I Have This Terminal Disease,
It Moves So Slow It Is Killing Me!
One of 25 Best Alzheimer’s Blogs of 2012
Mike Donohue is a brave man. Courageous, direct, and bold, his blog energizes readers with a passion for action. Dementia Endured gives a hint in the title as to the nature of this talented writer: he will endure. And with a personality like Mike’s, it’s easy to believe that he shall overcome, as well!
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009
ESSAY: LIMITS BY DEFINITION
The concepts of Buddhism are fascinating. When we speak of the material world Buddhism tells us it is no more than illusory.
The teachings tell us reality is not what we know as the material world. It is something else. Reality is our consciousness; the existence of which precedes and follows life. This can be difficult to grasp. That which comprises our consciousness is our authentic reality; the world we live in is not. This world we live in is only of transitory consequence when it comes to defining the reality that is ours.
Difficult as it is to put understanding around this it makes sense. Life as we experience it, what we believe to be material, little more than a situation we find ourselves in. It is one that plays itself out with us as a player in it. It has parameters. It starts with birth. It ends with death. In between it follows a sequence of time in which we are met by people and events with which we interface. It seems purposeful. The purpose is seen best through with the concept defined by Buddhism as Karma, that which we carry in and carry out of this life, that which can be affected by this life.
This seems to be the foundation of everything that follows as set out in the massive field of knowledge and belief that is Buddhism. Kind of like the saying of Rabbi Hillel telling everything he knew about Judaism: “Do not to another what you would not have him do to you. That’s it. The rest is colloquy, go and study it.”
The Dichotomy Of Our Thinking Self And Our Non-Thinking Self
Some basics in Buddhism 101 are these:
• The thinking part of us is one of our material aspects.
• It is that process we utilize interacting with the material world in which we find ourselves in this life.
• Its function is impermanent; it is an anomaly of living, of a calculating, analyzing, data storing, synthesizing action useful in dealing with the time space dimension we are in.
• It is limited to this function within this time and stays here when we leave here.
• It is this thinking part of us that deludes us into believing that is all there is. In doing so it obscures our full consciousness from our active perception.
• The basics of Buddhism talk about overcoming the functioning of thinking to the point of opening our consciousness to the greater part of us.
• That is the purpose of meditating.
Our Functioning Brain
I read a very interesting book recently. Jill Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight. The author, a brain scientist at Harvard, suffered a stroke that wiped out the function of her left brain entirely. She was forced to function exclusively from her right brain. As a student of Buddhism I was captivated with what she had to say.
From the book I learned: the biological functioning of our brain emanates from two hemispheres, our left and our right. Our left brain is the computer, the thinker. Our right brain is the dreamer, the creative part, that through which we can touch the Cosmos. If this is correct this introduces further consternation into the mix.
Is it our right hemisphere which allows us a gateway to our overall consciousness?
THINK ABOUT THIS: Any situation we encounter, any activity in which we participate, when we first encounter it we have to learn how to deal with it. Once we do learn how to deal with it we then store the method or the formula in our memory. The next time we encounter the same or similar event we have our memory that serves as a short cut source available to us to deal with the event. It is far easier to use the short cut in memory than figuring out how to deal with it anew. We are so wired that we do not repeat working through that which we have already learned.
In the process of learning to do something we imprint our own personal algorithm in our brain with the “how to” formula we design. When we next encounter something similar we don’t think we automatically do without expending any thought.
THINK ABOUT THIS: To define something limits our understanding of it to that definition. Before we encounter that which we define we approach it with an open mind. When we then define it we close our mind to think of it no further than the definition which we have given it. This definition so ascribed becomes a working model of that which we have defined.
We are so wired in this way as well. It is the wherewithal used by us to get by from event to event. We make and take memory shortcuts.
This is a disservice to thought. It is also a disservice to originality, creativity and freedom. It is nonetheless a necessary action to give us a working tool to deal with that which we evoke or encounter time and again.
WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN? It is so efficient for us to navigate the complexities of our world this way. Whether it is as a result or because we are made this way, as we evoke our world the hemispheres in our brain operate differently.
The right side of our brain gives us music, loves art, touches the cosmos and operates non-sequentially. It is always in Now, in the moment. It doesn’t deal with the future, is not burdened by the past. It is our idea maker, our source of creativity. It is constantly in the present.
