Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cracked Open [2 of 3]

Eckhart Tolle is a German-born writer, public speaker, and spiritual teacher. He is the author of the bestsellers, The Power of Now and A New Earth. In 2008, an article in the New York Times referred to him as "the most popular spiritual author in the United States". He lives in Vancouver, Canada. 




by Salman S

July 9, 1985: 6:30 AM: Rajanpur Junction
“Kafeel Bhai of Ghotkee - World’s greatest left arm and right arm googlee bowler...”. Holding the flask in my hand, I was staring at the back-plane of the limping truck having that legendary “monogram” sandwiched between an oddly painted eagle and equally oddly dented F-16 representation. Nobody who has traversed on GT road in last 3 decades can claim not to have seen the same signature art form.
Just 4 hours ago I was lying at the top of this overloaded truck among fertilizers sacks, chatting away with Mohammad Ali - the cleaner and a local football hero. Truck crew was kind enough to stop by our stalled Jeep on a deserted South Punjab road and made space for my parents and younger brother in “red-lit” front capsule as I was escorted up the open air top in the back. Close to the dawn we were dropped off at Rajanpur Junction and said goodbyes and thanks to our good Samaritans, perhaps never to see each other again.
About an hour later I saw Mohammad Ali’s smiling face at the entrance of the “Darjaa Awwal” waiting room on platform number 1 (and incidentally the only one) where I was dozing off with my parents. He uttered a low volume whistle to call me out and quietly handed me over our flask which we have left in the truck.
 The Explorer
Imagine yourself growing up in urban surrounding of 80’s of Pakistan and having an extremely curious and equally shy personality. Not trusting the air around you and at the same time getting exposed to some serious literature, the natural outcome would be you becoming an introvert information sponge. Nurturing a wide aesthetic bandwidth and no particular objective in mind, this is what I ended up experiencing and consequently could not help but getting drowned into this sea of content. Anything and everything would go. Between “Jasoosee Digest” to “Ibne-Safi”, from  “Yadon Kee Baraat” to “Abdullah Malik”, from “Shorash Kashmiri” to “Maxim Gorky”, from “Enid Blyton” to “Sidney Sheldon”, from “Syed Sulaiman Nadvi” to “Abul-Aala-Modooddi”, from “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” to “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and from “Story of Philosophy” to “History of the World”. This was my world in late 80’s. And yes all of it did bring in its due share of confusions and thought imbalances, at an age at which you are stupid enough to voluntarily open up for your cricket team without wearing a guard on a grass top uneven pitch. If you are ever hit by a brand new cricket ball on the groin you very well know what I mean!
Fast forwarding two decades, among a whole range of other fundamental questions, one of the most sought after one for me still remains understanding the mechanics of human thought process. How does thinking happen? What is the nature of thought? Who initiates thoughts? Who is a thinker? What do we mean when we say “I think therefore I am”? Are there any agents involved in thought process? Is thought part of instinct or something above and beyond? Is thought able to explain and express itself? Is thought just a chemical phenomenon or does it have some non-material existence?
Now surely I am not the first or the only one to have these questions, as validated from philosophy, history and psychology literature of the world and I am equally certain that the similar questions must have passed as your “thought“streams at some stage. My intention is not to refer back to all the classical literature written on this subject but rather share a new age perspective of some extremely interesting and equally opinionated lives I have encountered surrounding this topic. What you will find interesting is that these opinions are primarily based on personal experiences and have their foundations deeply rooted in emotional intelligence as oppose to classical research methodologies. For some of my hopelessly left minded friends (please see Steven Pinkers “A Whole New Mind”) this new age mumbo-jumbo probably will not cut it. What follows could hardly be useful in the CSS exam or infer out a PhD thesis idea, let alone using it as a knockout punch in your next philosophical debate with your Uncles in Gymkhana. What I can assure you however is that if you are able to get the gist of even few of the ideas shared by these souls, your lives would be profoundly different as I am steadily discovering. Without further ado please meet Jill Bolte Tylor.   
The Anatomical
The year was 1996 and at the age of 35, Harvard trained neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Tyler was the youngest ever board member at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She was at the peak of her carrier researching towards her goal of understanding the chemistry of the brain related illnesses like schizophrenia, the very same disease which brought serious suffering for his brother 2 years ago. In December of same year, the unfortunate and ironical happened. Jill had a stroke. In matter of hours, the haemorrhage and blood clot shut down all activity in the left hemisphere of her brain. With only her right brain remaining active she could easily have suffered the same fate that so many other stroke patients have, never been able to turn back to what we called normal brain activity for the rest of their lives. Jill’s story however had to be different, perhaps to allow the rest of us to have a rare glimpse into the inner workings of human brain and it miracles. After eight years of intense personal perseverance and with the help of an extraordinarily dedicated mother, Jill was able to fully recover, reconnected lost connections of her brain and survived to tell her story. Perhaps the best way to describe the first few hours of the stroke would be in her own words as narrated in her book “My Stroke of Insight”.
“As my cognitive mind searched for an explanation about what was happening anatomically inside my brain, I reeled backward in response to the augmented roar of the water as the unexpected noise pierced my delicate and aching brain. In that instant, I suddenly felt vulnerable, and I noticed that the constant brain chatter that routinely familiarized me with my surroundings was no longer a predictable and constant flow of conversation. Instead, my verbal thoughts were now inconsistent, fragmented, and interrupted by an intermittent silence.......”
