We begin with a claim: Consciousness is not exhausted or limited by thought.
This may sound odd to many who are used to employing consciousness in the rather limited sense of being aware of something. Again, our aim is to enrich the term with another possible usage that may prove valuable for generating an opening to a more full or complete path to experience. So, one might say that this may provide some valuable aids to one's understanding facilitating a more complete realization of the breadth of human experience. Now, let's begin our exercise.
What we are about to say has been said before. In fact, it is one of the major themes in many religious and philosophical traditions. However, the route we shall be taking is a bit different. Our use of the term is meant to open us to a different way of looking, a looking with insight. When one exercises the proper focus, what is revealed may help lead us to a life with less suffering and correlatively a more inclusive openness to experience. That is the intention of this exercise.
We begin with an exercise in perception. I'm sitting at a table with my wife having coffee. It is morning and the birds are chirping. Suddenly, I hear a most unusual bird song while my wife is speaking to me. For a moment, the bird song steals my attention from what my wife is saying. She appears to be very intent on explaining something to me while the bird is singing. Then, she finishes what she has to say and I ask: "Did you hear that unusual bird song?" She pauses and then says yes. I ask: "Were you conscious of it while you were speaking to me?" She says "no, but I did hear it." "How, I ask." She says: "I don't know." I respond: " So, you were not conscious of it, but you somehow heard it." She responds, "yes." Our question is, how is that possible?
Well, this is where it becomes interesting. We often reduce our experience to what we become conscious of. However, what we become conscious of--as in our brief example--is not all there is to experience. An ambient consciousness is at work here. This is a consciousness so subtle, at least for most of us, that we miss paying attention to it. Our habits of perception obscure it. Our culture has been hell bent on claiming that all there is to consciousness is consciousness of something, i.e., intentional consciousness. However, what we may surmise from our example is that another more expansive consciousness is at work. This consciousness is not only a cognitive experience but additionally, it is a felt consciousness. If we have read some of my prior posts in this blog, you may have come across what I am about to say now. All experience, by definition, must take place in the body, i.e., in felt experience. The source of all experience, perceptual and cognitive, takes place in feelings, the body. By feelings, I do not mean emotions. It is in the ambient consciousness, a fully embodied consciousness, that the bird song took place. One may characterize this view as one of corporeal panpsychism. It did not take place consciously, as we are prone to say, but it did take place in what some cognitive scientists refer to as a cognitive unconscious. However, in our exposition, we must add, with haste, that the experience is not limited to an unconscious cognition; it is a felt awareness. This is a most subtle form of knowing that permeates all experience. This permutation prods some writers to add an additional metaphysical element to their exposition. You see, some of us are still echoing the voices of a naive realism, one that states the "world" is independently objective, i.e., independent of our consciousness of it. The things of this world attract our attention and we simply become conscious of them. However, and this deserves repetition, this is not all there is. So, in this sense, they posit consciousness as the ultimate reality, a substrate reality, or a universal consciousness--one that pervades all things. In our experience based view, consciousness is a term that we may find useful in exploring and augmenting our experience with an intimate and often blissful, felt dimension.
Through the cultivation of a skillful attentiveness to the ambient consciousness, it may begin to yield a fuller and more subtle dimension of feelings. We may refer to this as the process of surrendering to what is occurring in our experience without judgment or, most importantly, without any self-natured investment expressed as craving. This craving short changes our experience to the point wherein experience is poverty stricken. There is, ultimately, no satisfaction to be gained by this type of exclusivity of consciousness. The reduction of experience to the consciousness of does not exhaust experience. Experience is far too rich for that. But, the exclusionary form of consciousness of conceals experience; it is laden with non-virtuous cognitive activity, i.e., stories that are suffering itself. Actually, when this exclusionary consciousness is seen from the perspective of the ambient, embodied consciousness, instead of stories we have fables. Usually, these fables carry a strong notion of I-am-ness. There is nothing inherently wrong with the thinking and feelings of selfhood. However, when saturated with cravings, these processes are also laden with suffering. The fables with strong feelings of self of the non-virtuous type are themselves suffering and their correlate is ill feelings.
Please allow a cautionary note here. The use of the word "consciousness" here is not to be understood as an element that constitutes experience. I prefer to speak of awareness so as not to hint that a metaphysical reality may be made of "consciousness." No one experiences consciousness! I know that may sound odd or downright ridiculous. However, when burning your hand on the stove is felt, where the heck is consciousness? Think about it and watch your experience. You may find our view to be helpful in your future observations. Your keen observations may even lead to a reduction of the suffering we all share as human beings. That is my hope.
We plan on carrying this theme throughout our subsequent blog entries. If you find anything here at all relevant or interesting, please add your comments or questions to the blog. You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Probably a loan-translation of Greek syneidesis, literally "with-knowledge."