Theory, Philosophy and Science
“The mind is a fantastic tool and a terrible master”
If it’s all up to us then we need to do some work. We all know how we could be or should be but most of us fail to even achieve a small percentage of our potential. One part of us pulls in one direction whilst another part, or several, pull in the opposite direction. The result is a no result and a slow erosion of our self confidence to create what we want to create in the world – a slow acceptance of things as they are rather than as we might wish them to be. The simplest way to explain this is with an analogy – 70% of people who undergo open heart surgery don’t change their ways afterwards – even though they know they should. Why is that? Surely with the threat of imminent death one might find the motivation needed to change one’s life threatening ways?
It’s easy to dismiss this scenario with a flippant ‘That wouldn’t be me’ comment but all of us have situations like this in our lives. We know we should exercise more but we just can’t get it together to do it. We know we shouldn’t eat sweet things but when we stand at the buffet table confronted by chocolate éclairs and oh so nice looking cakes a little voice inside us says ‘Just this once’.
So – Self Mastery – the battle between the self and the self. And not Self Control – where one part of you stands over the rest of you like a strict school teacher with a big stick – ready to give you a big whack the second you step out of line – boring !!
No – Self Mastery – the ability to determine what you want in life and then the ability to master your emotional and physical responses so that you can work towards actively creating it. Self Mastery – as in the ability to BE who you want to BE – in love and joyfulness – and to DO what you want to DO – in peace and harmony. Self Mastery as in – I am the master of myself and my life – in perfect alignment with my deepest heartfelt purpose and passions.
Self Mastery is vital now because of the changes we are going through in the world. As I have written already – the old ways are failing us, our institutions have failed us. It’s time to step up. Time to take responsibility. Time to stop handing over our personal power to others. Time to let go of fear and greed. Time to embrace our power as co-creators. Time to contribute to the creation of a new world.
To do this we need to be able to not only work out what we are doing here and what we want from life but also to align ourselves with our deepest purpose and create it pro-actively. Not simply react to whatever is going on around us.
To do this we need to be able to be comfortable in uncertainty. Comfortable with who we are and able to continue to act when things don’t make sense in the moment – not just running fearfully away from life when the way forward is unclear.
Self Mastery is about being all of who you are in truth and love.
Theories, theories and more theories…
So are you sold on the tantalising prospect of Self Mastery?? Do you want to know more??
Let’s start with some theory.
What about if we start with what’s in our head? How are we hard wired? What are we actually dealing with in terms of this thing called our brain? Neuroscience has uncovered some amazing things in the last few years. The advent of new technologies that make it possible to monitor what is actually happening in the brain has changed the way we think about the brain and our ability to change it.
It’s not my aim here to cover all of these new developments – that would make a book in itself – so let’s just look at the ones that are relevant to the concept and creation on Self Mastery.
First, let’s go back a bit to some basics. It’s pretty well accepted that the brain operates as a ‘Self organising patterning system’. That is – the world is so complex and we are constantly being bombarded by so much information that to enable us to function effectively, the brain looks for patterns in things so that we don’t have to process every little bit of information that we receive. If we did have to do this we would be paralysed by constant analysis.
Dr Edward De Bono uses the analogy of rain falling on a flat desert plain to explain this. At first the rain drops fall into the soil. Then they come together to form pools. Slowly the pools get bigger until the water begins to run to the lowest point. As more water flows along these paths it creates channels as it takes some of the soil with it. Eventually streams and rivers are created. Now the next time it rains the water flows directly along the same pathways because the plain is no longer flat. It has already been shaped by the previous rains.
The same thing happens with our brains. We start off life pretty much as a blank sheet – a flat plain. As we go through life we have experiences and make choices that shape our view of what action works and in doing so we shape the fundamental structure of our brains.
The patterns that we form with our behaviours make life easier for us. For example instead of having to think of all the possibilities when getting dressed in the morning we can simply follow the pattern of putting our pants on our bottom half, our shirt on our top half and our shoes on our feet.
When faced with any scenario our brains are constantly searching for patterns that match memories from the past. Right now you are probably wondering what you may have read or seen that sounds just like this and how what you are reading now fits in with the knowledge and experiences you have already had in your life. If your brain finds a previous experience or pattern that matches you will switch into auto pilot mode.
Let me give you an example – have you been through an experience where you have driven home maybe late at night along a route that you have driven many times before – say home from work or from your parents or friends house. As you turned in the drive way did you suddenly think “Oh we’re here already, I can’t even remember driving home”. That’s because what happens when you get in the car and start your journey is that your brain looks around at the information coming in and finds a match with the memory of driving home. Once it has found the ‘match’ the lower parts of your brain signal to your neo cortex that it can ‘take over from here’ and you switch the driving function into ‘automatic pilot’ enabling your higher brain – or to use anther analogy – your ‘RAM memory’ to think about something else. So, what’s this got to do with Self Mastery ?
