Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shifts in Consciousness

"Mind Molecular Congruence" by justinbonnet
“In using art as a tool for transformation we have the opportunity to create a reality that is beautiful, healthy and strong as our imagination permits.”

“What one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards: this becomes the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is the production of future renewed existence.” - Intention Discourse, Cetanā Sutta, SN 12.38

Main Points
  • Euphoric experiences due not infer a truthful status
  • Shifts in conscious are a result of a change of views affecting conscious experience.
  • Views are the energy of the spiritual path
Have you experienced the release of new beliefs in light of the old? In the excitement over letting go of repressive mindsets, which is a growing trend in Western spirituality, the phrase “shifts in consciousness” has been popularized and promoted. Characteristics of this event follow general spiritualistic understanding of sainthood, Buddhahood, enlightenment, etc. and overall sense of expansive and interconnected energies. Despite the potential for these things to occur, as it concerns our conversation on consciousness I have a different take worth considering. In the following I will offer a fresh perspective on shifts in consciousness via exploring the causal relationship views have upon the body, how views affect conscious experience, and provide a relatable example.
“I am of the opinion that shifts in consciousness are a regular part of the spiritual life...”
The first factor for our discussion is the mind-body relationship. According to Buddhist dependent origination a higher order process to consciousness is what is known as “sankhara”; properly translated as “volitional formations” or psychological conditioning. For ease of conversation we will refer to them as “views” (note: views will be held synonymous with beliefs). Western spirituality is evolving away from former oppressive religious ideals and it is of the utmost importance to bring to light how the body can respond to shifts in views. Typically these former views contain disdain for self, body, unbelievers, etc. and as a person changes their mind (which is the true meaning of 'to repent') the foreground of the mind is noticeably different. Due to the polarity of these beliefs the effects upon the mind are quite profound and will be felt in the body (tranquilizing or even euphoric). The euphoric experience do not infer truth or enlightenment, however upon this point we can better understand what shifts in consciousness empirically means. Valid experiences are occurring, but how many are taking the time to understand them?

"Vitis Animae" by beaudeeley
In the quote at the beginning of the article we see that the Buddha reveals that consciousness is established and maintained by intention (views), which can renew existence. It is not unusual to mistake renewed experience due to more wholesome views and mistake them for permanent change or identify with the experience as a “truer self”. Here we are experiencing the dynamic relationship that sankhara has with conscious experience. As views change so will our perceptions (cognition) establish itself in a new or renewed pattern. In other words, volitional formations are the filters that interpret moments of cognition. These are similar to the “born again experiences” as it does renew our existence even if the stream of mind was not disrupted by literal death. These, however, do not infer an enlightened experience.

Think of sankhara's as DNA and consciousness as the seed. Hidden, complex, and coded the DNA is the underwriting that establishes the characteristics of seedhood. As the right conditions continue to persist the DNA also underwrites how and what the germinating seed will become. If the existence of the seed was as malleable as the mind (arguably over millions of years and with the right conditions it is) if the DNA changes, so will the progress of its existence. As it concerns “shifts in consciousness” it works in the same way because sankhara's are the underwriting for conscious experience. If there is a change in perspective, so will consciousness shift. Our views are the energy of our spiritual path they renew or degrade the spiritual experience as things change, in contrast to iterating and reiterating packaged spirituality it has more potential to be a progressive, personally engaged journey.

What are shifts in consciousness? They are the changes of mind (views) both the Buddha and Christ taught and as volition changes so does our conscious experience. It is easy to mistake renewed existences from these changes for something more than they really are (conditioned phenomena). I am of the opinion that shifts in consciousness are a regular part of the spiritual life and should not be emphasized any more than a mechanic's relationship with a wrench (it is just a tool). I, of course, strongly encourage utilizing views as an integral part of meditation and daily living to promote inner peace and wholesome interactions.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Exploring Intentional Spirituality - Empirical Intelligence (1/1)

Action 02 by Ali Shafiu
"Matter acts, but there are no actors behind the actions:the verbs are verbing all by themselves without a need to introduce nouns. Actions act upon their actions. Properties are all there is. Indeed: there are no things."
- David Mermin

To continue from my previous article in regards to consciousness as a process (action), it is important to introduce the idea of “empirical intelligence”. All too often we are inhabited by our experiences and exhibit little understanding of them. It could be said that our experiences own us despite the idea that we own them. On the contrary, empirical intelligence intentionally utilizes experience in attempt to understand the components that make an experience an experience and employs understanding towards a beneficial end. In this article I will be expanding upon the idea of empirical intelligence, establishing how the body will be our starting point, and will pose questions to help explore these things.

To begin, the idea of empirical intelligence begins by grounding our understanding of consciousness as a process of cognition (abbreviated “cog”). Recall that I stated for each sense there was an associated consciousness. Take reading for an example: there are interrelated moments of eye-cog and language-cog that are directly related to the experience called “reading”. Post processing occurs after these events that influence the outcome of understanding what was read. Views (beliefs, opinions, etc.) will bias the reading experience both intentionally and unintentionally. Similar to the scientific method empirical intelligence queries these experiences firsthand in an unbiased manner; commonly referred to as being “the observer”. This assists in establishing spirituality beyond the common mode of subscription with beliefs that bias experience and introduces the seeker of truth to a firsthand, objective engagement of “truth”.

