Consciousness – Self Possession – Mood Control

by pre., Friday, April 4th, 2008.

Your mood effects the way you react, of course it does. If you’re sad you’re generally less motivated, less interested, more introspective. If you’re happy you’re usually more extroverted, more inquisitive, less lethargic.

But what actually determines your mood?

Sometimes this is obvious. Your pet just died, you just won the lottery, your just got fired or you’ve been offered that great job. More often, it’s quite subtle. Maybe you’ve already forgotten that compliment, but it’s still affecting your mood. Or you’ve been day-dreaming about the good time you’ll have on holiday in a few weeks. Perhaps a con-man or stage psychic recently primed you with words associated with trust and giving.

But usually, our moods seem to slide to what you may call a ‘default’ state. A disposition. A base-level that’s different for everybody. Some folks are generally happy, and others generally more miserable. Some people are generally more introspective, some more extrovert.

So what determines this default state? It could be our genes of course. Perhaps some of us are just born happy. This even seems likely to be the case to some degree, but that original genetic effect is soon dwarfed by the feedback mechanisms, parenting style and other external influences in our environment.

If the human brain does something, practices any skill at all, it gets better and better at doing it again. The more you play the guitar, the better you’ll be at playing the guitar, the more you’ll enjoy it and the more you’ll be likely to do it again. This doesn’t apply jut to learning a music instrument. It applies to drawing, to cookery, to philosophy, to maths and carpentry and skating and sports and indeed to every possible human endeavour. It even applies to smiling.

If you know all that, you won’t be surprised to learn that it also applies to mood. The more you’re extroverted, the more likely you are to act that way. The more you’re miserable, the better practised you are at being miserable, the easier it’ll be. As you move through your life you wear a path in your brain just as you would if you walked the same path over a lawn each day. You’ll then find yourself walking that same path over and over again, wearing it deeper and deeper, just because it’s easier to do so than to walk less charted ground. If you’ve been happy a great deal of the time, you’ll automatically follow that happy-path, find yourself in a happy mood for no other reason than that’s the rut you’ve worn in your mind.

Rut is the right word too. You can become stuck in it. If you’ve been miserable for a great deal of your life, you’ve worn a path so deep it can start to become hard to get out of it. Depression results. If you’ve been overly introverted much of the time, shyness and embarrassment can become overwhelming.

But even those who aren’t depressed, shy, violently angry or annoyingly hyper can benefit from learning how to practice other moods. However happy you are, you can probably be happier if you’d spend more time practising doing so. You can learn to control your mood.

How do we practice such a thing? How do we learn to influence our own emotional state?

You have already, in the first few paragraphs of this article, been primed with a clue.

As we’ve mentioned in these articles many times before; your brain is an associative machine. If you want it to be happier, think of a time when you were happy. If you want it to be more outgoing and lively, think of a time when you showed those qualities. If you need to act more confident and self assured, spend time thinking of examples of yourself doing so.

The more you can concentrate on the images, sounds, memories and details of these things, the more they will affect your spirits. Con artists, psychology experimenters and stage hypnotists use subliminal cues to influence you, and even that works surprisingly well; but the more you can focus and direct your attention towards those particular things that make you feel a certain way, the more you’ll slip automatically into that pattern of thinking.

If you consciously and actively monitor your mood, deliberately take note when you feel a certain way, you’ll have more examples to call on when you want to recall that feeling.

We do not advise trying to turn yourself into a happy hug bunny who’s always laughing and full of joy and never angry or low. The whole range of human emotion is valuable at some time in your life. Being too overbearingly, relentlessly, hyperactively joyous all the time is just as dysfunctional as being a paranoid, gloomy, depressive grump. We think you should practice the whole gamut of emotion until you can switch mood at will. Learn to monitor and adjust your mind-set and emotional resonance as and when it’s useful to do so.That means being well practised at all of them so that when you find you need to angrily rip some idiot a new arsehole, you can get into that head-space easily. Or when it’s better to passively ignore and let wash over you yet another insult from a less transcended friend, that too is a simple matter.

Our latest guided meditation is based around this idea. It will help you to recall an emotional state, take note of it, and compare it to another emotional state. To understand the differences between then and associate each mode with simple keys to help you recall them later at will.

Before you start to listen to it you should have have in mind a mood that you’d like to practice, and two events. One when you experienced that mood intensely, and one when you experienced the opposite just as intensely. It will guide you through trying to focus on each event, the way they made you feel, and monitor the changes in your brain as it re-experiences it during the review. To really focus and learn quickly how you can direct your brain towards the experience, and of course to associate that mood with some trigger image or sound to aid you in slipping into that mood later.

Though it’s unlikely to actually be true, some people may believe that they have never experienced the state that they’re hoping to practice. A painfully shy person can probably not recall ever being the centre of attention as they regaled a room full of people with fascinating stories that kept them all enthralled. This is partly because we find it easier to recall a memory when we’re in the same emotional state as we were when the memory was first imprinted. Again, our brain is an association machine. It’s also partly because it will simply happened less of course. It may, possibly, have even genuinely never happened.

If this is the case, don’t worry. Sometimes just try to think of a time when you were closer to the desired mood than you usually are. If you’re trying to focus on being happy but you’re usually utterly miserable, think of an occasion when you were less miserable than usual. Other times, just make one up. Make it up before you listen to the mp3, know before you start what pretend-party you were at, what people were there. Your imagination will provide your brain with how it feels to be in that situation if you can imagine it in as much detail as possible.

