You are the sum of your experiences…

The psychiatrist treating Dr. House in the sixth season of “House, MD” quite suddenly revealed the fundamental truth about human personality. He said literally:

“You are the sum of all of your experiences…”

This truth is apparently known, it is not even hidden in any way. Any psychiatrist can tell you what your person is, literally. Why is it so difficult to make the connection and think about myself in these terms?

I am the sum of all of my experiences. My personality is just that – a bunch of interactions with other people that left an imprint on me. I am simply a piece of clay on which thousands of footprints are left by people passing me by daily. There isn’t really anything else. There is no “real me” in the sense that most people, religions and secret teachings talk about. The psychology has figured it all out already, it seems. We just fail to appreciate and apply this knowledge.

That single phrase set off a chain reaction in my head. I realized that while I was hooked on watching “House, M.D.” for the last year or so, I automatically took up Greg House as a role model and started copying him. I crippled myself to the point where it became really painful to walk, took up drinking and became extremely cynical in my speech. My personality is absorbing accessible traits from the personality I watch on the screen. Unfortunately, it cannot absorb the ability to play piano, the beautiful apartment or the cool job of the role model, so I end up worse than I was.

This process is completely automatic. My personality is just that – a machine that copies anything it sees. All my thoughts are a copy of thoughts of others. All my ideas are ideas of others. My behavior is a mashed up heap of traits of others. There is nothing else. Not at this level.… -->

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Are you prepared to deal with non-humanity?

Interesting how the media changes the world, the perception of the world. Just recently, until the nineties, the media (movies, really) was all about defending the Earth against an invasion by some other “thing”, be that Terminator, Aliens, or Martians Attack. Humanity all stood as one and some heroes emerged from within to fight the enemy and defend the humankind from extermination. People showed bravery and heroic abandon in this fight, demonstrating how much they value the Life over their own life.

Since the nineties, we see more and more of the other kind – the humanity is fighting against some enemy that is either external to it or grows from within. The people are weak though and cannot fight the enemy on their own. Now, there is always some external power, be it the Mutants, the Autobots or the Fantastic Four that save the day while humans scream and cower in terror. The heroes are always non-human in some way.

What does it teach us?

  1. We are weak and in the future war we cannot resist the might of the invaders,
  2. So all the humans can and should be prepared to do is cower in a remote corner and weep and that’s okay, because
  3. There is some other form of life that will save us.

Lesson: be prepared to discover the monsters in your midst compared to whom you are nothing but do not get too aggravated because some of them are actually going to protect you from harm out of purely altruistic motives. Great state of mind, eh?… -->

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Robert M. Pirsig, “Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. An Inquiry into Values.”

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.”

One more completely misrepresented book in our world. This book is typically described as a “travel book”, meaning that it contains a travel description, which it is anything but. This is, au contraire, a philosophical treatise explaining the intellectual path to the enlightenment and the state of human “grown-up”. And as the first quote rightly sums it up, the book is about working on yourself and not about motorcycles.

Pirsig claims that he took the name Phaedrus accidentally, meaning to take the Greek word for “wolf” but ending with “bright” by accident. With all due respect, I don’t believe in accidents. “Phaedrus” stands for “enlightened” and that is who he is. The book contains interesting allegories that explain well how the human awareness comes to existence, how we perceive the world, and how we do it all wrong.

We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.

The book has a lot in common with other philosophical and mystical books in that it also describes the path to the enlightenment that a person must take. The path that results in discarding of ego, discarding the very idea of who you are and unlearning everything you learned to start understanding the world.

He wanted to free himself from his own image. He wanted to destroy it because the ghost was what he was and he wanted to be free from the bondage of his own identity. In a strange way, this freedom was achived.

And all of the wisdom is described in a very natural (for our culture) “scientific” language that rings true to the ears of the modern man. The examples are everyday things that one can easily relate to and analogies have true meaning for the man of today. This scores a lot of points when compared to somewhat cryptic Eastern books or works of Carlos Castaneda.

One of the important things that the book mentions is a clear distinction between the glorified self-interest and the true growing-up, the true desire of enlightenment. That self-glorification is the disaster of the today’s world.

Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in a disaster. […] When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you

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What is this woman thinking-feeling?..

Is this not a funny and confusing picture? How do you feel when you see this? It just feels wrong, doesn’t it? Why? What do we assume that contradicts the vision? What instincts tell us about the situation and how does that contradict what we are led to believe in seeing?

