Mike Gathers interviews Antero Alli in the Key 23 archives.
MG: The process of making the unconscious conscious seems like a common theme among various traditions of self work. How does this tie into the 8-Circuit Brain model?
AA: The complex conditioning received from infant imprints, our culture at large, early childhood and parental influences, peer pressure, teachers in our public education systems, and the mass media all serve to shape the definitions of the individual experience of Physical, Emotional, Conceptual and Social survival and intelligence. From my view, these bottom four circuits represent patterns of behavior, habit and response that remain for the greater part in most of us, unconscious.
Though it is commonly assumed that we operate consciously and awake in all these four “survival” levels, contradictions to that assumption arise and persist in the face of any serious, ongoing self-observation. The 8-Circuit Brain model can be used in the process of “making the unconscious conscious” once the assumption that we are “awake and conscious” is relaxed and replaced with a spirit of inquiry into the very nature of consciousness itself and more specifically, the distinction between what is mechanical and what is alive; what is preconceived and what is spontaneous, what is habitual and what is truly natural.
MG: Does a mindfulness practice such as sitting meditation create space for insights into the upper circuits?
AA: Mindfulness, presence of mind, accelerated perception…all these phrases relate to my experience with the 8-Circuit Brain model as fifth and sixth circuit consciousness events. Fifth circuit somatic intelligence ignites when mind and body start yoking, coming into union, as in yoga; bringing mind to body. The body expresses that aspect of ourselves always in present time, whereas the mind often wanders into imaginary and projected realms of past and future. When they come together as a conscious act, the mind begins a transformation and the body develops more confidence to keep living. The body also expresses that aspect of ourselves that always knows it’s going to die.
When the conceptual mind (circuit three) is humbled into service to life itself, that is to say, to attune its attention to the body as teacher, as guru, as source of life and guidance, then we have the start of a kind of somatic enlightenment process. Body wisdom becomes exalted over intellectual cleverness. How circuit three intellect is humbled differs for each of us but usually it involves some kind of direct experience of unity, of the shocking objective reality of unity, the interconnectedness of all life.
Before such a shock, the intellect typically functions exclusively (and often dogmatically) in dualistic modes of comparison and deduction. The direct experience of unity, the shock of unity, blows the mind. And the mind is forced to reassess its purpose and place in relation to all things. Or, flip out on some ego-tripping bender of insanity.
Eventually this yoking, or body/mind yoga, naturally blossoms into sixth circuit “second attention”. When body and mind work together, perception of reality is released. This perception expresses an awareness not linked to thinking or the assignment of meaning, as with circuit three “first” attention, but with presence, energy and phenomena. It is a kind of seeing, rather than merely looking or judging, and also a kind of “seeing through” whatever illusions of separation the ego works to maintain and buffer itself against the objective reality of unity.
MG: Lately I have been conceptualizing the 8-Circuit Brain model as a system of four intelligences (physical, emotional, conceptual, and social) that each have two distinct modes of operation – ordinary consciousness (C1-4) and transpersonal consciousness (C5-8). For example, I think of C1 and C5 as part of the same intelligence, but we normally operate on C1 and sometimes shift into C5. In your work with the model, have you experienced anything to contradict this?
AA: I agree with your assumption here regarding the upper four circuits acting like outgrowths of the bottom four. It’s like with clairvoyance being merely an amplification and acceleration of regular perception; clairaudience and the sense of hearing, clairsentience and the sense of touch, etc. However I have found that the upper four don’t sprout very well until the ground of the lower four circuits have been well tilled, fertilized and tended with care. This amounts to a complete overhaul of their definitions so as to replace the culture’s images with images developed from one’s own direct experience. And before that can happen, there has to be some way or method or self- work or spontaneous enlightenment to dismantle the old paradigms and the wherewithal to endure the transformation into one’s truer, more innate self.
MG: I suspect that early linguistics and the assignment of meaning (first attention) belong more to C2 emotional intelligence than C3 conceptual intelligence. The two-year-old goes through a phase of identifying first, “What is this?” and second, “Is it mine?” that seems to tie into the C2 notion of developing the me/not me territorial boundaries. This also puts the first attention on C2 which ties in nicely with the second attention of C6. Your thoughts?
