What is consciousness?

In a social media group for mainstream science, someone asked “what is consciousness” and there were a wide variety of answers.

This is partly because people define it differently. Some see it as attention or self awareness, and some a byproduct of evolution”.

Some also see it as something we have, as we have a leg or lungs. It’s attached to us, somehow. This may be the most common view.

TWO GENERAL APPROACHES TO STUDYING CONSCIOUSNESS

Few topics are as central to us as consciousness, so why not study it and see what we find?

Around the world, academics study consciousness. They study different aspects of consciousness and what different definitions refer to, they study it as an object, and they do so through numbers and qualitative data. This is all valuable and important research.

We can also explore how consciousness looks from the “inside”. What do I find when I explore my first-person experience of consciousness? What is consciousness to me?

THE ESSENTIAL QUESTION

There is an even more essential question: What am I in my first-person experience? What do I find, if I set aside what thoughts, memories, and my culture tells me?

(As I wrote that sentence, Kings of Convenience sang “don’t let them tell you who you are” in the song Rumors from the album Peace Or Love.)

A LOGICAL EXAMINATION OF WHAT WE ARE TO OURSELVES

What do I find when I look at it logically?

If we see ourselves from a third-person view, as an object, and as primarily this human self and this body, then – yes – we can have consciousness as we have a leg or lungs. It can be seen as a component of what we are.

If we look at what we are to ourselves, we may find something else.

Our experiences happen within consciousness. To us, they happen within and *as* consciousness. Our experience of anything, including this human self and the wider world, happens within and as consciousness. Even any sense or thoughts about what we are happen within and as consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness and our field of experience happens within and as what we are.

We can also find this when we look at our memories of our experiences. During waking life, this human self is in my experience. But during dreams, it’s not always here. Sometimes I am what’s observing a scene, and sometimes I am another person. If I took psychoactive drugs, I imagine there could be even more variations on this. In my own experience, I must be what all of this happens within and as.

This is all a logical or conceptual exploration of what we are, or must be, to ourselves. It can be interesting, although it is still an exploration of what we are as an object and as “other”. In itself, it’s not very transforming. There is another way to explore this that can be profoundly transforming.

WHAT DO WE FIND IN OUR FIRST-PERSON EXPERIENCE?

What do I find I am in my own first-person experience?

In a sense, I am this human being in the world, but I know that can’t be what I most fundamentally am to myself.

So what am I, more fundamentally, to myself?

I find that I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what my field of experience happens within and as.

I notice that any sense of boundaries comes from an overlay of mental representations. My field of experience is one, and what I am is this oneness.

And this noticing and oneness can be the context for how I live my life in the world.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO EXPLORE THIS?

Since this exploration can go against our habitual ways of exploring things, and also against how we are used to seeing and perceiving ourselves, we may need some support and guidance in this exploration.

Basic mediation – notice & allow what’s here – can help us find what our always changing experiences happen within and as.

Headless experiments can help us find what we are and explore how to live from it, and it can do so relatively easily and quickly.

The Big Mind process is another form of inquiry that helps us find ourselves as Big Mind / Big Heart, as what we already are, and it can also happen relatively quickly and without any particular preparation.

Traditional Buddhist inquiry can help us examine how our sense fields combine to create our experience, and we can also use Living Inquiries which is a modern version of this type of inquiry.

The Work of Byron Katie helps us identify and examine thoughts we identify with and hold as true, and this brings clarity and, over time, can help us notice what we are.

Heart-centered practices help us shift how we relate to our experiences. It shifts us from struggle to befriending, and it’s easier to notice what we are in more situations in life without getting caught in the struggle. (This can also make our life more enjoyable, and we may be less of nuisance to others.)

These are training wheels, and it’s helpful to be guided by someone familiar with the terrain and how to guide others.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?

To some, this can seem as vaguely interesting information and something to mentally store away as one of many curiosities. It can also seem as philosophizing without any real practical usefulness or application.

If we take an outside view on it, it can certainly seem that way.

And if we go into it, we find something very different.

If we explore this sincerely for ourselves, and take what we find seriously, it can be profoundly transforming to our perception and life in the world. It can be profoundly transforming for our human self.

Most of us are used to function from separation consciousness, our habits are formed within separation consciousness, and many parts of us – and perhaps especially our wounds, hangups, emotional issues, and traumas – were created and operate from separation consciousness.

What happens when all of this transforms and aligns with oneness? What happens when our life in the world, and our human self, transforms within oneness and love?

This is possibly the most profound transformation imaginable.

IT’S ALREADY WHAT WE ARE – TO OURSELVES

The good news here is that we are just exploring what we already are to ourselves.

We don’t need to look for anything outside of us or anything that’s “other” to us.

What we need is some interest, sincerity, intimacy with our experience, and perhaps a few pointers and some guidance.

DRAFTS

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Few topics are as central to life as consciousness, so why not explore it for ourselves? Why no apply the scientific method to our experience of consciousness?

….

Many seem to accept a mainstream view without examining it for themselves, and that includes people who generally appreciate and rely on the scientific method. Why not also apply the scientific method to consciousness?

…..

One obvious question is: What am I in my first-person experience? What do I find, if I set aside what thoughts, memories, and my culture tells me?

Our experiences happen within consciousness. To us, they happen within and *as* consciousness. Our experience of anything, including this human self and the wider world, happens within and as consciousness. Even any sense or thoughts about what we are happen within and as consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness and our field of experience happens within and as what we are.

….

We may find that to us, consciousness cannot be something we “have” as we have a leg or lungs. To us, it cannot be an “other”.

….

To some, this can seem as vaguely interesting information and something to mentally store away as one of many curiosities. It can also seem as philosophizing without any real practical usefulness or application.

The reality couldn’t be more different.

….

This is all a logical or conceptual exploration of what we are, or must be, to ourselves. It can be interesting and it can be a stepping stone for another way of exploring this, but it’s still an exploration of what we are as an object and as “other”, and it’s not in itself very transforming.

….

Heart-centered practices help us shift how we relate to our experiences. It shifts us from struggle (separation consciousness) to befriending, and befriending is more aligned with oneness. It’s easier to notice what we are in more situations if we are less often and less strongly caught up in struggle.

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