How to Be Free
Author: Joe Blow

Chapter 21
What is Consciousness?

We experience our lives. We think our thoughts. We have our feelings. But what or who is the “we” that experiences these things?

We have a body. We have a mind. We have an ego structure or personality. These give structure to our experience. They are media through which we experience.

We might think of these aspects of ourselves as a musical instrument. But what is the nature of the music itself?

Thinking is the construction and manipulation of patterns of information. But, we can stop thinking (i.e. stop processing or manipulating information) and still be conscious. This is what the discipline of meditation is all about.

Nor are the five senses necessary to consciousness. Even if we were to remove our ability to see, hear, taste, feel or smell, we would still be aware of the fact that we existed. We might know we existed because of our thought processes, but, once again, we could cease to think and still be aware of raw, unstructured, unmediated consciousness.

So what is this consciousness?

Thought takes place through the communication of information through the synapses in our brain. And physical awareness is possible because of the transmission of information through the nervous system generally. These are the conduits for our consciousness - they give it its shape - but what is it that is travelling through these conduits?

The answer is energy - the raw stuff of the universe.

Now we have to take a massive, seemingly insane leap and ask “What if energy itself is conscious? What if our consciousness, our awareness, the raw stuff of our experience, is nothing more than energy’s awareness of its own existence?”

This may seem like madness, but if we take some time to consider it, we will find that :

a. We can’t disprove it. We can’t prove that unstructured energy or inanimate objects have no awareness. We can observe that these things do not act like living organisms. But that proves nothing. Even with living beings, behaviour can give us clues about the experience or awareness of the being, but we don’t know what consciousness looks like, even if it looks like anything at all. So we have no reliable way of detecting it.

b. If we accept the concept that consciousness is energy’s self-awareness as a provisional hypothesis we can see that some otherwise inexplicable phenomena actually begin to make some kind of sense.

First it is important to understand what is not being suggested here, which is that energy or inanimate objects have thoughts or feelings. Thoughts and feelings are structured forms of consciousness which are most likely restricted to living things, as they are dependent on some kind of nervous system. But what flows through these structures is energy.

We have emotions. The word contains the word “motion” because emotions are characterised by flow. When we feel an emotion it is the sensation of energy moving through the structure of our ego in some way. In anger, the energy explodes through cracks in the armour of the ego structure or threatens to do so. We feel it simmering. In sorrow we feel emotion flowing through us perhaps expressed through sobs and tears. We feel pain when the free flow of energy in our body is hampered by damage of some kind.

The phenomenon of orgasm is a good way of looking at the nature of our consciousness. While, for the male, the ejaculation of seminal fluid is not always accompanied by the ecstatic experience we think of as characterising the orgasm, nevertheless, we know what we mean by the orgasmic experience. How does this happen? What makes this bodily experience so appealing to us. It is not simply the expelling of a bodily substance. That happens when we sneeze or take a shit. We might be relieved but we do not have a heavenly experience.

Wilhelm Reich, who developed the concepts of body armour and character armour, found that these forms of armouring may be temporarily broken down by the bodily experience of orgasm. This allows energy to flow far more freely in the body for a brief period of time.

So we see that the emotional or bodily experience which allows for our most intense experiences of bliss is one in which energy flows freely through our body, and that pain accompanies the hindering of that flow, by disease or injury or armouring.

Remember when you were a young child and you felt blissfully happy running through an open field? Why? You were just running. It was just a field. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that you felt free. You weren’t hemmed in or frustrated. You were energy expressing the nature of energy.

But this doesn’t mean that we want freedom from structure altogether. We want to feel energy flow freely through our bodies, but we don’t want to spontaneously combust. Creativity occurs when the free flow of information or energy finds a form which makes possible something which didn’t previously exist. So the healthy growth of individuals and societies is what feels best to them. The system of organisation of the individual or society is not oppressive in itself, but only becomes so if it is faulty in some way.

When we feel motivated or creative we say that we are filled with enthusiasm. What do we mean by “enthusiasm”? The literal meaning of the term is “the god within”. Since our concept of God is a personification that we place upon the creative principle of the universe - energy and its intrinsic potential for orderly creative organisation - then we can see that the enthusiasm or spirit or soul which lives within us and is the very substance of our experience - is “God” operating through us. And this “God” is essentially self-aware energy. We are “God”.

Because, in our armoured state, we are so used to thinking of ourselves as isolated, largely unconnected entities, this is bound to seem a crazy idea. But if we think of ourselves as robots all plugged into the same power supply it may make more sense. Also we might think of somebody suffering from multiple personality disorder. They are physically one person, and they began with one personality, but once that personality has split, each new personality experiences itself as different and generally in conflict with the others. Of course we don’t share a single body, but the deeper we go into ourselves the more we discover that our concept of our self as separate is an illusion.

