Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So, How's Your Garden?


I was sitting in a favorite spot in my yard, under a green tree in the cool, morning air, thinking about life, with Neo keyboard upon my lap, thinking about my Dad who passed away several years ago, how he resides now only in our memories, thinking about how the entirety of our perception is like those fleeting memories that give us a glimpse into the past that was, but now isn't. I realize that the ways in which we come to think of ourselves are defined by our personal history - our memories - and the context provided by having been born into an otherwise external culture. We are in large measure defined by what we think of ourselves - our self-image - and our life's experiences - how external forces have molded and shaped us.

Sitting under that shady tree in the cool, spring morning air revealed to me this hidden gem of truth: there is no external reality. All of our experiences, sensations, thoughts and feelings are derived from, or filtered through, an internal system comprised of biological sensors (hearing, vision, smell, taste and feeling) inextricably wired into our cerebral cortex, fleeting sensations recorded upon the imperfect medium of our memories.

Furthermore, how we process these inputs, what we make of the world around us, the thoughts we form and assumptions we derive, are based upon previous patterns of thought, subroutines we've programmed into our firmware through repetitious thinking patterns. Though there may exist in theory some indirect evidence that an external physical reality exists independently of our physical sensations, our only direct evidence of external reality is entirely subjective, a mere inference, being continually filtered through a system of mediation provided by our self-programmed biological neural network. We may, in the abstract, infer an external, independent reality, but we cannot experience it as such, for our experiences are entirely subjective.

In contrast to the subjective nature of our internal perception, take for example a semiconductor memory array, a grid of transistors etched onto a silicon substrate, and program into them some new field of information: what is required is that old data first be erased, before new data or a revised programmed instruction can be written, and yet the entire procedure can be completed within the span of a few brief fractions of a second.

Contrast this with the case of our own internal neural network, where the process of reprogramming is not nearly as neat or expedient as reflashing a transistor array; nor does total erasure precede the reprogramming, for the two are ongoing processes. Our network of neurons and synapses can only be rewired through repetitious firings of select and specific circuits, over and over again, until new neural pathways are connected and old ones broken. Our internal rewiring process is grown, organically, through repetition, like the fibrous roots of some plant, slowly threading themselves into the soil beneath, which is the hidden source of the plant's nutrition and health, over a lengthy span of time. Constant repetition becomes habitual behavior until the resulting response is no longer consciously derived, but becomes a hard-wired response, a biological subroutine.

We are what we think; we become that which we cogitate over, just as an athlete slowly hard-wires some physical movement, through the repetition of constant training, into biologically-grown muscle memory, so too are our fears and phobias, over-reactions and outbursts, fits of anger and rage, doubts and uncertainties the result of self-programming, grown into hard-wired response through repetitious behavior.

There becomes a point at which we are conscious of the need, within our own psyche, for reprogramming; that our programmed responses - subroutines - have become self-destructive, not conducive to the furtherance of a joy-filled, peaceful life.

It is a difficult and painful thing to examine one's self under the harsh, cold light of that which, down deep, we know to be a truly objective standard of reality, and to find ourselves wanting. Although certain spiritual traditions may offer such standards of objective truth, given the subjective nature of our internal reality, achieving even for a brief moment a mental state predominated by objective clarity is a difficult challenge, yet one that is an absolutely necessary prerequisite for real and lasting change. To know thyself is the most difficult challenge, and also the most disappointing when finally achieved.

Once the necessary process of a deep and honest self-assessment is underway, there is a state reached where it becomes imperative that we tear down the old patterns of behavior, while building up new ones, reprogramming our internal wiring, our pet subroutines that we've nurtured so carefully over the years, through newly devised thought habits and purposeful responses. This need for change grows within us until we cannot but obey its call, our dissatisfaction with our self being overwhelming.

Just as an athlete works specific muscle groups in specific patterns of force and motion, over and over, until conscious effort is no longer required to achieve the necessary skill, so too must we exercise specific, repetitious patterns of thought and response in order to reprogram the muscle-memory of our psyche.

My experience is that these two processes - self-assessment and reprogramming - are not sequential steps, proceeding in serial order, but instead are two foundational life principles that are required to be in constant use in order for internal growth to proceed throughout the duration of one's lifetime. The reality is that, just like sex leads to pregnancy because our reproductive systems are optimized for that function - regardless of intention - our minds are optimized for a state of constant reprogramming, however unintentional that may be, or however unconscious we may be of the process as it unfolds, the result being that the end-state of our personality is a culmination of that constant yet invisibly ongoing reprogramming process, the net cumulative effect of our past thought-life.

Neurological reprogramming is not merely an ongoing biological phenomenon or intentional self-improvement effort, but can also be initiated externally for ulterior purposes, unbeknownst to us. Those involved in the healing arts and other spiritual practices are not the only ones who possess knowledge of the potential for reprogramming that is constantly at work within us, for the principles of influence and persuasion - the foundations of manipulation and propaganda - invoke a working knowledge of these very same principles that are the key to molding our perceptions. This necessitates critical thinking on our part, being careful to guard the gates of our mind as we navigate the intellectual minefields of popular culture, always seeking to understand the underlying truths and hidden motivations behind that which seems, on the surface, to be objective fact. In response to the tactics of propagandists to manipulate masses of people into preprogrammed responses, our responsibility is constant vigilance to guard our thought-life, our belief systems, against infection. History proves over and over this to be true, the power of the few to sway influence over the many, to propagandize en masse through the process of reprogramming an otherwise rational and educated public.

We are the husbands of our own fields, the tenders of our own gardens, the harvest of a peace-filled life being the result of an intentional life's pursuit toward an idealized end state that, while impossible to achieve in this life, is a goal worthy of striving for, the consequence of not striving being otherwise self-depravity, self-delusion and self-deception - spiritual death. It becomes mandatory that we be in a constant state of awareness toward our ongoing thought-life as a self-reinforcing feedback system, and to purposefully manage that feedback for our future benefit, to fertilize and cultivate, prune and nurture, the inner gardens of our soul.

So, how's your garden today?

(Posted via AlphaSmart Neo.)

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~Joe

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