Consciousness – Self Possession – Pausing To Think

by pre., Friday, April 11th, 2008.

B.F. Skinner was a behaviourist. He studied psychology, animals and humans, and he figured out that animals act mostly through reflex, and furthermore that those reflexes can be altered through associative learning. If you ring a bell every time you feed a dog, the dog will start to salivate at the sound of the bell. Since you and I are also animals, we can be sure this process works with us too.

However; we are a special class of animal. Yes, you and I do work through reflex. If I make you angry, you’ll lash out. If I make you happy and secure you’ll be more trusting and friendly. If you’re hungry, you’ll eat. This is true of every mammal you care to name. But it’s also true that you and I have a faculty that it would seem most animals live without: introspective self-conscious sentience. Self awareness. In short: Self possession. The ability to understand our reflexes. To notice them, manipulate them, to change them or override them.

Our next two essays will help you to understand this fact, suggest ways that you can use to train yourself to rely less on reflex and more on deliberate thought and considered opinion, and then help you to learn how to train your reflexes so that even if things are happening too quickly for self-conscious introspection, your reflexes will do what you’d want them to do anyway.

Next week, we’ll look at ways to change your reflexes, train your own knee-jerk responses when it’s useful to do so, but the truth is that usually this isn’t even needed. In the life of a modern western human being, most action can be deliberate, willed and conscious. Most of the time we act on reflex, but usually we actually have plenty of time to slow down, consider the options and act consciously instead, consider if our reflexes have become corrupted.

Both now and next week we’ll use the same three examples. Typical instances where people find their reflexes differ from the actions that they claim they would chose given a long and rational argument: (a)Giving up cigarettes, (b)dieting and (c)overcoming anger.

If these examples don’t fit your own life, and doubtless many of you have no trouble with those particular things, then I’m sure it’s not hard to pick something that will be more relevant to your personal experience. Some time when you find yourself in a situation where your instinct contradicts the action you know, rationally, you should be taking. Something like being offered a cigarette and knowing you should refuse, or thinking about having that second helping of pudding, or shouting and edging into someone’s face knowing that it’s pointless and counter-productive and only likely to lead to trouble.

In the first instance you need to recognise the situation. Realize that this is one of those times when you’re not acting properly. Your reflex is unprofitable. When you drag on yet another cigarette, eat that donut, or start clenching that punching fist again, you need to notice that this is not what you want.

The difficulty here, obviously, is that at the time you’re deciding you do want one more cigarette after all, or you’re holding someone by the throat, or you’re stuffing more food down your face than you should be doing, you’re not really thinking at all. Except perhaps with your guts. You’re just acting on instinct, like a bell-salivating dog.

However, this in itself can be your cue. If you recall such an event and notice how it feels, you can learn to see when it reoccurs, when you’re acting on instinct again, and use that feeling to remind you to think. You do this using the same methods we’ve been discussing for the last couple of months of course: practice, association and imagery. Every time you make this mistake, you have another example to use in your imagery. Another example you can play over in your mind, only changing the result. You need to imagine yourself not acting according to your gut this time but stopping and thinking.

In fact, you need to imagine yourself doing the second thing you’ll want to actually do in this situation. Once you’ve recognised that you’re being led by your instinct, against your own interests, you need to realize you can slow down. You don’t actually need to reply or react immediately. You can take your time. Realistically, in just about every occasion, a few breaths are not going to make much difference. You need to slow your brain down. Relax. So imagine yourself doing that. Daydream about it. Don’t concentrate on what you did wrong the last time you sucked heartily on that mild filtered smoke, licked the jam from that cake or punched that idiot in the face. Instead, fantasize that you stopped, drew a slow (smoke-free) breath, and then used your brain. Did that thing that separates us from the animals: act against your instinct because you know that your instinct is wrong.

Our usual meditation techniques are useful here. Listen to a breath or two, focus on thinking about nothing for a moment. Take a deep and slow, very slow, breath. Imagine yourself in that relaxed and happy place where there’s no pressure. Now. Start to think. What would you decide? What should you decide?

Finally, you need to know how to convince yourself to apply this plan more often. You’re in the middle of a reflex reaction. Just knowing what’s going on will help a great deal. Just understanding that your actions are on reflex, and that you can override it, will mean you’re more likely to over-ride it. But you can do more. You’ve already started to learn some self-hypnosis techniques by now. Try some visualisation. Slow down your mind, meditate, pause, then see yourself refusing that cigarette, throwing away that half-eaten meal, or calming down rather than escalating some violence.

As always, the key is to practice. Not necessarily in real life, but imagine yourself practising. Take one of our hypnosis-files and record a personal message over it. Start using that to give your brain your own instruction. If you hit upon a useful combination, post it to our forums. Share the experience. There’s only one person in the world who can make you stop acting on yuor broken instincts, and in fact that is why ‘you’, your higher function self-awareness, exists at all. To stop yourself making those stupid mistakes.

Next week, we’ll look into how you can go further than this, how you can not only learn not to rely on reflex action, but even train those reflexes when you DO have to rely on them.

Consciousness – Self Possession – Conditioning Reflexes

by pre., Friday, April 18th, 2008.

Last week we talked about reflex action, and helped you to develop techniques which enable you to practice not giving in to that reflex. Techniques to help you notice when you’re not thinking and slow down enough to think.

This week, you will learn how to undo unprofitable reflexes, retrain yourself to automatically take the best course of action even without having to pause and think.