AA: Having seen three of my own daughters grow into circuits one and two, I have to stand by the notion that C-3 is where the linguistic labeling really starts, the naming and the nick-naming, the comprehensible words (to C-3 savvy adults) assigned to events and objects. However, I have noticed a kind of C-2 pre-verbal gurgle-talk that some mothers can miraculously understand and translate into C-3 for the dumfounded, astonished fathers.
I disagree with first attention assigned to C-2, no matter how neatly it fits into the whole sixth circuit association with second attention. I use the term “first attention” for its specific attributes of automatically assigning meaning to thoughts and words and also as a kind of attention that is really inseparable from thinking. C-2 engagement rarely involves thinking as it’s usually too busy emoting and testing a person’s strength, boundaries and status (pecking order) in primarily nonverbal instinctual ways.
An important side note. I know the borders between these circuits and what they represent to as blurry and with many messy overlays. They are not so clear cut. I think if we can keep this Mess Factor in mind, it may help minimize that hopelessly nerdy tendency for trying to squeeze the putty of real life too tightly into the cookie cutter ideas of our hungry minds.
MG: Both Leary and Wilson felt that the bottom circuits imprinted at acute, random moments in early childhood and adolescence, but I do not see the biological basis for such small windows of imprinting. Certainly birth is the primary C1 imprinting process and a universal human event, but I suspect it only accounts for roughly 30 to 80% of the C1 imprint depending on the individual and the circumstances of birth. It seems that C1 imprinting starts in the womb and continues well into the first several months of life. I suspect that C4 imprinting occurs over a period as long as several years and I find it hard to agree with Wilson’s assertion that the entire C4 imprint is taken on at the moment of first orgasm. How do you feel about these early childhood imprints?
AA: My experiences parallel Wilson’s and Leary’s here regarding the early childhood imprints of the first four circuits. Once imprinted, however, there are years and decades of affirmative conditioning that fortify and maintain those imprints, habits that can run throughout the rest of our lives and can run or rule the rest of our lives. Though C-1 imprinting does start with the infant dependency event with the mother, or surrogate mother, I think circuits two through four (especially C-4) can remain “un-imprinted” for years to come differing, of course, with each person and their circumstances.
As for the entire circuit four imprint occurring with the first orgasm, this sounds ridiculous to me. If only it were that simple and easy yet circuit four has proven to be anything but easy and simple. It’s not just me; look at the world, look at our human history of warfare, genocide and social tragedy. Other equally complex imprints such as religious upbringing, courtship rituals, woman and manhood rites of passage, pregnancy, and parenting also inhabit the web of fourth circuit realities.
MG: Could the development of morality fall under the C3 imprint as we develop our conceptual maps of right and wrong, whereas C4 consists more of finding our identity within the tribe?
AA: Look to real life examples for these answers. Look at friends of yours with the highest C-3 IQ or the ones with over-emphasized intellects and ask yourself if they have developed any real sense of right and wrong. Maybe they can tell the difference between a “correct” answer and an “incorrect” answer or whether it’s morally wrong to cheat on a test but the whole area of ethics demands something greater than intellect; it demands conscience. As for tribal identity, that won’t happen unless you know the code of the tribe and can prove yourself worthy of it. That code would probably express how that tribe defines right and wrong.
MG: Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan stated, “For me there is only the traveling on the paths that have a heart, on any path that may have a heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge for me is to traverse its full length.” How can we work with the 8CB model as a path with heart?
AA: The term “heart” has been tossed about so much in pop psychology and other areas as to almost lose meaning. I define “heart” in terms of courage. Fighters have heart; great fighters have great hearts. Heart is not just about peace and love and flowers. It’s also about the courage to become vulnerable and to show compassion for your naked self. Heart is about facing life as open as the empty sky with the seriousness of a child at play.
Heart plays a pivotal role in the integration process of the 8-Circuit Brain model. It’s one thing to understand the model, its basic definitions of intelligence and internal correlations and, it’s an altogether different thing to realize, to embody, your participation in the experience that the circuits act as symbols for. It takes a lot of heart to live nakedly enough to discover one’s most direct experiences and responses to the realities represented by each circuit. It takes a lot of heart to discover direct experience, period.
MG: Could you define ego in terms of the 8-circuit brain? Do you see a distinction between ego and self?
