Sunday, May 8, 2016

Self consciousness

From a very young age we are taught not to be self conscious. We are encouraged to project outward confidence. All the senses are geared to look externally and seek out the world. The mind is kept very busy through its constant engagement with the sense organs. Slowly over time, we conclude that reality is that which exists outside of us. We ignore what lurks within the darkness behind the visible part of the mind and what’s behind the functioning of each individual cell. On a physical level cells and organs are continuously functioning. We seldom pay attention to them until an illness strikes. The attention of the mind is quickly diverted from the external world to the illness within the body. Through the lens of illness, there is constant awareness of the living reality that the human body is. But this awareness is chained to the body and cannot go beyond it. Only when the body is rendered “invisible” through deeper introspection with constant awareness, self consciousness takes a positive turn. When limited to the body, it turns negative and is ultimately a dead end. The mind has convinced us that there is nothing beyond the body, which becomes a virtual starting point from which the mind pushes us outwards.

Not everyone can be effortlessly outgoing or extrovert. A significant number of people are introverted. Extroverts by nature are unlikely to be self conscious. Introverts can be more conscious of themselves. Generally speaking, when we are self conscious we are so at the level of the mind and the body. Just like there are several different pieces of clothing in a closet to choose from, there is a wide variety of mental attitudes towards ourselves to choose from, depending upon the external situations we face. For example, at home we may be relaxed and comfortable but when asked to give a talk in front of a large crowd one may get extremely self conscious. When we are conscious of the body and the mind, this sense of consciousness must be coming somewhere other than the body or the mind. Where this comes from is not easily answered. It is easier to identify ourselves with a mental image of ourselves and end the search there. An assumption has already been made without us giving a second thought to it. But one can easily be aware of this “watching” that goes on within ourselves. We can see the mind, the thoughts and actions. Only when we become aware of the possibility of a potential separation between us and our thoughts, does this process become self evident.

Normally we are one with the dominant thought or thoughts that float through our mind space. They feed off our attention. No one can see them except us. If we choose to be indifferent to them, they will wither and die. On the same token, the ones that are beneficial, when given more attention renders them powerful. This way, one can slowly chisel the mind into a very powerful tool, that is always at our disposal, it can never be lost and it can be easily put away when not needed. Just as a world class runner has to train for years and years to condition the muscles to function at its peak in races, the mind also needs training and it can be a slow process. Once this is done, the mind is no longer “attached at the hip” and one becomes free to explore the inner space beyond the mind. There are a lot of unknowns to be explored. Every bit of the surface of the earth has been mapped and accounted for. We can see far into space through our inventions. But would it not be exciting to look for something that we never knew existed? All it takes is an attitude of curiosity, awareness of the possibility that there is something more than the body and the mind and persistence. This type of deeper self consciousness turns into self inquiry. Answers can only come from within. No amount of external information or promises will help.

There is a deep inner instinct that dislikes change. Everyone is constantly on the lookout for something or someone to keep themselves anchored and grounded. Change can make one very self conscious. For example, nobody likes to age. We try to do everything we can to make ourselves look younger. Most people dislike change that age brings. Aging is inevitable. Every stage of life whether it is youth, middle age or the golden years brings with it it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages. For example, if our planet stayed “young” and did not “age” to its present state, life as we know it would not be existent here. It would still be a violent and dangerous primordial landscape with fires, toxic gases and other very inhospitable conditions for life. As it aged, the landscape changed and now it is an ideal place for human existence. Just as the body ages quicker than it should with unhealthy eating and living, careless human activity has also resulted in our atmosphere “aging” quicker than it should.

Wisdom comes naturally with aging, and it may be enjoyed and imparted to others, if we are not constantly preoccupied with the negatives of aging. That wisdom is portable and can go anywhere that our awareness travels. Awareness is a neutral lens and wisdom adds the right perspective to what is seen through that lens. Wisdom is a very useful ally as we look deep within ourselves. Before getting to a state of “no mind” or “beyond the mind”, one will have to face thoughts that surface. Some of them may be very disturbing or distressing. It is easy to get carried away and quickly return to the surface of the mind unless they are observed and understood with a sense of detached wisdom. What the world teaches us can be applied on the inner journey and conversely what we learn from the inner world can be used outside. Externally, change is generally a slow process, such as years passing by, seasons changing etc. In the mind, thoughts can change suddenly. The mind may feel “bright and sunny”. Without warning storm clouds of thoughts we don’t like can appear. One has to be ready for this and wisdom offers the necessary support.

