Are we really so separate?
Love the world.
To simplify and summarize, our brain has three primary motivational systems – Avoiding harms, Approaching rewards, and Attaching to “us” – that draw on many neural networks to accomplish their goals.
Lately, I’ve started to realize that a fourth fundamental human motivational system could be emerging as well.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors depended upon their habitats for food and shelter. Today, over 7 billion of us are pressing hard up against the limits of Lifeboat Earth. To survive and to flourish, cultural and perhaps biological evolution are calling us to love the world.
The world is near to hand in the food you eat, the air you breathe, and the weather and climate in which you spend your days. And then in widening circles, the world extends out to include complex webs of life and the physical characteristics of the land, the sea, and the sky.
In those silent, but magnificent moments of life––where we are suddenly given a glimpse of something so beautiful that it quiets the mind––we know that we stand in the presence of something that represents a new and higher order of ourselves. What we've yet to understand about these fleeting experiences is that they are an invitation to become fully conscious of these timeless and vital forces as a living part of who and what we are in reality. In such moments we know, without having to think about it, that as beautiful as the world around us may be, it pales in comparison to the world that awaits us within us. Let's illustrate this last idea.
If you've ever taken a walk through a deep wood on the sunlit day and stood in the silent shafts of light streaming down and through the trees, then you know, even though these bright beams seem to appear randomly and separately, each ray of light comes from a common source: the sun. The same holds true with these beautiful timeless qualities that sometimes streak into and through our hearts and minds. These celestial characteristics are the too-fleeting expression of our own yet to be realized True Self. But if this is true, which it is, what is it that keeps us from permanently entering into this extraordinary life? As you’ll see, the answer is surprising!
How do we know that anything is real? This isn’t a question that usually bothers most people, because we’ve all been brought up to look upon the physical world “out there” as a given. But let’s say that someone actually asks you the question, “How do you know the physical world is real?” What would you answer?
If you pause for a second, there are only two kinds of answers to this question: Either you tell a story or you refer to your own experience. Stories used to be collective myths, generally based on religion, about how God or the gods created the world. But any story, including the most advanced scientific models, depends on belief. If you believe in the Book of Genesis, you will see reality very differently from someone who believes in the Big Bang. To sort out which story is actually true, the second kind of answer arose, defining reality according to our experience. A rock is hard because two people who kick it agree from their experience that it is, in fact, hard.
There are more than seven billion people living on this planet which means more than seven billion personalities, opinions and ways of seeing the world. With so many diverse and varying ideologies and socio-cultural milieus, someone is bound to act in a way, or say something that upsets another.
The question is: Do we always have to take everything so personally? If not, how do we make what seems personal, impersonal?
Ego: Why We Take Things Personally
From the time we are young, usually before we’re even ten years old, situations or moments in life occur where we feel unsafe or insecure, or someone says something that makes us feel unlovable. When this happens, we begin to develop a second self, or a false self. That false self is often the “ego,” which I like to call the “protective personality” because no one likes to have an ego, but people don’t seem to mind having a “protective personality.”
If someone invited you to live in a world where every physical thing—granite, stars, trees, the bones in your body—lost their thingness, would you accept? The fact that things exist is very reassuring, so reassuring that we can hardly do without it. Unfortunately, this reassurance is false. We live in a world where things aren’t really things, whether we choose to or not.
Matter, the physical side of matter and energy, is one half of a duo act. We are told matter is what the universe is made of, and energy is what puts matter in motion. The dance between them constitutes the reality we inhabit, a fact so obvious that modern science relies upon it as the unquestioned basis for doing science, not to mention for leading our everyday lives.
If matter and energy are not what they seem, science could be rocked to its core—but great care is taken for this not to happen. Strangely, a nursery rhyme tells the tale. Like Humpty-Dumpty in the English nursery rhyme, physical matter—solid, tangible inert matter composed of atoms and molecules- took a great fall over a hundred year ago, when quantum mechanics demolished every one of those qualities. It is entirely inaccurate to envision the universe being built up from bits of solid matter—or bits of anything.