The first thing you’ll need to be able to do is to recognise situations where your reflexes are inappropriate. Often this will happen when someone points it out to you, and your natural reaction will be to become defensive and explain why it’s not inappropriate at all. But that in itself is a counter-productive reflex and you should probably use these systems to work on that reflex too.

You should spend some time considering which of your reflexes are helping you the least. Spend a few minutes doing that now. Close your eyes, and meditate for a few minutes on your breath. Think back over the last week or two, and try to remember a situation in which you reacted quickly, and later came to regret your action. We’re using the same examples as last week: Smoking, over-eating, becoming angry, but you should meditate on the question until something specific from your own life drifts into view. Imagine we’re talking about that.

Once you have such an occasion in mind, you should allow yourself to relive those events as best you can. Visualise the things you saw, let your body react the way it reacted at the time and feel how it felt, remember what drove you to your unprofitable choice. Hold that in your memory for a while. Experience it again. Feel the desire to react wrongly, as you felt it originally.

Next, you will decide what would have been the most profitable reaction. What you would have done if you’d cooled down, sobered up, slept on it for a night and then decided. If this is the same thing then, well done! You’re reflexes served you well.

Just as often, however, you’ll find that if you’d had time to reconsider, you’d have done something differently. So you need to relax again, and watch images drift through your mind, solutions suggest themselves, until you grasp what kind of action would have been best.

Then you need to associate those things together in your mind. So, while still relaxed and receptive, replay in your minds eye the situation in which you went wrong, in which you made a mistake. Reach for those same feelings again, but instead of going through, watching yourself make again the mistakes you made last time, instead imagine yourself doing the most profitable action. That which brings the most joy, to you and others.

As you watch yourself doing the right thing for a few minutes, over and over, in vivid technicolour surround-sound with amplified cartoon emotion, take the time to see how much better it feels. How the results help you, how they benefit those around you. Remember to enjoy watching yourself reacting as you would like yourself to react.

Doing this exercise frequently will increase the chances that you will, in a similar situation, take the more useful course of action.

You will, of course, slip up. Very often to start with and occasionally even after you’ve been trying to change for a while. When you do this, if you notice quickly enough, you may decide to try to condition yourself against it. Associate some pain with your mistake. If you notice you’re smoking that cigarette you swore you’d never smoke again, slap that cigarette our of your face. The harder the better. If you notice you’re pigging out on yet more midnight cake, throw it away and punch yourself in the stomach. Really. I’m serious about this. If you start to associate following misguided reflexes with receiving real, physical, pain you’ll be surprised how rapidly that reflex recedes. If you find yourself angry, perhaps having just slapped someone, slap yourself harder.. These training methods may be cruel, they may be unusual, but they do work. If they’re applied consistently. Even if you apply them yourself.

It’s probably more effective, perhaps because it’s also more pleasant, to reward good behaviour rather than punish mistakes. Don’t make the mistake of assuming a reward is just anything you enjoy though. It’s no use rewarding yourself for not eating that toast by eating a cake. A cigarette is no kind of reward for anything. But lucky, in conscious human brains, a reward doesn’t have to be anything so physical. You can make yourself feel happier with a smile, even a forced smile. If you’ve acted on reflex, and you’ve acted right, learn to notice that and give yourself a smile. Spend a moment to breathe in your victory. Imagine the cheers, the applause, the adoring crowds. Nod, even bow a little. You will consciously know that you’re doing this to yourself, but it will build those neural connections all the same.

This punishment or reward reinforcement must be more or less immediate though. If you’ve changed mental context, if you’ve been distracted, it’s too late. You must build a new reflex which punishes you for your old reflex. A new reflex to reward the ones your trying to build. Once the context has changed, it’s too late, and only visualisation and imagination are worthwhile tools. Things that can help you to re-live and yet change the moment.

Your brain is, of course, already doing all this on some more or less unconscious level. But by doing it consciously, by paying attention to it, by doing it more you’ll not only do it better but you’ll practice it so be able to do it better next time. By observing the process you learn to understand the process, and get quicker, more efficient, more transcended.

Consciousness – Self Possession – Insomnia

by pre., Friday, April 25th, 2008.

Our bedtime guided meditation files are designed to help you drift into sleep, to help you to relax, wind down and hopefully influence your dreams so that even while you sleep your brain can be striving towards transcendence.

However, as many as fifty percent of people suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives, and when people can’t drift easily into sleep it’s less likely our suggestions will influence their dreams, and perhaps more importantly they’ll be tired, drained and miserable much of the time. Hardly transcended!

Trouble sleeping is often a result of a racing mind, people’s thought processes run away with them, they’re essentially thinking too much to be able to fall asleep. They find that their brain starts chasing its own tail, running in circles. Just as it’s difficult to sleep when the neighbours are shouting, so people find it’s even more difficult to sleep when the noises are originating within their own head.

Stress can also cause insomnia, a wound-up person with high blood pressure can find it hard to relax properly, and it’s almost impossible to sleep soundly when feeling tense and anxious.

Luckily, there is a simple process we can recommend which works both by reducing stress and by helping to eliminate the stream of thoughts that a racing mind can produce, a method which will both help to to relax, and distract you from the brain’s runaway self-accelerating thought processes which can keep you up half the night.

Simple meditation practices have been proven to reduce stress, and a frequent reason that people never practice any meditation techniques is that they claim they don’t have the time. Given that the actual technique of most meditation processes is to clear the mind of all thoughts, to focus on one thing and continually revert your focus to that one thing, it seems that there’s ample opportunity here to stone a whole flock of birds at once.