AA: In context to the 8-Circuit Brain model, the first four circuits symbolize specific developmental stages of the ego personality as our physical, emotional, conceptual and social survival strategies and defenses. However, until these levels or circuits can be experienced firsthand and redefined for oneself, our survival strategies and defenses tend to run, more or less, on automatic. Running on automatic means a life defined and driven chiefly by the unconscious parental and societal conditioning we were raised with, rather than a life dictated by our own innate sensibilities, values and ethics as an awakening human being.
This shift from automatic living to awakening parallels Carl Jung’s Individuation, Dada Bhagwan’s Self-realization, Dr. Abraham Maslow’s Self-Actualization, G.I. Gurdjieff’s Self-Work and other related approaches to differentiating the innate being from the unconscious complexes we have mistaken for identity.
The 8-Circuit Brain can offer useful guidelines for revisioning these four survival modes, according to one’s own discovery of what each one means and how they interact with each other, towards the maturing of a strong, supple and flexible ego. How the term “ego” differs from “self” should remain an ongoing inquiry. In shorthand, ego refers to any self-image or idea we have become emotionally invested in protecting, defending and preserving; for whatever reasons. The term “self”, for me, represents a process not a goal; self as a verb, ego as a noun.
Our experiences are mediated by our bias, beliefs, ideas, ideals, etc. When these mediations can be minimized we can open up to a more direct experience of whatever is happening. As we experience life more directly, or with minimal mediation, a new kind of self develops…one that must stay open and flexible to persist, rather than the ego tendency for fixating on a set image or idea of who we are or what is happening. Again, self as verb, ego as noun.
Since the ego is made up of ephemeral image-stuff, it is naturally insecure and understandably covets the idea of being in control or the boss of it all. Even though deep down we may know it’s an illusion to feed the ego’s fantasy, we do it anyway. That’s sleepy human. We also forget that ego is a fantasy and end up taking it way too seriously. Dreaming humans. The process of selfhood, on the other hand, seems more guided by experience itself where the situation becomes the boss. When we become fully engaged, the ego completely disappears into the experience itself. Ah! The awakening human!
MG: Where do the “upper” process-oriented circuits 5-8 fit in?
AA: Whereas the first four circuits symbolize a hierarchy of survival needs, circuits five through eight represent states of consciousness and functions of intelligence operating with, what I call, transpersonal post-survival agendas. These agendas push and stretch human consciousness to their outermost limits and can be thought of as evolutionary triggers. Upper circuit experiences are often triggered by specific types of shocks, such as fifth circuit shock of ecstasy, sixth circuit shock of uncertainty (or relativity), seventh circuit shock of unity and eighth circuit shock of impermanence.
When I use the word ‘shock’ here I mean these experiences are only shocking to the ego-personality that remains naive to, or in denial of, the objective realities of ecstasy, uncertainty, unity and impermanence. Cultural conditioning, or cultural trance, keeps us asleep to these innate realities until we are ready to become aware of and live with more reality.
As we know, real life delivers these types of shocks all the time. We do not need to study psychology or the 8-circuit brain or meditation to experience them. However, these examples also represent methods and systems through which the outside shocks of our lives can be integrated and even transformed towards productive ends, rather than leaving us devastated victims of circumstance.
How the “upper” process-oriented circuits 5-8 fit in is as a kind of language or grid to help us organize our perceptions around those unsettling, yet consciousness expanding, experiences that don’t always come with their own explanations, instructions or descriptions. The 8-circuit brain model provides a context through which to view and apply the transpersonal experiences of our lives in more personal ways.
MG: Does the shift from goals to processes necessitate the activation of these upper circuits?
AA: Though this shift you mention can increase the probability of activating these upper circuits, I don’t think it’s guaranteed. Circuit five opens naturally enough through any somatic experience and practice such as tantric sex, yoga, Tai Chi, or creative dance, as well as, more spontaneous events such as the chemistry of falling in love or the joyous culture shock of traveling in a favorite foreign country. However, activation of circuits six, seven and eight rarely avails itself to the assertion of our personal efforts. An exception to this might be the ingestion of certain psychoactive substances which I, for the most part, do not recommend due to their tendency to force the circuit open. I am more biased towards the disciplined alchemy of simmering low heat or gradual opening, than white light/white heat blowtorch tactics.
