The Queen of Me

In his book “Why Buddhism Is True; The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment,” Robert Wright discusses the Buddhist concept of not-self.  The view of “not-self” is hard for westerners to appreciate.   We think we’re in charge – we’re our very own CEO.  In control our mind, the beliefs we hold; the world we see from our very own eyes.

The Buddha asks . . . where is the “Self” found?  He walks us through the five “aggregates” which in Buddhism comprise the human experience.  Can you find it here?

  1. The physical body – including the sense organs like the eyes and ears
  2. Basic feelings
  3. Perceptions – identifiable sights and sounds
  4. Mental formations – emotions, thoughts, inclinations, habits, decisions
  5. Consciousness – awareness; especially of the other four aggregates

Who’s in “control?”

If I’m Queen of “Me” … wouldn’t these aggregates obey my wishes?

If I were Queen of Me … my body would behave as instructed, I’d feel happy, joyous and free ALWAYS!  My Queen would ensure my perceptions are noble and true; my emotions steady and pleasing.  There would be no radical committee in my head hi-jacking my thoughts, inclinations and habits.  No!  My Queen would be consciously aware in all things.

If I were Queen of “Me.”

So why does my body fail me?  Why are my feelings untidy and complicated?  How is it that my habitual thinking creates warped perceptions?  That insurgent committee in my head? – has far too much power over my thoughts.  Would love to say I’m always conscious … except when I find myself home after a long day, and really don’t remember much of the ride.

Wright quotes Buddhist monk Walpola Rahula:

“… the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities, and problems.  It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations.  In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.”

Who the hell’s in charge then?

According to Wright, there is no boss; “if there is something that qualifies as a constant amid the flux, something that really does endure, essentially unchanged, through time, that something is an illusion: the illusion that there is a CEO, a king, and that “I”—the conscious I—am it.”

“… it’s a jungle in there, and you’re not the king of the jungle.  The good news is that, paradoxically, realizing you’re not king can be the first step toward getting some real power.”

Using a “field of evolutionary psychology” that asserts “the mind is ‘modular’,” Wright proposes we look at how our brains evolved for the source of thoughts, feelings and beliefs.  This psychological approach says people primarily behave in ways that ensure our genes get passed on to the next generation.  The choices we make, the theory goes, are all a factor of evolution.

The primary mental modules are:

  • “attracting mates
  • keeping them
  • enhancing your status (which can mean derogating rivals)
  • taking care of kin
  • tending to your friendships (which includes making sure they are reciprocal and that you’re not getting exploited)
  • And oddly … looking forward to a reward” (aka beer, sugar, tobacco)

“When your mind is wandering it may feel … like it’s strolling along the landscape of modules and sampling them, indulging one module for a while, then eventually moving on to another one.”  Or consider that “the different modules are competing for your attention, and when the mind “wanders” from one module to another, what’s actually happening is that the second module has acquired enough strength to wrestle control of your consciousness from the first module.”

 “… your mind isn’t wandering within its own terrain so much as being hijacked by intruders.”

These thought modules become habit and “it takes practice to try to break this conditioning, to be mindful of the thought rather than be lost in it.”  We all love a good story; and the story we tell ourselves is what we tend to believe.

What are my stories?  I’d love for the “I can’t resist sweets” story module to be wrestled to the ground by the “I eat healthy foods” story module.  Evolutionarily-wise … eating healthy should have lots of muscle!  But NOOOOO … I allowed the sweets reward module to become The Hulk!  How can I tame this monster?

Wright provides what he calls “A New Approach” to turn around what could be considered a self-discipline issue.

“… suppose you think of the problem as instead being this particular module that has formed a particular strong habit.  How would you try to overcome the problem then?  You might try something like mindfulness meditation.

“Judson Brewer, who did a study at Yale Medical School . . . said the basic idea is to not fight the urge. . .

That doesn’t mean you succumb . . . it just means you don’t try to push the urge out of your mind.  Rather you follow the same mindfulness technique that you’d apply to other bothersome feelings—anxiety, resentment, melancholy, hatred.  You just calmly (or as calmly as possible) … examine the feeling.  What part of your body is the urge felt in?  What is the texture of the urge?  Is it sharp?  Dull and heavy?

“The more you do that, the less the urge seems a part of you; you’ve exploited the basis irony of mindfulness meditation: getting close enough to feelings to take a good look at them winds up giving you a kind of critical distance from them.  Their grip on you loosens; if it loosens enough, they’re no longer a part of you.” 

Wright provides an acronym to describe the technique:  “RAIN”

R:  Recognize the feeling

 A:  Accept the feeling

 I:  Investigate the feeling

 N:  Non-identification; and eventually Non-attachment

Naturally I experimented with my “sweets” addiction story!  DAMN if it didn’t help!  This reward module being The Hulk will probably require reinforcement – but I don’t doubt a healthier module will rise up with sustained mindfulness.

