Part Five: Beyond an Idea
In the words of Albert Einstein, ‘no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness on which it was created’. If our global problem of social disconnection stems from identification with the thought of who we are (ego), thus disconnecting us from our bodies in the present moment and creating an illusion of separateness, what does the above statement suggest regarding the solution?
In 1946, nearly a year on from the devastating atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the article Atomic Education Urged by Einstein was published in the New York Times in which Einstein appealed for support in a bid to find ‘a new type of thinking’ capable of harnessing scientific discovery to serve and benefit humanity, rather than destroy it. The dawn of nuclear weaponry placed a magnifying glass upon the conscience (of lack thereof) underlying the thinking that governed warfare. Einstein’s words conveyed his acute awareness and understandable alarm of the consequences that scientific discoveries could have (and had already had) when placed in the hands of those blinded by egoic fear and separation:
‘Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We scientists who released this immense power have an overwhelming responsibility in this world life-and-death struggle to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind and not for humanity’s destruction. We need two hundred thousand dollars at once for a nation-wide campaign to let people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels. This appeal is sent to you only after long consideration of the immense crisis we face. We ask for your help at this fateful moment as a sign that we scientists do not stand alone.’ (1)
I do not know whether Einstein managed to raise the two hundred thousand dollars required to launch his campaign, but looking around today it’s clear that collectively we have yet to employ ‘a new type of thinking’ capable of harnessing intellect to benefit humanity and our world. The words of U.S army general Omar Bradley given in his 1948 Armistice Day speech are as relevant today as they were 71 years ago: ‘Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living’(2). More about doing than we do about being…
So, returning to Einstein’s insight that ‘no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness on which it was created’, let’s consider our human dilemma of social disconnection, war and environmental destruction. As we have explored over the past four weeks, our predicament stems from an identification with the act of thinking, causing disconnection on an individual level creating the illusion of separation and the ensuing external battle for belonging. Because our problem is created from identification with the act of thinking, it follows that no act of thinking is going to solve it. The solution, therefore, lies beyond thought.
Beyond an idea- Reconnecting to our being. The route to belonging.
So, what are we beyond the ‘act of thinking’?
These words you are reading are just a surface form, a ‘thing’ that arises against the background of ‘no-thing’. Remember the chair that we could only experience because of the space in the room? These words can only be read because of the space on this page. So, what do you think must exist for you to be able to read these words and hear them as thoughts in your mind? Space. The inherent space in your mind.
Just as we cannot experience hot without cold, we cannot experience form without formless. You’ve guessed it, we’re back to good old awareness again. It is this formless part of ourselves, found in the present moment, that holds the answer to our predicament and can guide us home to wholeness, connection and belonging. But here’s the snag – that answer is beyond words. So, don’t take my word for it. Begin to experience it for yourself.
You could start your own experiment – in brief moments of silence, when the voice in your head pauses, just notice.
In fact, take a moment now to pause and feel the breath as it enters your nose.
Or if you find the breath difficult, see if you can feel your feet.
Just try it, if only for a few seconds. I dare you.
Did you notice a pause in your mental dialogue?
Interesting isn’t it, that you still exist without the voice in your head. The thinking stopped for a moment, but you didn’t die. Turns out the proposition ‘I think therefore I am’, put forward by the French philosopher René Descartes, has just been disproved through your own experience.
If you’re still not convinced, continue experimenting. When the voice in your head pauses, just notice.
Going ‘beyond’ thought does not mean you need to eliminate thoughts. You can save yourself that internal battle. It simply means becoming aware of thoughts - ‘Ah interesting, I seem to be hating the fact I can’t stop thinking’. That’s ok too. Just notice that is what is happening.
‘The day you decide that you are more interested in being aware of your thoughts than you are in the thoughts themselves – that is the day you will find your way out.’ (3)
Do not misunderstand, words and thoughts are not ‘bad’. They are incredibly useful. But as we explored last week, if our sense of self is derived from form (be that thought form, emotional form or physical form) the form will appear to hold us prisoner. When in fact what imprisons us is not the form itself, but the idea that who we are is that form. Hello again ego!