This leads into expanding upon a method of inquiry that is required for the firsthand engagement I am encouraging and this starts with the body. I have come to understand that common spirituality (any religious doctrine) starts with the body --- depending on the extreme it is evil (Gnostic), neutral, or good (hedonism). These doctrines, regardless of the extreme, also commonly eschew from the body shortly after and expand upon views that obscure one’s search for truth by mode of subscription*. The principles I am introducing here dwell upon the body before going deeper into the mind and the reason for this, regardless of philosophy, is we are human and thus have a body. It is not uncommon, due to various mental reasons, that the body is ignored despite it being a significant contributor to the human experience. If the body and its conditions are ignored how can deeper aspects of spirituality involving the mind be explored? As well, as I have repeatedly stated, the senses we have are primarily bodily related, so in terms of exploring consciousness as it is with clarity it is an excellent starting point.

Finally, as an introduction to my following article and to establish further relevance of what I have to say next I want to ask that you, my reader, to open yourself to the following:

What attitudes do I have towards my body?
How do I understand my body?
What is my body saying?
How is my understanding affecting my relationship with my body?
How am I responding to what my body is saying?
How all of these things are affecting my human experience?

I strongly encourage beginning by asking these questions. Explore these questions to the extent you know how and see the effects of how your understanding, attitudes, and responsiveness to the body are affecting your human experience. Are they promoting wholesome, positive values? Or are they promoting unwholesome, negative values? If you’re insightful enough, explore the origin of your attitudes, understanding, and responsiveness and experiment with all three.

In conclusion, when exploring intentional spirituality this requires empirical intelligence, in which sets a foundation for experiencing consciousness in a pragmatic way and the starting point of this begins with the body. If spirituality is ultimately the promotion of the human experience the body cannot be overlooked and acts as a starting point for deeper aspects of spirituality. These principles also introduce the seeker to a methodology beyond common faith-based subscriptions, and to openly ask the question and search for truth. Ask yourself those questions and explore them as they will be leading us into the following article that will establish a practice to experiment with.

Until then, please share your discoveries.

* - "Subscription" used in this context is referring to common spirituality that "subscribes" if the appropriate cultural and mental conditions exist, which operates in a consumeristic manner. More on this here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thoughts on Consciousness (Vijñāna)

"Seeking the divine knowledge" by beaudeeley

“In my defintion of consciousness, consciousness is the same thing as life. What wisdom traditions also call spirit.” - Deepak Chopra

“Being spiritual has nothing to do with what you believe and everything to do with your state of consciousness.” - Eckhart Tolle

“We are the voice of an infinite consciousness that flutters on the wings of spirit.” - Mooji

Why do you call it 'consciousness'? Because it cognizes, thus it is called consciousness.” - The Buddha, SN 22.79

As western spirituality has evolved terminology of “consciousness” has become the new currency in which spiritual matters are discussed. Considering the history of the word "soul" previously used in religious traditions and the attitudes of those who are former subscribers it naturally has a less than desired associated feeling. Given this historical course it is natural to demonstrate apprehension towards using the word soul, thus vocabulary will need to be expanded. To meet this need words such as "consciousness" and "true-self", in which invoke a mystical attitude, are often popular towards our inner life. It is improper, in my opinion, to associate consciousness as a "soul" like entity as it inadvertently causes a passiveness on how malleable, useful, and real consciousness is (our inner life must not be a mystery to us). Thus, it is worthwhile to have an existential understanding of consciousness before discussing further "spiritual" matters. The following discusses how consciousness is cognition, a process (action), and briefly applies this understanding.

To begin with, by consciousness it infers awareness, or responsiveness, of one's surroundings or, in other words, it is called consciousness because it cognizes. To say “conscious awareness” (which is a common term I've observed) it is linguistically redundant, if there is consciousness there will be awareness. This is because it requires the senses, in which respond to stimuli to its corresponding sense consciousness (i.e. eye-consciousness for visual stimuli). Aside from possible brain damage, we differentiate between each sense-consciousness and don't confuse visual stimuli for smell stimuli (there's a moment of consciousness for each unit of stimuli input). Obviously as humans we have many units of consciousness including ones for awareness of the various mental stimuli (thoughts, emotions, etc.).

Therefore to refer to "consciousness" as a type of inner being (soul-like) misrepresents just how dynamic, interconnected, and fluid the collection of consciousness' that eventually results in "I am". Moments of consciousness pass with such fluidity that it gives an appearance of a 'being', but similar to the quantum world when we look close enough consciousness is a series of events (action) (not a single 'thing', meaning it's existence as a being is unsubstantiated). In short, I'm stating it does not have an inherent, independent existence of its own (not soul-like), but has a very conditioned existence in relation to the whole of the cosmos. Subconscious and post processing events occur that iterate upon the incoming cognition that create a facade of being, but consciousness only has a momentary existence. The views of meaning with consciousness are inferred due to ignorance (not used in a derogatory manner, but in reference to its Buddhist definition).

This practically means that despite how complicated our experiences are we can work with both the physical and mental units of consciousness and understand them with clarity. For example, when one experiences anger instead of propagating "I am angry" an intentional unit of consciousness may occur to observe the anger's mental and physical components, and (eventually) the statement of it's "I am". The goal opens one up to her potential and into what it means to be fully human. Instead of the victim of "circumstances" we see someone transcend into the hero of her own life story.

In conclusion, being pragmatic in understanding the term 'consciousness' you are able to empirically discover consciousness in an intentionally useful manner. This does not leave one without mystery, as is popular in the common "carrot on the stick" beliefs, yet this offers a balanced attitude in which addresses the malleability of consciousness. Instead of the finality of belief we may begin to experiment and work with consciousness in such a way that makes our spirituality more intentional. Meditative practices (to be discussed later) such as anapanasati (mindfulness) can quickly confirm and observe consciousness' moment by moment existence.

Thoughts? Questions? Please share them!

Questions to consider:
Why do I want consciousness to have soul-like qualities?
Can I confirm these things in the here and now?
How do beliefs affect my understanding and views?

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