Monday, February 20, 2017

Consciousness: It can't be limited to words

If the material universe could be described in one word, it would be electromagnetism. This fundamental universal force, one of four, operates everywhere and its range is infinite from the smallest particle to the largest cosmic entity. Electromagnetic interactions give “life” to even matter that appears inert. In reality, everything is a dance of atoms in a vast electromagnetic field. This force is relevant not just in the macro universe that astronomers probe with powerful radio telescopes, but it is also the basis of our modern day “micro” universe of the internet powered by microchips. Computers have now become the lifeblood of our civilization. It is hard to imagine even one portion of our lives that is not directly or indirectly influenced by computers. In fact our waking consciousness is now getting more and more “computerized”; most people likely fall asleep with a screen in front of their eyes and wake up with one that may have the latest news or a social media posting waiting to be read. Bodily functions such as sight and hearing use a very small portion of the electromagnetic energy spectrum. The mind has potentially no limitations, it is also a form of energy. The body and the mind are linked through energy. There is an invisible transformer that converts mental energy into physical energy and vice versa.  The concept of consciousness may therefore be explored as energy.   

Besides electromagnetism, the other fundamental forces in existence in the universe that are relevant to our day to day lives include gravity and the nuclear forces holding atoms together. In each of the trillions of atoms in our body there is a tremendous amount of energy locked up. There is energy in one form or another everywhere we look, we are suspended in an infinitely large energy soup. The potential energy in the cosmos is infinite and we tap into a miniscule fraction of it through the bodily instrument and through the mind.

In the mind, energy is in non material form and exists in a “fluid” state. The grooves in which it flows are shaped and formed through our habits. Narrower one’s perspective of life, narrower becomes life’s purpose. As a consequence, energy becomes trapped and flows only in the direction of a limited aim and purpose. The body and the mind turn into isolated islands when were are unable to consciously tap into a greater source of energy from which they are derived. A small stream has little chance of reaching the ocean. It’s journey is limited. But a river can cut through mountains and rocks if need be and reach the sea. Furthermore, a river is beneficial to millions of people, but a little stream may house a few fish and provide little else. Similarly, if we greatly broaden our view and include new and interesting ways of looking at everything, the mind becomes a much bigger basin capable of holding and distributing a lot more energy. The little stream that our ordinary lives may be will turn into an oasis of energy potential capable of superhuman feats. We define our lives by the limits we set. Every time a thought is in the affirmative, we broaden those limits. Dissenting thoughts narrow them.

A narrow man made canal that channels water from a river or a lake has a specific purpose. But a large and beautiful spring fed lake may have no specific purpose. It just is the way it is, and one may derive immense pleasure by sitting on its banks or on a boat in the middle of that lake. One cannot recreate the same feeling by sitting at the side of a small man made canal. When the mind is conditioned and operates in specific directions, the flow of energy in a particular direction turns into a “purpose”. There are many such narrow channels in which the energy of the mind flows. Purpose becomes a surrogate of how and where a small stream of mental energy flows. But if the mind is stripped of its conditioning, it becomes like a large lake that isn’t limited by any man made boundaries. The lake bed expands as the lake expands. Larger and quieter a lake is, the beautiful and enjoyable it becomes. If the purpose of life was small and narrow, why would evolution go through the trouble of creating this complex biological machinery, that of the body and the mind? Life is beautiful and enjoyable. All we need to do is recognize the former and experience the latter. Time changes the scenery, but not the beauty of life. Emotions cloud or enhance life’s beauty.  

The energy of the mind is very evident whenever there is a surge of emotion. The perception of emotions within the mind space comes from somewhere deeper. Stronger the emotion, more sudden the eruption. In a volcanic eruption, only a small amount of molten magma comes out of the main vent. But there is a large amount remaining in the magma chamber deep below the earth’s crust. Similarly, in any emotional release, most of that energy is stored deep in the mind. If an emotion is felt once, it is guaranteed to be felt again. When and what triggers it may not always be predictable. But the instant an emotion surges to a peak, it “lights” up the mind for a fraction of a second like a bolt of lightning. Those with a keen sense of observation may be able to determine where the emotion originated from. Most emotions are conditioned responses to a positive or a negative experience. If we are able to maintain awareness at that instant it explodes and we don’t become one with it, we may be able to see a separation between us and the mind. The real “us” is a neutral witness, very different from an emotion which like a charged particle, is either positive or negative.

