Saturday, January 22, 2011

The unconscious body

We are evaluating the tools of the mind in order to see what can help us approach this question of being. And we have rejected nondirected thought, the background of associative images, because of its hypnotic effect. We have also rejected directed thought as something fundamentally rooted in the past (or as the past projected into the future as prediction) which cannot, therefore, illuminate the vital present. And we presume that the vital present is the home of being.

We have further noted that we normally possess no unified conscious 'I' who might separate itself from thought, whether directed or nondirected, and therefore no entity, outside of thought itself, can be defined in us. And we have examined the phenomenon of conscience, concluding that it might be useful in bringing a degree of consciousness to semi-consciousness. And after all this - we will turn now to the question of what, if not the contents of the mind, constitutes being.

We must begin with an assumption - because without that we can take this field of questioning no further. Let us then assume that the body is one thing and you, or I, are another thing - we are not the mind and we are not the body either. However, we possess both a mind and a body - the mind can bring us into a more conscious state by way of conscience. It may not last very long or feel very pleasant but conscience undeniably increases our clarity. Can the same be said of any function of the body?

By simply opening a newspaper, or observing oneself honestly, one can see that human dignity is reduced when one submits wholly to the body, to the animal appetites. A person in the grip of a strong desire is noticeably less conscious, more mechanical. And we become attached to bodily pleasures just as we also become attached to intellectual and emotional pleasures. There are no independent observers when we are in the grip of these attachments - no being outside the magnetism of pleasure. But why should we wish to oppose pleasure-seeking? we are not monks.

Nevertheless, I think it is an important question as to whether the mind can overcome bodily appetites. Surely, before an investigation into the nature of being can occur there must be one who searches - that is, something in us must be free from identification, free from the the activities of the mind, the flux of the emotions, the attractions of the body.

At the same time, an experience of the real - a conscious experience - seems to require the equal participation of mind, emotion and body. I remember walking on the beach - my body recalls the feeling of the wind, I can re-enter my train of thought, relive the emotional quality of the experience. If one of these three elements were missing perhaps I wouldn't remember the walk at all. Most likely I'd have been 'lost in thought', or 'overcome with emotion', walking on 'autopilot' - an experience of a less conscious state.

So it seems that when one centre - either the body, or thought, or the emotions - dominates over the others, then whatever 'self' might otherwise exist independently in one becomes identified with the object of attraction (be that a mental, emotional or physical pleasure) - nothing remains that can stand apart. But when all three elements are in balance, this potentially impartial seed is not so easily taken. We need the body after all.

And while one is often advised to temper an intellectual decision with the emotions (to "follow your heart"), or vice versa (to 'sleep' on an otherwise emotional decision) it is rarely suggested that one consult the body on emotional or intellectual matters. We tend to take the body for granted or, if we are so-called spiritual people, we may try to ignore or deny it. And in our inattentiveness, or in our denial, we fail to notice the unconscious manifestations of the body - the hundreds of unnecessary muscle tensions, the urge to talk pointlessly, the gradual loss of vivid sensation in the skin (apart from the extremes of pleasure and pain). The body becomes less and less vital as the years pass.

Perhaps we don't try to bring consciousness to the body because we don't think of the body as a cognitive tool. And yet sensation in the body - ordinary sensation as opposed to extremes - is the counterweight that allows us to remain conscious in the grip of emotional or intellectual attraction. It allows us to keep something apart in us. Hence, if we wish to create an impartial observer in ourselves and begin unraveling the mystery of our existence in the world, we should aim to increase sensation, and by extension consciousness, in the body.

The following points are offered in summary:

1. When the attractions of one centre - of thought or emotions or of the body - dominate the others, there is nothing within us that can remain apart. We become identified (lost in thought, overcome with emotion etc)

2. If all three centres are in balance, some degree of separation is possible. For this sensation in the body is necessary.

3. Relaxation of the body (i.e. an absence of unconscious muscle tensions) and focused attention (undistracted by nondirected thought or emotion) might indicate a more conscious, or more impartial, state.


