I sat looking out over the ocean this crisp morning. I had finished my morning routine of yoga, calligraphy in the sand and tai chi, so I could just sit in the sand and let my mind think on itself. What stood out today was how deeply consciousness is separate from thinking. This may be a radical view. Indeed, many define consciousness as thinking, which implies that non-human animals are not conscious. That’s crazy!
First, to review:
Consciousness is the foundation of intuitive knowing for all animals. Chapter 71’s, To know yet to think that one does not know is best is important because it indicates a distinction between knowing and thinking. We tend to feel our thoughts are more important than our consciousness (1), and thus end up erroneously believing what we think is true and real. We wind up taking consciousness, the source, for granted.
Plain consciousness is impartial and unexciting. In contrast, there is nothing boring about feeling certain that our thoughts and judgments are true and reliable. As it happens, our emotions are giving us this subjective sense of truth and certainty. The stronger the emotion, the wider the gulf between what we think is real, and what is truly real. Emotion produces an illusion of truth, so to speak.
Survival instincts lay at the foundation of consciousness and from there direct thought. In particular, emotion steers the direction our thoughts take, and consciousness provides the space for thoughts to play out. When circumstances trigger emotions, our thoughts mirror those ruffled emotional feathers and invite us to dwell on the event. These thoughts then re-stimulate emotion and often set off a vicious circle, i.e., thought ð emotion ð thought ð emotion, etc. We maintain the stressful emotional imbalance long after the stimulus that ignited the initial emotion ends. (See What are the roots of thought?, p.602).
Time versus the timeless now
Future, present and past are figments of imagination. We think these are real because we think what we think is real. I see ‘time’ as simply a timeless continuum of consciousness. Past, present and future are but projections of emotion, particularly our desires and worries, which gives us the illusion of time we experience. The clocks and calendars of civilization only reinforce that illusion and separate us further from what, without mind chatter, feels like a timeless now. As chapter 56 hints, This is known as mysterious sameness.
(1) Observing the birds on the beach helps me escape the trap of thinking. I imagine that is one of the prime benefits, besides companionship, that pet owners enjoy. For some reason I especially love that little long beaked bird. One of its kind is always there poking around in the sand looking for food.
That was a good article. It inspires me to say more about this, tho heaven knows I’ve said enough. Still, breaking language’s hold on perception is a delightfully challenge, so here I go…
You might find this article interesting:
“Does Your Language Shape How You Think?”
Elio, thank you for saying that! I see what you mean. Yet, it seemed so coherent yesterday. One motivation for my writing here is the challenge of writing clear enough to be understood. I reworked it some… hopefully for the better!
Give Chan a little tummy rub from me.
Lynn, you probably understand this post better because of all our previous exchanges, eh? You’ve come to know my mind’s idiosyncrasies. That is what makes writing so difficult; perceiving how another will perceive it.
I like your ‘sky’ metaphor. Mine would be darker, maybe the night sky with thoughts being the meteors that flit by. Also, I’d place emotion along side thinking in the foreground.
it’s hard for me to undestand what you says… but …
…. Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form.
Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form.
So, too, are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness. (The Heart Sutra)
so, the focal point is always only one: the mind.
I have a cat … chan is its name and it is my zen master.
When I am in presence of my zen master, I can see the difference between my mind and its mind.
In every moment, the chan’s mind is always full and empty: as a bottle without bottom.
So, If I put some water in its bottle-mind, then I see the water enters in chan’s mind and immediatly exits.
I see the water to pass through the bottle-mind of chan and goes away from the bottom … the bottle-mind of chan is full and empty in every moment.
This is the difference … I have a bottle with the bottom.
I am very lucky to have chan: a great zen master.
Lynn Cornish says
Consciousness is like the sky; thinking is like a bird flying through it. Consciousness is the background; thinking is the (sometimes very busy) foreground. If I were to paint consciousness, it would either be done in an instant or it would take an eternity.
I feel less nuts now. Thanks.