THE SECRET OF CONSCIOUSNESS

During the winter months, I take the goldfish from my outdoor pond and bring them to a large fish tank in the basement.  I didn’t dig the pond deep enough to be able to leave them out over the winter.  As I watch them swim around I wonder if they are aware of the medium of water they are swimming in.  The water supports them, protects them and allows them to move.

We are also moving within a dense medium – air.  While we can’t see it, the pressure of the air around us is over fifteen pounds per square inch.  Several miles of air above us press down on the air around us, making the air at sea level very dense.

Yet we are not usually aware of air unless it is a windy day.  Then we can feel the air on our skins and can see dead leaves and trash flying around.  We are aware of the effects of air even if we are not directly aware of the air itself. 

Without an atmosphere life could not exist.  Without water, fish would suffocate, dry out and die.  There is another medium which is equally as vital to life as air and water and equally as hard to see.  This is the medium of consciousness.  While most people can’t perceive consciousness directly we can see its effects.  In fact, everything we are aware of is the effect of the medium of consciousness. 

I am writing this subject as this week’s lessons for an important reason.  Many people have told me that they are seeking spiritual development or self awareness or some kind of inner training.   There is a tendency in modern times to think that there is some trick or secret to be learned that will immediately lead to enlightenment or spiritual awareness.  So they repeat phrases to themselves or listen to motivational speakers repeat various clichés.  If they only hear the right phrase or repeat the right magical spell, they will be transformed. 

My take on this is that any kind of training must begin with the awareness of the medium you exist in, the mechanism that you are as a human being and how this mechanism has been designed to work in the medium.  Fish have fins so that they can swim in water.  They are not just decorations someone placed on them.  Animals have muscles and bones so they can use leverage to work with the force of gravity, which is another medium.  Reptiles developed a thick scaled skin to avoid drying out in the medium of air.

We can understand how our bodies have evolved to work within various mediums.  To understand our minds, emotions and other inner aspects of being human, we need to understand the other mediums in which we exist. 

We can know consciousness by the dynamics of our attention.  I have discussed this in other lessons.  I believe that there is no secret phrase or idea we can think about that will lead to a significant transformation of our lives.  But awareness of how our minds, emotions and other “inner” parts are designed to work in the medium of consciousness can’t help but to restore our full potential and vitality.

One of the Chinese Zen (Chan) masters witnessed a group of Buddhists arguing about a waving flag.  Some of the Buddhists said that the flag was waving.  Others said that it was actually the wind that was waving.  The Zen master told them that it was their minds that were waving. 

The wind and the flag show how you can perceive an invisible force by watching a visible objects reaction to that force.  The force was the movement of the air.  In the same way the movement of the flag created an effect on the minds of the Buddhists.  The thinking mind and the consciousness are in the same relationship as the flag and the wind. 

If you were to see a flag moving but didn’t know about the wind you would wonder, “Why is the flag moving?”  In the same way, my first koan (Zen question) as a child was, “Why does one thought follow another in a particular pattern?”  To understand this you need to understand the relationship between thinking and consciousness.  They are not the same. 

The movement of consciousness does not necessarily have to result in thinking.  It can lead to the movement of chi (internal energy).  It is said that consciousness leads, the internal energy follows and the body then follows that.  The saying actually is translated as “mind leads” but this mind does not mean thinking.  It refers to attention itself.  I use the term “attention” very often in my writings instead of “consciousness”.

Our attention is often ripped and pulled this way and that by the influences around us, like the wind waving the flag.  When we are seeking spiritual development, or whatever glorious phrase is used, we are usually trying to bring our attention more under our creative control.  We want our creativity to be more of an influence over our attention than the external forces such as advertisers or peer pressure. 

So spiritual development is really about perfecting the relationship of creativity and attention.  In Taoist philosophy creativity is referred to as the “Yang” force and attention as the “Yin” force.  Creativity is active; it is the shaper.  Attention is passive; it is the substance, the medium that is shaped.

What we are trying to discover in our training, is: to what extent is what we perceive a result of what is actually there and to what extent is it a result of how our attention is shaped and affected by the forces around us.  We are trying to get a clear picture of our lives and the world around us. 

Telescopes are placed high on mountaintops because the atmosphere interferes with the light coming into the telescopes.  This light is distorted by the miles of compacted air which is usually in a state of turbulence.  The higher up you go, the less air and the less distortion.

That is why silent meditation is part of any spiritual practice.  The thinking mind is like the miles of air.  It is usually in a state of movement which distorts your perception of the world around you. The key is to see things as they really are.

Then you can work on your forms, your push hands or, in other systems, on your rituals and really know what you are doing.  You can do your healing such as Tai-chi Massage and really see the problems within your patient about how his creativity and attention interact and how that interaction affects the body.  When these factors become clearly visible, then you can easily see how to use the techniques you have learned to correct those problems. 

There is another saying that if you put a frog into hot water it will jump out.  But if you put it into room temperature water then slowly heat the water up, the frog will not notice the slow increase and will eventually get boiled.  We are in a similar situation.  We cannot see how the influences around us control our thinking minds, how this affects or interferes with the dynamics of our attention and how that degrades the body.  Our whole system gradually degrades until we are in a sorry mess.  The solution is to become aware of this whole process.

One of the reasons I love Tai-chi and Zookinesis so much is that it so clearly explains this whole process and gives you a clearly defined, step by step process to use for your training.  There is no mysteriousness.  Yet there is an appreciation for the process and an awe of the process.  It is similar to a car fanatic who loves his cars and knows every detail about how they work.  He will spend an enormous amount of time repairing and improving his cars while people like me would rather just send it to a mechanic and only if it really needs fixing.

This winter solstice is unusual.  It is also the time of the new moon.  The mythological significance of this is that now we look forward to both an ever increasing length of day and an ever increasing brightness of the moon.  This is considered to be the best time to work on any practice that gives you greater awareness (light).  That is the way ancient people understood things.  Our inner world should be in harmony with the dynamics of nature around us.  If we can see, understand and predict the patterns of nature, we will then know when to plant, when to harvest, etc.

If we can see and understand the forces “inside” of us, then our training will be more effective.  Rather than just making the mind more “windy” by repeating clichés to ourselves or trying to discover the “correct” ideas, we can quiet down the wind and perceive our basic nature and how our nature is designed to work in the medium of consciousness.

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