In this episode, we continue our series on mindset. We'll explore the brain’s ability to perceive and discuss what is the neuroscience behind perception. You will learn the following:
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Neuroscience of Perception
Debra Maldonado, Robert Maldonado
Debra Maldonado 00:01
Hello, welcome to Soul Sessions with Deborah and Rob!
Robert Maldonado 00:06
We're back with our series, this time on perception.
Debra Maldonado 00:12
We're doing a whole series on mindset, and today is on the neuroscience of perception and reality.
Robert Maldonado 00:19
I'm so excited about it, I've jumped the gun.
Debra Maldonado 00:21
I know you jumped the gun. Yes, we are doing a whole series on just the mindset. We talk a lot about the deeper elements in Jungian theory and ideas of consciousness. We're going to talk a little bit about consciousness today. But we're going to really focus in today on what are we actually perceiving, how our brain works, how the neuroscience of the brain works in our perception of reality. When you talk about this stuff, because it's so fascinating how we see the world, and how we're not really seeing what's really there. I'd like to start off by asking you the question that a lot of people ask — what’s the difference between the brain and the mind and then consciousness. Consciousness, a lot of people think it's my conscious experience. But that's not how we see that word. Then the mind and the brain, because a lot of people even say they’re interchanging. So let's define those, and then we'll go deeper. So what is the brain Rob?
Robert Maldonado 01:38
Just to give you an idea of where this information is coming from, my training is in neuropsychology. For you scientists out there, my perspective, of course, is neuroscientific, or neuropsychological. In neuropsychology, we assess, for example, the software of the mind and correlate it to what's going on in the brain, how does it connect to how the brain is functioning, how we see the mind aspect of reasoning, memory, sensory perception, all that, how it correlates to damage or lesions in the brain. It's a useful perspective for assessment, for looking at what's going on in somebody that's having problems with memory, or social developmental issues, like autism, or learning disabilities, anything like that. That perspective then is augmented for us by the Eastern concepts of consciousness, which, to our way of thinking, are much more sophisticated than our Western concepts of consciousness. We're in an interesting time where we have access to both. This super high-tech information about the brain, how it functions, how it does stuff, as well as the new interpretation of ancient wisdom traditions that have a long history of understanding consciousness in a direct way. I think we need that combination of both. We're not anti-science, we definitely embrace science because it gives us a way to proceed and to test knowledge and verify it. But we also know that we need that Eastern perspective, those wisdom traditions, so that we can take advantage of the work that people have done before us. Instead of saying “Everything in the past is null because it's the past and now is the only time that counts.” That's crazy.
Debra Maldonado 04:31
Well, western science is based on perception. It's a conscious universe versus a material universe. So from the scientists’ point of view, consciousness arises from the brain, and the brain is creating our mind, whereas the eastern is that everything is consciousness. The brain and the mind emerge from that consciousness.
Robert Maldonado 05:05
It's upside down, the east and the west are mirror images of each other. If you don't understand that, then you're throwing away half of the wisdom and knowledge that we have about consciousness merely by saying “The only thing we can go by is what we can verify physically, through neuroscience.” So some basic definitions about the difference between the brain and the mind, let's start there. The brain we know is the hardware that's in the skull. Some people call it the wetware because it's made out of neurons, and it's moist and wet, and is nurtured by blood and spinal fluid, and all that good stuff. That hardware, we know, is important for us in perception. If we simply think about vision, color vision, for example, we see the world in these beautiful colors. And if we simply ask “Where are those colors? Do they exist in the actual objects? Or is it a perceptual phenomenon?” And it's a perceptual phenomena.
Debra Maldonado 06:32
Our senses are showing us something real and solid in the world. And it's exactly as we're looking at it. But they know even in Western science, that that's not the case.
Robert Maldonado 06:45
Yes. This would be based on just current neuroscience basically, understanding of how the senses work. It sounds metaphysical, but it's actually based on the scientific method. Color does not exist in the world. It's a perceptual arising, meaning it arises in our experience. It's not in the world. So if I see, for example, that purple sphere you have over there on the desk, if I ask “Where is that purple color?” It's not in the sphere itself. We know, for example, that the light bouncing off that sphere is entering my retina, at a certain wavelength. And then my retina is capturing a little image, the information about that sphere, and the light that is bouncing off of it. Then the neurons are firing that to the back of the skull to the occipital lobe where it's processed. It's like the central processing unit. What is this phenomena that I'm seeing? Then that experience of the shape and that color is what I experience.
