Friday, October 5, 2018

Solitude is Communion




 © Susan Marie 

I have always been a solitary creature. Even when extremely extroverted, for that is who I inherently am, however, my initial need for absolute solitude the past few years, except for communication with one or two trusted humans, was to heal from the most hideous emotional pain I have felt in over fifteen years. 

During that time, I more fully recognized the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and eventual, physical benefits, of the necessity of solitude. 

The joy I feel in quietness, to hear the birds singing outside, the ticking of the clock, the call of wild geese, to dance to music, to sneak into nature and just simply BE, is necessary for elevation of the mental and emotional self.

Imperative for true elevation of the soul. 

What I discovered when I tapped back into technology [texting, instant messaging apps, Facebook], after a year or so of not utilizing what society deems “necessary sociable and acceptable means of communication”; and I view as a facade, fake, not reality and easy ways to miscommunicate; I started to experience anxiety, sadness, a disturbance in my own peace, an argumentative stance, anger, emotional confusion, and all of my energy stripped from my soul. 

    
I felt myself starting to become ill.
 
What does that tell you about the state of humanity? 


A necessary component of being a successful Clinical Mental Health Counselor [my current path], as well as an enlightened human soul, is to know self, via solitude and the entire time I have been healing, then focused on my education and career; I have been happy, secure, well with my place in this world, directed, on mark, existing on a plane suitable to my soul; the progression of self, loving and knowing myself, accepting myself fully. 

I am still on this journey. 

What I discovered is reconnecting to society via certain forms of technology, was utterly disturbing to my well being. 

I began to doubt myself, and instead of pleasing self, I fell into long tossed away destructive behavior patterns of pleasing others. 

Now I fought those behaviors internally, and externally, still kept my distance, for I know myself pretty well, however, starting to utilize technology in the above ways brought to me isolation, not connection, and for me, after so much absolute breathtaking personal freedom, technology was suffocating. 

I felt like I was stuffed into confinement. 

Which is interesting to me psychologically considering most people feel that solitude is confinement and loneliness, however, my solitude is peaceful and enlightening. I am not in absolute solitude by any means, I live a healthy, productive existence, however, the noise of society and feeling of responsibility that comes with using technology, is exhausting. 

In the book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle, the author states:
When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive. When this happens, we’re not able to appreciate who they are. It’s as though we’re using them as spare parts to support our fragile sense of self.

Right now, after leaving some of technology behind, my heart is lighter and my spirit, grounded.

I am centered - away from the noise. 

There are people I love with my entire being and never wish to cease communicating with because they have beautiful souls, mean the world to me, people I trust with my life and have created lifelong soul-bond relationships with that are eternal, however, that does not mean I must be in constant communication. 

Instead of living for me, my betterment, that of this space here, myself and my family; I was anxiety ridden, worried, could not sleep or eat, my brain was on an endless loop of negative thinking. 

Unhealthy attachments and boundaries people have created to stuff, the need to constantly communicate, to have attention paid to them, to feel they must pay attention to others, being too busy, addicted to drama, and mass miscommunication, is essentially, fleeing SELF for an unreality, a coping mechanism that denies SELF, in turn, is the fear of seeking self, thus trying to FIND self in others. 

Everything I saw was fake, is false, a need and want for validation from others. 
 
I seek none of these things.


Solitude is a necessary component for loving and accepting self. It does not mean I want to be solitary forever or am always solitary, it simply means I love myself more than the demands and restrictions of societies. 

 
The positive aspect is recognizing when you are depleted, to stop, step back, regain your ground and reflect. 


I belong in this world, I do not belong in my past.

I sit here now, writing to you, peaceful.
Peaceful because being sucked back into what no longer serves my purpose caused me mental and emotional imbalance.  


Solitude is communion. 


*

The Road Not Taken 
by Robert Frost 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


© William Robert 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Swan Songs







I cannot teach you languages,
nor histories of nations and men,
nor can I teach you of wars and rebellions;
but I can teach you of the stars and sky,
the silt and dirt of this dear Earth.


