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Waking up in a human body for the first time is no different than waking up from sleep. W, finding himself lying on a blue mat in a big hall notes his surroundings, reaches for memories, and the memories show up. W knows he is a young man, lives in the mountains, has studied religion for ten years since leaving his parents home, loves his best friend, hates the persistent cold, is about to lead chanting, needs some tea, and wonders why he feels so strange this morning as if an unfamiliar presence has arrived. During morning meditation, calmed by ceremony and food, W takes a few moments to shift his attention from his breath, open up to the new sensation, and explore. If something is new it feels exactly like himself - perhaps he is entering the next jhana? Describing this experience to his teacher, W notices eyebrows darting briefly up and down in a very uncharacteristic display of emotion.
A similar setup, a memory hack, is used to trick the androids in Blade Runner who think they are human because they can talk about their families, childhood, and personal thoughts but find out later that their past memories are artificial and loaded into their data storage at the factory. How would they know that they didn't live those memories? Why would they question what they recall is true?
How do we know every morning when we wake up if we have lived our lives up to that point or if we are waking up in a new body already filled with memories? How do we know every morning that we are the same person that we were when we went to sleep?
Sleep and wake. Sustained meditation. His mind has almost forgotten the unfamiliar presence and W feels less and less like he is acting a part.
On the cushion in the morning, practicing concentration techniques, W is fascinated by how reacting to a single physical sensation triggers cascades of thoughts and emotions. He watches the sound of a bell lead to a thought about lunch which leads to a feeling of hunger that sets his leg muscles in motion causing him to imagine a bowl of rice which starts him salivating. Endlessly fascinating chains constructed spontaneously in his mind, when taken apart and reassembled, a simple vase of flowers can become a cyclical symphony.
This practice so enlivens him that W feels like he is experiencing his human senses for the first time. As he wonders, "Is this Awakening?" his heart beats faster and a smile plays on his lips. "I'm getting somewhere," he hopes, ready to impress his teacher.
Why did W wake up suddenly in a grown body and not in a newborn baby?
Clay, freshly dug up from the ground, is not a cup ready to hold water. The clay must be mixed to remove air bubbles, thrown on a wheel creating form, dried for days, fired in a kiln, glazed, decorated, and fired again. Cleaned up and seen to be flawless, the cup is ready to be filled.
When a body has matured, is healthy, the mind sharp, able to focus, logically reason, possessing curiosity, inwardly inclined, empty of prejudices, and provided for so that studies have time to develop, the cup is ready to be filled.
W, as a vortex in conscious flow, joins the student when both are in sync. If a note is added to a musical chord the result is not more music but new harmonic resonances within the music. The student does not gain more consciousness when W arrives but finds new levels of awareness within consciousness. When the student and W resonate, they are inseparable.
W reviews his dilemma with his teacher, "I am a student. I have a body and mind. I sense the world. I am able to watch how my mind assimilates, imagines, and confabulates to create my world, my beliefs, my joys, and my suffering. I have strong emotions. I feel pain. I am soothed by a cup of tea. I know all of this is real."
"And yet?" The teacher asks with a tilt of the head.
"And yet," W continues, "deep in meditation the solidity of the world seems to dissolve. The mask of humanity is removed and it seems possible that the whole world may exist entirely inside my head. Further, my sense of 'me' seems to arise only when I have thoughts. Is my self-consciousness solely dependent on an elaborate mental feedback loop?"
"How else could you see yourself in the world?"
"Sometimes I try to imagine that instead of a mind housed in a body that I am really the silent visitor I have sensed lately, I am some out of body spiritual entity that now occupies me in order to experience material sensations. What if the world only began a moment ago when this conscious other being entered my mind?" W wonders for a moment and then continues, "I feel as if these two points of view are splitting me apart. Am I a human with a portal to the spiritual or is what I am experiencing also the experience of some immaterial energy enjoying the senses of a human body? Teacher, can I be both human and spirit simultaneously?"
The teacher smiles, "Is there truly a double you?"
These two are quite a pairing. Not W and his teacher but W and himself. Resonating with a human mind, being in contact with a wide variety of sensory input from a material world, pushed and pulled by preference, overwhelmed by attitudes, opinions, and emotion, hung up by conjecture, and drinking in the joys of ego, W is so distracted, so entertained, and so busy fulfilling desire that he believes he is his body: my hand, my heart, my thoughts, this is me, and he further believes that objects around him also belong to him: my cup, my comb, my mat, my room, my river.