So it comes as no surprise that when Dr. Miskiman from the University of Alberta studied the issue he found that insomniacs who learned to meditate could reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep from seventy minutes to just ten. See “The treatment of insomnia by means of meditation” (Scientific Research on the Transcendental Meditation Program: Collected Papers. Volume 1, 1976).

How To Meditate In Bed

Firstly, if your mind is racing around worrying about something, or trying to figure something out, it’ll be impossible to let it go until you resolve to do something about it. Even if you just resolve to ask for a friend’s advice, you will need to be able to satisfy yourself that you have promised to take action before it’ll be possible to let the dog-chasing-it’s-tail thought processes slip away. Once you have done so though, you’ll be surprised how easily you can step out of the loop.

Next, ensure you’re lying comfortably. Tense and then relax each muscle in your body, starting at the toes and slowly making your way up your body to the head. Focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply, slowly, and listen to the slow rush of air moving in and out of your nose. Let it get slower and slower. When you’ve tensed and released the muscles in your face to finish, just relax and listen to the noise of the flow of air.

You will almost certainly be distracted, you will lose focus. Your brain will begin to think about that meeting in the morning, or your relationship worries, or the TV show you saw earlier in the day. Do not be surprised. Do not feel disappointed. This is inevitable. Merely note the fact and then dismiss the thought, go back to listening to your own breath, concentrating on feeling your breathing get deeper and slower.

Likewise, if you’re distracted by external noises like a siren on the street outside, or a neighbour loudly banging a door, or a fox crying in the garden, just try to ignore it and redouble your efforts to empty your mind of thoughts and concentrate on the slow in… out… in… out… of the flow of air to and fro into your lungs as you breathe slowly, very deeply, thinking of nothing but your own breath.

To begin with some people, especially those who aren’t very practised at the process of meditation, may begin to think that it won’t work, that they’ll end up staying up all night worrying about the fact they won’t sleep. If this happens you should simply accept that you may find yourself practising to meditate for the next eight hours. While this will not be as refreshing, relaxing and rejuvenating as a good night’s sleep, you should be aware that a solid eight hours meditation is certainly better for you than eight hours of fretting and worrying about sleeplessness. Eight hours of meditation is almost as good as eight hours sleep. Again, just dismiss the thoughts and concentrate on the flow of air into and out of your lungs.

This process, making sure your mind is as empty as possible during the time between listening to our guided meditation mp3 and falling asleep, will also help to keep you from polluting the dream-suggestions embedded within our files. We highly recommend thinking as little as possible between the end of the audio and the beginning of sleep. Just concentrate on your breathing, on relaxing all of your muscles, and on letting any intrusive thoughts drift though your mind rather than catching it and driving it into self-destructive sleep-distracting patterns.

Finally, remember that most people who suffer from insomnia do so only temporarily. We all need sleep, and as long as you can relax and avoid getting worked up about your sleep-lack, the chances are you can catch up tomorrow even if you spend the entire night merely listening to the noise of your own lungs inflating and deflating, relaxing, calming yourself, learning to chill down.

Guided Meditation File 3 – Consciousness – Self Possession
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Consciousness – Sentience – Sentience And Consciousness

by pre., Friday, January 9th, 2009.

We previously discussed self consciousness (that is awareness of your own mental state) when we were talking about self awareness. This month we will explore consciousness more deeply, learn to understand what sentience is, how we can improve it, and how this can raise help you rise to a higher level of consciousness.

Sentience And Sapience

If you tease a dog, you can make it angry. You can change the way it reacts, the balance of hormones in it’s head, the rate of it’s heart. This shows that the dog in question is sentient. We know it can feel that anger because that anger affects it’s behaviour. The word sentience comes from the Latin sentire, meaning “to feel”. We can make a dog angry, but we can’t make a rock angry. Dogs therefore can feel, they are sentient, while rocks likely are not.

This sentient dog, then, can feel anger, but does it consciously know that it’s angry? We can’t currently answer this question for we do not yet understand the mind, even the mind of a dog, to sufficient degree. If the answer is “yes” though, then the dog has not only sentience but also sapience. This word comes from the Latin sapientia, meaning wisdom. When Linnaeus was inventing the naming structure of species he chose to give our own species the name Homo Sapiens because he thought this wisdom, this knowledge and ability to act on judgement, even to to override that sentience if needed was a distinctive feature of our species. Presumably he thought that if other species had it, they have it to a lesser degree.

Consciousness

Of course, sapience, wisdom, self-awareness, can apply to things other than the raw feelings of sentience. Sapience can turn on itself, eat it’s own tail. Not only can we be aware that we’re angry, but we can be aware that we know that we are angry. We can also go up another level and be aware of the fact we’re aware of the fact etc. It’s this recursive nature of sapience which gives it such power. It’s also this recursive nature which is a clue to it’s origin.

We think that sapience is implemented in the brain by the same processes that sentience is implemented. That is that sapience is just the same thing as sentience. Just as sapience allows the senses to effect the brain through the senses, make it reflect, understand and model some aspect of the word, so sentience allows the brain’s internal connections to effect the brain itself, make it reflect and model some aspect of it’s own mind. It’s a recursive awareness of awareness itself.

This is a consciousness directed at itself, introspection on introspection, taking consciousness to a higher level. First perception and reaction, sapience. Then sentience: awareness of that perception and reaction. Then higher consciousness: awareness, manipulation and understanding of your own mind.

