The other way it could be is that all that you call your actions, intentions, emotions and experiences are all the actions of a kind of performer. You are just watching the performer do its thing and this performer has tricked you into thinking you are it. Much like a good movie or theatre company can make the audience forget themselves for a bit.
This would account for why we don’t know what we are going to choose before we choose it; what we will think before we think it. It would account for the opaque nature of the black box out of which all our experiences (I include intentions and decisions within that category) come.
Though both these pictures could be the case I genuinely believe we are merely passive observers in our lifes.
We have become so caught up in the drama on the stage that we have forgotten that it isn’t us up there.
Just like a play has a beginning and an end; life has a beginning and an end. Maybe at the end we’ll get to take our masks off and discover we were the same entity playing or the parts.
Or we might just go into oblivion knowing nothing forever which ain’t that bad if you think about it.
So the other day I was talking about identity and how it isn’t a fixed thing. I think I was really talking about the ego, super-ego and id triad. The nature of which is protean.
The Id doesn’t always want the same thing. So the Ego has to constantly change its interactions with the super-ego. Out of this process arises the protean identity; which is the triads projection into the world.
The real you is just a passive awareness through which experience passes. You experience trees, roads, cars, shame, guilt, sadness, choices and so on. If you watch carefully you will see that there is no “I” experiencing any of this stuff; there is just the experience.
I’ve been suffering hiccups recently so I’ll use them as an analogy. A hiccup seems to pop up out of no-where. You don’t strive to hiccup it just happens. Watch your thoughts and you will see the same thing. You don’t strive to think a thought it just pops into your mind.
Watch your internal experiences and you will see they have the same character. Sure you may feel sad when someone dies. You see the death as the cause of the sadness; but there was no “you” there who acted as an agent to feel sad in response to death. It just happened.
In fact we are never aware of an “I” that is perceiving. Rather we just see stuff.
This “I” is an illusion created by language because language requires a subject to act upon an object.
I’ve noticed similarities between the individual act/session of meditation (micro) and the way in which mindfulness – combined with meditation – effects me in my day to day life (macro).
So during a session of meditation I’ve found it goes through phases. When I first sit down, close my eyes and start paying attention to my anchor there’s a tug of war between activity and non-activity. There will be a sensation of boredom which manifests itself as a restlessness and inability to maintain contact with the anchor for extended periods of time. During this phase I have to have faith that the process – the method – will cause this to subside.
A similar thing occurs when one first begins to practice mindfulness. It seems a bit silly. The mind is so used to nattering on all the time, to trying to solve your problems. You’re so used to avoiding pain and seeking pleasure and a deep almost subconscious part of you believes that the mental activity you have engaged in in pursuit of contentment is the only way to that end. So you need to have faith in the method of mindfulness at first. You have to give it a go so to speak.
After an indefinite period of time in meditation you find that your mind calms down. A thought will pop up, you’ll be “hooked” by it into diverting your gaze and after a period you will realize you’ve been hooked and just pay attention to your anchor again. The time you spend paying attention to your anchor will increase the calmer you get. The longer you stay in this place the calmer you become. But I noticed that this period would last for a time and then the mind would start getting busier again. And it goes round in cycles.
The same with mindfulness. In my life there are periods of time – sometimes weeks sometimes days – where i’m in a constant state of peace. It’s almost as if i’m not doing anything; it’s all happening by itself. But then I’ll get interested in stuff again and as a result I become slower at realizing I’m not being mindful which makes me less peaceful.
I’ve recently been trying to think of ways of looking at consciousness that would explain why it is – or could be – something that is inexplicable. That is a definition of consciousness that would explain why consciousness cannot be explained by talking about the interaction of many discrete parts.
First I will try and communicate a distinction I have realized between what is consciousness and what is not consciousness as seen from the subjective viewpoint. That is I have been looking at my own experience – performing a phenomological analysis if you will – to distinguish between what is consciousness and what is that which consciousness is aware of. I have found that such things as decision making, emotions, character (or rather the illusory sense we have of there being a continuous character called me), thoughts, basically all phenomena which we designate as internal is not what consciousness is.
