The Differences among Automaticity, Solemn Rituals, Spiritual Rituals, and Awe
Recent posts have described incidents of unusually silent behaviors of people: Sacred Spaciousness in a Physically Tiny Montreal Restaurant suggested that a Human mentality was dominant in the vignette presented, while Automaticity: Humans Behaving Like Machines described examples of speechlessness when a reptilian mind was dominant. In this post we will describe four kinds of silences: two with a dominant reptilian mind and two with a dominant Human mind. These silences, related to automaticity, solemn ritual, mindful ritual, and awe, may appear identical, and even be experienced by various people as equivalent spiritual states. However, they are actually associated with vastly different mentalities from the quadrune mind perspective.1
The Silent Behavior of the Reptilian Mind
There are two kinds of circumstances in which the silent behavior of the reptilian mind can be dominant: (1) when a person is behaving on “automatic pilot,” or automaticity, and (2) repetitive behaviors that become “solemn” rituals because they create a sense of control and calm anxiety.
If silence is present2 when the reptilian, behavioral mind is dominating, it is because the person is operating at an infantile level of consciousness, which is developmentally pre-verbal. The person is limited to relating and communicating with the world through behaviors with little or no cognitive involvement. This kind of silent behavior is present when people run on “automatic pilot” like a preprogrammed machine. Consequently, silence at the reptilian level of consciousness occurs because the person has no functional awareness of words when “mindlessly” “going through the motions” of life. From the quadrune mind perspective, there is little subjective difference between people (automatons) acting like reptiles or as machines.
Solemn Rituals, Mindlessly Performed
Merriam-Webster’s definition of ritual includes behaviors “according to religious law,” “done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol” and “always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time.” [Emphasis added].
In the quadrune mind model of consciousness, any behavior that is “always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time” will almost always be shifted from the slower, more conscious intellectual mind of the neocortex to the much quicker, less conscious behavioral mind of the brainstem. The brainstem is associated with automatic, homeostatic, life-preserving functions such as breathing, heartrate, swallowing, and blood pressure. It is also important for basic survival-related behaviors, such as reflexes, walking, and habit learning.
This is why mindfulness is not the default setting of ritual, and why rituals generally encourage the reptilian mind to dominate. It takes a great deal of effort to maintain activation of the Human mind when performing a routine action. Not to mention that one would have to have access to one’s Human mind to begin with, which is far from a given considering the many ways afflictions can prevent healthy brain development.3
Rituals are examples of habit learning. Solemn religious rituals are goal-directed (salvation or other privileges and benefits), regularly performed on cue by an external situation (religious ceremony), repetitive, always performed in the same sequence (or the ritual will fail its purpose completely), and performed in relation to a successful previous goal (for example, a sense of belonging to a powerful deity and cohesive group). Because, in the quadrune mind, rituals are considered to be under the primary control of the life-preserving brainstem, everything about a ritual is experienced as necessary for life.
It is immaterial whether the ritual serves the purposes of a Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or pagan service; a political rally or Ku Klux Klan meeting; or a sorority or fraternity initiation—it will still be experienced with the same sense of solemnity and respect by the members of each group. It will also probably demand moments of silent reverence.
The context of the ritual is not what makes it “good” or sacred. Rituals—habituated behaviors—are experienced as “good” because they have come under the part of our brain where every behavior is considered to have “life or death” significance—and the ritual preserves the life of the individual and the group. Sometimes for centuries.
Thoughts and movements can be simultaneously linked together in our brain, so that thoughts may become habituated as well: A way of thinking becomes associated with the behavioral requirements for life. And anyone or anything that threatens or disrupts those habituated thoughts or behaviors is justifiably demonized.
Ritual Speak. When speech is used in a ritual, just as it with silent behaviors, ritual speaking is performed in a highly practiced, precise, stylized manner. The proper words are said with specifically prescribed tone, stress, pace, and volume. Just as we are compelled to treat our rituals with deep respect, we are strongly influenced to treat ritual speak with some serious deference, even if we don’t necessarily agree with the content.
