I had always been restless.
As long as I can remember, I was always feeling a vague sense of unease- a constant white noise of chatter in my head. This would be a source of varying levels of anxiety. You know how you hear that voice in your head? Upon waking up in the morning, that voice that starts in: “I have to pee.” “What day is it?” “What time is it?” “There is no half and half left.” “That is a nice couch.” Endless chatter on and on, all day, every day, for as long as I can remember. This chatter simply being my thoughts. And these thoughts, popping up all the time, in my waking state, would produce these subtle and not so subtle emotions which would characterize my general state of unease.
It eventually occurred to me that when I slept I would sometimes be aware of thoughts, unconscious thoughts, and these would manifest themselves in interesting and sometimes believable ways. These would be what I call my dreams. Some were pleasant, some were frightening, others sexual in nature and none of them “real”. When I awoke the chatter would begin anew and say “It was just a dream.”
Some days this unease was at low ebb. A general feeling of malaise or boredom that lay behind everything I would do, say or think. On bad days it could be paralyzing and scary. On good days this unease would just lay there on my chest in the form of slight impatience or boredom. This state of mind could even swing from one extreme to another in a single day. Sometimes within minutes.
If I discussed this with people I got the general feeling that this was common to most folks. Men and woman. Old and young. I discussed this with my therapist at the time and she said “it’s called the human predicament”. Pressing her on this she said it was what religions refer to when they speak of “suffering”. This why we say “we die and go to heaven”. Death is the ticket to the end of suffering.
How depressing. I carried this around for years like luggage. I couldn’t wrap my mind around this and looked for answers.
One day it struck me that it was my mind that was the thing I needed to understand because it was the mind that was creating the thoughts that were producing this reaction or emotional state in me. This seemed like a reasonable way to see if I could understand the mechanism of the mind and thus attempt to put a stop to this anxiety.
I read up on various studies on the brain. I attempted to study its physical composition and structure as well as the nature of how it worked on a psychological level. Like all organs of the body the brain is very complex and interesting on a curiosity level but for the purposes of this I’ll simplify.
In a nutshell, the brain has three essential components. 1) The reptilian complex or mid-brain activity that controls bodily functions like the heartbeat and breathing and so on. 2) Covering this can be found the limbic system which represents the mammalian part of the brain in which we find human emotions (instinctual as well as subtle). 3) Lastly we find covering the limbic brain the neo-cortex that is responsible for out thinking and intellect. This neo-cortex was what I was interested in because it is responsible for interpreting all the other parts of the brain in the mind.
This is where we enter the psychological arena of the brain. The human psyche has essentially four components (physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual) and we find them within the neo-cortex. Each of these psyches has positive and negative attributes and are often in conflict with one another.
One of these parts of the brain is energetically charged in some way through sense stimuli (sight, sound, touch, taste, etc.) and the charge is then interpreted through the neo-cortex and we react to it. If the stimuli is strong enough (pain for example), we react instinctually with the primitive part of the brain. Different stimuli produce different reactions. Most often the reaction is from the intellectual part of the brain and we form thoughts. These thought forms art packaged in that “voice” we hear in our heads. We identify with these thought forms as what we normally call “I” or “me”. This is what psychiatrists traditionally call the Ego. (Freud, Jung, etc.)
So this is the conscious mind at work. It is here where the trouble begins for most people because there exists a duality which we cannot resolve. Our identification with these thought forms as “who I am” presents the following question:
If these thought forms that are arising in my awareness are “me”, then “who” is that awareness?
Am “I” the thoughts or am “I” the awareness in which the thoughts occur?
The posing of this question is what opens the door to the spiritual part of our nature. I’ll address this shortly.
It also opens the intellectual side as well in the form of philosophy and of physics.
Years ago while living in California I got to meet Dr. Robert Christie who was a physicist at CAL TECH in Pasadena. He was no longer teaching there as he was in his early 90’s at this time. He vision was poor but his mind was like a steel trap. I wanted to talk to him about a film project I was developing about the making of the atomic bomb. Dr. Christie worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos during WWII. He helped build the atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan.
I knew very little about physics and wanted to see if we could tell this complicated story to a mass audience in a way that could be understood. He said he’d be happy to meet and talk about the project.
We spoke at length about a great many things. Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, advances in recent years in the realm of physics, etc. But we spoke about other things as well like love, experience, sex, death and the continuing mystery of this life. It was one of those weird “strangers on a train meetings” where you open up and tell each other stuff you wouldn’t share with your closest friend. By the end of our talk we shook hands awkwardly and departed, vaguely hinting we would speak again soon.
We never did.
But one of the things I learned that day from Dr. Christie is the fundamental truth in physical science that matter cannot be created or destroyed but only turned from one form to another. This is a non-dual system in the sense that both “matter” and “space” co-exist. For matter to exist there must be a “space” for it to occupy. But what is space? It is literally nothing or NO THING.
So we have things and we have nothing.
“Something and nothing at the same time.” Dr. Christie laughed. “Astronomy points to this. In the sky at night we can look up into the vast infinite regions of space and see things as stars, planets, the moon, galaxies, etc.”
But the unknowable infinity of the universe is mostly nothing. Just empty space and the occasional objects that exist within that space is plain to see when we gaze up at the heavens. 99.9 percent of the universe is literally nothing.
