Adventures In Self Discovery To Transform Your Life

Chapter 2
How We Build Our Experience

from the brain and from the brain only arise all our pleasures, joys, laughters and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears.”
Hippocrates – 400 BC

Bodies and brains are grown. In the chemistry of the embryo, genes shape proteins, proteins shape cells and cells shape the body. They build our abilities to see, to talk, to move and everything else. Our experience emerges from genes, accidents, birth order, teachers, parents, circumstance, and opportunity. All this makes every person’s brain and experience unique. The interactions between brain, body and the world are staggeringly complex. Change your brain chemistry a little bit and your world view changes or even your personality. Not only is every individual different but each of us is different from day to day.

If you have a reasonably clear understanding of how this works, you can make it work for you. Once built, our experience drives our bodies and brains. We are always paying attention to what is going on so that our brains can send out danger or safety signals. Automatic brain circuits attend, learn and act to guide us as we go through the day without our noticing. We couldn't cross the street without all this happening in the background. We learn things like fear of snakes, spiders, heights, deep water, small spaces, thunder and the dark. These were threats to our ancestors and still are for us. When we are safe and cared for, our brain sends out safety signals. We can feel relaxed and happy.

New brain cells grow and new connections are set up throughout our lives to handle new information and emerging needs. As we add knowledge and skills, our brain goes through bursts of growth and periods of consolidation. Surplus connections get pruned. Our brain ages driven by our lifestyle as well as our genes. Feeding and exercising the brain is just as important as it is for the rest of the body.

Brain research is in its early stages. There is no comprehensive understanding, just guesses that get tested and confirmed or not. The brain is not "digital." It is not a computer dealing with on or off signals. It is not “analog” using varying levels of a signal. It has its own complex structure and operations. We'll figure it out by and by. Meanwhile we can learn a lot about what is and isn't going on.

We know that the brain is an intricate network of neurons that send signals down tendrils called axons. Axons connect to other neurons. They exchange chemicals called neurotransmitters across a tiny gap called a synapse. All together they generate an ever shifting functional network. Complicated and it works.

One estimate is that there are 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses in a human brain. Our brain forms a million new connections for every second of our lives. These numbers are beyond my my imagination. Each neuron can make contact with many others. The pattern and strength of the connections is changing all the time. The more neurons fire the stronger and larger they become with more branches. New connections between neurons build memory.

The brain sends signals constantly. Patterns of signals link into complex networks. These patterns form the conscious mind. They get assembled as who we are, doing whatever we do. The brain remakes itself throughout life as we pay attention, think and take action. Exactly how this works is still a puzzle.

These changing connections get stored. Memories and habits get learned and personalities get shaped. Certain patterns of brain activity get reinforced while others weaken through inaction. When you make a successful movement, say in riding a bike, that set of connections stabilizes. It becomes the movement you automatically try next time.

Right now there is a link missing between biology and behavior in our understanding. We are only guessing how neurons, synapses, dendrites, and brain structures produce the thoughts, feelings and perceptions that make up our experience. Pretty colored FMRI pictures of blood flow may turn out to be today's 'neurophrenology'. We can use the knowledge we do have to shape how we use our thoughts and feelings to change our experience.

How Brains Build Experience

What is this?

An apple? Well, an image of an apple. Actually a black and white photograph of a plastic apple I have on my desk.

How did you come to know this? Let's unravel a few milliseconds of this experience step by step. You could end up with new and different notions of how you build your reality and how to change it.

To see the world as you do:

1) photons reflect off an object (the apple) and hit the retina of your eye.

2) this triggers neurons that carry signals to the visual cortex and other regions of your brain which then...

• turn the image in each eye upside down,
• switch left for right,
• ignore your nose,
• unite the two images,
• create the illusion of color,
• update the background,
• create the illusion of a smooth flow.

All this happens in milliseconds. Several regions of your brain interact to process millions of bits of information per second. You experience the apple. You remain completely unaware of the process. Wow!

