Recently, Republican presidential candidate and erstwhile pizza magnate Herman Cain responded to the Occupy Wall Street movement by declaring that people who are not rich have only themselves to blame. Ignoring the fact that America’s corporate kleptocracy has rigged the game just a tad in its own favor, much as he once ignored the dubious nutritional value of his junk food, Cain has become the kind of black man that Ann Coulter can be proud of. But our purpose in this post is not to draw further attention to the yawning gulf between the haves and have-nots, or to fret about the long-term viability of a resource-exploitation system that elevates profit above ecological sustainability. Our topic here is the blame game itself, and whether New Age thought logically lends support to the divisive acquisitiveness epitomized by America’s oligarchs or could offer us a pathway to a more inclusive, holistic polity.
Before addressing the socio-political ramifications of New Age thought, we need to deal with the issue of blame on the individual level first. While readers of this blog know that I do not regard Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret as anything remotely close to the definitive statement of New Age concepts, her little marketing exercise elicited all the responses one would expect from a general public and media who have never taken the time to actually work with these concepts in their own lives. And one of those objections was the charge that people are being blamed – just as Herman Cain would blame them – for living in poor conditions. But these objections are shared by many people who do think about issues of personal development, though not necessarily in a New Age fashion. This was highlighted by a recent discussion over at the Greater Good, which started out as a debate on the role of empathy but expanded into issues of evolving consciousness. In response to my assertion that the evolution of consciousness requires a recognition of the process through which we create our own realities with our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, one commenter made an unusually eloquent (and civil) statement of skepticism about the merits of New Age ideas. These comments, presented below without editing of any kind, deserve a thorough response.
The idea that we create our own reality has some truth in it—we can indeed self-author our lives and creatively enact reality through conscious intent and action. However, it’s simply not the case that we create our own reality independent of the “selection pressures” of either the many cultural contexts in which we are embedded (and would do well to reflect on and disclose) or the various social systems in which we are enmeshed. As its often presented in the New Age culture, the idea that we create our own reality can/does lead to blame (including self-blame) when the world doesn’t respond to our desired creations. Also, it can/does produce narcissism, insomuch as “I” alone have this power and do not have to take others into consideration (“We”) or what is going on in the world (“It/s”). And so on. The idea does not hold up to postmodernity’s demand for intersubjective grounding (and can therefore house hidden forms of oppression and discrimination). And it all but eliminates the need to consider and meet modernity’s demand for objective (“it/s”) evidence. So, although I’m all for (re)introducing post/modern society to the importance of consciousness per se, I don’t think we’re likely to get very far with this idea as its usually understood and used.
These comments display a level of careful thought that stands in marked contrast to the glib self-assurance of materialistic atheists, for whom anything that cannot be dissected under an electron microscope (preferably, several electron microscopes) smacks of magical thinking fit only for ridicule. The objections that have been stated above seem eminently reasonable, and I have wrestled with most of them myself. Ultimately, however, they are limiting ideas that prevent us from understanding how our own lives work and, by extension, what we really are.
The Red Herring of Narcissism
Though the issue of narcissism is not the most important of the objections being leveled against New Age concepts, it needs to be dispatched quickly. One could actually level a similar accusation at any process of self-discovery, from yoga through mindfulness meditation practices to Secret-style manifestation rituals. Had I been compiling this list of objections, I would have used the term solipsism (the idea that nothing is real except the self) instead, but that would be equally wide of the mark.
There are two counter-arguments to this charge. The first is that, if it is true that we do in fact create our realities with our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, then we must turn our attention inwards to observe, understand, and use this natural process. A strict materialism focusing primarily on outer, objective reality represents, in this context, an absurd denial of the way things really are. Secondly, one of the fundamental axioms of New Age thought – which really sticks in the craw of the Catholic Church – is the principle of oneness. All life and matter is connected. This proposition loses its apparently abstract character as soon as you start to work with the creative principle: when you see your thoughts and emotions making a difference in outer reality, that connection is no longer theoretical. (We will illustrate this in much greater detail in a little while.) Paradoxically then, focusing on our inner powers actually leads to a much greater connection to the world and people around us, adding a rich new dimension to the human experience.
The Tyranny of Objective Materialism
The elephant in the room, of course, is the fundamental question of whether we create our realities solely through considered action, which I like to refer to as “the conventional approach,” or whether our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions are much more than mere mental ephemera. Our commenter above asserts that the New Age version of creativity “simply isn’t true” and subsequently backs that up with the more persuasive point that “it all but eliminates the need to consider and meet modernity’s demand for objective… evidence.” There is an answer to this contention, but, unfortunately, it is an answer that will probably never be accepted by those who make it.
The proposition that we create our own realities – not just through direct physical action but through thought and emotion – is an empirically verifiable proposition. It can be tested by experience. The problem is that the experience in question is personal and not susceptible of duplication and independent verification by anyone else. Furthermore, our experiments cannot be conducted in a laboratory full of stainless steel instruments and petri dishes. For traditional scientists, this simply won’t do. They will never acknowledge that a legitimate field of enquiry can exist outside of their epistemological framework. Apart from the cost to the advancement of human knowledge, this is rather ironic, since the process we need to employ at the individual level is, in many respects, startlingly similar to the scientific method.
You must be your own laboratory. You must become fully aware of the contents of your mind and heart and observe, over time, the discernible connection between your inner “actions” and the life you know outside the self. As discussed in the previous post on the Law of Attraction industry, this is an intensely personal, difficult, error-prone, and time-consuming process. It is also, in my humble opinion, an essential task that we are supposed to perform. Without undertaking it, we will tragically spend our entire lives being completely ignorant of the basic rules of the game. We won’t even know what we really are. If we eschew this endeavor because independent verification of our hypotheses through peer review in learned journals does not appear to be possible, then we have elevated procedure over substance.
Blame as Edification
At the personal level, the central question of blame actually provides a fine opportunity to flesh out this creative process in graphic, personal terms that may be far more accessible and meaningful than an abstract discussion of theoretical principles. Just like the critics of The Secret (a book I panned for other reasons), our commenter above refers to the “blame the victim” syndrome. But he also makes the crucial addition that this blame often becomes self-blame “when the world doesn’t respond to our desired creations.” Having been working with these concepts for approximately 25 years, I know a thing or two about self-blame and the very real damage it causes.
As a young man armed only with dreams and a paperback copy of Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization, I reached a low point one day when I became intensely frustrated that the things I (thought I) wanted weren’t happening. It was my fault. I wasn’t doing “it” right. I wasn’t good enough. I was a failure. In this state of depression and guilt, I went into the back yard to practice some golf shots. During the course of that practice session, my ever-friendly cat sauntered over to say hello. Thinking that I could easily lob the ball over her, I flubbed the shot and hit her square in the side with a golf ball. She flailed around like a headless chicken, and for a few awful moments I thought I had killed my cat. Somehow, she flopped all the way to the garage where she sought some sense of safety under the car. Understandably, this normally loving creature didn’t want to come out when I approached her, but I eventually pulled her out and reassured her as best I could, wracked by guilt and self-loathing for a colossal misjudgment. For the next few days, she was clearly in pain and avoided interaction with me. But I was very, very lucky. She came through alright, and for the remaining two years of her life I treasured every minute of her company. Even though I now have another beautiful cat sitting in my lap as I type, the memories of this episode are still crushing. In fact, previous periods of recollection have themselves spawned further experiences that reinforced the same feelings, but it is not necessary to detail them here.
Thus, rather ironically, the question of blame turned out to be a powerful argument in favor of the proposition that we create our own reality. The example I have given, which is but one of countless others observed over two plus decades, also illustrates how physical action fits into the picture. The right actions (or should that be wrong actions?) will occur automatically when you are setting yourself up for a particular outcome. In the example, I was setting myself up to feel lousy about myself. The body – and even the “considered” thoughts that we usually credit with control over the body – took whatever actions were necessary to contribute to that outcome. Had I not been feeling so intensely negatively about myself, and therefore not setting myself up for experiences that would lend further credence to those feelings, my actions would have been different and the outcome would have been different. Let me state this explicitly: personal control does not reside at the superficial intersection between our bodies and the world around us; rather, it resides deep within the self, in our inner beliefs and emotions. That is where the action really is.
I very rarely discuss specific experiences from my own life in public fora, but I am making an exception here for a good reason. The awful events of that day in the life of a young man were a classic example of how we create our own reality. While the self-help industry tends to focus on manifesting shiny baubles, I think more about the dark side of this creative power, for the avoidance of horrible outcomes is, in the final analysis, far more important than the creation of perfect Hollywood endings. And, as I’ve said elsewhere on this site, the easiest way to open the eyes of a skeptic would be to have them play with creative fire – feel intensely negative emotions and see what happens. When you’ve been burned by that fire over and over again, as I have, then at some point the penny finally drops. While still intellectually aware of all the conventional arguments about the need for physical action in objective reality, there comes a point where the process of reality creation just can’t be denied any more. This does not mean that we abandon the conventional role of “considered action” altogether; it means that we are henceforth able to play the game on different levels. This enhanced perception and understanding constitutes a bona fide evolution in our consciousness.