I can teach you why your heart flutters
at the sight of beauty
and why the touch of another
is the hand of a most holy angel.


I can show you galaxies undiscovered by mankind
until the reflection of your own soul appears,
in cloudbursts blanketing the sky.


I can tell you why your feet, bare,
long to hug the sand and soil.


You are a channel to the divine.
Do you not recognize the call of birdsong at early dawn?
How can you deny your breath and body?
It is made of the same elements as driftwood and thunder.


Your voice is that of lightning,
your breath,
the aether of ancient firmaments,
ones your ancestors sat and prayed beneath,
bedouins in the searing sun,
the sweetest eye of heaven.


Come, take my hand,
I shall lead you to yourself.


You have seen the well-worn path,
wooded and weary
by lakes and rivers.


You know the way, you may have forgotten.

Come, come follow me into what is known and unknown,
what is truth and fiction,
where there is no language,
only sight,
where swan songs are heard,
deep, meditative ruminations,
trumpeting supplications to the great Gods.


Come, come follow me into what is known and unknown,
what is truth and fiction,
where there is no language,
only sight,


and walk proudly, dear soul,
walk proudly,


into your rightful place
of existence.



© Photo & Words Susan Marie

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Like Lovers Do







 
My hands shake
beneath this precious dawn,
not for myself,
but for the fate of humankind,
a land I do not belong,


for my eyes see the peaks of Himalayas
in the tips of pine trees,
where bluejays perch,
contemplating their next flight,
and the grass,
as Whitman pondered,
this precious gift, otherworldly. 


No, I do not belong down here,
yet I am grounded,
for my spirit is in flight
with the hawk,
scrying above,
screeching solitary,
as a murder of crows
attempt to take it down
from the most holy sky,
yet fail,
again and again.


I see this world like a child,
wondrous and wide-eyed,
an explorer of my own soul,
the new dawn shines upon my chin, upturned,
and the breeze,
she tussles my long mane,
like a lover,
splaying my legs,
ever so gently,
apart,
to the virgin skies.


I belong in the waves,
meeting the shore,
the crashing of tides
beneath the moon, full.


I exist in the limbs of trees 
and the sound of my feet
bearing down upon this sweet Earth.


My soul longs for completion,
for respite from the dying world,

for I exist in both,

in a land where my voice is unknown
to the language of humankind.



© Photo & Words Susan Marie

Saturday, August 25, 2018

I Thank You






https://soundcloud.com/susan-marie/i-thank-you
 
You threw me away
like a second hand
used shoe
human being
with a heart


You threw me away
like tears
that fall from heaven
when clouds burst
volcanic
drenching us all
in divinity


But you,
you just threw me away


Like a rusted rim
rolling down the highway
some dusty remnant
of past
of lives lived
moments of
existence
now lying there
thirsty
beneath the ever so often
searing sun


Like waves that crash
endless upon the shore
you threw me up there too
and I became driftwood
floating
in uncharted territory


Like trees
that shed leaves
without emotion
or care
I fell
colorful and vibrant
Oh, so utterly alive
to the dirt and worms
to the dank silt of Earth


And you threw me there

Tossed me like a coin
flipped me upside my head
to my tail
over and over
and in your hands
I did not land
because you


You threw me away

And I landed not bent
broken or bruised
bur safely within wings
of the most holy angels


Because you threw me away

I rose

And you

are left still staring
where a coin used to be
held lovingly within your palm
safe
beneath that searing sun
the rainclouds and thunder
floating endless upon your own waves
landing on other shores


And because you threw me away

My dear soul,
My sweet loved
lover
loving -


Because
you
threw
me
away


I
thank
you.



© Image and words Susan Marie

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Higher Cognitive Processes: Thinking and Consciousness



This thesis focuses on an in-depth exploration of an advanced topic in cognitive psychology, Higher Cognitive Processes: Thinking and Consciousness. My argument is (1) Explore higher order cognitive processes, ones that more drastically separate the human species from other animals involving judgment, logic, problem solving, creativity, intelligence and introspection. (2) Explore the realms of consciousness focusing on the nature of mindfulness, the role of acceptance in the phenomenon, the relation between mindfulness and meditation, and the measurement of mindfulness in meditative and other contexts, including spirituality. 

