What is consciousness? This seemingly simple question has puzzled scientists, and philosophers for hundreds of years. Many traditional definitions of consciousness limit the concept to mental states of awareness. Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991) describe this technical definition of consciousness as a dualistic experience wherein a person views the self in relation to an object being experienced. The authors write that in this state of consciousness, contact, feeling, discernment, intention, and attention bind the mind in every moment. Although this limited view of consciousness may be useful when examining how the human mind works in relationship to the outside world, it is incomplete when viewing the wider experience of being.
It may in fact be that there are many other types of consciousness beyond what humans experience as thought. Perhaps consciousness can be more broadly defined as inner knowing or the ability to innately know. In this broader definition many things, even all things, even those without a thinking mind, can bee seen to have consciousness. Within this broadened conceptual framework, there is room to evaluate the consciousness of many things.
My Experiments in Consciousness
For me the experience of yoga is a way to differentiate the “physical consciousness” from ultimate consciousness. I’ve realized that what I have often thought of as consciousness is simply physical reaction to stimuli, but the ultimate consciousness is something different altogether. It is the eternal aspect of things, and in this way it is all there is. I believe that we are both. We are conscious in a physical way, and that is the consciousness that we are aware of most the time. Through mediation and yoga we can work to be aware of the part of us that is the universal consciousness. It is the observer, and can only be observed in a neutral mind. As with many things it is something that may only be experienced. It is nearly impossible to explain.
Yes, I believe that consciousness is a constant. Perhaps the universe was even created so that consciousness could have experience, from this experience it could better understand itself.
I have thought a lot about my spirituality, and my concept of God, I had never given much thought to the parallel theme of my consciousness. As I began to read about and reflect on the consciousness of the body, I started to see many of the things that I thought of as “me” as more of a response to stimuli than real being. Because of this realization, I undertook an experiential experience designed to expose just that, a 7 day fast. As I fasted and meditated the workings of my body became clear, and differentiated from the “real me”. For the first time perhaps in my life I clearly saw myself. I could see where I lied to myself and others, even when I thought I was telling the truth. As my consciousness was stripped bare through deprivation, I realized that my consciousness is truely much more than I had ever imagined. In it’s nakedness it became united with the entire universe. Me as an individual became a paradox. Both integral and important, but also meaningless and nothing.
The profound mindfulness that this realization created has allowed me a new freedom. I can see when my consciousness is my body and forgive it for being so mortal and fallible. I can also see when my consciousness is with God and be happy for that connection too. This type of mindfulness feeds radical self love, and compassion for all others as well. I feel like this course has taken me one bid giant step in the right direction in this life.