Whenever we hear ritual speak, it triggers our association with something that is holy sounding and profoundly meaningful. It is spoken solemnly, so that ritual speak bestows a gravitas onto whatever is being said, no matter how trivial or absurd it might be.
For example, ritual speak appears to be basic training for all television newscasters. Every story is reported with the same cadence, dramatic pacing, low-pitched voice, and authoritative-looking posture. This delivery seems invariant whether the story is about starving children, a broken water main, or the stock market report. It may be required for a professional-sounding newscaster, but it doesn’t sound like a real human being speaking. Priests, preachers, and politicians also generally have a routinized, standardized way of speaking.
The Silent Behavior of the Human Mind
Interestingly, the Human mind may act in silence as well, but it embraces silence in a very different way for a very different purpose. For the Human mind, silence is not the inability to access the thinking, verbal new mammalian mind. It is the ability to go beyond that mind.
Spiritual Rituals, Mindfully Performed
Ritual, in this context, is used as a way to still and focus the mind to encourage greater awareness, as opposed to rituals that utilize routine to dull awareness. There is a purpose behind the ritual that is beneficial to the consciousness of the self, and often the well-being of others.
Leo Babauta captures this type of mindful ritual in his blog Zen Habits when he writes, “Ritual isn’t about doing a routine mindlessly. It’s a way of building something good into your life, so that you don’t forget what’s important. Done mindfully, a ritual can remind you to be conscious. Done mindlessly, a ritual is meaningless.” In this sense, being a ritual can turn a habit generally performed mindlessly, such as drinking tea, doing dishes, or brushing one’s teeth, into an opportunity to understand how often our reptilian mind dominates our lives. Activating our awareness and, by correlation, our Human mind makes these often lost moments opportunities for revelation, wonder, enlightenment, and awe.
However, mindful ritual is not confined to one religion or spiritual tradition. There are likely practitioners in every religion and spiritual practice who perform rituals mindfully. (Although, as noted in the previous section, they must put great effort into doing so and they are not the norm.) We can even see calls to perform rituals mindfully within the beauty industry.4 This may seem surprising, until we consider that many people in our society are seeking meaning and mindfulness outside of religious practices, and in the US, the most accessible place to find anything is within our consumer culture.
The Japanese tea ceremony is an example of a ritual intended to be performed mindfully. The tea ceremony is a new experience every time. In this way, the individual performing the ceremony is encouraged to be fully present each time, recognizing that no two performances are the same. (The exact opposite of rituals performed mindlessly because they are the same every time.)
It is worth mentioning that we do not refer to mindful rituals as “solemn.” Although they may be part of a religious tradition (or not), the fact of something being “solemn” generally signals that the reptilian mind is in charge. The reptilian mind experiences minor changes as a life-and-death situation. Although mindful rituals, such as the Japanese tea ceremony, often have an ideal way that they are performed to encourage attention to detail and mindfulness at all times, the Human mind would not consider a slight aberration to be the end of the world. After all, isn’t wabi sabi essentially learning to not only accept, but celebrate, the imperfect and the change that occurs over time?
Finally, keeping the example of the Japanese tea ceremony, part of the purpose of the ceremony is to show respect and care for those you are serving. The ceremony emphasizes the interaction between the host, the guest, and the tea utensils.5 In this way, the tea ceremony is unlike reptilian mind-dominated rituals in which the practitioner loses sight of other people and the environment around them. Rather, the ritual is performed for the sake of others, a Human-minded pursuit.
In the quadrune mind model of consciousness, the Human mind is inherently a spiritual consciousness. This is the only mind that has the capacity to have a sense of responsibility to, and communion with, people never met, all living beings, and the earth. It is the mind that is capable of experiencing awe in everyday moments of transcendence—in silence.