Here's a thought provoker. Every time your eye moves vision shuts down so your experience remains stable. Otherwise you would experience blur with the world jumping all over the place. As a result, you miss 60-90 minutes of your experience every day from blinks or tiny eye movements called saccades. You didn't notice?

Much of what you think of as the outside world is actually made up in your brain. Size, distance and other properties come from sensory cues. They are learned by experience. Incoming signals match up with remembered patterns to build images. We experience what the brain tells us to see and to hear and much more. The red is in your head not in the apple! So far, this just builds our everyday, direct experience.

Now let's go inside where you really create your world.

Within milliseconds of encountering something new your brain evaluates and categorizes it. It checks its file of past experiences. Memories of anything like this 'apple' thing get activated and assembled. If there is any pain or pleasure involved, feelings get triggered. All this well before you are conscious of the event.

You can think, talk, write and share 'apple' independently of either time or space. Words generate whole new worlds of inner experience. But I never let a few bad apples spoil the apple of my eye. You can wrap the apple in metaphor as I just did. Yeah. I know. Enough.

And there is someone watching. You. The whole process involves and depends on there being an observer with self awareness. Your unique point of view gets established. Your raw experience gets clouded, shaped and overlaid by this 'self' process.

It can take half a second for a stimulus to work its way through brain processing before it appears in awareness. The brain re-times the stimulus and gives us the impression that we felt it immediately. Each stimulus lasts about 10 milliseconds in awareness. What our senses report gets merged with memory and added to experience. We have the feeling of being both the observer and what we observe in a smooth flow of time. The illusion of visual continuity works by editing and back dating some operations. Good trick.

Your milliseconds are up. That's my briefest summary of the constant process that is your life going by. 

You have five levels of experiencing going on all the time.

The first level, is simply sensing. Your body senses and presents your physical position and movement, heart rate, breathing, emotions, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. This the elemental, pure experience of being. This is as close as we get to being fully present in the world. When you first see something new, you are open to the freshness of the moment. You pay attention to the novelty. You build a fresh, detailed, experience. This is the goal of many ancient and contemporary spiritual practices. Seeing with ‘beginners eyes’ unfiltered by what gets overlaid next. Pure experiencing is without an “I”. With the “I” comes the observer, self, name and memory.

The second level is observing. Your body assembles and relates all parts of your experience by comparison with memory, noting and recording changes in a process of observing. All this happens below your awareness. Activating prior experience overrides the vivid details of right now. The clarity and immediacy of immediate experience get shaded.

The third level is witnessing to make sense of it all. We put on the personal identity of someone who is doing the seeing. Your witness is you. Your ‘self’ is always present; observing, remembering, relating, interpreting, directing your attention.

The fourth level is doing. You have intentions and take actions to make something happen.

The fifth level is created by naming and enclosing your observations in language. Now you own the experience, captured in words to remember and share. Knowing so much gets in the way of seeing clearly. We don’t experience the richness of the roses. We notice them, name them and walk on by. Wording the world takes us far away from the richness of sensation. Your words and stories create your world of imagination.

Our brains run on autopilot, always scanning, seeking patterns, checking for danger or opportunity. Brain processes integrate sensory information with inner images, words and feelings. All that gets presented as a seamless experience of ‘reality.’ So you never actually experience 'reality'. You see, hear smell and taste what you believe should be there, modified by new sensations. Your reality is just a best guess based on what your senses tell you merged with what you already imagine is there.

Behind The Seen

We know less about what is happening and have less control of our minds than we imagine. Maybe 95% of our functioning is not conscious. Brain and body are always acquiring information that we are not aware of and using it to shape our behavior. We don't have the ability to carry out complex, conscious deliberations without subconscious support. Try giving verbal orders for your body to touch your nose with your index finger. How did you do that? Conscious experience gets assembled as a summary of what’s going on in many systems. We might wonder if we have any self control at all.

