A Small Medium at Large

“I came to understand that I, as consciousness, was in fact a source of identities and viewpoints.  Early in 1970, as a result of these insights, I developed an exercise of seeing the world through the eyes of other persons and entities such as birds and animals.  I eventually formalized this into a set of exercises that were aimed at expanding viewpoints and becoming free of the need for an identity.  I had realized that ultimately I had no identity and that any identity is merely an illusory defense against the vastness of the universe.”  – Fred J. Hanna: Essay: Streamlining the Mind and Dismantling the Self.

In the previous, empathy-building exercise that we’ve begun with the dummy rubber hand, a first step was taken toward operating the brain without any mental impulse to label the sensation. Touch a piece of furniture, say.  Feel it just as it is without an interpretation such as “warm” or “cool, “smooth” or “rough.” 

Practice until this process of just feeling is easy, fun and light, then walk around and feel what it feels like to be the space under a refrigerator, inside a light bulb, or the corner of a room. Keep the practice effortless and fluid. Feel what it feels like to be a shadow, a water drop, a driveway, the sky, a pane of glass, a dead leaf, the neighborhood, the earth ten miles down. If you look at an old shoe over in the closet then, for a moment, occupy the space of that shoe “over there.” 

Incorporate any sounds, interruptions or events right into the exercise.  Let your attention go to them for a moment and assimilate the impression into whatever object, location or space that you are working with at the moment.  As often as you feel necessary, return to the table exercise to reinforce the sensation of extending self into the space occupied by objects.  

This step is complete when you feel a marked reluctance to stop doing it because it is so easy and fun.  You will not have to return to the table for a reset.  There’ll be a heightened sense of present time, colors may seem brighter and objects more luminous and distinct. You will probably be smiling broadly and not be aware of it.  

There is an intricate network of neurons that are highly specialized for processing images that reach the brain, for making sense of the information that is unique for every class of objects.  

Take faces for example.  A different pattern is elicited for every face you see, but there’s no simple, photographic replica that has been filed in a specific place inside your head.  There are over thirty different “brain maps” involved in the act of visual recognition, scattered in various locations.  

These multiple nerve fields are devoted to figuring out who it is, exactly, that you are seeing.  They interpret the data “entering” your eyes – as much as a billion bits of info per second – and make a symbolic representation of it.  This is what is projected back “out there” as a lover, a friendly loan officer, or your reprobate ex.  

In a complex process, one part of the brain recognizes the human form, another fills in detail, and another part extends the detail of the detail in a fractal progression.  Still other areas process memories, associations, labels, feelings etc.  This interpretation is unique for everything you perceive, and every act of recognition occupies a dedicated process within in your mind.  

The “distance” your mind has to travel to recognize the public face of Mahatma Gandhi, or M.L. King, say, versus someone you once met at a school game 30 years ago, can be enormous.  The more you have focused your attention on something, or the more the act is repeated, or the more important (intense) something is to you, the more stable the neural fields associated with it becomes. 

Hanna continues, “The exercise itself involved systematically assuming the perspectives and viewpoints of people, communities, animals, and physical objects.  The essence of the exercise was to “be” those objects and entities until I had a sense of what they were about.  This was not a mere intellectual exercise.  Actually, it was an exercise in empathic relating, experiencing each object or entity as fully as possible.  Eventually, I experimented with being entire communities, nations, and ecological systems.  It was an exhilarating endeavor and one I took great pleasure in practicing.  Once again, I did not expect what was to take place.”

After mastering inanimate things, places and spaces, continue by extending your perception into moving objects of every kind.  Do insects, house pets, trees, the wind fooling around in the leaves a little ways off, birds and eddies in the wash. Feel that you are looking at the world out of their eyes; feel their hearts beating as your heart.  Practice this for at least four hours without a break.  The symptoms of moving at the same speed of being as everything else will grow ever stronger.  

To complete the rubber hand exercise, go to a busy public place such as a mall or a Wal-mart and focus upon being many different people.  Be unobtrusive even while you feel what it feels like to be in their shoes for a few steps. When you can extend your sense of identity into any object, space or person at will, without judgment or mental labeling, you have slipped back over the Cartesian divide.  

Don’t just stop after using the rubber hand once or twice, briefly experience the effect, and then think you’ve got what it’s all about.  Any intellectual extrapolation, of thinking that you now “know” what living in the transpersonal state is all about, is nonsense.  It’s like asking the mind to experience the entire panorama of a thousand piece puzzle by examining a single piece lying on the floor. 

But if you keep adding pieces, bits of structure begin to emerge, and more parts become recognizable.  No single piece of information is critical by itself, but when a critical mass of information builds up the mind suddenly perceives the meta-structure, and gets the whole picture in a flash.  This is how inspiration works.  It’s analogous to the whole brain flash of telepathic resonance. 

In the same way, each successful attempt to extend one’s identity gives the brain a little more to go on, begins to redirect its energetic flow along new pathways of perception.  You are colonizing areas of your own brain, connecting parts in new ways.  A threshold arrives when the brain suddenly discovers its own organ of identity-generation and instantly extends it to include everything and everyone.

This is one of the most amazing things that you can do to yourself that is still legal.  Practice is necessary to stimulate and grow as many connections in the neuron fields as possible. This new mode of perception has not been stabilized once you have achieved this shift, and the experience must be repeated many times.  But consciousness is now flowing in a channel where it can be myelinated in time.  This is the first, necessary step into a larger world of permeable identity, one upon which an intentional, telepathic community can be built.  Hanna concludes: 

“I instantly realized that I had moved beyond the world beyond the world of phenomena and arrived at what I characterized as ‘timeless infinity,’ in a primordial and fundamentally unique way of knowing.  I had directly encountered what I instinctively recognized as the ‘source of all things’. . .  The structure of my thinking had been reorganized at deep levels and included a deep appreciation for global meanings and realities.  I recognized and perceived that ‘source of all things’ everywhere I looked, and everything I saw with my eyes sparkled with intrinsic beauty.  I felt connected to, identified with, and in communication with all beings and things.  I found myself in astonishment as new understandings blossomed before me in a series of continuous spontaneous insights that lasted at least three months.”

As this practice becomes second nature, so does the knowledge of remaining in the present moment.  Remaining “in feel” is the golden arches to entering the heart’s meditative experience that so many seek, and fail to find.  

It is important for us to understand consciousness. In particular, the challenge is to bring new meanings and new ways in which we can do the most good in our times. In such a wide-open area of inquiry, the practices aim to induce strong telepathic impressions and facilitate mental connections with those around us. Awakening these capacities expands our ability to truly love our neighbors as ourselves because we have felt what it is to be them. In this connection, we discover how to better live together, create together, work together, heal together, and grow. We have then increased our capacity beyond our humble selves and meager identities.

The meaning of everything is locked into the worldview of each distinct culture as their holographic trance.  To delve deeper, check out the writings of cultural anthropologists Claude Levi-Strauss or Roy Wagner for a fascinating exploration into what is, or is not, perceived as collective reality.