The Moat Effect: An Example of a Metabelief Operator
In neurophysiology there is a well-known effect, which I here call the "moat effect." If one shines a very small spot of light upon the retina of an animal and follows the effect of this stimulation by means of electrodes within the retina, one finds that the light stimulates a small spot of neuronal activity. This small spot is surrounded by an area of inhibition of spontaneous activity within the ganglion cells. In a diagram of this effect, refer to illustration, one finds that there is a raised level of activity in the center where the spot of light is and a ring of depressed (inhibited) spontaneous activity surrounding the central part.
It can easily be demonstrated that this same property exists throughout the nervous system. Stimulation of a small area of cortex leads to inhibition in the surrounding regions, and so on through the subcortical systems.
This is called the "moat effect" because there is, as it were, a tall column in the center of a depressed area, a circular area, so it looks like a column surrounded by a moat. The height of the column may be above the surrounding terrain outside the moat, or it may be below it (see illustration of the Moat Effect).
|MOAT EFFECT DIAGRAM|
I have noticed that in general people tend to do exactly this kind of operation in regard to their knowledge about any given subject. They tend to raise the importance of their own knowledge (make a central column of high importance) and demean areas of knowledge not within their own area of competence (surround it with a moat in regard to other knowledge or other people's knowledge). So the "moat effect" exists not only in our own neurophysiology, but also in our thought and our behavior and our social activities.
Later in this chapter I will show how I used this moat effect as a defense to help motivate me to reenter reality after my accident.
The fact that this effect is generalized from a central nervous system that operates in this way—locally to its properties in generating behavior and thought—is rather astonishing.
One can see such arrangements of activities in politics, especially among political candidates running for office in which they take their own program and their own thinking as if it is the most important thing in the world, and surround it with an area of demeaning other people's programs, opinions and activities. One can see this in science when a given scientist raises the importance of his own area of interest and activities and demeans that of his colleagues. One can see it in the treatment of single scientists who depart from the standard formulas for science. One can see this property in one's own family. Practically everyone that one knows tends to do this, including you and me.
Pay close attention to someone riding their own hobbyhorse and to their criticism of other hobbyhorses, of other people riding their hobbyhorses. One can see a given person elevating tennis above golf, somebody else elevating golf above tennis, another doing the football trip, another doing the surfing trip, the skiing trip, and so on.
I summarize this by saying that we all do that which we are best equipped to do with what we have at a given time; we tend to neglect and demean that which we either do not choose to do, or cannot do, or do not have time enough to do, or do not have enough money with which to do, or do not have the energy to do. In other words, we do the best we can with what we have as of here and now. We believe that which we must believe to do what we are doing. This particular point of view can be applied to one's business, one's leisure-time activities, one's home life and to one's criteria for various kinds of judgments.
For example, consider one's aesthetic judgment: what is beautiful? It is quite mysterious why we consider a certain type of face or body structure to be beautiful and another one to be ugly. In the essence of things, any living body is beautiful; any living body has survived billions of years of counter life forces and yet here it is. Not only has it survived, but we know that all of its predecessors survived in order to generate it. Therefore, any living creature, including any type of human, in essence, is beautiful. The most objective, dispassionate, the most indifferent kind of judgment says that any living thing, that all living things, is and are beautiful. There is no escape from this. And yet one can hear on TV talk shows, one can hear on TV interviews, one can hear public figures giving off-the-cuff judgments about this or that being superior, being more beautiful or more ugly than another.
Recently, I was very badly injured in a bicycle accident.5*' I broke five ribs on the right. On the right side of my body I broke my clavicle and my scapula, and still after many months my right shoulder is not operating correctly. My right lung was collapsed, I had a concussion, spent nine days in a hospital and several weeks in bed at home. This accident taught much. It taught me that the beliefs of others about one's self are particularly powerful in determining the external reality in which one lives. It taught me that certain people cannot possibly understand the processes by which one arrives at one's particular thinking and feeling while in intense pain. As William James said at the beginning of this century, "Those who live on one side of the threshold of pain cannot possibly understand the psychology of those who live on the other side of the threshold of pain."
This lesson was brought home particularly strongly to me: I suddenly realized that we cannot expect understanding from others no matter how close to one they are, no matter how much they apparently understand one, if one is in states (not just pain) that are unfamiliar to those persons closest to one. If your wife or husband has never gone through the particular kinds and intensity of pain that one is experiencing, one cannot expect them to understand. This is asking too much of biological organisms that are having their own survival problems within different belief systems. We are the victims of our previous experience and of our beliefs constructed on those experiences. There is no escape from this victimization, as it were. We are limited biological organisms, severely limited by the biological vehicle within which we reside.
To return to Toni. I made our dyad the column at the center of a moat in a vast region of inhibition of other attractions in the inner domains. The moat effect took me over totally; I was too damaged to do anything but concentrate my total energies
* See Chapter Twelve, "States of Being and Consciousness in 'Coma/ " for details of this accident.
on returning to this planet to a peaceful life with my love, Toni.