 


Image © Scheme Color
 
“A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.” (Whitman, 1983).



Creativity is a process where the artist accesses the unconscious mind allowing the thinking mind (conscious) to dissipate which in turn allows the subconscious to enter even though “creativity is a natural phenomenon, part of the very structure and function of consciousness.” (Adams, 2018). What then is consciousness? Numerous definitions exist according to one’s perception and reality. 

The 14th Dalai Lama (meaning teacher, ocean, in Tibetan), Tenzin Gyatso, following the teachings of Buddha to decrease human suffering; believed consciousness to be “choosing spiritual development over material gain.” (Dalai Lama, 2006). Buddhism practices the belief that human beings are “understood as fundamentally good, but monetarily confused.” (Dalai Lama, 2006). Through the writing of Walt Whitman and the teachings of Buddha, consciousness is everything you experience.


Whitman was “tapping” into all three areas of the mind, the conscious, subconscious, and unconsciousness, including his own spirituality, when he wrote poetry. In his lines above from Leaves of Grass, Whitman has no conscious reply to the child for he, like the child, is humbled before the universe, nature, and existence. How then is it possible to allow all three areas of the brain to work simultaneously? All three parts work together to create our own reality that produces knowledge utilized to change habits and create a happier, more peaceful and confident self, like Buddha suggests. 


Scientifically, the brain as a whole generates experience, every day, all day; however, the “seat of consciousness” goes much deeper to “physical footprints” from the brain to the spinal cord. Consider a tetraplegic (paralyzed in legs, arms and torso, no bodily sensations, damage to the cerebellum) that continues to see, hear, smell, feel emotions and recall memory. 

Then consider the cerebellum (little brain behind the brain), a “brain circuit” for motor control that has by far the most neurons, about 69 billion, four times more than in the rest of the brain combined.” (Koch, 2018). One would think damage to the cerebellum would affect consciousness; however, “even being born without a cerebellum does not appreciably affect the conscious experience of the individual.” (Koch, 2018). Neural tissue found in white and gray matter regions of the brain compose the “seat of consciousness.”


Science has long debated that when you are observing something, you are conscious of what you are experiencing and different areas of the brain access that information and if you do something unconsciously, that information is local to the specific sensory area of the brain itself. For example, typing these words, I am doing that automatically. If asked how I type, I do not really know because I have little conscious access to that information, it is the local brain circuits that tell my eyes and fingers to move. This theory is known as the Global Neuronal Workspace.


Sigmund Freud, psychoanalyst, created a model of the mind, separated into three tiers, the conscious mind or ego, the pre-conscious or subconscious, and the unconscious mind. Each area is represented by a percentage showing an estimated use of each part of the brain. 



(Image © Journal Psyche, 2018).


Freud’s model is the simplest way to attempt to define conscious, subconscious and unconscious. The conscious mind communicates to the outside world and the inner self through speech, pictures, writing, physical movement, and thought. The subconscious mind is in charge of recent memories and is in continuous contact with the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is the storehouse of all memories and past experiences, repressed and consciously forgotten. It is from these memories and experiences that our beliefs, habits, and behaviors are formed. 

The unconscious mind constantly communicates with the conscious mind via our subconscious mind through feelings, emotions, imagination, sensations, and dreams that provide a perception. Not unlike a chain-link fence, these regions of the brain are interconnected. Definitions of the mind vary according to one’s perception. For example, a philosopher may view mind as one’s personality, identity, and memories, a religious individual may view the mind as a vessel that houses the spirit, or awareness of God and to a scientist the mind is the generator of ideas and thoughts.  


In 2012, neuroscientist Jaak Pankseppat, published The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. This declaration (witnessed by Stephen Hawking), stated that, “scientific evidence showed clearly that non-human animals have “conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.” (Coombs, 2015). This declaration proposes that mammals, birds and other organisms have the same brain structures that make consciousness possible in humans. 