This recursive loop need not stop there. You can raise your level of consciousness to a higher level by directing your awareness at a higher abstraction: understanding of your awareness of your consciousness of perception. And more.

Sure enough, this is our plan this month. Next week we’ll consider Sentience in more detail, including looking at ways we can increase (or decrease) it. The week after that we’ll examine Sapience. Finally we’ll present a meditation designed to feed those two techniques into each other and so help you reach higher states of consciousness.

Consciousness – Sentience – Sentience

by pre., Friday, January 16th, 2009.

Smash yourself in the face with a book. As hard as you dare. A bit harder than you dare if you can manage it. Make yourself feel pain. Really. It will be instructive. It will be helpful if you read the rest of this article with a fresh memory of what it’s like to feel a smack in the face.

Your sentience is the reason why pain hurts. It’s why if you followed instructions your face even now still tingles, still has little micro-bursts of intense demand for your attention.

Of course sentience isn’t only about pain. Yes, it’s the reason why pain hurts, but it’s also the reason that joy is joyful, pleasure is pleasurable and ecstasy ecstatic. It’s why you feel a drive to get up in the morning (or, indeed, a drive to stay in bed when you should get up). It makes the difference between a philisophical zombie and a real person. Between an automaton and a being.

Directing Sentience

You’ve already been exploring perception awareness, which is one special case of sentience. You’ve been trying to increase the degree to which you’re aware of your perception. You’ve also looked at mood awareness which is also an example of sentience. You’ve tried to learn to manipulate that sense, control your mood by paying attention to the things which make your mood change.

These two examples have taught you that by focusing your awareness onto something you begin to understand it more deeply. Not necessarily on an intellectual or verbal level, but on a visceral level, in the gut. Not the way you understand how to calculate simultaneous ballistic equations but the (in some ways deeper) level on which you understand how to catch a ball.

What Is Sentience?

Humanity still has very little objective idea what sentience, subjective experience, might be. What it’s made of, how it works. At the Transcendence Institute we’d hazard it’s some kind of pattern in a feedback network, but that’s certainly too simple to explain it and nobody really knows in any detail at this point. It is clear however that it’s related to attention, to learning, to the mind’s way of improving itself. It is certainly a survival trait and therefore subject to natural selection.

This explains why pain hurts: To get your attention onto the thing which has to be attended to right now. It explains why pleasure is so attention grabbing, why desire so driving.

It does not explain how these things operate on a cellular, or molecular level. For that you will have to wait, or join the search for understanding by becoming a molecular biologist.

It does not explain why it feels the way it feels, for this you will doubtless have to wait even longer, or join the information theorists or perhaps the neuroscientists or more likely some discipline not even invented yet.

However it does hint at ways in which you can learn to control your consciousness. Ways you can use your sentience to improve your sentience.

You know that the things that you apply your awareness to, you learn about. So you will learn to direct your awareness onto the fact of your awareness. You’ll learn to feel your pleasure more deeply, your pain more exquisitely, your joy more joyously, all by directing your attention at the fact of your experiencing those experiences.

You’ll be directed through this, and more, during our next meditation.

Next week we’ll see what happens when you apply sentience to itself, when you spend a lot of your attention trying to understand your attention. When your sentience grows into sapience.

Consciousness – Sentience – Sapience

by pre., Friday, January 23rd, 2009.

Last week we talked about sentience. The ability for an organism to feel, to direct it’s attention towards a thing and thus improve it’s neural model of that thing. This works in ways which are far too complicated for science to have yet explained. However, we do know more or less how neurons in the brain work, and can postulate that this system for filtering information, categorising it, directing attention to parts of it, attaching emotional significance to it and learning to operate in the world is built from some kind of neural network in the brain.

It seems likely that in a sufficiently advanced organism (and right now we basically have no way of determining how ‘advanced’ we mean) these neural circuits can do more than just focus awareness on the senses, more than just learn to trigger emotions and moods through association. It can also grow connections from part of it’s own network back into the ‘input’ parts of that network. By directing it’s attention not at the world, at it’s senses, but back at it’s own sentience network it can begin to learn to model that network in the same way it’s learned to model space though the visual field, sounds though the air-pressure sensors in it’s ears and it’s own body though the network of neurons in the skin and muscle building the kinaesthetic senses.

The organism can become aware not only of the world it lives in, but of it’s own processing of that world, it can learn to use those systems to model and understand itself. It can learn to see how it thinks. This, then, is sapience. A trait usually only attributed to people, to you and I.

With vision, hearing and feeling, you don’t ‘see’ photons or feel the air-pressure in your ear-drums or even actually the stretch of a single neuron. Sentience is finding patterns and metaphors and similarities and generally building a simplified model of that thing. Not trying to represent it all exactly at once. Just narrow down the salient parts. See what they remind it of.

Pattern recognition, simplification

Likewise, a train of thought, a moment of consciousness, an epiphany or understanding, is actually an unimaginably complex cascade of excited neurons selectively exciting and inhibiting others in turn. A massive waterfall of cause and effect. Far too complex and chaotic for the brain to model precisely just as a visual scene is too complex to be modeled precisely. It needs to be simplified, to be compared to other things through metaphor and simile.

When you look at a picture your retinal neurons — the rods and cones in the back of your eye — start firing in some extraordinary complex pattern. In order to see that picture rather than just look at it your brain simplifies and codifies and interprets that scene. The insanely complex neural firing patterns are simplified hierarchically. The visual cortex has networks looking for patches of similar colour which feed into networks looking for lines. Then these feed into networks looking for shape, and these feed into networks looking at orientation, and so on, until eventually it gets to things simple enough to keep in working memory, in the consciousness, in the sentience.

