Part Two: The Habits of Humanity
Hello and welcome back.
If you’re only just joining us, I recommend firstly heading back to part one as each section carries on from the last. However, if you’d rather dip in and out please feel free to do so.
Last week we began to explore our misunderstanding that ‘the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable’ (1), how this disconnects us from our present experience and how, by training the mind and heart in awareness and compassion, we can begin to develop ‘a much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life’ (1). Through cultivating curiosity, ‘not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter of sweet’ (1), we can reconcile the disconnect within us, creating ‘a wholesome, uplifted existence for ourselves and others’ (2).
Perhaps over the past week you’ve started to notice the habit to disconnect playing out in your own life? Interesting, isn’t it? Remember, don’t judge yourself for it, these moments of awareness are a cause for celebration – even if it doesn’t feel that way to begin with.
Perhaps you’re still a little suspicious. That’s ok too. It’s sensible to be a little wary of something you have not experienced for yourself – but remember, in order to experience this habit you must practise coming back to the present moment. How else will you discover whether there’s any truth behind these words? We need to experience the moments of connection to the present for ourselves if we are to notice the moments of disconnection.
Maybe you’re wondering, ‘If it is true, that there is a more interesting and joyful approach to life than just trying to get comfortable, then how come nobody told me about it?’ or ‘How exactly is it that disconnecting from our present experience results in social disconnection?’. Both are excellent questions and will be the focus of this week’s investigation.
Whilst I try to break everything down into digestible pieces, if things get a little confusing, bear with me. We still have six more weeks together to explore and revisit elements of this to create a clearer picture of our predicament and way out. Should we choose to take it.
So, if we’re all ready, let’s continue…
Why do we disconnect from the present moment?
If learning to connect to our own experience in the present moment is the route to healing the disconnection we experience in our relationships with others on an individual, societal and global scale then why don’t we do it? The simple answer is habit. Unexamined habit stemming from an unexamined belief that 'the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable’ (1).
Becoming aware of the habit is the first step in becoming free from it. Only from there can it be deconditioned and finally released. So, the answer to the question ‘why did nobody tell me there was a better way to live?’: Lack of awareness. They couldn’t tell you because they were not aware of it themselves. Funnily enough, a small number of humans throughout history have been aware of this, but unfortunately their teachings fell on mostly deaf ears - if they even made it to said ears. Luckily for us, times are changing, these teaching are now widely available and awareness is growing. And as we know, with awareness comes choice. So, let’s continue shedding light on our human habit to disconnect from our experience in the present moment.
To help us with this I would like to introduce the theory of morphic resonance as proposed by biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake, PhD. I believe this will give us a scientific basis from which to understand humanity’s habits more clearly.
Sheldrake presents his hypothesis as follows: ‘The formation of habit depends on a process called morphic resonance. Similar patterns of activity resonate across time and space with subsequent patterns. This hypothesis applies to all self-organising systems, including atoms, molecules, crystals, cells, plants, animals and animal societies. All draw upon a collective memory and in turn contribute to it’ (3).
Let’s break that down so we have a clear understanding to go forward with:
What is a morphic field? A field (a vibratory pattern of activity), within and around the system that it organises, that interacts with the electromagnetic and quantum fields of that system. These self-organising systems include molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, societies and minds that are made up of nested hierarchies of morphic units (morphic coming from the Greek ‘morphē’ simply meaning shape or form, so you could say units of form. Note that form can be non-physical such as thought form thus creating habits of mind). At each level the whole (eg. a human being) is more than the sum of the parts (eg. organs), and these parts themselves are wholes made up of parts (eg. tissues). The wholeness of each level depends on an organising field: the morphic field (3).
How is a morphic field related to morphic resonance? The morphic field is local -within and around the system it organises (see underlined above). Morphic resonance depends on similarity in form. It is non- local and not attenuated by distance in space or time. The local morphic fields are shaped by morphic resonance, which involves a transfer of information from all similar past systems, and thus contain a cumulative collective memory. The past influencing the present (3).