  1. First you are doing a fantastic job outlining these thoughts/points and I hope my ramblings are not clouding the issues.
    It would seem that the emotions are largely indicators of our thinking. Whenever we have an emotions you can directly link it to something we are thinking. I've often thought that if there is an evil it is thinking or I should say identification with thought. We seem to wade in a collective river of thought, picking out certain thoughts that we identify with and then further that we then are the thinker of those thought (ego). When we think bad thoughts we have emotions fire that have a direct impact on our bodies. Events imagined or daydreamed can have the same impact on the body even if they have not happened. Further we associate intelligence with thinking. That through more thinking we can 'figure' out more. This is where I think we can make a separation (if you will). I think that the key is to get away from mind/thinking and back to the source. Thinking which to me is light a huge ball of Christmas light, you might struggle about with them and every once in a while you might get a few lights to light up which most times will only get you to then believe you are the thinker once again because 'you've figured something out'. Once again if we are wading in the collective river of thoughts, perhaps we have to move to the bank. Watch the thoughts go by, not associate any of them, not be the thinker of any of them. Once having realized we are not the thinker return to the source where thinking has nothing to do with intelligence or being. So then how do you return to the source, I suppose that is a mistake in language as well. You don't return because you never left, so then it would seem that its really awareness that brings us to realization, not thinking or thought.

  2. I couldn't agree more and must thank you sincerely for expressing this much better than I could have. Thought is definitely the problem - and we have deified thought to the extent where it seems almost heretical to question its value. And yet clearly thought must anchor us firmly in the past, or the past projected into the future. Thought, as the expression of previously accumulated data and experience, can never comprehend the present. And I'd go further and say that there is a link between anxiety/depression and thought (or at least thought as we experience it - time-bound and directional). I am anxious because I remember past failures and I predict that failure may again occur. This leads to imagining all kinds of possible, usually unpleasant, future events about which I become terribly anxious or, in remembering the past, I become depressed about previous failings. But when thought is held in abeyance and I am wholly present (something that is not possible in the presence of thought) I experience only this afternoon sun, this cup of tea, these friends, the sound of distant traffic . . . no fuel for true anxiety or depression exists here. And while terrible events do occur in the present, they appear far less frequently than the terrible events created by thought (through memory, imagination, prediction). And, by extension, out treatment of other human beings is altered by the time-distortion of thought - because the projection of past anxiety into the future also extends to people. We can act quite unfairly to others when we do not experience them in the vital present. Then there is the point you very astutely raise - that thoughts act as the shepherds of emotions. They both trigger and feed emotions, particularly negative emotions - and I wonder what emotions would be if they existed only in the vital present? something altogether different I expect. We must try to create a still place in ourselves - a little island in that river you speak of. Somewhere from which we can observe our thoughts but not be immersed in them. Thought must become the tool of being and not being itself! I think sensation of the body is a key element in doing this . . . I can't really explain it better yet, but it seems important. Wonderful to talk with you about this Anthony.

  3. I must admit, honestly, that at first glance, perusing through your posts and the accompanying comments, Judith, I felt a bit overwhelmed by both the initial question and by the very philosophical and occasionally esoteric, nature of the discussion. Mine is a rather "homey" philosophy, I'm afraid, and I can find larger, deeper metaphysical questions difficult to address in any way that makes sense. But here, I find the question worth the risk of looking foolishly unschooled in such language.
    The question of being, at least in human terms, was once answered very succinctly (undoubtedly too succinctly) by Descartes with his now famous line, "I think, therefore, I am." As if thought alone, directed or otherwise, is the measure and the meaning of "being." But as both you and Anthony have said so articulately, thought is not the totality of being at all. It is, as you have both said, limiting to the extent that it does anchor us in the past or gives rise to "emotion" that is more ego driven than anything else. Certainly, I can "create my own reality" anew by thinking differently about circumstances or events, but what have I, in truth, actually created beyond the illusion in this time and space, that I'm a new "me?" Of what use is that if I don't know my own being in the first place?
    Heidegger spoke of "dasein" - the being for whom being is the question - so perhaps our own being-ness is more about the fact that we ask at all, than it is about "figuring it out." I don't believe that it is possible to completely divorce an understanding of being from our conscious - or even subconscious - thought about it. After all, it is the mind that forms the question in the first place and the answer at which we arrive is the mind's sense of self - body and soul, ego and spirit. Is "being" more than the sum of my thoughts? Am I more than that? Certainly. But how do I "know" that except through some kind of thoughtful awareness of my own experience, past, present and future? You are right in this, Judith - thought is the "tool of being and not being itself."
    What an incredible dialogue you've opened here!