Debra Maldonado 08:20
One thing you told me that totally blew my mind. I think you said you taught this in class. You took a boombox and started playing music, and you say there is no music coming from that boombox. That blew my mind. The sound waves are going out of the boombox into our ears, the perception tool of the ear, the instrument is reading the vibration, it's going into the hearing part of the brain, telling us what we're hearing. So the music is in our mind, not in the box, which is so bizarre. When we think about these simple things we know from modern Western science, if that's the case with these simple things, what else are we not perceiving about the world and ourselves? We assume where music is coming from because it appears that way to us, we assume that is a certain color, because it appears that way. And so we live our life based on that appearance of things, which is not really the true nature of things. That's where the Eastern philosophy comes in, where they say don't be fooled by appearances.
Robert Maldonado 09:45
Let's answer this question. Why is this important to understand, why bother at all trying to figure out what is our perception doing and how is the mind working? It's a very practical matter. Because let's say you're in a desert, and you only have a certain amount of time to find water. You see a beautiful river in the distance shimmering, with the palm trees and birds flying around and all that stuff. But it's actually a mirage. If you don't understand that that's a mirage, you're going to be running and wasting your energy and perhaps dying on the way trying to reach something that doesn't exist but appears very solid, very real.
Debra Maldonado 10:46
When we’re sick or something, we have these hallucinations, when our body's not functioning properly, we can have hallucinations.
Robert Maldonado 11:01
If we understand what does this imply about the way we experience our reality, how we define reality, how we define knowledge in the things that we find interesting, all that is given to us through this understanding. In other words, it puts it in the right perspective. It gives us a true sense of what does it mean for me to enjoy something or experience that color purple. Where is it coming from? What is its true nature? If we don't understand its true nature, we're under a delusion, we're living in a mirage, and we're thinking that's reality. We're never questioning it. We're not even asking the question of ourselves, when we're suffering, or when, like you said, we're experiencing something out of the ordinary, like illness. We're not asking what does this mean, we're not seeing it in the right perspective. This understanding is very important, both from east and west, because it gives us a true sense of reality.
Debra Maldonado 12:18
So back to the brain and the mind. The brain is the instrument that is using the census to put together a piece of conception of reality. Then the mind is the interpreter, the brain is the data collector. My sister does market research, so there's a lot of data, there's someone who collects the data, and the data itself is just data. Then the researcher looks at the data and makes assumptions over it. It's kind of that's what happens with the mind. It makes up a story, and how it assigns yourself to that. You being the person that's experiencing or seeing that color, and then all the associations psychologically that go with that perception.
Robert Maldonado 13:10
So here's where we start to get into the mind body question, or the brain mind question. In psychology, they call it the hard problem of consciousness. But we're not talking consciousness yet. We're simply talking about what is the physical brain and what is the mind. So back to the color purple. If we open up the brain, and we look for the color purple in there, we can't find it. All we see in the brain are these neurons firing electrical chemical signals at each other in patterns, and rapidly firing these patterns that correlate to when I'm looking at that sphere, and experiencing the color purple, but we can't see it in the physical brain. So we see the brain as the hardware. It's the processing unit that is creating those firings and those patterns. But the question still remains, where is the color purple then? It is that experience of qualia, or the mind where it exists, that I experience it as a real experience, that it exists. And it did, but it exists in mind as an experience, because we can't find it anywhere else. We can't find it in the atoms and molecules of that sphere, nor in the brain.
Debra Maldonado 14:49
It's kind of like love, when you're in a relationship, you can't really find the love in someone. If you cut someone's brain open, where's the love that person's emanating or where's the love inside of me, or my heartbreak, or any kind of emotion? It's really an experience that you can't find in the brain, the brain is processing it, but the experience itself is in the mind. I talked about this before, when I did a lot of pain management as a hypnotherapist, the pain is really a perception. The pain is an experience, it's not an actual thing in the body, the body reacts, but the mind actually creates this story about how intense it is. The perception of that pain depends on a person, depends on that it's an experience, not a thing. If it was actual solid thing everyone would experience that stimulus the same way.
Robert Maldonado 15:51
I was talking yesterday to someone, they had worked with people with phantom limbs. So the phantom limb phenomena is interesting, because it shows the interlocking way my brain and mind operate. The phantom limb phenomena is simply this — let's say, a person suffers a car accident and they lose their right arm. For some reason, the brain never gets the memo. Because the neurons that were operating that right arm are still there, they're intact, they're still firing as if the person had that right arm there.
Debra Maldonado 16:40
So when people put on the prosthetic, they actually connect to the brain, and they can move it because the brain is still able to move the fingers, it still goes up to the brain.
Robert Maldonado 17:04
Of course. It's connected.
Debra Maldonado 17:07
So it's going back, it's filling in. If it wasn't there in the brain, it wouldn't send a signal out.