There is a memory to all of nature’s systems (of which we are a part- and we ourselves wholes made up of parts) and the more things are repeated, the more memory there will be for that thing happening as all systems draw upon a collective memory and in turn contribute to it. Sheldrake explains with the following examples: ‘A growing crystal of copper sulphate is in resonance with countless previous crystals of copper sulphate and follows the same habits of crystal organisation, the same lattice structure. A growing oak seedling follows the habits of growth and development of previous oaks. When an orb-web spider starts spinning its web, it follows the habits of countless ancestors, resonating with them directly across space and time’. ‘This hypothesis is eminently testable, and evidence from many fields of enquiry already supports it’ (3)(4).
Now, following the theory of morphic resonance, when a human being meets something uncomfortable in the present moment, it follows the habits of countless ancestors, resonating with them directly across space and time. And what is that habit? To disconnect. ‘To avoid pain and just try to get comfortable’ (1).
Ah, interesting. We think that ‘the best way to live is to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable’ (1). But who told you this was the best way to live? And why did you believe them? Most of us are not even aware we have this habit, never mind question where it came from. This belief is so habituated it’s become automatic - it’s happening below our level of awareness. But the habit is workable. And it starts with awareness.
You can begin to notice it playing out when you find yourself stood at the fridge, with the door open, analysing the snack options and suddenly wondering, ‘How did I get here? I’m not even hungry’. Wow, if I had a penny for every time I’ve been there! This doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ person, it just means you’re human. Noticing it simply means you’re a human that’s becoming aware. There is hope for us all!
Now take a moment to contemplate this: When a human being encounters a difference in another, it follows the habits of countless ancestors, resonating with them directly across space and time.
Observing the history of humanity, what predominant pattern can you see that has solidified into habit when we meet a difference in another?
Difference in skin colour. Difference in sex. Difference in sexual preference. Difference in opinion.
The habit of aversion. Conflict. Destruction.
‘We are different; we are very different from each other. One person’s idea of what is polite is someone else’s idea of what is rude. In some cultures it’s considered rude to belch when you’re eating, and in others it shows that you enjoyed your meal. What might smell repulsive to one person might smell wonderful to another. We are really different, and we have to acknowledge that. But instead of going to war because of our differences, let’s play soccer. It will be a strange game given our instruction to let the others have the victory and keep the defeat to ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that we play to lose; it means that we play to play. We could play together, even though we’re on opposite teams. There are no big stakes, just playing. There are different teams; otherwise the game wouldn’t work. But it doesn’t have to lead to World War III or the destruction of the planet’ (5).
So why do we repeat the pattern of war and destruction, rather than play to play; play together?
By examining our human habit to move away from the present moment (because we think this is the best way to live), we can begin to see what contributes to our habit of aversion when we meet differences in others. What I am going to introduce now in order to address the above question will be explained in more detail later, you may find it a little confusing initially but bear with me.
Most of us take ourselves to be the constant stream of internal dialogue we hear in our heads. When we lose ourselves to thought in this way, we become identified with an idea of who we are and the sense we have of ourselves is limited to a product of thought. This takes us away from the present moment. Our bodies, on the other hand, exist in the present moment. Not the past, not the future, but now. It is through the body that we have access to our intuitive abilities and experience the knowing that we are connected and belong. This is demonstrated simply in the figure below:
When we become identified with an idea of ourselves, i.e. when we take the person in the thought bubble to be the whole of who we are, we buy into an illusion that we are separate. When we believe ourselves to be separate, we are left searching for a place to fit in, something to belong to. Ironically, the connection we are longing for is available right here, in the present moment. There might be something painful to tend to but that itself is the gateway to the connection and belonging we seek. However, because of our mostly unconscious habit to move away from emotional pain and just try to get comfortable, we end up locked in this cycle of disconnection and subsequent external searching, forgetting that the doorway to that which we seek exists right here, in the present moment. What a pickle.
We’ve got the route to disconnection nailed, in seeing and learning from that, we now have the option to take a different route. The present moment is accessible through the body. The body and the present moment belong to each other. Facing whatever arises in our bodies, be that pain or pleasure, is the route to the connection we seek. Rather than continue to buy into the idea that ‘the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable’ (1), we could begin to ‘develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet’ (1) and discover ‘a much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life’ (1).
