Introspection

By Thea Iberall



When I started graduate school, I was required to take a course on cybernetics and to read a book called The Metaphorical Brain. By the end of the course, I was fascinated by the workings of the human brain, the most complex thing to have ever evolved on Earth. One of my teachers said, "If the human brain was simple to understand, then we'd be too simple to understand it." And yet, I stepped onto a path to try, learning about its many levels of sensory processing, motor control, automatic body maintenance, sequencing, memory, attention, emotions, speech, learning, planning, problem solving, and introspection. There is a theory by a Princeton psychologist that people's minds 4,000 years ago were different than ours. Those people weren't aware of themselves because they didn't have our conscious ability to introspect. Using introspection, we can maintain an interior monologue of an "I" talking with "me". We can say things like: I'm mad at myself, I drive myself crazy, I'm not myself today. But who is the I and who is the me? Helen Keller said, "When I learned the meaning of I and me and found I was something, I began to think and I became conscious." Using this ability of introspection, we are constantly fitting a story to our experiences. It is what Susan Jeffers terms the chatterbox, a name for the incessant talk that goes on inside our heads by our egos. Other names are monkey mind, and the like. (see Susan Jeffers' Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway). In those ancient times, people could think, reason, and learn. They could live their lives, erect buildings, sail ships, even go to war. But they had no mind talk, no introspection, no notion of self. They had basic emotions, like animals, who can feel shame, fear, anger, joy and pain. But people back then didn't have other emotions that need introspection such as guilt, anxiety, worry, hatred, and suffering. I think a lot about this ability of ours to be introspective. And maybe, as that Princeton psychologist says, this skill to introspect is relatively new to our human brains. It's like those ancient brains crossed a tipping point as they were developing new technologies while being stressed out by change and catastrophes. And a little window opened into a new way to thinking.


But how big is that window? After all, we aren't introspective all the time. We aren't always conscious. We aren't even constantly aware. I can drive down an interstate highway hypnotized by the road and wonder how I got home. It's like we are viewing life through a flashlight, thinking everything is lit up. But the only thing lit is where our flashlight is pointing. The rest is a mystery. Or maybe it isn't. In Sanskrit, there is a term karana chitta which means the superconscious mind. It is the mind of light, the all-knowing intelligence of the soul. Are some people superconscious? Consciousness evolved culturally, resulting in the learned ability to materialize a “me” into the self. As we face all our own societal changes and catastrophes, are we at another tipping point where a shift is occurring to this superconsciousness? Are psychic mediums heralding a new mindset? Through meditation, we are expanding our sensory perception and focusing on a heart-centered consciousness. So that, not only being able to materialize a me into self, maybe we are shifting to the ability to materialize community into ourselves. By sensing others' energy and emotions, are we making a community of compassion and empathy at the most deepest level possible, within our metaphorical brains?


In Those Years by Adrienne Rich

From Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995


In those years, people will say, we lost track

of the meaning of we, of you

we found ourselves

reduced to I

and the whole thing became

silly, ironic, terrible:

we were trying to live a personal life

and yes, that was the only life

we could bear witness to


But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged

into our personal weather

They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove

along the shore, through the rags of fog

where we stood, saying I


Participants’ Reflections

  • Right away I related to this. I love my brain but sometimes it’s one heck of a companion in life. I am drawn to so many things. I tend to multitask. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. I’m trying to reset my system to do just one thing at a time. I drive myself crazy when I pile them all in. Such as tuning in to this meditation group on Saturday mornings while driving myself across town. I go line dancing which is good for my spirits and my body and my mind. But so is this group. Last weekend, I let go of this group in order to not multitask. I love how your reflection ended with community, the ‘we’. As I sat in silence, I was so aware that the community is there when we come back. If we pull out, it is there. Thank you for the option to read it, even though it’s best when we hear each other’s voices and see each other.

  • I do think there’s too much artificial input these days. I look something up on my phone and things pop up that I can’t get rid of them. It’s a constant barrage. I don’t like it, and it isn’t good for me. I would like a barrage of nature, or ten cats sitting on my lap. I feel badly about myself right now. My brain has never worked the way I’d like it to, for focusing on things. But now it’s worse and I am so frustrated that I can’t do important things I need to do.

  • I do believe we are at a turning point, that we can either go into superconsciousness or to a place where we lose our consciousness entirely. One of the reasons I worry about this is because of the barrage of stuff around us that is shutting off our brains.

  • I can appreciate your topic. I can remember when I studied psychology. One of the courses was on the human brain, which I thought would be boring. I didn’t want to take it. I never realized how complex the brain is. One course is not enough to know it. I work with people with disabilities, and I’ve created training programs for traumatic brain injuries and acquired brain injury. I have such an appreciation for the brain. I used to think injury was related to something physical. But it’s your brain you have to protect. Your brain controls every function of your body. It’s so encompassing. It is fascinating to me. So thank you. I appreciate your reading.

  • I’ve known people who are bipolar. They have a different logic system. One’s brain is the filter through which we experience the world.

  • This is difficult for me right now, two months after having Covid. I’m realizing more and more that I think I am a long-hauler. The way it manifests with me is that it is affecting my attention span. It is very difficult for me. I am trying to do some writing for a non-fiction book I am working on. It affects every aspect of my life. Before meditation in the morning, I used to hike in the woods for an hour. Now I find getting up at 6am is a real challenge. It is very traumatic. I’m trying to do as many other things as I can to rebuild my concentration and focus. It’s a challenge.

  • There is a new film coming out about how food is medicine. It’s called The Way of Miracles. It’s based on a book by Dr. Mark Mincolla who talks about superconsciousness. One way to help ourselves is to be conscious of the food we eat.

  • Thank you for that. The brain is a marvelous thing. When you’re talking about what’s happening with food, it’s also about gut. Universities are looking at gut health. One describes it as the rainforest. Some people call the gut the second brain. Ultimately, I think there will be a merging of all that knowledge. We are evolving really quickly.

  • I took a Coursera course about the gut biome. There’s so much we can learn about our gut biome for our health.

  • It’s been about five years ago since I had a bad fall and landed flat on my face. After that, I had a ringing in my ear. I had an MRI of my brain. Everything was okay. It was really fascinating to see slivers of my brain, the inside of my head. It was really beautiful. I couldn’t believe how symmetrical it was. It was amazing to see.

  • I could talk about this all day. I believe the diagnoses people get are actually on a continuum. So many times it is undiagnosed because it’s unknown or it’s an imbalance in our systems that could be causing a psychiatric condition. When those underlying conditions are addressed, the disease goes away. It’s just at the beginning for mainstream.

  • Yes. The difference between the Eastern and Western approach to medicine is night and day. Western medicine takes a sledge hammer to a problem. Eastern medicine believes the problems start in your energy field and then manifest in your body. And if you address the energy field, then what happens in your body goes away.