While I was away from my body, I knew that I must return. The top of the column of the moat effect read "the most important thing for me to do is to return to her."
At one point in the hospital I returned from these far-out spaces. Toni was by my bed; I held on to her neck desperately for five hours, maintaining my hold on where I wanted to go as a demonstration of my sincerity and my need. (As I write this I cry because it is still my need, it is still the top of the column in the moat. I make this important. I believe this and I disbelieve anything that interferes with it. To be here now on this planet in this body with Toni is all that is important to me. This I believe to be true. It is not "as if true." It is true.)
During a period of twelve weeks, I was unable to function in my usual ways. I was forced to rest and stay in a hospital bed in my home without ceasing. I was forced into a twelve weeks7 meditation on my own friability, my own fragility, my own mortality, my compromises, in order to stay a while longer on this planetside trip.
I have many lessons to learn: lessons on how to remain at peace in spite of provocations to the contrary; of how to maintain the feeling in the face of temptations to be unfeeling; of how to continue to write books, to lecture, to give workshops, to teach and to listen to lectures, to read books, to be taught, to attend other's workshops and not demean either my own knowledge or the knowledge of others and to respect our ignorances. To love and be loved, to repair, to be repaired, to solve the karma I accumulated and the karma accumulated by others because of me.
The moat effect can be made useful as long as one is conscious of its actions. It can't be erased. It is built into our structure. But it can be made more flexible. As it were, one can move the column through areas of knowledge, areas of ignorance, and not make the moat negative. The moat can be positive, one can raise the whole structure above the surrounding terrain, as it were, making a mountain peak with a central island in the middle. One can't smooth out the terrain of the mind and of
the body. All one can do is recognize its shapes, its forms and its substances.
There are those including myself who feel very strongly that the body is a transducer. What is a transducer? It derives from the Latin "trans,” meaning across, and "ductere" meaning to lead—a transducer leads something across something else.
The simplest examples of transducers are microphones, which lead the sound waves, the small changes of pressure (in the oscillating pressure in the air) across into oscillating electrical currents or voltages. A loudspeaker does just the opposite. It takes oscillating electrical currents and changes them into pulsating oscillating airwaves. When I say that the body is a transducer, I am summarizing several points of view about the body's function.
I am making one basic assumption, which one should examine very carefully. I am assuming that the Self, I or you or he or she, within that body somehow is conscious of its separateness from that body, but also is conscious of being imbedded within that body. The body then functions as a transducer between that Self, that essence, if you wish, and the rest of the universe. It behooves us then to train that body, to take care of that body, as that which transduces, that which is the carrier of the wishes of Self, the intent of Self, through the surroundings and the intent of the surroundings back into the Self.
Al Huang, who teaches T'ai Chi (a Chinese form of moving meditation) and dance—a combination of the two that is beautiful and effective—with his own body's example, to students of varying degrees of expertise in this area, recently said to Lama Govinda, in my presence, "The body functions as the intermediary between the Self and the universe. The flow of the cosmos is like the flow of clouds over one's head. The universe and the cosmos express themselves in a flowing as of water. I teach how to have the body express and join with the universe and its flowing and allow the Self to express the universal flowing through the body."
The very fact that one is an individual in a single body possessing a single mind means that one is subject to laws of relative importance. One somehow in this life is a Center Of the
Universe/ "a COU," as it were. One is anthropocentric because one is anthropos. One is anthropomorphic because one is an-thropos. Similarly, one is egocentric because one is ego, one is egomorphic because of the limits of the knowledge of ego. (Here I am using "ego" not in the restrictive sense in which Oscar Ichazo uses it, but in the more general sense of the Self, of the I, the me, the functional entity within a wet, blood-filled living body.)
In a sense one is a zombie, a body controlled by something other than what is in that body. In a sense one is a robot, a machine, controlled by something other than that which is the robot. One's programming came through the genetic code and through one's own experience. So, once again, one is the "victim" of one's own genetic code, of one's own experience, of one's own current circumstance. A victim until one can leave permanently.
This personal catastrophe, my accident, is a lesson to me, a private lesson illustrating my major point that: What one believes to be true in the province of the mind either is true or becomes true within certain limits. In the province of the mind there are no limits; however, the body introduces definite limits.
When one's body introduces its definite limits, what can one do? One solution is to escape the body, to leave, either temporarily or permanently. During this recent personal catastrophe, I did not choose to leave but was forced to leave in contrast to previous personal experiences in the tank. As I wrote in The Center of the Cyclone, there are many instances in which I chose to leave, several in which I did not choose to leave but was forced to leave. This new experience forced me to leave.
I have never really been tempted to leave permanently, to die, to leave the body here for others to handle, to bury, to burn, to drop into the sea; somehow I have overvalued this body, its sensations, its feelings, its history, its future, its present. A body is in an overvaluation space, somehow hooked in to the processes of life, to the flow of fluids, to the flow of energies, to the flow of feeling, to the flow of sensation, to the flow of exchange, to the transduction of the thoughts of Self, of the thoughts produced by other Selves, to the interpretation, to the explanation, to the exploration of Self and of the universe.