Sometimes the mind is positively engaged and other times it is negatively oriented. Usually the “net” charge” of the mind oscillates between the two. In sleep, its “charge” is neutral, hence it appears non existent. If this happens in the waking state, one has gone beyond the mind and one is no longer enslaved by the rise or fall of fortunes. Our awareness is either attracted to or repelled by thoughts. The switch with which we control when and where our awareness is turned on or off is broken through disuse. When we no longer have control over it, the power of awareness becomes trapped within the mind and is used by the energy patterns already circulating in the mind. Those patterns are carved through our habits. When the mind’s energy circulates through predetermined pathways, we become helpless slaves of habit. The shallow marks made by our will power will be no match for the deep grooves of habit.

When the powerful instrument of awareness is sequestered in the mind, our perception becomes very limited and is essentially trapped in no man’s land, between the the inner and the outer universes. This no man’s land grows and grows in size, and over time and it turns into “everything” for us. Everyone carries his or her own version of this, no two being alike. However big this no man’s land is, it is still very tiny on the scale of the cosmos. But we tend to get lost in this self created place. Everything that happens in that narrow band becomes our microcosmic life. But there is much more to life than what goes on in one’s mind. Just as visible light occupies a very narrow portion of the electromagnetic portion, yet light is everything to us, similarly our conscious mind becomes all encompassing. But it is very small in proportion to the magnitude of choiceless awareness. The ups and downs, joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains and all other such contrasting experiences are packed into that space. Caught up in that, there is neither the time nor the inclination to look beyond at the bigger picture that we are part of. Life turns into an existence in that limited space and in trying to extract whatever happiness we can from it. The purpose of life then narrows down to managing our own expectations. But intuitively we know that there is more to life.

Taking a holistic view of energy as the common denominator life principle gives us a broader perspective, and by extension of this line of thought there is life in every atom. Whether an atom is part of our living heart muscle or a “dead” piece of stone, it is an energetic particle. Within each atom, there are electromagnetic interactions going on constantly between positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. The number and interplay of positively charged protons, electrically neutral neutrons and the negatively charged electrons is the basis of all matter, a straightforward construct that is at play both in the microcosm of the individual and the macrocosm of the universe. When the net charge is neither negative or positive, an atom is stable. But if there is an excess proton making an atom positively charged or excess electrons making them negatively charged, that atom becomes unstable and seeks a suitable charge to regain stability. Similarly with the mind. A truly tranquil mind is one in which there is neither identification with positive nor negative thoughts. A restless mind can be either a positively or negatively oriented one. A restless mind with a positive drift offers some benefit, but not a negative one. A lake is quiet and tranquil on its own accord, but it may be disturbed by a strong gust of wind or a stone thrown into the lake that creates ripples. Our true nature is one of tranquility. It is never seen as we are constantly throwing “pebbles of identification” at the mind. These create negative or positive impressions. When the mind’s surface is stirred up even just a little, our true nature remains hidden. When the net emotional charge of the mind is negative, one will tend to seek something from the world in the form of experiences. However, a positive mind tends to seek opportunities to give more than it takes.

Scientists postulate that the distinct forces of nature came about in a fraction of a second after the universe came into being. The three broads streams of energy, that is gravity, electromagnetic energy and the nuclear forces diverged from a single source as the newly formed universe cooled. These natural forces continue to exist today just as they have always been for billions of years. Rules governing matter and energy were set in “stone” very early on. Humans have to live and die by those basic rules whether the mind agrees or not. In contrast, the “laws” of the mind which ultimately shape our individual nature are not uniform and stable. They change all the time to suit the time and place. Will power can be thought of as the mind’s gravitational power. If the will is strong, thoughts can be made to bind close together and their combined power may be harnessed and infused with a specific intention.

