Mental Exercises for Coping with a World of Memes
If my understanding of human nature is that there is no conscious self inside then I must live that way--otherwise this is a vain and lifeless theory of human nature. But how can 'I' live as though I do not exist, and who would be choosing to do so?
One trick is to concentrate on the present moment--all the time--letting go of any thoughts that come up. This kind of 'meme-weeding' requires a great concentration but is most interestin in its effect. If you can concentrate for a few minutes at a time, you will begin to see that in any moment there is no observing self. Suppose you sit and look out of the window. Ideas will come up but these are all past- and future-oriented; so let them go, come back to the present. Just notice what is happening. The mind leaps to label objects with words, but these words take time and are not really in the present. So let them go too. With a lot of practice the world looks different; the idea of a series of events gives way to nothing but change, and the idea of a self who is viewing the scene seems to fall away.
Another way is to pay attention to everything equally. This is an odd practice because things begin to lose their 'thingness' and become just changes. Also, it throws up the question of who is paying attention (Blackmore 1995). What becomes obvious, in doing this task, is that attention is always being manipulated by things outside yourself rather than controlled by you. The longer you can sit still and attend to everything, the more obvious it becomes that attention is dragged away by sounds, movements, and most of all thoughts that seem to come from nowhere. These are the memes fighting ti out to grab the information-processing resources of the brain they might use for their propagation. Things that worry you, opinions that you hold, things you want to say to someone, or wish you hadn't--these all come and grab the attention to everything disarms them and makes it obvious that you never did control the attention; it controlled--and created--you.
These kinds of practices begin to wear away at the false self. In the present moment, attending equally to everything, there is no distinction between myself and the things happening. It is only when 'I' want something, respond to something, believe something decide to do something, that 'I' suddenly appear. This can be seen directly through experience with enough practice at just being.
This insight is perfectly compatible with memetics. In most people the selfplex is constantly being reinforced. Everything that happens is referred to the self, sensations are referred to the observing self, shifts of attention are attributed to the self, decisions are described as being made by the self, and so on. All this reconfirms and sustains the selfplex, and the result is a quality of consciousness dominated by the sense of 'I' in the middle--me in charge, me responsible, me suffering. The effect of one-pointed concentration is to stop the processes that feed the selfplex. Learning to pay attention to everything equally stops self-related memes from grabbing the attention; learning to be fully in the present moment stops speculation about the past and future of the mythical 'I'. These are tricks that help a human person (body, brain and memes) to drop the false ideas of the selfplex. The quality of consciousness then changes to become open, and spacious, and free of self. The effect is like waking up from a state of confusion--or waking from the meme dream (Blackmore in press).
Being in the moment and paying attention to everything equally are strategies for escaping the self-centered aspect of memes seeking our attention.
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