Robert Maldonado 17:16
Here's the phenomena that some of those patients report pain in the right arm when they don't have a right arm. You see that the experience of pain, the experience of color, the experience of sound, the music, the meaning that we feel is so real to us, it's a mental experience. Again, this is not metaphysics, this is from neuroscience, just basic neuroscience, you'll find this in any neuroscience textbook basically. Everything we experience that we think is out there, is reconstructed for us through our brain mind. And we feel it, we feel that we're walking on to a stage in a room, we're interacting with other people that are separate from us. But in reality, it's all happening in the mind, like a virtual reality.
Debra Maldonado 18:22
I guess we don't know if there's actually something out here. But all we know is what we perceive and sense through our five senses. So there is a phenomenon. But we're in that soup of it. We don't want to go that deep.
Robert Maldonado 18:39
This is what the philosophy gets to. If this is true, if this is the way we're experiencing the world, what does that mean for us?
Debra Maldonado 18:52
So everything is a delusion, basically, it's not as real as we think it is. In Vedanta, they call it— or the Upanishads, the apparent reality versus the true reality. We're seeing an apparent reality. And I remember one of your talks, when we were training our coaches at one of our events, you said most people are out there trying to change one apparent reality for another. We're just playing around with one mirage for another mirage. If we understand the true nature of reality, we can actually have a heck of a different experience. Really, it's all about how do we experience our life in a new, more meaningful way versus just go off our perception.
Robert Maldonado 19:35
Now the question of consciousness in the West, this is where they get stuck because they say the brain must hold the key to finding consciousness. But if we can't even find the color purple in the brain, how are we going to find consciousness in there? It's a dead end for the West. That's why they call it the hard problem of consciousness, because it seems intractable basically. We can't find a way to proceed, if we're looking just for the brain to be the source of consciousness. This is where the Eastern understanding of consciousness comes in. We can definitely see it as a philosophy, that's okay. We can say it's a hypothesis, it's a possibility. We're not buying into it, we're saying maybe this is possible. What they're saying is this. You will never find consciousness in the brain because the brain is part of your physical body in essence, made out of what we call the gross material universe. And you are not your individual mind. Your individual mind is reflecting the pure awareness that exists in the universe. Or let's put it another way, they would say, the physical universe, the way we see it, and perceive it is arising from consciousness, not the other way around.
Debra Maldonado 21:28
We're not creating consciousness. We're a part of consciousness. The consciousness is the creator. We're basically observers of the consciousness.
Robert Maldonado 21:44
The only way we can talk about these things is through metaphor. Here's a beautiful metaphor that I heard. If you think about the sun, and there are these jars of water outside. If you go up to the jars and look in each one of them, and they're filled up to the top with water, you will see the sun reflected in each one of those. The metaphors is that the sun, that source of light, is the pure awareness of the universe. The individual jars are us, our individual minds, reflecting the pure awareness.
Debra Maldonado 22:32
But we think we're the jar, and we're the water and limited by that versus that we're the sun. We're just the flat concept of the sun, like other reflections. Most people don't even see the reflection, they just think they're the jar of water.
Robert Maldonado 22:50
So it would be like looking for the sun in that little reflected sun.
Debra Maldonado 22:55
Like looking for consciousness in you.
Robert Maldonado 22:58
And trying to find it in the individual brain, which is kind of chasing that mirage.
Debra Maldonado 23:05
One of the other things to say, the function of perception really is for our brain to give us a sense of the world and to say what is this object made of and what does it mean to me. Then the mind interprets, if you see delicious lemonade, that could be very delicious in your experience, it would be wonderful because you love lemonade. But if you hate lemons, it's a different experience. So the perception is noticing the object, and then the mind is creating meaning around it from memory and from all the other experiences, and then having your own “I don't like lemonade", the I arising out of that individual mind.
Robert Maldonado 23:57
This is a good distinction between the east and the west. In the West, when we saw the objects of the world, we asked “What is that object made out of?” The focus was on trying to figure out what are the objects made out of, the physics basically. And physics is considered the hard science, the true science in western science. If you’re a physicist, you're the high priest of science, you got it going because you're investigating material matter. And matter is considered to be the foundation of reality. In the East, as soon as they turn the spotlight at the observer, they started to realize “Wait a minute, the object doesn't really exist without the observer. The object is only appearing in mind. And therefore, it's really an observer that we're talking about when we look at an object.” Very different perspective.
Debra Maldonado 25:13
Another perspective, and I don't know if this is a good metaphor, because you really need metaphors for this, I've heard in the East they talk about a piece of clay, you look at that piece of clay, and it's a piece of clay. But then when they make it a pot, because it has a hole in it and an opening, and it's shaped a certain way, the shape of the clay changes, then we call it a pot, and then it has a new meaning and new content, but it's the same material. It's just now you don't say “There's that clay”, you say “There's a pot”. The mind creates name and form around those things.
