It’s astounding, really. We all confidently say, “I think…,” “I believe…,” “I feel…,” “I see….” Yet we don’t know who or what the “I” is. So how confident should we be about all those statements we make, to others and to our own self, when the nature of the statement-making entity is a mystery?
Last night I managed to watch about fifteen minutes of an interview with Deepak Chopra before this I-entity overdosed on New Age gobbledygook. Nonetheless, I did appreciate how Chopra focuses on unraveling the essence of consciousness.
He believes that consciousness is foundational in the cosmos—a reversal of the usual scientific way of thinking, in which mind emerges from matter. Maybe. I sure hope so. For this implies that consciousness survives bodily death, not being dependent on matter for its existence.
If this is to be anything other than an article of faith, little different from “Jesus saves,” there has to be direct experience of consciousness separate from physical thoughts, emotions, perceptions, imaginings, and such.
In his book, Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness, Robert K.C. Forman talks about what this experience is like. Forman is a mystic as well as a scholar. He discusses his own altered perceptions of reality that stem from many years of meditative practice (Forman describes himself as a neo-Advaitist; he says his primary teachers are Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ram Dass, and Meister Eckhart).
I just finished re-reading this book. Some chapters are densely intellectual, but overall Forman achieves his aim:
It is my hope that this book will serve to finally close the door on the possibility that one can assume without further justification that mysticism is constructed, and will open the door to much broader and more far-reaching debates on both the deeper character of mysticism, and on what mysticism has to show us about the nature of human consciousness and life.
By “constructed,” Forman means that the mystic’s or meditator’s conceptual/linguistic scheme shapes his or her mystical experiences. Most of the time this is the case. When have you heard of a Christian contemplative encountering the Buddha or Allah? Somehow Jesus makes an appearance instead.
But “most of the time” doesn’t mean “all of the time.” Forman argues persuasively that it’s possible to experience a pure consciousness event (PCE).
One is not perceiving or thinking about some thing, even a one, but rather is coming to be that one thing which one inherently is, if you will, without any additional mental content…the distinguishing mark of the pure consciousness event is that it is not described as an experience of something.
So supposedly there’s nothing that a PCE could be constructed out of (unless, a skeptic might suggest, the prior expectation that a PCE is possible; however, Forman provides instances of PCE’s coming from out of the blue, unexpectedly).
In the article “What Does Mysticism Have to Teach Us About Consciousness?,” you can get the essence of his message. (tip: for easier reading, minimize your web browser to make the page width narrower).
I liked how Forman begins with a common-sense tenet: to understand something complex, turn to its simple forms. He likens the pure consciousness event to E. coli, whose simple gene structure allows researchers to understand the gene functioning of complex species.
Well, E. coli isn’t the most appealing image to plant in my mind before I meditate. But I’m sure these little bacteria look cute to their mothers. And if I’m ever going to have a PCE of my own, there won’t be any thoughts of anything in my consciousness, E. coliish or otherwise.
Religion asks us to become someone new. Mysticism invites us to be who we’ve always been, but have mislaid under all the crap that we’ve piled into our consciousness. Strip it away and you’re left with something simple and pure: awareness. Commenting on Meister Eckhart’s teachings, Forman says:
Eckhart instructs his listener to drag the inwardness outward, as it were, bringing it into activity. One is to act in such a way that reality—activity, thought, perception, etc.—is perceived and undergone while not losing the interior silence encountered in contemplation [of a PCE].
Conversely, one is to lead “reality into the inwardness,” i.e., make the silent inwardness dynamic. In other words, one is to learn to think, speak, walk, and work without losing awareness of the inward silence.
…We may characterize this as a new pattern of mystical experiences: the Dualistic Mystical State, or DMS. It may be defined as an unchanging interior silence that is maintained concurrently with intentional experience in a long-term or permanent way.
Hope this doesn’t sound too complicated. Really, it isn’t. The basic notion is that we can know things separate from our own consciousness, but we can’t know the knower, because we are that. Or as a Buddhist would say, we are That.
We can be who we truly are. That’s all. We can’t know, describe, analyze, or perceive our own self, for it is impossible to stand outside of awareness (if you could, you’d be aware of that). So spirituality starts, and likely ends, by coming to grips with who is trying to be spiritual.
Religion would have us look up toward a distant God, or outward toward a divine person worthy of emulation. However, this just adds additional objects to the already crowded contents of our consciousness.
Uh-oh. I have a premonition that I’m about to quote myself. Why resist? Can’t fight the urge. Must turn to my “Simplicity is Superior” chapter in Return to the One.
Most of us remain absorbed in what is showing on the screen of consciousness and never make much of an effort to discern how those images are projected. This keeps us imprisoned in Plato’s cave of illusion, absorbed in counting the shadows on the cavern wall and debating among ourselves which comes first and which after, which is most desirable and which least desirable, all the while failing to turn around and learn the source of the light that produces the shadows.
We aren’t going to be able to approach the single source of consciousness, the One, so long as we are occupied with its many products…Adhering to the adage “know yourself” means being present to one’s self as one’s true self, not looking upon one’s self as if it was an object, something to be perceived or pondered.
…It isn’t necessary to go through life as a sort of double image: a me that does things and a largely unnecessary hanger-on inside my head who watches and comments on the doer. The internal mental dialogue most people take for granted is akin to a play-by-play announcer who never stops gabbing about what is happening on the field of our awareness.
The problem is that I already know what is going on because I’m directly experiencing it. I should be able to wash the dishes without an inner voice telling me the obvious: “I’m washing the dishes.”
Wow. The guy who wrote those words sure makes a lot of sense. Interesting that he happens to be me. I’ve got to listen to him more often. Except, he just told me not to, so I guess I won’t.