As we saw in part two, identification with an idea of who we are (ego) disconnects us from our being and we find ourselves dashing around gathering labels to bolster the idea of self in a desperate bid to verify our own existence. We’re so busy searching for a way to prove that we belong that we’ve lost sight of the fact that in being, we do belong. The tragedy is ,that by leaving our habituated human belief, ‘that the best way to live is to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable’ unexamined, we continue to unconsciously forge a chasm between us and our world.
Have you ever pondered the interesting way we humans tend to treat nature as separate from ourselves?
As an amusing way to demonstrate the point, this is probably what a tree that had become identified with the idea of itself would look like in its own mind:
Whilst in reality we’d be left watching, baffled:
The pickle we’re in really is quite astounding, but also totally understandable when you consider the human habits which we’ve explored over the past four weeks. But our situation is workable, and it’s a relief to know that we each have what it takes to cultivate a ‘much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life’. By gently returning to our bodies in the present moment, strengthening the wings of awareness and compassion, we come to sense the truth that we really are part of this vast mysterious, ever changing universe and from there, new possibilities arise. Irish poet John O’Donohue writes, ‘we need to come home to the temple of our senses. Our bodies know that they belong… it is our minds that make us homeless’ (4).
Well, we’ve done some pretty extensive investigating together and before we continue, I would like to offer the following diagram to summarise what we have explored up until now.
In summary, when we’re fully identified with idea of ‘I’ (the person in the thought bubble) we trap ourselves into a smaller sense of self (ego). Unlike our minds, that are off in the future planning, or mulling over the past, our bodies exist right here, in the present moment. Coming home to the ‘temple of our senses’ is the doorway to the connection we seek. The connection we are biologically wired for. When we return to the present moment, we re-sync with reality and the natural rhythm of the world around us. But as we all know, stopping and feeling what arises in our bodies is easier said than done. We have been running for a long, long time. Remember the pain-body? This is denoted by the little black box and represents the remnants of unfelt emotional pain we carry both individually and collectively. We cannot bypass a past that requires healing if we really, truly desire ‘to lead a more passionate, full and delightful life’, one that goes ‘beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure everything turns out on our terms’ (5). On some level we all know this, but it’s just so hard to stop and be with yourself sometimes, isn’t it? However we can rest assured that inherent in our being is everything we need to find a way out of our current predicament. As for ‘the box full of darkness’? ... ‘this too was a gift’ (6).
Perhaps the simplest explanation for well-being is this: learning to be, well. Getting good at being.
So, what does all this have to do with Einstein’s search for ‘a new type of thinking’? Let’s continue…
When we take the time be with ourselves, we become aware of the stream of emotions and thoughts that arise in the human experience. Becoming aware of thoughts and emotions allows us to understand the difference (and relationship) between thinking and feeling and develop our ‘Emotional Intelligence’, a term popularised by psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book of the same title. Goleman linked the ability to recognise and understand our own emotions (and the emotions of others) to greater career success and healthy living (7). Furthermore, in his 1998 book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Goleman reveals, after drawing upon global access to business leaders and studies in more than five hundred organisations, that in determining outstanding performance in every field, emotional intelligence matters twice as much as IQ or technical expertise (8). And the foundation for developing Emotional Intelligence? You guessed it – awareness.
It’s no wonder that the ability to recognise, understand and integrate the information from emotions has such a profound influence on our health and success given that the neural connections that carry information from the emotional centres to the cognitive centres in the brain are stronger and more numerous than those carrying information from the cognitive centres to the emotional centres. This asymmetry accounts for the powerful influence emotions have on cognitive function and the comparatively limited influence the cognitive system has on emotional processing, helping to explain why it is generally difficult to wilfully modulate emotions through thought alone (9).
Have you ever found yourself making the mental decision to ‘start dieting tomorrow’, only to find yourself gravitating uncontrollably towards that cinnamon swirl mid-morning the next day? Or maybe it’s promising yourself that you will not lose your patience and get angry with your partner/ colleague/ child anymore as you can see it’s damaging your relationship, only to find yourself repeating the same pattern time and time again?
The Heart Math Institute neatly summarises this neuroscientific research as follows: ‘Because emotions exert such a powerful influence on cognitive activity, intervening at emotional level is often the most efficient way to initiate change in mental processes and patterns’ (9).
