We live normally in a certain kind of unconsciousness. Not only live in it, but we cling to the unconsciousness.
This is most evident with painful emotions like anger, hurt, fear.
When I am normally angry, I am not unconscious as such. I am not a zombie. There is a feeling to the anger.
I am even self-conscious of the anger. Often very much so. “Damn right, I am angry! I have every right to be!”
In fact, this is the main delusion of everyday conscious: that I am fully aware of what I am consciously feeling. That my mind is self-luminous. The only issues are whether what I am feeling is right or wrong, good or bad, constructive or not – so I tell myself. For it seems obvious that what I am feeling is only all too evident to myself. After all, I can feel it. Oh can I feel it!
What is normally lost to me is that the way I feel the anger itself clouds my awareness of it. What I am normally aware of isn’t the anger as such, but rather my affirmation of the anger. Of the anger as something that I ought to act on, that I can’t not act on, that pulls me to action, or to annoyance at my inability to act on it and so on.
My normal awareness of the anger is indistinguishable to me from my response to the anger. Indeed, even from my awareness of the cause of the anger. In the normal experience of the anger, the cause, the experience and my desired response are all intertwined as one indivisible whole. As just the anger itself. And the more I experience the indivisibility of that whole, the more I experience the anger – now in terms of “How could he do that to me?”, and at other times as “I will show him! I will set things right!” And still other times with seemingly just a self awareness of the emotion as such: “I am just so angry!” These are actually not different elements as such, but only different shades of the same indivisible whole of cause-experience-reaction which captivates me.
It’s like if I am hungry. The feeling of hunger isn’t normally experienced as something separate from the cause (“I haven’t eaten all day”) and the desired actions (“I would love a sandwich right now”). The experienced hunger is the indivisible whole of the nexus or state of being which incorporates the cause and the effect, the past and the future, the lack and the fulfillment which will fill that lack.
And there is a crucial fourth element: my identification with that indivisible whole as what I am fact feeling. An identification which affirms that not merely is there the feeling of anger or hunger, and also their causes and desired actions in response, but that the nexus of this triumvirate is essential to who I am. That this nexus defines me. It defines my mental state. It captures what is most salient about me right now. This anger or this hunger – that is happening to me, it is a modification of me. And so it affects me. If left unattended, it will lead to my downfall, to my ruination – I will die physically or in terms of social prestige, or if not die, then atleast be severely hindered. It will overwhelm me. The only way to save myself is to embrace it. Accept it. Take it at face value and to do exactly what it demands – be it find food, or set things right by putting that person in their place, and so on.
This identification with the emotion – that it in fact defines me – fosters a form of unconsciousness. About myself. About the cause. About what actions will help. About what I am feeling over all. About what in the circumstances might actually reflect my over all, more measured response. The identification circumvents further reflection about all these issues by making it seem as if the present moment is decisive and conclusive. That it holds the key and is showing the key to me in its full awareness. That all I need to do is not turn away from it. I need to accept the present moment and embrace it.
Of course none of this is true. As we find out when we embrace the present moment and identify with the emotion and act on it, only to regret it later on. When actually yelling at that person didn’t settle everything – or really anything. When having the second helping of ice cream didn’t actually make me feel good. When I feel betrayed by my mind and morose at my own weakness to be unable to resist it.
This is the basic illusion inherent in everyday consciousness. No, your mind isn’t self illuminating. No, you don’t actually see exactly what you are feeling. Not just deep unconscious buried emotions. You don’t normally see even your ordinary emotions of hunger, thirst, fear, anger, hurt properly. Or even the positive emotions of happiness, contentment, joy, satisfaction. Normally all of these are experienced through the illusion that you are defined by them. That there is nothing more to your consciousness than these fleeting but powerful emotions as they present themselves to you. That they are the sum total and the essence of you. At least of you in this moment when you are having them and are overwhelmed by them.
A funny thing happens when one disconnects the identification with the emotions as one experiences them. When one is aware of the anger not as “my anger, as what I am feeling” but rather as “the anger which is trying to trick me into identifying with it.”
Normally it feels as if the identification with the anger is what makes me best self aware of the anger. That, after all, I am aware of it because it is my anger, it is how I am. But actually the opposite is true.
Where I disidentify with the anger, when I cut off the energy source of my identifying with the anger, I became aware of the anger in a broader, more expansive and more illuminating way. I start to see more shades to the anger. More of its contours and its limits. More of its causes and its consequences. I see more than just how it presents it. I see what it hides about itself.
And the more I am able to observe the anger this way, without identification but also without judgment and without putting it down, the more it becomes open to me. More of how actually it is not a self-contained emotion at all, but incorporates in it different shades of fear, hurt, confusion, grieving. And also, as Nietzsche and Foucault emphasized, shades of pleasure, the joy of retribution, getting a pound for a pound, the ecstasy of power, of affirming the others’ submissiveness. The anger starts to seem less like the basic, simple emotion it pretended to be and more like a kaleidoscopic, shifting, hurting, sadistic opening into the complexities of the mind overall.
Encountering this opening in one’s self-awareness is like Arjuna seeing the manifold dimensions of Krishna: as awe-inspiring but also frightening in its complexity and magnitude, dwarfing the ordinary self understanding which feels like home base. When the opening starts to happen, the habit of normal consciousness tries its utmost to close it. To lock it. To mark it as dangerous and forbidden. As something that it is best for me – yes, me as it defines me – to stay away from. As something that will destroy me and my normal self rationalizations and self narratives by shedding the cold, hard reality of how I am just a part of nature like any other being. That my own anger – calling out for its justification and its due justice – is itself a vapor which is created by the winds of the mind and of my ego consciousness. Less a reflection of reality as it is, and more a narrative spun by the mind the way a spider spins its web.
The anger or the hurt or the sweet taste of the ice cream or the joy of sex or the euphoria of a political movement – they all present themselves as mine, as my experiences which carry their nature on their sleeves. And yet to foster this identification they have to hide their own complexity. And hide as well my true nature, that they do not define me and I am not simply a combination of them.
When I disidentify with the emotions and the ordinary appearances of the mind, a greater self awareness starts to unfold. One which opens onto vast realms of consciousness and awareness which are right in front of our eyes normally but which we overlook and ignore. These vistas of consciousness are as beautiful, as expansive and as awe inspiring as the starry skies or the ocean depths or the forest ecosystems. So beautiful and so amazing. The ordinary anger, hunger and pleasure are just the most surface layers of these deeper vistas, and they beckon to us to open ourselves to them and explore their rich terrains.
Doing so requires not staying content with the usual, paltry descriptions of the mind in terms of surface experiences or anger, hunger or pleasure. It requires not falling for the self-contentment and self-presentation of the experiences, but disidentifying with them to see them in a broader perspective.
It is an amazing entry into a magical, beautiful reality. And the opening is right here, right in my own awareness.