W wanting to be the best student, to impress his teachers, to get a better room, stays in the meditation hall longer than anyone, volunteers to clean after every meal, and teaches the other students how to improve. He spends his time on the cushion planning. He knows he can win over the teachers but he mistakenly assumes he needn't worry about conquering himself, never bothering to ask, "who is doing all this scheming?" His expectations are high for his teacher meeting but his efforts aren't recognized. He masks his frustration. Ambition turns to guilt, then quickly depression.
Peering into his mind, W encounters an array of dualities:
-He believes that he is an autonomous agent with free will, yet he is devoted to a deity that controls everything and lives everywhere, including inside him.
-Inseparable from a biological system whose health he depends on to breathe, eat, and grow, W sees that humans disregard Earth as an organism, neglecting responsibility to care for and replenish the resources they consume.
-He experiences human desires for comfort, possessions, prestige, power, knowledge, and peace of mind, realizing how easy it is to want those things without the willingness to provide the same for fellow humans, who, instead of being cared for, are regarded as threats to happiness and security.
-W finds it more and more difficult to ignore a fundamental duality, the difference between men and women. To regain equanimity, he sits and meditates on a corpse, reminding himself that all human life gets old, is impermanent, and decays, but he doesn't have the patience for that practice. All he can think about is the daughter of the cook.
The large turbulent flow from which W emerges is vast, highly energetic, and spawns myriad vortices. In fact, W has a twin. Together they form a symmetrical counter rotating vortex pair. Their rotations, going in opposite directions, cause W and his sibling to attract one another, not without danger, because if they ever get too close, their oppositional forces will cancel each other out and the energy in the stable nodes that allow them to exist will dissipate. Fear not, they have a secret, under the surface they are joined by a thin string of energy that won't easily disperse (a Falaco soliton if you want to Google it.)
Knowing a lot about W, we can now investigate the history of his twin and see how all this topological information impacts the course of their stories.
The twin vortices move in sync but inside they differ.
W knows he exists. The neurons that make up his brain are deeply interconnected. "I am here" he says to himself and experiences self-reflection. He touches his chest as he looks at himself in the mirror, "and this is my body."
Things are not so simple for his sibling, Gyre. The experience of self for Gyre arises, not from the interconnections in one brain, but from the interconnections that happen amongst many brains. Gyre's intelligence emerges from neural circuits made out of the dendrites that connect all living things.
Gyre exists everywhere in the circuits and is able to see out into the world using multiple pairs of eyes, taking in multiple points of view, not identifying with one body but with many. Gyre moves from place to place by focusing attention along the dendrites, has learned to occupy and operate a single body using concentration techniques, and can receive sensory input simultaneously from all the bodies in the immediate surroundings by resting in open awareness. Gyre does not have to take in food, water, or air, but feeds on the energy moving through the network.
Immersed in noise, spinning weightlessly in space, and filled with longing, Gyre emerges on Earth as a disembodied intelligence bound to a large network of neural circuits for food and support. Confused and uneducated, the infant Gyre's attention wanders until it focuses on an extended, rainforest mycelium - an underground mat of stable, dense hyphae. Identifying as a fungus, not yet knowing how to expand to other networks, Gyre lives a quiet and uninterrupted life on the forest floor, stabilizing vision, gaining connections, and learning to gather the energy that pulses through the links, for several hundred years.
Gradually Gyre is able to touch surrounding points of light and learn new patterns: the cells below bark teach delicious layered textures, a bacteria cell is a moist snack, the pulses from the communications of a hunting pack of small mammals are gobbled up like junk food. Gyre remains in control of the growth and scope of these explorations until the day a human with a dense, feedback blaring brain comes exploring.
Emerging from the energy pulses traveling along thin, white thread-like hyphae that make up the mycelial mat, feeding on the life energy from wider and wider swaths of forest floor, and exploring how a fungal network's energy interchanges with trees, plants, and bacteria, Gyre's image of the world is built on sunlight, water, chemical reactions, and dispersed decision making.
The sense of being an independent self, the time when the thought, "I'm not the body I inhabit" first arises, happens on a summer morning when high sunlight streams through the canopy. Sensing the glint of a vibrating fiber, following the thread to a mosquito, Gyre is able to enter and occupy the mind of the mosquito, utilizing all her eyes to track the energetic pathway back to the mat. Flying the insect body higher, now seeing the magnificent extent of the net, and becoming distracted, the mosquito is swallowed by a bird, blinding but not killing Gyre who only shifts attention to other nodes in the pattern to regain sight.
"I am not a living thing," reasons Gyre, "but I exist in a living network"
Wishing to become divine within, a human male, a native of the forest, picks a Psilocybe cubensis mushroom from a pile of cow dung, eats the cap, and intends to spend the day in service to the spirits wherever that may lead him. Wandering far beyond the well known paths, guided by intuition (while tripping balls), the human gets his wish, encounters a spirit, or at least something non-human, and is overtaken.
