“The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.”
― Lao Tzu
|Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2019. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
To Be or Not To Be…
Who are we and what’s it all about? This silly question is the starting point for all of our problems, questions, and issues in health, philosophy, and religion. You have to start on some foundation, and there isn’t much lower that you can go.
Dictionary.com says, “ ‘I think; therefore I am’ was the end of the search Descartes conducted for a statement that could not be doubted.” We might say that those who accept this become scientists, while those who doubt it become comedians. What better way to question the status quo than to make fun of it?
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is a series of magical stories about a flat earth held up by four elephants standing on the back of a turtle. Rather than starting with what cannot be doubted, Pratchett starts with the untenable.
“I think; therefore I am” makes as little sense as Discworld. They are both ridiculous and superfluous. The perception of being is just that: a perception. It does not need to be grounded in anything because it isn’t any thing that needs grounding.
Perception is an emergent process fabricated out of relationships; it’s not made of anything. We get farther by embracing emergence than arguing for self-perception as something fundamental.
What’s It Worth?
To think that thinking settles your existence really means you’re not going to think about it anymore. You are accepting your point of view as basic; taking your experience as something everything else needs to fit into. This is a mistake: to think there is one sense of being. From this error arises conflict and a series of confusions that lead us in directions that are never entirely right but can be entirely wrong.
In the context of learning, the breakthrough comes when you realize there is more to the world than what you have been limited to see, before. In almost every case, my therapy clients are looking for a different self, one that requires enlargement. Relationship counseling encourages breaking the constraints of one’s previous world. Problems are not fixed, they’re outgrown. Growth is realizing that what you think is not what you are. Learning means finding new being.
Being grounded means feeling permanent temporarily. Being healthy means being both and neither permanent and impermanent, but somewhere in between. This is not a simple state; it’s a state of being close to wonder but not bewildered. If there was only one of you, what hope would there be? And if there is more than one of you, where are the others?
To be stuck in one’s state is a problem, but so is not having a sense of self. Being able to change requires you have something to change, and something to change into. Your internal voice is just a voice. It might sound different from you at times, and it might say things you don’t expect, but it isn’t you.
You cannot be only what you think. To have meaning, your voice must be more than words. A flat and toneless voice has no personality. You must have a personality. Imagine that the words spoken by the voice are thoughts. What I’m saying is that thoughts, alone, are not all there is. You can be just a personality, just a presence that listens and does not speak at all. All that’s necessary is awareness.
This self is the primal being that understands but does not need to think or speak. If you can understand this inner self, then you can communicate with yourself without words. As would seem obvious, telepathy certainly exists in the realm of communication inside you. This communication encompasses all of who you are, no matter how many of you are there.
Why have any voice at all? If words need a mouth, and a mouth implies an identity, and an identity becomes a problem by virtue of its singularity, then would it not be better if we had no speaking self?
One answer is yes, having a sense of self beyond words is a step toward transcendent self-knowledge. But, at the same time, no. That was us as nonverbal animals, and our power was limited. We need a voice that uses words and ideas. We need to master the egoistic, self-limiting reality that ideas create.
I know two paths to get beyond the limited thought of who you are. As Dante said in The Divine Comedy in 1321, they are the guide and the void.
Be at a loss for words or—even better, a loss of self—and find your way into a lost space. This could be a space of total emptiness, or a space of such chaos that you are overwhelmed: the void. A place beyond the world you know.
Connect with another voice. This voice might have a viewpoint that you recognize, or not. In truth, we do have several voices based on recollections of ourselves from earlier times, other times, and maybe later times. We create these voices to introduce us to things that we don’t yet know. These are our guides.
There are more voids than there are real worlds, or so it seems. Void-ness exists outside the bounds of any of our emotions. When anger goes beyond words you enter a space of feeling, and also when enraptured with love and connection. These are not empty places, they are full of emotion. They are empty only to the extent that speech is inadequate. These spaces can be mysterious, despairing, ecstatic, or of any emotional texture.
Voids are memorable. They can be sparse or overwhelming; I’ve been to both. They are extremely emotional. In fact—as voids lack words and form by definition—emotion is the most memorable thing about them, and the emotions they elicit are unique. They are unlike any other situation in their strength and composition. They are visions of new worlds.
I recently spent some time with my mother in a dream. She was not a guiding force during her lifetime, but an important personality, of course. Now, she was livelier than usual and, as our conversation wound to a close, I asked her where she was. She brightened and declared with certainty, “Oh, you’re silly. I don’t exist!” Shocked, I woke up.
If thinking is existing, then my mother existed simply by virtue of her thinking, but she denied this. Maybe she was wrong; maybe she did exist. What are we to think when a part of us tells us it doesn’t exist?
This was certainly the deepest thing she’d ever said to me, ever, and I believe she spoke directly. She addressed the idea that something needs to exist in order to be real and she refuted it.
Learning and healing exist because we can be led or otherwise moved in an orderly manner toward something that does not yet exist. There is some preexisting state; a primordial state that can communicate with us. Perhaps it’s simply the blueprint for a structure of reality that is talking to us.
There are forces in us that are aware of higher dimensions than we are aware, and these forces lead us. We are here and we have no hand in it, so these forces are here, too.
We think in ideas and we hear in words, and if the blueprint is going to communicate with us it must do so through the mechanisms of ideas and words. Or, perhaps, it’s us who clothe the ineffable message in a speaking form. The form of the message is not important.
Reality is a diversion; it’s consciousness perceiving itself. Looking for consciousness is definitely a looking-under-the-streetlamp sort of phenomena because it isn’t anywhere: not in the brain, of the brain, or outside the brain. Awareness is an active state of energy, not a stable state of matter. Got that?
Who became lucid in the dream with my mother? Did I become lucid that my sense of existence was only in my mind? Or did my subconscious become lucid that my consciousness mind had strayed into the kitchen? Who was aware of whom?
I am amused by encounters of this sort. They change who I am. You can deny the reality of your mother in a dream, but you cannot deny the feelings that accompany the experience. It’s feelings that change us, not facts.
This is the message I offer to lucid dreamers and to all dreamers: your dreams are the kitchen of your mind, the subconscious realm where reality is cooked up. If you have integrity, respect, and act responsibly, then you may be allowed to witness the chef at work. And, if you can demonstrate your maturity, you might be allowed to do some cooking.
When this happens, you will not be awake in your dream, nor will you be conscious in your subconscious—it will be something else. You will be in the kitchen mixing belief, memory, and experience to bring to the table a dish of reality. We are not aware enough to be great chefs, but we might aspire to pancakes.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
—George Bernard Shaw
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