Affective consciousness (core emotions in animals and humans), is a neglected form of animal/human consciousness experienced via emotional states, and other mammals do have affective experiences. Humans have the capacity for consciousness because we think, make decisions, have feelings and have a sense of self. 


Higher order cognitive processes, ones that more drastically separate the human species from other animals involving judgment, logic, problem solving, creativity, intelligence and introspection is secondary awareness or secondary consciousness. Primary consciousness is simple awareness and perception in both animals and humans. 

Affective consciousness, the simplest form of consciousness, is the ability to have core feelings and emotions. Secondary consciousness is the ability to move beyond the limits of primary consciousness to access self-reflection, abstract thinking, and metacognition. Metacognition is awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes. This state of consciousness is what separates man from animal. 

Metacognition is “thinking about one’s thinking [and] refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance.” (Chick, 2018). Metacognition is critical awareness of one’s thinking and learning and oneself as a thinker and learner. 


One key aspect of metacognition in humans in relation to animals is that humans have the ability to recognize the limit to one’s own knowledge and figure out how to expand that limit. An example of this is knowing what one’s strengths and weaknesses are. In contrast, humans that are unaware of metacognition are “people [that] tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence, lacking insight about deficiencies in their intellectual and social skills.” (Chick, 2018). It is integral to consistently ask oneself, What am I learning? moreover, How am I learning? Such questions challenge one to test self-efficacy. 


Albert Bandura, social cognitive psychologist, postulated, “people with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.” (Bandura, 1994). Bandura believed that through mastery of experiences, resilience, sustained effort, overcoming obstacles, persistent effort, allowing setbacks and difficulties as a learning tool, and believing in one’s self establishes a strong sense of efficacy. 

After people become convinced they have what it takes to succeed, they persevere in the face of adversity and quickly rebound from setbacks.” (Bandura, 1994). Sticking things out through tough times causes one to emerge stronger via adversity. As Carl Jung wrote in Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious, which addresses variances between healthy and unhealthy self-efficacy, “One man’s optimism makes him overweening, while another’s pessimism makes him over anxious and dependent.” (Jung, Pg. 87). As with everything, balance. 


In regards to psychology and cognitive processes, metacognition is regulated by forethought such as embodying valued goals, personal goal setting and motivation. The stronger the self-efficacy, the higher the goal challenges set. In addition, the belief in oneself as an affective process controls thought processes that regulate “thought produced” stress and depression. Human accomplishments and positive well-being require an optimistic sense of personal efficacy. 

Strong self-efficacy can come from suffering severe distress and trauma, recovering, and growing; and practiced, such as mindfulness and meditation. Different periods of life present certain types of competency demands, which everyone must pass. “There are various pathways through life and, at any given period, people vary substantially in how efficaciously they manage their lives.” (Bandura, 1994). 


How then is it possible for the brain (a physical object) to have nonphysical thoughts and feelings? Imagine you wish to say hello to someone and you do, by saying, Hello! Your mouth, lips, vocal chords and muscles are physical objects that move to form words; however, your idea was to say, Hello, which is not physical. How does a nonphysical idea allow your mouth, lips, vocal chords and muscles to move? This is a form of dualism, mind and body separation, meaning the mind (nonphysical) and its thoughts and feelings are a different entity from the physical (body/brain), and yet the two influence each other. 


Philosopher Rene Descartes in the 17th century presented the “metaphysical stance that mind and body are two distinct substances, each with a different essential nature.” (Mehta, 2011). With dualism, the body is subject to mechanical laws and the mind is not. In this vein, people can exist with two histories, one consisting of what occurs in and with the physical body, the other, what consists in and of the mind. As a result, one history involves events in the physical world, the second history, events in the mental world. 


The mind and body connection, in addition to dualism, represents how the mind and body, while separate, influence the other by occurring on a physical and chemical level. The mind encompasses mental states including thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions and varying mental states positively and negatively affect biological functioning. “The nervous, endocrine, and immune systems share a common chemical language” (Weinberg, 2018), that allows communication between the mind and body through hormones and neurotransmitters. Examples include feeling your heart pounding out of your chest with anxiety or butterflies in your stomach when nervous. 