There is a fine line between taking responsibility for one’s creations and beating oneself up about them. It would be tempting, given the damage that is caused by engaging in excessive self-blame, to fall back on the Buddhist mindfulness practice of being entirely non-judgmental. But, as we discussed in an earlier post, the kind of mindfulness we need – one which takes proper account of the creative principle – necessarily entails the exercise of a personal judicial function. The trick, of course, is to find a non-destructive perspective which acknowledges responsibility and then proposes practical solutions without imposing unduly harsh punishments on a self that is bumbling towards greater understanding. Learners need to be given some slack. And we are all learners, even if some of us have already completed the introductory coursework. An attitude of patient forgiveness towards oneself is far healthier and more productive on both an individual and, as we shall now examine, a social level.
From the Personal to the Political
For most observers of the political scene, the discussion we have just had about New Age principles is either mumbo-jumbo or simply irrelevant. But for us, an obvious question now arises: if we are all, as individuals, ultimately responsible for the conditions of our lives, should we not tend to be rabid free-marketeers calling for a minimalist government? Does the New Age lead us to the stark libertarianism of Ron Paul, in which a sick person unable to afford health care should be allowed to die?
One day, in a far distant, hypothetical future in which the vast majority of people have come to live in the way I have described – fully cognizant of the role their inner actions play in producing outer results – such a polity might be justifiable. But that prospect is so unrealistic that I really don’t think it is even worth talking about, and I would strongly resent any argument against New Age thought made on the grounds that it would produce a cold, unfeeling state that left everyone strictly to their own devices.
On the contrary, I would argue that in our current state of enlightenment – which is to say a state where most people don’t have a clue how life really works and are not likely to find out – a strong case can be made for a social framework that attempts to protect people as much as possible from the consequences of their own ignorance. When people are unaware that their thoughts and emotions do not just describe reality but also affect it, they are going to get into trouble en masse. (Fans of the Seth series by Jane Roberts can explore this further in The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events.) It might be fair to object that the creative principle that has been espoused here implies that nothing can be done for them anyway. But belief in individual power does not negate belief in compassion and empathy as essential cohesive values in a society, and until we have completed a long transition to a state of universal understanding then that empathy needs to be manifested through the organs of social consensus; namely, the agencies of governance. State action of this nature may be little more than an exercise in damage limitation, but that does not make it futile.
It is also important not to forget the New Age emphasis on oneness. For many people, a feeling of spiritual connection to their fellow humans – and the other creatures with which we share this planet – is enough in itself to inculcate political values that abhor exploitation and harm. (Remember President Bush’s derision for people he described as “Marin County hot-tubbers”?) Working with the creative principles described here only heightens that sense of connection. Far from leading us to an atomized society of selfish, materialistic loners, it reinforces the ties that bind in a deep and powerful way. No man is an island because no island is an island: remove the ocean waters that create the appearance of isolation, and you find the terrestrial unity underneath. This perspective is indelibly imprinted by observing the way in which everyone and everything happens to be in just the right place at just the right time to produce a personal creation (whether desired or not). Truly, we are part of a spectacular symphony of creative energies.
At a less abstract level, I would repeat a point made earlier: awareness of the creative principle does not necessarily lead one to abandon the conventional approach to life. Thus, my own politics are diametrically opposed to those of Herman Cain and the obnoxious Ann Coulter. The sense of responsibility that I have for my own life – which some might describe as excessive self-blame – does not lead me to support federal tax policies, such as Cain’s ridiculous 9-9-9 plan, that are clearly beneficial to the small elite that has amassed a disproportionate amount of economic and political power in our society. Let me put it this way: the inculcation of personal mindfulness only serves to increase the sensitivity of social bullshit detectors.
Most fundamentally, any creative principle, be it New Age creative visualization or the conventional approach, is simply a vehicle for the attainment of the objectives we choose. Either vehicle may be used to advance a preference for empathy and compassion. I am tempted to add that these vehicles are value-neutral, but that would be about as convincing as the National Rifle Association’s ghastly assertion that guns don’t kill people. The New Age creative principle – based on universal connectivity and working discreetly yet efficiently behind the scenes – is infinitely more benign than the blunt instrument of conventional action. Social justice and environmental survival are not under threat from people who meditate, visualize, or explore their inner selves. But they most assuredly are under threat from the decidedly conventional principle of taking what you want by force.
The self-help industry that has grown up around the so-called Law of Attraction, popularized by Rhonda Byrne’s pop-psychology hit, The Secret, wants you to think that you can have everything you want with very little effort on your part. All you have to do, the theory goes, is ask the universe for what you want by thinking about it, and the universe will gladly oblige. The conventional critique of this pitch is that it forgets about the not-so-insignificant role of action in bringing about those results. Both the pitch and the conventional response are inadequate, for neither view helps us to really understand the remarkable process of human creativity in its entirety. And since life is short, we really can’t afford to spend any more time laboring under misapprehensions.
In this post, I want to be as realistic as possible about the problems you will encounter as you try to apply the Law of Attraction. We will look at real-world issues that don’t figure prominently within the glossy covers of masterfully-marketed information products. Hopefully, some of the points we address will resonate with you, and you’ll recognize something that has been holding you back.
Debunking the Debunkers
The conventional critics – the men of action, if you will – aren’t worth much time here, for they are not even willing to try New Age ideas, and simply dismiss them on their face. They seem particularly offended by the implication that, if things aren’t going well in your life, it is your own fault, an attitude they regard as tantamount to blaming the victim. It never seems to occur to them that being able to take responsibility for the conditions in your life empowers you to change them for the better, and that the only reason things aren’t good now is because you never understood how life worked. And how could you? No-one teaches New Age principles in elementary school; if anything, as children we are more likely to be brainwashed into believing all manner of religious nonsense that is even more absurd than anything ever presented by Rhonda Byrne and infinitely less useful. It might be more helpful to human enlightenment if the critics would focus their ire on the Catholic Church, an institution that does demonstrable harm around the world. To tar the New Age movement with the same brush – the one labeled “ignorant superstition” – is to admit that you can’t be bothered to look for answers within yourself or don’t think you would find any if you did. And that brings us to our first problem.
Introspection is Not an Option – It’s Required
We live in a world that prizes physical action, athletic prowess, and rampant materialism. Most of our energies, mental and physical, are directed toward interacting with the physical world in some way. Particularly in the West, our culture does not encourage quiet introspection or meditation; its attitude toward such inner pursuits could be summarized with the question, “What’s the point?” The point is that if you don’t look within, you will have absolutely no chance of understanding what’s happening “out there.”
While I have many problems with Rhonda Byrne’s book (as discussed in our separate review of The Secret) I have to give her grudging credit for at least getting people to wonder if their inner, mental activities might have something to do with the quality of their lives. The problem, however, is that working with beliefs, mental images, and emotions requires introspection, and some personality types are particularly loathe to do this. In fact, mastery of the human creative process requires a great deal of inner examination – a completely different way of living. You must constantly examine the contents of your mind and the events of your life in great detail, looking for possible patterns of causation. This is an incredibly difficult, often-frustrating, painstaking task. Practitioners of meditation techniques have a head start, but for most readers of The Secret, the necessary work does not come naturally and, unfortunately, will not get done. For all of those people, the Law of Attraction will continue to work, but they will not think so because they have no idea what, exactly, they are attracting. The rules work, but are you working the rules?
What Do You Want, Anyway?
One of the greatest defects of The Secret was its failure to require readers to engage in some serious thought about what it is that they really want out of life. The book just assumed that, if you think you want a BMW 750iL, you should concentrate on having one in your driveway. This superficial thinking no doubt contributed to the book’s commercial success; after all, people don’t want to be challenged and they like simple solutions. We will come to the “simplicity” of the solution in a moment, but we need to do a little challenging first.
When you realize that you create your own reality (and skimming a book does not equate to full realization), you realize next that you had better be careful about what you choose to create. And this, in turn, means asking yourself whether the things you think you want – certain possessions, a particular relationship, social status, etc. – are really going to make you happy. We’ve all heard stories of lottery winners who are miserable. You probably don’t need the same income as a hedge-fund manager to be happy; in fact, you might find that most of what you want already exists.
There is a saying posted on the wall of my hairdresser’s shop (admittedly not the sort of place where one would expect to find real pearls of wisdom) that says, “Happiness is not having what you want; it’s wanting what you have.” This is important to bear in mind as you sally forth on your creative adventures, particularly when you get results that don’t seem – at first glance – to match up to your “requests.” Maybe the universe knows more than you’re giving it credit for; maybe it knows you better than you know yourself. In the introspection department, being honest with yourself about what you really want in life must be near the top of the list of priorities. Are you mature enough to do that?