“By this point I had lost touch with much of the physical three-dimensional reality that surrounded me. My body was propped up against the shower wall and I found it odd that I was aware that I could no longer clearly discern the physical boundaries of where I began and where I ended. I sensed the composition of my being as that of a fluid rather than that of a solid. I no longer perceived myself as a whole object separate from everything. Instead, I now blended in with the space and flow around me. Beholding a growing sense of detachment between my cognitive mind and my ability to control and finely manipulate my fingers, the mass of my body felt heavy and my energy waned. “
The rest of the Jill’s story revolves around this center theme of cohesion, consciousness and bliss that she was able to experience due to an accident that shut down her brain portion responsible for producing most of the noisy chatter. With her left brain slowly and deliberately getting back to life she was able to describe in painstaking details the functional boundaries of each of the hemisphere and how they affect the way we think.
In her own words again: “We essentially have two very different brains in our head. Wouldn’t it be nice if we really had an understanding of how to capitalize on the whole organism and recognize when we are skewed more toward one type of thinking as opposed to another? And we’re not just skewed toward another type of thinking; it’s an arrogance that says that my type of thinking is more important or better than your type of thinking because I do it this way and you don’t. We have both hemispheres, and they are equal. One is not better than the other. It just makes us a little bit different in the processing of information.
Jill’s story provide an interesting perspective on the nature and behaviour of brain cell communication patterns, based on the hemisphere they belong to and how easily the messages can be distorted by external and internal imbalances. It also attempts to explain the difference between an automatic thinking pattern and a programmed one and how one can take equal advantage of both of them. Most importantly, backed with anatomical reasoning, the ordeal underlines the importance of acknowledging and exercising the power of choice when it comes to thinking. For those keen in knowing the cause and effects of events, perhaps this story provides ample technical validation as it is experienced and narrated first hand by a neuroscientist using the familiar notations. What that experience implied however, may not be as readily acceptable for most of my left dominant brain friends.
Mohammad Ali was totally irrational. He knew he would never see us again, knew about the gallons of diesel the truck would guzzle but still decided to come back all the way just to return our flask. He was able to connect at a different level.    
The Logical
Ulrich Tolle refused to go to school at the age of 13. Born in 1948 in Lunan, Germany, Ulrich grew up as disturbed child due to family conflicts and eventually ended up developing acute depression into his late twenties. Things took a sudden change from thereon. Experiencing a  ‘flash’ of bliss at the height of intense anxiety and despair, he stumbled upon some very basic but powerfully logical thought constructs which not only completely changed the perspective of life for him but in the process also unearthed some very interesting principles of the mechanics of thought process itself.
World at large knows him now as Eckhart Tolle and he has been sharing his experiences and thoughts through his retreats, lectures and books for the last 10 years out of Vancouver, Canada. It was not until he and his famous book “Power of Now” joined the Oprah bandwagon that his popularity rocketed as yet another new age spiritual teacher coming to the rescue of a disillusioned Western world. He had received his fair share of criticism with both secular skeptics and religious quarters pitching in and calling him opportunist as well as attempting to broker yet another cult. This has also partly to do with the influences of eastern religions and mythologies which are quiet apparent in his teachings and thoughts in general.
Controversy aside, the most powerful and logical of his concepts are actually part of a very simple and effective self-inquiry system. Whereas these concepts may have been existing in philosophies, mythologies and ancient religions for ages, his real achievements is packaging and representing them in a manner to align them pragmatically with the thinking minds of this (so called) rational world of 21st century. He probably has summed it up very nicely in his own words here:
“The beginning of spiritual awakening is the realization that "I am not my thoughts," and "I am not my emotions." So there arises the ability suddenly to observe what the mind is doing, to observe thought processes, to become aware of repetitive thought patterns without being trapped in them, without being completely "in them." So there is a "standing back." It is the ability to observe what the mind is doing, and the ability also to observe an emotion. I define "emotion" as the body's reaction to what the mind is doing. The ability to "watch" that without being identified. That means your whole sense of identity shifts from being the thought or the emotion to being the "observing presence." “
Simply put, it’s a three step mental realization based on decoupling, observing and letting go. Decoupling realizes that your self is above and beyond your thought stream; observing allows having a “viewport” into “thought backplane” within which thoughts land, mature, create emotions and then die; letting go accepts thought streams and their causal effects as first class citizens and respect them irrespective of the immediate consequence to yourself.
Another shortcoming of thinking process Eckhart brought to light was its severe dependency on space and time as explained elaborately in his book “Power of Now”. Human mind is tuned to think within the context of two key negative drivers, fear and frustration and in order to address these it uses the notion of time very cleverly to its advantage. Apparently an excessive amount of thinking happens about the events of past or future in the mind and this is the primary source of mental exhaustion. The thinking is more than always either judgemental or speculative and nobody needs an Eckhart Tolle to personally experience this fact. Take out the time factor and suddenly you only have present moment to think about and the world is not so much of a bad place after all!
Saabir totally missed the fact that it was the last wagon home when he jumped out of it to make space for me. Welcome to the “Power of Now”.

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Source: Takhtee

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