It seems that the further consciousness extends into the transpersonal, the less personal effort or ego is required to sustain the experience. This is where the notion of Gurdjieff’s “outside shocks” come in; they are outside of the ego’s control and comprehension. And as I mentioned earlier, outside shocks happen all the time. What protects us from the awareness their objective realities is what Gurdjieff called kundabuffers, the buffers of our conditioned beliefs, ideas, ideals and assumptions that over-mediate our experiences. As these buffers relax or fall away, the upper circuits become more activated. These buffers are often there for good reason and why their forced elimination or disintegration using high-octane drugs can become traumatic in and of itself.
MG: Can the lower, goal-oriented circuits be experienced as processes?
AA: I think the lower, goal-oriented circuits can be experienced as processes after we discover the post-survival context their survival agendas can or could serve. For example, attaining security for the sake of security alone is results in a kind of cul de sac, dead end life. We are animals who need to nest, breed and sustain our shelter but we are also more than animals and will become bored, frustrated and even violent if denied our higher human need for fifth circuit ecstasy, for instance. A life lived solely for security, as it turns out, is not enough for some of us. This is why the 8-circuit brain model and the exploration of higher consciousness is not for everybody. This is not a populist system nor is pursuing post-survival agendas a viable mainstream objective.
I do see specific ways the lower and higher circuits can be linked to serve both survival and post-survival agendas in harmony, given there is enough commitment and self-motivation to realize such a promethean enterprise. The bottom four survival circuits, once integrated as fulfilled needs, act as anchors to stabilize the shocking experiences transmitted through the upper four circuits in these specific combinations: 1/5, 2/6, 3/7 and 4/8.
When basic 1st circuit security needs such as food, shelter and safety are actually met, we become free from survival anxiety and move naturally towards 5th circuit bliss. When 2nd circuit emotional needs for status, territory and power are genuinely fulfilled, we naturally grow more empowered and able to permit more uncertainty, supporting a 6th circuit relativistic position allowing greater simultaneity of multiple views. When 3rd circuit intellectual needs for problem solving, communication with language and creative thinking are met, we are better equipped to find or invent the symbols and images to represent and anchor 7th circuit impressions of ineffable unity and boundless indivisibility with all of existence.
When 4th circuit social needs for getting along with people, making friends and forming clans are met, we find a sense of belonging that allows us to live with the awareness of 8th circuit experiences of our mortality, impermanence and intimacy with the all-encompassing abyss of existence. Thus ends a brief summary of how the lower, goal-oriented circuits be experienced as dynamic processes when linked with the upper circuits in more purposeful ways.
MG: Earlier you mentioned that physical, emotional, conceptual, and social survival strategies compose our ego, but that ego also refers emotional investment in protecting, defending and preserving self image. Does it then stand that ego is not necessarily our various survival strategies themselves, but more so our C2 emotional investment in these strategies?
AA: The way I use the term “ego” is more like a metaphor to help me understand the human needs for security, boundaries, sanity, love and morality. All these reflect distinct survival criteria of the first four circuits, respectively. There are other needs but these can help explain how the first four circuits symbolize a kind of hierarchy of needs that, when met and fulfilled, nurture the development of a unique personality and distinct ego.
And then, there is that level of ego that expresses an emotional investment and attachment to a particular self-image, an image often justified by our proven, and unproven, talents, skills and/or means of employment, i.e., since I read astrology charts for a living, I must be an “astrologer”. As this attachment to self-image persists, we demonstrate defensive behaviors when confronted by anybody who decides that we are not who we think we are or posing as a fraud or imposter. “How dare you!” Emotional investment under this duress reveals itself as “hurt feelings” until we lighten up, laugh it off and realize we were simply taking ourselves – our self-image – too seriously. The real crisis of ego lies with forgetting that it’s just an image.
It is my experience that ego becomes more and more refined as the personality develops and matures. As we learn to fulfill our personal security, status, intellectual and social needs we become more well-rounded as personalities and, we can easily take pride in that. We pride ourselves as being a “good person” (C-4 ego), or a “smart person” (C-3 ego), or an “important person” (C-2 ego) or a “stable person” (C-1 ego) and become invested in these self-images; that’s a lot of ego.