The left side of our brain is the work horse. It is the planner, the calculator, the record keeper. It organizes, keeps track of things, and gets everything tied together. It thinks, deals with all things in sequence, allots the past, and prognosticates the future. It is in charge of the ramifications of emotional expression and is equally influenced by them. It evaluates and classifies the world in which we operate. It stores our knowledge and delivers whenever it is needed as we encounter some new or different object or event.
It is reality as seen by the left hemisphere with which we are the most involved in the world we occupy. It often seems the only world we encounter.
It is through the processing of the left hemisphere that we limit by definition and rely on previous experience. It is functionally efficient for us to do it this way; it reduces both data keeping and data retrieval to the most efficient process. It saves time. We trust what we have learned. We rely on the experience provided by that learning process. We use it to deal with similar events and things. It works as a short cut saving us necessity of re-designing the wheel each step.
It is our facilitator in this space time dimension where we find ourselves. Not only is it our efficient manager it is also our dissembler. Becoming so involved with the function of the left brain, that part which thinks, visualizes, tracks time, remembers, feels, reacts, actualizes, we believe our world is exclusively that. It is in this existence where we exercise this wonderful talent of the left brain.
Because of our disproportionate involvement with that part of us we come to believe it to be the only world that is out there. Doing this we lose sight of our greater reality. This is the dissemblance. This is where we are deluded.
Life in this material existence is a task from start to finish. It envelops all of our attention moving minute to minute, day to day. In it we exercise our left brain abilities. We need to. We are in a finite world that requires these talents to survive. Without intelligence, emotion, memory, calculation, analysis, intuition, all of those things that assist us the material world would eat us alive and spit us out as pap.
Much has been written, religions founded, philosophies and theologies formulated on the proposition there is something more than that which meets the eye. There is something that is transcendent to us to which we are attracted and/or directed. There is however nothing tangible nor material to it, nothing by which we can reduce it empirically in order to actualize it.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said “The ineffable is infinite, we are finite. As finite we do not have the capacity to know infinite (My paraphrase of much of his writing).
Martin Buber suggested we can know the transcendent by evoking Thou (I and Thou, by Buber). It is this encounter between us and the object that we can somewhere in between stimulate some further comprehension sourced in both the subject (us) and object (thou) that has meaning, attraction and often transcendent realization not known or possessed by us before the engagement. This is often retained by us as something more to us by reason of the engagement.
What is this? It is not tangible; it is not material; it is not concrete. Nonetheless it is real and can be something more to make up what seems to have been acquired by us in this process of living. But it cannot be materially actualized, it can’t be packaged.
From this standpoint, nor can memory, our constant companion, be actualized in any other way than in the action of remembering. Nonetheless it can be quantified. It is limited, limited to the data accumulated by the person remembering. It can be located; brain testing can locate where it is stored in the brain, and how it can be accessed. When the brain is sufficiently damaged it can no longer be retrieved. This is how it is different.
The quantification of memory distinguishes it from the evocation from encounter described by Buber. That evoked and added to us in the process is identified by our sense of it. We know we have acquired more by reason of the evocation between I and Thou and what occurs by reason of it. This is no concrete basis with which to quantify it. We simply know it is there; know it is added on.
I believe these incidents of acquisition account for the many “Aha’s” we encounter in life. We see a piece of art, hear music; we are moved deeply by the creative work of another through which we garner something more as a result. “Aha, I see it!”
The realization of the transcendent is one of these occurrences. Our life comes into contact with something outside it, (a Thou whatever it may be.) From this encounter we are imbued with the sense that there is something more in our existence than “birth, life, death, that’s it!” There is some higher order to it all.
As finite, according to Heschel, we can in no way know it (the transcendent) or understand it. We cannot however deny it. If anything we can know it by knowing what it is not. The sense of it is too real. It is! Nonetheless it has no concrete basis.
Buddhism Offers An Answer
Buddhism introduces concepts that seem altogether different than those of Judaism and Christianity. They tell us all that we know as material is little more than an illusion. It then discusses the dichotomy of material and real. The material is the wherewithal by which we exist and subsist in this dimension. It is no more than a dimension. Our real existence transcends this situation in which we find ourselves.
When looked at with the concept of Karma, our existence in this sphere is purposeful. It is the opportunity given in which we can avail ourselves to tone Karma. This seems to be what we are about. The ultimate purpose of course is reaching enlightenment.
In this it seems to me Buddhism accepts both aspects manifested through the separate hemispheres of our brain. We subsist through our left brain. We aspire to something more from our right brain. It is important that we don’t let our left brain cloud the purpose of the right brain. It is that purpose that we are all about.