The gravitational pull between the sun and the earth is fairly constant, making our planetary orbit stable. That in turn has created the right conditions for life to sprout on earth. A very primitive organic life form has now evolved into various plant and animal species, not to mention the pinnacle of evolution - the human form. It has taken millions of years, and life in human form will in all likelihood continue for millennia. Major factors sustaining life on earth include the sun’s heat, light and gravitational pull along with the moon’s contribution in keeping the earth from wobbling off its axis. Without that congealed mass of space dust that has inspired romantics over the ages, there would be dramatic climatic shifts that may harm or end life on earth. The mind may be compared to the moon, it gives meaning and context to the body. Without the mind, the body would be ruled by primitive animalistic instincts that will end civilization as we know it.

The mind in essence is a reflector of our inner true nature. It may be a poor or a good reflector depending on how thick the coating of stored thoughts and impressions are. The experience of bliss, even if transient is in everyone’s experience. This bliss blows like a constant breeze when our inner nature is uncovered. There is great bliss in deep sleep. However the memory of that experience is very faint. Instead of seeking it in the right place, we commonly use objective experience as a surrogate for that inner state.

The yearning to understand the ultimate truth is innate in all humans. The potential to reach it is everyone’s birthright, not just a for a few chosen ones. The vehicle of deliverance of that potential, the mind must first be cultivated as a friend, companion and helper. For any friendship to thrive it must be a two way street. We have saddled the mind with a great debt load comprising past experiences. All the experiences that we identify with, by the law governing the mind, get stored in the subconscious. We are not aware of the weight of those stored impressions in the subconscious mind as there is no conscious emotional charge associated with them. But the mind carries that load. It is a debt that must be paid back. This happens through the thousands of thought forms we encounter daily, all of which carry some remnant of past experiences. So every time a troubling thought arises, we are servicing that debt. Even a pleasant thought is a form of payback. Dwelling on thoughts for prolonged periods, even if pleasing ultimately drains precious mental energy. Over time, most if not all our mental energies goes into servicing that debt, let alone clearing the principal which is wiping the subconscious storehouse clean.

Just as the body is efficient at removing waste matter and toxins in the form of solids, liquids and gases, we must similarly learn to rid the mind of unnecessary data. Even the most delicious meal will putrefy and decay as solid waste if left in the digestive tract for longer than necessary after nutrients are extracted. Even though the composition of the body is mostly water, liquid waste cannot be stored in the body. When the urge comes, it must be responded to. We can put off anything else, but not the call of nature otherwise it turns into an unbearable discomfort. The same goes with gaseous waste we expel through the lungs. One can hold the breath only for a few seconds without experiencing discomfort. Whatever is not useful for growth of the body and maintenance of one’s health is deemed toxic and expelled in various forms.

There are no such natural mechanisms for eliminating what is unwanted and unnecessary from the mind. But we have a powerful tool to create our own methods. That tool is awareness. Each one’s mind is individually constructed according to our likes and dislikes. Awareness does not immediately eliminate the habit of labeling everything as desirable or undesirable. This is a habit ingrained in the mind for a long time. But through the practice of awareness, the process of identification with our likes and dislikes stops. When the mind has no access to “fresh food” in the form of newly identified experiences, it starts to consume itself by reliving the old ones. As long as we are careful to watch as neutral witnesses, further entanglements with old experiences as they are reenacted will not occur. This purging may be painful or joyous depending on what comes up. Painful memories can leave us disheartened. This may make us seek a fresh set of pleasant experiences. Reliving joyous experiences from the past no doubt provides happiness, but they do little to help us progress. At best they can serve to motivate us. On the flip side, they can also feed one’s ego and make us complacent.

