A story about ears & earbuds and really about the mind

For the last few weeks, I have thought I was losing hearing in my left ear. I haven’t noticed it in daily life, but when I use earbuds, and specifically when my head is on the pillow and I use only one, I notice that I need to turn the volume on the left ear up two steps.

I made a plan to set up an appointment with an ear doctor, and yesterday while in the car, I also had a thought: Maybe I should check the earbuds first? I did, and it turned out that the problem was with the earbuds and not my ears.

It was comical, and it’s a story about the mind.

One of the functions and gifts of the mind is to make assumptions, to create a connection between A and B. It helps me function in daily life and the wast majority of these assumptions are innocent and turn out to be correct. (Assumptions about physics etc.)

At the same time, it’s good to check out some of those assumptions when I can, especially the ones about myself and others that may not be correct and have consequences for how I live my life.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Mysteries of the universe

Many of us are fascinated by the conventional mysteries of the universe.

How old is it? Was there an actual “beginning”? Does it have an end? Will it end in heat death or does it pulse? What’s behind the observations we label “black matter” and “black energy”? Is there other life in the universe? Is it intelligent? Has it visited us? What happened to Mary Celeste? Does bigfoot exist? Will we have controlled fusion within the next ten years?

These are entertaining and – for most of us – relatively unthreatening topics.

THE MYSTERY WITHIN WHAT WE THINK WE UNDERSTAND AND KNOW

And yet, the mysteries of the universe go far beyond this.

Anything we collectively think we know are stories with limited and temporary validity.

And anything I personally think I know are stories with limited and temporary validity.

These are stories with a practical function only. They help us orient and navigate in the world. They cannot reflect any complete, final, or absolute truth. Reality is always more than and different from our stories about it.

There is a fundamental mystery even in what’s most familiar to us and what we think we know and understand.

And taking that in is, in some cases, difficult. We may struggle quite a bit before we open to the ultimate mystery within what we think we know and understand.

What are our most cherished stories about ourselves, others, and the world? They may include basic assumptions about the world and ourselves. For instance, the world is knowable. I am a being and object in the world. They may also include politics and ethics. People should be decent and fair. People shouldn’t destroy nature. Greed is bad. And they may include our ideas about our own life and other people. I am a victim. Something terrible happened to me. I am good. She is a bad person. He shouldn’t lie. Or even metaphysics. God is love. God is a being. God is all of existence.

THE MYSTERY OF WHAT WE ARE

There is also the mystery of our own nature, and the nature of reality.

What am I more fundamentally, in my own first-person experience? How is it to allow this human self to reorganize within that noticing? How is it to live from it, here and now?

Is what I find also the nature of existence in general?

ENTERTAINING VS CHALLENGING MYSTERIES

Lisa may enjoy the entertaining and relatively unchallenging mysteries of the universe.

But does she enjoy the ones that challenge her most cherished assumptions about herself, others, life, and the world?

How do we relate to those more fundamental mysteries?

Magic tricks

Off and on since childhood, I have been fascinated by magic tricks and how they are done.

First, there is the enjoyment of being baffled. Then, of learning how it’s done. And with the best performances, the enjoyment of recognizing the skill with which it is done.

In addition to this, magic tricks tells us something about the mind.

Good magicians are experts on certain ways the mind works and they use this to entertain and fool us. And when the secrets behind the tricks are revealed, we also get some insights into how the mind works. (See, for instance, Teller’s Seven Ways to Fool the Brain.)

Mainly, the world of magic tricks shows us how our minds operates on expectations and assumptions about the world, and that these are not always accurate. Most of the time, they are accurate enough and very helpful to us, but sometimes these assumptions break down. Assumptions won’t always be accurate, and magicians take advantage of this and – if we allow it – reminds us the fallibility of our assumptions.

Some even think that magic tricks are “real” magic, and that too shows us something about the mind. It shows us how our hopes and fears can hijack a more rational and down-to-earth view, and what happens when we don’t do sufficient research and lack knowledge about a topic.

A few sources I have enjoyed:

Hiding the Elephant by Jim Stenmeyer.

Penn and Teller: Fool Us – in addition to some googling.

A range of YouTube videos explaining certain tricks.

And there is also an increase in psychology articles on the topic these days.