This of course rests on a basic assumption. That assumption is: Something cannot be what it sees. That for you to be aware of something that something must be outside of you. I don’t know how to proove this assumption but it seems intuitively right to me.
I believe that all these things of which we are aware will – one day – be explained satisfactorily and to a level where we will be able to construct a AI that will simulate… in fact do all those things (such as creativity, decision making (what some people inanely call free-will) and basically everything that most people would say makes a person a person). I don’t believe the same will ever be true of consciousness.
Now given this belief I have been trying to create a definition or description of consciousness that would explain why we will never be able to explain how consciousness comes about.
TO BE CONTINUES….
I think there is a divine plan to reality. This is a direct consequence of my belief in determinism. You cannot believe in determinism and not believe in fate.
As to providence – that is the belief that the divine plan is for our (or my) good – I do not know about that. Sometimes I look at experience, at the way it batters us with suffering at the way life is an oscillation of good and bad, happy and sad, and I see that it seems to be designed in such a way as to produce enlightenment. That the fundamental structure of experience leads us to let go, to surrender.
That maybe it’s not that the divine plan is for us to get what we want, or even to be happy. But that the divine plan is for our surrender. On a deep level the divine plan is for our deaths.
In Buddhism enlightenment is the cessation of suffering. Nirvana is the blowing out of the candle. It is a kind of death. A death that involves forsaking our desires, forsaking our vain attempts to control reality.
I’ve studied and been a member of a number of faiths/religions. Christianity and Buddhism being the two main ones. Christianity has the same theme if you will. It is about dying to yourself, forsaking your desires and surrendering to God. It is the same thing as Buddhism except Buddhists call God nothing.
Even Islam has the same kernel. Islam’s fundamental concept is submission. If you are a Muslim you submit your will to Allah.
What ever you submit your will to it all bears the same fruit. Almost all of what we call bad in the world is caused by people striving to attain their will. Striving to get reality to conform to what they want. It seems to me that reality is constituted in such a way that if you strive to get what you want you will inevitably reach dissatisfaction. You will be constantly confronted with a dead end until you forsake your desire and walk the path which is no path which is acceptance which is surrender, release.
There are many things that meditation is good for. Calming the mind, dis-empowering the internal dialogue, and allowing oneself to see matters clearly without the baggage of emotions. One of the most beneficial effects of meditation is the ability to let go. It wouldn’t be a lie to say that the practice of meditation is the practice of letting go.
So as we all know in meditation – at least the meditation I practice – all that is done is that the attention is placed onto an object and whenever it is realized that the attention has wandered it is brought back to the object.
So where is the letting go? I hear you ask. Well when your attention has wandered it always clings to something. The more distracted you are the more your mind is clinging to something. That is why it is easier to bring your attention back to the anchor if it has only wandered onto something relatively boring like trying to remember what you ate yesterday. When it has wandered to a more appetizing realm like sex, food or how miserable you are then it is harder to bring back.
Often you can tell how much your mind is clinging to something by how long it takes you to realize it has been distracted (though this can also be caused by being full or eating sugary foods I have found).
What you call “difficulty” is really nothing other than the battle that takes place within you between two wants. On the one hand you want to do the practice but on the other hand you want to continue fondling those imaginary boobies. By bringing your attention back to anchor you are letting go of that desire.
Enlightenment can be seen as the complete letting go of everything. This doesn’t mean that nothing happens or that you no longer exist. It just means that you are totally passive in the face of everything. Whatever arises is fine.
See I believe that enlightenment is incredibly easy to grasp on an intellectual level. It is the cessation of suffering. That sentence is no harder to comprehend than the sentence “Peas are green”. The difficulty comes when we try to envisage what it would “feel” like to be enlightened. This is because we always place ourselves as we are into that picture and if we are suffering then suffering is so seemingly intrinsic to us that we cannot imagine it away. A blind person could understand on an intellectual level the sentence about peas but they couldn’t know what it felt like to see green peas.
