Computer Metaphor by Cynthia Bourgeault

The memory is a fluid thing. You can have an experience with others, and in the retelling of that event, each will remember it from a different perspective. And every time you retell something, even if you remember it wrong, your memory of it becomes more true for you.

I was listening to professor and theologian Peter Enns yesterday talking about the memory and how the Biblical writers made sense of their present situations by remembering their past. Telling my story here on this blog, is a way for me to make sense of my present life. The stories I tell here are from the perspective of now. In the actual happening of most of them, I was in the bliss of ignorance. It is in the looking back that I realize how theologies, beliefs and practices have shaped my current outlook on life, my relationship with myself, others and God. As my knowledge and understanding have expanded, things I used to believe have come into question. But I also recognize the value and necessity of each stage a human must go through in order to mature. I can be thankful for it all. I just wish I could mature more quickly and painlessly. 🙂

What follows is Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault’s writing which I hope will help you understand a bit of where I’m coming from these days.

(There is a link to an amazing video at the bottom of this post.)

“I would like to reflect on this idea of Jesus as a master of consciousness from a slightly different angle with the help of a contemporary computer metaphor: We come into existence with a certain operating system already installed. We can make the choice to upgrade.

Our pre-installed binary system runs on the power of “either/or.” I call it the “egoic operating system.” This dualistic “binary operator” is built right into the structure of the human brain.

The egoic operating system is a way of making sense of the world by dividing the field into subject and object, inside and outside. It perceives through differentiation. One of the most important tasks of early childhood is to learn how to run the operating system. By the time she was one and a half, my granddaughter could already sing along with the Sesame Street jingle, “One of these things is not like the other,” and pick out the cat from among three dogs.

When we become aware of our identity using this egoic operating system, we experience ourselves as persons with unique qualities and attributes. When we introduce ourselves, we usually begin by listing these characteristics: “I am a Pisces, a six on the Enneagram, a person who loves the ocean, an Episcopalian, a priest.” Of course, that same list also makes other people separate from me; they are outside, and I’m inside. I experience myself as a distinct and fixed point of identity that “has” particular qualities and life experiences, and these things make me who I am.

But this sense of identity is a mirage, an illusion. There is no such self that’s separated from everything else, that has insides and outsides, that has experiences. All these impressions are simply a function of an operating system that has to divide the world up into bits and pieces in order to perceive it. Like the great wisdom teachers of all spiritual traditions, Jesus calls us beyond the illusion: “Hey, you can upgrade your operating system, and life is going to look a whole lot different when you do it.”

The binary operating system does have some real importance; it’s not a mistake. It enables us to perform basic cognitive tasks. But most people get stuck in it and rely on the egoic operating system to create a sense of identity. We walk through our lives perceiving, reacting to, and attempting to negotiate the world “out there.” A system based in duality can’t possibly perceive oneness; it can’t create anything beyond itself. So, the drama of the “separate self” goes on and on.

But we do have the capacity, if we so choose, to shift to a whole different basis of perception. We come into this life with another untapped operating system, a nondual way of perceiving the world, and we can learn to steer by it, understand through it, and ultimately discover our deepest sense of identity within it.”

If I haven’t lost you and you are still reading this, and would like to delve deeper, check out this TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor called “My Stroke of Insight” Trust me, it’s fascinating!

One thought on “Computer Metaphor by Cynthia Bourgeault

  1. I have sure seen the egoic operating system at work in my own life. It is so natural for me to separate and distinguish myself from others. As a Christian I would distinguish myself from other Faith’s and how I was different (better, more enlightened, possessing the truth) and they (Buddhists, Muslims, Hindu’s, Atheists, etc., etc) were deceived, wrong, in peril. And then I would notice I would even have to let people know that I was an “Evangelical” Christian separating myself even further from fellow Christians who were “too liberal.” As God began to do a deeper work in me and began to implant a new operating system in my heart and soul I realized the challenge in running that new software. I was thrown off my firm foundation. Looking back I see now that the Spirit was moving me into new stages of my faith. A book that was so helpful during this time for me and one I return to again and again is The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet Hagberg

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