On Thinking

I recently made some changes to my life. The change was to reduce the number of shifts I was working at my part time gig. The reason I made this change was that I realized that my brain was spending more time thinking about the gig than on my personal projects. I was losing my capacity for thinking deeply and writing. Also, the gig required that I be there at 4:30 am 4 days a week, which means that prime thinking time was compromised. When I got home from the gig, I was tired, needed a nap. My brain was shut down for most of the rest of the day, being willing only to read other people\’s books. I realized that the plan for my retirement, to build phase 3 of my life out of creative writing and addiction studies was being sidelined.

Now, this morning, I was able to focus. Thinking is a brain activity, with a spiritual component. Your brain requires energy, so I still need to sleep. I had a subtle under current of self disrespect: aren\’t you worthless just sitting here thinking? Well, I always wanted to be a great thinker. This morning I thought about how great thinkers spent their time doing just that, thinking. They may have had a seed idea but then they sat and thought and wrote down the thoughts. Media changes the way you think. For me that is scrolling through Youtube or news feeds.

Nicolas Carr wrote a book about how the Net changes the way you think, \”The Shallows\”. Page 8, \”…media aren\’t just channels of information.They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation…my mind now expects to take in information…in a swiftly moving stream of particles.\”

Honestly, I quit watching TV decades ago because I didn\’t want to be Programmed by it. Now, I face that same challenge with the Net. Unfortunately, the Net is far more addictive to the human brain. If I want to be a thinker, I need to maintain longer periods of concentrated thought and abstaining from shallow non-thinking activities. This is a tough challenge because the brain does get dopamine hits from scrolling. I need to continue to find longer piece of work, like a long blog or a book or an article, which cause me to concentrate and spend time reading and thinking. Writing then helps keep the focus of the thoughts.

Thinking is also different from just letting my default node network spin around to where ever from my past history it wants to, unguided by my conscious mind. Thinking should have a focus, a path and a conclusion or a progression. Thinking has a subject, but also thinking is objective. The process of thinking should achieve an objective end. Thinking is different from unconsciously seeking dopamine hits.

Spiritual Economy

You are used to material dollars and cents, and the continuous worry about having enough. Now consider spiritual wealth and the spirit economy. Tap into a new type of wealth and abundance. The only requirement is belief, which you might not have to begin with. You need only have enough belief to try, and then you will find inner abundance. If you have inner abundance, you won\’t care how much outer abundance you have. You will be free.

What stops you from spiritual abundance is negative beliefs about yourself: self loathing and self denigration. Go under these habitual negative thoughts and find the real essence of your being. Everybody has unconditional life itself. Feel life for a moment. Life will show you into the spirit economy.

Currently, people make it big in the dollars and cents world if they can find an idea which causes others to have a dopamine reward, and then they go to work selling that idea. Today\’s people love dopamine more than people 50 years ago. Maybe our society has developed and leveraged dopamine. Today\’s human brain wants dopamine more than ever and has access to more dopamine rewards than 50 years ago.

Take a look at a graph showing opioid overdose deaths by year, or opioid addiction rates by year and realize: dopamine addiction rates mirror that graph only a quantum leap higher. Everybody in the world is dopamine addicted. Everybody in the world wants to participate in the dopamine economy: getting more and more brain hits. Dopamine feels good.

Is there any way to feel good aside from dopamine?

Yes, in the spiritual economy. Feeling good because you touched the source of life itself which lives inside. Tap into a source which is not in the material dimension of reality. You\’ve heard about meditation? You heard Jesus say to leave this world? Is your church a dopamine producing gaggle fuck with no real meaning?

At some point in your life, you will want to have truth. You will want to know what it all means. You will have to look within. The mother lode is within. True feeling good is sourced from within. You will have to be quiet and look inside.

On another note, ultra monk runs! (sorry about the wobbly video)

Rampage of Love

Early yesterday morning, as I was deciding whether to get out of bed, the word \”love\” popped into my mind. Maybe that word alone was why I got out of bed. In my writing practice, I decided to write on this word and see what came out.

At this time in my life, I am in a dopamine desert. I am not playing the dopamine reward game with anyone; most particularly a work environment. If you have not read so much on neuroscience, maybe you don\’t know that every human brain loves dopamine. We feel good when we have dopamine. Most of us unconsciously go from situation to situation attempting to trigger a dopamine hit. We try to get other people to approve of us, thus triggering the dopamine; or we find an addiction which triggers the dopamine.

