In the preface to his book, Wider than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness, Nobel laureate and neuroscientist Gerald M Edelman says, "Consciousness is the guarantor of all we hold to be human and precious, its permanent loss is considered equivalent to death, even if the body persists in its vital signs."
These words open out the vast, illimitable field of consciousness -- from the fact that the loss of it amounts to death to the fact that it is what makes us human; we are conscious, after all, in a way that no other animal is.
A number of approaches have emerged in consciousness studies which attempt to connect us to the essential understanding of consciousness. But a little contemplation makes it clear that without a subjective-intuitive understanding of consciousness, an external-objective study of it is incomplete. It does not resolve the riddle of consciousness. Nor does it resolve the multifarious problems we remain caught in, which an understanding - or more aptly, an illumination-- of consciousness can help resolve.
Without a subjective-intuitive understanding of consciousness, an external-objective study of it is incomplete. It does not resolve the riddle of consciousness.
To begin with, the very expression, 'understanding consciousness' is a contradiction in terms. First of all, understanding happens 'with' and 'in' consciousness. If one is 'unconscious' or ' not conscious' no understanding can happen. Moreover true understanding happens in consciousness. For example when we truly understand somebody's problem, what it means to be them in their situation, when we truly empathise, that lighting up of understanding is a true movement of consciousness. It's an opening in consciousness or a growth of consciousness. It's an essentially subjective movement and growth but it does leave its impact on the world around. Science might attempt to catch up with it from outside and objectively. But where do the science and spirituality of consciousness meet and depart?
Let us see it here and now. When we have a feeling, neuroscience can explain it to us in terms of the activity of neurons in our brain. Thus when we feel love, neuroscience can describe the neuronal activity in our brain though we feel love happening somewhere deep in our consciousness. If it's sensuous love its impact is felt all through the body. The physiological part of this feeling can be scientifically described but the conscious feeling of love still defies scientific explanation. This has been famously described as "the hard problem of consciousness" by the Australian philosopher, David Chalmers. But an intuitive understanding of consciousness helps us recognize the movement of love as an impulse, a feeling or a deep emotion or a movement of pure consciousness (the last experienced as pure selfless love). All these must have their neuronal equivalent in our brain and the larger nervous system and can be described in those terms, but the feeling of love as it lights up within as a flash of impulse, a feeling of pleasure, a movement of delight is still beyond scientific explanation.
Our capability to be conscious of being conscious opens out the doorway to infinite possibilities in human life.
Elderman further specifies the human capability of being conscious of being conscious. In fact it is this capability 'to be conscious of being conscious' that enables us to study consciousness. Without this capability we would simply not be able to turn the focus of our conscious attention to our own self and consciousness.
Our capability to be conscious of being conscious opens out the doorway to infinite possibilities in human life. It imparts us the potential to redirect our attention in desired directions. With this potential at our disposal we can focus our attention on any subject or object and enter into its essential depths. Indeed, we can refine and elevate this potential to the level of pure and total self awareness where the whole gamut of our consciousness is revealed, taking us to the heights of our spiritual possibilities.
In fact, both these movements in our consciousness are necessary for our progress. Without the power to focus the rays of our attention (which we call 'concentration') we would not be able to penetrate the heart of any subject/ object of study. Similarly, without the power of pure awareness we would not be able to be cognizant of the twists and turns that our egoic self takes within our own consciousness.
Another important question which consciousness studies raises is whether consciousness is efficacious. In science the issue is as yet unsettled but as we enter into the higher possibilities of consciousness as a spiritual practice, explore and evolve them, consciousness gains efficacy. This is what most but not necessarily all practitioners of yoga and meditation discover. It depends on the nature of the yoga one pursues.
But the one great spiritual secret, in which we can found all our knowledge and practice, is that we need to grow more aware of how our consciousness flows in the four most important dimensions of our life -- our relationships, processes, performance and products. We need to grow in greater awareness that
● To live is to relate and be related...
● To live is to have our energies flow in certain processes...
● To live is 'to be' as well as 'to become' -- and 'to become' is 'to build up' which involves processes culminating in performance and products...
As we grow up we learn to relate not only to our near and dear ones but also to the larger world, not only humans but to larger life. How do we relate to the life and world around us either entangles and inhibits or disentangles and delivers our consciousness. Often our relationships get stuck in certain images and memories. It is here that 'being and staying aware' comes to our help. This is the great power which emanates from our capability 'to be conscious of being conscious'. It has the power to purge our relationships of all inhibitions like prejudice, malice, hatred.
Often our relationships get stuck in certain images and memories. It is here that 'being and staying aware' comes to our help.
'Process' is a wonderful term that has multiple implications as it finds multiple applications in varied fields of life and knowledge. But most, if not all, processes have the potential for growth and refinement. Even where we don't see room for growth or refinement, often the hurdle lies in our way of looking at it rather than the process itself. This implies that we can bring in more consciousness in most of them and make them more innovative and productive. 'Performance' equally is as potent a term as process. In a consciousness perspective we can more clearly see how the two are deeply connected, how processes grow or build up into performance and products.
The Kenopanishad lays emphasis on being aware of:
● The way of perception rather than the instrumentation of perception.
● The way of contemplation rather than the instrumentation of contemplation.
By implication, our inner processes of perception and thought, the way we relate to the world around, go a long way into what builds up as performance and products.
Thus with our capability 'to be conscious of being conscious' we can not only grow in awareness of how our consciousness flows in relationships and processes but also infuse more positive consciousness into them which is sure to lead to brighter performance and more creativity in products. This is also the surest way to lead to an illumined management and an enlightened leadership.
It is thus, in a spiritual light, that we can better understand Edelman's statement that "consciousness is the guarantor of all we hold to be human and precious."