If we turn to earthly science and the study of things, of matter, we find that they exist within a provable system of elements which are called atoms. Atoms are held together by the pull of electrical charges called protons and electrons mitigated in the nucleus by neutrons. Further examination of an atom reveals that it too is 99.9 percent nothing. The charged particles spinning around each other cannot themselves even be proven to be fixed objects that exist in time and space. They are instead measured by the “probability” that they are in a certain place at certain time.
“That’s the study of Quantum Electro Dynamics or QED as it is known in the world of physics.” Dr. Christie explained.
So we understand that even on the physical level matter, as such, is mostly nothing.
Similarly, in our conscious and unconscious state we have the seeming duality of thoughts (any thought) and awareness.
Existence and non-existence.
We can say that thoughts exist or have a form, i.e. “I have a thought.”
But what are we to say about awareness? We know it to exist but what is it’s form? It’s mysterious. Is it just chemical and electrical activity occurring in the brain matter? But we know matter to be mostly nothing.
It is in this vast expanse of limitless infinity called nothing that awareness abides in. This form of consciousness that I call the “self” is really nothing more than that awareness. I realize I am not the limited, mind created “thought.”
So how is it that thought create suffering or anxiety?
Like an atom every thought form on a basic level has both positive and negative charges. It also has a neutral charge which is simply the form of the thought itself. It is when the thought has a judgment, label or opinion that the thought becomes positively or negatively charged. For example: “I like that coat.” Has a positive charge. “ I hate when she says that.” Has a negative charge. And so on.
When we judge or label something with our opinion of it, it will have a positive or a negative charge. The body and mind can’t help but react to the charge and it is transmuted into emotion. The body reacts to the positive or negative chare of every thought.
Opinions are not facts. A fact is “That is a coat.” Or “She spoke of the car.” They carry a neutral charge and thus produce no emotion. So to effect a clear emotionally peaceful neutral mind when we experience things we should simply observe them and not label or judge them and the result will be a peaceful mind.
The opposite is equally true. If we have an opinion that is positively charged like “I love that coat” we set up an interesting paradox. That is, if I love the coat and buy it I become attached to the coat (positive charge) and when it gets stolen “I” am unhappy because it was “mine” and some “bad person stole it”. Again we have a negative emotional reaction to such judgments. If we just observe that the coat is gone, there is no negative charge.
Our compulsion as a race is to form judgments and opinions and label things or events so we contribute to the false impression of “me” or of Ego. The Ego is a manifestation in the human mind of a separateness that doesn’t really exist. Of “me” and the table. Subject and object. The more we can identify with the subject, the more a sense of self or Ego is made stronger. The Ego draws its energy in this way.
The Ego is dangerous in this way as well. Collectively or individually the Ego will employ anger to strengthen itself. This often results in reactive patterns in the form of hostility or even violence. The need to believe in things, dogmas, judgments and opinion is inherently a negatively charged thought process. i.e. Calling another group of people “evil doers”.
“I am RIGHT and he is WRONG.” This is a familiar way the Ego draws energy. Very often that energy has a negative charge. The stronger this Ego is, the more we respond emotionally to its negative charge. This happens on both a conscious and unconscious level and produces anxiety in us. As we can see this thinking produces the suffering.
We have been conditioned to this way of thinking since we were babies. At about two years of age we discover that we are “separate” from the world. This is typically the age when we learn to talk and we begin to use complete sentences. We begin to label things outside of “me” as “tree” or “mommy” or “milk”. The alarming discovery that we are separate from things trigger an intense anxiety which is calmed by this illusion of the “self” or Ego. This is the “terrible twos” when kids scream “This is MINE!” and are very emotional.
We spend the rest of our lives dwelling in this curious Ego and largely ignore the true nature of our being – pure awareness or consciousness.
I mentioned earlier that this opens us to the spiritual part of the psyche. I had better amplify this…
The question: Am “I” the thoughts or am “I” the awareness in which the thoughts occur?
Since the answer to this question is obviously that “I” am the awareness, then we are crossing a threshold of understanding the fundamental teachings of all the world’s religions. Christ, Buddha, Mohammad, all were images of man that were created to point out the spiritual nature and essence of every living thing in a time and place in history that the local cultures could understand. Each religion addresses suffering (original sin in Christianity or samsara in Buddhism) and an understanding of our faith in “God” to end our suffering. They teach love and compassion, charity, selflessness, meditation or prayer in an attempt to show us the way to “God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” or “Nirvana”.
Science has recognized that matter can only change forms. This suggests that all forms are temporary. Objects arise into our awareness, stay a while and then go. This is the fundamental nature of all there is.
The human mind has a tendency to cling to objects or experiences and, at the same time, resist objects or experiences depending on or aversions or our desires. Our resistance to this is the key to understanding why we suffer. Only by observing the objects (people places and things) as they arise in our awareness, watch them pass and not cling to them can we find peace of mind.
We must embrace the idea of silencing our mind. Stop and still the white noise of chatter in the mind. Stop identifying ourselves with our thoughts. If we can sit and be silent and still and attempt to reconcile ourselves with consciousness, with awareness, only then can we find an end to the anxiety that lives within us and touch the face of God.
For this is our true nature.
I am puzzled, charitable, and forgiving