It’s impressive the way Robert Wright brought together the disciplines of Buddhist meditation, psychology and the science of habit.  I do love a good mash-up!

This practical application of mindfulness meditation is a different kind of sweet – one that has the potential to improve my life in many quarters.  Let the paradox of releasing the Queen – relinquishing control – give power to my something other.


“Let go or be dragged.” ― Zen Proverb


Putting it in Perspective

Being lifted out of a funk is marvelous.  The vehicle of that nudge however – not entirely predictable.  Bemoaning my woes to a friend who’s fighting the good fight with me, she said she wasn’t anxious about events – called herself a “happy warrior.”  Jealous me; I was anxious, restless and prickly – applying all known remedies in my tool kit, making small progress.

Serendipitously my angel network sent me a link to an article about Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens in The Guardian.  Ding, ding, ding; the tumblers of my mind begin falling into place.

Chapter I:  “An Animal of No Significance

About 13.5 billion years ago, matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang.  The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics.

About 300,000 years after their appearance, matter and energy started to coalesce into complex structures, called atoms, which then combined into molecules.  The story of atoms, molecules and their interactions is called chemistry.

About 3.8 billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms.  The story of organisms is called biology. 

About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures.  The subsequent development of these human cultures is called history.

Three important revolutions shaped the course of history: the Cognitive Revolution kick-started history about 70,000 years ago.  The Agricultural Revolution sped it up about 12,000 years ago.  The Scientific Revolution, which got under way only 500 years ago, may well end history and start something completely different.  This book tells the story of how these three revolution have affected humans and their fellow organisms.”

Amazing how this un-funked me.  Infinity … Eternity … and Me.  When I think about now – this time in the history of everything, my angst isn’t going to make a bit of difference.  I can certainly do my part to fill the ocean one drop of water at a time.  I can do it as a happy warrior – or I can do it as a ragged out, blathering mess.  Hmm.  Touch choice.

The history of humankind … good, bad?  It’s all in how I choose to see it.


“What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” – Viktor Frankl


Be BOLD – Think Big

Wyoming Spread 2011There’s enough for everyone!

Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler hooked me with their book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think.  Let’s focus on the good news – not doom, gloom, death & destruction (aka the 6 o’clock News).  They reeled me in with statistician Hans Rosling’s TED Talk “The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen” (very cool) – and then landed me with Moore’s law, Ray Kurzweil, exponential technology and signs that we’re living in the “Elbow of the Curve” – NOW . Today . like Kurzweil predicted in 2010.

My favorite quote from the book is by Neil Jacobstien, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert:

“Exponential technologies may eventually permit people to not need jobs to have a high standard of living.  People will have many choices with how they utilize their time and develop a sense of self-esteem—ranging from leisure normally associated with retirement, to art, music, or even restoring the environment.  The emphasis will be less on making money and more on making contributions, or at least creating an interesting life.”

That’s what I’m talking about – no “J.O.B.” – Choose how I spend my time, make contributions – live an interesting life!  No need to retire.  “Retirement” – Bah!  Tell me!  What can I do – how can I help create this vision?

When their new book BOLD; How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World came out last year it went on my must read list.  When I finally cracked the cover, I was completely absorbed, excited and energized. There are BIG thinkers out there.  I want a part of that.  I’d already made the decision to “retire” early . . veering off the usual path to follow my personal passions.  Am I thinking too small?  Or is my part just the right size?

Diamandis and Kotler explain that in the past life was “linear . . nothing changed over centuries or even millennia .. . today we live in a world that is global and exponential.  The problem is that our brains—and thus our perceptual capabilities—were never designed to process at either this scale or this speed.”  What a great time to be alive.

To help us think BOLD … they provided a road map to understand what they call the “Six Ds of Exponentials: digitalization, deception, disruption, demonetization, dematerialization, and democratization.” 

  • Digitalization – “once a process or product transitions from physical to digital, it becomes exponentially empowered.” Check out: Moore’s Law.
  • Deception“a period during which exponential growth goes mostly unnoticed.” This is the long, slow, excruciating slog where Seth Godin would ask you to consider if the effort is “dip worthy.”
  • Disruption “innovation that creates a new market and disrupts an existing one.” Disruption follows deception; beware the “original technological threat often seems laughably insignificant.”  Who remembers the first digital camera?
  • Demonetization“the removal of money from the equation.” What?  Pay for long distance?  Crazy – get Skype!
  • Dematerialization“the vanishing of goods and services.” Hello Smart Phone – Goodbye “video cameras .. GPS .. records .. tape recorders .. maps .. calculators.”
  • Democratization“the end of the exponential chain reaction” – When prices approach “zero” and “free or ultra-low-cost Internet access to every human on Earth” is imminent.

