Consciousness Doesn’t Exist Anywhere

Science has done a pretty bang-up job mapping out the various functions of the human body and how they seem to relate to the conscious experience that appears. Sound waves hit the eardrums, photons zap against rods and cones in the eyes, nerve endings in the fingertips tingle with energy, and all of these receptors send electrical impulses to the brain, ultimately delivering an aural/visual/sensory feast, the image which you experience right now as you read this.

What is has not done, and can never do, is locate where this image is, or to whom/what it is being presented. Stare as hard as you want at these words, they will never be found anywhere in your brain. Think of a yellow schoolbus, still there will be no picture of a schoolbus to be found in any of that pulsing electricity.

This image, that present experiencing, which is all that is ever known, is nowhere, and is presented to nothing.

You Never Get Any Older

The years pass, the candles on the cake multiply, the numbers go up.  Letters on the page get fuzzier, the sound of the roaring ocean gets fainter.

Boundless exuberant energy and strength begin to fade, while various unexpected aches and pains creep in to take their place.

What can you say, though, about that which beholds these experiences, that which you call the “I” that is seeing, hearing, feeling all of this?  Though the appearance constantly changes and evolves, do you sense any difference between the “I” that was seeing out of your eyes yesterday, and the “I” reading these words right now?  Or the “I” from five years ago? Or when you were six years old?

If you’ve ever had a memory and thought “it seems like just yesterday,” there’s a reason.  For that which you refer to as “I”, the consciousness in which and as which it has all appeared, that which you are, no time has passed, or ever could.

Anatomy of a Decision

“Vanilla or chocolate?”

Immediately, a wave of thoughts, memories, and visions. Conditioned preferences or aversions pop up. Pictures of candy bars, perhaps. An electric jolt of desire.

Then more thoughts. “Maybe I should just skip it, I’m trying to lose weight.” A pang of self-judgment. “But I worked really hard this week, I deserve a treat.” “Man, I wish they had strawberry.”

All of this in just a few seconds! Remarkable. Then the mouth opens, and out comes the answer. “Chocolate!”

The decision is made. But only after this stream of events has occurred, does the mind take ownership with one last thought, which if asked to describe what happened, you’ll even say it. “I chose chocolate.”

Did you? Were you at the helm of the stream of thoughts and emotions that arose as the decision was made? In fact, was there anyone or anything there at all, pulling the strings, or did it all happen by itself?

The Core of Suffering, part 2

“This should not be.” The seed from which all suffering grows.

The important thing, though, is to realize that the word “this”, in that thought, always refers to the mind-made map, the mind-created story of myself, others, past, future, here and there, gain and loss, and the assumed “world out there”. An inconceivably vast, conceptual tapestry, woven of nothing but thought.

You have two options, then. The first is to set about trying to set things right. Thankfully, there is no end to the remedies available to you to relieve this suffering. Professional therapy, self-help courses, motivational speakers, spin class, yoga, alcohol, drugs, any variety of other distracting addictions, suicide.

The problem with this approach is that it relies on things being in a certain, acceptable state, and things are continually falling apart. Before they finish one coat of paint on the Golden Gate Bridge, they have to start the next one*. Nothing last forever, particularly not things being the way they should.

The other option is to recognize that the only thing that is ever known, that ever truly exists, is the immediate, weightless, edgeless, infinite appearance of consciousness, in which there can be no world to judge, and no one and nothing whatsoever to judge it.

“This should not be.” Good news. It isn’t.

* This is an untrue urban legend, but it works for our purposes here, and I like it.

The Core of Suffering

Other than exposing the ever-evident, eternal, inescapable truth, these writings are primarily concerned with the relief of suffering. Before we continue, it’s important to define our term:

By “suffering”, I do not mean “pain”. Pain is an unavoidable, and often helpful fact of life. I also do not mean any of the gamut of painful, but natural emotions one experiences as we go through life; grief from a loss, anger as a response to an affront, disappointment from plans gone awry, etc.