Suffering is caused by clinging which is another way of saying wanting. The fundamental thing we cling to is our wants. We always hold out for our desires no matter how miserable not having them makes us or how unlikely it is that we we will get what we want. Even when we do get what we want and are satisfied for a bit but eventually return to Dukkha (suffering) we still hold out for that one want that when satiated will satisfy.
I’ve noticed that the development I’ve been undergoing under the tutelage of meditation and mindfulness has been cyclical. Rather it has been spiralcal but I don’t think that’s a word…
I’ll use anxiety as an example. When I began my practice anxiety was a big thing for me. I wanted it gone because I thought it was inhibiting me from living. Well to be more precise I thought that it was inhibiting me from attracting a life partner because whenever I was faced with a member of the opposite sex I would turn into a stuttering wreck. You know someone you’d have thought was in the special class at school. I’d get it when interacting with members of the same sex too – especially authority figures – but that never bothered me as much.
I found that within a short while of practicing meditation and mindfulness I had a week where there was no anxiety! It just vanished! Everything I said seemed to come from this place of peace. I loved it.
But then that stopped and the anxiety came back. So I’d spend all my time out and about trying to be mindful of anything but the anxiety or the thoughts I thought were causing it. I’d watch my breath, the feeling of my feet slapping the floor and so on. Until one day the idea came into my mind to watch the anxiety! Crazy I know but I’d been trying everything to distract myself and that didn’t work because the second I had to have a social encounter boom! There it would be.
So I watched it and it blossomed. It turned into a kind of euphoria that was comparable to sensations I’ve experienced on narcotics and then it just calmed down. Since then I’ve had times of anxiety and times of no anxiety but the anxiety doesn’t bother me anymore it’s just something that arises and then vanishes.
I think a key thing to bear in mind with mindfulness and meditation is that it’s like gardening. It’s not like playing a computer game where everything is done immediately. You’ve got to plant it, water it, and feed it (do the practice) and then leave it alone and let it do its thing.
I currently use two methods of meditation.
The first one and the one that I do twice a day (Morning and evening) is what I will call the focus method. At it’s most basic level it is just focusing on something and whenever you realize that your attention has wandered you refocus it on whatever it is that you are focusing on.
I focus on the feeling of my hands in my lap. I initially began by focusing on the breath but I found that rhythmic noises in my surroundings distracted me. I also found that I kept trying to control the breath or rather I couldn’t let the breath relax. I find that the hands are perfect because they are stiller than the breath and because of this I find that I go into a deeper stillness.
The second method I use is to just let my attention do what it wants but try and maintain mindfulness. So in this method I’ll just sit down in the same position (position doesn’t really matter IMO), ground myself in the feeling of my hands in my lap and once I’m present I let my attention wander over the sounds in my environment, feelings in my body and thoughts that I am having. Whenever I realize that’s I’ve lost presence – that is become lost in my thoughts. You know carried away by the mind – I bring my attention back to the hands and then let it wander again.
The second method I do after I’ve been out for a run. It’s pleasant to watch the body cool down. It’s almost like being in a car after you’ve been for a long drive and you can hear the clicks and noises it makes as it cools.
Sometimes I find that my mind is constantly distracted and I can’t maintain focus for very long at all. That is fine. Even feelings of frustration are fine; they are things that you can watch.
It’s not about being able to keep a clear mind for the full span of time. And it’s not about maintaining focus for the whole span of time. What it is about is bringing your attention back to your anchor – the thing you are focusing on – whenever you realize it has wandered. That it crux of the discipline. When you realize you have drifted off and you are faced with that choice: to continue in the appealing and pleasant fantasy or to come back to the feeling in the hands. What you do then is the practice. Not how long you can keep focused.