Surely sapience, our awareness of that sentience, our model of our awareness, works in a similar way. Hierarchically organizing the insane cascade of it’s own neurons, looking for patterns, comparing them.

Thinking Styles

Neuro Linguistic Programming practitioners teach that the brain works through ‘Representational Systems’. That each thought is strongly associated with a sensory system. That our thinking is done in ‘modes’, either visual thinking or auditory thinking or kinaesthetic thinking, or sometimes olfactory or gustatory thinking.

Each of us will have more practice with some of these modes of thinking than others. Likely the ones we happened to try first will have been most practised and so most useful and so used more often. Some people are strong visualisers, they have learned to take more conscious control over their visual system than others. Some people have amazing auditory and language skills, they “think in words” more deeply than others can. Some people have more often used kinaesthetic systems to model and understand their own thinking, and so practised that more and perhaps “grasp” ideas rather than “Seeing what you mean”.

These types of thinking may just be metaphors, interpretations of what the brain is doing using similar ideas as those used for seeing, hearing etc. Alternatively, they may be the actual systems which the brain uses to do the thinking. The visual or auditory systems themselves diverted by understanding and control.

Either way, practice using that control will lead to more refinement of those interpretive models or more skill at diverting the brains inherent systems. All normal human beings have learned some ability in all of these skills. Some of these methods are however better at solving some types of problems than others. Thus you should endeavour to improve your abilities to notice, model and so direct them all.

The Meditation

You will concentrate on paying attention to one of the three main styles of thought, concentrating on them, on how they work, and thus improving your own model of these thinking styles.

You will increase your awareness and your conscious control of your own thoughts. Though we will use words to direct you, you will be practising using, modeling and understanding your visual imagery and kinaesthetic senses as well as your auditory ones.

Note that if you’re following along our meditations in order, you have already been practising using those skills for some time. Just about every meditation has you imagining and visualising and paying attention to imaginary detail. As you listen to this meditation however, you’ll be deliberately focusing your attention onto the fact that you are practising them. Learning to direct your consciousness at itself more thoroughly. You’ll also be receiving suggestions that as you practice these things in future, you’ll remember to pay attention to all of your sensory systems rather than concentrating on just one.

Consciousness – Sentience – Raising Consciousness

by pre., Friday, January 30th, 2009.

Levels Of Consciousness

Knowing about reflex, and having learned about sentience and sapience it will be tempting to build a tower of consciousness.

  • At level zero, no consciousness at all. The consciousness of a rock. It has no chemical receptors, no light receptors, it behaves as an inert object.
  • At level one, reflex action. A simple mechanism which enables an organism to run from light, to turn to face a noise. A sort of almost-conscious consciousness.
  • At level two, sentience. The ability to feel, to pay attention and to learn. A more complicated feedback which allows an organism to respond to it’s entire history rather than just the stimulation of the moment.
  • At level three, sapience. The ability to learn about one’s own sentience, to understand, model and control your world.
  • At level four, higher consciousness, an ability to understand, model and control yourself, to apply sapience to your own self, to learn how you work, to bend yourself into a better shape.

Tempting, but obviously wrong.

A mouse-trap has a reflex action. Do we think a mouse-trap is conscious to the amount of one? A worm can learn, is it level one or level two? What about a rat? Is it the same level as that worm? A computer can be used to design the blue-prints for it’s successor, it can model it’s own existence, but it’s clearly less conscious than that worm is.

In fact there are many levels of consciousness between level zero and level one, many more levels between there and level two. All organisms will be more conscious of some things than others and any given organism is likely so complex it’ll be impossible to fit into a chart like that.

However, understood as a metaphor, this hierarchy can be enlightening. One of the Transcendence Institute’s favourite examples is the human urinary system. As a baby you had no control over when you pee. Your bladder fills up, the reflex goes *snap* and the bladder empties. All automatic, all without thinking, all without conscious control. By reflex. Then at around 2 years old, we are taught to pay attention to our bladder system. To learn to direct and control it. To gain conscious control over when we pee. As a result, although you probably could pee if I paid you to right now, you aren’t. You have raised your consciousness over this system. Reached up to a higher level of consciousness. You can take it still further and learn to pee cartoon figures in the snow if you so desire.

While that four-tier hierarchical model is almost utterly unrealistic and simplified, it can teach you what we mean by raising consciousness. Firstly: Understanding. Our language calls it a “gut level” understanding, though of course the gut isn’t really involved. Not an intellectual grasp, not a linguistic explanation, but a visceral neural model. The understanding you need to catch a ball rather than the understanding you need to pass a ballistic equations question in a maths exam.

This is the understanding that comes almost inevitably as a result of how your neurons grow together when you pay attention to something and practice it. When you focus and repeat and study, over and over again. Each time, you get better.

By “higher consciousness” we mean simply using that understanding upon itself. Learning, on that visceral non-verbal gut level, how your consciousness works. Becoming more conscious of it!

Language

As we have said, this understanding, this higher level of consciousness, is not a linguistic understanding. It’s not the understanding which this article hopes to give you through words. These words and the words in our meditation will help you to understand the path to higher consciousness but the words alone can never actually show you that higher consciousness. The only thing which will enable that deep understanding is actually spending the time to apply your sentience to itself, to take the time to try to understand how you think. Time spent observing your own consciousness, concentrating on it as fully as possible. Just as you won’t learn how to catch a ball by reading a book you won’t learn how to transcend your consciousness by reading these words. You will learn either only through practice. By actually doing.

