Our partial selves
This exercise’s statement, again, is something you should compare your own experiences with. It is a powerful and extraordinarily subtle set of concepts. It may take several reading of it to grasp its depths. Give it your best shot.
Your final exam continues.
Walter “has gone” “his” whole “life” without a bottom half of his “body.” So too, we go through life thinking what we are experiencing is “everything that is” when all along we are ignoring an important aspect of life. Wherever our attention goes, life appears complete, but parts of ourselves, that we assume we have, are simply not there-like an understanding about true sentience, for instance.
When we examine our childhood memory, we can see that what we seem to be now was almost non-existent then. One’s body, one’s personality, and one’s daily life-one’s qualities-were then almost completely different from what is experienced now. Yet, even as children, we felt complete, and now, we also feel complete. Just as your childhood “person” could not know how much more was yet to be added to what “it” defined as “me,” so too is the adult character you think you are now not recognizing that another “half” of life is yet to be UNDERSTOOD-the truly sentient part.
When experiences are examined closely, anyone can agree that they are things that have a witness “of” them, and so, to find that witness, we naturally start our search for it by taking a particular experience and examining it. In doing so, we “set aside” those aspects of the experience that are not the witness. And so, in this process of elimination, we remove four “non-witness parts” of an experience to see “what’s left to be called the witness.” (This goes against our ultimate definition of the witness which is that it is the source of all qualities, but let’s “go with this” logical error for awhile.)
1. First, we remove what actually happened “out there”-the object of the experience, because, obviously, that is something that was observed and is therefore not the observer, the witness.
2. Next we remove something that also happened but is not generally thought to be part of the experience-this is the processing done by a nervous system while perceiving the experience. This means we do not think that the witness is our perceptual apparatus such as our eyes or ears, and also it means that we do not think that those parts of the brain that process and store the perceptual data about the experience, after the data is delivered to the brain by the senses, is the witness. We know this, because parts of our brains can be surgically removed, and this may render us blind, or deaf, or we will have a loss of memory, but we are still WHOLLY able to witness other kinds experiences after that surgery. The witness is still there-completely.
Thus, accepting incoming data, the memory forming process, and memories are not the witness. These are activities of a nervous system which are also observable and hence not the actual witness of the experience. All that has happened is that an external event has been modeled inside a nervous system. Thus, we remove the “receiver” portion (the embodiment of the modeling) of an experience from our “witness suspect list.”
Here is an analogy about this concept that a nervous system’s receiving process is not the witness: a computer too can receive a message that is sent to it, and it can then process the message by sorting it, storing it, and ALSO storing the fact that “a message was stored by its systems.” In doing such tasks, the computer never even comes close to being a sentient entity. Everyone knows that there is not a “being” inside the computer that “knows” it has been “experiencing” messages and processing them. Exactly parallel to this we find that the workings of a human mind are a series of processes that we could imagine being precisely replicated by some futuristic computerized robot. We would almost certainly erroneously call the robot conscious-despite the fact that all we have done is make a better computer which-like today’s computers-still does not have a witness. A human nervous system is a futuristic robot made out of organic materials, and none of its processes are the witness.
Any computer can be programmed to say, “I am experiencing,” but we know this is not a proof of the computer having an “I.” Now, consider the fact that your body’s “computer” can cause your mouth to say, “I am experiencing.” Yet, when this occurs, you strongly feel that there is an “I,” and this is quite compelling-we believe that the witness is this “sense of I.” The witness is there-it seems-but the witness is not a process that happens inside our nervous system. We are mislead, as we’ll see below, because, it turns out, this sense of “I” being there is itself a “process of sentience” within the nervous system, and this process is merely symbolic of the actual witness. The nervous system too can be seen as a computer, and the witness aspect of an experience is NOT provided by the nervous system.
3. Now we remove the ego from the experience-if it’s there at the time of the experience-which is not always the case. The ego is most easily observed whenever the words “I, me, myself, mine, etc.” are part of an experience. Here’s an example: I see a pile of lumber. If I think that I am a carpenter, I “take ownership” of that lumber by starting to think about how I might build with it. If I am not a carpenter, I just observe the lumber and go on my way. Once you limit yourself to a definition (carpenter) your ego is that part of your mental processes that “defends” that position by spurring thoughts like “I build things. I built that. I own tools. etc.” This “ego process” records a history of such thoughts in one’s memory, and the ego points to that history in memory and says, “See, I’m all that! I’ve been here my whole life.” But, in fact, “ego” is just a definable set of thoughts about all the experiential data in the past having been noted and received by another process, the ego, in the nervous system. As children we gradually form our egos by a process in which identification with our body-minds leads us to begin to “clothe” ourselves with concepts about ourselves.
