About twenty years ago I noticed something about my mind that seemed extraordinarily important to me for spiritual seekers, but to my surprise I couldn’t find more than partial mentions of it in spiritual literature.
After reading and skimming many books over a period of about five years, I managed to find partial mentions in three places, two of which are pretty obscure: a book chapter by Buddhist psychologist Susan Blackmore; a few pages in a book by P.D. Ouspensky; and a paragraph in a book by Anadi (Krzysztof Jerzy Strzelecki).
(Brian, if you’re here, this is what got me interested in Anadi.)
I probably failed to look in the right places, and I probably overlooked discussions of this phenomenon because I misunderstood them, but I spent a lot of time looking and that’s all I found. I kept thinking, “This should be better known. Somebody should describe this in writing and publish it. Since I can’t find any such descriptions I should write one myself and put it on the Internet.”
But I was reluctant to do this because I didn’t consider myself to be an expert on spiritual matters. (I still don’t but I’ve grown less cautious about publishing.)
I kept thinking these thoughts for about five years and then finally I wrote the article. By that time I had been publishing realization.org for seven years but I didn’t feel comfortable putting my opinions there so I created a new website, this one, and put the new article here. For the next eight years it was the only article on this site. It’s still on the home page. I now realize that the article is wrong or seriously incomplete in at least one significant way but I haven’t bothered to revise it because as a practical matter, it’s very helpful to seekers in its current form. Its flaws don’t interfere with its usefulness.
Here’s what I noticed twenty years ago. There are four main points:
- In my normal, ordinary waking state I’m unconscious because I’m lost in thought. In that state I don’t even know the thoughts I’m thinking. I’m so unconscious that I know my thoughts only in retrospect. This has been my state in almost every waking moment during my entire life until now.
- I occasionally snap out of that lost-in-thought state spontaneously for a very brief time and enter what I called “the aware state” in the article. It’s only when that happens and I become conscious that I realize by contrast that my normal state is one of unconsciousness. If I hadn’t noticed this alternate state which serves as a basis of comparison, I would never have known that I am usually unconscious. This is why people are zombies and they don’t know it. I had been a zombie my whole life.
- It’s possible to learn to enter the aware state voluntarily. I suggested a method in my article and Susan Blackmore described a simpler one in her book. (I now realize that Gurdjieff’s “stopping exercises” were probably designed to produce this effect.)
- Saying that there are two states, a “lost in thought state” and an “aware state”, is an oversimplification. Actually there is a continuum. In other words, our sense of being conscious is really a matter of degree, like with temperature: there isn’t only hot and cold, there are also many temperatures in between. At one end of the continuum we are practically unconscious. At the other end we are extremely conscious.
One of these days I’ll update those observations. But today I just want to show you a satsang video that I stumbled across a few years ago in which one of Francis Lucille’s students describes most of what I just said and asks Lucille’s opinion. I was startled when I ran across this video because the student reminds me so much of myself. He has noticed exactly what I noticed and like me, he thinks it’s extremely important. In twenty years, this is the only video or book I’ve run across that gives me this impression.
(The student uses different words and concepts than I did to describe the phenomenon, but he is describing the same thing. This is a good opportunity to practice looking beyond words and concepts to that which they describe, which is an extremely valuable intellectual ability.)
Lucille’s reaction: Both those states are mental phenomena. They are not a direct experience of Brahman. He uses different terminology — at one point he calls Brahman “the receiver in chief” — but that’s what he means. However he thinks the gap (his word for something closely related to the “snapping out” that I described in point 2 above) is significant for a different reason than the one I gave.
This is an extremely meaty conversation and well worth listening to until the end. Some of it may seem overly intellectual but it’s not all like that.