The ancient Greek notion that reality can be reduced to a minuscule speck of matter (the atom) was a delusion of logic, and therefore a mental construct only. In reality the elementary particles that comprise the atom have a mysterious existence. They have no measurable weight, position, or any other characteristic until they are observed. Before that, they exist as waves that extend infinitely in all directions. These waves have no properties you can assign to any solid object. They arise as ripples in the quantum field, and the entire structure of the universe is mathematically described as interference patterns among these ripples, like the pattern formed on the surface of a pond if you throw two rocks in at the same time.
The dissolution of physical matter isn’t controversial—quantum mechanics is the bedrock of modern physics--but it turned out to be intolerable for working scientists. They rely upon the reassuring nature of thingness just as much as ordinary people. Theoretically, doing away with thingness should have been the end of the story. As every child knows, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty together again. Physics, however, managed to do something more mysterious. It ignored that matter fell and broke in the first place.
The billions of dollars spent on high-energy particle accelerators shows the lengths to which jobs, budgets, and complex projects rest on an ability to ignore what quantum physics actually means. There are now eighteen basic particles, with the hope that more will be discovered in the future, dependent on building even more mega-accelerators. But when these vast machines cause a new particle to bounce out of the quantum field for a fraction of a millisecond, using huge amounts of energy to accomplish this, where is that particle really coming from?
Every journey of genuine self-discovery, and the subsequent changes this process produces in us, must begin somewhere. We begin our journey with a great but unrealized truth: within each of us resides a power that can change the whole world. It’s true; we each have a secret character hidden away in us that is created for just the alchemical purpose of transforming any dark influence into a beneficial force. And yet, as appealing as the idea of such a power may sound to us, to take conscious possession of its strength is not that simple.
Becoming an instrument of this higher power takes more than merely wishing for its entrance into our life. To realize such a viable wisdom requires action in the Now. So let us be clear: we are created with everything that we need to transform and transcend the shadows of fear, regrets, and resentments that prowl the corridors of our sleeping consciousness. And when these secret seeds of conflict have been revealed and released, we are as well, for then nothing negative remains within us to goad us into acting against ourselves. Multiply this possibility by billions of beings and gone are the mindless wars and all the selfish acts of socially accepted gluttony.
Perhaps you are wondering, what is this great power entrusted to us by which we may overcome all of our interior adversaries? Here is the answer:
Each of us is created to be the Light of the world.
Within each of us resides a nascent Light born into this world with us. We can think of this as being the Light of higher conscience by whose compassionate intelligence we are empowered to discern what is helpful from what is harmful, to intuitively know the difference between a genuine act of kindness and a kindness done for selfish reasons. By this Light we are able to tell what is true and what is false. When we do our part to live in the awareness of this Light so that its presence becomes an active power within us, then what is there that can remain with the power to hurt us? How can any unseen darkness prevail if its character is revealed before it begins its punishing action? Just think of such a power and the freedoms it must bear.
The world is made up of perceptions
It has been stated that the world is made up of perceptions. Perceptions, points of view, beliefs and opinions. In other words, we see the world as we consciously or unconsciously seek to see the world. For an individual who looks at the world as being a hostile and unfriendly place – they will come to see the world as just that. For another individual who looks for Love, joy, generosity, abundance and wholeness in the world – that is the world they will come to see. As an awakening individual we want seek to see the world through the eyes of God. We want to activate our Right seeing – which is seeing beyond circumstances, appearances and effects.
There is nothing but Divine order in all of the cosmos. This means that nothing just happens but everything happens just. Whatever it is we are seeking to find, is what we will find. Whatever it is we are looking for, we will see. Regardless of whether we are looking consciously or unconsciously.
The world is made up by our chronic perceptions, beliefs and conversations.
All the junk that collected under the snow and the now-sodden leaves from last fall makes the outside world look like it needs a good washing. Now, think of a spring rain. As it falls, it carries away the dirt and the grit and the grime. It leaves behind a clean slate that’s ready for the fresh greens of spring.
The custom of spring cleaning is an imitation of nature’s seasonal house cleaning. The weather is finally warm enough to throw open the windows. The sunlight and the fresh air remind us that now is the time to get rid of all of our own dirt and junk that has accumulated during the cold and dark of winter.
