Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Where is the "experience of experience" located?
For all practical purposes, all the experience we have of this thing we call life is mediated through the organism we inhabit. That is to say, we are at this point in time unaware of any experience that is not mediated through the body and its sensory apparatus. We might allow the possible exception of dream states, but we will not be discussing those today.
Therefore, everything that happens is sensed through the equipment of the body. To discuss alternatives is sheer conjecture. I have met people who argued otherwise, but it seems to be outright sophistry to me.
The body's primary mode of acquiring information is organic sensation. That is to say, the multiple organs in the body -- the skin, the nose, eyes, ears, and so on -- take in impressions through nerves. As we all know, the human nervous system works at varying levels of efficiency. People "gifted" with all of the ordinary senses rarely learn the incredible range and depth latent within any single sense. Deaf people learn to sense through the skin, through touch and vibration, in ways that ordinary people do not. Blind people develop an acute sense of hearing unavailable to the visually oriented man. So when it comes to absorbing impressions, a lot more is possible than what we usually take in. This is dependent on our degree of receptivity; the body has a wide variety of states available to it.
It never ceases to amaze me how deep and how broad the range of physical sensation alone is, and how profoundly the availability of sensation affects the experience of the ordinary day. Depending on what is at work in the body, the sensation of gravity may be different. The sensation of the circulation, or the cells, or the bones may be different. The sensation of the breathing may be different. Each state is worthy of study, because each one begins to give us some insight to the nature of the potential connections between body and mind.
Looking back at yesterday's post, how we could ever begin to understand this without a theoretical approach?
If all we do is sense, without any effort whatsoever at interpretation, we lack discrimination. Our sensation, and our interest in it, must become much more specific during the course of the average day. Just what is going on inside this organism?
The organism contains three minds. As we study the three principle organic minds (once again, I refer here to the passage in Gurdjieff's "Beelezebub," final chapter) and their interaction, we might be engaged in the Buddhist discipline Dogen refers to as "swallowing three or four."
When we attain more unity, and offer something back to the forces which create us, perhaps we are engaging in the activity he refers to as "vomiting seven or eight." Interested parties can refer to the third volume, first chapter, of Nishijima and Cross's translation of the Shobogenzo for more background on this. (Those interested in Gurdjieff's enneagram might profit from pondering the potential relationships between this Buddhist description and Gurdjieff's laws of three and seven.)
In a nutshell, if we study the body, we see that in all of its aspects, it includes both ingestion and elimination. That is to say, all three of the being foods engage in this process. So we eat solid food and then eliminate the waste; we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.
It is perhaps an interesting thing to pose ourselves the question of just what the elimination process involved with the third being food, the food of impressions, consists of. I'm not sure about the rest of you, but this is the first time this particular question has occurred to me, and I think it is worth pondering.
Going one step further into this question, it occurs to me that to invest within the sensation of the organism--which has an objective quality, since the sensation comes before the evaluation and commentary--offers a refuge from the egoistic demands that I paste onto every event in my life.
This morning, as I was walking the famous dog Isabel with my wife Neal, we were engaged in a difficult conversation. As I watched myself discharging negativity from the particular battery that I was connected to, it occurred to me that the only way to get out of this, to pull the wire off the post and stop transmitting the current, was to invest more in sensation. To go back one step and try to find the heart.
It helped a little.
Enough for one day.
May your roots grow deep in rich soil.