First, I thought to make a joke that she is scared to see in daylight what was inside her the night before. But then I thought better of it because, first, the thing is going to be much smaller at breakfast, and, second, why would she be scared instead of admiring it? Women are usually rather playful and cheerful, if a bit subdued, after a good night.

Then I thought, “ah, but maybe she is in love and she is looking up at her master.” But that doesn’t make sense either. She would be then making breakfast for him, not waiting for him to serve her. She would not be so nervous, would she? That look does not really work and the actions clearly contradict such possible conclusion.

Admit it, I concluded, there is no way this situation could play out between a man and a woman. Therefore, the second person must be a woman too. That explains everything. Female dominance and fear. Bloody feminists.… -->

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Next riddle: a train is about to derail

Today’s discussion brought another interesting riddle that at first looked childishly simple:

“Assume that there is a train traveling at a very high speed. The train cannot be stopped. There is a fork in the road ahead and you are in control of the fork. If the train continues as it is, it will derail and kill 100 people. If you switch the tracks and train goes another way, the train will derail and kill 1 person. What do you do?”

I assume this riddle is to get someone into a discussion about why killing one person is better than killing 100. Which is of no interest to me, of course, so my first reaction is that I do not have to get involved and let the events take their place as they are scheduled.

However, I suddenly recognize that the riddle’s setup makes an assumption that is very important. The situation assumes that you were brought somehow, through an improbable chain of events, to control one single point of influence over the situation.

If we take it as true, that means I am brought into the control of the situation for some reason. Not taking action under the circumstances is equivalent to going against the flow of the world because in that case I did not have to be there at all, why bother? The only correct solution to the situation is to take the action that is not equivalent to me being there at all and seeing what happens next. In the case of the train riddle it means I will switch the tracks.

This also comes back to the earlier riddle of the big red button. Assuming that you are brought very specifically in front of that button and got all that explanation and things, you must not shy away from action. The only correct way would be to take the action, press the button and see what happens.… -->

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Big Red Button that kills everyone in Switzerland

Here is a riddle from Jed McKenna’s “Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment”:

– Pretend there’s a big red button on the counter, okay?
– Okay.
– If you press it, you kill everyone in Switzerland.
– Okay.
– If you press it, no one will ever know. You’ll never be blamed or connected to the deaths of all those millions of nice Swiss people.
– Yeah? So?
– So why not press it?

Indeed, why not press the big red button that kills everyone in Switzerland?

I am trying to think for myself but I do not see any reason not to. Funny thing is, I do not see any reason to do it either. When there are no external influences and motivations, basically, I am becoming neutral to this action. Unless there would be an additional compelling reason to do or not to do, I am in the undecided point. The problem with that is that “undecided” is equivalent to “not do” and that is by itself a bias.

The problem is that my ego feels quite happy when I decide not to kill them all, not to push the button. It feels equally happy when I think to myself that I do not have any reason to push the button and I do not have any reason not to push the button, resulting effectively in me doing nothing, i.e. not pushing the button. The result for the ego feels exactly the same.

If my task is to nuke the ego, to bring it to an end, I probably must make the situation really uncomfortable for the ego, bring it to an untenable position. And the only way to do that in this particular simulation is to press the button. So, in the end, there may be a compelling reason to press that button, apparently. Interesting.… -->

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Jed McKenna – “Spiritual Enlightenment, The Damnedest Thing”

You know how this famous saying in oriental spiritual philosophy goes, that when a student is ready, the teacher arrives? I think that this saying is entirely true. When the student is ready, the teacher always arrives. Just don’t be literal about it, the teacher does not have to arrive in the shape of a wise old man with a white beard. What arrives really is the knowledge that you are ready for. And it may arrive as a conversation on a plane, a movie, a new acquaintance, or a book.

This book is great. I feel like reading my own thoughts but well organized and neatly put together. It’s a great book and gives this necessary kick to face the reality. Only I would not recommend it. And I don’t. Usually, when I read a great book, I run around advising everyone and their dog to read it. Not this time, though. Even trying to discuss the ideas in this book with people who read it proves difficult, not to mention trying to impose it on someone who is not interested in serious business of demolishing self. So, I do not recommend it. You will find it when you are ready for it. Or you will find something else. It does not matter. This book is not entertainment, it has to be taken literally, just like the books of Castaneda are. So, don’t. Unless you are fed up with the world as it is and want to look for the truth.

