A Developing Inner Life

As we begin to consider the role that “non-physical components” might play in coming to terms with the nature of consciousness, a good place to begin is with our own very human emotions. In spite of having a clear and powerful biological foundation in brain physiology, our emotional responses are highly subjective in nature and what immediately stirs the feelings of one human being can produce nothing but indifference in another. Difficult to define, feelings can direct us in ways that are, in one instance, intuitive and insightful and in another, self-destructive and violent. Our response to stimulus of every sort can be examined, analyzed, and traced to specific locations within the brain, but our physiological response is only part of the story. Our emotions and feelings can also be influenced by forces far removed from simple biology.

Much has been written regarding the evolution of species on our planet, and we can infer a great deal from our increasing knowledge of the nature of life on our planet over the millions of years cognitive creatures have been evolving on it. Emotions served our primitive ancestors in their struggle to survive the dangers and challenges of life long ago, in the now familiar “fight or flight response” which still exists within us today, as well as in the development of nurturing inclinations. What began as an advantageous survival strategy has blossomed into a highly complex psycho-social phenomenon with far reaching implications in the study of the cognitive processes which are at the heart of consciousness. All of our evolutionary progress has built steadily upon the increasing capacity for cognitive development, and on the subsequent dependence on our emotional responses for survival. Over the millennia, we have taken the raw material provided by evolution, and slowly manipulated our mental and emotional environment to the point where we can now “rationalize” our emotional responses, and analyze them as a “component” of our burgeoning cognitive potential.

Beyond these considerations, and largely a result of our increased cognitive skills, our comprehension of the interrelatedness of all life on our planet, has also made us aware of the interactive nature of cognition. No longer are we simply the victims of a brutal world of “survival of the fittest,” but rather, the stewards of a global community of life forms which are remarkably dependent on each other not just for survival, but for fulfillment of a potential that expands well beyond the physiology of any one species. Humans are slowly coming to understand the importance of diversity not only within ecosystems and cultures, but also within their own individual consciousness.

The interrelatedness of all life in the phenomenal world reflects the even more complex and comprehensive relationships that support our profoundly dynamic inner life, represented in the relationships between cognition and physiology, between neurons and experience, between electrochemical phenomenology and synaptic function. Indeed, one could easily draw parallels that reach all the way from the most basic subatomic phenomena to the vastness of the known universe. The complexity of the brain is a perfect metaphor for the complexity of the universe!

The relationships between these various components of life in the physical universe, like all such associations, have some aspects in common which are visible and comprehensible, others that are a great deal more subtle, and yet others which are, for the present, utterly incomprehensible. In many cases, we can infer relationships between objects and phenomena based on observation or analysis of data relevant to the circumstances in which they occur, or by examining the bits and pieces left behind after centuries have passed. As cognitive creatures, with millions of years of evolution to support us, we can advance theories based on the observations and data accumulated over centuries of reflection and contemplation.

The story of humanity is in every way an accumulation of knowledge and experience, and the resulting expansion of human consciousness. Even if the acquisition of consciousness was initiated by our acquisition of an adequately equipped brain architecture, the accumulation of knowledge and experience made available to us as a result of that acquisition, is entirely our own doing.

Give someone a fish fillet, and they eat for a day. Teach them how to catch their own fish, and they eat for a lifetime. Give a hominid species a fully developed brain and nervous system, and eventually they will paint pictures on cave walls. Teach them through knowledge and experience to be creative and to innovate, and they will expand their consciousness beyond mere survival. Eventually, they will begin to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

As solid and predictable as the laws of physics seem to us today, not one of them eliminates the possibility of the existence of the spirit. And while the many diverse paths of spirituality offer an exciting array of avenues for us to pursue the spirit, not one of them can eliminate the laws of physics as they apply to the phenomenal world.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to conclude that both exist, and that both rely on the existence of the other. Our sense of being relies on being able to use our senses, but our senses do not bring us into being, nor do they attribute significance to our existence. They are our window to the world of experience and it is that world of experience that connects us to our sense of being and to the spirit.

Navigating the Path Inward

In the stillness of the morning, as I attempt to venture inward, I am uncharacteristically ill-at-ease. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over my journey; an inexplicable degree of reluctance to disengage fully from my worldly concerns prevents me from easily letting go as usual. Normally, I can easily quiet my mind, gradually descend through the layers of consciousness, and with minimal effort, center myself. In doing so, I typically am able to arrive once again where I left off, able to resume the journey, and to recognize and evaluate both how far I’ve come, and how far I have yet to go.

