There and Back Again

The chief purpose of the conscious mind is the focusing of its contents. The common wandering of the mind’s thoughts may call into question this declared purpose, and yet we are familiar with the expression of ‘having a sharp mind’, and the relationship between something being sharp and something being focused is illustrated by the focusing of the sunlight into a lens of a magnifying glass, which then is capable of cutting into various kinds of material. Additionally, a balloon is more easy to pop when it is placed against one sharp point, and surprisingly more difficult when pressed against a bed of sharp nails; the reason for this is the concentration of pressure upon a single point as compared to several. If a knife is not sharp, it is not a proper knife; if a mind does not focus, it is not a proper mind.

That’s all well and good, and the preceding ruminations are not novel. But perhaps something interesting could be made of this faculty of the mind when connecting it to its fluctuating states of perception. As everyone knows, the mind is not always alert to external circumstances. It withdraws when bodily activity is suspended during sleep. We also see that the mind is wound up and affected by the various states of the body, so that it is apparently some kind of product of bodily existence, or if not, profoundly influenced by the body when in rapport with it.  This fluctuation spans an entire spectrum of states of which the waking bodily state is a part, but by no means the entirety. In order to connect this fluctuating procession of the mind to its ability to focus, let us liken the mind to a sort of muscle that can be exercised and made compact, and thus capable of outstanding feats of mental wherewithal.

The ability of other muscles are measured by their facility to move corresponding physical objects. The measure of the mind, however, is not totally evaluated by its ability to communicate motion throughout the the body, although this faculty is going to play a role in the proceeding analysis.  Remember the opening statement of this entry; we are looking at the purpose of the CONSCIOUS mind, which is focus;  the coordination of the mind when impelling the body is mostly an unconscious and automatic affair.  Therefore, we will take a cue from other forms of physical exercise, and isolate the target so as to study its specific behavior and thus develop a special exercise tailored to it.

This necessary separation of the conscious activity from unconscious processes entails a suggestion of the exercise involved. If other muscles are measured by their ability to overcome the inertia of corresponding objects through concentrated effort, and if the mind is a kind of muscle, it must have its own corresponding object of inertia. At this point, some of you might be unable to abate your irritation at the author’s insistence on comparing the mind to a muscle, as if it not being a literal muscle actually made a difference one way or the other. The brain is not a muscle, if by mind we mean brain. There is, however,  a similar ability of the brain to develop and redevelop known as neuro-plasticity.

The limits of this are not precisely known; an excellent example of recent scientific research of neuro-plasticity is the ability of blind people to locate objects using echolocation, which apparently stimulates brain regions typically devoted to vision rather than hearing in both early and late blind echolocaters. You can peruse the term and scholarly papers appended to it.  Now then, there is a corresponding object of inertia for the mind to overcome in the exercise of its ability to focus. This object is none other than the very object it impels,  the body apart from conscious volition of the ego. The exercise is not however, as aforementioned, measured by the mere moving of the body.

Ordinarily, the object to be moved in the exercise is engaged, and either pushed or pulled. Something of the same situation is involved in our exercise, but not quite. Since the body is in some kind of rapport with the mind – and possible the only origin of the mind, depending on who you ask – physical exercise has some bearing, just as breathing exercises are involved in meditation. Both physical exercise and meditation can stimulate various pro-biolgical processes as well as deter unwanted defects mentally and physically. But to admit this is not the same as equating them to the specially formulated exercise of our inquiry, although meditation deserves something of a nuanced admission; the problem here is the general ignorance of the exact science of this technique.

To summarize: The issue we are examining is the ability of the mind to focus, the relationship the body has with this ability, and the fluctuation of mental states as it ranges the spectrum of unconsciousness and consciousness. While the mind may or may not be identical to the body, in terms of how we relate to the body consciously, it is as if we are somehow apart from it in our self-awareness and thus able to control it. Whether this is just a way of conceiving the relationship or an accurate portrayal is interesting, but in either case it is how we relate to the unconscious aspect of our organism. Therefore, for the purposes of simplification, we will use this as a tool for further examination, and envision our conscious subjective experience as a light that reflects upon an unconscious objective surface; we will treat the mind as conscious and the body as unconscious. Finally, by using this conceptual tool as a means of directing our focus, we can reach a definite exercise to measure the ability of our focusing apparatus and even try to enhance it.

The mind’s ability to focus is measured by its ability to overcome the density of this very inertia of the unconscious body, which experientially suggests a separation of one from the other. Therefore, we will endeavor to sharpen this distinction by focusing away from the body,  retaining awareness as the suspension of the body precipitates its reversion into innate unconsciousness. At first glance, this may sound like a foray into lucid dreaming. Indeed, lucid dreamers have more front-cortical activity, the seat of memory and logic, during sleep; something ordinary dreamers do not possess. But to wallow in whatever vivid mental states that may arise is secondary to the primary goal, which is of course retaining focus independent of objects apart – virtually or existentially – from this nucleus of focused awareness.