Robert Maldonado 25:50
That's right. And it does so to give us a harmonious coherent experience of reality, because otherwise, the universe would be very chaotic.
Debra Maldonado 26:01
We don't know what to call anything, and what to do with anything, and if something's going to hurt us or not in our body, we learn how to adapt.
Robert Maldonado 26:11
I did early work on language and language acquisition, we know that language helps us structure our reality, it gives names to the things and meaning. Through naming an object and an experience, we can put it to rest, we can relax around it. Whereas when we don't have a name for something, it makes us anxious, confused, we're not sure how to deal with it.
Debra Maldonado 26:46
It's like when you hear a weird sound. You're going “There's this weird sound going on, what is that?” But when you identify it, you give it name and form, it feels like “Okay, I can identify that.” So it's a way for us to feel comfortable in this physical environment. But I think the differences between East and West is that in the West, we want to know what the object is made of. And in the East we're turning it around and saying “What are we made of? What is this consciousness? What is this experience made of?” versus “What is inside that object as a material?” We really have to look at not what we're perceiving but who is the perceiver.
Robert Maldonado 27:34
That's right, because without the perceiver, there is no universe. It literally doesn't exist, the way the universe comes into being, the way it's birthed is through the perceiver. But the question in the East is who is the real perceiver. If we say, individually we're only reflecting the pure awareness, then it goes back by simple logic that we are the pure awareness, that's who we really are. That's the true perceiver in this whole scheme of things. Brain-mind-consciousness, we are consciousness, the brain and the mind are arising out of that pure awareness.
Debra Maldonado 28:26
Let's go back to something more grounded and practical to apply this. So we know we have this hardware, the brain, or the wetware, that's taking in the data, we have the mind that creates the individual experience off that data, and consciousness which everything arises from. We are that consciousness, and then an individual little jar reflective of that consciousness, and then our individual experience creates the world. We have the same instruments as human beings. We perceive on a data only standpoint, a lot of the same data. But really, our mind will see that data differently, will see it and perceive it differently. Then sometimes the mind tricks, the data set or the perception, so you're actually not seeing things as they really are. They did an experiment, where your group tells you what to believe and what to think. They brought these people, and half of them were the subjects, and half of them were like plants in there for the experiment. They had to draw two lines on the board and one line was very obviously longer than the other. The people they planted in there were all saying that the shorter one was longer, and then maybe the handful of subjects they had in there tended to go with the group, even though their perception and their mind is seeing that the other one on the right is longer. But everyone else is seeing something different. So we end up changing our perception based on what other people assume is there. If we think about this in relationships, a simple example would be your perception of a person can change because you're taking in data, this person speaking a certain way, but then all your friends say “Isn't Becky a jerk? She's always complaining, she's always this way.” Then all of a sudden your perception of that person changes. So is she really a jerk or is your perception of that person? And then your mind, your brain will select, based on that assumption, qualities in that person that confirm that, and your perception will feed back. It's almost like you're not really seeing a person for who they are even, you're seeing what you assume your intake is, and then the mind mixed with it. The data gets interpreted just like my sister, the researcher, sees the data and says “This is what this means.” If we think about what's the impact of that is that what we see in the world is just a narrow sliver of possible universes that we could be in. And we tend to just gravitate by default to the same perception, the same paycheck, the same type of relationships, the same type of world problems that we see everywhere. There's always this perception that we're making this assumption that it's always that way, or it can't change, or I can't change this.
Robert Maldonado 32:00
That's where you see the implications of understanding these phenomena, they come into play in a very practical way. We're not talking about some metaphysical, transcendental experience. We're talking about the way we experience our everyday life, how we experience each other, how we interchange emotions, and pick up on each other's thoughts. Because again, we're reflecting the pure awareness. We're all connected in the sense that we're each reflecting that pure awareness. But then we over-identify with our own limited mind, because from our own limited mind we're seeing everything from that vantage point.
Debra Maldonado 33:00
It's like collapsing. Another good metaphor for this is one thing you told me about neuroscience. When we act, when we're looking at anything, our mind is only able to focus on thumbnail size, we’re really high focused, everything else is blur. When we walk into a room, I'm looking at you, looking at very small percentage, and the brain’s filling in all the other data and just assuming.
Robert Maldonado 33:33
It creates the illusion of this complete picture that we're walking onto a stage and everything is clear, when in reality, the only thing that we see clearly is a small, little sliver of the visual field.
Debra Maldonado 33:51
So the visual field is very, very narrow. Imagine that we are looking at the world, we are creating all our assumptions in the world, based on a thumbprint of our focused attention. Our visual perception is that limited. I would think that other senses are that limited too, where everything we see is in a very small, tiny sliver of perception.