  4. Dear Lianne, how happy I am to discover your wise and gentle words in this blog. Truthfully the question of being is a daunting one - and to share the search with such sharp and insightful people, with you and Anthony, gives me the confidence to persevere. Perhaps we will not arrive at a conclusion of any kind but we will at least unravel the mystery to a greater extent than we would alone.
    I, like you, find Descartes' statement to be erroneous in the extreme. Not only do I disagree that thought is an indicator of being, I also disagree with the opening two words! 'I think' - WHO thinks? who is it in me that claims the title of 'I'? and what evidence is there that my thoughts are my own in any case? However, it is certainly true that thought creates the illusion of being. . . an illusion that, like a cuckoo, takes the place of real being. And perhaps, like the mother bird, we don't even notice that being has been replaced by its usurper. Another really great point you raise is Heidegger's 'dasien' because I think it's very important to discover (in a very pragmatic non-philosophical way) just WHO is the being for whom being is the question. And perhaps that being is actually several beings - or perhaps dasein is originally a kind of stand-in for a being that comes later. Kind of like the caretaker king. In the beginning thought, drawn by some nameless magnetism, begins to question being - and then later something that has been uncovered by the process takes over as the questioning being. But I can't find a better way of articulating this yet - it feels like I'm trying to make sculptures with fog! Ah, Lianne, it is good to read you again.

  5. It would seem that thought indeed is one of the biggest issues. Instead of a tool for us to use when we need it, it has taken over us, taken all of our energy and convinced us that we are it. So the computer has taken over and has a mind/ego of its own. Then to me the way out is not through thinking. Thought in an of itself I believe is a very small facet of intelligence. So awareness would seem to be one focus. Drawing awareness to the body takes it away from the mind/thoughts. Achieving no thought either by some other method or by taking all the focus away to the point where you are without thought. Removing thought, past and future, etc. Returning to the one source, being. One, wholeness, no separation. I will have to come back to this.

  6. To take a step back and look at the world it would seem that there are two basic categories, things and space, form and formless. I we could agree that each form has being with the one differentiation which is thought. Then it would seem that while all forms have being then there is a possible evolution if you will to consciousness. You either are below thought, have thought or or rise above thought. When humans drink or take drugs I believe part of the euphoria they experience is the lack of thought (or drastically slowed down). However this is falling below thought and while it might allow a glimpse it is not the desired direction. To go back to an earlier statement, it is uncontrolled thought, not being able to stop thinking and being identified with thought that is the problem. We are taken over by the tool and thereby need to rise above it so that it is there when we need it but not when we don't. So again how to do this. I have to stop here and make this statement. While I'm wandering down this path, it is a somewhat needless journey in that it is like Dorthy wanting to go home. She was home all the time and it just took the awareness to get her there. So the statement or point I'm making is that I fully believe while in form "I'm" trying to figure out how to get back to the source, I truly believe that my spirit/essence is already there and needs nothing. So if that is true it is that realization that this exercise is important for. Not to keep quoting movies but this is the the Matrix and the red pill. It is the significance of making this choice and realization fully, not conceptually. Our essence/spirit is fully okay and what we are trying to do is awake to that realization which by doing would dismiss the ego/thinker and we are realize the one, no separation. Part of the problem with the ego is that it would have you believe that there is something you have to do, always more to do, to learn (which implies future). This also vexes me in that there is some argument that you can't do anything to wake up, it is a gift and you either do or don't. You can work to become more aware but true enlightenment happens. It would seem that from some of the Buddhist writings that enlightenment can come with a sudden realization. Where in our culture it seems to comes from something traumatic, a near death, etc. In near death one theory is that because the body is dying the ego dissolves, then when the patient does in fact not die he is sometimes left in some form of enlightenment. I suppose at some point a definition of enlightenment would be good for all of us to be on the same page. To be specific, my thought - this is not something that we need to achieve at the spirit level, not a state that we need to get to but a realization in form of what we already are. From my research this is where we get into trouble. The moment that we look to achieve something in the future we are lost, nothing can happen in the future, the future never comes. It is always now, anything we do has to be now and not a goal in the future. So the realization can only happen now, not tomorrow, not when we learn more, etc. This is where I can start to spin around in the paradoxes. The truth can be that what keeps us from realizing it, is looking for it. This is where language is inadequate to express this (or my grasp on language). You have to want it but not seek it, seeking implies future. So the awareness must be a combination of allowing, acceptance and awareness. If you will indulge my rambling for one more moment.