Love is the awareness of the connectedness between us. In essence love is a form of communication. Most of the time we are shut up within our armour, but, when we feel less vulnerable and drop our armour to some extent, we feel the pull of our oneness, the pull towards the unification of the whole. The reason we think of love in terms of specific relationships - parent and child or in a romantic relationship or marriage - is because these are special situations in which we either feel relaxed enough to drop our armour or feel the need or appropriateness of doing so, as in the case of caring for a child. But we can feel love for anyone if we drop our armour and doing so is a powerful encouragement for them to do likewise. Now that we can understand these things, armour will fast become a thing of the past and we will discover that the bliss of love which we only tasted infrequently before will become the very essence of our day to day experience.

We can also understand now our concepts about life after death. Fear of death is essentially fear that the ego is impermanent. Our ego is our concept of who we are. In the armoured state, we feel very anxious, because our ego structure is fragile. And we know that it will not last forever. At some point our body will die.

First we have to understand that the ego does not necessarily survive until we die. We can suffer a nervous breakdown followed by reintegration of parts of our character or change the whole orientation of our ego - for instance in the case of some people who become born again to a religion - and thus we are not really the same people as we were even though we haven’t yet died. The same could be said about someone whose personality changes due to a painful illness or dementia. The ego is, by its nature, impermanent.

But, even if our ego survives to physical death, it won’t survive beyond it. With the body goes any remnants of the structure which made us who we are.

However, if the essence of our consciousness lies in energy and its experience of its flow, then we can see that the essence of existence will remain. Energy can never be destroy virtually by definition. Only the structures within which the energy flows can be destroyed. So the concept put forward by some mystics that death means the merging of our consciousness with the universe seems valid.

We can see that the concept of self-aware energy animating our existence is compatible with the concept of the soul.

A couple of distinctions have to be made here though. Some see the soul as being specific to the person and surviving the death of the person in a separate form. If we are going to call the self-aware energy of the universe “the soul”, then we have to acknowledge that it is a collective soul. What makes us separate entities is the experience of physical containment in the body and, more importantly, our armouring, which is an accumulation of emotional scars.

Even the very concept of ourselves as a separate continuing thing is an illusion. We are a pattern through which flows an ever changing assortment of matter and the energy of the universe taken in through the food we eat, the light of the sun, heat, etc., etc. We are always in flux. And the pattern survives only as long as it is viable.

It is also very important to distinguish between the soul and the conscience. The soul has no morality. A serial killer is an expression of the soul just as much as a saint. The creative process of the universe is an improvisation. There are inherent potentials which manifest themselves, but there is no overreaching intelligence to guide the process. Some paths lead on to bigger and healthier subsystems, and others are dead ends. We can see this in evolution. Some sea creature walked onto land and it was a success. The full potential of life on land was unleashed. But the dinosaurs proved to be a dead end.

The same self-aware energy is the motivating force behind the successes and the failures. Thus those who enacted the Holocaust were full of genuine enthusiasm, but it was misdirected by their armouring into mass slaughter.

When it comes to how we act, we are influenced by a number of factors :

1. All else being equal we will avoid behaviour which causes us pain and pursue behaviour which makes us feel pleasure.

2. We may also allow reason to effect our behaviour. We may choose a course of action which involves pain if we reason that it confers an advantage for us in the long run.

3. In the armoured (i.e. divided) state, we may feel compelled to behave in a way which will allow us to not be rejected or otherwise badly treated by others. This is a form of avoidance of pain, but it becomes complex as we trade off different kinds of pain against each other.

4. Our conscience may influence our behaviour by making us feel guilty if we behave in a particular way. The conscience is a part of the ego - a part of our armouring - in which we store our expectations about ourselves. These are imparted to us socially and laid down as a part of the deeper structure of our personality. It may consist of codes of behaviour taught to us by our parents or our teachers and can incorporate ideas absorbed later in life from others if those ideas mesh in some way with what has already been laid down.

All of these ways of choosing our behaviour carry with them their own flaws and limitations. The first is very short term decision-making. Eating sweets may give me pleasure, but if I don’t moderate that in the light of knowledge of the physical effects I’ll make myself sick. The second is a very good approach but it is limited by our current understanding of the situation and may in some cases be too slow, as we can’t always gather all the facts before making a decision. The long-term effectiveness of the third would depend on whether the majority were going in the most potentially successful direction. This may be the case after a problem has been solved, but if there is a major problem it is usually because the majority are going in the wrong direction. Also, it is fear-driven, and being intimidated into a course of action contaminates the health of the system. The fourth is once again effected by the accuracy of the absorbed ideas, but also, because the system is guilt-driven, it discourages rational examination of those ideas and being correction through intimidation leads to an unhealthy system.

Now we have the advantage of being able to integrate aspects of each approach into something which works more effectively. We are still going to want to seek pleasure and avoid pain. If these new ways of understanding ourselves and the universe are well-founded they will make it much easier for us to use reason as a guiding force in our behaviour. And we will be guided by others (although aware that at base we are all one), but only in the spirit of co-operation, and not through any sense of fear. And we will carry with us ideas about how to chose the kind of behaviour which is in the long-term interests of ourselves and the system of which we are a part but without any form of emotional oppression.

 

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