Your brain understands what's going on by using what you already know to predict what’s coming up next. It patches up any differences using newly arrived sensory information. The experience of the world that your brain assembles is just its best version of what’s going on now. Makes sense. Why constantly encode all that incoming sensory data when all you need to do is fill in the gaps? We actually ‘know’ much more than we ‘think.’ This deep knowing is what keeps us alive and functioning. What we think is sort of tacked on top and sometimes gets in the way.

We need to find order in our experience. Finding patterns in what we perceive allows us to explain why things happen. We will either find patterns or create them with our imagination. Finding a pattern or some order gives us a sense of control. It is also efficient. The same or similar patterns can be used over and over.

Patterns shape our lives. When you understand the patterns, you can use them to shape your actions. Order and control are the main reasons we believe and demand that other people believe stuff. The basis of all science and religions is that need to find order and take control, or imagine we have some.

People need a sense of control in their lives. They will take any action or make a change just to get that feeling of control. Seeing a pattern in random ink blots makes the world orderly. Imagining what to expect gives us a feeling of control, of being prepared. If anything becomes disordered, we will work hard to restore the order and our sense of control. Having a sense of control lets us persevere in spite of our circumstances. Feeling in control is priceless. Still, causality is complex. We never know how much our actions mattered to the result.

Never Mind

Each of us has what we call a mind. Our brain generates an experience we call 'mind' that thinks it can explain itself. Does what we call 'mind' really exist or is it just an abstract concept?

There is nothing in the brain structure or operations that we can point to as 'mind.' As far as I can tell, 'mind' is a word we use to cover a lot of guesses. It is not just a 'thing' you can put on a plate. Many people believe that ‘mind’ is a realm separate from the body and world. Others believe that mind, body and world are illusory manifestations of ‘consciousness’. I don’t know. We need to clean up our definition and understanding of the word before we will get anywhere with the 'mind.' But never mind that for now.

The word 'consciousness' is worse. From the dictionary: 

consciousness: the state of being conscious; awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc. 

Not much help. Imagine a process that combines inputs from the world, the body and the brain and integrates them into one experience, our self. Consciousness might be a byproduct of the brain piecing together sensory input and memory into an 'experiencer'.

The plan for the termite nest is not in the termite. Consciousness is not in the neurons or other brain cells. Each works at a different level of complexity. Looking at the wrong level of explanation produces false ideas and actions. We need a new point of view, more knowledge and an adequate language before we will understand consciousness.

I tend to keep an open mind about all this because people use the word in so many ways. Then, they make claims that are dependent on a particular point of view. I hope you don't mind that. Consciousness could be an illusion that the brain makes to present the workings of these many, parallel processes. That notion sort of blows my mind!

What We Don't Know That Is So

The scope of conscious awareness has limits. We can only attend to six or seven things in a moment. We can only keep a few seconds of immediate experience in short term memory. We can't follow three conversations at once while doing long division. We don't notice most of what goes on around us. We still must pay attention to anything new that comes up. Consciousness appears to go away in deep sleep. Our conscious thinking can also be klutzy and slow. It depends on language and logic that tie up lots of processing capacity.

Our mind wanders and goes to distractions, ripping our attention from a sharp focus. Was that an incoming email? Meanwhile, unconscious processes select and interpret information. That keeps us alive and maintains a sense of control and wellbeing. You can plan dinner while speeding through rush hour traffic. You will still arrive alive and hungry.

The brain coordinates millions of stimuli to present what we call now. We live in a 'between' where stuff is fading away and new stuff is just appearing. The appearance of time passing depends on our mood, our health and how we are paying attention. The rate at which time seems to pass is influenced by our emotions, our body state, our age and memories. We are making up our own experience of time.

Our senses are often fooled and our brain confounds us by letting us believe we know what's going on. What we pay attention to is set up by our expectations. We are looking 'for' something, not 'at' everything. We see what we expect to be there. Having an opinion about how something should be shapes our perception of how it actually is. If we don't happen to see something, we assume it isn't there, even if it is. We experience what we expect to experience. We act on our expectations and that further affects our experience. You can check this out by watching how your own attention hops about.