The “Equivalency Problem”
The single greatest failure of The Secret was its over-simplification of the creative process. Readers were told they would get exactly what they asked for, and numerous anecdotes were sprinkled throughout the text to supposedly corroborate that expectation. So why, you might have wondered, after visualizing that BMW like you were told, don’t you have one?
Over many years, I have come to think about reality creation in a slightly different way from the textbook versions. In my experience, life makes it easier for you to think/feel/believe what you think/feel/believe. (Sorry about the slashes, but I can’t simplify it any further.) If you spend a lot of time looking at a picture of a car, life will make it easier for you to see that car. You might start noticing such vehicles more on the road. You’ll see it on television, or while surfing the web. It doesn’t have to be in your driveway for you to see it. That’s why visualization alone rarely produces the results you desire.
If you want to actually own that vehicle, then you must generate within yourself all the feelings that come with ownership. You must try the experience on in your mind – mentally rehearse it – and pretend it is real. This is difficult for two reasons: first, you’ve never had that experience before, so you don’t really know what it does feel like; and second, your conscious mind is screaming at you that you are being silly because you don’t have it. Feelings are immensely powerful, but infinitely complex and fickle. It is almost impossible to consistently generate the necessary feelings within yourself.
Furthermore, even if you do manage to do some good work internally, you must understand that all the other thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that are going on within you don’t just disappear at the flick of a switch. When you add a positive concentration to the existing mix, it is effectively diluted in your baseline mental “solution,” losing some of its force. So what often happens is that you see your life move a little bit in the desired direction, giving you a watered-down version of what you want, but falling (far) short of a full-blown success. I have long referred to this as the equivalency problem, and it has often been a source of frustration. But it is important to take heart from these semi-successful creations, because they prove that you can make a difference in the quality of your life. There is no turning back once this fact has sunk in.
Patience Is A Virtue
Here’s another major problem, especially in America (and even more especially for New Yorkers!). We want what we want and we want it now. Sorry, but that’s generally not possible. And if you stop to think about it, that might not be such a bad thing after all. For if life were so responsive to you that it gave you what you wanted immediately, it would also give you garbage immediately whenever your thinking is negative (which is more often than not). Unless you have mastered your thoughts to the same degree as the Buddha, you do not want life to be that responsive!
As a general rule, if you’re looking to effect long-term changes in your life, there will have to be a long-term change in your thinking beforehand. The recipe for successful manifestation includes intensity (of emotion and belief) and persistence. Of these two factors, intensity is by far the most important, but also – as we have already discussed – the most difficult. Unfortunately, you will most likely see intensity at work when you are intensely negative. Indeed, if I could have the critics of the New Age do one thing to test their viewpoint that thoughts and feelings do not affect their reality, I would have them indulge in some absolutely grisly emotions and see if they can get away with them. If they had the self-discipline and intellectual integrity to conduct such an experiment, a few of them might actually see the light. (But I won’t hold my breath.)
The Role of Action
Understanding how actions fit into this process is a breakthrough the critics will never make. It’s only going to make sense when you actually work with these concepts and observe accurately what follows. What you will see is that actions take care of themselves. Once again, this is a lesson that is easier to learn the hard way. When you set yourself up for disaster by engaging in profoundly negative expectations, you are likely to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, do something that upsets somebody else, or make a mistake that has serious consequences. And because of the brain’s innate tendency toward negativity – an unfortunate evolutionary hangover – there is a good chance that you will have multiple opportunities to observe this phenomenon at work. Of course, as we noted above, all of this observation requires a level of careful introspection that may be a new skill for you; you need to become something of a detective and develop a sixth sense for your own particular M.O.
(Refer to the earlier post on the human constitution for another way to think about this.)
Balancing “Fantasy” and Reality
In the quest to generate intensely positive emotions, the resistance of the conscious mind is a perennial handicap. Even if you understand the principle that you create your reality with your beliefs, and you have actually seen real-life examples, your conscious mind still pulls you back to the facts of your current situation. And we need to be forgiving about this, because that is its job. To be able to function in this world, you must be able to perform a myriad of tasks that require concentration and alertness in the here and now; living in a fantasy land would impair you in a profoundly dangerous way. What we are looking for, therefore, is a balance between present-moment competence and future-oriented belief modification.
In other words, there is a time and a place to work on your creation sessions. You may be able to do it “interstitially” and fit it in the mental gaps between various daily activities, but most of the time you will be better off allocating a distinct period when you will not be distracted or disturbed and can maximize your focus on the desired objective.
A Little Helping Hand….
Even in ideal situations, when we are sitting quietly by ourselves and are completely free to think whatever we want, the chatter of the conscious mind can be difficult to overcome. An excellent way to help yourself leave present-moment concerns is to listen to music – preferably instrumental so that you can hear yourself think. Well-chosen music can help you reach mental and emotional states of great power in a relatively short period of time.
Over the last few years, music itself has become more powerful than ever before. The new audio technology of brainwave entrainment uses specially-engineered, subsonic frequencies to coax your brain into altered states of consciousness. For belief modification, the states we wish to target are the Alpha and Theta frequencies in which the subconscious mind is more amenable to re-programming. Alternatively, for powerful concentration on a desired objective, the advanced Gamma state places the brain in an incredibly powerful, synergistic condition. Either way, the brain has been taken away from its normal, everyday state, which is characterized by Beta waves. It can come back later, but while we’re working, we want it to take a little breather….
Refer to our Home page for specific guidance on choosing the best meditation audio products for your needs.
We concluded our recent discussion of Buddhist mindfulness by exposing a fatal flaw in the approach to meditation that seems to have become de rigueur in certain circles of the self-improvement industry. Specifically, a movement that purports to be all about enhancing awareness has failed to take account of one of the fundamental paradigms of New Age thought – the verifiable fact that our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions impinge directly on the quality and details of our physical reality. Any notion of “right mindfulness” that does not enhance our awareness of this constant creative process is leaving us in the dark instead of enlightening and empowering us. We need an approach that focuses our attention on the fascinating interplay between inner and outer reality – an approach that encourages us to create the best personal realities we can.
In this post, we shall employ an analogy from political science to flesh out one way of maintaining the kind of mindfulness dictated by a recognition of our personal, creative power. Although this analogy may prove inaccessible to people with little background in the social sciences, the language of politics is steeped in concepts that deal with the distribution of power and with hierarchies of authority. The analogy is imperfect (and there is little to be gained from attempting to make it “fit” more closely) but I hope it will help you to think about how effectively you are using your own power at any given time, and thereby remind you just how much power you actually have.
The Supreme Law of the… Mind
As Constitutional scholars know all too well, Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution declares that the federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land, trumping all other sources of law, such as state or federal statutes, that do not comport with its dictates. In the case of personal reality, there is also a supreme law; namely, that we create our own reality with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. (Yes, physical actions are relevant, but they are subsidiary. The actions that really count are the ones we take with our mind, for they determine all others.) If this concept is alien to you, or strikes you as implausible, then you might as well stop reading here. There are other things you need to read first. (Our review of The Secret contains a couple of recommendations – not including the subject of that review!)
The U.S. Constitution, among other things, established three branches of government – legislative, executive, and judicial. Explained in the simplest terms, the legislative branch (the two houses of Congress) makes federal laws; the executive branch (the president and his administration) applies and enforces those laws; and the judiciary (the federal court system, headed by the Supreme Court) interprets the laws in cases of confusion and ensures that the laws are consistent with the Constitution itself – the supreme law of the land. This latter function, known as judicial review, is quite controversial in politics, because if the Court does not interpret the Constitution correctly it can be (and often is) accused of imposing its own, subjective opinions on the political branches of the government, which are – unlike the Court – elected by the people. For our purposes here, we do not need to concern ourselves with this controversy, but the idea of a high court reminding the rest of the system to adhere to first principles is absolutely crucial.
In the U.S. system, there is a separation of powers, in which each branch is given exclusive authority over certain matters. In other political systems, such as the British parliamentary model, there is a fusion of powers, in which the separation between the branches breaks down. The British Cabinet, dominated by the Prime Minister, is drawn from the majority party in the House of Commons; while it is an executive body, it essentially controls activity in the legislature and can therefore make laws as well as implement them. Similarly, the highest court in the British system is drawn from the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the legislature (Parliament), further eroding the separation of powers. It is worth noting this distinction, for in the human constitution, we have the ultimate fusion of powers.
Getting to Know Your Inner Government
In French politics, it is not unusual for the Prime Minister to also be the Mayor of Paris, or hold some other significant post. The French refer to this multi-tasking as le cumul des mandats – the accumulation of offices. In our personal politics, we have to do it all. We have an internal legislature, an executive “administration,” and a Supreme Court to make sure the other two branches behave themselves. How, exactly, can we identify these inner roles – these personal branches of government?