As I gear up for my next adventure, it’s time to spell out what Diamandis and Kotler call my “MTP – My Massively Transformative Purpose.” 

“Passion is the differentiator … throw up a flag and be very clear what you stand for … be as specific as possible.”    

Then of course they go and quote Jeff Bezos of Amazon: “… you’ve got to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”  Seriously?  Direct hit on the Emerson Rule.  How can I resist?

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥Bryce Canyon

“Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — `Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Science and Belief

Bruce Lipton

In Biology of Belief, Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D., a stem cell biologist who taught at Wisconsin’s School of Medicine, shares his journey of awareness; scientific and personal.  He wants to empower non-scientific folk and make complicated stuff accessible.  He teaches how “each cell is an intelligent being that can survive on its own” – and “actively seeks environments that support their survival… simultaneously avoiding toxic or hostile ones.”

“The fate and behavior of an organism is directly linked to its perception of the environment . . . the character of our life is based upon how we perceive it.”  . . .  “Many of us are leading limited lives not because we have to but because we think we have to.” 

We are miracles.  All our trillions of intelligent cells come together to create our experience on earth.  Day-in, day-out, who thinks about how our cells work?  How cell membranes regulate proteins; polar or non-polar; which cells get nutrients – or not?  Who knew we had phospholipids that keep nutrients from getting where they need to go when the right receptors are missing?  I guess a Biologist would – but me?  Not so much.

Schrodingers CatAccording to Dr. Lipton, most Biologists “rely on the outmoded . . Newtonian version of how the world works.”   They didn’t join the  Physicists who threw out the Newtonian universe and “realize that the concept of matter is an illusion.”  Lipton sees that:

“..matter is made of energy and there are no absolutes.  At the atomic level, matter does not even exist with certainty; it only exists as a tendency to exist.”

When we talk disease, it shows up at the macro level; but it started at the molecular level.  Taking a prescription “to silence a body’s symptoms, enables us to ignore personal involvement with the onset of those symptoms . . . drugs suppress the symptoms but most never address the cause of the problem.” 

“Energy medicine” is not new.  Chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathic and other non-drug practitioners’ fight to be recognized as legitimate.  Lipton believes that “the medical establishment will eventually be dragged, half kicking and screaming, full force into the quantum revolution.”

Quantum science includes biology – “matter and energy are entangled.” 

“Thoughts, the minds energy, directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology.” – “The fact is that harnessing the power of your mind can be more effective than the drugs you have been programmed to believe you need.”  – who hasn’t heard of the placebo effect?

Our “greatest problem” according to Dr. Lipton is that “we think we are running our lives with the wishes, desires, and aspirations created by our conscious mind.” 

We aren’t.  According to a 2005 neuroscience study, our conscious mind is active about 5% of the time.  The other 95% we’re operating on autopilot – aka our subconscious.  How else do we drive a car, have a conversation, eat an apple – and wind up where we’re going?

As children we pick up “the fundamental behaviors, beliefs and attitudes we observe in our parents.”  They “become ‘hard-wired’ as synaptic pathways in our subconscious minds.  Once programmed into the subconscious mind they control our biology for the rest of our lives … or at least until we make the effort to reprogram them.” 

The good news is that we have a choice.

“We can actively choose how to respond to most environmental signals” . . . “The conscious mind’s capacity to override the subconscious mind’s pre-programmed behaviors is the foundation of free will.” 

What we choose to believe is up to us.  How we change our beliefs depends – hysterically enough on our beliefs; no one way works for everyone!


Me NYC Metro

Gandhi Quote




Responsibility – Awareness and Commitment

NuggetBruce H. Lipton, Ph.D. provided many nuggets of wisdom in his book Biology of Belief.  One nugget had me in the bulls-eye:

“.. you are personally responsible for everything in your life, once you become aware that you are personally responsible for everything in your life.”

He added the “once you become aware” part when people attending his lectures freaked out.  His science is compelling, but he didn’t want to throw “guilt” “shame” or “blame.”

Quite the conundrum.  Making people feel bad about creating a big ole stinky life doesn’t help one bit; could make things worse.  But if the science is there . . . it’s complicated.

Becoming aware isn’t a magic bullet though.  I can know I’m responsible, believe it to my core – and carry on ignoring and deflecting; because it’s easier.  Who enjoys being the salmon swimming up the cultural stream?  Or giving up cozy habits – especially the ones that give comfort on dark days?

Still everything starts with awareness.  Becoming aware I can see the impact of my thoughts, actions, habits and beliefs.  When I see, I can choose to change – or not.  Awareness, commitment – action; the basics for a better future.


“If you shut up the truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”        ― Emile Zola