4. Finally we must remove the “process of sentience” itself. Most people think they are sentient entities, when instead, their nervous systems are creating processes that symbolize or mimic sentience. They then use a lot of “ego energy” processing, owning, defending, and demanding that this sentience process be recognized as the witness, but the witness does nothing, is nothing-it is not a thing (object, process, etc.)
This quality we are calling “process of sentience” is also not the witness. It is a process that powerfully masquerades as and compellingly symbolizes a quality which is called “the witness.” But, without a nervous system there is nothing to “run” this process-hence, even the process of sentience is temporary-mortal. This process can be isolated and experienced separately-by human nervous systems. It is possible for a human nervous system to shut down all perception, memory, feelings and thoughts (to learn how to do this, choose from a variety of techniques taught by thousands of teachers-several of which have been part of the consciousness exercises,) and as the body-mind shuts down its various activities (perception, remembering, analysis, etc.,) at some point, the nervous system would experience the quality of least excitation or “pure sentience”-pure awareness and nothing else.
In this “waiting-state,” the human mind CANNOT distinguish the difference between sentience and the witness-since there is no other processing also going on in the nervous system to do this distinguishing or understanding! After this waiting-state “passes,” the mind can THEN say, “During that time, I was paying attention to self-knowingness-the process in my nervous system that symbolizes that I AM, and I see that there is a sense of being aware that ‘runs throughout’ all my experiences.” But this is NOT the same as experiencing the witness-instead it is experiencing a state of least excitation of the nervous system. For advanced nervous systems, there is the possibility of having such a powerful and subtle “awareness of awareness” during all experiences (the state of least excitation of the nervous system is then perceived as an all time reality,) that this constitutes a higher or “enlightened” level of operations. However, such nervous systems still do not have an ability to sense or perceive the witness. The witness has no qualities and therefore cannot be an object of perception.
So, after taking away what happened, what happened to note what happened, what happened to note that a noting of a happening took place, what happened as side notes by the ego about how it all happened to it, and that during all these happenings a sense of beingness permeated the experience, what do we have left?
The witness. This witness is subtle beyond words. You ARE the witness, but you cannot experience your “self” directly.
You are the witness-not the functioning of a nervous system. The futuristic robot may be able to mimic your operations, but not the witness. The nervous system’s activities are witnessed, but the witness is not observable by the nervous system. The eye cannot see itself. The “I” cannot “know” itself; it only “is” itself.
Walter, the cartoon character, and also all seemingly sentient beings (nervous systems) are merely representations of sentience-neuro-poetic expressions that symbolize sentience. Human nervous systems are vastly superior representational media-far exceeding Walter’s pen and ink media’s ability to symbolize. Humans, who can hardly be fooled into thinking that Walter is sentient, appear to be able to easily fool each other that this is not the case for themselves.
Using logic though, the human mind can see that the quality “sentience” is only meaningful relative to “something observable” while the witness is beyond all qualities and non-qualities. Logical understanding of these concepts forms a basis for a non-sentient character’s “evolution.”
The witness is not and has not any quality. It is beyond being. It is beyond non-being. Nothing completely symbolizes it, but ALL THIS (Universal Consciousness) is a very good attempt!
Anything you know or experience is conceptual, can be objectified, and is, in fact, an event happening in the nervous system that symbolizes yet some other concept, object or event. These are all time bound things that can be witnessed.
Ask yourself,So what is the witness?
Do I want to evolve? Why should I bother if the above and other recent exercises are true? Where’s my motivation to do so-wouldn’t it come from Universal Consciousness too? In fact, why don’t I just go out and do anything I please-it wouldn’t be my fault, since I am only a witness-not the doer-doing-done?
Am I free beyond words? Is “all of me” really just a part of ALL THIS and the “real me, the witness” is some quasi-understandable, non-material, ghost in the machinery of my nervous system? Is there an ultimate audience of one witness-which this vast drama (that includes this thing called “me”) is a symbolic reflection of?
If “I know that I AM,” is a true statement, isn’t that being sentient of true sentience? In every experience, I am, right?
What would happen if I “hung out” in that “pure sentience” thing for a long time? Would that kind of processing of my nervous system affect my other kinds of processing?
Is there ANY significant, spiritual or existential difference between me and Walter?