If you do, then this book helps a lot to organize your own thoughts and it tells you what you needed to hear all along: forget about external knowledge, you have work to do, work on yourself, so go and do it.… -->

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Ego is a tool … and we are all insane …

What is “ego”? The part that thinks of itself as “I”? Ego is basically a tool for existing in this world. Ego is the tool that we create in order to perceive a coherent world and be able to communicate about it with others, who have developed the same tool, in a coherent manner. It is a perception and communication tool.

Now, why do we associate with it? Or, rather, why do we allow ego to take over and associate itself with the totality of our being? This is the same as if I made a hammer, held it up and say “I am hammer!” and the other hammer next to me would go “Hey, nice to meet you! I am a hammer too!” People who associate themselves with various objects and tools usually end up you-know-where for being incoherent with our common agreement that we must associate ourselves with a single universal tool – the ego. The situation is insane. Well, it is perfectly sane from the point of view of the hammer ego but it is insane from the point of view of the human being.

We develop a very complicated and beautiful tool, it is a wonder that allows us to talk about this world, have conversations through other tools of the same kind, enjoy all sorts of things and suffer enormously from the hole deep down that keeps reminding us that we are not the tool. Yes, the tool is wonderful, but it remains a tool. No matter how beautiful the tool is we should be able to put it aside at will. Now that we made the tool, the task is to unlearn it, to make us able to put it down and pick it up when necessary.

Now, how does one disassociate oneself from one’s ego?… -->

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The three pillars of self-importance

The human drama originates in our deep seated conflict between our perception of being the center of the world and the oh-not-so-obvious realization that we are basically nothing. Each human being considers himself to be the most important thing in the world, the center of the universe. Of course, the universe exists within the eye of the beholder, so it is natural to feel that way. If only it was not for our nearly subconscious feeling that we are all, well, less than grains of sand on the shores of time, that we are so inconsequential as to be non-existent for all practical reasons. The conflict between these two leads us to create the three pillars that support our life drama and reinforce our feeling of importance:

  • Perception of wrongness tells us that there is something wrong with the world. Somehow we feel that we are qualified to judge how the world is wrong and what has to be done with it to make it all right.
  • Illusion of separateness deceives us into thinking that we are separate from everything around us, that we somehow can act on that system outside of us and retain our own wholeness.
  • Certainty of free will causes us to swell with self-importance and indulge in our little plays of life while postponing and ignoring the big questions that matter.

If we were but to strike down these three pillars, we would see that there is not really anything left to us. Those three synthetic concepts keep us all righteous and important, protecting us from the world, making sure we cannot see the truth that lies beyond.

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To quit or not to quit? Habits…

Many times I had to give up some habits. Some came back, others not. What is an effective way of quitting something? Giving up does not seem to be easy to me or any other person I know, is there something that can help?

From my own experience I found there are two things that work (and a hundred others that do not). Those are substitution and delay. These are two tactics I want to share in the hope they will help someone some day.

Why does it not work to “simply stop” doing something? Our mind does not make a difference between our body and our psychological state, the mind itself. So all our behaviors, all habits, they are a part of the larger “body” that includes both physical and psychological world. If we ask ourselves to stop doing something, for our subconscious it is the same as chopping off a part of the body, i.e. impossible. You cannot willingly give up a part of your body, why would you give up a part of your psychological “body”?

Enter substitution. We will not ask the subconscious to stop anything knowing well that it is impossible. What we will do is to propose something else instead. I do not know how and why it works but it does. Whenever you have a craving for a cigarette, make love or go for a run instead. Every single time, no exceptions. In a couple of days your habit will get substituted and you will not crave cigarettes anymore, you will crave sex or running. This is truly amazing but that is how it works. Just make sure you substitute something that you are willing to live with for the rest of your life. Hint: craving for food is really a bad habit to create, do not substitute anything with food, okay?

Another possibility is to tell yourself that you will do whatever it is you want but you will do it a little later. Tomorrow, for example. The subconscious does not really have a proper concept of time, it lives in the present, so it really does not matter when you say it will happen. I usually say to myself “tomorrow morning”. It helps enormously. You can move any craving to a slightly later period in life, like tomorrow or five minutes later. You will have to do it, but now you have a choice to smoke only one cigarette a day or have only a single meal a day. This works too. Try not to link “later” with other events in your life, like “when I am home” – subconscious can trace and remember those and coming… -->

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