Robert Maldonado 34:21
We know the way the brain mind creates that reality is based on past experiences. It operates on the principle of let's conserve as much energy as possible. If you walk into the same room that you walked in yesterday, why bother reanalyzing everything when you did it yesterday, you have the information already, let’s just fill it in. So most of it is blank, the brain just fills in the blanks with past experiences.
Debra Maldonado 35:05
It's so fascinating. So when I'm seeing this curtain over here, I'm really seeing a memory of that curtain, from my mind, most of it.
Robert Maldonado 35:14
Yes, except for the pieces that you can focus on. If you zeroed in on changes, or alterations, then you're in the moment, you're seeing the moment. But the rest of it is constructed from past experiences.
Debra Maldonado 35:34
Let's talk more about the implications of this. Basically, we are creating our own experience of life, like they always say, you create your life, you're creating that experience, you're creating the perception of that experience. So there's the data, and then the perception of that data. To set a change in your thoughts, you have to change your perception. And it's not only changing what you're seeing out there, but you're changing the perception of yourself, who is experiencing this? Is it the ego? Is it this little person in this body? Or is it the pure awareness of your consciousness? That's having an experience being human. The way whoever's deciding who the perceiver is, you're going to see a different reality.
Robert Maldonado 36:24
Absolutely, it has very clear implications for dealing with powerful emotions. In the mental health field, or in coaching, or in any helping profession, we spend a lot of time talking about emotions and thoughts and behaviors, very clear implications for how we address and approach those experiences. Because if we say “You're not your individual mind, you're the pure awareness”, the pure awareness cannot be damaged by any experience. It can’t be damaged by any powerful emotion no matter how negative, because the individual mind is essentially more like an instrument. It's perceiving and constructing its reality, based on its individual perception. But the pure awareness is unmoved and unchanging, untainted by any of the experiences. In other words, you can have the best possible experience or the worst possible experience of your life. The pure awareness is still pure.
Debra Maldonado 37:43
Let's talk about that because there's a question here about over identifying with the limited mind, are you referring to the ego, and what is the mind refer to. There's two parts of our conscious mind, there's the ego mind, which is that identification with the I, and then there's the divine intellect, which is the pure awareness that is always present within us. It's the part of us that's aware that we're aware. They're both mind, but one is closer to the pure awareness of who we are, but we're having an individual, like the sun in the jar thing, that divine intellect, but that is untouched, unchanged by the world, it's just witnessing it. The ego mind is perceiving, based on our past experiences, or conditioning or template. And that ego is really based on survival. It covers our mind, we're not even aware of the awareness, even though it's there, we don't even pay attention to it. So to really change your perception and change your life, you don't just need to reprogram your ego, you need to realize you're not the ego, and then that makes everything change. I spent so many years, specially as a hypnotherapist, trying to reprogram the negative thoughts to positive and be more confident. You're just building up the ego, which is better than thinking negative, but it's still not going to give you freedom, you're still caught up in “I'm a limited person in this body, and I need these external objects.” But when we come from that awareness, we start to see that we're connected to everything, we start questioning what we're seeing, instead of falling into that assumption of “That's real, that person's this way, this situation is this way.” We start to become this idea of self awareness. That's what that is, you're aware of the true self.
Robert Maldonado 39:44
The concept of meta awareness is useful here. When we are in our ordinary ego awareness, we believe we are the body, the individual mind in essence. I am this individual mind in this individual body, and we identify with it. Now what we know about consciousness, when we identify with something, our mind is filled with it. It's like the filter that we filter experience through. So when I identify as my individual mind, the consciousness of the universe will appear to me to reflect that.
Debra Maldonado 40:30
Like you were saying, if we think we're the jar, we're just this little puddle, we have this barrier, there's only a certain place we can be. We can't shine in the sky, we're limited to the small little experience. But when we see ourselves as the sun, then we can look down at ourselves and see other possibilities.
Robert Maldonado 40:51
You'll notice in a lot of Eastern spiritual traditions the emphasis on meditation because it allows us to access that meta awareness where we're observing our thoughts, we're observing our own mind.
Debra Maldonado 41:13
Isn't that what meditation is about, that practice? It's not stopping the thought. It's being the witness to it and just noticing that you're not the thought?
Robert Maldonado 41:22
Yes. That because if we ask “Who is the one that is observing my thoughts?” There's that meta awareness element, and that's who we really are. But it takes a little bit of practice, because we're conditioned to believe again, we just assume “Of course, I am this individual mind. Of course I am. I don't even question it, it’s just self-evident.”
Debra Maldonado 41:48
“I’m having an experience of being me, it has to be true.” And it is true. You can't deny that experience.
Robert Maldonado 41:54
It's true at that, but the nature of that experience is very different. It is essentially arising out of that pure awareness, pure consciousness. That's who you really are, that's the true observer, true experiencer in every situation.
Debra Maldonado 42:15
Last week, we talked about the imagination and how this mind can imagine things that we’re not even perceiving in our physical world, or we're taking as a limitation or something slowing us down. Then our mind says “See, this isn't working out.” Then we have this imagination of the worst case scenario and all these things out there that perception reflects back. Let's say you're a coach, and you're trying to get some clients. A couple people have said they're not interested or they can't afford it, or aren’t showing up or no one's responding, you're thinking “No one wants my work.” Then all of a sudden, it snowballs into everything out there you do isn't working. You start imagining that maybe I shouldn't do this. Then your experience has been tainted by your misperception because you're only basing that assumption on a couple people instead of the whole realm. The same thing I see with relationships. What I see a lot in relationship coaching, a lot of the women would say “I'd go online, and there's no one out there. I've been on Match. There's no one, there's no good guys on there.” Oh really? Why? “Because I went on, I saw some people and I was like, nope, online dating isn't for me.” That will confirm your reality. Then your perception will start to just basically coalesce around that assumption. Then if you have a different perspective where you say “You know what, that right person is going to be out there, I'm going to keep going”, you will find that person, because your mind can direct what you perceive versus just taking the default perception and letting the ego decide based on past experience what to expect. So what we're really trying to do is change the perceiver, and then you can change what’s being perceived.
Robert Maldonado 44:24
I would say that it's not that intentional, because we are already that true, pure awareness. It has an essence. We don't have to acquire anything. It's really more that we just need to understand what is it that I'm perceiving, and the pure awareness is already there. There's nothing else that you can be. The only other thing that you can be is you're caught up in the delusion, you're thinking the mirage’s real. That's the only other state of mind there is. So as soon as you start to calm the mind and ask the question “What is it that I'm experiencing?”, the pure awareness is already there. You're falling into it, basically. So you don't have to exert yourself to create something new.
Debra Maldonado 45:19
Your true self is right there. It's hanging out with you. There's another question about the detachment. When we talk about mental awareness, we're not detaching, we're actually feeling everything and experience everything in life. We're just also having this added attention to watching ourselves go through it. So when we're feeling an intense emotion, we don't want to disconnect. I mean, a lot of people do that as a defensive, they've learned to do that to disassociate. Meta awareness is not disassociating but basically having this experience and this experience at the same time. It's in the Upanishads, I always use this quote, but it's the perfect one. There's two birds sitting in the tree, one bird is eating the sweet and sour fruits of life while the other bird is watching, non-attached. It’s not detached, it's watching and experiencing the trees having both. It's having that delicious human experience, love and heartbreak and celebrating adventure, we want to have that life. But we also want to understand the nature of what we're experiencing. That actually makes us love life more than always just trying to get to the— the ego is always trying to just move us to pleasure. And when we don't have that perfect life all set out for us, which no one ever does, we feel unsatisfied, and then we're caught up in chasing the mirage. We're like “That's interesting, I'm having this experience.” We can still feel it. But we're perceiving it differently and ourselves differently having that experience. Does that make sense? You have anything to add to that?
Robert Maldonado 47:04
No, that's the definition of suffering that we're expecting the physical appearance of things to give us happiness. And they can't, because it's always changing. If you notice, this is verifiable by simple observation, just observe the external world for a minute, it is continuously changing, in the next moment it's something different. Therefore, if we expect it to give us a constant, we're going to be dissatisfied, we're going to suffer, we're going to feel like there's no ground for us to rest on. The only ground that there is is that pure awareness. That's why that pure awareness is described as happiness, bliss, this absolute reality that we can rest on that we can say “This is my rock, this is my solid ground.” When you understand that the reality of any experience is your perception of it, not in the external, changing, appearance of things.
Debra Maldonado 48:21
So the question is about the strong experience, like pain, emotional experience, is it the same as real pain. And yes, they've actually done research that the perception of an emotional is held in the body. But emotional pain is perception as well. A lot of people think you should feel this way, you should feel that way. This terrible thing happened. Of course, it's because that thing happened. That's why pain is not actually the thing that happened, it’s my perception of what happened that created the pain. I've worked in childbirth, some women go through the childbirth, the same exact register of pain, the body measurements, one woman has a different perception of pain than another person. And it's the same thing with emotions. Emotional pain is a perception of how bad things are, and we can magnify it, and we can shrink it, just like physical pain in the body.
Robert Maldonado 49:24
But we have to remember what is it that we mean by physical pain. The way it exists is again, like mental phenomena. There is no distinction between the physical pain and the perceptual pain. The perceptual pain is simply the way we're interpreting the experience.
Debra Maldonado 49:48
Just like emotions too. We feel this sadness, or anger, or panic, or fear. It's a perception. Because there has to be something, a story why that pain is there? We just had the spontaneous emotions, there's a story, objects out there and perception that's creating that.
Robert Maldonado 50:14
With emotion is very simple. We think that person made me angry. No one can make you angry. Or that event made me sad or experience this thing. No one makes us, nothing makes us feel those experiences, those experiences are arising from within the mind.
Debra Maldonado 50:35
No one can make you feel love for them or you can't make someone love you.
Robert Maldonado 50:43
We live and act as if those external events are the reality. We're just responding to them, that's false.
Debra Maldonado 50:56
We always have the power to respond to things. Again, we can respond by disassociating, because it's too painful. But we're still caught up in the ego perception of that pain. Then we say “I have this pain, I had this experience”, and we carry it with us. It becomes a limitation because we think we're helpless toward it. A lot of people when we work with emotions, especially intense emotions, a lot of people are so afraid to go toward them, because they think they're going to get stuck there. Almost like the emotion can take over. And if we're in ego, the emotion will run our life, our emotional responses will run our life.
Robert Maldonado 51:33
That's a good point. We're not dismissing the emotions as powerful. We know they're very powerful. But the power comes from us. We're the ones that say “That emotion is so strong that it might overwhelm me or damage me somehow.” If we ascribe that meaning to that emotion, then it does have the power, we're giving it the power to do that to us. But if we understand the true nature of it, that it's part of the individual experience of mind, but I'm not the mind, I am the observer of that mind, I am the pure awareness. And the pure awareness cannot be damaged by any emotion, any experience. It's always immortal, pure, it's always constant, then we're not afraid of the emotions.
Debra Maldonado 52:27
We talk about the burden of being aware and conscious. Buddha said life is suffering. It's because we have this mind that creates suffering all the time, it makes us feel that we were not enough, that we need to survive, there's danger out there, when things aren't perfect, something's wrong, I got to fix it. We were basically chasing this life. And then before we know it, 100 years or 90 years go by, and what have we accomplished is just having a lot of experience of suffering and not suffering. We can actually be free of it by understanding these concepts and understanding. The neuroscience of perception makes us start to— that's why I love this conversation, because it makes us say “Okay, this is science here, we're talking about that. There's no music coming out of that speaker. It's my mind hearing the music based on a sound vibration.”
Robert Maldonado 53:31
It does require a little bit of retraining. If you notice, all this spiritual disciplines or mind body disciplines emphasize the need for a method of retraining your mind. It makes sense. Because evolution set us up to perceive the world this way. Because it works. It helps us survive and navigate the social world and all this stuff. But if we really want to transcend that and to experience the deeper meaning of life, take the reins of our own mind, then it requires that retraining, that self-inquiry. In the West, psychology actually started off on the right foot. In the early 1900s, they were using introspection, meaning, they said if we're going to study the mind, let's have people look at their mind, what is going on with their thoughts, very much like the Eastern way of meditating. But they were using that introspection, meaning they were having people look at their own thoughts and emotions and reporting on them as a way of studying the mind. But then they got insecure. They started to think that's not a true science, because the report that the individual is giving us is subjective and we can't measure it. How can we measure their happiness or their sadness or anything like that? So they dropped it, and they went to this pure behavior, physical brain, that kind of stuff. We lost that. Jung was one of the few that kept that tradition going. Of course, he was very much influenced by Eastern philosophy. And we still have the Eastern philosophy. So it balances out what we're learning from neuroscience in the West, to have that wisdom tradition of consciousness.
Debra Maldonado 56:09
So the retraining process — I wouldn't call it retraining because we haven't even done it. It’s really individuation. And what Jung says is that the world will ask you who you are, if you don't know, the world will tell you. We end up getting fully formed our perceptions and our mind by the ego early in life, which is a natural process, natural part of being human. But around mid-life, we're called to say, there's more to us, we feel like those things that we use to keep us safe and survive and practical aren't really satisfying or fulfilling anymore — the jobs or the relationships that we've attracted and created in our life. There's a calling for our higher nature to come in. Individuation isn't about reprogramming the ego or retraining the ego. It's about basically individuating from it, becoming your true self. Who am I with this divine intellect, this individual mirror of consciousness? Who can I become in the world that's not based on my past? How can I create fresh? And it's a process, Jung had laid out the process and the method and its individuation, which you first have to understand that you are the ego, and what is your persona, he works with the shadow side that's unconscious, and then you go deeper into your personal unconscious, and then we could connect to the collective unconscious, where we start to connect to our real self and see ourselves. But the three ways we do it is with coaching, you can't do it alone, coaching on Shadow Work, visualization, you're going to use your mind to imagine and symbols, you're going to get information from the unconscious, and then do your dreams, looking at your dreams, your dreams will show you parts of yourself that you can't perceive in the waking world, and it's actually giving you a glimpse of a bigger part of yourself. As you start seeing this other aspect of yourself, it's natural for you to start being more of a witness, being more of an observer, being more of a curiosity around life instead of just reacting from ego. So it is a process, but it's a beautiful journey.
Robert Maldonado 58:41
I think it's a way of reclaiming our humanity, just really asking “What is the purpose of being in this body? Am I here just to suffer or just to work or just to procreate? Is there a deeper connection that we can find somehow?” The Eastern philosophy and Jungian psychology give us that method.
Debra Maldonado 59:08
It's like that East West deeper philosophy, but also understanding our personal psychology and what makes our individual ego tick, and how that is really affecting our perception of what's real, like “I'm triggered by this person because of something in my shadow.” That perception gets changed. What I find really interesting is that once you just do even the first level, which is the Shadow Work, you start to see your perception of people change. There’s someone in your family who used to trigger you, as you change your perception of yourself in relation to that — because it's always you in an object, those people out there are objects — you change the perceiver, the object out there changes. You see yourself as unlimited true yourself, you're gonna see the objects in the world much differently than if you see it from the ego’s perspective. But it's a great journey. But thank you for all your questions.
Robert Maldonado 1:00:10
Can I just answer or try to answer one of these? So she's saying “Ultimately then, is physical pain an illusion?” That's a good question. In approaching that question, we have to drop the idea that there is a split, that there is a difference between physical pain and something else like an illusion. Because, remember, what we're saying is that the body itself is arising in consciousness, meaning it's already a mental experience that we're having up the body. It doesn't exist anywhere else. That's a hard concept to grasp because we're so used to thinking there's a physical reality and there's a mental reality separate from it. But the only way we experience the physical reality, or what we call the physical reality, is as a mental experience. We're always talking about mental experiences. So is it an illusion? Pain is an experience. We definitely experience it. So as an experience, it is real. We're not negating that. The only question is, if it exists as an experience, what is the nature of that experience? Its nature, again, goes back to consciousness, awareness, it exists as an experience to us. And that's what we call reality. And that's the only way it exists for us.
Debra Maldonado 1:02:04
I used to do childbirth hypnosis back in my early days, and if you look at contractions, if you've ever had a kid or watch someone have children— the contractions go up and then they go down. What they said is that the woman on the upswing of the pain, their perception of pain right at the bottom, when their pain was starting to build, that was more painful than the top of it when it was coming down. Because as the pain was decreasing, the perception of that pain was less than when she should have been feeling even more pain. But the fact that it was decreasing, gave us a different perception. I've done a lot of work with pain management, it's really interesting. We have a pain dial that I use with my clients. They have a headache, you just turn the dial down. It's like my mind can actually direct the perception of pain in my body. It's really powerful that you can have a default response to a stimulus. And your ego will perceive it the way it's always perceived it, but you can actually change that perception. I've had people give childbirth to eight pound babies without any medication. And then you see other people that are like “Give me every drug you have” because the environment of the hospital creates this perception of worry and anxiety and stress. We know that stress increases pain. There's all these other factors besides just actual stimulus of putting something hot in your hand. If you think about everything in life, not only just physical pain, but stress and emotion, it’s all perception, it's our experience of the world that's creating that kind of stimulus in the body.
Robert Maldonado 1:04:01
I think that's what I mean by retraining our mind. We're so used to thinking there must be a physical reality out there somewhere. Having to drop that idea and to think in terms of the mind, everything is occurring within the mind, everything that we think exists, exists as a mental experience, nowhere else. That's a hard concept for us to wrap our mind around.
Debra Maldonado 1:04:39
A great metaphor — and I know we have to go — but another metaphor is think about a dream. We have a dream where we have this perception of this world that has buildings and people, people you know, and you're going on elevators and climbing stairs, and water and underwater, and it feels so real in the moment and then you wake up, and it's like “Wait a minute, that was not real.” But it was an experience. You had an experience. You can't deny that experience of the dream. But where did that dream happen? It happened in our mind. So it's just really mind blowing when I keep asking the questions. But anyway, thank you for joining us. We are going to be here next week with another episode of our mindset series. Hope you enjoyed today.
Robert Maldonado 1:05:28
Thanks for watching. Great questions, appreciate it.
Debra Maldonado 1:05:29
Thank you for watching. We will see you soon. Take care.
Robert Maldonado 1:05:34
Debra Maldonado 1:05:35