Well firstly, recognise that our patterns help us by making life easier but they also limit us in our thinking because the more often we go through a behavioural pattern the more deeply ingrained in our brains it becomes. So much so that once we get to the later years of life – when ours brains have lost a lot of their flexibility – we find that we are extremely stressed and irritated if someone or something causes a change in our routine or patterned behaviour.
In other words – it’s hard to change the course of a river. The second interesting point to take from the field of Neuroscience is that experimenters have now found that the brain makes a decision BEFORE you consciously start thinking about making a decision.
Yes! How bizarre is this? The brain makes a decision BEFORE you consciously start thinking about making a decision SO in reality you only have the power to veto a decision that has already been made.
Now this research blows me away because if that’s the case the question I want to know the answer to is “What is the brain making a decision based on?” The conclusion I have come to is that the brain is making a decision based on EXPECTATION. That is, expectation of what it thinks will happen in the future based on your beliefs about who you are, what you deserve and how the world works.
So – Self Mastery – if that’s the case it is not enough just to change your thinking. If you want to achieve Self Mastery you must be able to change your beliefs and expectations. You must be able to change your internal dialogue and understanding of how the world works at a level deeper than the conscious.
Which brings me to the next point – Neuro plasticity. Science used to believe that after a certain age the brain was fixed and could not be changed. Now neuroscience says that the brain has a high level of plasticity throughout our entire lives. That we can indeed change the fundamental way that we are hardwired just like we can shape a piece of plasticine.
Now the interesting part is the WAY that we can change our brains. It seems that the way the change process works is through focus. Whatever we focus our attention on strengthens the neural pathways around that type of behaviour. This applies whether the behaviour is good or bad AND whether the attention is good or bad. In other words punishing bad behaviour strengthens the neural pathways around the BAD behaviour…
So, one final point with regard to the field of neuroscience. The last bit is to do with the two hemispheres of our brain. In layman’s terms our left hemisphere works as a serial processor and our right hemisphere works as a parallel processor. That means the left hemisphere likes patterns, meaning and logical order whilst the right tends to go with the flow and be more creative and lateral.
Now to reach our highest potential is to be at the point where our left and right hemispheres are working together, in balance and in harmony. If we can get to this point then we have the benefit of duality of thought – that is in the same moment we can appreciate the order in the world AND accept the uncertainty. We can have grand visions and work towards them AND be truly present accepting what comes up in the moment.
A bit of Philosophy
So, now that we have cherry picked some key findings from the field of neuroscience lets take a look at the question of how the world works from an intellectually or ‘thinking’ perspective. Remembering that your belief of how the world works will not only shape your behavioural patterns but will also influence the decisions your brain is making BEFORE you start thinking about the question…
If Philosophy is the study of the nature of life then the first branch of philosophy is existentialism which examines the nature of existence. Once you decide that you do exist – in other words – that this life you are living is not an imaginary construct ala ‘The Matrix’. Then arguably the next branch of philosophy you can move into is Ontology which examines the nature of ‘being’.
In previous writings I’ve introduced the model below which considers the three domains of Being – the past, present and the future.
PAST PRESENT FUTURE THE 3 DOMAINS OF BEING
We begin life much as blank canvas – remember the flat desert plain analogy from the neuroscience discussion?
As we learn new things we form opinions about what is right and wrong behaviour. We make judgements about ourselves and others and we accumulate experiences that feed into our view of ‘how the world works’. We also start to tell ourselves a story about who we are, what our place in the world is and what we believe we deserve from the world. From all of this we form our beliefs and expectations.
Now as we stand in the present, at any given moment we are confronted with situations that require us to make choices. So immediately what our brain does is look backwards at all of our past experiences – madly searching like a super computer – for situations that were similar. This is where the patterns from the neuroscience discussion come into play – remember those?
From these previous experiences we select the situation where our actions produced the best result – we make a few minor modifications – and then we bring that action back into the present.
Note that in doing this we have never given ourselves complete freedom of choice – we have only considered a series of options. In this way we have brought the past into the present. Most of us are doing this about 90 to 95% of the time. And in fact when they try to monitor the thoughts we have researchers find that we have about 90 – 95% of the same thoughts as we had yesterday.
So it’s our patterns again. Our patterns of thinking and responding that trap us in a re-active way of living and being.
Now – there is nothing wrong with this if you are happy with how you are being right now because if you are then this way of continuos improvement allows you to make incremental changes which collectively make your life better. It is also very safe and risk free because you’ve done it all before and in fact living this way you ‘know everything’.
The problem arises when the world is in flux and massive change is happening in the macro environment – hmmm let’s say a revolution for example. Maybe a scenario where our institutions have failed us, our planet is suffering and a mass spiritual awakening is called for. Sound familiar? If that’s the case then we need to be able to live more in the future/present loop.
This loop is inherently more risky because there is no evidence, in the form of past tangible experience, that supports any vision or dream you may have that lives in the future. It does allow us complete freedom of possibility though and it allows us to be pro-actively creative. So this is a key part of Self Mastery – the ability to hold ourselves in the future/present creative loop and then to act in perfect alignment with this.