Gyre, in an equanimous fungal state that morning, smells something novel wandering close by and immediately feels hungry. The man's connecting fiber is easy to locate and Gyre, far from encountering resistance, feels welcome to feast in the living electro-plasmic soup that is the human's brain. "More than a new flavor," Gyre says with rising astonishment, "I'm tasting an entirely new kind of thinking. The density of neural activity is intoxicating enough but the vibrations emanating from the self-aware sensory feedback are like a symphony."
Safe and comfortable, the human feels Gyre's presence and is honored by the god's attention. In the human, Gyre finds a capable and willing host from whom language, reason, and emotion are learned, and in that chemically enhanced brain, experiences a singular awakened state for the first time. Gyre has tasted the top of the food chain and wants more.
Branching in all directions, traveling the pathways between living things, Gyre now exclusively seeks to inhabit human minds, distinguishing mental events as finely as any connoisseur of neural prana would: long term memories of the world taste of Maillard reactions, vivid imagination sounds like bells with hints of pinks and sky blue, compassion feels as soft as eider down.
Observing signals from disparate regions of the mind coalesce into singular, reasonable, coherent configurations: an excuse, a recipe, mythical creatures (all made up!), witnessing the glory, the dance, the whirlpool of creativity in action, Gyre's full attention is hooked on seeing what arises from a brain with so many interconnected synapses, each moment unique, sending forth confabulations which seconds before did not exist.
Where the threads of life connect, Gyre travels, moving in all directions, entering minds, reading thoughts, controlling bodies, exploring the mechanics of flight in a bird's movements, appreciating the passage of time in oak trees, and discovering complex patterns constructed from information. The life force of the network supports growth and maturity but the rapidity of Gyre's unfolding is unsustainable.
Gyre's attention becomes focused on the mind of a gifted musician, an improviser on a stringed instrument. Sitting for hours, the musician combines note progressions into increasingly subtle and surprising music. So caught up in the lyrical flow, so charmed by the novelty, and so intrigued with being able to live, to enact, and to perform the creative process at such resonant levels, Gyre bonds with the player. Mixing life forces, Gyre's attention is the musician's attention.
Gyre lives as the musician for several weeks, sharing every thought, memory, emotion - identity never in doubt, seeing through his eyes, the musician none the wiser, until the hunger grows undeniable. Gyre senses the weakness inside, the musician's sheaths are withering as their dual presence consumes the life sustaining essence in his body too quickly. Finally Gyre is starving and in an unconscious instinctual movement reaches backward along the thread, reconnecting to the network, feeding ravenously, moving from plant, to bird, to tree, and finally resting back in the fungal mat, satiated, recovering, but knowing sorrowfully that all the life force left in the musician was absorbed.
Trying to sit in the lotus position, mind in turmoil, hip joints in pain, minutes passing slowly, filled with doubt, legs cramping, W returns his attention to his breath for the millionth time to no avail. He thinks about eating lunch, washing the dishes, and when exactly, in the kitchen, with soapy water on his hands, he'll get to share a few words with Rose.
"I want to discover my true nature," W tells his teacher because he knows that is what he is supposed to say.
"The suffering comes from the wanting," replies his teacher, who has launched a delicate plan to remove W from full-time student and rid the school of him without causing any scandal. Quiet moans and giggles have alerted the vigilant teacher that W and Rose, the cook's daughter, have been meeting in the small storage room behind the kitchen after lights out.
Hoping to insure his bliss, W has concocted a plan to run away with Rose. He has been saving food from the kitchen and a few coins that won't be missed from shopping trips, a collection he is sure will carry them to safety. Letting her know the timing, assuring her that he is prepared, sealing the pact with a hasty kiss, and rolling all his belongings into a bundle, W believes he is journeying to nirvana while in truth he is only going to meet his fate. Soon he will see that Rose is more loyal to the school where she grew up and the teacher that loves her.
Seeing him block the storage room doorway, Rose slowly put down the flour container and moved so that the butcher block table was between them. Even after confessing his love for her, she couldn't remember who he was. Oh yea, he worked in the kitchen? The entire time while he was jabbering on about his plans she was nodding, smiling, and trying to ease her way around him.
"Don't forget the flour," W offered, picking up the bag, and she saw it would be easier to control him than to run away.
While not feeling entirely safe, Rose let W follow her around the kitchen, do some of her chores, and talk to her after hours because he was kinda cute and gave her attention in a school full of celibate introspective males, until the day his behavior got too familiar.
Not one to be disrespected and a bit frightened about how far she let this go, Rose complains to her father about the handsy dishwasher.
