The more I study consciousness, the less I feel like I know about it. It's one of those elusive things that just barely escapes detection. It's like trying to see the back of your head without a mirror. How do I observe myself observing myself? However, I have found out a few things I'd like to share with you.
First of all, to be conscious, you have to be awake. In deep sleep most of us, anyway, don't participate in anything to be aware of. More advanced yogis tell us that it is possible to be conscious in both dreams (lucid dreaming) and deep sleep, but I can't speak from experience on that dimension. When someone goes into a coma, they are said to be unconscious. Yet, sometimes, later on, they are able to remember things that happened. Or if we get knocked over the head and become unaware of our surroundings we are said to be unconscious. Anesthesia puts one out, presumably. However, in one experience I had with being deeply anesthetized, I came out with both visual and auditory, accurate memories of what had happened. People who have died, in the medical sense, and are later revived frequently report experiences of being out of their bodies and being conscious of what was going on in the emergency room. So it seems that consciousness is relative and perhaps exists on a dimension of clarity that runs all the way from true lack of perception of anything (true unconsciousness) to clear, sharp detection of objects and events.
These observations, taken with Chamberlain's research with newborns, mean that consciousness and perception are not restricted to the body though the body is capable of using its senses to register events in the outside world. When out-of-body experiences are reported, the individual usually was able to both see and hear things. Where is the eye or ear that did that perceiving? Swami Radha (1978a, p. 131) says, "The power that has created the eye can see." That's an observation that bears thinking about. How could one invent a camera, for instance, if one had never had the experience of sight nor knew anything about the structure of the eye? All knowledge, if we go back far enough, is based upon experience. Some part of us that is not grounded in the physical world is capable of perception. Is that consciousness? Is it soul? Is it Self? Is it Being perceiving through us? Who is the "I" that sees and hears?
Who is conscious?
1. Read Chapters 3 and 4 in Emergence of the Divine Child (Phillips, 1990) or Windows to the soul. What is the subtle body? How does it interact with the physical body? The mental body? What do you think about Phillips' idea that the tuner is our consciousness? What is the energy that vibrates faster than light? What does the author mean when he says, "The etheric body serves as a mulitdimensional, holographic energy template that acts as a guide to the creation and formation of the physical body?" That statement requires translation. Incidently, it is a typical left hemisphere production. How does Phillips describe the Higher Self and how does this idea of the Higher Self correspond to the Samkhya model and the Chakra model? Can you fit them all together? What is the astral domain and what is your experience of it? Do you think the energy in this world is mostly negative or mostly positive? How do/can you manage to control emotionally charged thought forms, especially those of others? Is it necessary? What role would the Divine Light Invocation play in this arena?
Try to match Phillips' idea of the inward and outward strokes with your breathing in meditation or whenever you are at rest. Does it work for you?
2. Read the Chapter called "Experience and Consciousness," (pp. 25-55) in Planetary Brother by Bartholomew.
Take Phillips' idea of what consciousness is and Bartholomew's idea of consciousness along with what has been presented here. What do you make of all the divergent views? What do you think consciousness is? What are your reasons for thinking so? Can you bring all the different ideas together in your mind somehow?
3. Write a paper that brings together and explains your conclusions
about what consciousness is.
One cannot simply say consciousness is being aware because a distinction can be made between consciousness and awareness (Bartholomew, Workshop in Montrose, CO. January 15, 1995). Awareness is said to be a characteristic of the Divine One. If this is so, it must be possible to be aware without being conscious of anything since, unless the Divine One creates something, there is nothing there of which to be aware. We have to keep in mind the possibility of there being a time when there was nothing in existence but the One... before creation, that is. The Divine One is a subject without an object unless and until It creates one. How, then, if It weren't aware, could It conceivably create something? It seems like creation must have existed first as an idea or thought in the mind of the Creator who thus had to be aware in order to have an idea or thought.
All of us are not awake. That the beginning step on the spiritual journey is called awakening testifies to the fact that we have been asleep. This is not the physical sleep we enjoin every night, but a lack of awareness. We are not tuned in to most of what goes on around us. Ignorance. We ignore a great many things and events because we do not perceive their relevance in our lives. That, also, is habit. Once awakened, we may find that things have changed since we last looked around, and that what is presenting itself now is, indeed, relevant. As we grow and develop, everything changes including our perspective. Some allowance must be made for this.
One of the common themes in all spiritual disciplines is an admonition to live in the present, or to live in the Now. This refers to where I am directing my attention. It's as if the mind acts as a lens to focus attention, and this focus can vary in both time and space which, incidently, are dimensions of mind, not of reality. This is something you can test out in your meditations. Physicists are now catching up with Vivekananda (cf Jnana Yoga,). My interpretation is that time is created by the mind to enable it to process events one at a time, in sequence, rather than simultaneously as would have to be the case in reality. That we seem to have consensus on time simply means that, at some point, we all agreed to do it this way. The Hopi Indians have no verb tenses. They live constantly in the timeless present. What would it mean to you to be awake in the timeless present?