One piece of advice the Buddha gives is that we should do things without consideration of praise or blame. I believe this to be very good advice and very liberating. I also believe it is based upon a truth concerning our actions and decisions.
We believe that our decisions – and by proxy our actions – are ours. That we are responsible for them so that when we do a bad thing we deserve to be punished and when we do a good thing we deserve a pat on the head or – if we’re lucky – a lollipop. I don’t think this is case. Firstly I don’t believe our decisions are ours. I don’t even believe there is an us to whom a decision could belong. I won’t go into that here.
Let us assume that there is an us. What is it about our choices that makes us believe we are responsible for them? What distinguishes them from events that we don’t believe we are responsible for?
I think it would be useful to set up two examples. One is an event that we don’t have responsibility for and the other is one we believe we do.
The main thing I think people believe gives them responsibility is control. They believe that if they have control over something then they are responsible but if not then they are not responsible. The fundamental thing people believe they have control over that gives them ultimate – or moral – responsibility is their choice.
Anything that isn’t dependent or determined by their choice they believe they are not responsible for; it is someone else’s fault.
So in the one corner, laying claim to the title of being in our control is choice. In the other corner laying claim to being no-one’s fault is an avalanche.
So let’s lay down the relevant characteristics of an avalanche. The characteristics that inform us that it is not under our control.
Before the avalanche happens I don’t know when it is going to happen. I may be able to make a rough prediction but I don’t know exactly.
I don’t know the content of the avalanche. I don’t know how much snow will fall or how fast that snow will fall.
So does the phenomena of choice differ relevantly from the phenomena of an avalanche?
Before I have made a choice I don’t know when I will have made it. I cannot give a specific date for my choice. On those occasions when it seems I do – like say when someone wants a decision at a certain time – it is always under duress. Often people will just pick any old thing rather than deliberate under such conditions. Under such conditions most people would say there is diminished responsibility.
I don’t know the content of my choice. Before I have made a choice I don’t know what the choice will be. If I did know the outcome of my choice before I made it then I would have made it already. Or rather there would have been no choice made but an obeying of a dictate. To put it simply: You don’t choose to choose what you choose before you choose it!
So not only will it make life better to not act out consideration for praise and blame but by acting out of consideration for them you are being silly. Which is to say you’re thinking is not based upon truth.
The unconditionality of consciousness.
In many traditions God is said to be love. In this aspect it is not just love in a human sense, love that loves for a reason, but unconditional love. This love is expressed in our mere existence. Good people as well as bad people exist. The rain falls on the good as well as the bad.
I think this love is really acceptance and ultimately it’s unconditional acceptance. This is the very character of consciousness.
The unknowability of that which is conscious in us.
Another characteristic of God is unknowability. The ineffable nature of God is in more traditions than the idea that God is love. Being the creator of all it isn’t bound by what its creation is bound. Us being creations understand other creations in terms of the bounds that bind them. We have a conditional understanding and God being unconditioned is incomprehensible to us.
When I ask myself “Who am I?” what I’m really asking is “What is it that is aware in me?”. I am trying to get at that bit of this thing I call me that is aware. The problem is that I cannot come up with any kind of answer. I cannot even begin to formulate an answer. This is because all I can think of are things that I have been aware of and that which is aware must be different. Or rather it may not be but the nature of the thing that is aware will be unknown to me even if I was looking it in the face because all I could “see” would be the active part of an object. The bit that impresses itself upon me and not that which receives an impression.
The Peace intrinsic to Consciousness.
With meditation and mindfulness comes a seeing that consciousness is an ever-present peace. No matter what the situation is it remains still. The chaos and distress we experience are mere happenings in this stillness. I know of no greater expression of power than this stillness so I think it is God.
God may not be a good word. I find all words for it acceptable. Peace, Nothing, Brahman, Atman, That whatever.
It doesn’t care what we call it.
Quick disclaimer: This is metaphysics and as such there aren’t any criteria for distinguishing between any of the many views about it. This is just the view that excites my belief glands currently.