Monday, 19 April 2010

On being conscious of consciousness

Photography: Roslyn Ross

The world we see
is brought to being
within the Mind and Soul.

Why are we conscious beings? If you think about it, we do not need to be. Animals do fine without consciousness as we know it and many people live much of the time and much of their lives without being really conscious.

We don't need consciousness for our bodies to work; we don't need consciousness for many, if not most of our day to day tasks and in fact, some things work better if we let our unconscious selves do the work.

So why do we have the ability to be conscious, as in self-aware, consciously observant and consciously reflective? Who or what is doing the thinking, or, as I wrote many years ago: 'Who sorts the thoughts within my mind,' and decides what thoughts will be delivered? Who or what decides our feelings and our thoughts. And, when we become aware, or 'conscious,' who is feeling and thinking and who is observing the feeling and thinking?

Therein lies the mystery and the magic. I was in my twenties when I suddenly found a purpose for consciousness and a meaning. I was watching a programme on television about the human body and I was struck by how everything which happened in our bodies had meaning and purpose. Nothing was random. There was a reason for everything. We didn't always know the reason but science and medicine were both continually striving to solve the mysteries. And succeeding, at least in a material sense.

So, if everything physiological has purpose and meaning and nothing happens without a reason then what purpose is served by consciousness? We certainly do not need it to survive or to live reasonable lives. In fact, some of the unhappiest people are those who have a tendency to be frequently conscious or self-aware and some of the happiest appear to go through life on auto-pilot.

At which point the penny dropped: consciousness is the one thing which could survive the death of the body. Our consciousness is therefore our Soul Self, that which endures through this life and beyond. I have read reams of esoteric literature on this topic and whether one believes it or not, the fact remains, that consciousness is not vital for life on this earth, or every living creature would have the same capacity for consciousness as human beings do, but it is vital for life before and beyond this world.

I am not saying this is the case but, for the first time I had a reason and a purpose for our human capacity for consciousness. It made sense. The esoteric teachings, including religious and spiritual, all say that we are more than our material body.

There are countless recorded instances in research and medical records of a capacity for 'mind' or 'consciousness' to exist outside of the body - as in cases of  what has been termed 'near-death experiences' during periods of brain-'death' or complete non-function of the brain. A lot of scientists and medicos don't like this evidence and choose to ignore it or rationalise it as a chemical reaction during near-death situations but the evidence, for those who choose to listen, speaks for itself.

However, the purpose here is not to prove or disprove... it is simply not possible to do so and we must each make up our own minds about that ... the purpose is to find sense and meaning in things.

I have, in the decades since deciding that consciousness suggested an existence beyond our physical bodies discovered another use for consciousness ... and one which applies to this material world. The 'penny dropped' a second time when I realised that consciousness empowers our thoughts and gives a far greater capacity to 'create' or at least influence, the creation of our reality.

It has been a spiritual belief for aeons that thoughts are energy; in fact the belief is that energy follows thought. While the thought itself is energy the more you think about it or the more powerful your emotions are when you think the thought, the more you energise that thought. In recent years advances in brain-imaging have convinced even scientists and doctors that thoughts are energy.

Technology, while still in the early stages, has already been developed which allows the disabled to use the power of thought to 'move' things. Brown University neuroscientist, John Donoghue worked out the basic technology several years ago and founded Cyberkinetics to pursue his vision that someday quadriplegics might be able to care for themselves. He created a computer chip which attaches to the motor cortex in the brain and which picks up the electrical activity (energy) that criss-crosses the brain and controls everything from visual recognition and thought to vocalisation and motor skills.

The brain cells are like broadcast towers, explained Donoghue and the chips are like radio stations which pick up the signals.

We are, as the ancients taught 'receivers' for energy information and not just through our brain. We also have 'brain cells' in our gut and our body 'thinks' in ways beyond imagining.

But it is our mind which allows us to be not only conscious but to focus that consciousness. Research is revealing, what countless spiritual practices have always known and taught, that focussed consciousness empowers thoughts even more. Not only that, in the doing, it changes synaptic connections in the brain and ultimately changes our bodies at physiological, emotional and psychological levels.

Scientists and doctors have long known that much of what we 'see' is created by the brain. In fact, we 'see' the world upside down and it is the brain which puts the image the 'right-way up'. Studies done with people wearing glasses which 'turn the images upside down' show the brain quickly adjusting to this 'upside down world' so people can things the 'right way up.' In other words, no matter what our eyes 'see' our brain 'creates' that which we 'expect' to see. This happens far more than many realise. It is not so much that what we 'see' is what we get but what we 'expect to see' is what we get!

And 'colour', which is energy, is 'created in the brain. In technical terms, colour is the visual effect that is caused by the spectral composition of light emitted, transmitted or reflected by objects. The eyes pick up the 'energy' waves and the brain interprets it.

And recognising faces is a brain interpretation. In reality we do not 'see' faces - our eyes pick up the 'energy' and our brain interprets it. I first understood this in the 1980's reading, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, by British neurologist, Oliver Sacks. .

The new word for the brain is 'neuro-plasticity.' The old idea that the brain could not change has been 'binned.' As always, in this beautiful book-full world of ours there are some excellent books on the subject and one of the best is: The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. M.D.

So, consciousness, while not vital to our survival as human beings is a 'gift' we have and one which we must learn to use in order to advance both materially and spiritually. This concept can of course be found in countless spiritual teachings, including those sourced in religion. There's nothing new about it. The only 'new' aspect is that science and medicine are catching up with the spiritual wisdom which has always been with us.

Consciousness therefore, makes it possible for human beings to use their thoughts as co-creators in this material world. At least that’s my theory.

Becoming mindful, or consciously aware is the Third Lesson to be learned on the Spiritual Path.

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