What is consciousness exactly? You can be aware of something because of the existence of consciousness. Consciousness is that principle which allows you to have an experience. Without consciousness we can have no experiences at all. Life is experience, birth and death and everything.
Walking down the street is an experience, making love is an experience, listening to someone is an experience, singing is an experience, doing the dishes is an experience. Breaking your leg is an experience, having the flu is an experience, to be born is an experience, to give birth is an experience. Teething is an experience, to get a heart attack is an experience. A feeling is an experience, having a thought is an experience, to enjoy a memory is an experience, dying is an experience, a dream is an experience. Fear is an experience. Laughing and crying are experiences. Life is the sum total of our experiences.
Is an experience possible without consciousness? Can you imagine having an experience in the absence of consciousness? Without consciousness, are you experiencing anything? Consciousness is the basis for all experience. Take away consciousness, and the very life, the complete foundation of experience is taken away. To have an experience is always a two-sided phenomenon: on the one hand, there is consciousness, and on the other hand, there is the experience.
With any and all experience, consciousness is right there. The possibility of an experience is completely dependent on it. Without consciousness, experience cannot exist. No sensory perceptions, no emotions, no thoughts, no dreams. Without consciousness, we don't exist. It is a prerequisite for existence. Yet we are so caught up in living and the gala of experiences... we may never become aware that consciousness is our God, that there's no life without it. Without oxygen we can live just a few seconds, but without consciousness life is not possible in the first place. Existence would not be possible for even a millionth of a second.
Consciousness never changes, it is unchangeable. Though experience is nothing but change, consciousness is changeless. Experiences are always different from each other, but consciousness, the counterpart of all these experiences, never changes. Although all of our experiences are enormously diverse, consciousness is one and the same. Variances in experience, but unvarying consciousness.
We have the impression that consciousness changes, and that we lose and regain consciousness. But it's just our experiences that change, not consciousness. At times we can be sleepy, while at other times we are lucid and alert. But it is never the consciousness that changes, rather, it is the condition of the body and mind that changes. In other words, sometimes we can have an experience of sleepiness, but we can also have the experience of adrenaline and feel wide awake.
When we are asleep, there seems to be a gap in consciousness because there is a gap in experience! Our doors to experience, our body and mind, close for a few hours, until we start dreaming. During these few hours there is no experience, except a subtle sense of being. We usually do not remember that, but that's due to the limitations of memory, it does not mean that we didn't have this experience of being, of existing.
Waking up in the morning, we may say that we have slept really well! But how can we know? We can know because there was never a gap in consciousness: there was only a gap in vivid experiences. All we can possibly recall, is a sense of well-being. If you suddenly remember a dream, does that not mean that at the time of the dream you were aware of it? Though there are many memorylapses, there is never a gap in consciousness.
The same is true with so-called expanded or altered states of consciousness. Consciousness does not really expand. It is your mind that may expand, that can become more sensitive because you have taken certain drugs, or because you are in love. What we call an expansion of consciousness is really an expansion of experience. Consciousness remains unchanged. It is the experience that we have which is different, altered, or expanded. Consciousness is unchangeable, unmovable, and unalterable. Do you suddenly become less conscious when you close your eyes? No, but a whole world of visual experience has suddenly vanished. You do not become more conscious either by opening your eyes, but yes, there is certainly an expansion of experience.
Consciousness does not age. It never becomes old. We first have the experience of being a young human being, and then the experience of being an older human being, but consciousness never ages and never changes. As a baby, as a child the same consciousness functions that functions for the adult or for a man of age. Yes, being a child or a teenager is certainly a different experience from being an 84-year-old, but the difference is in experience, not in consciousness. Thoughts change, feelings change, and our bodies change completely. Our health changes, and even our mental health and capacities can change drastically. Yet consciousness is unaffected: it is changeless in its nature.
Consciousness has no boundaries. It has no confines. It has no outer limits like space. Though the universe still expands, it is a closed space, it has outer limits. Consciousness is open space, it is open consciousness, it is not confined. It is boundless in its nature. Our minds are not capable of imagining boundless space. We run into the limitations of our mind trying to do so, and it can be shocking to conceive of consciousness as having no boundaries. But the limitations of the mind are not the limits of consciousness!
Consciousness is not situated somewhere within the body, it's the other way around: the body is situated within consciousness. This paradigm-shift abandons the idea that consciousness resides within the body and embraces the idea of the body residing in consciousness.
Scientists have not been able to locate consciousness anywhere within the brain, which has prompted them to think of consciousness as an epiphenomenon of existence. This is the idea that consciousness does not really exist, but only seems to exist as a consequence of being alive. Nobody though, not even the scientists, can deny that they are conscious! But trying to locate consciousness in the body has been a futile effort. How can something which is boundless, be found anywhere? As soon as something has a perimeter we can point it out, find it, and locate it. With consciousness it is not possible. The body can be located in consciousness, not the other way around. This is some paradigm-shift!
It looks as if we have a separate consciousness because the body is providing us with individual experiences. The body gives us an individual perspective. This seems to place consciousness somewhere within the body, or within the brain, as if the body is carrying consciousness around. The illusion is that we must be able to locate consciousness somewhere within the brain. Consciousness cannot be found anywhere, but our experiences are always related to the body and brain.
Whatever we can experience is limited to what our bodies and brains can experience, these limits do not exist because of consciousness. The brain-body is an opening, a door to certain experiences. Just what we experience depends on our bodies: a blind man does not have visual experiences. It's the body's sensations, the brain's thoughts, and the heart's emotions that we experience. When the body dies, it closes as a door to experience.
To believe that consciousness is ultimately a function of the human being, that it is created by the human brain, is a very anthropocentric thought. It is like believing that the earth is the center of the universe, or that the sun moves around the earth. It is believing that the human being is what existence was built around. This paradigm-shift takes us away from the human being to an understanding of consciousness as such.
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Principles and Paradigms
» 4. Consciousness
Human Nature: Intelligence
- Experience and Consciousness
Life's First Principle
5. Alive Silence