In my house, that’s a lot of junk. You can’t believe the stuff that accumulates with four little ones. Developmental toys, parts and pieces of games, board books, broken crayons, markers long-since dried out. Baby blankets, soft toys, dolls, and piles of stuffed animals that somehow keep getting bigger. Then there are the piles of outgrown clothing, shoes, and accessories. (Please tell me, how did the time go by so quickly?) When it comes to this stuff, there isn’t a stage that I don’t adore. Newborn, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, one year. I swear, by now I’m capable of starting my own Salvation Army Surplus Store.
I admit it, I’m a collector. I’m also unabashedly sentimental. I have a penchant to pack away everything in order to save it from the dumpster, the recycling center, and the second-hand store. In the wee hours of the night, I’ll gently unpack a box of old baby clothes, hold them to my heart, and reminisce about the old days. And then the tears are unleashed. My husband always says that if we lived in a smaller house, I could qualify as a true hoarder. He says it with love, but if I’m honest about my “collecting” tendency, it might be more than a little true. I think saving stuff is my way of trying to stop time from stealing away the present and turning it into the past.
At the turn of a new year it’s natural to be reflective about the state of the world, a gloomy process this year. The world is filled with bad actors, who are easy to condemn. But complaining about them does us very little good, while a great deal of good can be done by flipping the coin and asking what it takes to be good.
To have a grounded sense of self, it’s necessary to feel that you are a good person. People who consider themselves bad are generally defeated and abused, wracked with guilt and shame. So where does goodness come from? This turns out to be one of the toughest problems tackled by religion, philosophy, and now science. Finding a scientific way to make people act morally is a long-standing dream going back at least two centuries when Utilitarians tried to base morality on a calculus of pleasure and pain. The notion that making goodness a pleasant experience seemed fruitful, especially combined with painful punishments when someone disobeys the moral rules.
I’m writing this as I would write a note to a friend who I haven’t spoken to in awhile. I’m back from my self-imposed spiritual break and wanted to check in. How are you? How is your world? How are you feeling on this day about our larger world?
I know I don’t have to ask that question of Mother Earth. She feels as angry as she’s ever been. But, I hope those living directly in her path feel supported by the outpouring of love, unity and assistance that is coming their way.
At a time like this, it almost feels mundane for me to talk about my time away this past month. But, The Sunday Paper is dedicated to trying to provide a sanctuary and a moment of reprieve from the storms that surround us — be they climate-related, political, or otherwise. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll bring you up to date on my last few weeks.
My time away in August was wonderful and productive. Before I left, I wrote down a list of intentions for my break. I wanted to step back from the noise of our world so that I could reflect, reconnect and approach my life and work with a renewed sense of passion and purpose.
There were so many times along the way that I wanted to jump back into the world of social media to comment on this or that (North Korea, Charlottesville, Heather Heyer and her inspiring mom, Houston and Hurricane Harvey, etc…) So many times that I wanted to drive my car back into the office so that I could feel plugged in, connected and purposeful. But, I didn’t.
When the world looks as turbulent and troubled as it does now, people feel trapped. Instead of feeling secure in prosperous safety zones, even developed countries now feel the pressure of uncontrollable forces, including stateless terrorism, a historical peak in refugees, the threat of epidemic diseases, and fast-encroaching climate change. How many people truly believe that these problems will be solved—or are even solvable? An erosion of hope is underway, and this more than anything must be reversed.
Cast your mind back, if you will, and consider the greatest technological change in your lifetime.
For most adults I’d suggest it’s the Internet. If you’re a little older, perhaps the cell phone. Older still, maybe computers.
Our lives are our Stories, and technological change has an impact on - freeing or limiting - the context of those stories. It’s a way of marking time, like the rings of a tree.
Once in awhile I run across a blog or essay that really causes me to stop and really breathe it in. Reading a good message can cause a shift in me, ignite a eureka, or cause a deep resounding “yes”, perhaps moving me to tears or giving me courage that day to make a change I didn’t know I had to make intellectually, but at the level of the heart, I did. With all the uncertainty in the world it’s wonderful so many people are sharing their thoughts and hopes. Blogging can be a way of keeping conversations alive and bringing people together.