Oddly enough, in spite of this unsettling struggle, the effort required to resume my journey and the difficulty I seem to be experiencing, have not dissuaded me from being optimistic about the outcome. At times like this, I often wish I could more readily summon some greater personal strength or draw upon some untapped reserve or force of will to supplement my inner energies. In the past, I simply had to persist long enough to get back on track, or to withdraw and regroup at a later time in order to feel more confident in reaching the next step, and to resume the path of exploration.

I’ve conducted a great many such explorations of my inner world over the years, and, most often, once begun, it has been nearly impossible to contain myself, only occasionally requiring an additional effort to sustain momentum. This current bout of uncertainty is less familiar, but no less daunting. Over time, I have released much from within me, but I still typically sense that more is to come. How it will eventually turn out is still a matter of some speculation, and yet, I feel as though I am at least still headed in the right direction. If the problem persists, I may need to engage some sort of personal muse to awaken the inner strength to push me forward, and to drive me to go deeper—to reveal more.

I am feeling a bit lost, yet, not totally so. I have a sense of the landscape, but at times, it seems my eyes are either closed or unable to see clearly; the only way to progress requires me to redouble my efforts to relinquish my concerns about what I may or may not currently be able to see or feel, and to descend through the layers of my inner life to arrive at the core of my being, where all is one. After a short break, I once again resume my efforts to withdraw within, after conjuring and then utilizing the following words to help me focus:

“I am slowly descending now through the layers of consciousness. I am letting go of the temporal world. I am releasing my temporal self and my conscious thoughts. That which is me, that which my mind engages—thoughts, feelings—all of it—I release them all.”

As the weight of all these considerations becomes less, I am finally able to dissolve the partitions of objective existence, and to slowly descend into my inner world. As I navigate the path inward, I must allow my spirit to incrementally consume me, so that it can seek out and attain a degree of solace and inner solitude, and thoroughly relinquish all that concerns me as a conscious being; it is in this “place” where the temporal world crosses over into the intangible world.

I don’t have a clear view of it. Even my most earnest attempts to describe this process cannot accurately express what is taking place. I believe what I seem to “see” is not visual in nature, and there is no recognizable sensation—it doesn’t feel like anything I usually feel when I am awake and conscious. It actually doesn’t feel like anything at all, and as I reflect upon these moments later, I know there is nothing at all that it is like. It is not sensory. It is intangible, and the impressions I am left with afterwards, seem to have “floated up” from this “place.”

The resulting impressions sometimes inform my subsequent attempts to achieve a meditative state. I cannot say definitively what the true nature and source of these impressions might be, but upon reflection, I seem to possess a kind of “knowing,”—and I use this word as a concession because no single word can truly express it—but I know that it is real, and if there exists something akin to a “spiritual feeling,” I think that may be as close as we can come to describing the effect afterwards, and it clearly affects me deep down.

I do not pretend to know, in any more accurate manner, how to express what transpires during these episodes, expect perhaps to add that it is objectively real to me in my remembrance of it. It is always in retrospect, when I rise back up to subjective consciousness—when I reflect upon it and contemplate how I feel as a temporal being afterwards—that it seems to me, these “experiences,” in the depths of my inner world, are manifesting in very subtle ways in my temporal life after I return to the surface once again.

I have periodically noted in my personal journals, after I transcribed the words and thoughts and feelings I could recall about these interactions, when reviewing them later on as a conscious person, I occasionally only had a vague sense of having written those accounts myself. When I read the words on the page, conjured in an attempt to describe those moments again from memory, I sometimes wrote that it almost didn’t seem like the words were mine. And yet, I know they issued forth from me as my hand held the pen, or as my fingers glided across the keyboard, or as my voice echoed in the stillness as I spoke them.

It is not possible to definitively express such profound concepts, nor is it feasible to explain what takes place during such ineffable moments in terms that you might use to describe an ordinary experience, because they aren’t strictly experiential in the same sense as swimming in an ice-cold lake, or floating in the salty summer ocean.

