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25. Beginner’s Mind

25. Beginner’s Mind

Shunrio Suzuki, the great Zen master who first introduced Zen to the West is quoted as saying, “Achieving enlightenment is not difficult. What is difficult is maintaining a beginner’s mind.”

Most Westerners, when they hear this for the first time have no idea what he means. It sounds ridiculous. Our society values and admires our “experts”. The whole point in being a “beginner” is to later become and expert, right? Why hold on to the ignorance of the beginners mind?

But Suzuki is not talking about our knowledge when he says “beginner’s mind.” He’s talking about the way we relate to that knowledge. Do we use the information, or does the information narrow our scope of inquiry?

The simple way Suzuki put it was, “In the beginners mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s, there are few.”

Gary Zukov in The Dancing Wu-Li Masters uses Einstein as a classic example of the beginner’s mind. A beginner sees things the way they are, not the way they must be. Scientists at the turn of the century knew that the luminiferous aether must be. They knew light was a wave and that waves needed to travel in something. Thus, there MUST be ether for it to travel in.

Einstein saw what was. The speed of light was proven to be constant regardless of the motion of the viewer by the Michaelson Morley experiment. All Einstein did was raise this fact’s status from paradox to postulate and voilla the Special Theory of Relativity was born.

Now that the speed of light was no paradox, Einstein gave us other paradoxes that we have lived with since. In Special Relativity, the Twins Paradox allows for one twin to grow old on earth during a short, but very fast trip for her twin sister.

Of course his greatest paradox was his discovery and acceptance of what was rather than what must be when he proved that light is a particle as well as a wave. This was what won Einstein the Nobel Prize, and underlies all the “weirdness” associated with quantum physics.

In many ways, I guess that’s what this book is an attempt to do. To recapture the beginners mind in terms of my own attitudes and allow the Shamanistic cure to do its thing.

Despite being a hardened rationalist.

Despite being an expert and “knowing” better.

I like to think and hope that my recent flirtation with delusion was more caused by my attempt to maintain a “beginner’s mind” than by the beginnings of dementia or a slide into schizophrenia.

In my support, I can point to the fact that from the beginning I saw the delusions as “potential” delusions. Nevertheless, I was unwilling to dismiss them as delusions from the beginning. I took my time to think them through and analyze them with an open mind first.

Well, a somewhat open mind, anyway. An open mind combined with my aforementioned nemesis, “hope springing eternal.” That’s not the same as an open mind of course. That’s wish fulfillment with a nice euphemism attached.

In my current condition, I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate wish fulfillment entirely. I do so desperately want to cure this thing that I’m willing to suspend disbelief in every direction.

Anyway, it occurred to me that perhaps this is one of the ways ayahuasca works its magic on some people. Through its hallucinogenic images, it forces the patient into adopting the “beginner’s mind.”

They say that “seeing is believing,” and while I consider that an overstatement, especially for experienced psychedelic users, the ayahuasca visions are supposed to be unparalleled in their believability.

They most definitely cause “cognitive dissonance” for anyone who experiences them. Remember from the previous chapter, there are two ways people can deal with cognitive dissonance. The individual can either discard the original belief or disregard the contradictory evidence.

In my case, my original belief is that of Rationalism. Spooks and spirits, superstitions, gods and all the other “supernatural” stuff don’t fit and get tossed. The contradictory evidence will be the strength of the ayahuasca visions. If they are strong enough, hopefully I’ll “discard the original belief” (Rationalism) long enough for the placebo effect to engage and really cure me.

Once cured, I can then slowly work myself back into my original beliefs if I so desire. Actually, it will probably happen even if I don’t desire it. Living in Western society makes it next to impossible for me to hold onto any belief system other than Rationalism.

At the moment, I’m deep into Rationalism again. I regard this whole ayahuasca attempt as an act of desperation, (which it undoubtedly is) with little chance of success. Like Suzuki says, in the expert’s mind there are few possibilities.

I am counting on the ayahuasca to make me a beginner again…

July 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

24. Cognitive Dissonance

24. Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance:

“Dissonance” is a state of psychological discomfort that results from a conflict between a currently held belief and evidence that an opposing belief may be true. Beliefs can encompass ideas, attitudes, and opinions held by an individual and are expressed through thoughts and behaviors.

A critical component of cognitive dissonance theory is that the contradictory evidence that is presented to an individual must be credible evidence. Otherwise there would be no need for the individual to struggle with these competing beliefs. Once dissonance occurs, individuals are highly motivated to resolve this struggle.

There are two general categories of resolutions, the individual can either discard the original belief or disregard the contradictory evidence.

Encyclopedia of Educational Technology

If you couldn’t tell from my writing, that was happening to me big time last week. It got to the point that I wrote the chapter heading Cognitive Dissonance and I froze. Couldn’t write another word. I didn’t know what to write. I didn’t know what I thought.

It’s four days later now, and I’m fine again, thank you. Actually, thank you to my wife and friend Sherrie who helped talk me down from the heights of that spooky business I had gotten sidetracked onto with Sauren.

Spooky it was, (cue in Theremin music) though it’s completely behind me now, I think. This was the sort of non-rational point of view I was hoping to attain with the help of the ayahuasca, not in real life beforehand…

What brought me back solidly to consensus reality was my own realization that if something spooky was indeed happening, how could I be sure that it was to my benefit and not an “evil spirit” sent to put me off the true path? I couldn’t be sure at all…

In fact, those “thingies” I had seen under the nitrous certainly hadn’t seemed particularly concerned with my welfare. They most definitely seemed to have their own agendas.

That being the case, all the “signals” that I picked up might have been there to help or to hurt me, with no possible way of figuring out which.

In contrast, toss the spookiness and all’s well. I can still help Sauren, and he me, without my having to attach any mystical character to the relationship.

By the end of the last chapter I knew that I had to get out of the weirdness. I wrote that I would “pretend” it was an ordinary friendship. Remember? “Just lucky…”

But now I don’t feel like I’m pretending. Most of the synchronicities were Wilson’s rule of 23s. The others were truly unusual, but the unusual happens every day. Especially in Santa Cruz, as my wife pointed out. I have managed to find mundane explanations for almost every “fantastic” event that ever happened to me.

I am keenly aware of the “reality building” I do every day.

Forget about finding the “true” reality.

It doesn’t exist… It’s a made up concept in our minds. (Thanks, Plato…)

Find the reality that works best for you. (Thanks, William James…)

What I hope will work for me is the ayahuasca convincing me I am cured. Shouldn’t be too hard, I now realize. Just meeting a cool new friend was enough to send me to the moon, rationally speaking, of course.

Bob believes ayahuasca actually cures from its own properties rather than via the placebo effect. He may well be right, at least as far as cancer is concerned. There is so little information about ayahuasca vs. MS that I have to stick with my placebo approach. The point is that it will cease to be a placebo as far as I am concerned when the drug experience convinces me otherwise. If you thought I sounded nutty the last couple of chapters, well…

“You ain’t seen nuttin yet!”

July 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment