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Transcript by TD
Jan Cox Talk 2597 - Oct. 27, 2000
Notes on tape made by TD
(copyright 2008 - Jan's Legacy, Jan Cox)
Suggested title: One part speaks, the other listens
Years ago, A lot of what I was talking about were theoretical models that I was searching for. The practical way to do things. My description about what being asleep is, I wouldn't speak of it with anyone else for a long time, because it seemed like “this is too obvious”. Why has no one seen this before? I must be missing something. I was astounded that not a single person in all of the mystical writings I had seen or heard up to the most contemporary psychological investigators had reported anything like this.
Using the model that consciousness consists of two things, a “talking” part and a “listening” part, the apparent interaction of these two things is what causes one to say “I think so and so”. No one ever decides to think anything. You don't stop and think “I've got a half hour to wait for the bus, I am going to think some stuff for a while”. Nor can you even decide what your next thought will be. Being asleep is simply when your listening part is completely occupied by the talking part. I could not believe that no mystic had ever pointed that out.
For thousands of years, people have been comfortable with the terminology “being asleep” to describe this state. No one has ever described or seen it the way I am describing it. It would have been of great help to me if somebody had. I was always thinking I must have missed something. I don't suppose you can just take my model, but I challenge you to try it out, I'm sure you'll see that it fits. See if there's something left out. Think of it like trying to come up with some kind of formula to explain some heretofore unexplained physical phenomenon. I challenge you to find, in your own head what I am leaving out. What is being asleep, other than the talking part of your consciousness having the complete “ear” of your listening part?
If you're mad, the talking part of consciousness is talking, even repeating. The degree to which you've limited your consciousness through anger, for instance, could be stated as proportional to the degree to which your listening part is enthralled by your talking part, repeating the same insult or infraction over and over again to the exclusion of even your memory of driving home five minutes ago. Your listening part of consciousness was so taken up with the talking part that it completely missed a truckload of external stimuli, maybe even data of life or death significance. Or in our case, the stimulus from another part of our brain that we're trying to put between the talker and the listener, so to speak. In ordinary conditions, you could say that every one is somewhat asleep. In your brain the talking part is always going on, thats a given.
The talking is always going on, as far as I can tell, it seems to be part of the basic construction of consciousness. The idea of trying to stop thought seems to me, next to impossible, and I don't see the point any more. The talking part will always be going on. Try to imagine your two frontal lobes, one with lips on it and the other one with an ear. The degree to which you are asleep or conversely, awake, is the degree to which the ear is captivated by the lips a few millimeters away.
Not in neuroscience, psychology, etc., have I ever heard anyone report on this phenomena. And after 40 years of studying and probing the mind, you hear it and have to say “how did I miss it?” The ear is like a satellite dish, it can be turned right at the lips or slightly off in another direction. So rather than discovering myself in a groggy, sleepy state and saying “ugh! I've got to snap out of it.” Like in the old war movies where the crew is saying “Captain, wake up! We need you to fly the plane!” Now, instead of all that, I see this picture that I find so useful. Its a working model.
Where I used to find myself asleep and wonder why, I see this picture and I don't wonder anymore. With this model, you can dispense with the ideas of “stopping thought” or otherwise struggling against thoughts. “If I could only figure out why my thoughts are so angry, I could stop being so asleep.” It seems so right and sensible, but its nothing. Its a smoke screen, a stalling tactic, or an example of misdirected attention. If you can see this, you can turn lose your concern with the talking part of consciousness.
Let's face it, no one but a foolish liar can say that trying to stop or suppress thought has really worked to a great degree, I mean, one has to believe that it has worked at least a little, or we'd have all given up by now. But if I said “a meaningful amount?...” There is the cut off line. Then you're going to start telling me the truth. (laughter) All I can say is, look for yourself and see if I'm not right. I wouldn't discourage anyone from pursuing whatever thread seems to work, but from one view, if you can see it, there is great value in turning loose from whatever concern you have about what the thoughts in your head, the talking part of consciousness, is saying. From one view, everything that my brain thinks of to talk about, is sleep talk, or to put it more technically, its bullshit. The thoughts popping up in my head serve no useful purpose when it comes to waking up. Your heart doesn't turn off when you go to sleep at night, it seems that your brain is no more inclined to stop than your heart. You're asleep, you sure as hell don't need to be thinking about anything, but there it goes... The way you hear it at night, when you're asleep, gets distorted so it comes through as dreams, but its just the continual flow of thought. But to get back to the daytime regular condition, You can relinquish all your concern about what the thoughts are saying, and focus your attention on how much of your ear is being devoted to it.
I found it quite stunning... staggering, to realize that it takes two things to be conscious, There's a voice in my head talking and an ear in my head listening. If an ordinary person says “I'm thinking”. This is what is going on in their head. If I ask such a person, “do you think?” They will say “oh, yes”. And all thats going on is, the hearing part is listening to the talking part. There is no “they” in there... Its just an illusion that anyone actually “thinks” in the conventional sense. I say that this is the actual physical basis for the illusion that: we think.
I have found that having this picture in my mind and turning my attention to the listener, has without using any more energy, interfered with the normal process and helped me stay awake. I'd look at the ear and say “are you actually falling for all that shit the lips are giving you?” I've never tried to describe this to any one before, just you people, but I was going to mention the other night about how words trigger pictures, like this one. I have pictures that are so quick, vague and unspecific that I can't even describe them to you... The thing about embarrassing the ear? I just made that up on the spot.
The listening part hears some one talking and the words trigger pictures. For you to become engrossed the right words must trigger the associated pictures. No one is trying to ensnare you, the electro-chemical soup in your brain has filed away movie scenes, personal experiences, visual imaginations from stories you've heard, etc., and they all come up as if, on cue.
There is more that goes on, but with all my time doing this, I can't see how to describe whats going on in the brain without always returning to pictures. All words seem to have some visual counterpart. But there are some that appear to have none. Suppose that someone says “I remember how much reading The Fountainhead impacted me the first time I read it”. You have a picture in your head, but of what? I could pick any classic author's work and it would click in your mind, but what would you see? Do you remember the cover from Dante's inferno? Or A tale of Two Cities? If I'm not picking the right examples, don't let your mind weasel out. The point is that there are things going on in there all the time with no apropos pictures. Emotions. Attitudes. Suppose I say “Sometimes you can be stingy with your praise and other times you can be magnanimous”. What kind of picture comes with magnanimous? My challenge is to examine the words and the mind's responses to the words, that have no well defined film clips, or even snapshot pictures. I say that no thought happens, no word enters your domain of consciousness that has any meaning to you in and of itself. They're all pointing to something else.
Through my investigation I have yet to find any example of a thought taking place in my brain where there were not corresponding pictures. But they're not always as clearcut as one of those milliseconds long movie clips. I challenge you to find exceptions. Suppose someone says “Can you remember the first time you read a book of Zen writings”. Immediately I say “Yes”, but wait a minute, something just happened in my mind resembling a picture. There was a flash of some kind. I realized I was not seeing a book, but I was seeing something. Its very slippery to me. But try it for yourself. The words don't mean anything, but are references to sounds which point to something else, an image that corresponds to a human experience.