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Consciousness - AwarenessIf a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? This long-standing philosophical question is the basis of many theories of ontology, the study of the essence of being. It basically points out the difficulty in determining whether things exist outside of their being perceived. In other words, without an observer, can there really be any phenomena at all?

The 18th century philosopher Bishop George Berkeley thought not: He believed material substance to be an illusion, and that all things existed only in the mind where they are perceived. No perception – no existence. He said:

“The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden… no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them.” ~ Bishop George Berkeley

The twentieth century saw the advent of quantum physics, which seemed to corroborate Bishop Berkeley’s immaterialism. Quantum data showed evidence that things are not always as they seem. One major conundrum inherent in quantum theory was that particles did not occupy any definitive space, that is, not until a measurement was taken, at which time the particle would collapse to a specific point in space. This collapse occurred due to an interaction called an observation, whereby the measurement, or act of observing, interacted physically with the object being measured, affecting its properties through the interaction itself. Quantum physical observation, by some interpretations at least, appeared to confirm Berkeley’s philosophy: Truly nothing exists materially without it being perceived.

Even Albert Einstein was perplexed by the perception-necessitates-existence puzzle. His paradigm-changing theory of relativity sought to establish locality as the indisputable principle of reality. Locality means that an object is influenced directly only by its surroundings. In other words, an object cannot be influenced by something in another part of space without a wave or particle travelling through space between the two points to influence it. Locality, in a sense, describes a universe where things have their place relative to other things, regardless of who perceives them. Along with localization, Einstein became a strong advocate of the concept of realism, a belief that there exists “a real factual situation,” which is “independent of our observations.” To fellow physicist Abraham Pais, Einstein once remarked. “Do you really believe that the moon only exists if you look at it?”

Consciousness - AwarenessTo counter this conundrum, some have turned to an ancient philosophy which proposes that consciousness permeates the entire universe. Known as panpsychism, this viewpoint believes that all things possess consciousness, including inanimate objects such as rocks, clouds, and even man-made instruments like thermostats. This philosophy has iterations in Ancient Greek, Hindu, and Native American thought, among others. It is not too hard to imagine other life forms like lower animals (insects, for instance), plants, and even individual human cells having some form of consciousness. Native Americans expressed panpsychism as a profound reverence for nature, whereby they believed that all natural objects possessed sentience – that they were alive in a real sense. Panpsychism, then, offers a solution to Einstein’s disbelief of perception-necessitates-existence by providing an omnipresent consciousness to act as the observer necessary to maintain a continuous localized universe.

The Yogic philosophy, particularly Advaita Vedanta, teaches that the entire universe is cradled in consciousness. Aligned with the modern scientific concepts of entropy and emergence, the yogic philosophy explains that consciousness requires order (negentropy) and harmony (syntropy), such that consciousness can only be expressed through vehicles of varied complex systems (emergence). Some of these systems are simple and have simple levels of consciousness, while other are more complex, like the human mind, and have a more refined form of consciousness. In other words, consciousness exists on a spectrum according to the system that is transmitting it.

But Advaita Vedanta takes things a step further by pointing out that what underlies even consciousness is awareness. So, while consciousness is responsible for all things physical and mental, those things themselves merely float like waves in the ocean of awareness (which engulfs consciousness, and its constructs, completely). This is an important concept to understand, as some real distinctions separate consciousness from awareness. According to the Yogic philosophy (among others), these differences are what separate the illusions of reality from the truth of actuality. For instance, it is consciousness which is responsible for the ego, or the sense of “I”-ness. Our conception of separateness from all other things in the universe begins with our sense of individuation, or our identification of being a distinct entity. Awareness, on the other hand, knows no distinction or individuation, but only wholeness and syntropy. To be separate from the rest of existence is an illusion, while a cohesive oneness with all things is the truth of actuality.

Both the conscious and unconscious minds exist in awareness, as well. They are not separate entities, despite their very monikers delineating the mind’s isolation of one from the other, while focusing conscious awareness on only half the equation. Nonetheless, what the yogis call awareness, or the Absolute, is the totality of all that is; it is what they describe as beyond existence. Nisargadatta Maharaj said of awareness, “It is the changeless reality itself.”

Consciousness - AwarenessThe ultimate message from all this is that there’s no real separation between us and the rest of our experience. We are literally one with the people in our lives and everyone we encounter –what we might call a form of quantum entanglement. We are also one with the world in which we walk, such that everything we perceive as being “out there” is actually a reflection of what we have inside us. So the statement, “We don’t see the world as it is; we see it as we are,” is a truth we would be wise to acknowledge, like the idealists and various interpreters of quantum physics had before us, that nothing exists outside of our perception. And thus, every experience we have is in actuality a dynamic in which we are a player along with other people, things, and experiences of the world. This is in stark contrast to the perception of an “individual acting within the external world” in which things simply “happen to us,” an illusion of conscious reality. When we shift our perceptual understanding in this way, pain and suffering which we experience from the vacillations of isolation/togetherness, winning/losing, successes/failures, pleasures/pains, and people coming/going ease away. We come to a certain knowingness of the importance that every person, thing and experience plays in the unfolding of our magnificent lives.

Consciousness really is at the heart of our worldly experience. And the life we create is a function of our consciousness in complete alignment with our underlying awareness (conscious and unconscious together as a whole). Meditation, as a tool, gives us an outlet for which to go beyond consciousness, beyond the “I,” and beyond ego attachment. It allows us to bring the unconscious and conscious into complete wholeness, the inseparable state of awareness. You will never fully understand the body, mind, or consciousness until you go beyond them into awareness. Know the source of all experience, which is in yourself, and you will find no question left unanswered. This is what leads to bliss.

