Friday, December 18, 2009

On the Ladder of Perception

....our brain is capable of perceiving not only what is
going on in the external world that might be threatening, but also what is going on
inside us that might threaten our normal inner-world order. And when this inner world
falls into disarray, the brain instigates responses and reactions to quell the
disturbances that have arisen. All this is nothing special. All brains do it, including
brains of animals. Here we are talking about the lowest, most primitive level of our
perceptual capacity.

What animals are not nearly so good at as we are is
the art of evaluating perceptions, of ascribing greater or lesser significanse to them.
We are able to view specific changes in our outer---but also inner---worlds as
noteworthy. Since we frequently and intensively activate the neuronal circuits that
participate in registering, processing, and storing these kinds of changes, these circuits
are especially well worked out and easier to activate than others. As a result we can
perceive and relate to certain specific phenomena better and faster than others. We
are more or less sensitized to certain perceptions. We have our senses sharpened in
a very specific way.

But we are also masters when it comes to dumbing
down our senses. At first consciously---and later unconsciously when the neuronal
connections necessary for this have become sufficiently well burned in---we suppress
certain perceptions. Sooner or later this usually leads back to drastic consequences.
Our ability to pay a high level of attention to some things and not to others has been
the source of many a great discovery in the course of human history, but also of many
a false alarm. Certain individuals developed this knack to the point where they could
see things that all other people were blind to, and they could feel and sense changes
coming of which the rest of the people had not the faintest inkling. And along with
these perception specialists and prophets, there have also always been people who
can supposedly "hear the grass growing," and try to predict the future from the
positions of the stars and from the burnt bones of goats.

What distinguishes the real prophets and seers
from the phony one is the fact that in the course of their development they were able
to sharpen their senses simultaneously, not only those used to perceive changes in the
external world, but also those used to perceive what was going on inside them. They
developed the ability to use all these senses at the same time and in balance with
each other. In so doing, they attained the highest level of perception of which the
human brain is capable. the only people who can reach this supreme level are those
who during the course of their lives continually find balance between emotion and
intellect, dependence and autonomy, and openness and self-differentiation. to
sharpen his senses in this manner, a person has to learn to both grasp and how to let
go. he must develop the ability to devote himself thoroughly and fully to a particular
perception, to take it in completely, and to sense what it causes to take place within
him. And he must let the inner image that arises as this happens fuse with all other
images that are already there inside him, so that they make one whole integrated
picture, which is then really more like a feeling. when this happens, he must allow
himself to become so arroused by this feeling that he becomes identified with it and
loses himself in it; rather he must be able to detach himself from it yet nevertheless
preserve it within him from then on. Only if he relates to it in this way, will he
subsequently be able to take in further new perceptions, both from his outer and inner
worlds via other senses with the same intensity; feel what happens inside him as he
does so; and then fit these new "feeling images" together with all the other previously
stored ones into an ever more comprehensive picture of his outer and inner

All of us were able to do this, at least on a rudimentary level, when
we were children. Many of us, however, have lost the ability. those who have lost it
only rarely feel anything when they perceive a change in their outer or inner world,
and when they do, it involves only a few, faint images that certain feelings still arouse
in them. however it is possible to restore this ability that has been lost but
nevertheless remains characteristic of a human brain. Instead of continuing just to
scan the world perfunctorily or to look at it through a vey narrow optic, it is possible to
couple particular images, smells, or sounds with feelings, to really allow what is
happening out there to enter us, and to actively connect these new impressions with
all the other images that are in us from the past. It is possible to retrain onself in this.
It can be practised. But for this, leisure time is required as well as stable inner
balance, an undisturbed environment, and a resolute will. Whoever lacks the last of
these cannot find the first will inevitably continue to have his perceptual capacity
determined by those circumstances that always compel him to use particular senses in
a very particular way. In that case his perceptual capacity will adjust without any
conscious participation of his own, automatically, so to speak, to this habitual manner
of using his senses. such a step down on the ladder of perception happens all by
itself. You can only go up if you want to. And to want to take such a step up, you
need a reason.

{On the Ladder of Perception/"The Compassionate Brain" ~ Gerald Huther, Ph.D.}

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