The key to experiencing oneness with fundamental consciousness is making the mind subtle through practice. I'll describe exactly how to do that at the end of this post, but for now, let's learn more about what happens in the process.
When the mind is subtle, it is able to recognize the difference between mind and consciousness. Until then, the two are often confused (as they commonly are in neuroscience and psychology) and a case of mistaken identity happens.
The difference between mind and consciousness has to be not just an intellectual understanding, but a direct perception. For that perception to be clear, reflection, meditation, and other practices are helpful. Each person will be unique in their practice. It's popular now to suggest that no practice or preparation is needed to know oneself, and to some extent that's true, but my view is that practice is helpful to keep the mind clear. It is possible to glimpse reality without practice, but who wants only glimpses? Without the mind being subtle, it is easy to misunderstand new experiences, get sidetracked, or stagnate.
As the mind becomes subtler, it progresses through stages of understanding. The following can be used as points for reflection and contemplation, including journaling.
1. What we call the body is actually an aspect of our personal mind.
What we call 'me' and 'you' are personal, individual minds. The outer layer of the personal mind is what we call the body. The inner layer includes more subtle aspects, such as thoughts, feelings, desires, and the sense of localized identity. Therefore what we call the body is itself an aspect of the personal mind. It is an image within the personal mind.
This stage of understanding is important to get beyond the first veil of dualism, which is the false idea that the physical body is somehow separate and different from mind.
2. What we call my mind and your mind (which includes our bodies) are parts of the one total mind that contains all experiences of all sentient beings.
I don't have access to all your experiences, just as you don't have access to all my experiences. Similarly, we don't have access to the experiences of a grasshopper or an elephant. This means that there is some sort of boundary around our personal minds that keeps them separate.
My sense of identity is localized to my thoughts, my feelings, and my body. But remember that the sense of identity is fickle. In a dream, my identity shifts from this mind to the dream mind. When I sleep, identity disappears altogether. So even the sense of my-ness in the form of my mind and my experiences is itself an aspect of the mind. The boundary that separates me, you, the elephant, and the sofa in the living room is mental in nature. It is an appearance like everything else.
This stage of understanding is important to get beyond the second veil of dualism, which is the false idea that my mind is somehow fundamentally different from your mind, other minds, and the apparent things in those minds. Beyond the sense of personal identity, we are one organism, one mind filtering through individual lenses, just as the dream-mind appears as different characters, objects, and scenes.
3. The one total mind that contains all possible experiences is an appearance of consciousness.
Think of a movie. When a movie is projected, all the characters and drama of the movie are nothing but light arranged in different forms. There is no reality to the movie, indeed there is no movie at all, other than the light. If light is removed, the movie, the characters, the drama - all of it is literally non-existent.
Along the same lines, what is the light that refracts as all mental experiences of the one mind - personal and impersonal, human and not human, including the subset of 'physical' experiences? That light is the light of consciousness. Consciousness is infinitely more than what it appears as, just as the light of the projector is not depleted in any way by the movie that it appears as. The light remains untouched by the happenings in the movie, yet from a limited perspective it seems to take on limitation as characters, scenes, drama.
Even if there were no movie playing (if there were no mental film), the light would still be as it is. The light is utterly independent of the film and the movie, yet the movie is entirely dependent on the light. Similarly, consciousness is entirely independent of any and all minds, such as mine and yours and the one total mind, yet all minds are entirely dependent upon consciousness.
So how do I experience this?
- Begin with a practice of meditation. If you are not sure of how to begin meditating, try this simple meditation to start.
- Reflect on the three points above. Think about them and churn your ideas, then write your thoughts down in a journal. The thoughts don't have to be 'good' or pretty. They don't have to be consistent. They can be full of doubt. Putting them down on paper helps to crystallize the doubt so that it can be easily shattered.
- Try to reconcile what you've understood with your living experience, not just in meditation, but also in daily life.
- Repeat steps 1 through 3. Tweet questions/comments/doubts to @DrAnoopKumar and I'll do my best to reply promptly.
As the mind becomes subtle, it will bring confusion and repressed experiences to the surface, just as when we knead dough, the individual lumps are more distinctly felt. How each 'lump' is engaged is up to each person. Sometimes, talking to a friend can help. Sometimes, it may be physical exercise or a change in the food we eat. Other times, it may be spending time in nature, or simply taking a few easy, full breaths.
These are the personalized aspects of the journey. Old beliefs will dissipate, stagnant emotions will bubble up, and everything we've wanted to avoid will eventually meet us face to face. It's important to be clear about this and not imagine that we can leapfrog these experiences in the hope of some other-worldly revelation. Revelations will happen, but they won't substitute for the benefits of clarifying the mind.
Begin with Step 1.
Anoop Kumar, MD, MM is board certified in Emergency Medicine and holds a Master’s degree in Management with a focus in Health Leadership. He practices in the Washington, DC metro area, where he also leads meditation gatherings for clinicians. He is the author of the book Michelangelo’s Medicine: How redefining the human body will transform health and healthcare. Follow him @DrAnoopKumar.