But the power of awareness doesn’t stop there.
In, Increasing Intuitional Intelligence, Martha Char Love and Robert W. Sterling discuss how, by going further with our Emotional Intelligence, we can begin to learn the difference in our emotions and gut feelings and develop our ‘Intuitional Intelligence’. In the essay, Increasing Your Intuitional Intelligence by Learning the Difference Between Emotional Feelings and Gut Feelings, Love and Sterling share the following (my additional notes are bracketed to aid understanding):
‘One really has to “Know Thyself” and take the effort to do that inner work to use their gut feelings successfully in decision making. We have found in our counselling and research that there is much more to our gut instincts than just “pattern recognition brain impressions” (matching memory with information coming from a present stimuli) as some have suggested, although these patterns are certainly a result of our gut intelligence combined with our thinking- and the accuracy of our thinking depends upon whether we use our gut feelings as a premise of our thinking or leave out the impact of experience upon us and marginalise our human needs (one of which being social connection) as unimportant to consider in problem- solving. This all affects the accuracy and haze in these mental patterns and our ability to have and increase Intuitional Intelligence'.
'If we use our thinking as a premise for our logic without grounding it in our gut feelings (pure feelings related to the state of the human organism that are always a reliable response to the human being’s instinctual needs), we run the risk of following a system of thought coming from an external source that may not take our human needs in consideration nor have any relevance to our life experience’. ‘Once we begin listening to our gut instinctual responses, our body and mind begin to work in unison, and we have intuitive thoughts (possibilities that arise out of awareness)’ (7).
In a paradoxical twist, it would appear that the key to solving Einstein’s quest for a ‘new type of thinking’, capable of harnessing human intellect for the benefit of all beings, lies firstly in relinquishing thought and re-discovering our natural way of being. Through the inherent space in our being (awareness) we can begin to discover and learn about the inner human landscape of thought, emotion and bodily sensations. This understanding does not come through cognition, it comes through experience. And where does that experience take place? Right here. In this moment. The only reality we have.
By disconnecting from the present moment, we have become collectively disembodied which has allowed an external system of thought (ego) to hijack our decision making and run our lives. Without awareness of our thoughts, emotions and feeling states we are unable to develop the Intuitional Intelligence required to hear the instinctual human need for social connection and the solutions to our problems that bubble up from awareness as intuitive thought.
If we are to access this ‘new type of thinking’ that arises out of awareness, which Einstein had the foresight to identify as ‘essential if mankind is to survive and move towards higher levels’, then the belief that ‘the best way to live it to try to avoid pain and get comfortable’ needs bringing into awareness in each of our own lives. It requires each of us to find the courage to feel and process the unfelt pains of our past. Mostly, it needs each of us, every single one, no matter how depressed, how aggressive, how jealous, how indifferent, how addicted, to realise that we do have a choice in how we live our lives. And that by gently returning to the present moment time and time again we have the innate ability to discover a 'much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life', one which can help this troubled world.
Like the vast blue sky that bears witness to the passing clouds, our awareness is what witnesses the ever changing flow of thoughts, emotions and sensations. There's nothing to look for. Pause. Take a breath. It's already here.
1. Einstein A. Atomic Education Urged by Einstein. New York Times. May 25, 1946:11.
2. Bradley ON. Armistice Day Speech. November 11, 1948. Collected Writings, vol. 1 (1967).
3. Singer M. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications; 2007.
4. O’Donohue J. Eternal Echoes. London: Bantam Press; 1998.
5. Chödrön P. Awakening Loving-Kindness. 3rd edition. Colorado: Shambhala Publications Inc; 2017. pp. 1-2.
6. Oliver M. Thirst. Boston: Beacon Press; 2006. p. 52.
7. Love MC, Sterling RW. Increasing Intuitional Intelligence. US: CreateSpace; 2015. pp. 111-116.
8. Goleman D. Working With Emotional Intelligence. London: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1998.
9. McCraty R. Science of the Heart Volume 2: Exploring the Role of the Heart in Human Performance. An Overview of Research Conducted by the HeartMath Institute. CA: HeartMath Institute; 2015. p. 11.