Category Archives: The Meaning of Life

Your You-ness

Created December 17th, 2020

To recap recent posts, this series within Pebbles in the Pond, “On the Road to Flow”, is aimed at helping you establish yourself in the Observer state, so as to be able to spring into the Flow state more often. We kicked off the series by reviewing the work of Abraham Maslow, who identified the existence of these higher states of consciousness, which he called “peak experiences”. We then introduced the work of Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, who identified a higher state that Maslow had not alluded to directly but which ought to fall within Maslow’s definition of peak experiences. This he called the Flow state, and it is characterized by perfect action doing itself and a disappearance of the difference between self and other, a unity of self with the entire experience bubble (as I call it).

I introduced my additional higher state I call the Observer state, which appears to be the first step on the ladder upward from normal waking consciousness. I provided some preliminary takeaways about how to know when you are in the Observer state, and how not to immediately kick yourself out of the Flow or Observer states when you get there. After this post we shall turn from theory to practice: takeaways helpful to getting into and staying in these higher states.

I promised at the end of the prior post to discuss one more eminent philosopher of psychology in this issue, and because I used the hint “Ego” many of you probably knew I was going to talk about Freud.

To Sigmund Freud, when we are born, the original self we are is the Id, an animal-like mentality devoid of conscience, and the Ego arises as a mediator the first time our needs are not immediately cared for. Later we gain a Superego by being taught what civilization expects of us, that is the conscience.

I agree with Freud about a few things, and differ about a few. (Of course, what do I know, I am only talking about my own experience, a sample of one.) I agree with Freud that there is “The Me That Was Born”. To me, that is the Observer, the True Self, the Essence, the Witness, The Experiencer, Who We Really Are. To me it does not have conscience nor lack conscience, it is pure of such considerations, but intuitively loves and protects everything. So, quite unlike Freud’s description of the id, the original you-ness is neither animal-like nor intrinsically selfish, in my estimation: it is the pure experiencer, consciousness itself. On the other hand, I agree with Freud’s writings about the source and nature of the Ego and feel that the Superego is part of the Ego.

To me, the Ego consists of the neuronal connections the brain makes, starting when the individual begins to have experiences. Freud likens it to a manager but I think of it more as a press agent, and that’s close enough to know Freud and I are both talking about the same thing.

What I am saying is that the protein constructions the brain builds are the Ego and Superego. The True Self is The Observer that was born. When we get into the Observer state, we are residing in and acting from the Me That Was Born. At all other times, the Observer, The True Self, is merely along for the ride, watching and identifying with the modulations of the mind and feelings generated by the neuronal net the brain has built in a “machine learning” way from internalizing and learning from our experiences.

My hypothesis is that the Ego we think we are is actually like a bio-AI. A robotical system we have become falsely identified with over time, starting from the original terror we felt upon noting our own helplessness and lack of understanding at a world that could and often did hurt us. This subsentience became our tour guide and we trusted it to take care of us. We had no idea how it would enslave us. In the average moment, the average person believes this AI is the self.

What does this mean for you?

You will know you’re not in the Observer state (nor in any higher state) if you are experiencing even mild negative emotion, making judgments that are critical of people or things, rating your own performance – the list goes on and we will cover all of it in this series. These experiences are “tells” that you are centered in your Ego – that built-up defensive self that you were not born with but is now a network of real physical neurons in your brain. In my estimation this evolutionary development is not a positive survival factor – even when we need to protect ourselves the Ego just seems to make things worse – whereas staying out of Ego would make you more formidable and effective in your own self-defense.

Your sense of self (I call “Your You-Ness”) can be in one of two places:

  1. Your true self that was born, which is an observer not obsessively attached to what is going on in experience bubble. The Observer enjoys an intrinsic sense that everything will work itself out and it therefore stays cool. That is where you want your You-ness to reside. And the locus of your You-ness, your sense of self, is controllable, but much trickier than riding a bicycle.
  2. Your Ego, or robot, a mechanistic and deterministic response of a neuronal net biological AI in your brain which evolution thought might be helpful. Science has observed in many species that evolution produces dead ends sometimes.

Takeaways:

  • Keep your sense of self apart from the thoughts, feelings, and images rolling through you. Observe those ephemera and decide if there are gems of wisdom in there anywhere which could be actionable in your current life situation, and let the rest go by.
  • Especially let any annoying thoughts go by, those are definitely the Ego. It can only help you as an alarm clock does, by pointing out that deep down inside a few things are bugging you. Write those down and when you feel like it, look at the bug list dispassionately as if these were concerns one of your children or mentees brought you, asking you to make it better. Intelligently and without excessive caring determine what your best advice will be to your Ego-self.

To be continued.

My best to all,

Bill

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The Quest for Peak Experiences

Created December 4th, 2020

Abraham Maslow described peak experiences as “sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, with an awareness of ultimate truth and the unity of all things.”

Have you had such experiences? Even if it doesn’t exactly fit Maslow’s definition, can you select one experience that might have been the best moment of your life so far? If you can, relive it now as best you can. It might help to close your eyes and take your time to let the memory fully form.

One of the reasons why Maslow thought so much about “self-actualization” as he called it, is because of the link he intuited between being a self-actualized person, and having larger numbers of peak experiences.

It wasn’t just his intuition, he himself was aware of how over the course of his life he graduated from being driven by the things that drive the mass of humanity – such as insecurity, the need to belong, money, lack of self-esteem, the desire to be held in high esteem by others – to a state in which those things were no longer important (because he had them all), and he was doing the work he loved and adding to the science of psychology each day. He had become self-actualized – understanding his own individuality and his gifts, and was expressing them every day, having the time of his life, replete with frequent peak experiences. His work in those years was an effortless mission to share these things with other people, so that they too could experience what he was experiencing, but in each case centered around the individual’s own personal potentials.

Owing to my parents having me perform on stage starting when I was four, I had peak experiences very early in life, and they caused me to become fascinated with my own consciousness and its various states. This became the through-line of my life. I wanted to learn how to bring these peak experiences about, and once I found some ways that worked, I kept a “scientific” journal of the methods that worked. Later I would write MIND MAGIC to share some of these methods life had taught me, quite a few of which I had identified before I was twelve, although my understanding of them continued to grow day by day. (The book is free during the pandemic at the preceding link.)

I thought of those peak experiences rather differently than Maslow. To me, what was remarkable about the experiences was not that feeling of well-being and unity, but the fact that my stage performances were doing themselves at a level of expertise which I had never experienced before. Later, studying both philosophy and psychology at the college where Abe had been head of the psychology department (Brooklyn College), although loving Maslow’s work, the connection between his and my models of experience did not strike me. By contrast, many years later, when I discovered the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, head of the psychology department at Chicago University, and his term “Flow state”, I had a peak experience and a thrill of recognition that my lifelong project wasn’t something that only happened to me.

Recently, a social science colleague of mine, Judy Langer, invited me to give a Zoom class on Maslow at The Center for Learning & Living in Manhattan. It gave me an opportunity to ruminate for the class on how my own self-taught methods and ideas related to both Abe’s and Mihaly’s work (I never had the privilege of meeting Abe, but did have that honor in Mihaly’s case, and he agreed to be an advisor to my nonprofit The Human Effectiveness Institute).

Here is the slide that I used:

This slide tells you how I view the work of Maslow, Mihaly and myself, and how we are all describing the same things, but organizing our data differently.

In my way of looking at things, introspection with concentration – you can also call it meditation – is what gets us into the Observer state and then into the Flow state. I believe Maslow grouped the Observer and Flow state experiences into what he called peak experiences.

To all three of us, normal waking consciousness is a state in which our behavior and our sense of experience is highly dominated by outside forces, we are trying to fit in, be accepted, get along, move up, and do not feel disposed to much self-examination. When we do notice our inner experience it is largely one of anxiety to one degree or another, unable to break away from what negative events could befall us.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs postulated that we would be obsessed by a given need until it was satisfied, at which point we became obsessed with a slightly “higher” need. We move up from being dominated by insecurity to being driven by a need to feel that we belong, and once having achieved that, it was self-esteem and the esteem of others that caused our behavior and our experience of life.

This series of posts will continue and the aim ultimately is to provide a condensed set of recommendations aimed at freeing you, the reader, from the conditioned motivators in your subconscious, so that you can enjoy more peak experiences, become self-actualized (if you are not already), and then self-transcendent, in a steady state of Flow and peak experience where what happens to everyone around you is more motivating than what happens to you, because you are already complete and feeling the unity.

I think of this series of posts which start here as “On the Road to Flow”. In the next post I will unpack the slide above.

My best to all,

Bill

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Infusing Life with Meaning

Originally posted September 29, 2015

In the absence of knowing, I’ve found a way to arrive at decisions that works extremely well for me. I call it Game Theory.

With Game Theory, when I don’t know what the outcome will be, I list possible outcomes and then see which ones I like, and what end result I want to create. Then see if I can make decisions that will get me moving in one of those preferred directions.

How much meaning do I want to see in life, in my every day, second-to-second life? If I want there to be rich meaning abounding, then I can choose to use a lens that gives me that view — a lens that makes things more explainable and understandable.

For example, in terms of the nature of reality, there are really only two clusters of lenses to choose from. One says there is something like a God, and the other says there is nothing like a God.

Through the lenses that say there is something like a God, there may appear to be an abundance of meaning in our lives. In the other cluster of lenses, there may appear to be a dearth of meaning — much happens that makes no sense, nor do we expect it to make sense.

I was in this lens for many years. It came from being so impressed by science as a kid. I can testify that there are good things about this lens. For one thing, it makes us feel terrifically autonomous, as independent thinkers, since most of the world is viewing things from the other stance. It sometimes strips away so many considerations that we quickly look at situations and see the barest of elements, the quintessence. There is a certain minimalist “cleanliness” if not clarity to this view.

Emotionally, the lens of being alone in an unbenevolent universe can be toughening, allowing us to more easily become fatalistic and to shed many of our attachments. We don’t make assumptions but are very common sense and down to earth: very empirical. We don’t lean on illusions or faith or anyone else to define reality. All of which can be good.

Another viewpoint, which I have dubbed the “Something like God exists” lens, affords meaning to everything.

Imagine Everything is a gift from the universe.

If you yearn to have more meaning in your life, I suggest using this lens without believing it to be the truth or disbelieving it. This way, you will always see the meanings you ascribe as tentative, without becoming locked into them or attached to your view. You may also see a wealth of value in using this lens, imbuing more meaning in your life.

Pope Francis’ visit to the US offers a great example of the utility of wearing the “Something like God exists” lens. Regardless of the religious beliefs you hold (or not), it’s difficult at best to not acknowledge the palpable message of love, hope and caring for one another that emanated so powerfully from the Pope’s presence even more than from his words, which were also so beautifully spoken.

None of us, not even Pope Francis, really knows the meaning of life. It is all a wonderfully thrilling awesome unknown, which makes life interesting, mysterious-mystical, immense, awe-inspiring. Wouldn’t we be missing something if we did know everything?

Since God or a universal intelligence of some kind* cannot be ruled out, wearing the “Something like God exists” lens allows you to start seeing possible reasons why certain things have happened — as if the universe is trying to help you by putting certain training obstacles in your path. I call this noia — being the opposite of paranoia.

By seeing things as possible gifts from the universe even if they are not, and even if they don’t feel like gifts at the time, we gain some leverage from being able to see how to use the event constructively.

Best to all,

Bill

* For a deeper dive into universal intelligence, see my book You Are The Universe: Imagine That.

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Originally posted 2015-09-29 09:45:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

What Is the Meaning of Life? – Revisited

Originally posted September 1, 2015

When I was younger, I would ask this question whenever anyone, even a tour guide in a museum, asked me if I had any more questions.

The greatest thing you'll ever learn

Internally, it’s the question I asked myself multiple times a day all my life until I felt sure of the answer, which occurred sometime in my 30s.

The underlying question is “What is the meaning of ‘meaning’ in this context?”

The intent of the question is to understand what life is, what its purpose is (if any), what the universe is, what its purpose is (if any), why we are here, who we are, how we are to behave, what our relation is to one another, is there a God, and why are we compelled to consider any of this as relevant or meaningful to the second-to-second management of our personal business of existence.