We put up with change as long as change brings with it a sense of happiness. This happiness is usually transient and is gobbled up by time leaving us looking for more. At the level of the mind, happiness cannot exist along with self consciousness. Self consciousness comes about when there is a divergence from what we perceive ourselves to be and what we want to be. The mind likes comparisons. It is constantly weighing and measuring one thought against another. In the mind there may be several versions of us. These are subject to change depending on how our thoughts bear them out. But deeper within there probably is only one true version of us which we cannot see, but everyone can experience this as a sense of being that “sees” everything.

This sense of being is never leaves us even if we are not conscious of it. Generally, we are rarely conscious of it, if at all. In deep sleep, we are dead to the reality of the waking state. But someone looking at us sleeping can tell we are still alive. Our body maintains its warmth and breathing does not stop. Those are telltale signs of life even as we appear dead and motionless in the depth of sleep. These life sustaining processes are not controlled from the mind. Whether the mind is active or not is immaterial to life that remains within the body. One may say that life is a culmination of various cellular actions coordinated by chemical and neural messengers. But what is behind all that? The search screeches to a halt when we look for the source in the body. Most of the atoms in the human body is hydrogen atoms. Interestingly about 60-70% of both the sun and the human body are composed of hydrogen. With naked eyes, one cannot look directly at the sun or within one’s own body. If one were able to look, mostly hydrogen atoms would be found. Even this observation, when it is being written or read is being watched by the sense of being. To find that sense of being, awareness must be freed from the mind.

When we are engrossed in the mind, one cannot explore life beyond it or without it. This makes us cling onto the mind even though it is non essential to life. Conscious awareness may be maintained without the aid of the mind. Thoughts are formless and in their resting state their energy is latent. We cannot see thoughts in this state. We only recognize them when there is movement that creates ripples in the mind space. Just as air is not felt without a breeze, the energy of these thoughts is also not felt when there is no movement in the mind space. For us movement has become synonymous with life, be it the mind or the body. But life does not need movement. The sense of being that we can recognize does not disappear if the body is motionless or the mind thoughtless and still. In deep sleep, others can see that we are alive, but not us. A process such as meditation keeps us conscious and aware, even as the body and the mind appear to be asleep.

Like thoughts, the mind does not have a shape or form. Its extent is unknown. But if there can be absolute stillness in the the space it pervades, it perhaps blends in with and may become indistinguishable from our own sense of being. When the mind is active in interpreting information from the senses, our sense of being becomes confined to whatever forms it projects. In order to expand this sense of being beyond limited forms, the mind must be absolutely still. The moment we reduce our sense of being, through identification with a thought or a collection of thoughts, they rapidly fill up the mind and the stillness leaves.

Everything material has something that is bigger or smaller than it. Vital cells such as neurons and heart muscle cells are housed in organs like the brain and heart. These bodily organs in turn are encased in the human body. We don’t expose our bodies to the elements day and night. We build dwellings big and small. Those dwellings in turn are protected from harmful radiation from space by the atmosphere. Our solar system depends on gravitation and the spin of the galaxy it is part of. Galaxies in turn are suspended in an unimaginable amount of space we call the universe. What holds our universe we cannot currently say. But following this line of argument, there must be something that is bigger than the universe itself. And conversely, there is something smaller within everything. Physical sciences have identified particles smaller than atoms, which themselves are invisible to the naked eye. It is hard to say where matter ends and disappears. Our human body lies along this spectrum from the infinitely small to the infinitely large.

Similarly our awareness also exists on a spectrum that extends from the known to the unknown. It cannot be absolutely refuted that just because something is unknown it does not exist. There are many examples in the history of science that bear this out, such as the discovery of the atom. When something can be proven to exist directly or indirectly within our realm of awareness, we call it science. All the pioneers of science have knowingly or unknowingly included the unknown in their field of awareness and they set out to prove them. In some cases, proofs may have come years after they made their bold proclamations. Some of Einstein’s groundbreaking theories are an example. The point of origin from where the sense of being arises is unknown to us. When we are away from it, there appears to be space, distance and time that must be transcended. When we are constantly with the sense of being, relativities of space and time diminish over time and ultimately disappear. When the mind operates, there is a distance. When the mind does not operate there is no difference. Awareness of the sense of being bears this out. Just for a few moments, if one were to drop all thoughts and be aware of the sense of being, one will not feel a distance from it. Only when it is analyzed and looked at from the mind, is there distance and separation.