Experience is a constant interplay. Fiction and reality link together in our brain. The only time we get to be 'real' is when we are operating here and now with our body in this world. We live in a mixture of world and whimsy as immediate experience gets distracted by stories, fantasies and feelings. 

People's basic beliefs are the root of their 'self' and their self esteem. We need to believe something to plan and take action. So we shield our basic beliefs from challenge and correction. Given half a reason, we will lie to ourselves. People will act on false or improbable beliefs despite evidence from reality. Our superstitions also give us a feeling of understanding and control. A belief in the supernatural can give us the confidence to keep going. Sometimes it is better to believe and act than to dither and remain helpless. Having some confidence and a positive attitude is good for your health. Seeing the world accurately generally leads to avoiding mistakes. We can take effective action and get good results.

“Experience, contrary to common belief, is mostly imagination.”
Ruth Benedict

In short, we don’t perceive the world as it is. We construct it from our sensory inputs, memory and desires. We do not experience any part of the process from photon to neuron to knowing. The world just appears to be out there and we are here in our bodies. Still we have the sensations of knowing, certainty, agency, choice, effort and causation. What to do? Well, you could stop talking and thinking, stop being a certain person or story and just hang out. Your experience will be clear, simple and full.

We Make Up Our Self

We construct a second world in our head, the world of thoughts, memory and fantasy. This inner world may seem to be about the world out there but it is actually make believe. Real magic happens when our brain merges sensory experience with memory then blends the streams to give us the experience of an observer. We construct the 'self' that seems to be perceiving and commenting and generally running things. That is the voice in your head.

As humans, we connect emotionally when we are fully present looking at, listening to and having feelings for others. That's what makes us human. We understand and care for each other. You see the message in the face, voice and body. You read the other person, they read you. We learn trust. Being together with another human in open conversation is risky and thrilling as new ideas and connection come up. Conversations take time. Conversation makes change. You have to learn how to listen and respond.

You need a secure sense of self with the capacity for empathy to be human. It takes time alone to learn and build who you are from a stable, well understood past. You know who you are. You can see who others are.

Creative ideas come from being alone, letting our minds wander, trusting our imaginations. Being alone is not lonely because our minds get filled with people and our history with them. We need time alone. We need to allow boredom. Then we can slow down and let our minds wander.

You and I are built to experience a world 'out there', a body and a ‘me’ in here as one unified flow. Without the world, no body. Without the body, no experience of the world or me. Body/world is a total experience and we perceive it as a whole.

Running Around In The Mind

Let's take a look at the thought process we use to maintain who we are. The brain runs two key processes; observing and thinking. The observing process is pure. It is just of things as perceived. Observing requires awareness, attention and focusing.

Thinking requires naming, judging, comparing, analyzing, planning, remembering, imagining, creating, daydreaming and fantasizing. Oh, and talking to yourself. The thinking process is a narrator, filling our awareness with stories. The narrator creates the illusion of a 'self'. The self fills in and shapes detail and changes to fit circumstances. See if you can catch yourself without a thought running through your head. Just trying starts a thought. Your storyteller never stops. It is you.

Some of the patterns the brain finds are illusory. People see a pattern then look for a reason. They make up an explanation that becomes their belief. They are usually running stories that filter and distort experience. They seek and find or fake evidence to confirm their belief. So superstition and magical thinking are also parts of our natural process. Most of our problems come from imagining and acting on stuff that isn't happening and maybe never did or will.

Spider on your shoulder!”

Our brain monitors our situation, alerts us and cues our actions. Impulse drives us to make unconscious choices and decisions. People are able to analyze their behavior, form intentions, decide on actions and carry them out. Buy what the ad presents, for example. “Wow! Look at that SUV! Let's get one! Past mistakes and failures can override impulses or distract us from temptations. Often an emotion drives us to act long before any thought process engages. Rational thought more often explains an action than drives it.