Where do I go from here? First of all in regard to the body in the future on this planet I go with Toni/ our life together, whatever that brings. I admire her graceful, diplomatic and effective way of living and appreciate and enjoy; as she develops her confidence so I develop my admiration and my own effectiveness and our dyadic effectiveness. As I overvalue, as it were, the dyad, I gain a perspective on that overvaluation and what it represents to my essence, to her essence. Toni essentially is a very good human being, a very good woman, a very strong person; thus do I express my overvaluation of her. When one is conscious of overvaluation, when one does not consider it a demeaning process, one considers it a necessary process, to pursue life as it is lived.
As I write this I am watching plants, trees, listening to the wind in Toni's and my place in Decker Canyon. I sit in our small VW camper, enjoying the beneficence of the ambience of southern California with its flowers, red ones, glowing in the bright sunshine, 80° warmth in the middle of January. A truly miraculous external reality. A flow of air, the ticking of leaf on leaf, the creaking of branch on branch, the insects flying through the air, our kitten and her crazy ways. I overvalue, enjoy and feel nostalgic, empathic and more compassionate toward my smashed body, in repairing it, to getting back to where I was before the accident and getting further along with this transducer as it repairs itself with my help and the help of many friends, many healers who have aided me. They too have overvalued me, my body.
Hector Prester`a, M.D., and his wife Sharon Wheeler have worked untold hours to release the healing powers of this body; Nurse Bernice Danylchuk and her aides, Lika and Malia from Samoa exerted their powerful program on my body.
There have been many others who have helped of course; there will be many more. Of these, some I have helped in their past difficulties; I will be helping them in the future. This mutual regard, this mutual overvaluation of friend for friend makes it worth staying on this planet. Jan Nicholson with her massage, Helen Costa with her beautiful disciplined investigation of damage and repair, Ruth and Myron Glatt and their chocolate mousse are among many others. I have had help from Emily
Conrad, trained in voodo, during this period of repair. As I say, whether I believe in these healing methods or not, they can work. For this I am grateful.
Toni's father, Angelo, has just arrived.
a.: Good morning, John, how are you? j.: How are you, pal? a.: Oh, pretty good.
j.: You look good. You drove all the way successfully from Fontana to Decker Canyon. Congratulations. a. : Not 100 percent but 75 and 3/4 percent.
j.: Yeah, but you got here, that's all that counts. How is your vision?
a.: I can't say it is perfect and sometimes it's a little confusing, but I made it.
j.: And that's your little Courier and it's all repaired. a. : That little Courier is a prince on the road for real, j.: Boy that thing has really held up in spite of the fact you turned it over. a.: You haven't seen it? j.: No.
a.: It looks better than before, j.: How many times did you turn over in it? a.: Three times.
j.: Three times! How are your ribs? a. : Sometimes I feel a little bit under, but . . . j.: How is your shoulder? a.: The shoulder hardly feels anything at all. j. : Mine is coming back but it really burns and hurts. (Toni comes over to us.)
toni: Hi Pop, I didn't see you come up. j.: Oh, he drove up very quietly. a.: How are you?
T.: I'm great . . . and doesn't he look good? (pointing to John) a.: Yeah, he sure does.
T.: So you got down here all right.
a.: Oh sure, when you got to do something, you do it that's all there is to it.
j.: You're incredible. You're really incredible. a.: Yeah, when you got to do something, you do it.
T. : How's your cold, Pop?
You got the flu?
T. : No, he's got a cold.
(Pop finds a loose screw in the VW, searches for its place.) a.: Here's another hole. No it's another hole in here. I don't think that's open too.
j.: Oh lord, things do fall apart. a.: Things like that happen to the best of families, j.: Where did you find it? What does it look like? a.: I don't see any other screws like it, though.
T. : Guess what I cooked, Pop? Cardoons. a.: Oh, did you fix them up? j.: What are cardoons?
T. : The stalks of the artichoke plant boiled, but instead of boiling them I put them in the radar range. Hey, how many dozen eggs is that? (Pop brought us eggs.) a.: Seven and one half, j.: Fantastic.
T. : My goodness, Pop, don't you think we have a store around here? Let's go inside, I'm playing an opera you like.
That's a typical conversation with Pop at eighty-three years. He's marvelous. He turned his car over three times. It is a little Ford Courier pickup. He broke his ribs and recovmcd all by himself in Fontana, living alone. I don't know how he did it. Last year he had a stroke, completely recovered from that but it left a little problem in his vision. He is such a marvelous example of survival of the body with humor. Living alone and liking it. An incredible man. When he shakes hands with you, it is like shaking hands with a rock. He has tremendous strength— physical, mental and moral, spiritual. Toni's love for him and his love for her and me is pretty obvious as is the humor involved.
He illustrates the point of having something to do which is a transduction, the use of the body as a transducer between the Self and the external world. He's a carpenter and cabinetmaker. He makes beautiful inlaid wood boxes and various things for his friends, for his granddaughter, Nina.