Dear E & V,
Despite the title I promise you this is not some new age BS. This is about a basic fact of reality that will make your life easier if you can understand it:
There is no separation between you and the outside world other than that which exists in your mind. An extension of that fact -- no less important than that fact itself -- is that there is no distinction between your mind and body other than the one that exists in your mind.
That’s a difficult concept to comprehend, so let me rephrase it in a couple ways:
- Reality is just what you senses perceive it to be, the distinctions that arise in our world don’t actually exist and are solely the result of consciousness projecting them onto reality.
- Labels are a way to define and differentiate the pieces of our reality. But those labels are a product of our mind and don’t actually define the essence of anything because essence too is a product of our mind. Labels are a “convenient designation” for our experiences of a particular reality at a particular time but don’t actually describe anything concrete and everlasting.
- Consciousness is our evolutionary adaptation that has helped our brains make order out of the chaos that is inherent in reality. But just because we see order doesn’t mean the chaos doesn’t exist. The ability to create distinctions in reality is like having a filter over our experiences that allows us to think outside the present (i.e. in the past and future) but also blocks out a significant amount of our reality.
I realize this might sound absurd to you because reality is something we never really question. How we experience the world is heavily influenced by how we were raised, and Western thought (ex: the Western philosophical tradition like Socrates, Plato, the Enlightenment, religions like Judaism and Christianity, etc.) has put emphasis on the plurality of our experience of reality — meaning we are raised to believe that distinctions are an essential part of how we live in our world.
The Current Condition of the Western Mind
Us and them. These and those. I and thou. Good and bad.
As adults we naturally tend to create distinctions that help us navigate our complex world. Consciousness craves the ease of black and white choices, so we tend to project black and white judgements onto our experiences. That’s not an inherently bad thing and can be very useful in our lives when used in appropriate situations — survival being probably the most (or possibly only) appropriate situation.
But they chaotic world we live in can’t logically be constrained by black-and-white consciousness. When we attempt to do this we drastically limit our ability to experience our reality in its fullness. That’s because we end up projecting our world onto reality instead of letting reality come to us in its natural state.
Lest you think I’ve gone done the path of abstract, impractical, academic philosophy, I will tell you how to achieve this state of pure perception with reality. Millions of people have done it before me, and millions of people are doing it now. It’s called meditation. Meditation is simply ceasing consciousness’ intervention into your experience of reality. Without consciousness‘ constant labeling, judging, and distraction from your true experience of reality, you will start to notice things. You’ll notice a “oneness” in your experience.
It’s not that you’re perceiving one big gooey mess of reality, rather the distinctions between yourself and reality and within reality melt away. You’re no longer a person in the world, there is just the world:
You are the world and the world is you.
There are whole bunch of cognitive benefits of meditation which are currently being explored by scientists and doctors across the world, and I truly believe it makes you a much happier and resilient person. But I’m also an advocate for meditation simply for the insights you gain into your relationship with the world — especially because those insights will help you question the assumptions you have been taught about our place in the world and how we interact with the things in it, including each other.
For example, the concept of “I” or the “self”. While Nietzsche was not a meditation practitioner by any means (at least as far as I know), he has come to a similar conclusion about your consciousness and it’s experience with reality:
When I analyse the event expressed in the sentence
‘I think’, I acquire a series of rash assertions which
are difficult, perhaps impossible, to prove—for
example, that it is I who think, that it has to be
something at all which thinks, that thinking is
an activity and operation on the part of an entity
thought as a cause, that “I” exists, finally that
what is designed by ‘thinking’ has already been
determined—that I know what thinking is.
Buddhism — a philosophical tradition which relies heavily on meditation for its belief structure — believes that letting our consciousness run rampant in its labeling causes human suffering. Consciousness is unable to live in the present, it is always thinking in the past or in the future. Therefore it is consciousness that creates anxiety and worry: “Did I do that right? Am I going to fail?”
I hurt. I am suffering. I’m annoyed. I’m frustrated. I’m sad.
It’s the conscious distinctions that we make between our selves and our worlds that causes suffering. If there is no self, then who is there to suffer?
I recognize that is a probably a drastic divergence from your everyday experience. We live in a world that thrives on distinction in all aspects of our lives — careers, families, religions, philosophies, hobbies, etc. That’s why meditation focuses so much on practice over belief. It’s the difference between acting and thinking — you can think about something all you want, but when you actually put something into practice that is when the real learning begins and you actually start coming up with insights into your life.
With all that said, this isn’t a screed against consciousness. I’m not saying consciousness and labels aren’t helpful. We have consciousness for a reason, and whether you believe that reason is divine or evolutionary the fact is it can be a useful tool for navigating our world. I believe that consciousness and labels are important for our survival as social creatures — it is what enabled us to communicate ideas and experiences to one another. Imagine if you had no way to warn your friend that there was a link to a poorly written blog post about philosophy in their Twitter feed!
Whether or not you believe in the assumptions that underlie it, for better or for worse we live in a society that is built on consciousness. The whole point of bringing up an experience not mediated by consciousness isn’t to ditch consciousness altogether (at least that’s not my goal), but to make you aware of the fact so that you can interact with your world in a way that will cause you less stress and anxiety. That’s not to say you won’t struggle — you will and should struggle for those things that you think have a positive and meaningful impact on your world (and because you are inseparable from it, on you too). But you will suffer less as a result of taking your consciousness too seriously.
You’ll also hopefully realize that you control your reality as much as it controls you. You may not be able to control what happens to your mind and body, but you can control how much your consciousness reacts to those happenings — to the prejudices and ego-driven “woe-is-me” knee-jerk reactions that drive a lot of our mental anguish, anxiety, and depression. Consciousness is just a tool, one way to navigate through our shared reality, but it should not be the only way you work your way through life.
You are already finding other tools yourself, and it’s amazing to watch you experience the reality that words cannot capture. Here’s to keeping that curiosity and love of life alive.
I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.