This is Post 5 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
Meditation grounded in self-enquiry, of the sort I have been speaking about, is enormously supportive to the thinking function of the mind. Creativity requires thought, and high-level creativity requires high-level thinking. Collaborative thinking especially requires the capacity to think clearly and the capacity to express our thoughts with accuracy and integrity – but all these things spring from the illusive mental quality that we call objectivity.
Objectivity is illusive because it is a function of our relationship to Consciousness. We can choose to embrace objectivity as a value, and can train ourselves to some extent in the discipline of objective thinking, but this requires a systematic study of thought, language and logic, in the context of a study of Philosophy; and ideally a broad study of Thought itself. Only the very best high schools teach thinking (especially in France, I believe), but most do not, so this training is usually only available in the context of higher education institutions – but most of these are increasingly focused on vocational training for industry and commerce. Any training in objectivity will in any case be limited however, unless it is developed with reference to Consciousness, since Consciousness is the only objective observer.
Consciousness is Non-Computational
To better grasp the distinctive and extraordinary thinking capabilities of human beings, it is helpful to compare human thinking with that of the logical processing of a computer, and to recognise how profoundly different it is. A computer can never develop the attitude that we call objectivity however powerful it may be – and it certainly cannot develop Consciousness. It can process logically, and even ‘learn’ by accumulating vast amounts of data according to its human programmers intentions, but it is incapable of reflecting on what it is doing. Because a computer cannot consciously observe its own thought processes in the way a human being can, it can never develop the sort of objectivity, or the sort of depth of understanding, that is so characteristic of high-level human reasoning.
The Qualia of Being
What inevitably arises from a close examination of thought through the practice of self-enquiry, is an awareness of the characteristics of the nature of mind that are experienced in between thoughts, or in the absence of thought. Self-enquiry makes us aware of Consciousness – the imperturbable quality of mind that exists beyond thoughts. Consciousness comes into the foreground of our experience as our thoughts recede, but thoughts are not necessarily an obstacle to the recognition of Consciousness. Indeed, once Consciousness is truly recognised, we find a new a whole new relationship to thinking. We come to acknowledge that when we are really thinking, as opposed to just processing data, that thinking is inseparable from Consciousness – and carries the creative intention of Consciousness.
The best word in English for the powerful felt space in which thoughts arise, is probably ‘Being’. Being is an example of what neuroscience and philosophy call a ‘qualia’. My experience has been that the notion of qualia is extremely useful as we attempt to have this conversation about the Consciousness, the ultimate nature of mind – this ever present, but ultimately unknowable, dimension of our experience. The qualia, as I define the term in the context of this form of self-enquiry, are qualitative, difficult-to-define, difficult-to-explain, and difficult-to-describe aspects of experience, that arise in connection with Consciousness – and are essential components of our humanity.
As we meditate, we give preference to that which is overlooked – to that which is qualitative and indefinable. This overlooked background then becomes the foreground of our experience. When we look for Consciousness and then rest as Consciousness, our thoughts recede, and the experience of Being comes to the fore – and those of our thoughts that are out of alignment with the nature of Consciousness, lose their momentum or just dissolve. As the thoughts that are merely ‘points of view’ recede, they are replaced with a whole new way of thinking, which arises from the experience of Consciousness and Being – a deeper form of thinking that might tentatively be characterised as ‘knowing’.
Being a Person, a Self, a Soul
As we explore Consciousness, we quickly begin to recognise the limitation of the notions of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ in regard to the actual phenomenology of perception – we notice that both words are problematic. Consciousness, while it is our only source of true objectivity, is also the ultimate source of our ‘subjectivity’ in the positive sense of that word – taking ‘subjectivity’ to refer to our interiority, our inner life, our felt experience, our sense of ‘being a person’, or a soul.
It is only because we all rest, consciously or unconsciously, in the field of Consciousness, that we all have such a profound subjective sense of ‘me’, and of ‘being a person’ – something that even the greatest computer can never have. As we progress on the spiritual journey, there is a paradoxical sense in which this experienced self deepens and expands as we become more connected. Our egoic conditioned self is replaced by a sense of identity that feels more authentic, no longer a mental construction, but grounded in the experience of embodied Consciousness.
Consciousness – both Objective and Subjective?
In meditative self-enquiry we start by recognising Consciousness as an object – an object that cannot be located and can therefore be provisionally regarded as an infinite ‘field’. If, having recognised Consciousness, we then rest as Consciousness, we become aware that Consciousness is what we are in our most essential nature.
This is a subtle and difficult to define experience – but our subjective sense of the experience of ‘I’ is recognised as arising, paradoxically, from the objective transpersonal field – a field that has particular objective qualities, such as the equanimity or imperturbability that I spoke about in the last post in this series. And as subject and object become more difficult to discern, so to does the distinction between personal and universal. Even the seemingly personal experiences, like the Thinking and Being, are recognised as arising inseparably within the spaciousness, stillness and depth of the universal Consciousness.
I have found the qualia of Being to be only one of several key qualities, which are landmarks in the landscape of the soul – the somewhat confusing and disorientating landscape that we traverse on the inner journey of meditation. In the mandala-world of meditation, we find that these bodily-felt, intuitively-known, inner landmarks provide us with some sense of direction while we are gaining our familiarity. However subtle and indefinable they may be, these inner knowings help us to keep to the track – they help us find a place of balance and alignment. Being is one of four such qualia landmarks, corresponding to the four quadrants of the mandala, that are of particular value in this regard, and I will be talking more about them in future article.
For summaries of the other articles in this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series click here.