Over time, when the mind is cleared of all residue it assumes its natural form. The natural form of the mind is like that of a tunnel. It serves to connect two places that would otherwise may inaccessible from one another. Just as a tunnel that is dug under a mountain shortens the distance between one side of the mountain and the other, the mind has been “dug” under the “mountain” of the body and directly connects the inner world with the outer. The shortest distance to the inner world is through the mind. The dimension of life that is scarcely explored is looking at the mind as an access point to the inner world. When the mind is an empty tunnel, the vehicle of awareness can easily travel back and forth, between the two worlds our trapped awareness currently straddles.

The channel tunnel, dug under the English Channel which connects France and Great Britain has high security on either side by virtue of being an international border crossing point. Only those with proper documentation are allowed free access. Similarly, the mind once it assumes its natural form in the shape of a tunnel, prohibits free access unless our awareness has the “documentation” of being pure and unattached. That “documentation” is lost somewhere in the mind. Every thought that we may have identified with carries portion of our awareness. Unlike a physical object which requires us to travel to some other place to claim and retrieve, awareness can be snatched back from the process of identification instantaneously. Since it carries the “biometrics” of our true self, it is given back to us without question. We only need to seek it and ask for it. The only effort required on our part is the interest and will to reclaim it.

Once our awareness is released from the vice like grip of a highly conditioned mind, the body and the mind may be seen as “separate” from us. They function as one psycho-physical unit but considering them as distinctly different from us is essential on the inner path. Just as electromagnetism, gravity and the nuclear forces operate at different scales and in differing manner but may have come about from one larger energy source; the three entities, body, mind and awareness may all be linked to one common denominator, namely energy which is yet to be proven. A theoretical exploration generally precedes experiential understanding in science. The science of understanding inner energy could also start with such a hypothesis. Scientists of today have a far greater understanding and a more sophisticated scientific temperament than those who lived a couple hundred years ago. That may continue to be the case hundreds of years from now, our methods would seem primitive and obsolete. Scientists are always humble in this regard and are careful to prove their findings beyond any doubt. Why cannot spiritual explorers adopt the same temperament? If findings can be proven and reproduced easily, one’s person’s effort can change millions of lives as exemplified by advances such as as vaccines preventing deadly communicable diseases.

Modern physicists are trying to resolve the relationship between two universes. One is the macro universe, underpinned by gravity and other fundamental forces which are well studied experimentally. The model of such a universe is smooth and it predictably curves and bends due to the varying effects of gravity on space-time. But there was a time when our universe was shrouded in chaos and disorder. The other universe, which at a very small quantum scale, remains unpredictable and chaotic. But underlying this there may be a unifying order, it is yet to be found. There is no current theory that unites these seemingly different and contrasting phenomena. There are places in the physical universe where these two theories cannot address currently unresolved questions. They include spots of such great gravity that even light cannot escape, aptly named black holes. The other extreme where these theories break down is in explaining the origin of the universe.

The two extremes of every individual life, birth and death may be thought in light of the currently unresolved cosmic mysteries, origin of the universe and that of black holes. For so much matter and energy to come into existence, the universe had to have its origins in a much higher energy source. Similarly, one may ponder the origins of the energy that underlies our being, not just the body but also the mind and our power of awareness. Once the body and the mind become “ours”, we begin to have some understanding of life from that level. The seed of our individual lives energy come from a blissful union. Being products of bliss, we cannot help but look for that during the course of our lives. Looking for happiness, whether it is from a memory of an event or a new purchase or from something else indicates we are ever in search of our true nature which is bliss. Awareness is the seed of bliss in the mind. When awareness is not entangled in the mind even to the slightest degree, the experience is that of our blissful true nature. If bliss derived from our true nature could be translated into energy equivalents, it probably exceeds the total energy of the mind and body

Now the question remains, where does all the energy that comprised our body and mind go after death. Like a black hole that swallows up virtually everything in it’s vicinity, death leaves no traces of where we go. In experimental models, matter ceases to exist as matter when it enters a black hole due to the tremendous gravitational forces. The remnants of matter get shredded into tiny subatomic particles. When life leaves our bodies, all that is left behind are organic remnants which decay. Death may be thought of as a process that shreds our “life” energy from tangible matter. This energy perhaps is returned to its source and recycled. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, it probably is “patterned” individual energy finding another form of expression. Until we prove where we were before birth, we cannot determine where we go after death. A belief in this regard may help us to some extent, but science is never based on belief alone. When we talk of our lives in terms of energy, a scientific approach is surely warranted.