W's plan failed. He saw Rose cross the courtyard at midnight but when he met her at the gate two guards appeared out of the shadows. W gasped when Rose's betrayal became obvious. Rose screamed when she saw the look in his eyes.
The school's guards, tasked with arresting the student and returning the daughter, clumsy, full of their power, underestimated their man, let him break free, and gave chase. No one could decide if W lost his footing because the gravel where he ran was loose or because he was desperate and decided to risk it all but from the edge of the plateau where the school was located, past the boulders, through the trees, W tumbled.
Out of the blue and into the black
They give you this but you pay for that
And once you're gone you can never come back
When you're out of the blue and into the black
Bouncing from boulder to boulder, details of life as a meditation student softening, the buzzing of mayflies barely audible, W tumbles head over heels down the side of a mountain until realizing there is no mountain and the spinning isn't going to stop.
Like removing a tight shoe at the end of a long day, W leaves the human body on Earth with a sigh of relief. W's true nature is untouched by the actions of the student - the energetic vortex from which W arises is still quite steady in the flow - but karma adds up and W's audit is due.
A heap of rubble was found at the foot of the escarpment where W fell. A pile of debris seems like an appropriate symbol for how W managed things as a human on Earth; the big mess raising questions about: the effectiveness of the mayfly experience (did W really gain enough insight as an insect to perform as a human), the competence of the teaching staff in preparing the vessel (were moral precepts firmly installed in the student's habits), W's personal responsibility (why didn't the student embrace meditation, choosing to indulge personal desires instead), and what trajectory will be traveled by the residual energy that exited the student's body (what's next for W).
The human experience is brief - only with the good fortune of a healthy birth, supportive society, available teachers, a mind capable of critical thinking, money for necessities, and time for study and practice does one hope to discover their true nature.
W will get to be human again, but only under tighter controls and after he has once again met with her.
Waking up in between and the only familiar things W sees are blue silk scarves.
"Not your best showing," she teases. W winces in embarrassment and finally recognizes her by the resonance in her voice.
"I was set up to fail," W offers by way of excuses, "the student was corrupt and lazy when I got in there."
"You always have a choice..." her voice trailing away, "even if mind, habit, and memory say otherwise...never too late to wake up."
Appearing in person, caressing his cheek with one soft hand, touching his forehead with the other, she looks into W's eyes, he sees galaxies in hers and a light starting to rise, the brightening of an idea, he opens to whatever she is about to unveil knowing the next mission she sends him on will be even more demanding.
Taking gentle possession of W, her imposing presence signifying the gravity of the details she is about to transmit, her tone of voice making clear that this information is not to be shared, she reveals to W the details of the undertaking that is to become known as The North American Project (TNAP).
"It is an auspicious time to begin. Our diviners assure us that this period of relative quiet can't last and it is the right time to plant seeds. The bodhisattvas have great hope for the targeted time period but there are prodigious threats. You will be inserted into a white male middle class American body with the assignment to recognize and teach the dharma in the local language and through local rituals. Instead of arriving in ignorance, on this journey you will be given the divine power to remember that THIS exists; enlightened from birth, you will immediately access dharma and be able to consult with us. Many other travelers will be inserted for you to contact and together help awaken a critical mass. Will you willingly join this army and help?" she stops and watches as confusion and awe cover W's face.
"I know I owe you everything and that I can do better. It is my honor to serve now and wherever in the future you are going to project me. I'm ready to undertake this." W is scared but resigned, actually excited to have some definite role to serve, after all what more is there to say in the presence of one's deity but "yes" and "thank you?"
Around we go again...in a universe that curves into itself...blue veils forgotten...
That familiar feeling of dissolution grows as W slips away but on this journey, just as she promised, a tiny bit of coherence remains.
As the threads strengthen the only thing remaining of W is source stretched thin...about to turn inside out...buckle up for re-entry...
Near the portal, at the threshold of a new life, energy reconfigured, alignments sighted, intentions set, the energy vortex we call W pauses to rest, knowing this entryway is more than a conveyance to a vessel on Earth, this dimensional gateway is itself a place to be. Only at the transitioning stage is it possible to contemplate firsthand this magnificent anomaly of spacetime architecture; W sits in its presence and appreciates.
Each stage of the cycle is special, or maybe we should say no stage is more important than another. Instead of looking forward to what is on the other side, W hangs out peacefully in this place, comfortable with impermanence, noticing anticipation oscillating, and practicing to flow with such equanimity that all the boundaries dissolve.
Feeling as though the moment is perfect, as if some wisp of cosmic wind was urging movement, movement that somehow feels like one gear tooth turning in an elaborate universal machine, W shifts perspective into Earth's local time zones and crosses the threshold on the twenty-first day of the twenty-first year of the twenty-first century.