In the human constitution, the legislative function refers to the thinking of thoughts and the feeling of emotions; it is the mental enactment of our beliefs. Sometimes, as with real legislatures swayed by fleeting popular passions or the malign influence of lobbyists, the legislature passes poor bills. When you think negative, destructive thoughts that arouse within you damaging emotions, your inner legislature is doing a bad job for you. At other times, the inner legislature thinks beneficial thoughts that tend to create positive outcomes. As long as you are awake, your legislature is always in session, and it is a very busy institution. It is most effective – for better or worse – when it consistently churns out bills with similar objectives; if it’s output is mixed, the conflicting bills will tend to neutralize one another and result in muddled stasis.
The executive function involves both the mental and physical mechanisms by which we carry out the will of the legislature. If, for example, the legislature passes a bill (i.e., adopts a belief) acting on questionable information, holding that your friend is a back-stabber who is out to get you, your executive will ensure that you start to behave differently toward your friend. You will look at her differently, talk to her in a different tone of voice, say things that you would otherwise not say, and perform actions towards her that reflect your belief that she is against you. All of this is largely automatic. Unlike the administration of President G.W. Bush, which used “signing statements” to essentially tell Congress that it had no intention of implementing parts of statutes with which it disagreed (a clearly unconstitutional practice that effectively created an extra-constitutional line-item veto), your executive is a dutiful servant of the legislature, as it should be. We don’t need to worry too much about the executive; there is no “imperial presidency” in our human constitutional affairs.
In James Madison’s original understanding of the U.S. Constitution, the Congress was by far the most powerful branch, and potentially the most dangerous. While that has changed in American politics, in our personal politics the inner legislature is unquestionably the dominant force. The executive cannot veto its bills: though it may resist implementation of certain acts that deviate from past practice (habits), it is ultimately powerless against a determined legislature. Strongly held beliefs and deeply felt emotions are unstoppable; they will change your life. It is vital, therefore, to choose those beliefs and emotions wisely, and that brings us to consideration of the judicial function.
Mindfulness Wears Judicial Robes
In an ideal world, the inner legislature would only pass good bills that advance our personal interests. Positive, joyful beliefs and emotions would flow freely and consistently, causing the executive to bring about the conditions we desire. Unfortunately, in a sad parallel to real politics, the inner legislature goes off on bizarre tangents, can’t make its mind up what it really means, or gets seduced by evil factions. It needs guidance, and it doesn’t get enough from within its own ranks. Some part of us needs to rise above the partisan fray and impose a sense of purpose consistent with the supreme law of the mind. That task falls to our inner judiciary – our personal Supreme Court. Thus, the judicial function is one of reminding the legislature – the busy, thinking, feeling self – that its actions are much more than mere objects of consciousness, and that because of this, the legislature had better use its considerable power responsibly. In the human constitution, the judicial function is the pinnacle of awareness.
In an interesting departure from the political practices with which we are most familiar in the U.S., our inner legislature is free to ask our Supreme Court for guidance at any time – to use it as an advisory council. In other words, when you catch yourself starting to think or feel in a particular way, you can ask yourself whether such mental actions are likely to produce good results, bearing in mind that thoughts and emotions have real power over your life. Upon further reflection, the answer may well be that such thoughts had better be avoided at all costs, or that you have seen poor results from similar thoughts in the past. You can think of this as reading prior case law, or looking for precedents. The inner judiciary has volumes upon volumes of cases in its history – a huge treasure trove of potential guidance, if only we have the wisdom and patience to avail ourselves of it. Note, however, that the cases only date back to that point in time when you were aware of the connection between your inner and outer realities. If your memory only includes what happened “out there” but contains nothing about what you had been doing “in here,” then you have no useful precedents upon which to draw.
Most people live their entire lives in ignorance of the supreme law of the mind. They do not understand the true power of their own thoughts and emotions. Consequently, they rarely harness that power effectively (if they do, it is entirely by accident), and frequently find themselves stroking against the tide, never able to bring about the conditions they desire despite their best efforts. Destructive beliefs and emotions enacted by their inner legislature sabotage their progress. But when we live mindfully – when we become aware of both the existence and the workings of the supreme law of the mind – we are finally able to perceive the source of the problem. To our wise inner Court, the actions of the inner legislature that are bringing us down become obvious.
It is often said in mindfulness circles that freedom comes from recognizing that we have a choice over the contents of our minds. Ironically, many of these “authorities” have no idea just how true that really is.
One could almost feel sorry for the Roman Catholic Church. Accustomed to centuries of control over the hearts, minds, and pocket-books of ignorant flocks the world over, they now find themselves humiliated by child-abuse scandals in seemingly every diocese and must watch helplessly as their congregations dwindle. Particularly in the West and among the young, the Church has a serious image problem, not the least of which is its (accurately) perceived intolerance against non-standard sexual orientations. Nonetheless, the Church remains an inordinately powerful institution, especially in the developing world, where its rigid proscriptions against contraceptives contribute to unsustainable population growth, perpetuating human poverty and environmental destruction. So I feel no compunctions in holding the Church up for further ridicule by discussing its war against the New Age.
In 2003, the Church released a study entitled A Christian Reflection on the New Age, which identified New Age practices as fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. While earlier reports had sought to dissuade Catholics from dabbling in eastern religions, this new document identified threats in a wide range of practices, including meditation (unless done the “right” way to commune with God), yoga, feng shui, homeopathy, acupuncture, the Gaia Hypothesis, and even twelve-step programs. The Southern Baptist Convention in the U.S. largely agreed, and is therefore an equally deserving recipient of the scorn that is about to follow.
Quite rightly, the Church has acknowledged that many people no longer find their spiritual needs met by Catholicism. For the Church, this is a marketing problem of perhaps more fundamental scope than even the pedophiles (and their enablers) among its hypocritical ranks, for it portends a mass exodus of customers away from their product. They are losing market share, they know it, and they’re running scared. Perhaps they should pray a little harder?
From Dualism to Oneness
If there is one issue that seems to really stick in the Church’s craw, it is the New Age concept of divinity or spirit in all things. New Age practitioners commonly speak of “the Universe” as an all-embracing spiritual concept, and see people as integral parts of this larger whole. Though we may appear to be separate entities, we are in fact connected to all that is – to all other life and to all matter – and commune with it across space and time. For many New Age thinkers, there is no life and death but simply a flow of energy from one state or form to another. And with this understanding of universal connectivity comes a knowledge of how we create our own realities by directing energy wisely or poorly.
It is not too difficult to see how radically this spiritual view differs from that of the Church. Gone is the distinction between Creator and creation, between spirit and matter, and even between good and evil. There is no mention of heaven or hell; if anything, they are realities right here and now. And there is certainly no judgment from a vengeful God eager to punish those who transgress his code. If wisdom is contained within the fabric of the universe and potentially accessible to all just by virtue of being alive, then the Bible is clearly just a book and the Church, as self-appointed interpreter thereof, loses its ostensible raison d’etre.
The Church dismisses all of this as “weak thinking” that encourages people to place false hopes in “magic.” And it contends that the words of man are being dressed up as divine knowledge (which John Paul II saw as a reprise of “gnosis,” by which he meant occult or esoteric wisdom). The degree of cognitive dissonance here is spectacularly hilarious. The Church sees no “weak thinking” in its doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches its worshipers that the bread and wine they taste at the Eucharist are the body and blood of Christ. It sees no “magic” in preaching about alleged miracles or in encouraging people to pray to an imaginary friend (or two) in the hope that they will be judged favorably and spend an eternal afterlife in an idyllic dreamworld. It sees no “gnosis” in expecting people to believe that a book of fairy stories written by human authors – who frequently lied about their true identities and were motivated by a desire to control social developments of which they disapproved – is the revealed word of God. And it sees nothing evil in propagating anti-scientific, medieval ignorance centuries after its sell-by-date, despite the devastating human and environmental costs.
A Monopoly of Irony
The ultimate expression of the Church’s arrogance, of course, is its assertion of monopoly power. It has absolutely, positively no problem appointing itself as the sole interpreter of the only legitimate truth, a position that rather conveniently confers upon it massive power in the temporal world. It is perhaps the most supreme irony of all, therefore, that this historical apogee of top-down bureaucracy has the chutzpah (repeat after me, Michele Bachmann) to complain that the New Age encourages adherence to what it derisively termed “enlightened masters.” Now, I suppose in the Vatican one must comport oneself as if the Protestant Reformation never happened, but didn’t someone on the committee remember that this was part of Martin Luther’s problem with the papacy? (In rejecting papal authority, Luther went so far as to call the Pope the Antichrist because he was enforcing a substitute religion featuring a cult of saints that rivaled the centrality of Christ himself.) Protestants who would seek to differentiate themselves on the grounds that the Reformation encouraged people to read the Bible for themselves, rather than relying on papal interpretation, ought to take a good, hard look at their megachurches run by Bentley-driving pastors.
Perhaps, in a future United States, Southern Baptists will be afraid that a presidential candidate will take orders from Deepak Chopra, just as they worried in 1960 that JFK would have to follow the edicts of the pontiff. But such talk is utter nonsense. The New Age movement takes the best part of the Reformation – the individual quest for truth – to a new level, encouraging each one of us to engage with our inner and outer realities in a way that both enlightens and fulfills us far better than any power-hungry priest ever could.