There is no unambiguous corresponding way to describe such events. We can only search for metaphors and point in certain directions which inevitably must fall short of exactitude, since these events unfold where there is no physical space. Even so, from my point-of-view, the direction I follow within is fairly consistent in its breadth and depth, and it always brings me reliably to a realm where words and thoughts and feelings and sensations are not necessary. When I find myself there, I am consistently inspired by the strength and intensity of my inner life; my connection to it is predictably temporary in duration—so truly fleeting in the broadest sense—but it is, upon reflection, always subjectively real, and I cannot now imagine enduring my temporal existence without periodically spending even the most fleeting of moments interacting with the world within.

The Foam of a Wave

Brazomar Beach Spain

http://www.layoutsparks.com/1/239152/summer-love-beach-waves

“Understand that the body is merely the foam of a wave, the shadow of a shadow.” — Buddha

Eric Kandel, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons in 2000, in his book, “In Search of Memory,” emphasized the “biology of mind,” by reminding us that:

“Each mental function in the brain–from the simplest reflex to the most creative acts in language, music, and art–is carried out by specialized neural circuits in different regions of the brain…the cellular mechanisms of learning and memory reside not in the special properties of the neuron itself, but in the connections it receives and makes with other cells in the neural circuit to which it belongs.”

He announces at the outset that his personal quest to understand memory “…has intersected with one of the greatest scientific endeavors–the attempt to understand mind in cellular and molecular biological terms.” Amazingly, on page 149, he still acknowledged that he “…learned from experience that there are many situations in which one cannot decide on the basis of cold facts alone, because facts are often insufficient. One ultimately has to trust one’s unconscious, one’s instincts, one’s creative urge.”

The more I learn about brain physiology and the complex interactions amongst the microscopic neural substrates, and the subsequent results of such interactions, the more it seems to me that all of it points toward a synthesis–or symbiosis–of many functions that ultimately provides us with the means to achieve an awareness of our subjective experience.

brain functions2

http://www.franchiseclique.com/

The complex physiology of brain functions; the interdependence of multiple neural networks; the coordination and integration of numerous brain regions–all these and more as-yet-undetected or poorly-understood components of cognitive function, when operating at a minimally functional level, allow the perception of our subjective experience of our existence to enter conscious awareness. What we describe as “the perception of subjective experience,” is the result of these “components of cognitive function,” operating at least at a minimally optimal level. However, while all varieties of perception–the perception of light by the eye; of scents by the nose; of sound by the ear; of taste by the tongue; and of touch by the skin–require each relative sensory system to be sufficiently functional, those systems do not “create” the light, the scent, the sound, the taste or the touch. Perception, while essential to experience, does not “create” experience, but rather, it facilitates our awareness of the experience.

This is one of the main reasons that attempting to define the subjective experience of consciousness as the result of brain physiology alone misses the mark in my opinion. A much more likely explanation for the “what it’s like” experience of our existence could come from broadening our views to include a recognition that the Universe and every temporal aspect and condition of that existence might well be a manifest expression of some form of cosmically inclusive and fundamentally inherent force like electromagnetism or gravity. The precise nature of this force, while elusive and profoundly complex, may well be a phenomenon which is expressed by and which becomes visible and tangible as the Universe. It is due to our cognitive abilities as humans with a highly complex brain and central nervous system that we are able to enjoy experience and to express our awareness of it. It is much more likely in my view that human consciousness is a consciousness that is not produced BY us, but rather one of which we are aware and that is made manifest THROUGH us.

lord-buddha2

Our extraordinary brains allow us to quickly process an astonishing array of sensory and cognitive data, and to integrate both conscious experience and unconscious contents, through which we gain access to an expanded awareness. Knowing we exist, being able to think, and being able to express our awareness of existing and thinking, through our higher cognitive functions, provides us with a conduit for consciousness–a transcendent link between the tangible and the intangible. The life that we know as sentient beings may well be like the foam of a wave. The fragility of the foam is only a harbinger of the force of the ocean tides, which are brought to life through a much greater force beyond the earth itself. We do not experience the pull of the moon’s gravity directly, but we are, nonetheless, existent within a universe which includes that gravity–a shadow of a shadow.