You can also slip into a point of view where you are aware of your thinking process. You can step back and watch your thoughts. You are a witness. You experience and acknowledge what’s happening. You let go of resistance and move on to the next moment. You are aware and engaged, open to the possibilities and expansive joy of this moment.

We can make life work by keeping our awareness and attention in the present on what is happening now. If it is not happening, it’s not. If I don’t like what is happening, I can change what I think or feel or do now. I can stay fully engaged with the world. Remembering and imagining don’t make changes now. Action does. Atoms move. Nerves fire. Thoughts appear. We still don't know how that works. Atoms move, the world changes. If you want change, move your atoms.

How Memory Works

Memory is identity, You are what you have done; what you have done is in your memory; what you remember defines who you are.”
Julian Barnes

Memory is the foundation of all experience. Without it we have no way to understand or react to what's happening now. Understanding memory and thoughts, takes us beyond the words and the ideas of 'nerves' and 'neurons'. We need to think and explore a complex of interacting 'fields' among all elements of the brain. Science is not there yet. For now, lets say that a memory is a complex pattern of interrelated neuronal networks. Does that help?

Memory is a whole body experience, not just the brain in action. There are several kinds. We have a semantic memory that holds words and communicates ideas. We have an episodic memory for personal events. We have a procedural memory for complex movements. We have a working memory to keep things in mind while we use them. We also have a short term memory that can hold 7 items or 4 chunks for a few seconds as we move along. These are the names we put on brain functions so we can talk about them. They are not actually structures or systems in the brain.

Remembering is a re-creation, not a playback. What a memory is about gets stored in the hippocampus. Any emotions it evokes are in the amygdala. So, a memory is our whole body's report of an event that moves in these networks. Bits and pieces get assembled from many places and presented as a whole.

Our brains are conservative. Each time a memory is recalled this pattern activates and assembles a new version. We use the old patterns over and over with modifications and new additions. In recollecting, the brain makes new, stronger connections between the assembled pieces. That makes it easier to recall next time. The more a memory is recalled the more it competes with similar memories.

Memory only takes place in the present. A memory activates and appears only as it is immediately needed. Every memory is a rewrite from your last recall. Your brain doesn't repress memories, it rebuilds them. It makes up new memories on demand out of past information. Then mixes in with whatever new material is shaping your thinking. The memory of an event is different for each person involved in it. Each person pays attention to different aspects of an event. Each sees from a different point of view and understanding of what is happening. Just listen to two people who went to some event together. Each draws on their unique bank of memories to build a new one.

Your memory is not built to produce an accurate picture of the past. Memory is a partial recollection of experiences. It shapes and edits past events to make a story that you can use to make good decisions now. You are not bound by memory. You needn't allow people to manipulate you with memories. Everyone remembers an event differently. Memories can be changed, forgotten or erased. Because memories are assembled fresh each time. Recovered memories are often false, reconstructed, and imaginary creations. It works to look at every person's remembrance of an event as a solo performance, not the truth.

Remembering changes memories. Some old stuff gets modified or left out. Some new thoughts and associations get added as it returns to storage. Objects are remembered better than pictures and pictures better than words. In remembering, your brain emphasizes the greatest intensity and the ending of an experience. Memories are remembered as real, yet each remembering is different and sometimes false. Forgetting is a way of cleansing the brain of no longer useful information.

As you retrieve a memory it can be altered by adding new information within about a six hour limit. The new information will be incorporated and become part of an expanded memory. You can alter the emotional impact of a memory by adding new information. Or you can recall it in a different context while the memory is being rebuilt. The memory stays intact while the emotional content changes. Using this feature, we can change our past, sort of. We can implant false memories. Real memories can get reshaped by outside events or people's reactions.

We get rich memories if our present experience is new, intense and interesting. Hiking, sports and sex provide good material for memory. That’s why passive television watching is such a black hole. It produces shallow, immediate sensation without the complex memories of places and physical actions.