Just as the body is constantly assumed as being object for a subject even in the staunchest of atheists, the same element of distinction is fundamental to anything that appears apart from the nucleus of our awareness, be it the body itself, something beyond the body, or even objects distinct from our nuclear awareness in non-ordinary states. The discipline is the same, the exercise of focused awareness, not upon the objects presented without, but to see these objects as the very things to be resisted, just as a muscle acts against the weight of an object.  The true object of focus is always the same in each and every gradual perceptual change; the very source of intellection. The idea is that the mind reflects an interior object – its identity – similarly distinct from it as the objects without, and that this is its proper goal, intimately contacted by the  eliciting of  sharper and sharper distinctions between itself, its medium, and the contents or objects perceived.

It is has been observed by the author that there is a curious and surprising reluctance to explore this possibility on behalf of religious-minded people. But the connection between this world and the other-world is obviously wound up in the relationship between dream, perception, and reality. It is unavoidable for any sincere investigator. The substance of the spiritual is wound up in the question of the mind apart from the physical world, which is unmistakably proven by the adequate characterization of hell as a living nightmare and heaven as a dream come true.

Moving forward, the perceptions of the mind when unaccompanied by ordinary physical sensation are not always characterized by mere fuzzy, trivial, and absurd reflections echoing an origin in waking life. As will become apparent to anyone who has crossed the threshold to which most people are bounded in dreams, the world of the mind apart from ordinary bodily sensation opens a range of experience quite impossible to communicate to people who have never known it. Note, however, that I am careful not to assert that these perceptions are in no way affiliated with the state of the body in repose, nor is the mind as considered apart from the body denied as a possibility; I certainly have my suspicions which color my presentation, but above all this essay is one of encouraging a hands-on approach by providing a theoretical basis for the investigation.

The analogy of the radio wave to the receiver is neither new nor useless.  The same analogy can be used for an antenna that picks up tv frequencies. The shift in perception is often rather sudden, and may be likened to turning a radio knob or shifting an antenna rod to pick up another frequency. Now, there is a final destination to this exercise, distinct from ordinary occurrences in waking life. But that state is right where you are standing now. It is the beyond, but it is also involved in the everyday. You will go to the beyond and back while living. The initial stages involve suspension of the body and going to the beyond. But the true test is the integration of that with this, of there with here.

“…darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell. Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task is done.”  – Gandalf, Tolkien’s The Two Towers

As a continuum of ultra and infra states, the state of perception when the body is fully alert is a spectrum of various frequencies unto itself, as the day-dream, highway hypnosis, the flow-state when operating at peak performance, and the absorption into a novel, sports game, or movie demonstrates. Ultimately, the spectrum supposedly beyond the range of bodily sensation could yet be perceived in the body as we attend to ordinary physical reality. Indeed, we may even be picking up frequencies of a subtler variety on a regular basis as we go about our daily lives without our ever being attentive to them, engrossed as we are in the goings-on about us of denser phenomena.

It is odd that the religious-minded are generally not interested in naturally occurring non-ordinary states of mind, their connection to the beyond,  and any exercises that could be developed to attain them. But it is equally odd how little attention is paid to this same possibility on the part of the scientific community. We observe the intricacies of the celestial bodies or the micro-particles, and yet whichever lens we may use – telescope or microscope,  to look above or below – we don’t seriously examine the inner-workings of the intrinsic lens that makes all of the rest intelligible in the first place. Our scientific tests are desultory, mere indirect measurements observed through a scan of some sort. How silly is it to defer solely to some external apparatus to evaluate the mind when this external device can only be evaluated using what the device is supposed to evaluate! 

Of what use is anything we know without the organ that bestows this capacity to know in the first place? All that we value, we suppose it to be deposited in the things about us. But the defects of age show very clearly that we can even forget who our loved ones are. When your mind is gone, when you have no memory of who is who or what is what, what value do these things have in the absence of the organ that evaluates and confers value?

The one thing of ultimate value is near at hand, makes things far away intelligible, and yet is never seriously analyzed. It is a common aspiration for a child to be an astronaut. But no one even tells them of the mystery and remote regions of their very own mind. In school, they may be extolled concerning the world of books animated by the mind’s imagination, but this is like when the vikings found the ‘new world’ but didn’t proceed to investigate further. Society talks little of the mind apart from its response to external sensory input, but loads about everything else. We dream of going to stupid barren objects far out in outer space, never realizing that the moon and Mars are worth seeing, but not worth GOING to see.

I am reminded of an interview the astronaut Frank Norman gave concerning his Apollo 8 mission during which the famous Earthrise photo was taken. He wasn’t impressed by the moon, but instead by the Earth. In the same way, people look out for lasting satisfaction in the things relatively barren , hardly ever realizing that the value they perceive is conferred, not intrinsic. Even loved ones, all of this is meaningless without memory, which is an internal feature of the mind. Food is undeniably necessary, but then a human vegetable could eat yet I don’t see people contenting themselves with such a prospect. This is by no means an exercise in dismissing the value of friendship, beautiful  moments or good food, but only pointing out they are absolutely contingent things, and therefore composite, which means they are only possible because of deeper elements, and rely upon these deeper fundamentals. Without them, they are not, and since in the final analysis the substance of life is uniform and without parts,  THAT is the one thing which if taken away takes everything away. 



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