Another Bowl of Cherries

The cherries in the bowl above were picked just outside the kitchen window in the back of my apartment in Germany years ago, but for me they have come to symbolize a great deal more than just a pleasing subject for photography. It was during this period of my life that I truly began to open to the world within me, and as I look back now, I can appreciate more fully the true importance of this beginning. While serving as an intelligence specialist in the sleepy little town of Kaiserslautern, I began a series of writings, originally intended to document my experiences during the course of my service in Europe. As the writing progressed, an awareness of the profound changes and events that were shaping my personal life prompted me to examine more closely the “why” of what was happening to me. This concern led not only to a more in-depth analysis of my inner experience, but was also responsible for influencing my interactions with those closest to me.

Having spent most of my tenure with the military in a variety of barracks and military housing, as a senior analyst in my section, I finally became eligible for housing off-base. This arrangement turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my service, and I was determined to make the best possible use out of the time. On a quiet street in the suburbs, I was surrounded by the native citizens, and as a German linguist, I was able to communicate well with my landlord and my neighbors. When I would return home at the end of the day, along the short walk from the bus stop, I would often find myself engaged in conversations right out on the street, as many of my neighbors would be leaning out of their front windows and say hello. My presence there was a novelty at first, but when it became apparent that I could converse reasonably well in German, it eventually became an accepted part of life in my neighborhood.

About that same time, a burgeoning interest in 35mm photography had begun to bear fruit (pun intended). With much the same enthusiasm which was manifested in my writing, it was not altogether surprising that my photographs began to reflect the growth and development characterized in the writings. The view out the kitchen window was spectacular when the cherry tree was in full bloom, and I enjoyed many hours in my kitchen, in a variety of ways.

Normally, there’s nothing quite as isolating as the solitude which can result from living alone in a strange city, but in this case, it seemed only to provide just the right degree of solitude as I needed it, and offered plentiful opportunities for socializing and a sense of community as well. The cherries were a little tart, but absolutely stunning in their redness and ripeness as the photo reveals.

There were quiet mornings in the kitchen with my favorite music, and freshly ground German coffee that accompanied me in my moments of solitude, and I doubt seriously if I ever enjoyed morning coffee quite as much as I did while residing there. Writing became an essential aspect of my days, and on this particular morning, after settling down on a rare day off, I decided to attempt to write about what was weighing on my mind and living inside my heart:

“My awareness of a higher level of consciousness becoming available to me has brought me to sense an awakening to a world I can scarcely believe exists within me. My entire being seems to be undergoing a transformation. Although it is subtle in nature, it creeps up on me silently, occasionally stirring me gently into a state of heightened awareness, but still seeming to assimilate itself into my daily waking state. I have become more contemplative, reflecting more often on what is transpiring within me. Urgent matters which used to occupy my mind seem less significant, and every thought becomes a candidate for reevaluation. Though not obsessive, I balance each effort with concern for how it might assist me in achieving an even greater level of consciousness, and in doing so, I continually encounter a curious resistance, as these evaluations often conflict with some of my long-standing attitudes and beliefs.”

After a long day of duty, I would often return home and spend some time after dinner reading and writing in my living room. Living in the United States had always seemed easier by comparison to living overseas. There were no concerns about finding the right way to say what I was thinking, and my familiarity with life in America made me take so much for granted. In Germany, the circumstances were quite different. My knowledge of the language and the culture in which I was living in was very helpful, and it took me some time to really become comfortable sharing my familiarity, but I enjoyed a much more receptive attitude in my interactions whenever I did.

One of my favorite rooms in the apartment was the little greenhouse porch that led out to the back of the apartment where the cherry tree stood. A narrow hallway led to a brightly lit space filled with a variety of plants and flowers that constantly changed throughout the year. I would occasionally tend to the plants when the landlord was away, and enjoyed standing there surrounded by green leaves and colorful plants with the sun streaming through. It was as nearly perfect a place as I could have hoped for, and when I stop to think of all the places I’ve been, this little corner of Germany is near the top of the list.

Living in Germany was one of the most well documented phases of my life, and it was there that many of my documentary habits were formed. The time spent overseas was a bonanza for my writing, and I spent much of the available time I had recording my thoughts and feelings and emotions in a way that led to years of growth and expansion of my skills in expressing them. In the days to come, I hope to share some of those early efforts in my struggle to make sense out of what has been transpiring within me all these years. I hope you will all follow along with me as I explore the path once more.

….more to come….