Meanwhile, On The Eastern Front….
Arguably the stronger and more important challenge to the New Age movement does not come from the churches at all. The fighting is much grittier and nastier on the second front, where cold blasts of self-righteous logic seek to blow away anything that does not compute. It is a matter of no small interest that the increasingly vocal atheistic community is just as hostile toward the New Age as it is toward the Catholic Church (or any other religion). Indeed, strict materialists make a point of ridiculing people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” For them, “New Age woo” is every bit as unscientific and superstitious as expecting the Rapture to happen next week.
This seems to be a matter of doctrinal consistency. Atheists don’t think they can assail religion without simultaneously attacking anything else that doesn’t agree with their model of reality. But, as a matter of tactics, this stance represents a rejection of the battle-hardened rule that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It would seem that either they don’t feel they need any allies in their war against religion, or they don’t want allies like us.
These materialists would laugh if I said I shared their belief in the scientific method of testing a hypothesis through repeated experimentation. The reason they won’t talk to us is because they insist this experimentation be conducted in a lab and be subject to peer review. But in matters of personal reality, we are the lab. If I observe over many years that a particular pattern of thought or emotion leads to certain kinds of experiences in the physical world, I have myself a working hypothesis. But there is absolutely no way that you or anyone else can test it, because you can’t lay out the contents of my mind/heart/soul on a stainless-steel bench. You could, if you were willing to try, engage in a similar personal experiment yourself, but only you would be able to assay the results.
Apart from the fact that this personal testing is, not to put too fine a point on it, bloody difficult, it is a conventional scientist’s nightmare because it opens the door to countless, potentially conflicting results. Nonetheless, if a sufficient number of otherwise intelligent (!) adults all engaged in broadly similar tests and reported broadly similar results, could we be comfortable asserting that we have verified a hypothesis? This need for science and the contemplative arts to work together is a recurring theme on this blog, and I applaud those scientists who are willing to bridge that gap. But I am under no illusions about the width of the divide.
Mindfulness is generally understood to mean the cultivation of present-moment awareness, including the attainment of a state of mind in which thoughts, feelings, and emotions are mere “objects of consciousness” from which the self may be “liberated.” Readers of the painstakingly thorough, Buddhist-inspired website, wildmind.org, may be familiar with numerous exercises that are said to enhance your perception of reality and liberate you from unnecessary suffering by teaching you that you are free to choose the contents of your mind. Although there are some genuine benefits to be derived from these mindfulness techniques, the veritable cottage-industry that has grown up around them is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of personal reality. If you want to follow the path of the Buddha, knock yourself out – and stop reading now, because you won’t like where we’re going.
From the Ancient Orient to the Modern Self-Help Industry
As we discussed in our previous post on guided meditation, there are two main conceptions of meditation: mindfulness (moment-to-moment awareness) and concentration (focused attention). In practice, this dichotomy tends to break down or become rather “fuzzy,” as open-monitoring of one’s experiences – the putative essence of mindfulness – mutates into focusing on particular aspects of that experience. Indeed, this confusion permeates much of the scientific literature on the subject of meditation, detracting somewhat from the clarity of its findings on the benefits of any particular technique. Practitioners of mindfulness, however, need no such validation, for they are imbued with the certitude that they are on the one, true path. But, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once put it, certitude is not the test of certainty….
Purists have argued that modern mindfulness techniques do not comport with the teachings of the Buddha or certain strands of Hinduism. The modern, Western emphasis on non-judgmental acceptance of whatever thoughts and feelings arise in one’s mindstream is said to depart from the original concern to cultivate virtue and wholesomeness, which obviously implies the exercise of judgment on some level. (The very concept of “right mindfulness,” central to traditional Buddhism, contains a judgment about what is wholesome and what is not.) But one of the leading proponents of non-judgmental mindfulness in the West, Jon Kabat-Zinn, sees no inconsistency, adducing instead Buddhism’s central concern with “the relief of suffering and the dispelling of illusions.” Kabat-Zinn, of course, founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which has spread widely across the medical, psychological, and even business fields, becoming quite a little empire in its own right.
The sheer number of traditions within Buddhism accounts for much of this dispute, and it could easily be dismissed as irrelevant. However, we shall see later that the issue of judging the contents of one’s mind is very, very important. For now, we must acknowledge that mindfulness as taught in the West has been shown repeatedly to effectively combat stress and negative dispositions. Part of its effectiveness against stress is surely due to reining in the mind’s tendency to wander off and entertain worst-case scenarios in a hypothetical future. The reduction of corrosive stress hormones circulating through one’s system in response to imagined threats has much to do with the boost to immune function attributed to mindfulness. And a shift in the activity of the prefrontal cortex – from the right to the left side – seems to be involved in helping practitioners recover more quickly from negative experiences and escape depression. Clearly, the practice is not utterly devoid of merit.
Add A Dash of Neuroscience and Stir…
Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (2009), has done much to popularize mindfulness and bring science and the contemplative disciplines together, exemplifying the kind of harmony we wished for in our post on the origin of consciousness. I am particularly thankful for his explanation of why it is that our minds tend to behave like “Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for positive ones,” which lays the blame on our reptilian ancestors, whose threat-avoidance mechanisms linger on in the brains of modern man. His suggested exercises include numerous ways to emphasize the positive in our lives and, over time, rewire our brains to counteract this inbuilt negativity bias. Hanson’s mindfulness takes us beyond open-monitoring toward active selection of beneficial inner states. One cannot help but wonder if the purists, too, would be impressed by his attempt to train the mind to learn more wholesome habits, instead of simply watching the mental world go by.
Dr. Hanson, with both scientific and contemplative training, sticks his neck above the parapet of the scientific establishment and acknowledges the inherent transcendence of the mind, then promptly ducks back down again by presenting the mind-brain connection as one of the fundamental challenges remaining to be unlocked by science. (Such a balancing act would obviously be laughable to thoroughgoing materialists.) He is well aware that the most experienced Buddhists, when performing a loving-kindness meditation, are able to place themselves into the exceptionally powerful Gamma state, harmonizing multiple regions of the brain. But his approach to continuing mental evolution ultimately returns to an application of the Buddhist triad of virtue, mindfulness, and wisdom. Fascinating though this might be, it misses an opportunity to exploit modern brainwave entrainment technology – a resource the Buddha could never have dreamed of. More importantly, this adherence to Buddhism makes him subject to the limits of its worldview, to which we now turn.
The Ultimate Failure of Buddhist Mindfulness
Although mindfulness is undoubtedly an effective stress-reduction tool, I remain personally underwhelmed by the practice, for reasons that are far more fundamental than its apparent disdain for brainwave entrainment technology. The fatal weakness of mindfulness is its failure to grasp both the creative and predictive power of our thoughts and emotions. While I share their concern to advance personal freedom, I find that mindfulness practitioners have an unduly stunted conception of the nature and scope of that freedom. This limitation may stem from an excessively rigid adherence to the teachings of the Buddha (and their ridiculously variegated iterations); but, ultimately, it stems from a failure to notice what is really going on. And that’s a pretty damning indictment for a movement that purports to be all about cultivating awareness.
Simply put, the mindfulness industry hasn’t noticed that we create our reality with our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Thoughts and emotions are not just “objects of consciousness”; they impinge materially and directly upon the very fabric of our lives. In the Buddhist conception of reality, suffering is inevitable and all we can do is choose how we’re going to react to it. By distancing ourselves from our thoughts and emotions – rising above them and becoming a mental gatekeeper – we learn over time that we do not have to entertain thoughts and emotions that magnify or perpetuate suffering. That is all well and good, but it remains a passive and reactive conception of personal reality. There is simply no discussion of the much more profound role we can take on when we act as a mental gatekeeper – that of choosing the thoughts and emotions that will actively change our reality. And, by extension, there is inevitably no recognition of the corollary that suffering can be, if not eliminated, certainly reduced by a wise application of this creative principle. Rick Hanson gets half way there by acknowledging the impact of thought patterns on neuroplasticity, and seeing the need to “burn” better circuits. But he does not go further than that, perhaps because of his desire to retain credibility in the mainstream scientific community and within the mindfulness industry. With one foot stuck in ancient oriental mud, he can’t stride boldly forward into the New Age.
Thus, the kind of mindfulness we should be aiming for is one which does not merely observe the contents of the mind, but also compares them to the components of external reality, constantly seeking possible patterns of causation. Thoughts are not just transient mental guests with only fleeting, internal consequences; on the contrary, they are potent agents of creativity, with potentially life-altering consequences. To simply observe our thoughts in a non-judgmental way is to abdicate our responsibility to actively select those thoughts and feelings which will create the realities we seek. To be clear, then, this kind of mindfulness differs from the usual prescriptions not just in its focus on the vital interplay between inner and outer reality, but also in its explicit call for personal judgment. A fully mindful person is, therefore, aware of his true power and wisely evaluating whether that power is being applied intelligently and beneficially. This is not what the Buddha meant by wholesomeness, but in case it is not already painfully obvious, I see no reason to be constrained by his conceptions.