The game is to get another person or situation to somehow make you feel good for a little while, like through praise or recognition, approval, reward, honor, etc.

I should mention that the first Christian monks went to the desert to practice contemplation. My dopamine desert is an analogy with those early desert monks. Stop for a moment and imagine yourself in a very silent desert cave, gazing at a star filled sky, and feeling the divine presence. That is how I want to experience my desert.

I came to my dopamine desert. I brought with me a dream. A dream of creating and giving. That is, I would take my monastic education and spiritual studies, write and publish for others. It is a dream of connection without distraction with all that is; and receiving vibrations which I would turn into words and give to others. I would turn vibrations into thoughts and then words, thus making the creative dream a reality.

To have my dream and to live in the dopamine desert, I must believe in myself and in cosmic reality, the forever partnership of us. I have a monastic education, that is, I lived in monastic formation for 3 years. Life as a monk gave me tools for consciously enabling the divine partnership. I also have sources for ongoing spiritual education.

Most of all, I have my own soul. Every soul speaks towards their human in quiet whispers. Every human can tune themselves to their soul.

Everything I do before I die will be to enhance and enjoy the relationship with my soul and the miracle of my human life. There is an unconditional love which doesn\’t depend on the world\’s dopamine rewards and which embraces the human spirit.

Everyone has a path and access to the soul. How conscious are we? I approach the monk\’s life of direct focus on the divine presence more than once in my nearly 6 decades of life.

This little journal post was started with the word love and you can see where it lead me. Implicitly, to know the divine presence is to love unconditionally.

Can\’t Afford It

Yesterday evening I was thinking about dopamine. I was reading an article about how cell phone apps are programmed to trigger certain brain responses and encourage fixation on checking the phone. This linked up in my mind to our nation\’s, and my own, obsession with Trump entertainment. That is, the media are marketing moral outrage and something in our brain loves it.

I think it is my negative ego which loves all the controversy. I get some sort of dopamine pleasure by reading about the battles in politics with Trump. But I don\’t think I can afford to carry on this chemical pleasure; and it surely is a type of porn and addiction.

So today I drove to work in silence. My beloved NPR has been shut off. I thought about what I wanted to think about. Some of my thoughts are work related. But also I thought about what my spiritual work has produced in me. One of the themes of my spiritual work is \”conscious contact with a power greater than myself.\” One of the requirements of conscious contact with a higher power is consciousness itself. That is, I must accept consciousness in totality. As soon as I am conscious, then I am aware of my dirty little secrets, like taking pleasure from the Trump bashing. And so I must do something about myself.

I have the spiritual tools. More about what I will do will be coming forth. Starting Sunday is the 3,100 Mile Self Transcendence Race (google it). Annually I use these days for my own self transcendence. Some people have Lent. I have self transcendence.

By the way, the last time I shut off the news for years was when Clinton was president and I decided not to listen to any testimony about Monica Lewinsky.

I am a member of the silent majority. I go to work and pay taxes. No matter who is in Washigton, they want my money.

Stability

Benedictines take vows of Obedience (to a prioress), Conversatio (conversion of morals) and Stability (to the monastery). I was in Benedictine formation and completed my novitiate. So even though I didn\’t make profession, I was completely formed by the Benedictine method. Regardless of public witness of vows, which I lack, I did write these vows out formally and make them to God. So in my heart, I made these vows.

And I\’ve never been able to escape thinking about them for more than 10 years since I made them.

I was thinking about stability this morning. I need stability in the cave of my heart and stability of intention and action. Being stable on the inside seems like it should manifest as stability on the outside. In some areas, like the engineering profession, I\’ve been an engineer my whole career. But not one employer.

So this morning, my small mind was continuing a struggle which is not a struggle. See, I\’m a process safety engineer. I live in Houston where job openings abound. I\’ve almost been with my current employer for 5 years. My small mind wants to apply for a job or two, just to see how much more money I could make. That is a ridiculous idea. I make enough money and I have a great job.

As I type this, I can feel the agitation of my small mind that continuously struggles. Why does it do that? What is the root cause?

For one, there is a dopamine reward cycle involved with achieving change. another dopamine reward cycle involved with self importance, and winning. It is very difficult to resist the lure of dopamine.