We will devote an entire meditation in the next loop around the spiral to the subject of language, but at this point it is worth wondering how many members of non-human species would realize that in order to master their consciousness, they must pay attention to it? How many creatures without language and metaphor and simile and teaching would ever think to study their own thought? To think their own mental processes as worthy of attention as the search for food or sex or safety? If a cow could study it’s mind, how often would it actually do so? How would you instruct it to? It’s worth noting how loaded your every-day conversation is with references to thinking processes, how much those you talked with as you grew up were constantly directing your attention inward, encouraging you to pay attention to your own mind. Asking you how you feel, discussing what you think. Using metaphor to explain their own conscious processes. All these things are in every healthy human’s environment and understanding, but in no animals understanding at all.

Introducing Our Consciousness Raising Meditation

We use words to remind you to pay attention first to your senses, then to your sentience, your experience of understanding those senses, and then on to your sapience, your understanding of your own understanding.

If you’ve never thought about these things before, you may feel like a blind man being ordered to see. You may find it difficult to understand how to direct your attention at your own attention. Trust your own mind though: whatever you practice for a while you get better at. Just focus on your mind, visualise it, think about it. If you try this for ten minutes a few dozen times over a few months your brain’s neurons will grow new connections, strengthen synapses. You will start to grow, slowly at first, that gut-level understanding of your own gut-level understanding.

You can and will transcend your current consciousness, raise to a higher consciousness, a deeper understanding.

Guided Meditation File 12 – Consciousness – Sentience
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Consciousness – Somatic Control – Neurosomatic Interactions

by pre., Friday, September 4th, 2009.

No doubt you’ll have heard the word psychosomatic, a word mostly used to describe physical illnesses brought about by the psyche. Depression resulting in persistent infection, hysteria resulting in blindness, constant stress or fear resulting in physical symptoms.

The word is, of course, constructed from two parts: Psycho and Somatic. “Soma” from the ancient Greek σῶμα or sōma, meaning ‘body’, and “Psycho” the ancient Greek ψυχή or psychē/soul

The world has many negative connotations which the Transcendence Institute would like to avoid. In popular misconception it brings to mind weak minds, delicate and effete bodies which are so sickly and shaky that even a mere thought can upset them. It’s associated with illness more than health, despite the fact that the Placebo Effect is surely the other side of that same coin. The prefix ‘psycho-‘ brings to mind mental illness and emphasises a blatant dualism which is unfortunate for modern understanding which rejects the idea of a consciousness separate to a body.

Instead, the Transcendence Institute uses the word ‘neurosomatic‘ to describe the phenomena. This word more accurately conveys the impression that neurosomatic effects are not spooky or strange, but are the normal physical workings of a brain and body functioning as they should. It doesn’t invoke images of a non-physical ‘mind’ having physical effects on the body. It isn’t associated so obviously with illness, a weak constitution or psychology, and it isn’t prejudiced by any magical understanding of it as being connected with the ‘spirit world’ or magical healing.

The Neurosomatic Interactions

First the ‘neuro‘ part. Your brain is made out of neurons. At least the active part is. The rest seems to be mostly scaffold to hold the neurons in place which has little direct effect on brain function. We’ve already talked in some detail about how neurons send signals to each other through the release of small messenger chemicals known as ‘neurotransmitters’. How the neurons themselves adapt and change as a result of the usage they’re put to. This is how your brain works. It’s a neural device. The ‘mind,’ whatever that may be, is built out of neurons interacting.

Then the ‘somatic’ part. Body. All also made of cells of course, granddaughter cells of the fertilised ovum that you grew from. Here we’re thinking specifically of the The Endocrine System, The Autonomic Nervous System, The Immune System, even the way individual fat, muscle and blood cells respond to signals sent through the Endocrine System. In general all the parts of you that aren’t your brain.

Nerosomatic interactions then, are those interactions between the brain and the rest of the body.

Brain

Your brain contains a structure called The Limbic System. It appears to help regulate and respond to emotional mood, smells, and long term memory (among, no doubt, many other things). Connections come into the Limbic system from all over the brain, especially the frontal-cortex (higher reasoning) and the sensor cells in the nose, while it’s output connections lead mostly into the Hypothalamus.

The Hypothalamus in turn sends it’s outputs mostly to the Pineal gland and other hormone-releasing systems. These systems release messenger molecules known as ‘hormones’, which are similar to the neurotransmitters that signal between neurons. Hormone molecules though travel not the fraction of a millimetre from one synapse to another, but through the blood stream to permeate the whole body.

That is: Your brain as a whole, including the pre-frontal cortex — the seat of reason — can send signals which alter the balance of hormones in your blood.

Body

The ‘Endocrine System‘ which we mentioned earlier is just the fancy sciency way of referring to the mass confusion of hormones which permeate the blood and which affect the way the cells in the body are regulated and behave. Hormones produced by the brain can change the hormones which other glands in the body produce. Hormones all over the body change the way cells divide, the way they metabolise, the way the behave.

Of course, hormones can effect the brain back in turn. There are many neurons in the brain who’s firing action is altered by the presence or absence of any of the wide varieties of hormones in your blood system.