Spiritual EvolutionThere is a purpose to life, even if the current materialist position is that there is not. The meaning of life is to grow, or to evolve, into a state where you love yourself and others completely. The fundamental biological principle is evolution. Every living thing does it. You are no exception. You are born into this world, and you die, but in between, you grow, you learn, you evolve, and in that growth, you come to see the world and its inhabitants differently. It may happen quickly, almost immediately for some – a few well-known Yogis come to mind – and it may take decades, but the longer you live the greater you will realize this truth.

Something that people do not realize is the very fact that they are living at all is truly a miracle. Think about the details: It takes one unique combination of gametes (eggs and sperm) to form you. Any other sperm reaching the one monthly released ootid (immature ovum) would lead to a different person genetically and morphologically. It just would not be you. So that alone is miraculous. But, additionally, the birthing process is no walk in the park. In the early 20th century out of every 1000 live births 100 ended in death of the child (and 6-9 women giving birth per 1000 also died). Now, as a result of many public health and medical measures, this has been reduced dramatically for infant (90%) and maternal deaths (~99%), but nonetheless child birthing has its dangers. Both mother and child are transformed during the process, both evolve, as Joseph Campbell so eloquently described:

“Everyone is a hero in birth, where he undergoes a tremendous psychological as well as physical transformation, from the condition of a little water creature living in a realm of amniotic fluid into an airbreathing mammal which ultimately will be standing. That’s an enormous transformation, and had it been consciously undertaken, it would have been, indeed a heroic act.”

Unconscious MindThen we move into life, first striving for independence, then to consume our desires and avoid our fears. We have beliefs and perceptions shaped by experience, which lodge into our memory, some as conscious recall, while others get buried deep into the hidden recesses of our mind. These hidden memories and experiences then sit in our subconscious minds, like little neurological software programs running underneath the conscious operating system, only to drive our behavior, or further perceptions, all completely unknown to our awareness. If you take the time to think about them, many of your reactive behaviors, emotions, and perceptual judgements are not really under your conscious understanding. You do not always know why you do what you do.

Our desires and fears are driven by passion – strong and barely controllable emotions. We want what we want and will do whatever it takes (at times) to achieve them (consume them). Many also often equally avoid their fears, pains, and traumatic challenges, without ever really knowing what caused these perceptions to begin with. And yet, we walk through life on an oscillating path of seeking pleasures and avoiding pains, all the while picking up more distorted perceptions of reality and bury quite a few that are simply too painful for us to process. And the cycle spins.

However, something happens to most people as they age. Each time they commit to self-reflection – through therapy or meditation/mindfulness or, for some, maybe even psychedelic substances – they begin to develop an awareness of mind. That is, they come to learn lessons from their experiences, both pleasureful and painful, and some may even gain deep insight into why they act, behave, think, react, or believe what they do. It is at these moments, especially when the experience involves another person (almost always), that a self-reflector may see him or herself in the other. They have that awareness of, “I do that!” These are usually “a-ha moments,” which catapult the self-reflector to the next level of understanding. When we comprehend that all the things we see in others – behaviors, traits, patterns, whatever – exist in us too, something miraculous happens: We develop true compassion.

Emotional Hurt - CompassionTo relate a personal story, on self-reflecting on a recent conflict I had with somebody very close to me, this awareness came like a flash of light – I have heard it called apperception. I immediately knew (not thought, knew) that I had done the same exact behavior myself in the past. So, naturally, my next question was: Why did I do said behavior? The answer became immediately clear: because I was hurt. Ah, I did the behavior because I was hurt…yes. And come to think of it, that is very likely the reason the other person did it. When I put that into perspective, I developed a whole new awareness around the conflict. I understood from where the person was coming. It was real compassion. I knew. I understood.

These moments in life lead to great spiritual growth – psychological, yes, behavioral, yes, but spiritual seems to capture the essence more completely. This is a magnificent evolution that a person goes through when they develop compassion by seeing themselves in others. The Yogis describe it as the seer, seeing, and seen all becoming one.

Spiritual Growth MetamorphosisWe can return to Joseph Campbell’s words now: “where [the hero] undergoes a tremendous psychological as well as physical transformation.” That is exactly what happens to all people when they have experiences of apperception, understanding, and evolution. We must ask ourselves the right questions. Sometimes we cannot get past the mind chatter of our emotions, and so we become passionate, maybe angry, maybe hurt. But in moments of clarity (and anybody who would love to learn how to flow through life with more clarity, please contact me), we often can, and do, see the truth: that we, our brothers, and sisters are all the same; we share every quality in existence with them. And this is the foundation of spiritual growth.

Every person gets better at accomplishing spiritual growth as they age. The longer one lives, the clearer this process becomes. We call it wisdom. When you have had enough pain, and enough conflict, and enough demanding to be right, you will ultimately come to a place of greater understanding – a more expansive awareness, if you will. It is as if when we evolve, we want more compassion, more understanding, and more connection with others. If you find yourself in this place, then I commend you on your growth. You will surely acknowledge that this process also cultivates compassion and love for ourselves. And your relationships likely thrive as a result. If you have not yet reached this place, do not worry, you will, to some degree, in time. If you would love assistance in speeding up this process, please contact me – I teach classes every month showing students how (I also give private consultations). Growth and evolution is the purpose of life – for all living things, and this includes you – to come to love yourself and others completely.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Nick Campos - All Rights Reserved.