It seems that consciousness requires an object which is what distinguishes it from awareness. One is conscious of some thing. My take on it is that consciousness involves a feedback mechanism rather like the radar in bats. I, the subject, put out the energy of my attention. It strikes an object and is reflected back to me to be picked up by one or several of my senses. My perceptive mechanisms then go to work on the sensory information to get it identified, and I say there is something there such as "I am conscious of another person in the room." We also say we are aware of things in the same way, so awareness must be a prerequisite for consciousness to function.
One of the conclusions from this theory is that consciousness requires a duality (subject and object) whereas awareness does not. That would mean that awareness is a higher level of function than consciousness which fits with Bartholomew's contention that the Divine One is pure Awareness.
One of the ongoing arguments I have with Yoga is that Yoga (and also Buddhism) says that mind is a function of consciousness rather than the other way around. Consciousness just is, they say. It has an independent existence. Well, maybe it's a matter of essential definition; but, to my mind, there needs to be some one, a subject, who is conscious else what meaning would it have? And if there is someone, it must be their mind that is the vehicle of consciousness. Something or someone with some degree of intelligence must be behind the energy that is put forth to engage the object. Maybe it's a Universal Mind or the Ultimate Reality/Being that is aware. Perhaps it is my mind that is conscious. Mind appears to go beyond the body and is able to transcend the physical body. Could this extended mind be the initiator of consciousness? Or is mind the agent of consciousness? What do you think? Is it just a confusion in terminology?
Which brings me to another difference in definition. When Yogis use the word "intelligence" they mean consciousness. Iyengar (1966) talks about "bringing intelligence to every cell of the body." He wants us to become aware/conscious of every cell of the body, to bring attention to it, in other words. This fits with Candace Pert's (Grodzki, 1995) work on cellular consciousness which documents the means for us to really do that in a deep internal sense.
Exercise: Hatha Yoga:
1. You are asked to sign up for a Hatha Yoga class and attend it on
a regular weekly basis for at least a year It takes that long to establish
the habit of working with your body when you only go to a class once a
week. Keep a brief log of dates and times of class and one or two lines
about what you learned in each class.
The word "Yoga" means to join or to yoke. This can be taken in a number of different ways: to mean joining the body and mind, joining the opposites or dualities, joining the intellect and the intuition, joining the masculine and feminine aspects in oneself, joining oneself to the Divine One, etc. Hatha Yoga has two specific aims: 1) to help you develop a good seat for meditation which requires balance and a strong back, and 2) to teach you how to live in your body with awareness, and to bring body and mind together through education about prana and consciousness.
Hatha Yoga is not simply good exercise, although it is certainly that. Yoga balances all the muscles in the body rather than developing some and not others as sports do. It brings calm to the mind and helps you learn how to relax and release tension and stress. It teaches you how to use your breath to control the mind. Yoga helps you develop self-control and gives you a foundation of groundedness from which to conduct your life. And it helps you to bring consciousness to every cell of the body. In the process, you develop a new respect for the body and it becomes fit to be the temple of the soul.
You might want to get another notebook to log your Hatha Yoga experience. It is important to be prepared to write down the insights you will be getting from this practice. According to Swami Radha (1987b) in her book, Hatha Yoga: Hidden Language, each of the postures has its own intrinsic meaning. It takes practice to discover what these meanings are, but they will emerge as you work - if you are awake and attentive. So you may regard the Hatha Yoga as practice in awareness. While you are holding the pose ask yourself what is going on in your body, what feelings and memories come up for you. These are all significant and, as in dream work, if you give considerate attention and respect to the symbolic content, more information will continue to surface.
2. Read chapters 1 and 2 in Yoga and Psychotherapy for more information on Hatha Yoga and how to work with the breath.
Smell is the sense that is associated with the first chakra. The senses are arms of the mind, so to speak, because they reach out into the environment and bring in the information that is food for the mind. Without information, the mind would be unable to function. So the senses are its connection with the outside world.
Taken from a purely physical point of view, the senses can be classified according to how close in to the body their fields of perception are. And, generally speaking, the closer in the sense is, the earlier it comes to maturity developmentally. For instance, the sense of smell is the most elementary, the first to develop (it is fully mature at birth and, in fact, loses much of its edge as we grow up), and the closest in to the body. Odors must be in the nose in order to be detected.