As the ego becomes more well-rounded and refined, new problems arise. You see, the refined ego is more difficult to track, identify and expose than let’s say, a louder, more obnoxious and obvious ego. A sufficiently refined ego can easily masquerade as “no ego”, as demonstrated by the countless spiritual gurus whose ultra-slick egos went by unnoticed until scandals of one sort or another eventually caught up with them. These are not necessarily bad people, just as “ego” is not necessarily bad, but people who mistakenly bought into the illusion of their own more esoteric, slippery self-image. They confused a part of themselves for the whole self.
Our actual survival strategies can act separately from ego. We are all animals and like our four-legged friends, much of our planetary survival tactics function as pure instinct. However, as humans we suffer from self-consciousness and that ego causes suffering. We suffer differently from all the other animals. Most of the suffering I see in the world is self-imposed suffering and often, unconsciously so. It is a kind of cheap suffering with no payoff beyond bitching and moaning about trivial drivel.
I think there can exist, at the most primordial levels of each circuit, a very pure expression of intelligence relatively free of fixation on image, pride and/or false propriety. However, to access this purity and to maintain it in this society is almost impossible. I mean, we can hold it as an ideal but practically speaking, I think it’s the lesser of two evils to just accept the ego, remain vigilant of one’s own egotistical tendencies and try not to have too many ideas about who you are. My own ego-image is about minimizing ideas about myself – or not to take any of them too seriously – as they just get in the way of direct experience. Besides, there are far more interesting uses for ideas than to cake them onto myself.
MG: Setting the tangled thing called ‘ego’ aside, the emotional investment and attachment to self-image strikes me as a function of identification, which contrasts against the C6 shock of relation. Does the C2/C6 verticality lie in a shift from identification to relation? Does the process of relating suggest more awareness, more choice, and thus the capability for “reality selection?”
AA: It’s true, when we have become completely identified with something or someone, it becomes nearly impossible to relate with that thing or person due to a lack of spatial awareness. Relating requires space. Like the synapse gap between interacting neurons, I don’t think there can be any authentic relating or communicating without an increase of spatial awareness. This literally means assigning value to one’s own personal space and the personal space of others. The parameters of one’s personal space differs for each of us but usually it’s the three to five feet of actual space around one’s physical body that I refer to. Once this space can be honored and respected, then we all have more choices about who to let in and how to navigate within the sphere of our own exclusive energy field. Honoring personal space also allows for more trust that this space won’t be as easily violated or invaded.
In terms of C2/C6 verticality, I see the fixed idea you are attempting to impose – that identification belongs to C-2 and relating to C-6 – over what is essentially a fluid and unpredictable state. But people can and do get fixated or overly-identified in C-6 in ways that are not C-2 involved, that do not involve the emotions. This happens often enough with those training to become psychic or clairvoyant who forget to anchor (or ground) their newly opening third eye and its relativistic outlook in the body itself, in emotional honesty. In the extreme, they become emotionally disconnected and their previous clairvoyance, or clear seeing, turns into a clear cruelty to others and ultimately, themselves.
‘Reality selection’ is a C-6 term I use for an attribute of perception that allows for the simultaneous existence of multiple realities sharing equal value. This C-6 attribute carries a strong relativistic bias where no status or prioritization of realities has been assigned yet. Pure awareness. Reality selection is made possible by the relaxation of the first attention and the activation of the second attention. This can happen by accident, as with certain outside shocks to our attention, and/or it can occur with conscious training.
The first attention is that awareness linked to thinking, language and the automatic assignment of meaning to what is being observed. The second attention is that awareness linked to presence, energy and phenomena without any projection of meaning involved. The second attention is what Carlos Castaneda wrote about in his “don Juan” books when we referred to “seeing”. Many of us look but do not see, in other words. Reality selection is a metaphor for the process of dialing into the different bands of the spectrum of realities opened up by the second attention. What you do, or can do, with that vision depends on how well anchored C-6 is with C-2 emotional reality, or how engaged you actually are with your feelings, passions and the motivation to make things happen.
MG: In my own experience, I can “see” the differing perspectives (realities) of various individuals, but I have trouble integrating all those perspectives; I struggle to “dial into” them as you suggest. Tim Leary used to say, “you can be anyone, this time around,” but that has not been my experience.