Of almost equal importance, the cultivation of a rather condescending attitude toward the thoughts that come to us spontaneously – treating them as unruly gatecrashers upon our blessed mental tranquility – leads us to discount the incredibly valuable information that those thoughts are giving us. Just as we send thought and emotional energy “out” into the universe, so energy returns to us and is “detected” as thought or emotion, in a kind of psycho-spiritual sonar system, if you will. This is not mere chatter above which we should rise; it is a bona fide sense that should be embraced. If you’ve ever received a telephone call from someone and said, “Funny, I was just thinking about you…” then you know exactly what I mean. Conventional mindfulness doesn’t just disconnect us from the controls of our personal “vehicle”; it also turns off the lights so we can’t see where we’re going.
Buddhist mindfulness, which beguiles the faithful with promises of “insight” and the “dispelling of illusions,” ultimately cheats us (like all major religions) by denying us the truth. While not guilty of foisting upon us the utter nonsense of omnipotent and omniscient imaginary friends, and helpful to some extent in turning our focus within, a fatal sin of omission renders it inadequate to our need for complete understanding and unworthy of further attention.
Guided meditation seems to be all the rage at the moment, and every website dealing with meditation feels it necessary to tout its merits. At the time of writing, Google reports over 60,000 web searches a month on this subject, and a whole lot more if we include variants on the term. I do not share this enthusiasm, and not just because of an instinctive anti-herd instinct. For if your main goal in meditating is the attainment of altered states of consciousness – either to experience them for their own sake, or to use them for certain purposes – guided meditation can actually impede your progress.
What Is Meditation, Anyway?
Before we discuss guided meditation specifically, it’s worth reminding ourselves what we’re trying to do. There is no one answer to the question of what meditation is; in fact, there are multiple answers depending on whether you include all the world’s religious traditions – obviously with Buddhism and Hinduism being most influential – or limit yourself to more secular concepts. Further complicating the picture, as we discussed in our post on the bizarre world of Transcendental Meditation, there is an unfortunate tendency for practitioners of one strand of meditation to view all others as illegitimate or inferior. And this tendency even extends to otherwise strong writers who wade into the New Age pool with lead-footed preconceptions. A good example occurs in Salon.com, where the self-assured author asserts that meditation is about inculcating mindfulness, not about quieting the mind. That’s about as accurate as saying that the only proper evening meal is fish and chips. Very nice, but what happened to the rest of the menu?
At the risk of making the same mistakes myself, let me try to define meditation for our purposes on this site, meaning no disrespect to any other traditions that do not fall within this definition:
Meditation is a self-directed, personal, mental activity in which the practitioner trains his mind to attain a desired state of consciousness. The practitioner may concentrate his attention on a specific focal point – be that an external object or some internal process – or may simply monitor his experience in an open, non-judgmental way.
The latter part of that definition embraces the two main, western, secular conceptions of meditation – concentrative and mindful. But in the current context, it is the first part of the definition that matters most. Clearly, this site places a heavy emphasis on attaining altered states of consciousness for particular purposes. The use of brainwave entrainment audio recordings, while not featured in the Bhagavad Gita, is perfectly compatible with self-direction and personal control, unless you want to argue that the sound engineer is calling the shots. But this compatibility breaks down altogether when we start working with guided meditation.
Why Do You Need A Guide?
In guided meditation, your activities are explicitly led by someone else’s speech. You are supposed to go where they tell you – explore the issues they raise, answer the questions they ask. Clearly, you are only in control in so far as you choose which guided meditation product (or counselor) to work with; once the session is underway, self-direction flies out of the window. Why would you want to give someone else that kind of control?
Guided meditation CDs are often marketed on the basis that meditation is too difficult for most people to master by themselves. I could hastily point out that brainwave entrainment audio has completely changed the game, obviating the need for years of diligent training. And, in fact, some producers of guided meditation MP3 and CD audios have combined brainwave entrainment techniques with vocal guidance for allegedly greater effect. However, because of the loss of self-direction, and the conversion of a quintessentially personal activity into a kind of social interaction (clearly so when working with a counselor), it seems to me that this exercise is simply not meditation at all, even of the mindfulness variety. It is more like psychotherapy, perhaps even hypnotherapy, or simply introspection. Of course, there is a legitimate place for this in personal development: exploration of one’s beliefs and emotions, with a view to understanding undesirable behavior patterns or just know oneself better, is absolutely vital. We just shouldn’t think we’re meditating when we’re really not.
Moreover, there is little chance of attaining any kind of altered state of consciousness when you must pay close attention to – or constantly be interrupted by – someone else’s voice (especially if you don’t like that voice or what it actually says). The nature of this discourse is likely to keep you in a Beta state, maybe high Alpha at best if you listen with eyes closed. (Falling asleep doesn’t really count as a successful entry to Theta or Delta!) Listening to instrumental music, on the other hand, eliminates this distraction and is a wonderful way to ease the descent into deeper levels of the self, especially when enhanced by brainwave entrainment techniques. And it leaves you firmly in control of the experience – setting the goals and working towards them as you see fit.
Your Voice Is The One That Matters
There is a final, crucial point that needs to be made here. Listening to someone else’s voice is a passive activity, even if you really become fully absorbed in a guided meditation session. Again, this is fine if you feel you need help getting to the bottom of some intractable inner problems. But if you want more than that from a meditation session – if you’re looking, for example, to reprogram yourself by using tailor-made affirmations – then not only should you be the one choosing those affirmations, you must be the one to say them. The process of internally giving form to those words gives them life and power. And as experienced meditators know all too well, repeating a mantra is a classic method of focusing attention and, with practice, can be done in deeper levels of consciousness with direct access to the subconscious mind.
If meditation, whether concentrated or mindful, is proving too hard for you, I would recommend high-quality brainwave entrainment audio before any kind of guided meditation. However, if your disposition is fundamentally hostile to introspective activities, you may need guided meditation to help you begin your journey. We all have to start somewhere. But this website is dedicated to the attainment of ultimate individual autonomy, experienced through exploration of the deepest levels of the self. That place – a place of incredible freedom, power, and wisdom – is a private place. It is yours, and yours alone.
Rhonda Byrne’s magnum opus, The Secret, made quite a splash in self-help circles after its publication in 2006. All of a sudden, everyone was talking about the Law of Attraction, and debating its plausibility or absurdity. Thanks in part to a hard sell from America’s self-appointed high-priestess, Oprah Winfrey, Byrne made a lot of money telling other people how to make money. And in this whirlwind of commercial success, the complexity and subtlety of human creativity was left far, far behind.
In no particular order, let’s review some of the problems with The Secret.
- The Secret was not original. Why is that a problem, you might ask, since the stated purpose of the book was to expose hitherto secret information that had been kept from us (for some unexplained reason), meaning that it obviously dealt with existing ideas? It’s a problem because other authors and researchers in the self-help field had already explored these topics, written about them beautifully and thoughtfully, but never received the media acclaim or financial rewards that accrued to this Johnny-come-lately. And I’m not referring to any of the other self-promoters involved in this particular project. I mean people like Shakti Gawain, whose classic book Creative Visualization came out over 25 years before The Secret and dealt with the subject matter in a far more intelligent and sensitive way. Important as it was – in my life and for many others – Gawain realized that the book was not perfect, and developed her ideas further in later works, reflecting a humility that is conspicuously lacking from Byrne’s business. And if you really want to discover the ultimate source of wisdom, there is nothing comparable to the Seth Books by Jane Roberts, particularly The Nature of Personal Reality. The Seth books are not easy reading, and are at the other end of the scale, in every sense, from Byrne’s mass-market fare.
- The Secret was largely the work of other people. I don’t know what sort of revenue-sharing arrangement Ms. Byrne had in place with contributors like Bob Proctor and Joe Vitale, but all the best content in the book came from them. Ms. Byrne was a film producer who saw an opportunity, and ran with it for all it was worth (which turned out to be rather a lot). She had only one year’s experience with these concepts, and yet considered herself qualified to tell the whole world how life works. That level of hubris still floors me, but not as much as the willingness of the marketplace to overlook her credibility deficit.
- Constant quotes from famous historical figures, like Winston Churchill or Albert Einstein, were used shamelessly to attempt to convince readers that many of the world’s greatest people had achieved their success because they knew The Secret. How they found out about it, or why they never wrote about in the way that Byrne did, was never explained. Churchill for example, was one of the best writers the English language has ever seen, and made most of his money from selling books that he knew would be popular. Did he not want everyone else to know? Was there a Mason-like conspiracy to hide this information? This ridiculous over-reaching undermined the seriousness it sought to advance.
