Posts Tagged ‘consciousness’

Changes to our environment have subtle effects on us. Soon they are no longer changes, but have become just more background hum running through our lives.

While we may not be consciously aware of these effects, our subconscious pays close attention to every tiny detail. If our environment has happy, friendly people, our subconscious begins to recognize that as normal. If we are surrounded by negative, violent people, our subconscious begins to recognize that as normal, too.

Our subconscious will also try to normalize our experiences to those expectations. It will help us see the good it feels we expect, as well as the bad. It can also help us say and do things, making choices that will continue to reinforce the good or bad that have become the baseline “normal” in our lives.

So it’s important to take a breath – a deep breath – and let it out slowly, paying attention to how we feel. As we breathe in, what kind of environment are we taking in? As we breathe out, what expectations are we sending out?

Taking a few of these moments a day for several days in a row should help us become more aware of this sea of experience we’re swimming in. Once we’re aware, we may make more conscious choices as to how we wish to experience our days to come.

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The Zhuangzi is considered the most essential taoist text after the Tao Te Ching.  It’s named for the author, who was properly named Zhuang Zhou.

One of his beliefs was that our past shapes the ways we perceive and understand our world. It’s our past that is responsible for the ways we experience and use language and cognition, which are intertwined. We have learned how to name things, and how we are expected to feel and behave with regard to these labels. Any of our decisions or actions might seem terribly misguided, had we experienced a different past.

He also called into question our ability to objectively know what our past truly is. I think you may have heard part of this story before, from the second chapter of the Zhuangzi:

A while ago I, Zhuang Zhou, dreamed I was a butterfly. I was completely absorbed in my butterfly experience, happily flitting about, tasting the flowers, and feeling all the marvelous enjoyment in doing what butterflies do. So absorbed was I, I didn’t even know I was Zhou; I knew only my butterfly experience.

I then woke up, and suddenly realized myself to be Zhou. I didn’t know if I had been a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or was now a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Yet by necessity, there is something that separates man from butterfly. It’s called metamorphosis.

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I took a bit of a time off from meaningful thought while I pushed through an illness and some highly technical thought. Now I’m making it a point to start up again, with a thought about thought! Well, at least, consciousness.

There’s an interview on Salon with Alva Noe, author of “Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons From the Biology of Consciousness”. I think the title of the book sums up what it’s about pretty nicely! I really like how he closed his interview with a pretty good perspective:

The dominant view in neuroscience today represents us as if we were strangers in an alien environment. It says that we go about gathering information, building up representations, performing calculations and making choices based on that data. But in reality, when we get up in the morning we put our feet on the floor and start to walk. We take the floor for granted and the world supports us, houses us, facilitates us and enables us to carry on whatever our tasks might be. That kind of fluency, that kind of flow, is, I think, a fundamental feature of our lives. Our fitting into the world is not an illusion created by our brains, it’s a fundamental truth about our nature. That’s what I mean by home sweet home.

– Alva Noe


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