Example Pathway

The hormone adrenaline effects the body in many ways. It attaches to heart cells and they respond by beating faster. It attaches to muscle and brain cells and excites them, causes them to burn more oxygen. It slows, even prevents, digestion. It widens the pupils of the eyes. It changes the way the liver works and so increases the amount of sugar in the blood.

All these effects on the body are driven by the hormone adrenaline which is produced primarily by the adrenal gland near the kidney. That adrenal gland in turn pumps out more adrenaline when the pituitary gland in the brain produces more of the hormone which signals it to do so. The immune system slows down, devoting energy instead to other systems in the body.

This system works brilliantly. When an animal is in stress or danger, it’s body is prepared for a fight, or to flee, generally to struggle for life. When it’s not in danger it can relax, reduce the supply of Adrenaline and all those effects are reversed.

Problems

Now, for a moment, imagine that your brain was trained to always signal a high-alert stressed state. Worry or pressure from work keeps signalling the pituitary to signal the adrenal gland to produce more and more adrenaline. Your body is always working harder than normal. Your immune system is always suppressed. You begin to suffer from stress related infections and conditions.

This is the kind of mechanism which we mean when we talk of neurosomatic interactions. The placebo effect isn’t well understood, but it surely works by convincing the brain to modulate the supply of hormones and other signals to the rest of the body. Cursing someone with voodoo similarly works by convincing the brain to change the flow of hormones through the Endocrine System. If you worry yourself to death, this is the mechanics of how you’ll do it.

Next week we’ll talk about ways to use this effect to encourage your immune system. Then we’ll ponder on ways to signal others to do the same, as an alternative healer may do to heal their patients. Finally we’ll present a guided lucid dream designed to encourage you to learn to regulate your endocrine system, to use symbolism and ritual direct your body to heal itself.

Consciousness – Somatic Control – Placebo

by pre., Friday, September 11th, 2009.

Two hundred patients walk into a doctors surgery, each with the same condition. One hundred of them are given no treatment. The other half of them are assured this is a simple problem and given a pill to sort it out. A week later, about 30 more of the second group are feeling better, compared to the first group.

What was this miracle pill?

Nothing at all. Sugar. Chalk. It doesn’t matter.

This is known as the Placebo Effect, and it makes it damned hard to tell if medical treatments actually work or not because anything you try at all seems to work sometimes for some people. Even things we know shouldn’t have any effect at all.

Weird

Take a moment to think about how strange this is. An inert sugar pill, if prescribed as a muscle relaxant will make muscles relax. If prescribed as a pill to increase muscle tension, it’ll do that instead. If the patient is told the pill will make them hungry, it will make them hungry. If they’re told it’ll suppress their appetite, it’ll do that instead. If told it’ll increase pain, sure enough pain will increase. If told it’s an effective anesthetic, it’ll reduce pain instead. You can even get people drunk off of placebo alcohol.

The power of the placebo effect can be increased just by changing a patient’s expectation: a big red sugar pill works better than a small blue one. Capsules work better than tablets. More expensive treatments work better than cheaper treatments. Injections, even when injecting nothing at all work better than the pills do.

How can this be?

Clearly suggestion, expectation and perception are important factors in the placebo effect. It would seem that the Neurosomantic interactions discussed last week are the key to understanding the effect.

This rough understanding of the placebo effect begs the question: how can we use the placebo effect in our day to day life?

Activating The Placebo Effect

The simplest way would seem to be to seek treatment, and have some quack alternative medicine doctor convince you that their sham medicine works, then take that. Indeed, this is the route chosen by the Health Service: once actual medicine gives up, ‘alternative‘ medicine takes over. Homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, hypnosis and all the rest. These treatments are, in general, no better than a placebo. But it’s practitioners believe in it, so aren’t lying when they sell it to you.

This simplest way may, however, be expensive, unavailable, or unconvincing to anyone who can read a scientific study.

Is there anything you can do to try and increase somatic control, to increase your own conscious control over your immune system, over the placebo effect, without having to use self-deception, lies and make believe?

Belief

The key, of course, is to generate expectation, belief.

You know that when you fantasize, visualize, conjour up an image in your head, your brain approximates, to some extent, the same state that brain falls into when the things visualized are actually happening.

So it would seem a reasonable bet that you can increase your somatic control and so improve your health by visualizing and dreaming that you have increased your somatic control, and so your health. If you can see this strongly enough, if you can believe it, you should be able to activate a placebo response in yourself.

This month’s meditation

When we introduce this month’s meditation in a couple of weeks, we’ll try interrupting a lucid dream to encourage you to dream that you’re becoming stronger, more powerful, to see yourself altering, improving and fixing your immune system, your body, your health. You’ll think about the ways your brain can effect your endocrine system, releasing healing hormones, energizing your immune system, building muscle, reducing fat, generally becoming more fit and healthy.

The longer you can lie asleep, dreaming of healing all sickness, the more chance there is that the placebo effect will be triggered to actually bring you more healing, the more chance you’ll learn to control the placebo effect in yourself.

Nocebo

As well as healing, the placebo effect can be used to sicken. This anti-placebo effect, also known as nocebo, is powerful indeed. It’s thought to be behind much voodoo magic, curses and the like. If you can convince someone they’re going to get sick and die, that may be enough for them to feel ill, stop eating, even have a heart failure. Dangerous stuff.

Knowing this, we know how to avoid falling for such curses: don’t believe them. Nobody can force you to sicken just by telling you to, unless you cooperate by believing it. Scepticism and doubt can save you from voodoo magic!