  7. Continued...
    Take a spirit/essence/God spark whatever you want to call it but it is pure and complete already. Add it to a human body, give the human body a brain to run the machine. At some point the mind comes in and because it thinks (Descartes was wrong in my opinion) it start to believe in itself and loses awareness with the essence. Many I's follow as man is actually 'possessed' by his own mind and believe himself to be what has possessed him. All the while the essence is whole and good. Man now lost in a dream of a false self either lacks the initiative to realize the source or having an inkling of awareness starts to search thinking he is separate and searches. In this one moment which is all we have, awareness must come in. So we must in the now go deeper than we ever have thought possible, realize we are not the thinker and follow that realization back to that burst of awareness. Click your heels, thumb your nose, take a pill but somehow make that realization, not theory, not thought but allow, accept and realize.

  8. You make several very important points - firstly that consciousness can fall above or below thought. This has never occurred to me and yet I can immediately see the truth of it. The kind of silence that one reaches in meditation is totally different to the silence of inertia. The second point - that we are the objects of our own search, that we embody the truth. This is very important to realise because otherwise we look for things externally that can't be found. However, it is also important to feel the urgency of the task of reuniting ourselves with this inner truth. To neglect this will not be without consequences. A level of ourselves must be reached - I can't say it any clearer than this. Perhaps it's why we are alive - in order to find and reach these levels in ourselves, like a conscious act of evolution. Thanks so much for sharing this Anthony - I will return to read this over and over until I fully understand it.

  9. I'll have to figure out where to jump in your current conversation, but also want a bit of background as you journey along. So, sorry for this leap into the past. These are just a couple of points that jump out, though I didn't read everything.

    "no entity, outside of thought itself, can be defined in us."

    Isn't "in us," the key here? If we are Life experiencing itself as human, then all sense of SELF, experience, ideas, beliefs... everything, is being experienced. And yet, all this exists within the naked essence, the witness who cannot be witnessed directly... (except by a great Grace). It's such a magnificently designed mystery! Unless the movie stops, the film momentarily breaks, the Light of the projector cannot be directly seen.

    "Nevertheless, I think it is an important question as to whether the mind can overcome bodily appetites."

    What if there are two sides to everything: the karmically filtered side, all colored with projections, memories, longings, repressed desire energy, etc., and the pure, actual essence of a thing? If that is so, wouldn't experincing bodily energy purely be incarnation?

    "the gradual loss of vivid sensation in the skin (apart from the extremes of pleasure and pain). The body becomes less and less vital as the years pass."

    Doen't have to be this way. My body is more alive now than at any time since perhaps I was around 8 years old, and I just turned 65. I see this is just what you are saying, Judith,

    "if we wish to create an impartial observer in ourselves and begin unraveling the mystery of our existence in the world, we should aim to increase sensation, and by extension consciousness, in the body."

  10. Lovely to have you with us Blake, it's so important to bring life back into the body because perhaps its numbness allows the mechanical mind more scope than it would otherwise have. We are more than thought - so much more - but without enough sensation in the body, vitality of the body, thought is all we are capable of. And I'll go further and say that many automatic movements of the mind are mistaken for thought - how often do we 'think' over and over about a problem without resolving it. Sometimes this is the product of a genuine attempt to solve and issue but, more often than not, it's more like a broken record - the mechanism manifesting as thought. The fact that your body is more vital at 65 than at 8 speaks volumes about the way you've chosen to live, the things you've valued, I bet it didn't happen merely by chance. And, this leads me to believe that you've got a head start on me, at least (because at 40 my body is not more vital than it was at 8 - it really isn't). Your insights will be very helpful here!