Coded bio. (Since it is not just today.)

Saturday 6 September 2008

Screenshot anime Kanokon

Pic of the day: That's pretty much how I feel. It is not much comfort that others are worse off than I. Not really.

Failure to launch

I was walking along the road, looking for wells of grace, and then I fell asleep. Over and over.

Actually "wells of grace" is Robert W. Godwin's metaphor, whereas I tend to think of them as apertures through which the Light comes in. Anyway, as I walked along the road, I tried to remain conscious enough to notice if anything like that appeared. I can't say I found anything, but even being awake enough to look is OK now. And even that is hard. OK, let me explain.

Remember the "default network" in the brain I wrote about two days ago? I think this is related to that. Also, have you noticed that when people grow older, time seems to pass faster and faster? I think this is related to that. The article said that the default network was more active when people grew old. What I think is that when this thing runs on freewheel, we are not really conscious. We are awake, but we are not quite there.

Even if we are lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, how many hours of all those years have we actually lived? Some people claim that they can only feel truly alive in the face of death, and certainly there seems to be such an appeal in extreme sports as well as in driving really fast. (Not that I would recommend that path, personally.) For most, it takes less to rouse the sense of being there: Traveling is popular all over the world, and the more people can afford it, the more they travel to exotic destinations where the sense of novelty strikes all their senses. Others feel the need to constantly have new friends, or even lovers. It seems likely that many are drawn to a life of crime for the same reason, the vague feeling of being alive, of actually being there.

But it is true that those who don't know what they are looking for, have a hard time finding it. If all we know is a vague feeling of being there, of being alive, of realness... then we might latch on to any random thing that gives us some of that feeling, and which we come upon by happenstance or through the company we keep. Some of these things could be very destructive, like drugs. Other things could be very constructive, like meditation. But overall the most constructive approaches tend to require more discipline, and this is something we tend to avoid.

Also, staying aware, staying "above" the default mental activity, is kind of exhausting. It is possible to train oneself to gradually detach from the internal chattering, but it usually takes years if not decades of extensive meditation. For most of us right now, the best we can hope for is to hold on to the moments were we actually are aware, and try to prolong them, to stay alert for as long as we can before we slip back into the half-sleep or habitual life.

I got a pretty convincing demonstration of this yesterday. As I walked along the road, I tried to stay aware. For me, observing the physical world around me brings a brief pause from the default network, and I believe this is so for us all. Various other conscious tasks may do the same, such as Brain Age and other puzzles. Anyway, I scanned the landscape around me and then tried to hang on to my awareness. But because I have neglected my inner work for most of all these decades, it was not long each time before I again found myself thinking of random things: The Sims 2 story I was trying to get up during the weekend. The upcoming election in the USA. Lesbians. The Chaos Node. Probably a lot of things I was too lost in thought to even remember. You see, we are so much less conscious when we fall into the default, it really is a bit like a dream: You remember it when you wake up, perhaps, but not for long unless you do something to nail it down. And the dreams you dreamt before are gone with the wind. So, unfortunately, are our lives. Like smoke on the wind.

The "default network" thing is brand new to me, but not the functions that it is thought to perform: The internal chatter, daydreaming and mind-wandering, throwing up random ideas, memories of the past and plans for the future, even trying to rewrite the past. I am a bit more resistant to some of these: Instead of actual daydreams I tend to just tell myself stories, and I don't make elaborate plans for the future. (Except planning my journal entries and such in some detail.) But even with these variations, it is a very familiar enemy. You may call it the prison guard of the mind. It serves a useful function to keep normal people from going off the deep end, but it seems equally adamant to keep us from achieving a higher consciousness. I guess it does not look too different from a brain's point of view, even though the effects are more or less opposite.

So after these decades, I am still like that, sleepwalking through my life. At least I am awake enough to know, frequently, that I am half asleep. But then I fall back down in the internal chatter, the stream of consciousness where opportunities are ignored. Until next time.

In fact, even waking like a fish in the surface, sticking my head above the waters of Lethe every now and then, may be weighing me down. Come the evening, I fell down in a lower world than our own and stayed there until the next morning, more or less. I am disappointed, but not by much. It is not a big surprise that I fail when I have barely used the opportunities I have had for so many years. I know the way to stop it, but I don't have the discipline...

It would be nice to be able to say like Barack Obama: We are better than these last eight years. But I think he is wrong about that, and I think so am I. Oh, I knew things I could do, but I did not know it was this urgent. I probably thought it would get easier over time, but now I realize that the opposite is true. Unless brought to heel, the "default network" will gradually expand until it more or less runs the show. In the Alzheimer's patient, even their attempts to concentrate just made it stronger. I think this may be why people who meditate a lot don't seem to get Alzheimers easily - or rather the symptoms. When they are dead, their brain too is full of plaques, but somehow they have routed around it. Conversely, someone who is fully submerged in the dream may just see the years fall away under him, faster and faster, even if nominally healthy.

It is not that this mind-wandering life is evil, not in a puppy-kicking way. It is just... a loss? Not being aware enough to see, when we pass the cracks through which the Light comes in. Not being able to stop there and nourish the soul, so that it grows deeper, or higher, depending on your metaphor. It is a metaphor, of course, because we don't have the language to talk about these things straight like we see them. And even though I try, I probably don't manage to get across why this matters to me.

Then again, if it mattered all that much to me, things would have been very different, I guess.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: I suck at multitasking
Two years ago: Bread ignorance
Three years ago: Urbz DS impressions
Four years ago: Viking civilization?
Five years ago: Pointless opportunities
Six years ago: Thunderstruck
Seven years ago: Active kid
Eight years ago: Body, soul & spirit
Nine years ago: Journey to the Matrix

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