Most of our memories are recalled to help us imagine a future and make plans. We remember how to find something or avoid danger. If plausible clues are not available, the brain invents a memory from what is available. Our images and stories about the future are creatively assembled from memories. We're not good at this. We expect the best of the good, the worst of the bad. Neither usually happens. So much for the reliability of memories.

Your immediate memory is who you are now, custom assembled to fit the moment. The only way to freeze a memory is to put it in a story and never change the story. The only memory that stays the same is the one you never remember. If your memory is always changing, who are you really? You are the person you imagine remembering.

In the pulse of inner life immediately present now in each of us is a little past, a little future, a little awareness of our own body, of each other’s persons, of these sublimities we are trying to talk about, of the earth’s geography and the direction of history, of truth and error, of good and bad, and of who knows how much more?”
William James

Imagination Enriches Our Experience

From a memory that is changeable, let's go to our inner world of imagination. We can make amazing changes there. The world is alive. People can imagine and believe and act as if the trees speak to them and stones have souls. They build models in their heads about the feelings and intentions of everything out there. “Oh, I dropped my phone. Poor Baby. Didums hurt...” Enough of that. Personalizing the world allows us to interpret everything 'out there' as if it was part of us. By projecting our notions onto everything we experience, we imagine we understand the world far better than we actually do.

I can experience my own thoughts, yet I can only imagine what goes on in the mind of another person. All I know is what people tell me and how they appear and act. I am often trying to figure out what they are really up to so I can get along with or work with them. Projecting my notions onto people, allows me to make them up as I need or want or imagine them to be.

Mirroring And Mimicking

Every time we see someone do something, our brain and body mirrors that action inside without actually producing it. That helps us understand the action as if we had performed it. Mirroring leads to mimicking, matching our body patterns to another persons. This is how we learned from birth. Baby see. Baby do.

People automatically, internally mimic the posture, expression and speech of other people. We mimic constantly, usually subtly. By mimicking people we can guess about what they feel and think. “If I looked and acted like you do, I’d sure feel like....” We are natural mind readers except the mind we are reading is our own. This also helps us see ourselves as others see us, a virtuous part of self-awareness.

When a person talks, a great deal of what they mean shows in how they look. Their posture, facial expression, tweaks and twitches all matter. Their meaning shows in their body. Our bodies read and understand them. We imagine what they think about us. If you are acting like me, you are like me.

Mimicking allows us to build trust in each other. It is the basis for empathy. It confirms sympathy and builds relationships. Happiness is always mimicked. Your laughter and joy are irresistible. If I don't mimic, I make myself different. By suppressing mimicking, I make myself a stranger, a cold fish.

For better or worse, we can never actually know another person in all their complexity. By internally copying another person’s actions, we can guess at what they are feeling and thinking. We can theorize about what they are up to and why. You can try to see and think from the other’s point of view. You can understand a lot as you mirror other people's actions.

As humans, we connect emotionally when we are fully present; looking at, listening to and feeling for others. That's what makes us human. We understand and care for each other. You see the message in the face, voice and body. You read the other person, they read you. We learn trust. Being together with another human in open conversation is risky and thrilling as new ideas and connection come up. Conversations take time. Conversation makes change. You have to learn how to listen and respond.

You need a secure sense of self with the capacity for empathy to be human. It takes time alone to learn and build who you are from a stable, well understood past. You know who you are. You can see who others are. Creative ideas come from being alone, letting our minds wander, trusting our imaginations. Being alone is not lonely because our minds are filled with people and our history with them. We need time alone. We need to allow boredom. Then we can slow down and let our minds wander.

People believe they see the world as it is. If others see it differently, they must be biased or dumb. We infer minds in other living things. Our dogs are Einsteins. We give minds to objects like toys because it makes sense of their action as we play with them.