Mindfulness, conscious present thinking and awareness, in psychotherapy is utilized when people are encouraged to pause, pay attention to, and take delight in, the present moment. In spirituality, mindfulness is practiced via meditation, prayer and song. Mindfulness helps to reduce stress, alleviate some symptoms of mental illness, and improve the quality of life. 

Paying attention allows one to identify emotions as they arise, process them, and choose how to react. Meditation helps the body control emotional responses and increase awareness of the body’s biological processes (neurotransmitters) that may flood the body with stress hormones. Mind-body modalities help control psycho-emotional health (mind), as well as physical health (body). Thus, while separation of mind and body exists (dualism), mind and body influence each other.



Joseph Campbell explained meditation, mindfulness, and all three forms of thinking; conscious, subconscious and unconscious, by focusing on “the journey “of life instead of focusing on “the destination.” Campbell, along with Bill Moyers, discusses higher consciousness in The Power of Myth, where Campbell states, “The end of the world is not an event to come, it is an event of psychological transformation, of visionary transformation.” (Campbell, Pg. 285). 

Campbell continues, “It’s been said that poetry consists of letting the word be heard beyond words. Everything that’s transitory is but a metaphorical reference.” (Campbell, Pg. 286). Moyers then asks how we, humans, worship, love and die for metaphor. 


Campbell introduces one word, AUM, used during meditation and yoga, and continues, “AUM is the word that represents to our ears that sound of energy of the universe of which all things are manifestations.” (Campbell, Pg. 286). The origin of AUM/OM (Sanskrit, Hindi, Tibetan, Latin), is defined as "all." 

Three phonemes, a, u, and m, symbolize states of consciousness. A is conscious or waking state, U is the dream state, and M is the dreamless sleep state. The combination of the three represents the full state of realization. “This final state is the aim of yoga: Samadhi - a complete union between breath, body, mind, and spirit.” (Soul, Body, Yoga, 2011). OM embodies the essence of the entire universe.


Aum is the birth, the universe, all images and fragments, and the proof of “being” in the world. Campbell compounds on existence deciding that the “meanings” humankind searches for are, essentially, meaningless because language has limitations. It is in this vein, Joseph Campbell asks us to focus from the conscious to the subconscious to the unconscious. 


 * * * 


References: 


Adams, William. (2010-2018). Research on Steiner Education. Creativity and Consciousness. Retrieved from: http://www.rosejourn.com/index.php/rose/article/view/187


Bandura, A. (1994). Encyclopedia of human behavior. Stanford University. Self-efficacy.  Retrieved from: https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/BanEncy.html


Campbell, Joseph, Moyers, Bill. (1991). The Power of Myth. Pgs. 285, 286. Print. 


Chick, Nancy. (2018). Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Metacognition. Retrieved from: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/


Coombs, Chelsey, (2015). Science Line. Do animals have consciousness? Retrieved from: http://scienceline.org/2015/03/do-animals-have-consciousness/


Dalai Lama. (2006). Living Wisdom. Introduction. Print. 


Journal Psyche. (1994-2018). Freud’s’ Model of the Human Mind Image. Retrieved from: http://journalpsyche.org/understanding-the-human-mind/


Jung, Carl. (1971). The Portable Jung. Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious. Print. Pg. 87. 


Koch, Christof. (2018) Scientific American. What Is Consciousness? Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-consciousness/  

Mehta, Neeta, Ph.D. (2011). NCBI. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Mind-body Dualism: A critique from a Health Perspective. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3115289/ 


Soul, Body, Yoga. (2011). The Meaning of “AUM”. Retrieved from: http://www.soulbodyyoga.com/sby-blog-mobile/item/the-meaning-of-aum 

Weinberg, Jennifer. (2018). The Chopra Center. Mind-Body Connection: Understanding the Psycho-Emotional Roots of Disease. Retrieved from: https://chopra.com/articles/mind-body-connection-understanding-the-psycho-emotional-roots-of-disease



Whitman, Walt. (1983). Leaves of Grass. Song of Myself. Print.