One alternative to asking and answering this question to one’s own satisfaction is to go about life happily without caring about the question (which could be a Zen-like answer in itself, essentially filing the question away into the “Overthinking” file). Another alternative is to consider life meaningless, which many existentialists did in the last century.

Other than an intuition I had at age 12 that “I am God and so is everyone else”, which I tucked away as an interesting but unexplained aberration, the meaninglessness of life was my own position for the first 30-odd years of life. Around age 20, as I studied philosophy, I put reasoning around this earlier intuition, deciding that one took positions like this based solely on aesthetic preference, since knowability of the answer to What Is the Meaning of Life? was apparently beyond our scope.

In my 30s I had some unusual experiences that also reminded me of similar experiences in my childhood, at which point I felt as I do now — a very strong conviction that I actually know the answer.

The way I see it, all that exists is a single consciousness of such great computing power as to know everything that goes on within itself instantaneously at all times (though God or the One Self is above time). Since we don’t share this omniscience, God gets to play our roles with more drama and excitement. So the meaning of life must be to realize and enjoy this game as our true Original Self does, and thereby re-merge into the Original Consciousness.

I talk about this theory more in my book You Are The Universe: Imagine That.

From a practical standpoint, life becomes most meaningful for us to the extent that we realize our own unique gifts; we love doing the things inspired by those talents; we develop a life plan around sharing these things with others, and then we go forward with that plan without being attached to the outcome.

We then have a Purpose, a Mission, which satisfies the thinking mind of our own meaningfulness. Just as I go into meetings with awareness of my preferred outcomes, I set them aside at the last minute so I can go with the meeting flow, taking the standpoint of simply trying to help out everyone else in the meeting as best I can. Pragmatically and empirically, this appears to work best in balancing out the complexities of life as well.

So “What is the meaning of Life?” Enjoying it, loving it, loving all, and helping others to do the same.

“The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
In return.”
— “Nature Boy”, by Nat King Cole

Best to all,

Bill

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Originally posted 2015-09-01 11:34:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Appointment with Destiny

NEW Post!

 June 21, 2019

Every Life
embodies a concept,
a plan for a Life:
The One can see it all coming,
where it can go,
up, down, down, up.
Will it reach its Destiny Goal?

My theory of a Conscious Universe is not the first cosmology to conclude that a single Self is all that exists. It appears most explicitly in Kashmir Shaivism, almost as explicitly in Kabbalah, Esoteric Christianity, Sufism, Buddhism, Taoism, and implicitly in all other great religions.

My theory of a Conscious Universe is that Consciousness is defined as that which experiences, and everything that exists is a single Consciousness.

Here’s how I see this theory playing out:

  • Every life embodies a conception of a unique and novel individual, and an ideal plan for that life.
  • The One Self gets to live through that offshoot in the originalrole-playing videogame.
  • The Universe loves this creativity, as its form of play: avatar creation and living a unique new life.

During the pre-launch phase of each and every avatar/life, The One envisions each life ahead of time. The Original Self sees the challenges each life will face and where that life could get distracted, what experiences each will need to grow into their fullest potential, and what experiences could hamper them. The One also can see the outcome of each life and individual, when the unique gifts packaged in each avatar are fully expressed to a grateful world.In my theory, the Universe provides us with clues as to the best action to take to achieve our greatest potential.

Will each individual reach their destined goal? Because of Free Will it can go either way; there’s the fun. If it was totally predictable it would be no fun for The One. That’s how Free Will benefits The One who bestows it to HerHimself in the infinite roles played out through each unique individual.

We knowselfness, each person’s essential individuality, exists. Imagine with an open mind for a moment that all of the above is true.

I believe my life’s destiny is to reinterpret, demystify and integrate theories and new models about the purpose of life, first for myself and then to share my conclusions with others.

What’s yours? What is your ideal life, based on your unique gifts?

What is your Appointment with Destiny?

P.S. I wrote a book that delves more deeply into my theory of a Conscious Universe and explores the Single Self theories from the spiritual disciplines — not what I know to be true, but my best shot at a theory that makes everything fit together for me. Click to read a free excerpt of You Are The Universe.

Best to all, Bill

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