Most of us only do this 5 – 10% of the time and mostly only because we have gotten so pissed off with current circumstances that we’ve decided that the risk of doing something radical is better than just sitting back and putting up with things the way they are.
Now, I’m not suggesting shifting to being 100% in the future/present loop – this would defeat the whole purpose because if you are just living in the future then you’re just day dreaming.
We live in a material world and the intersection between the spiritual and material world is in the present moment.
Power lies in the present moment. Being lies in the present moment. Flow lies in the present moment. Happiness lives in the present moment.
From an ontological perspective, Self Mastery is about gaining mastery over all three domains of being. Creating clear vision for the future, being in the moment and acting in alignment with that vision, and putting to bed issues from the past that prevent you from being who you want to be.
I know I have gone through this bit really quickly, keep reading as it will make more sense as we go through the principles of Self Mastery.
Take these points though – your intellectual construct of how the world works influences your beliefs and expectations which in turn influence how your brain filters the information it receives so that it fits the patterns upon which it makes decisions and acts.
Secondly, to be proactively creative in the world you need to be able to get into the future/present loop of being which requires you to take risk and be comfortable in uncertainty.
Last but not least – it’s all about ‘being’. Buddhism teaches that our unhappiness is caused by craving for the future to be a certain way or aversion of events from the past. Research into happiness shows that the key is to be in ‘flow’ with what is happening in the present – hence releasing ourselves from past or future concerns.
Self Mastery requires an awareness of the three states of ‘being’ and the ability to manage our ‘becoming’ so that we can BE who we want to BE.
And a bit of Science
The last piece in the jigsaw puzzle comes from the field of Quantum Physics. This is the study of the very small and it has thrown up some incredible findings that have stumped the best scientists in the world.
Remember again that our focus here is the concept of Self Mastery – so how can the field of Quantum Physics contribute to that?
Probably the most relevant and interesting thing that Quantum Physics is showing us is the scientific basis for many spiritual teachings. It tells us that we all exists within a Quantum Field that links us all together as one. So – all is one – we are all swimming around in this quantum soup together.
It also tells us that the act of observing something changes the way that it is. Bizarre eh? For example the act of observing light can shift its form from a wave to a particle. Yes – the shift is caused by the act of observation. This is called ‘the observer effect’ in quantum physics.
Now – let’s go back to neuroscience and we find that there is an observer affect in the brain as well. That is, whatever we observe or put our attention on strengthens. This is changing the way we think about behavioural change because it says that the act of thinking about your problems strengthens your problems.
So, we are the storyteller and we are also the story. Our act of observation influences the world which in turn influences us. Stranger and stranger eh? But wait there’s more – in quantum physics there is also a ‘non-locality’ effect. Such that particles that were once connected to each other when separated continue to have an effect on each other. This effect happens instantaneously and seems to be irrespective of distance.
What this means is that the world is made up of energy that is all interlinked and that we can not only have an effect on the world by what we observe and how we think about it BUT we can also do it at a distance.
The work of Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto shows just how these findings can be applied. He has conducted experiments on how the intentions and feelings of researchers affect water. His books including. ‘The hidden messages’ in water show how our collective intentions and the way we treat each others has a profound effect on the very structure of the water that we drink and bathe in.
Quantum physics shows us that we are not powerless to affect the world that we live in. In fact if we are masters of our thoughts, emotions and intentions then we have an amazing ability to affect not only our immediate world but he world in general.
Theory, Philosophy and Science
Could we put this all together and form a cohesive basis for the concept of Self Mastery?
Neuroscience says our patterns and the beliefs and expectations that underpin these are key. Our subconscious patterns and beliefs pre-determine the decisions we make and create a world in line with our expectations. But that we have an endless ability to change and reshape our brain. Ontological philosophy says change the anchor points that shape your behaviour. Become a master at managing the three domains of being and then be powerful in the present moment. By changing your intellectual construct of how the world works you change your beliefs and expectations and hence influence the very functioning of your brain.
Quantum Physics says we are all in a quantum soup – spiritual teachings are right – we are all one. We have a profound ability to influence the world and what we focus on we change. We are the story and we are the storyteller. So by telling a different story about ourselves we change what we believe about ourselves and what we deserve which in turn influences how we are ‘being’ and in turn influences our brains.
So – back to changing the world.
If the theory holds then – inner transformation must preceded any outer transformation. Forget about trying to change the world. Change yourself instead and the world will change around you.
What we focus on has massive ramifications for the structure of our brains and also our beliefs about our selves. Hence strength training – having the ability to consciously focus on what we want and what we are doing right - is key.
Belief is all powerful. I believe therefore I am. Intention + Belief = Creation What we intend with heartfelt belief we create.
Finally, and most importantly – we are co-creators – not sole creators – so our intentions intermingle with all other beings to create our world. This is why it is so important at this time of great change not to sit back and observe but rather to consciously play a part in creating our world.
This is why it is time for us all to step up and become masters of our selves.