AA: When you talk about integrating all those perspectives you’re really reaching towards C-7 experiences of cosmic unity but that magnum of indivisibility cannot be forced, contrived or “integrated” as any conscious act. To do so expresses the C-3 ego arrogance of attempting some unified field theory by imposing conceptualizations over something that remains essentially unfathomable to intellectual scrutiny: the underlying interconnectedness of all existence.
C-7 intelligence lives with and knows the existing unity weaving all those perspectives together. They are already integrated. The trick is anchoring this experience of unity – which is at essence beyond words and beyond duality – with C-3 intellect using symbols, language and images that can communicate that somehow. Those of us opening up to C-7 also become responsible for maintaining our sanity which involves maintaining our communication lines with other minds. Without this C-3 anchoring, our consciousness drifts far and away beyond the body and mind and, from the bodies and minds of others. Many assigned to our mental asylums are actually C-7 casualties who never found or created C-3 anchors. Their ghost ships sail the high seas of eternity, forever and alone.
As for Timothy Leary, he was perhaps the most misunderstood famous person of the 20th century. I think what Leary meant when he said, “you can be anyone, this time around,” was that through conscientious use of LSD one could re-imprint their nervous system and, if you were willing to die to your old self and be reborn anew, transform your life accordingly.
MG: Earlier you mentioned experiencing firsthand and redefining the circuits for one’s self. Could you say more about the process of defining one’s own terms?
AA: This process of defining one’s own terms reminds me of a C-1/C-5 process we explore in the paratheatre work around expanding what we call our “movement vocabulary”. As animals, we all express a distinct movement style, an instinctive way we move through space or how we enter a room for the first time without thinking about it. This personal style forms the basis of an entire movement vocabulary made up of a set of specific patterns of motion in the way we walk, crawl, run, and otherwise move across the floor through space. ‘
In paratheatre work, we strive to expand and stretch our movement vocabulary beyond the comfortable and habitual so as to discover entirely new ways of expressing the physical instrument. On a C-1/C-5 level this amounts to defining the terms of our physical self-expression. But to do this, we first must expose the existing conditions of our limitations, where we are in a rut and mechanically repeating the same old movements over and over, again. And so that marks the first stage of this process. After we become familiar enough with our particular rut, we explore what we call ‘movement taboos’…moving in ways we normally wouldn’t due to shame, or fear or embarrassing exposure of some kind. Breaking our movement taboos opens up the playing field for redefining our movement vocabulary and liberating a wider, more dynamic range of motion.
I think we can apply this same principle of defining and redefining our terms to the other circuits, as well, given that we remain true to the distinct integrity of each one, i.e., their emotional, conceptual and social realities.
MG: So defining and redefining our terms isn’t so much a simple C3 exercise of labeling each of the circuits and what they mean to you, but rather a much more rigorous practice of determining one’s “comfort zone” in the context of the reality or medium of that particular circuit, and then moving past that comfort zone into a new areas of experience?
AA: Exactly. There’s a reason why self-work is called self-work; it’s actually difficult and requires effort, rigor and diligence. When we’re defining C-3 terms it can be as simple as renaming, labeling and making any symbolic adjustments necessary to change the lines on a map. But when addressing the other seven circuits, we really have to yield to their innate values, properties and attributes or we’re fooling ourselves. Each circuit has its own code, or language, that can be detected and learned by any illuminated C-3 intellect that has outgrown its tyranny for imposing its conceptual code onto everything else. An illuminated mind gives off more light of perception, allowing greater receptivity to the signals, patterns and codes originating in the other centers, or circuits.
The process of identifying our various comfort zones in the various circuits is key to understanding the nature of formidable forces of habit, inertia and redundancy there. When our various physical, emotional, conceptual and social habitual comfort zones can be exposed, I think we stand a greater chance of stepping outside those parameters and going against the grain, you know, rattling our cages a bit more. Sure it can be uncomfortable; genuine growth usually is. Sleep is comfortable. Invest a priori status on comfort or living a comfortable life, and you will go to sleep. If that suits you, then you can be content with that. But you will not grow or evolve beyond whatever habits maintain that zone.