It is unclear what happens after death to our awareness that is fully developed and independent of the mind’s conditioning. If one is in that pure witnessing state, there is no fear of death. When awareness is not entangled with the mind, it should likely be free to find expression through other means that are yet undiscovered. But conditioned awareness is “highly specialized” and unique to an individual. That conditioned individual awareness goes dark with the phenomenon of death, we get an indirect glimpse of this during deep sleep. But choiceless awareness has a chance of surviving death. Choiceless awareness is an interface that binds us to a higher energy source and may survive long after the body is gone just as constituent atoms of the body remain long after we die.

The most prevalent atoms in the body by body weight are oxygen (65%) followed by carbon (18%). Oxygen atoms form stable compounds by sharing electrons with one another. The body in essence is held together not through division but through collaboration even at the most fundamental atomic level. Externally there appears to be division, such as cells of one organ being kept separate from those of another organ. Thoughts are “individual” cells of the mind. Whether within the body, within the mind or between the body and the mind, it is mutual cooperation and not division that keeps us together.

This expression of togetherness even at an atomic level is sadly forgotten in the external world. Each human is a fundamental unit of our civilization. Bonds between humans are forged primarily through external relationships many if not most of which are a product of expectation in some form and not universal understanding. Just as atoms are held together through mutual cooperation, society cannot thrive unless we manifest that in our daily interactions with other people. If atoms are in harmony, cells and organs function well. Similarly if there is harmony in thoughts, there is greater chance of merger of individual minds. But if we cannot keep our individual thoughts in order, it is impossible to forge global unity.

Just as blood coursing through our body is welcomed by every cell, our power of awareness is welcomed by every thought. Awareness is the “lifeblood” of the mind. The mind may appear to have a life of its own, but in reality it follows the lead of our awareness. Wherever it rests, that becomes the focal point from which the rest of the mind is perceived. Just as a child cannot be trusted with the responsibility of keeping a delicate piece of jewelry safe, the mind cannot be trusted with our awareness. It turns awareness into identification and hence traps it. The mind may be considered “grown up”, when it ceases to label and identify with experiences. The mind at the peak of its prowess witnesses everything in real time without identification. It then becomes a conduit for the flow of greater amounts of energy rather than an energy sink. Wherever water flows, a source can be identified. Similarly whenever energy freely flows, especially through the mind, its source in theory may be traced.

The holy grail of physics is finding a unifying theory that ties all the fundamental energies such as gravitation, electromagnetism and nuclear forces together. Such a theory must be applicable both in the macro universe of “large” matter and the micro universe of “small matter” or quantum particles. In order for this theory to be truly “holistic”, it must also include all the tangible energies in the human body and the intangible energy in the mind and beyond. If all energies are unified, then at a fundamental level, the energy behind our power of perception (not the agents of perception such as the senses, brain and mind) must be universal. That same energy must then pervade everything that is perceived.

The contents of the mind are the major obstacles in the union of the perceiver and the perceived. The energy behind our perception becomes divided amongst thoughts and loses its original pattern. When the mind is no more an obstacle and the flow of energy is smooth and unimpeded, choiceless awareness merges with the perceiver and the perceived. What was once divided and different from one another becomes one. The flow of energy is endless and where we see the beginning and the end is only a part of the whole story. With an individual identity we cannot see it, just as we can never see the dark side of the moon from the earth. This endless flow of energy is consciousness and to sum it up in words, it is everything and everywhere from the largest galaxy to the smallest atom. There is nothing outside of it.