Silence at this Human level of consciousness means that words, although available, are not only inadequate, but sensed to be destructively intrusive to the holiness of the moment. Words would collapse what is an essentially indescribable timeless and spaceless state of “being-nonbeing” into a tiny mental cage of absurdly constricting adjectives; e.g., “It was awesome!” There is not even a silent internal dialogue, because the individual has transcended the self in experiencing the interconnected whole, as opposed to the lack of self-awareness experienced by the reptilian mind. 6
Paradoxically, silence can be interpreted as either a sign of ineffable awe in the presence of the sacred—or as the unexamined habit of automaticity. “Solemn” rituals can be experienced by the practitioner identically whether the ritual is dedicated to Jesus Christ or Satan. People may misperceive the existential significance of their own experience.
Ritualized ceremonies, with or without prayers or incantations, are deeply embedded within the identity of a specific religion, culture, or nation. The ritual is directed toward a particular “power” to gain special advantages in the world for the practitioner or their group.
On the other hand, mindfully performed rituals cultivate awareness and enlightenment, and the awe of a spiritually transcendent experience is holistic without identifying any specific source or beneficiary of the event: no “personal” god or “chosen” people. It is the mindfulness of mindful rituals and the universality of awe that is representative of the Human spiritual mind.
A Further Conclusion
Service is the rent we each pay for living. It is not something to do in your spare time; it is the very purpose of life. Marian Wright Edelman
The awe state transcends identity and benefit. Spirituality transcends religious doctrines, creeds, and rituals. Whatever religious tradition or philosophical ideals a person may have had growing up, none of those doctrines, creeds, rituals, traditions, or ideals are apparent in the daily life of the spiritually conscious adult Human being. Anyone who believes that their “salvation” comes from following a set of religious doctrines, the recitation of a holy creed, a confession of faith in a religious ritual, or preserving thousands of years of a religious tradition has not, and cannot, achieve a spiritual level of consciousness in the quadrune mind model of spirituality. In the spiritual Human being, identity and self-gain have been left behind. Non-proprietary service in all things is the only purpose of life for the Human being.
- See the Study Guide for more information.
- Even if speech is present, there is no guarantee that the person is functioning from a higher level of consciousness than the reptilian mind. In fact words can serve the purposes of any of the four minds that may dominate a person’s behavior (see page 9 of the Study Guide). The “mindlessness” of everyday speech can be demonstrated for most of us when we realize that we can seamlessly begin a sentence without any awareness of how that sentence will end. Speech can be considered as a behavior like any other behavior we perform. As with all physical behaviors, it is produced by the movement of many muscles. Speech involves muscles in the larynx, tongue, mouth, and face, among other body parts. Muscle “memory” of spoken phrases can be acquired from repeated patterns of muscle coordination just as driving a car or playing a violin would. Muscle memory of speech would be stored in the relevant areas of the brain—including the primary motor cortex and Broca’s area. After a phrase is repeated often enough over time, just as with driving a car or playing a violin, the behavior may be done without much further thought given to it. Consequently, verbal phrases can be elicited by future recurring environmental cues without the presence of a “conscious” decision to speak that phrase—or to judge the appropriateness of it being said in the current situation, which requires the more conscious activity of cortical monitoring.
- See pages 7 and 8 of the Study Guide for more information on brain development and afflictions.
- Sopciakova, L. (2020, February 20). The surprising benefits of rituals. Elytrum® Conscious Beauty. “Rituals are a series of actions performed in the same way, they are meaningful to us and we carry them out with a purpose and awareness. In rituals, we express our values and what matters the most; they nourish us deeply and build a foundation for our higher level of wellbeing. We perform them because we want to feel happier, healthier, more confident and in control of our lives. They increase our energy, prepare us for things we may face ahead, they enable us to relax and melt our worries and stresses away. Those rituals are done with content and flair.”
- For more information on the Japanese tea ceremony, see Anna Willmann’s essay for the Met Museum.
- See the conclusion of the Thinking about God blog.