something I feel guilty about? I was delusional. Whatever I did, it was motivated by the confusion in my mind, the programming of beliefs and assumptions that distorted my worldview.
One of the benefits of recognizing my craziness has been the ability to laugh at myself, to stop taking myself so seriously. I no longer have to hide mistakes, or try to explain them away. I can share personal details in We Are ALL Innocent, and on internet forums using my real name, because they don’t matter anymore. Crazy people do crazy things.
In addition, many of us spend an inordinate amount of time trying to promote our good sides, hoping that by an engaging display we can keep others distracted from seeing our warts and flaws. When we no longer feel the need to hide parts of ourselves, we can relax and just be ourselves.
In our culture there’s something almost everyone hides—their sexuality. We are programmed to believe sex is dirty, and the sex act is obscene, and it’s wrong to feel aroused except in very circumscribed situations (like with your spouse).
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve gotten criticism for addressing sex in WAAI. Some have intimated that sexuality doesn’t belong in a self-help book that isn’t explicitly about sex. This stems from the insane belief that sex should and could be split off from the rest of life. Others have warned me that including sex would limit my audience, because people would be reluctant to share the book with others.
But again, crazy means nothing left to hide! I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that sexual problems are rampant in our culture. Personally I think this is because we cannot discuss our sexuality freely, as we can so many other aspects of our lives. So our problems stay hidden away where they fester and grow worse. Confusion about sex was just another one of my issues, like insecurity and competition, so why shouldn’t I share about it in the hope that it would help another better understand their sexuality?
In this spirit, my partner in life and in the development of the philosophy behind WAAI, Arthur Hancock, has written a memoir entitled Exposing Myself: A Life of Sex and Truth. In this book he honestly reveals his obsessions with sex, ending a lifetime of hiding the shame and guilt about his sexual proclivities.
Arthur had a life-changing experience at the age of 28, when he realized how superficial his perception of the world really was. The next forty years have been a quest to understand this experience, an attempt to seek truth over lies and love over lust, in the midst of such adventures as playing folk music in St. Augustine. Florida in the midst of a major civil rights confrontation, and traveling to Nepal and returning paralyzed from the neck down (the year of recovery in a rehab center led to some unbelievable sexual adventures).
Exposing Myself is a great companion to WAAI, as Arthur not only takes the reader through the development of the philosophy of universal insanity, but illustrates in his own life how the recognition of his insanity has removed shame and guilt.
Recently Arthur said that publishing Exposing Myself has been of great therapeutic value. By exposing himself he no longer fears his inner blackmailer of ego (remember when you did this? See the cartoon version of this inner blackmailer at Arthur's website entitled "Why the unexamined life is so popular"). Arthur no longer has to be fixated on hiding his sexual shame and self-hatred by pretending to be superior. This has given him a sense of peace; he is free to simply be who he is; he no longer has to hide.
Friday, February 14, 2014
In his bestselling book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle uses the words “insane” or “insanity” over thirty times to describe human thinking. For example:
The mind-identified state is severely dysfunctional. It is a form of insanity. Almost everyone is suffering from this illness in varying degrees. The moment you realize this, there can be no more resentment. How can you resent someone’s illness? The only appropriate response is compassion…Nobody chooses dysfunction, conflict, pain. Nobody chooses insanity…It always looks as if people had a choice, but that is an illusion. As long as your mind with its conditioned patterns runs your life, as long as you are your mind, what choice do you have? None. You are not even there.
Mr. Tolle uses the term “conditioned patterns,” I use “mind-generated reality,” but we are talking about the same process. We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity argues that all of our perceptions are filtered through assumptions and beliefs before they reach our consciousness, so what we see is a subjective version of reality that has been slanted towards our world-view. We confuse this subjective mind-generated reality with objective reality; we are deluded about what is real. This is why we are all insane.
The subtitle of my book is “The Mechanics of Compassion,” because, as Mr. Tolle says, once you realize that people’s minds are dysfunctional, that they are in face insane, you can no longer be angry with them or hate them.
Mr. Tolle also refers to the human race as insane in A New Earth:
One can go so far as to say that on this planet “normal” equals insane. What is it that lies at the root of this insanity? Complete identification with thought and emotion, that is to say, ego…Recognize the ego for what it is: a collective dysfunction, the insanity of the human mind. When you recognize it for what it is, you no longer misperceive it as somebody’s identity. Once you see the ego for what it is, it becomes much easier to remain nonreactive toward it. You don’t take it personally anymore…Compassion arises when you recognize that all are suffering from the same sickness of the mind, some more acutely than others.
If you’d like to learn more about how this insanity works, click here to read the first four chapters of We are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity (free).
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
In We Are All Innocent by Reason of Insanity I use my life to provide examples for various points I make, and this includes some discussion of sexuality. When I am illustrating my insanity, I discuss problems I have had with family, relationships, jobs, self-esteem, etc.; I also include some related to sex. When I describe the lessons I’ve learned—acceptance, humility, compassion, and love—I also include some lessons I learned about sex.
Some readers have criticized me for this inclusion. The sense I get from these people is it’s okay for me to talk about how insanity has impacted my life in every area except one: sex. Somehow that’s out-of-bounds in a book that’s not specifically about sex.
This is a book about insanity, both personal and cultural. If insanity doesn’t describe most cultures’ attitude towards sexuality, what does?
American culture has an incredibly puritanical attitude towards sex: it’s dirty, and it’s damaging to young people and other innocents, so just don’t talk about it. But I would counter that sexual problems are rampant in our culture, and a lot of the reason has to do with our cultural attitudes.