Smell is the sense most closely tied to animal instinct as well. If you own a dog, you will know immediately what it means to be nosey. Dogs give primary status to the sense of smell as do many other animals. It has supreme survival value as it detects sources of food and it also identifies food that is unfit to eat. Smell is also a major factor in mating, sexuality and territoriality in humans as well as in animals. Babies can identify their mother's milk by smell immediately after birth and before they can do much of anything else. Animal mothers lick their genitals during pregnancy and it is the familiarizing smell of these secretions that prevents mothers from cannibalizing their young when they are born.
Bonding is also governed by smell. A calf that is removed from its mother at birth and returned to her several days later will be rejected. Licking a calf at birth not only removes the placental remains but familiarizes the mother with her infant's distinctive smell, and she will nurse no other young. If a newborn calf dies, the caretakers may remove its skin and dress an orphan in it to persuade the mother of the dead calf to accept it to nurse. Often she will do so because the skin carries her own infant's smell.
People vary in how sensitive they are to smell. My father used to say he could smell everybody and most of it was unpleasant. He could identify people by their smell even in the dark. Some people smell only pleasant odors. Others cook by smell. My sister says she tells when something in the oven is done by its smell. Our whole culture is engaged in trying to repress body odor with products too numerous to mention. Often we are attracted to or repelled by others because of their smell although this is usually below the threshold of consciousness.
So what is the basic function of smell? What ties all the examples given above together? What is its function on higher levels of sensitivity? And how does it relate to the spiritual journey? Hint: Why is it in the same chakra with the other topics that have been studied? All of this is relevant and connected. The following exercise may help you answer these questions.
Get a small notebook that you can carry with you and keep a running list of what you smell for several days. Try to catch what your first "takes" on them are. What is your first response? Is that physical/motor or is it mental? What about it draws your attention? What do you think about as a result of the smell? Are most of the odors you notice pleasant or unpleasant? What do you use smell for? Is your experience with smell different depending upon whether the smell assails you or whether you seek it out, as in moving to smell a flower? Do you use smell as a tool? What kind of a tool? Have you experienced suddenly smelling something that was there all along but that you had repressed? What do you not smell that is obviously there? Who smells?
Taste is the next most intimate sense since the item being tasted must be in the mouth. Touch comes next and these three, smell, taste and touch are called the near senses because they usually convey information about things close to the body. All three are very well developed at birth.
Sight and hearing are called distance senses because they can detect objects and sounds that originate at a much greater distance from the body. Technically, smell can also. Sight requires some time after birth before the eyes can focus properly which indicates a later maturity and perhaps greater complexity than the near senses. Also we know that visual perception is a matter of learning and association. Hearing begins to function in the womb since fetuses can be conditioned to sounds outside the mother's body as well as those within it. One of the reasons that drumming affects us so intensely is that it resembles the mother's heartbeat heard from the fetus's position in the womb. However, auditory discrimination probably requires learning for its maturation, thus qualifying it for later maturation. The senses associated with the chakras follow this order of distance from the body except for touch which is out of place according to the distance theory.
Some examples of other not generally acknowledged senses that can track the external world are the kinesthetic ones plus other unnamed ones that can detect electromagnetism, gravity, uprightness and the flow of water underground.
Information from the inner world is apprehended through memories (if
it is from the past) and also from sensory receptors inside the body. Pribram
(1971) has identified more than 25 different kinds of sense receptors in
the body. We can sense the chemical composition of our spinal fluid, for
example. We also have the means of detecting very distant information through
extrasensory media such as precognition (if it is from the future), telepathy
and other forms of ESP. So it seems strange to me that we only focus attention
on five externally-oriented senses when there are so many more than five,
Bartholomew. Workshop in Montrose, CO, January 14-15, 1995.
Grodzki, Lynn. "The Emotional Body: An interview with Candace Pert, PhD." In Be well naturally: Resource guide and directory for whole living, Baltimore Resources 9th Annual, 1995.
Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Yoga. NY: Schocken Books, 1966.
Phillips, Rick. Emergence of the divine child: Healing the emotional body. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1990. Republished as Windows to the soul (1997).
Pribram, K. H. Languages of the brain: Experimental paradoxes and principles in neuropsychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
Radha, Swami Sivananda. Kundalini: Yoga for the West. Spokane, WA: Timeless Books, 1978a.
Radha, Swami Sivananda. Hatha Yoga: Hidden language. Spokane, WA:Timeless Books, 1987b.
Rama, Swami, Ballentine, R. & Ajaya, Swami. Yoga and psychotherapy: The evolution of consciousness. Honesdale, PA: Himalayan International Institute, 1981.
Vivekananda, Swami. Jnana yoga. Hollywood, CA: Vedanta.
The next chapter is Unit 10. Letting Go: Death
and Renunciation. This is an extension of the birth, rebirth theme
we met in unit 6. However, we will deal not only with death of the body
but death in some of its other forms such as renunciation and letting go,
and the effects of control issues. It will be another short unit.