You are looking through your own point of view, your knowledge, experience, beliefs, attitudes and desires. You're looking through it, not at it. To understand others, we have to become aware of ourself. Then get beyond ourself by adding a fresh point of view that includes the other person's. Being aware that you are seeing life from your own perspective can liberate you from its limits. To make a connection with another person, you must consider their mind. You have to let go of your perspective and get into her head somehow and adopt her view.

People tend to get trapped by their beliefs and their stories about the past and the future. This distorts their experience of the moment. When we learn that a person is from a different group, we will use a stereotype to imagine what that person is thinking. The reality of the moment rarely confirms our notions. We create limits to our experience then blame others for our predicaments. It is our own creation that stifles us. Everyone is full of ignorant nonsense in their own way.

Making Sense Of It All

In summary, there is a real world out there but our experience of the world gets shaped by our senses. Then it gets tweaked by our memories and our beliefs and extended by our fantasies. Information from our body and senses gets processed and acted on below awareness. The brain cannot process and refresh input from the senses fast enough to make us aware of most of what's going on. We are operating on summaries, patchwork. We often do not know why we do what we do. Conscious thought is often an after the fact explanation. Our reasons for our own thought, speech and actions are often guesses. We make up an explanation that makes sense in the moment. In short, we're not really in control.

Expectation shapes perception. Because we expect what we will experience, our brains pre-experience what we anticipate. We tend to see what we want to see. Then memory fills in what the senses report. That’s why illusions work. We imagine the way the world could work. We predict what it might be like, then see what we are looking for. All of us see people through our expectations of who they are and what they will do. We see people as we want them to be for us. We are always seeing through screens of our imagination.

While I experience the real world right now, I also inhabit many possible worlds. Worlds of memories, dreams, fantasies, plans and guesses all turn up in my inner theater. This inner theater is where we sort out experience, relive memories, make imaginary worlds. We think about past and future and reason about it all.

Each of us is embedded in a personal reality built from our childhood experience of family and the world. That reality is us. We will defend it against challenges to our beliefs and stories no matter how unrealistic they are. Mercifully, our personal reality is just this moment's version. It is subject to change. We must use that possibility of changing ourselves in this moment to build a new life.

We Make Up Our Experience

Before I got drafted into the Army in 1944, I was assistant to the head of the psychology department at Depauw University in Indiana. I helped set up his experiments on the effects of hypnosis. The subject fascinated me and I read in whatever literature I could find. I became interested in what people were able or willing to experience in the trance state. In one experiment I suggested to a subject that there were no doors or windows in the room and that he badly needed to urinate. He stumbled around, in obvious distress, and finally pissed in my wastebasket. I believe he was experiencing the world differently than I was at the time (or had a great sense of humor.)

These experiments made me deeply aware of how much and how differently we make up our own experience. In the Fifties, I experimented with marijuana. In the Seventies, with LSD, psilocybin and peyote. They showed me that changing my body chemistry could produce extraordinary experiences. In an Indian ashram, after days of chanting and dancing, a fluorescent blue Krishna appeared before me. Psychedelic experiences can be real to us. At the same time they are self-created to fit our beliefs and needs. Inside our head it’s make-believe land. There are no rules. You can do anything you can imagine. You can fit events together anyway you want. You can see the impossible right in front of you.

That’s what hypnosis, visualization and spiritual practices involve. The universe you experience in your head...it’s you. Treat it right. Imagination can shape brain processes and give you any experience you want badly enough. Problems arise from not knowing you’re doing it and believing the universe really is that way.

We live in the world of our thoughts. As I believe, so I behave. If my results confirm my beliefs, my thoughts become self-fulfilling. It doesn't matter to my brain whether my thoughts are false. If it matters to the universe, I get corrected. Anything we can imagine we can experience in our inner world and sometimes in reality. That’s what you’re doing right now, creating your experience. You are making it up moment to moment. It helps to check and see if the universe supports what you believe. 

Sanity is knowing the difference between what you imagine is going on and what is actually happening.

©2012-2018 Keith Gilchrist - not for distribution or reproduction
6,390 words 17 pages 1.21.17  adv 0 Beta 1

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