By “suffering”, I mean the type of deep psychological pain that may manifest as conditions like chronic depression and anxiety, debilitating regret, merciless self-loathing, or even just a continual, low rumble of discontent with “the world”.

Cognitive therapists have shown us that preceding any emotional state are thoughts, and that there are subconscious “core thoughts” that precede and flavor any set of thoughts or emotions that spring from them.

Psychological or emotional suffering, in any and every form, is borne from a single four-word thought, which is this:

“This should not be.

How Far Away is Experience?

Listen! For this, any sound will do. A bell, a dog barking, the faint roar of a passing jet. Just listen. Dive into it.

How far away is that experience? Thought kicks in and draws you a map. I’m over here, it sounds like the dog is out on the sidewalk, and immediately you have an answer at the ready: “About fifty feet,” perhaps.

Look again. Drop the mental map, your understanding of the situation, and feel the raw sensation of the sound.

Do you sense any distance between yourself and the sound? Do you even sense anyone listening at all? Or is there only the hearing?


Waking Up to the Absolute

I’ll talk here a bit about “absolute truth” vs. “relative truth”. I describe them like this:

The relative truth is that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. The absolute truth is that there are just images, colors flashing onto a screen. Both are true. However, one is true relative only to the world in the movie, while one is true absolutely, at all times, regardless of how the movie world appears.

Neither truth need be denied, so we can talk about you and me, preferences, places, events, as relative truths of the thought-mapped “real world out there” with all of its wonder and horror and drama, but we can also wake up to the absolute truth of there ever only being the present appearance, the current spray of the fountain, the indescribable, dimensionless this.

For many of us, the relative truth — the mind-constructed world of things and people — is the only known truth. Unable to see the absolute — that which is all there is, strangely, and that in which the relative appears — we suffer immensely.

There goes the alarm clock. Time to wake up!

One Fountain

Often in other various nonduality writings that attempt to describe the wholeness that this is, you will come across the metaphor of the ocean and the waves: “What appears as separate waves on the ocean are only ever the ocean”, and the like.

That seems a bit placid to me. I prefer a different analogy, that of a fountain: An eternal, choiceless, often violent expression of consciousness, appearing as infinite forms which are at once utterly unique, changing and dissolving one moment to the next, and yet only ever made out of the whole, and never separate from the one.

Your conviction that you are an individual is a droplet in the spray waking up and forgetting what it is. There is only ever the one fountain.

Look, listen! There it is now.

Everything is Weightless

This requires a little audience participation. Pick up an object you have lying around that has some weight to it. If you’re a bowler, you’re in luck. For the rest of this exercise I’ll assume you have a 15-pound bowling ball.

Pick up your 15-pound bowling ball. If I ask you how much it weighs, you will tell me, “15 pounds”. Even says so, right there on the ball.

Now turn your focus squarely on the actual experience of holding the ball. A pulling, a straining, a tightning of the arm. An experience that thought has a description for: “this feels like it weighs about 15 pounds.”

But when you drop the mind’s description of the experience, the mind’s understanding of gravity and what a bowling ball is, and focus purely on the sensation itself, you will notice that it has no weight — nor in fact any dimension — whatsoever.

Look, listen! You will find the same with any and all experience.

What Is “What Is”?

The mind, being the amazing tool that it is, takes pure experience and breaks it up into separate objects, places, individuals, from which it constructs a four-dimensional map which it then assumes is the “real world”. Things, moving through space and time.

If asked to describe “what is”, most will describe this “real world” painted by these mind-made thought-maps. But every element of this “real world”, including space and time themselves, only ever appears as thought; insubstantial, transformed and dissolved from one moment to the next.

These things assumed to be “real” can never be touched or known, while that in which they appear, the ever-present, dimensionless consciousness from which the map was drawn, is the only thing ever touched or known, and is only ever “what is”.