- Worst of all, The Secret over-simplifies in a child-like manner. If you want a new BMW in your driveway, then you are told to look at pictures of that car and think about having it, then trust The Universe to deliver it to you. Apart from the fact that there is no meaningful examination of what it is that you really want, or why you want it – an important exercise to engage in before attempting to create a new reality – the process simply doesn’t work that way. While there may be a few isolated incidents in which you will get exactly what you picture in your mind, more often than not the outcome is not exactly what you expected. Sometimes nothing happens, and a cause needs to be found, possibly in conflicting beliefs. (The fact that nothing appeared to happen doesn’t mean that you don’t create your own reality; it means the process can be difficult, confusing, and take time. And it may also mean that you aren’t even perceiving all the details of your life correctly, failing to see changes at the margin and connecting them to inner changes you have made.) Frequently, there is an equivalency problem and you get something that comes across as the closest thing you’re going to get in the circumstances, but which doesn’t fully satisfy you. At other times, you get something completely unexpected, which can be a very good thing, for there might be something out there that was outside your previous experience and could never have been imagined by you, but which will fit the bill nicely. How can you know, for example, what your ideal life-partner will look like – or talk like, or sound like – if you’ve never met them? All you can do is try to grab hold of the general concept of what you would like to manifest. The details are far less important than the quality of the experience. As you try to embody this quality, you may use different details at various times, so long as they make you feel the way you want to feel in the desired situation. There is much more to be said here, but I think the point has been made: creativity is not like picking a new toy off the shelf in the store. Failure to address these complexities will lead many readers of the book to see failure instead of success, and not know how to even recognize the difference between them.
- The Secret was a grotesquely commercial, multi-media marketing exercise. It was as if we took a religion, patented a certain strand thereof (in much the same way as the Supreme Court has allowed agri-business corporations to patent the DNA of food crops) and proceeded to charge everyone royalties for practicing something that had always been intensely personal and private. Perhaps this money-spinning venture would have been more acceptable if it led to a general enlightenment of the population. But, when all the dust settles, most people will return to their old habits of thinking and acting. It is immensely difficult to effect genuine change in the way other human beings think, precisely because our beliefs have a life of their own, akin to self-sustaining organisms that gather around themselves corroborating facts and experiences. People change when they are ready to change, not when someone else sells them a shiny new belief system.
Release of The Secret was the first time that the mainstream media had been exposed to the proposition that our inner thoughts and feelings have an effect on our outer reality. These reviewers had never experimented with these concepts themselves – a process which takes years of careful introspection to assess correctly – yet summarily dismissed the book as utter nonsense or worse. (One of the more thoughtful reviews, with a particular emphasis on Oprah’s involvement, was on Salon.com.) Byrne may have imagined herself catalyzing a Great Awakening of the human spirit, but she was the wrong person and employed the wrong methods to have any chance of succeeding in that monumental endeavor. In fact, by provoking such strong negative reactions – many of which were deserved – she has actually made that task even more difficult than it was before. We who believe that we do, in fact, create our own reality – however difficult that concept may be to fully explain or fully implement – have all been tarred by Rhonda Byrne’s tacky brush. We would have been better off if The Secret had remained just that – a secret.
Elsewhere on this site, we have highlighted a central tension between practitioners of meditation and the scientific community. While the process of brainwave entrainment proceeds from, and has been verified by, scientific research, those who wish to explore inner reality often do so in the hope of connecting with universal, spiritual realms that make conventional scientists uncomfortable, to say the least. But in the case of the Schumann Resonance (SR), scientists who worry about mankind’s pollution of the planet with unnatural electromagnetic radiation have come to realize that certain frequencies are essential to psycho-biological well-being. And this concern has led them to suggest brainwave entrainment techniques as a preventive measure. For once, meditation and science are close to agreement: certain frequencies are special, and we must experience them to survive.
What Is The Schumann Resonance?
In a nutshell, the Schumann Resonance is an extremely-low-frequency (ELF) wave circling the entire earth’s atmosphere as a result of electrical storm activity. Electrical storms occur because there is a huge (200,000 volt) electrical tension between the lower boundary of the ionosphere (which is positively charged) and the earth’s surface (which is negatively charged). At any given time, there are lightning strikes occurring at various locations on earth, discharging this electrical tension. The tremendous energy released by each strike creates radio waves capable of passing through the earth and circumnavigating it, with the “cavity” between the earth’s surface and ionosphere acting as a wave-guide.
This phenomenon was first observed by the electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla, perhaps most famous for winning the “war of currents” against Thomas Edison and establishing alternating current (AC) as the principal means of transmitting electricity. Always wanting to go further, Tesla sought means to transmit electricity without wires, and conducted revolutionary experiments in his lab at Colorado Springs, including the creation of artificial lightning bolts discharging millions of volts. Having transmitted radio waves from Pikes Peak to Paris, Tesla experimented with extremely-low-frequency (ELF) standing waves, and received patents for their transmission. During this time, Tesla calculated the resonant frequency of the ionospheric cavity at 8Hz, which was almost exactly right.
So why don’t we speak of a Tesla Resonance? Whether fairly or not, these special frequencies were named after the German physics professor, W.O. Schumann, who developed a more formal theory of standing waves in the electromagnetic cavity in the 1950s. Seeing this cavity as a gigantic ball condensor – with the earth as a negatively-charged ball inside the positively-charged ionosphere – Schumann challenged his students to calculate the resonant frequency that would occur in the cavity. He estimated around 10Hz. Truly accurate measurement was not possible until the work of Balser and Wagner in the early 1960s.
The primary Schumann Resonance occurs at 7.83Hz, with higher resonances at 6.5 Hz intervals (due to the earth’s spherical geometry) occurring at 14.3, 20.8, 27.3, 33.8, and on to the eighth overtone at 59.9Hz. These numbers are not fixed, and vary routinely by 0.5Hz either way. Radio enthusiasts know that the solar wind presses the ionosphere closer to the earth during the day but pulls it further away at night, greatly affecting the distances that radio waves will travel and hence signal reception. This daily movement also impinges on the waveguide for the Schumann Resonance, but there are many other factors at play, including the 11-year sunspot cycle and the changing location of lightning strikes across the planet’s surface as the seasons unfold. Global temperature is also relevant, and climate scientists are considering using Schumann Resonances to accurately measure climate change.
The Importance of Schumann Resonances for Life
The evolution of life on earth took place in an electromagnetic environment with reasonably well-defined resonant frequencies – a pulse of the planet. Electrical oscillators within the body are attuned to these conditions. Is it mere coincidence, then, that the brains of mammals – from which humans evolved – exhibit electrical patterns very close to the prime Schumann Resonance? Schumann’s successor at the Technical University of Munich, Herbert Konig, saw the connection between the Schumann Resonance and human brainwaves on the Alpha-Theta boundary.
Research on the importance of this natural cycle to biological processes has not received nearly enough attention. As one might expect in our upside-down world, the military studied Schumann Resonances quite extensively because they use ELF transmissions to communicate with the far-flung submarine fleet. Far less attention has been paid to the health effects of deprivation from SR exposure. One study at the Max Planck Institute constructed an underground capsule, shielded from all electromagnetic radiation, and explored the effect on students who lived in the capsule for four weeks. Their circadian rhythms diverged (as one might expect), and they experienced emotional distress and headaches. Brief exposure to 7.83Hz upon release relieved their symptoms. Similar problems befell the first cosmonauts in space, so spacecraft were fitted with devices to emit Schumann Resonances.
Today, some scientists worry that pollution of the electromagnetic spectrum with all manner of devices, particularly mobile telephones, is obfuscating the natural frequencies essential to life. Climate change could be causing the prime Schumann Resonance to rise, with unknowable biological effects. In what might be referred to as the “speculative community,” it is thought that the higher resonance will lead to an evolution in human consciousness as our brains gravitate toward a higher operating frequency. To us, that sounds implausibly fast on evolutionary timescales and, besides, constitutes a recipe for permanent hyper-vigilance, aggression, and mental and social collapse.
But there is more to worry about. The United States’ work on the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), based in Alaska but with sub-stations across the globe, is tampering with the very fabric of the ionosphere in a potentially very dangerous way. HAARP is part of the military’s “Vision 2020″ program, designed to assure “full spectrum dominance.” The main antenna array, near Gakona, AK, directs a 3.6 Megawatt high-frequency signal (2.8 – 10 MHz) into the ionosphere, creating Very-Low Frequency (VLF) and ELF waves in the ionosphere. Frequencies as low as 0.1Hz have been generated, which corresponds to the sub-Delta region of brainwaves known as Epsilon. The project is supposed to value openness in the spirit of scientific inquiry, but the involvement of the military raises doubts that just won’t go away. It is suspected that one of HAARP’s goals, beyond ELF communication, is weather modification, which no doubt seems important to geophysical warriors but carries grave risks of unintended consequences. Among other side-effects, man-made ELF waves produce electron precipitation from the magnetosphere, giving rise to secondary ionization, X-rays, and potentially disrupting brainwaves in the biosphere. The physicist Daniel Winter worries that HAARP is contaminating the earth’s geomagnetic “information bloodstream.” Defenders of HAARP retort that its ionospheric “heating” is as inconsequential as an immersion heater in the Yukon River, and dismiss the project’s opponents as scientific illiterates. While some of the conspiracy theories swirling around HAARP are patently ridiculous, its proponents seem disturbingly blase about the butterfly effect in chaos theory. Interfering with the earth’s protective layer at points of instability sounds to us like the ultimate expression of human hubris, a sin of planetary scope.