I don\’t want to make a change. But I don\’t know how to calm my small mind. Usually, I follow the small mind\’s dictates eventually. But this goes against stability at the present moment. And I want stability in order to continue putting my energy into contemplation and stability of heart. I don\’t want to waste my energy making job changes. My intention is spiritual growth and my actions should be in that direction; not following the small mind and achieving in the world.

How will I contain the constant agitation of my small mind? There are more agitations than job changes. I will continue to return to my prayer word. I will continue to stick to my habits of Conversatio, spiritual study, contemplative silence. I know this is obedience to the Spirit and not the small mind. I am spirit, not a small mind.

Turn the Page 2013

It is the end of the year. Yesterday my wall looked like this:

Today it looks like this:

A blank wall. Turn the page. Let go of 2 years worth of racing. Let go of last year\’s 12 marathons and 4 half marathons. Let go of the DNS due to a March snow storm in Kansas. Let go of the DNSs due to surgery. Let go of the wasted air fares, entry fees, people not seen, miserable results.

I\’m starting a new position in my company in 2014. I have a new heel. I have a new philosopher to study.

I\’m almost 55 years old, just a few more days. My life should be past its mid-life crisis. You would think that I would have accepted everything. But this morning, the pondering carried on. Few dopamine rewards accrue to the solitary.

When I came into sobriety, I had to admit powerlessness and un-manageability over my life. In the monastery, the act of monastic profession was bound up with the idea of total self gift to God. I really wanted to make my total self gift and have it validated by the religious order and Church. Instead, I got kicked out, so no validation of my gift. This morning, reading Plotinus\’ Enneads, the idea of self disposal came up. Self disposal is true if there is no outside master or compulsion over the act; and it is inwards toward The Good. I realized that I have control over this. I can do it.

I return to my life. 55 years of some interesting events, some dopamine rewards in achievements, but no visible purpose. My ego got nothing but older. But I see that self disposal is true. I have been somewhat solitary for about 10 years. In my somewhat ordinary life, dopamine rewards thwarted by solitude, self disposal is possible. Total self gift becomes real in the surrender, in the admission of powerlessness, in the ongoing spiritual practice with no worldly rewards.

This Christmas, my ego got nothing. I got what I wanted.

Awards

A meditation on brain programming.

Would you suffer physical pain running beyond your body\’s ability in order to get one of these? Would you cheat to get it? Would you spend money out the wazoo to get it?

Of course you would. It is a cheap piece of plastic. But your brain doesn\’t know that and will nag at you until you do it. You will make up lofty reasons for why you did it, strengths of character, spiritual value, love, determination, courage, etc.

Bullshit.

Without the shiny gold medallion, you wouldn\’t do it. This is the ultimate participation in the dopamine reward cycle. We want to be a hero and we want everyone to admire us.

The only way to be true to yourself is to do it without the notoriety, the rewards, the conversations. Jesus walked through pain knowing it meant nothing. This is the path to eternal life: realize that this world means nothing. Go into your secret room and do your miles there. Self transcendence has to be done in private or else it is just the dopamine self all over again.

Give it up.

I prayed this morning for an enemy. After that, I feel good. \”I pray for M. I pray for his health, prosperity and happiness. I pray that everything I want for myself be given to him.\”

Free Will

Today was yet another attempt to practice anti-socialization, anti-dopamine reward cycle, ongoing attempt to break out of a society affected behavioral prison. Downward mobility in action.

Either I had a nice 16 mile trail run in a forest which I get to write in my log; and which I sensibly stopped when it seemed like I was damaging my left achilles. Good girl.

Or I am a failure because it was a 50k race which I didn\’t finish. The volunteers were disappointed and I have no medal to hang on my wall. Bad girl.

I came home and showered and laid on the bed. I decided not to make up a story about whether I was in enough pain to justify quitting. I decided just to feel my brain struggle to make excuses so I wouldn\’t get in trouble. With who? The Mommy and Daddy who live in my head.

After a nap, I picked up my neurophilosophy book \”Brain Wise\” and began to read. I read that most of us don\’t really have control over the choices and behaviors we exhibit. In fact, it takes an incredible act of self will to quit a race. In the ultra marathon economy, people keep going despite severe pain. Quitting as I did today is completely against the rules. Quitting goes against the ultra marathon tribe. Quitting makes visible the illusion: pushing thru the pain is good.

