Every time you look into the world, you are looking inside yourself. Let that sink in. Let it permeate your most stubborn assumptions that ‘they’ or ‘it’ is causing the way you feel right now. This information is incredibly freeing, though heavy at first, once we accept it, and fully understand it.
You watch a dog leap into the air to catch a Frisbee at a park, frolicking with its owner on a clear, blue-sky day, and a huge smile creeps across your face. You created that experience. On the other hand, you have a long and tedious argument with a loved one over the same topic that seems to come up repeatedly, a broken record with no one willing or able to simply pick up the needle to place it on the vinyl in a location that will make music instead of a horrible, screeching noise, and it depletes you. You are sad and worried, and lonely. Though it is hard to acknowledge, you created that experience, too.
How so? It all has to do with the fact that, as ancient spiritual teachings suggests, this world of experience is simply a holographic experience based on consciousness, or, as researchers have recently discovered in the field of neuroscience, it’s the way your mirror neurons respond to the witnessing of events outside yourself.
Mirror neurons are brain cells that respond the same when we perform an action or when we witness someone else perform the same action. They have been proposed to be the neuronal substrate underlying a vast array of different functions.
Mirror neurons were first discovered in the early 1990s, when a team of Italian researchers found individual neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys that fired both when the monkeys grabbed an object and also when the monkeys watched another primate grab the same object, though they weren’t doing anything.
Mirror neurons make us feel as if we were engaging in the same act that we observe ‘out there.’
Neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD, from the University of Parma first identified mirror neurons. Rizzolatti says that these brain cells help to explain how and why we “read” other people’s minds and feel empathy for them. If watching an action and performing that action can activate the same parts of the brain in monkeys–down to a single neuron–then it makes sense that watching an action and performing an action could also elicit the same feelings in people, but it goes a step further than modern science is yet ready to admit.
If we take the implications of mirror neurons and the brain’s response to ‘outside’ stimuli all the way to its end, and we couple it with an understanding of karma, which is simply the most consistent way that our brains tend to think, and thus act, then we can more fully understand how all experience begins and ends within us.
The way we see others is always a reflection, not in a metaphoric way, but in a physiological way, of how we see ourselves. The traits we see in others, are also traits, whether we want to admit it, that are prevalent within us. If we experience mostly calm, centered, happy people, this reflects our most consistent state of mind. If we experience mostly turmoil and drama, this also reflects what we think of ourselves at the most profound, subconscious level. The sooner we can come to terms with the mirrored emotions in others, the sooner we can quash negative reactions to other people’s moods, and actions.
Want to see how this works. Here’s a quick and easy exercise to see just what the mirror is showing you about yourself ‘out there:’
First, take out a piece of paper, and without thinking too hard about it, write down three people you admire, or are attracted to, and underneath, the ten things about them that you like. Now do this with three people you find it difficult to get along with. Don’t’ think too hard – and don’t try to analyze anything until the exercise is done. You should have six people listed with 60 traits total – ten for each individual. Now do the same with three experiences in your life – both positive and negative. List ten reasons under each experience that caused you to feel either good or bad about the outcome, or the experience itself while you were having it.
Now look at the results. What you see here is a list of all your most common traits – your good, bad, and ugly ‘Self’ as you have chosen to define it thus far in your life.
The yogic sutras provide similar ways to ‘clean the mirror’ so that you can observe clearly, the ways in which you are creating your world.
Meditation, for example, helps us to see what we are creating, but unveiling our reactions and attitudes. A virtuous transformation can happen when we follow the eightfold path as outlined by Patanjali, of yamas, or ethical restraints like choosing not to lie or steal, as well as niyamas, or observances which will help us to experience more blue-sky days, and fewer arguments and drama. Pratyahara, or sense withdrawal, allows us to see that our five senses keep us entrenched in an outward experience, usually causing us to forget that all things are created within.
It’s o.k. to eat our cake, go on a date, paint a masterpiece, or have a fit of giggles, just as long as you realize your internal state is providing those experiences. Eventually through Dhyana, or meditation, we connect with the Divine so profoundly, that there is no separation between object and subject. We simply ARE love, instead of experiencing it.
The Yoga Sutra scholar, Gary Kraftsow, says the yamas and niyamas represent the qualities of an integrated human being. Practicing them allows you to transform yourself, and to look into a different mirror.
“The path of practice begins with understanding and refining the different dimensions of who you are, and it unfolds progressively, not all at once,” says Kraftsow. “The whole goal of yoga is Self-realization, which can also be called freedom.”
What mirror neurons reiterate, is the ancient wisdom that WE generate our own actions, and our responses to others’ actions.
As Heyes wrote “[mirror neurons] intrigue both specialists and non-specialists, celebrated as a ‘revolution’ in understanding social behavior … and ‘the driving force’ behind ‘the great leap forward’ in human evolution…”.
Heyes C. Mesmerising mirror neurons. Neuroimage. 2010;51:789–791. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20167276