If you want to know the answer to life, the universe and everything else then you need ask only one question – how am I feeling right now? Yes I know, they don’t seem linked, but by the end of this article maybe you will see why they are.
The questions we ask ourselves exist in a sort of stratosphere we call our minds – the thing that is capable of identifying objects in so-called reality and applying concepts to them. So when we say the sky is blue we have identified an object called the sky through our senses and have applied the concept blue. This structure is central in the way our computer brains work. And the consciousness that allows us to indulge in these concepts and judgments generally disappears for several hours each night, and so it is not permanent and loss of consciousness seems to coincide with a change of state in the brain. So it might be fair to assume that our everyday waking consciousness is a property of our brain’s function. However, most other functions in our body continue 24×7 – digestion, elimination, circulatory system, glands and so on. So again it would be fair to assume that the brain is a drain on the body, since it does not contribute to the creation of energy, its distribution, elimination of waste and so on, but uses energy so we can navigate the world during waking hours. It seems clear that the body needs to switch the brain off for several hours a day.
The body chugs along regardless of brain activity to some degree and certainly does not need this expensive thing called consciousness all of the time. So what is more real, the fundamental mechanism of energy production and distribution, or the pontifications of our unusually large brains? When we ask questions such as whether we existed before our birth, our brains are over-reaching themselves by orders of magnitude. The question is asked because language allows us to ask it, but words such as “exist” and “before” are loaded with ambiguity and are almost undefined. This is fertile territory for philosophers – those who believe that this impermanent thinking machine (it disappears every night) is capable of posing and answering metaphysical questions. All of this exists in what I have called the stratosphere of our existence. If you really want to understand your existence you need to go to the center of the Earth – to the raw desires that drive you. These desires are largely concerned with survival and procreation, and they will not be denied. So even the most cerebral of philosophers will engage in competitive arguments, discrediting the works of others, ambition, and the overwhelming desire to be proved right. It’s just the survival mechanism dressed up in fancy words.
These desires are the most real thing within you. At a purely unconscious physiological level they operate continuously, and at a conscious level, they drive us to earn money, seek power, a mate, and other elaborations such as fame and prestige. Most of what goes on in our minds are driven by these desires, and some of it is driven by our existential angst – the knowledge that we will die, and specifically that the thinking machine in your brain will die. We do become very attached to our thinking machines.
So here is the fundamental proposition. Why identify with this inconstant thing called our mind, when we can identify with something that never ceases and drives absolutely everything else – our desire for life? Asking how we feel right now is an attempt to cozy up with this part of us that is usually quite unknown to us, and yet is more real than the secondary phenomenon of thought. Answering this question about our feeling and emotional state requires that we are in contact with these things. Since this is all in the body it means acquiring an unusual sensitivity to the body, so that the question gets a gut answer, instead of one we make up in our minds. The net result of such a practice is a reassuring sense of reality and a grounding that is quite solid.
I have to admit that I was prompted to write this piece by a video I saw of one of our modern spiritual gurus encouraging people to become aware of awareness. It all sounds very convincing but seems to me to be a quick route to the lunatic asylum. In summary, I advocate and practice of being aware of my desires and body, and place almost no importance on the lofty thoughts that might drift through my stratospheric mind. Our thinking processes are undoubtedly useful, and I could not have written this article without them (regardless that you may think otherwise), but I don’t make thought the center of my being. Desire and body – this is what I am.