We will explore how it is we can develop such an approach later. But for now, the simple take away message is this: Identified with an idea of yourself (the thought bubble on the sketch) = believe you are separate = look externally for belonging.
So, how does this underlie our habit of aversion when we meet differences in others?
As long as we’re trapped in the illusion of ourselves as separate (i.e. believing that who we are is the idea of who we are), we will be followed by a sneaky feeling that we don’t belong. Because of this, meeting differences in others challenges our sense of self. The idea we have of ourselves (which we mistake ourselves to be) says, ‘if they belong and they are different to me, then maybe I don’t belong’. Rather than turn to face the pain of feeling like you might not belong, that fear is projected onto the different other and we hear ourselves (or more accurately the idea we have of ourselves) saying ‘YOU don’t belong’ and acting in ways that degrade others. In this way the idea of self can reaffirm its existence and importance in the world.
You might feel a temporary relief. But it’s not long until the idea of self that you’re identified with is looking for something else to make ‘not belong’ in order to experience itself as ‘belonging’ relative to that. However, this short term ‘kick’ is no substitute for the long-term relief you find when you contact the truth of your belonging through being. In fact, once you start to notice this process that stems from being identified with an idea of yourself, you begin to sense the toxic effect it has on your own being.
It is through being that we find true belonging. When you learn to connect to the being part of yourself (remember the ‘no-thing’ that witnesses the thoughts, emotions and sensations?) there’s no need to fuel the idea that ‘I belong’ by putting another down because you know, beyond the act of thinking, that in being you belong. Belonging is not a finite external resource, it’s inherently abundant in our beingness. Through connection to your being, which exists in the present moment, it becomes easy to play rather than go to war with others. Their surface differences don’t challenge your idea of self because you are not identified with that idea. You know that you belong to this world and you know that they belong too.
In this way we can see that our aversion to difference in others is born from our aversion to contacting our own experience in the present moment.
Morphic resonance suggests that similar patterns of activity resonate across time and space with subsequent patterns. In that case, humanity today carries with it the burdensome habits of disconnection and aversion that have been unconsciously circulating for eons. They have been buried so deep we are not even aware that most of us are recreating them daily on a microscopic level. It is often only when we see a larger manifestation of the habit of aversion that we notice it. The world news headline ‘Trump to congresswomen of colour: leave the US’ didn’t come out of nowhere. And when we do notice it, our response tends to be one of two things: aversion itself (as we hurl obscenities at the large-scale perpetrator) or indifference. ‘What is wrong with the world?’ we ask, whilst resigning ourselves to the misunderstanding that there’s nothing we can do about it.
But here’s the thing. We can. And it starts here, with our own individual lives. Yes, we have some pretty heavy conditioning, but when we realise that it is just that, a mostly unconscious but innocent misunderstanding rather than inherent badness, then we have a choice – are we going to continue to strengthen the pattern of disconnection and aversion, or are we going to do something different?
Poet Martha Postlewaite shares this guidance through her poem, Clearing:
Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worthy of rescue.
If we are to remember how to connect, heal and play we must contact an impenetrable determination within ourselves and decide to set the intention to stop running and meet the present moment, turning a clear seeing, non-judgemental eye on our patterns of human activity. By applying this to our own lives, in a personal way, we begin to make conscious the habits of humanity and sow the seeds for real change on our planet.
Perhaps Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance provides the scientific theory underlying the term karma – we are all collectively reaping the seeds of aversion and disconnection that we have been unknowingly sowing for thousands of years.
1. Chödrön P. Awakening Loving-Kindness. 3rd edition. Colorado: Shambhala Publications Inc; 2017. pp. 1-2.
2. Chödrön P. The Pocket Pema Chödrön. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc; poc edition; 2008. p. 180.
3. Sheldrake R. The Science Delusion. London: Hodder and Stoughton; 2012. pp. 99-101.
4. Seal J. Rupert Sheldrake - Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature [DVD]. London: Creation Alternative; 2008.
5. Chödrön P. The Pocket Pema Chödrön. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc; poc edition; 2008. p. 63.