"If you want to think about consciousness, perplexity is necessary—mind-boggling, brain-hurting, I-can't-bear-to-think-about-this-stupid-problem-anymore perplexity...if you do not wish your brain to hurt stop reading now or choose a more tractable problem to study." - Susan BlackmoreGood. Excedrin on the ready, and here I go...
A few days ago, I heard two lectures given by Zen Buddhist teacher and author, David R. Loy. I'd read and enjoyed his book, Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution, and was eagerly looking forward to his presentation, and the opportunity for a Q&A session.
This book addresses the three "poisons," or "unwholesome roots," in Buddhist terms, of "evil," in Western terms. These are defined in Buddhism as; 1) greed, 2) ill-will, and 3) delusion. Basically, these are the forces that cause suffering (or dukha, in Buddhist terms). This is a fundamentally radical difference from the way we, in western society, have been taught to understand the cause of suffering: the understanding that we are victims to our environment and that suffering is some part of our circumstance that is unpleasant, and over which we have power to change. However, the fundamental problem, or challenge, is not something outside of ourselves, as Loy says, "the nature of an unawakened mind is to be bothered by something."
Buddhist teaching outlines three different forms of dukha; 1) physical and mental suffering, 2) impermanence and, 3) conditioned states, or the "constructedness of all our experience, including the experience of self." This is referring to the realization that what we call self, is no more than a collection of habits; the ways we tend to feel, think, act, motivate, etc., and all of those things are shaped by societal forces and change. We think of the self as something that has thoughts and does things, when in reality, the self is constructed in the process of creating the neural pathways of those thoughts and actions. Thus, they are not what is essential about ourselves. This sense of self creates a world-view in which I am something separate and independent from you and the rest of the world. I am inside me, and the world is outside there. Us vs. Them. Good vs. Evil. => Duality.
According to Buddhist tradition, this is an illusion, and further, it is the greatest delusion. Loy says that the problem is not that there is a sense of self, Buddhism isn't saying to get rid of the self, or the sense of self. The problem is that we believe in the illusion of a separate self, we try to make that self more real, we get attached to it. Buddhism is urging us to see through that sense of separation, realize it's constructedness and move beyond it.
And here's the really cool part. If the sense of self is a construct (if the Buddhist theory holds true), then it can be reconstructed. We can change.
Part of this reconstruction requires that we engage in a process of deconstruction, and Buddhist thought foretells that this process of deconstruction (meditation), results, ideally, in the realization of shunyata, "derive[d] from the root shu, which means "swollen" in both sense: not only the swollenness of a blown-up balloon, but also the swollenness of an expectant woman, pregnant with possibility. So a more accurate translation of shunyata would be: emptiness/fullness."
Okay, now hold that thought.
Today, I went to a workshop in what is called Developmental Movement Therapy (DMT). This is a therapy based on research that shows that reflexes and early childhood movement (including everything from the birthing process, to crawling to play) have a vital part to play in neurological development. Further, it is known in psychology, biology, and neuroscience that the development of the brain, the reinforcement of neural synapses, creates and shapes who we are. That is to say, the collection of habitual ways of thinking, feeling, perceiving and being are defined by those neural connections. In DMT, a trained professional assesses an individual client based on a complete history starting from in utero, and conducts a battery of tests focusing on mobility, language skills, manual dexterity, visual and auditory development and tactile experiences. These would lead to some program regimen to be practiced daily by the client to fully recover perhaps lost skills (from injury or illness), or even to recover skills that hadn't yet been able to develop (as from birthing or early trauma). Bette Lamont, a DMT practitioner since 1986 said, "we are whole by nature, and if we become less than whole, we can recreate our wholeness."
Okay. Remember that thought from way up there^?
We are, by nature, whole (or empty (but it doesn't matter which word we use because it's all the same!)) And we have the capacity to recreate our "selves," because the self is nonexistent. With me? Now, as we said earlier, we don't want to get rid of the self, we just need to move beyond our attachment to it. If we can recognize that while I am not different from you, the concept of self-hood is important because it allows me to go to my job, take care of my body, drive my car, sleep with my boyfriend- not yours, and thus keeps us safely operating within other social constructs that are important for the smooth operation of society as a whole.
Additionally, DMT addresses the context of a self: literally the environment into which we are born, the social attitudes in which we are raised, child-raising practices utilized, beliefs that develop over the course of a lifetime, injuries and illnesses- all effect neurological development, and thus the creation of self- it dictates what kind of self we develop.
There are numbers upon numbers of examples Bette gave throughout the workshop (that is continuing tomorrow and two weeks from now- EXCITED!) about the multidimensional recoveries of clients (aged 3 months-90 years) of physical abilities and emotional capacities.
The basis of DMT operates on the observations that reflexes are useful in certain stages of development, and once they are no longer useful they are diminished, or integrated in the central nervous system (CNS). If, due to some trauma or interruption, the reflexes are prevented from completion, or integration, then the reflexes remain and impair further physical, and neurological development. What has also been observed, is that certain emotional milestones coincide with the completion and integration of these reflexes and neurological synapses. Thus, if the reflex is interrupted, not only are the physical and neurological processes impeded, but the emotional development is impaired.
So, what have we learned?
The self is nonexistent. The self is a construct. The self is an important construct. The self can be reconstructed. We can intentionally reconstruct the self through movement. Reconstructing the self recovers physical and emotional skills. Reconstructing the self liberates the soul.
Yep, it's all connected.. my head hurts.