Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

At Once, Beneficiary and Victim

--by Aldous Huxley (Dec 14, 2009)

 "Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful." -- Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C. D. Broad

According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. But in so far as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this Particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call languages. Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born -- the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people's experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for data, his words for actual things. That which, in the language of religion, is called "this world" is the universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language. The various "other worlds," with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language. Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve.

--Aldous Huxley, From "Doors of Perception"

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Previous Reflections:

On Dec 14, 2009 Lawrence wrote:

Some method of circumventing that reducing valve is necessary for each of us, because the worlds we are reduced to by our language systems, our taboos and biases, are unfit for habitation. Their smallness struggles to encompass joy, love, silence, wonder, vastness--the greatest heights of human experience.

Perhaps some are born freer from the traps of reduced awareness--but all can become freer, with patience and sincere desire.

On Dec 15, 2009 kantharaj wrote:

it is really inspiring to read

On Dec 15, 2009 Jack Spratt wrote:

C. Jung, or maybe Alfred Adler, or both, mentioned that poets broke through to consciousness and described it better than, they who sought it otherwise, in philosophy, theology, science or teleology  1. the doctrine that final causes (purposes) exist.
        1. The study of design or purpose in natural phenomena.
2. the study of the evidences of design or purpose in nature.
        2. The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining
. . . you certainly jerked my attention to verticality with these two quotes.
I apparently have little use for either reference since I am far more interested in experience as in Adler, and Jung’s going as far as extermination of their soul’s to know the truth of Truth in life or death. Perhaps better said; the origins and terminations of free will.
Wisdom is neither a magic bullet, nor wonderful mushroom, to be consumed in transmutation of what was before, into what is gleaned through the journey from Hell to Heaven and returned to serve the halt, lame, blind, mute and dying,  or merely the once-upon-a-time ideal white middle-class of America now dead and buried.
. . . you and I, and all of us, need to enter that unique and precious creation of ourselves and find therein the strength to give everything, beginning with love, since love is a verb and not a noun.

On Dec 20, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I loved this piece! Remembered a paper I'd read in a class on memory about this man who'd found techniques to augment his memory beyond its natural capacity. He had developed techniques to help remember objects in a list (20, then 100, then 1000 objects), and he could recite it in any order that was requested of him. He became a showman, and did well for a while. And then, he started discovering that he was unable to forget what he'd committed to memory, try as hard as he might. He started going crazy, and ultimately died insane.

When we hear of people whose memory becomes indelible or momentary, the two ends of the spectrum, we feel they are cursed. The object of this point is not about memory, but about the problem of duality which is the heart of this piece. Duality is the tremendous idea that everything we come in contact with is at once helpful and hurtful. Its truth is evident at every moment.

The author prods us to go beyond duality, into a space where we cannot be trapped by language. I remembered some exquisite poetry by Kabir, the 15th century philosopher-poet from India. Kabir says,

"Jo paani ke naam ko paani jaaney wo naadani hai
Pani pani rat te rat te pyaasa hi mar jaaye

Shola shola rat te rat te labh pur aanch na aaye
Ek chingaree labh pur rukh lo
Fauran labh jal jaaye"

To translate,

"Naive is the one who confuses the label "water" with water (the experience of it)
 Although chanting "water, water" (contented with just the label), they are bound to die of thirst

 Those who chant "fire, fire" have not a scratch on their lips for doing so
 But when they put a spark of fire on their lips, their lips burn instantly."

That is the difference between the label and the experience that evoked the label, brought out so powerfully in the imagery of water and fire.

The author says at the end of the piece that "Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve." I haven't met such people. However, I've met a lot people who've had to work hard on doing the by-pass surgery on themselves. I liked the metaphor of by-pass surgery - that I have to by-pass the blockages in my own heart. To step up the metaphor, I believe that the surgery has already been performed by nature. We are simply unaware of it. When there are blockages in our heart, our body sends signals which we do not know how to process. If we train our mind to honor those messages, we can perform the by-pass more successfully.

A story to illustrate this. The other day, I was sitting with someone for my research, obtaining data. As my informant was giving me data, I became aware that she was hard-pressed for time. This is an ordinary experience that most of us have felt at some time or the other in our conversations. Immediately, a part of my mind said, "Ignore this - you need to get the data. If she is really busy, she will tell you." And so, I pacified my mind and ignored the signals. And sure enough, there came a point where she panicked about the time and requested to end the session. We did that, but it didn't feel wholesome to me. I should have honored the signals that I'd received and responded with compassion - asked her if we could meet again (which is what we ended up doing anyway). Although this was a small incident, what amused me was that the voice that was trying to fool me was my own voice.

People had lots of reflections on languages and after we went around the group, I remembered my own time in Japan, when I attended Aikido lessons. I had only learned some basic Japanese to get around, and Aikido is full of philosophical Japanese. I couldn't understand a word of the language, but somehow, it didn't matter, and I was able to partake of the experience that the teachers were trying to share with me. I remember much later, after I'd finished the first basic exam, the teacher pointed to me while training his new batch (all Japanese) saying,  "This guy doesn't understand a word of what I'm saying, and he still understands what we're doing here. You guys should not have any problem." (this is my paraphrase from the gestures, sounds, few words that I understood and the "aah" responses :)

Viral shared the notion that awareness is a spectrum. When awareness is concentrated, we call that focusing, which is very helpful. When awareness is broadened, we have a different experience, that is also helpful. Wisdom is about knowing which awareness is needed in this moment, and that is what we can develop.

One participant talked about a trip from the east coast where he sat next to a woman who shared her life and how she'd done so much for her family. After listening to the long story, the listener, in that moment, with his full heart, appreciated her for who she was, getting beyond duality and into a space where both had an experience they cannot put a label on.

Guri gave the only defense for language (thankfully, or else we shouldn't speak a word from now on), where language can spark off deep experiences. We have all these iJourney reflections through the language used in these pieces. So, we must be balanced and recognize the benefit as the piece suggests.

Finally, it is hard not to be touched by aunty's compassion - she went off for a 10-day, but had cooked for all of us!