For about thirty-five years I belonged to a spiritual group whose core teachings included the importance of "going inside." Not a house, or any other building, but one's self.
When I was trying to do this by meditating several hours a day, I never gave much thought to what "going inside" really meant, or if it was possible. I simply accepted the notion on faith.
Which entailed the belief that another realm of consciousness exists in addition to what we're already aware of. Supposedly a person could focus his or her attention solely on internal processes of the psyche and thereby leave the material world behind, opening a "door" that led to higher spheres of reality.
I've never come across anyone who makes a believable claim that they've been able to do this. And there's good reason to be skeptical that the whole idea of an "inside" separate from "outside" makes any sense.
In her book, "Ten Zen Questions," Susan Blackmore asks Where is this? Great question, with no obvious answer. She sets out to discover where some sprigs of bright yellow winter jasmine flowers are.
They're in her meditation hut. That's one answer. But...
What is wrong with the idea that the yellow flowers are right there, where they seem to be, about two feet in front of my face? Actually, quite a lot, now I come to think of it. Philosophers have argued for centuries over the location of experiences -- are they in the brain that creates them, in the outside world where they seem to be, or without any location at all, as Descartes believed?
...I realise I have made some kind of an object out of the flowers, as though it is independent of my experience. But the question was 'Where is this?' and 'this' is my experience of the flowers.
...Here is the problem. The colour yellow is not really in the flowers at all because it only appears to be yellow when a particular sort of visual system looks at it. If a bee flew over that flower now, for example, it would not perceive it as yellow like I do.
...The yellow, then, is not out there where it seems to be, in the petals of my beautiful flower. It takes me, and my particular eyes, and my particular brain, as well as the flowers, to make this yellow.
Blackmore goes on in this vein, which stimulated my own Where is inside? thoughts in me.
I (or anyone) shut my eyes and settle down in a quiet meditation spot to investigate what is inside my head, as opposed to outside. But to quote Blackmore, "here is the problem."
Everything is inside my head. All the time. Without exception. Including all of my experiences of the supposedly "outside" world. It isn't just colors that arise from how the human brain processes certain phenomena. It is everything.
So here comes an unbidden thought, emotion, or intuition. Here comes a flash of light or ringing sound that seems to arise from nowhere material. Here's a feeling of being in a state of higher consciousness, separate and distinct from everyday life.
All that is happening courtesy of my physical brain. I'm not inside another realm of reality; I'm inside my body, just as I always am. Except, to say I'm "inside" implies an "outside."
Where would that be? Where is the outside of my bodily experience as a brain-equipped human? Likewise, where is the inside?
I seek to find the inside of my self. If the body is my outside, seemingly there should be an inside. But inside my cranium, the brain is still part of my body. And we've seen that the mind/brain is responsible for how I experience everything, no matter whether I call it "outside" or "inside" stuff.
It turns out that the notion of going inside isn't as simple and clear as I'd thought for those thirty-five years.
In fact, it doesn't seem to be a notion that reflects reality, since it isn't possible to separate insides and outsides when it comes to human experience.