Generate several theories to keep the mind flexible and receptive

I find it helpful to generate as many theories as possible about anything that seems relatively important. I often do it in my own life, and I also do it when it comes to the topics of this post. It helps me not get stuck in one specific interpretation or set of assumptions. It helps my mind stay more flexible and open to different possibilities. It also helps remind me that different explanations may be valid in different cases.

When I generate different theories, I check to see how well they fit the data. And I also make sure to generate different theories about the data itself. Nothing is given or set in stone.

– from a previous post

This is essential in science and very helpful in daily life. A friend or partner may act a certain way. I may not know what’s going on, so instead of landing on one set of assumptions I intentionally generate different possibilities. In this case, I can of course also ask!

I do this partly because I have made assumptions about others and situations which I later realized were not accurate, and I have had this happen when others have made assumptions about me. Remembering these instances is a good motivation for me to continue to generate a richness of possibilities.

Questions and their assumptions

Any question rests on assumptions.

So one resolution to the question is to (a) identify these assumptions, and then (b) examine them.

There are of course many other types of answers too, each one potentially helpful in its own way.

One question may be why did I lose my awakening?

Assumption: It’s lost. Question: Is it true it’s lost? Is it true it’s not here now? Can you find it in immediacy? (Even if it’s perhaps less strong, more in the background?)

Assumption: It belonged to me. Question: Is it true it is yours? Is it true it was yours in the first place? Is it true it belongs to a person?

And there are other types of answers. For instance….

It’s a very common experience. It’s here, then apparently gone.

Also, it may appear gone for a couple of different reasons.

(i) It’s here, but doesn’t look the way you expect. You associate it with how it appeared initially…. perhaps in the foreground, extremely clear. It may still be here, only more quietly and in the background.

(ii) As soon as identification (beliefs, velcro) returns, the clarity may appear to be gone. This is not a bad thing or wrong. It shows you what’s left. It is an invitation to meet these identifications with presence, love, and curiosity.

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The underworld gives meaning to a thought

At The School in LA last week, Katie mentioned that the underworld is what gives meaning to a thought.

That’s what I have found as well.

There is an image of a cat in my mind. In itself it’s just an image, and perhaps not even that.

Then, there are underlying thoughts and assumptions that gives meaning to this image. A cat is fluffy, warm, sits on my lap, gives pleasure. There are images of past experiences with cats. I see myself as someone who likes cats, and someone liked by cats. I think they are mammals, beings, a facet of Spirit as anything else. I think they live 15-20 years or so, like to eat mice and birds. I think people treating cats unkindly are wrong, bad, hurt, caught up in their own hurt and take it out on cats. I feel sorry for mistreated cats. I see images of cats soaking up the warmth from the sun, drinking water, purring, having kittens.

All of these images give meaning to the initial image of a cat. They are all there, activated to some extent as soon as there is an image of a cat in my mind. Sometimes, I am aware of some of these images. And most of the time, they are just there in the background, activated by the initial cat image, providing to vague images, creating a general atmosphere, offering associations, bringing bout feelings, giving me a sense that I like cats and like to be with them.

So all the meaning that cats have for me – everything I associate with them, feel about them, and expect from a cat – is from my own world of images. It’s from, in the words of Byron Katie, the underworld. There is an image of a cat in my world of images, and it’s underworld is this world of images in my mind associated with my image of a cat.

And that’s how it is with any thought. In itself it’s just a nonverbal thought – AKA image – or a verbal thought. And it’s giving meaning through its associated images and thoughts.

And in inquiry, I can investigate all of these, all the way from the apparently surface and peripheral ones to the very basic ones.

Questioning assumptions

Some stories seem unquestionably true.

I am a man. A Norwegian citizen. Of a certain age. A human being. An object in the world.

My culture – and most or all cultures – would say these are true, so I take them as obviously true.

And yet, if I take a closer look at them, what do I find? Are they as obviously true as they first appeared?

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If we don’t know its function, it must not have one

The appendix is shown to support the immune system, in contrast to the previous view of it having no function at all. And what about junk DNA, do we know it doesn’t have a function?

Western science has had a tendency to assume that if we don’t know its function, it must not have one. It is obviously a silly assumption.

So the question then is, where and how do I do the same? Where do I assume that if I don’t know the function of something, it must not have one?

When I look, I find I do it all the time.

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