We Are All Innocent by Reason of Insanity argues that every society develops a “consensus reality,” which is a collective mind-generated reality (my definition of insanity is: confusing our mind-generated reality with actual reality). Our individual realities are constructed within the collective reality of our culture. The American (and almost every other nation’s) consensual reality includes the belief “sex is dirty,” and we all imbibe that belief with our mother’s milk. As a result almost everyone in our culture is crazy in the area of sex.
Sex is a natural function of our bodies, like eating, yet we get no guidance from our parents and teachers about it. We're taught how to eat with a fork, how to use the toilet, how to wash ourselves, how to spell and do math, and how to drive a car. But we're not taught anything about how to have sex—because it's dirty. We might have sex education in school, but that’s mostly educating us about the consequences of sex—pregnancy and disease. So almost everyone grows up conflicted, confused, and privately believing that he or she is a monster for the "sick" fantasies and desires in his/her mind. We're taught that sex is something you have to hide.
No wonder half of all marriages end in divorce, with sexual problems as a major cause. Studies have shown that 15 percent of married couples have not had sex in the last six months to a year (or more). No wonder that loads of people sneak around behind their spouse's back to have affairs or watch porn. A hotel manager once told me that during his career, the highest percentage of guests watching X-rated in-room movies occurred during an evangelical convention—the guests were in a place where they thought they could watch porn in secret (not knowing their program selections were being notated)…and they did watch.
In the chapter entitled My Story, where I lay out some of the major issues in my life, I wrote:
At one point in my life I read a lot of spiritual books, and always I would wait hopefully for some advice on how to see sex from a more enlightened perspective. It always seemed as if the author either ignored sex completely, or did a whitewash of the subject, as if they were as confused as I was.
I determined not to do this.
I have a vision of sexuality that I call "clean sex," which is sex freed of the beliefs and preconceptions we’ve been burdened with, pre-eminently including “sex is dirty.” Clean sex is like meditating while having sex, but in the nicest way—no thoughts getting in the way of feeling the exquisiteness of the sensations.
Sexual energy is always flowing, like all forms of life energy. You can open yourself to tap into that energy flow at any time, and if you stay open you can ride that sexual energy wave into places of bliss, without need for exotic tricks to keep you interested. I think of it this way: when I want to have sex I shift my awareness to tap into the sexual energy, then I get out on the leading edge and ride the wave wherever it goes. It’s all about staying right there on the edge of the wave, not thinking about anything, just moving with the flow of energy.
Here’s a chart illustrating some of the ideas:
Clean Sex.................................Dirty Sex
Present in body...................Absent in mind
Spontaneous..........................Ritualistic (same combination of elements)
Whole self oriented.............Genital or fetish-oriented
Heightens unity....................Heightens separation
There are many benefits to recognizing our insanity, both personally and collectively. Chief among these benefits will be a new attitude towards sexuality.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
A friend of mine recently said to me, “nouns are delusional.” When I asked him to elaborate, he said he was quoting a physicist, but couldn’t remember who. Basically the idea is that nouns presuppose a static, unchanging object. Modern physics has shown that everything is changing all the time and that matter is energy, so nouns should actually be verbs to bring in the dimension of time and change. Instead of Kathleen, I should be called “Kathleening.”
I spent a little time googling the idea and found that Buckminster Fuller described himself as a verb. He published a book in 1970 called I Seem to Be a Verb: Environment and Man’s Future in which he wrote:
I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe.
My friend’s comment resonated with me because I had just read about the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, which also emphasizes the need to bring the element of time into our understanding of matter. From Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Set Free:
Whitehead was probably the first philosopher to recognize the radical implications of quantum physics. He realized that the wave theory of matter destroyed the old idea of material bodies as essentially spatial, existing at points in time, but without any time within them. According to quantum physics, every primordial element of matter is ‘an organized system of vibratory streaming of energy.’ A wave does not exist in an instant, it takes time; its waves connect the past and the future. He thought of the physical world as made up not of material objects but actual entities or events. An event is a happening or a becoming. It has time within it. It is a process, not a thing.
Whitehead’s philosophy is known as “process philosophy,” and its ontology (the study of being) replaces Being with Becoming. Nouns are objects that exist (being). Verbs are processes that become.
This has made me realize that the conception of static, unchanging objects is just another part of our delusional mind-generated reality. When I think of objects, I think of them as unchanging entities; change might happen but that doesn’t alter the essence of the object. For example, my car: I think of it as a wondrous mechanical device composed of an engine, transmission, wheels, and the body that I sit in (among other parts). Those things are the essence of the object “car.” When I think of it out there in my driveway, I think of a completely static and unchanging object. When a sparkplug gets clogged, or the transmission goes out, I think that something broke, and when it is fixed it goes back to normal. “Fixing” implies getting it back to its “fixed,” static object state.
What if instead I visualized my car as a verb, as a changing stream of processes? It’s actually instantly clear to me that this is a much better way to look at the car—what it is today is the sum of ten years of existence, of driving and sitting, all the dings on the doors and sludge in the transmission, and it will be different this afternoon after I drive to the Y.
I have always loved to look at trees in the winter, and this idea of “nouns should be verbs” is the reason why—without the leaves you can see the history of an individual tree written in the shape of its limbs. But now I realize that I was still seeing the tree as a static object, frozen in a moment in time, and not as a flowing movement of process in time.
When I apply this concept to myself it’s liberating. I’m not stuck as some unchanging “me,” I am a constantly evolving Becoming. I’m a work in progress.