The space between who we think we are and the sense of being can be vast when approached through the mind. The vastness of the subconscious mind will have to be traversed. Thoughts constantly arise from that space and distract us from our sense of being. The easiest way to travel through the subconscious and mind and render it empty and and bring it into the open is through witnessing and not identifying with thoughts. Just as flowing water erodes a stone over time, through awareness one can empty the subconscious space. If we are attentive, thoughts will not cloud our awareness, just as clouds don’t stain the sky. It is important to empty the subconscious mind in order to permanently establish oneness with our sense of being. We can see glimpses here and there but that will not last as long as the mind is alive and has plentiful reserves stored in the subconscious realm.

There is an invisible barrier between what is known outside of ourselves and the unknown within ourselves. The human condition offers a unique chance that is lost in experiencing only the known. Pioneers can help shape the external world, but to understand the inner world, each one of us will have be groundbreaking pioneers. The urge to explore comes naturally to humans. In order to explore, the known must be put aside. Most people are not ready to do it as yet. Through repetition that turns into an unshakable habit, we just rearrange the known through differing thoughts within the mind and this becomes the average life experience.

There is no one stopping us from turning our self consciousness from the material body and the immaterial mind to the sense of being behind the body and the mind. This sense of being can be felt and from this vantage point one can easily observe the body and the mind. No tools are needed, only a deep interest in self exploration. The world is a flowering of organic and inorganic life. The “plant” from which it arose is not visible to us. Similarly what we are at the level of the body and mind is an expression of something deeper within ourselves. Thoughts may be expressed in words and actions. Through our words and actions, we know there is thought and mind behind them. Our sense of being is also an expression. It is an expression of pure consciousness.

There seems to be a force within each one of us that prevents us from exploring the consciousness within ourselves. This is an extroverted force that exists within each one. It’s point of origin is in the body and the mind. Through habit, we have come to greatly rely on this to experience everything of the world. It cannot be used to delve into what is behind external manifestation. We can be aware of ourselves looking at this process playing out in the mind. The eyes that “see” this are not the physical eyes, but seem to be looking from the darkness within. There is a boundary wall between the darkness within and the lighted world outside. That wall is not external, but it is somewhere within us. Our sense of being lies behind this wall. This darkness can only be penetrated through awareness. Just as air is everywhere, inside and outside of our homes and buildings, awareness can exist everywhere. But we have confined it to the mind and the senses. Just as air does not respect man made boundaries, awareness does not recognize the boundaries of the mind. Thoughts are confined within the mind, but awareness can be set free. Infact, it takes considerable effort to keep our awareness trapped in the mind. But cumulative effort has made it seem effortless to keep awareness confined within the mind. Letting awareness dribble outside the mind may seem like a hard task at first, but once it does and is free to go beyond the mind, it will require less and less work on our part.  

We keep our backs to the “forbidden” wall between the external and the internal. The strength of this wall varies. In some, it may be as fragile as the shell of a fully formed egg. In others, it may as impenetrable as solid rock. Unless one turns around and knocks on this wall, one cannot gauge its strength. But awareness can travel across this wall whether it is fragile or strong. There is no need to break it. Just as a house is made attractive on the outside and comfortable on the inside, the world is attractive but not always a secure and comfortable place to be in. True comfort lies only deep within oneself. The mind and the senses are concerned with attractiveness in various forms and not necessarily with everlasting comfort and happiness. They offer brief glimpses of those, enough to keep us engaged and interested in the outer world. It is important to realize that the body and the mind are part of the external and only awareness can take us inside.

Self consciousness is generally confined to the external. It may be turned into awareness that isn’t confined to the phenomenal. When awareness starts to probe the dark space within, it is not a shot in the dark. The sense of being is what awareness is naturally attracted to, like bees are attracted to nectar. Bees collect nectar from different flowers, some sweeter than others and they are all mixed up in the beehive and enjoyed. Awareness of the external and the internal, whether sweet or not, must be mixed within, as there is always something to be learned from both. When life is lived through more complete awareness, there will be less of questions and full stops and more of free flowing enjoyment. One cannot say where an ocean starts and ends. Water is always flowing in an ocean and there is a network of currents that determines that flow. Similarly, one cannot say where life begins and where it ends when one goes beyond the body and the mind. We don’t hold life, life holds us though an invisible link. Through its power, we create who we take ourselves to be. Taken in a positive light, self consciousness teaches us that we are not the projected self that we have created.