Saturday, December 13, 2008

To Un-Ring the Bell

I may be going out too far on a Buddhist limb, but I've come to the conclusion that "feelings" are very real and extremely important.

-The Reality-
As far as I've seen the workings of the mind explained, its all activity in a very objective reality. When scientists strive to map areas of the brain, they use PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans and other means. The colors of the PET indicate chemical events. A patient looks at a picture of a cat, one pattern is seen in the scan. The listens to music, another pattern. People with too much or not enough of one chemical or another banging around in the brain are depressed, or hyper, or hallucinating, or drunk. Every thought we have is the result of some real physical change in our brain. Some electron moving in a molecule. A molecule folding or running into another.

All thoughts are "reality as it is" in that the events giving rise to what we experience as thought are physically occurring.

The weird bit in this is that our minds (and for minds I mean that undefinable, spiritual thingy) can direct this hive of activity. We can, to large extent, direct how the reaction soup of our brain will churn. Many things are well beyond the complete grasp of mind, like being startled, quick motion of menacing shapes catching our attention, alarm when the floor drop away from under our feet, confusion at a loud bang, and some things are totally in minds control, like choosing which words, if any, to focus on, reminiscing about last Christmas, etc...

Emotions, I think, are events in the brain, part hardwired and part habit where a whole bunch of a particular neurotransmitter gets dumped in the brain and has lasting effect until it dissipates. This is more a representation of what happens, not the real science. Sensory input comes in, and combined with some thought-habits, a bunch of "sad-enol" is released, and, voila, I am sad. In another case it might be "mad-enol" and a get angry. In each case its part hardwire, deep brain, evolutionary protection reactions and part thought-habits.

Depending on our thought-habits the "disturbance" of the emotion lasts longer or not. When something happens and "sad-enol" is released, I can, in part, choose to reminisce on bad things that have happened and spiral down into even deeper sadness. Or in some other way think, think, think and keep the waves of disturbance choppy.

This thesis requires a presumption of a neutral state. Where there are no sensory inputs triggering natural reactions and no thought-habits doing the same. I believe this is "content" maybe even "happy"

-The Importance-
In this thesis, the reaction to anything has a hardwire contribution. The hardwire is the part common among us all of this species, and has served to facilitate our survival. The hardwire must, of course, alos be part unique among us all, just like no two hearts, ears or stomachs are formed exactly the same. So the "natural" reaction for person [A] seeing a bat fly at them might be a 7, and person [B], a 3 on the fear scale.

The Point -> Do not suppose you should suppress emotions. Do not suppose emotions are bad or out of place. They are "real" phenomenon, based in real physical activities in your brain. Do not think a "good buddhist" must be stoic all the time. Achieving a constant, outwardly stoic demenor, for example, only means that whatever naturally arises in your brain, your thought-habits rush wildly to compenstate so that the external appearance is non-disturbance.

But you can influence your thought-habits. You can learn to be surprised, or sad, or angry to the "natural" amount, and not escalate things with your mind's activity on it. This, I think, is the "middle way." When you sit zazen, your nervous system balances. You can experience your brain with no extraordinary inputs. You can learn how your thought-habits influence what goes on in your mind.

Though I do not claim to be able to achieve it consistently, I believe non-thinking is just the state when my self contribution, my thought-habits, are stilled to nothing, and only my natural brain activity is doing its thing. And in a zazen location with no bears, or bangs, or a crying child related to me, my natural brain activity would be very neutral.

So, Uku mentioned in a comment a while back of Nishijima's idea in "To Meet the Real Dragon" that sitting zazen is like striking a bell, the vibrations continue on for much of the day. And if you sit twice a day for a long, consistent, practice, the vibrations harmonize, and reinforce each other, and have greater influence.

I would like to turn that idea around with the model I've got of the brain and thought-habits. We can learn, I believe, to stop all the "motion" we add with our thinking to the events around us. And the more we sit, the more we can carry that stillness as a habit.

We can, so to speak, learn to un-ring the bell.


Uku said...

Great post! Oh yes, everything is just as it is. Delusions and problems are only in our deluded minds.

Thank you.

With palms together,

Jordan said...

Merry Christmas!