I know this because, now, several hours later, I\’d say that there\’s nothing wrong with me a little NSAID won\’t fix. I\’ll be out there doing miles tomorrow. In my personal, non-dopamine reward economy, doing miles tomorrow takes priority over pleasing society today.

I\’ll hang my number (a white piece of tyvek with a 5 printed on it, nothing else) on the wall with the other medals and count it a neurophilosophical victory.

Fighting to have free will, I also made choices at work this week which didn\’t please Mommy or Daddy. One was I intentionally avoided kissing up to a high level manager. Another was I asked to start working a 9/80  schedule and take every other Friday off. My boss (Daddy) miraculously approved the request but did grumble some. See, most of our department works many hours every week but don\’t take the Friday off. Other departments, everyone is taking the Friday off, engineers and mid-level managers included. So I decided to join that group.

It is perhaps a change of life struggle, but I must go through it. I insist on being who I really am before I die.

Useless Journies – ACIM Chapter 4

This morning I woke up with the question on my mind, \”If you have no one to tell about your running and no dopamine rewards, what would you do?\” In the silence, an honest answer is demanded.

If there is a thing as spirit, it must be brought forth and lived. I think it means giving up the things which are louder, the noise. Dopamine rewards are not spirit.

Then, I began chapter 4 (The Illusions of the Ego) of the Course in Miracles text. Here is paragraph 3 of the introduction: \”The journey to the cross should be the last “useless journey”; Do not dwell upon it, but dismiss it as accomplished. If you can accept it as your own last useless journey, you are also free to join my resurrection. Until you do so your life is indeed wasted. It merely re-enacts the separation, the loss of power, the futile attempts of the ego at reparation, and finally the crucifixion of the body, or death. Such repetitions are endless until they are voluntarily given up. Do not make the pathetic error of “clinging to the old rugged cross”; The only message of the crucifixion is that you can overcome the cross. Until then you are free to crucify yourself as often as you choose. This is not the Gospel I intended to offer you. We have another journey to undertake, and if you will read these lessons carefully they will help prepare you to undertake it.\”

This paragraph is counter to denominational Christianity. This is one of the reason I like A Course in Miracles: it is counter-cultural.

So, I gave up a major internet social site. This gave me time to contemplate. Before I had such great internet connections, I contemplated. I stood in the silence and endured its searching. I want to be spirit, not ego. Giving up the ego\’s accomplishments is to hard because it means giving up the dopamine rewards. Its not that I won\’t ever try to accomplish anything, but that I will do it in secret. Because if I say anything, the other person congratulates me and I get the dopamine reward.

So, if I give up the rewards, it is a detox experience. Changing the habits which seek out the rewards is difficult. Seeking the rewards is a survival mechanism. Having a secure and valued place in the tribe is necessary for survival according to the ancient brain mechanisms. Today, achieving something and being praised is the equivalent of bringing the tribe some food.

I want to walk away from this mode of living. Not because I am better, but because I seek something else. Renunciation. Downward mobility. Giving in secret…praying in secret…fasting in secret…losing this life….

An interesting picture was taken of me on a bridge in Corpus Christi. I see that I am a skinny version of my mother. Not the drunk fat cruel mother with whom which I lived, but the spark of energy which could play beautiful piano and did seek higher things, only to run into the alcohol addiction over and over. As  spark, I live:

So funny, see I am holding my sun glasses. This was taken before the sun came up; but the wind was so fiercely blowing sand, that I had to put my glasses on for protection.

Easter 2013 Multi-Day

On Thursday, I got in 3 hours of workout plus strength.
On Friday, I got the private marathon done plus strength.
On Saturday, I did the half marathon plus elliptical plus strength.

Now it is Sunday. I\’m headed to the park for a long walk, plus additional cross training this evening.

Pretty decent 4 days of workout; a multi-day. Just for me. Part of the anti-dopamine project. Downward Mobility in the material world. Drinking the dregs of my personal energy.

But down in my guts, the one thing I always wanted was the spiritual connection. From the start, I observed strange religious behavior and I believed that those people knew God, or Jesus. I tried everything to achieve the reality.

I never made it.

Now that I am studying neuro philosophy/science (brain books), I can\’t claim that beliefs are based on anything other than warped survival instinct.

But study of A Course in Miracles does help me deal with my fear and have happy days. So do endorphins. But I don\’t know more than that.

I hope some day I have the spiritual connection. It is the hope and dream of a lifetime; which is slowly and depressingly eroding.

I think I\’ll go buy something.