Exposure to Schumann Resonances is essential for our health and well-being. They bind us to the geomagnetic web of life on earth. As man continues his seemingly relentless assault on the natural world, we may need to resort to more benign technologies to ensure adequate exposure to the prime Schumann Resonance around which life evolved. Meditation with brainwave entrainment techniques targeting 7.83Hz can do this for us.
Consider again the astounding nature of the Schumann Resonance: a wave with a length equal to the circumference of the earth, connecting all life and matter on this remarkable ball in the sky we are privileged to call home. Grounding us to the earth like no other frequency, the Schumann Resonance is our umbilical cord to Mother Nature. We cut it at our own risk.
Recognizing that the full, six-month Brain Evolution course represents a significant commitment that not everyone wishes to make, the company behind the system (Inspire3, Ltd.) recently added a more accessible alternative called The Brain Salon. This is a set of six, 30-minute sessions, paired up on a set of three CDs. The Brain Salon recordings are designed to alter your mental state quickly and can be used at any time and, with some exceptions, as often as you want. They may also be combined with the Brain Evolution System, since they do not interfere with that program’s long-term development of your mind. (In fact, some users find that their BrainEv sessions are enhanced by first listening to selected tracks from the Brain Salon.)
The Brain Salon does not use Michael Kelley’s 3P-DEAP entrainment process. At first, we were slightly disappointed by that, but on further reflection, this is not really a problem. As we discuss in our detailed BrainEv review, 3P-DEAP is a uniquely complex program designed to challenge the brain to become more resilient in the face of stress, and learn how to choose more relaxed states. BrainEv is a long-term program, so a different technology is appropriate. For the “quick fixes” offered by the Brain Salon, there is no need for such a complex entrainment method. Having said that, this doesn’t mean that the Brain Salon is simple – far from it. The Brain Salon was engineered by a New Zealander called Craig Tice. Tice has 30-years of experience in the entrainment field, and holds a senior position with Transparent Corporation, discussed on our home page. Tice’s work here combines binaural beats with monaural tones, isochronic tones, and some temporal entrainment as well; in other words, it covers all the audio bases. There appears to be less emphasis on the binaurals here, since the user manual allows listening without headphones. (Binaural beats deliver separate carrier frequencies to each ear and are useless without stereo headphones.) But, once again, this is not necessarily a problem. First, the sessions are not as concerned with hemispheric synchronization as is BrainEv. Second, monaural and isochronic tones are more powerful than binaural beats anyway. And, finally, it’s a lot easier to use Brain Salon for some of its intended purposes when you don’t have to wear headphones.
For example, the session entitled Ultra Deep Sleep is intended to be played over speakers at bedtime, descending all the way down to 2 Hz Delta to put you to sleep. Who wants to go to bed with headphones on? At the other end of the brainwave scale, two of the sessions – High Energy Espresso and Razor Sharp are intended to enhance concentration and focus, and can be listened to with eyes open and even while performing tasks. Any MP3 or CD that entrains Alpha waves or lower should not, as mentioned earlier, be used while doing anything that requires full conscious awareness. But these two tracks entrain Beta and high-frequency Gamma waves – interesting and unusual territory, and the opposite of relaxing. The remaining three sessions – Creative Spark, Happy Pill, and Power Chill are designed, respectively, to help you access the problem-solving resources of the subconscious, cheer you up by stimulating serotonin release, or simply help you release stress at the end of the day. We were particularly pleased by the targeting of a special frequency on the Alpha-Theta boundary known as the Schumann Resonance (7.83Hz). This particular frequency offers intriguing spiritual possibilities of connection with the earth.
Taken together, the Brain Salon suite offers a range of options to meet a variety of everyday problems, bringing brainwave entrainment to bear directly and immediately on your quality of life in a highly practical way. To learn more about how these high-quality CDs can help you, click on the banner to the left or CLICK HERE.
On our home page, we talked about how our initial reluctance to recommend the Brain Evolution System fell away once we saw what they were doing behind the scenes. Here, we want to cover the technology of BrainEv in much more detail, so you can see what we mean.
3P-DEAP: The Magic of Threes
Michael Kelley, the chief entrainment engineer behind the Brain Evolution System, calls his technique the Three-Point Dynamic Entrainment Audio Process, or 3P-DEAP. We call it the “Magic of Threes.”
The first set of threes we need to talk about is the unique combination of entrainment techniques employed here. While almost all other brain wave audio products deploy just one technique, the Brain Evolution System combines binaural beats with isochronic tones and temporal entrainment, for unparalleled effectiveness.
Binaural beats, while not the newest kid on the block in terms of technical innovation, are useful for hemispheric synchronization, since both the left and right brains must cooperate in “extracting” the phantom frequency difference between the two carrier frequencies fed independently to each ear. This helps the Brain Ev system achieve one of its fundamental goals; namely, better whole-brain functioning, for an optimal match of left-brain analytical skills with right-brain creative thinking.
Isochronic tones, also referred to as rhythmic entrainment, reinforce the entrainment with discrete pulses of sound delivered to the ears at precisely timed intervals. (The CDs are engineered down to the millisecond.) This is generally regarded as a more powerful entrainment method than binaural beats.
The finishing touch – the piece de resistance – comes from the addition of temporal entrainment. This is very clever indeed, taking sounds the brain has already heard and then deliberately slowing them down or speeding them up, encouraging the frequency-following response of the brain to entrain to the changing pace.
Michael Kelley describes all of this personally in a series of videos on the company’s website. Michael’s diction is as precise and articulate as you would expect from an engineer, and his belief in his creation shines through as he explains the purposes and mechanics of the system. His expertise remains available to you through lifetime customer support.
Your Personal Meditation Journey
The second set of threes appears in an “entrainment map” for each of the six CDs in the series. This map delineates the actual frequencies that are being entrained – showing you the journey you are about to take when you sit back, relax, and let the soundscape wash over you. This is where the Brain Evolution System really sets itself apart from everything else. Instead of entraining just one frequency per session – taking you down to Theta, for example – there are – you guessed it – three distinct entrainment paths on each map.
The three paths vary in significance: there is a prime tier, a major tier, and a minor tier. You can think of them as an interstate highway, a state route, and a narrow country lane. Your brain is actually presented with choices and, quite deliberately, subjected to competing auditory impulses. You see, the designers of the system could simply have taken you on a nice, gentle ride into deep, relaxing states – and on some of the discs that is exactly what they do. But the goal of the system is to strengthen your mind and to enhance your ability to choose a more relaxed state, even in the face of stress. In other words, this is the meditation equivalent of teaching a man to fish: once you have completed the course, you won’t have to be “plugged in” to an audio device to keep yourself centered.
Thus, on many of the CDs, the major or minor tiers will branch off in opposite directions from the prime tier, offering a counterpoint of, say, alert Beta waves while the prime tier goes down through deep Alpha and on into the creative wellspring of Theta. In part, this is done to keep you consciously aware while you dive deep. It is not surprising, therefore, that many users of the Brain Evolution System report having lucid dreams after using the CDs, enabling them to work through long-hidden issues lurking deep within the subconscious mind. This is a tremendously valuable experience.
But the creators of the system also stress that the divergence of the three entrainment paths is there to make relaxation more difficult. This might seem at cross-purposes with the earlier emphasis on combining entrainment technologies for best effect: why bother generating perfect Theta entrainment if you’re going to offset that with Beta? Well, of course, the major and minor tiers are not as powerful – or convincing, if you will – in altering your brain waves. They are a kind of tease: “Fancy a little Beta, do you?”
And it’s alright if you give in to that temptation – if you decide to wander down that little country road instead of taking the major highway to Theta. Your experiences are going to be uniquely yours. Over time, since you will be listening to the same CD for a month before moving on to the next recording, you will make different choices during your meditation sessions. You will learn that you have a choice – that you can control your own mind.
Who Said Meditation Was Boring?
Finally, it is important to note that the incredible richness of the 3P-DEAP recordings makes for a more stimulating experience, and one that your brain is much more willing to accept and, consequently, benefit from. Trying to railroad your mind into one target frequency is, quite simply, boring after a while. And it’s not the way your brain likes to work. As we showed on the EEG scan on our brainwave entrainment page, while one frequency may be dominant, there are countless other frequencies still on display by the brain. The brain is a fertile landscape, filled with multiple layers of lush activity, not a sterile monoculture planted with a single crop by an over-zealous farmer.
As should be abundantly clear by now, we are hugely impressed by the Brain Evolution System, and we think you will be, too. If you’d like to try it for yourself – risk-free for 21 days and with a full seven-month guarantee after that – click the banner below: