By Mark Lesseraux
Disclaimer: What you are about to read might rattle you a little. It might shake you up a bit. It also might not rattle you or shake you up at all. In fact you might be quite indifferent to it. Either way, whatever you get out of it will be entirely up to you. Pick your pill.
Who Is This Piece Of Writing Intended For?
This piece of writing is intended for anyone who has a genuine interest in looking into the core of who they really are and into the very nature of reality itself. It is written for people who are open to the possibility that an important aspect of what our culture has up until now considered to be a “given” might actually be rooted in a tremendously shaky assumption. It is written for people who are ready for something new.
I do not feel that this piece requires any special level of intelligence to be grasped. However, even someone with an extremely high level of intelligence will not be able to penetrate it if their mind is not open to the possibility it is presenting.
- I use the words “consciousness” and “awareness” interchangeably and synonymously in this piece of writing.
- A sizable portion of this essay was scribed with Funkadelic’s album “Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow” playing in the background. So, buckle up.
The Aborted Investigation
When we arrive in the world as newborn infants we are beings of pure experiencing. Our cognitive distinctions between this and that, here and there, me and the other, etc., have not yet taken root. As the weeks and months pass though, we repeatedly collide with and start to intuit reactions from the objects of the world, most specifically (initially) from our parents or guardians. Guided by our immediate needs, we begin not only to repeat behaviors that fulfill those needs, we also begin to form and codify basic distinctions, separations between what is me and what is other than me.
This process of learning to distinguish myself/my body, from what is other than myself/my body, goes on in most children until about the age of four. After this age all of the subsequent distinctions and beliefs that we acquire about ourselves and the world are formed with the fundamental concept “I am my body and all else is other than and separate from me” acting as an underpinning, as a substratum, upon which the rest of our ideas about reality are configured.
In other words I stop my investigation, I stop my process of defining what is inside and what is outside of “me” at about the age of four. As a result of this aborting of the investigation, the conclusion “I am the body”, which we come to as preschoolers, ends up acting as a foundation for all our ensuing adolescent and adult learning. Consequently, all of our ideas and feelings about reality get shaped by the assumption: “What I am shares the limits and the destiny of the body.”
Our Life As Designed By A Four Year Old
The recognition that my body is distinct from other bodies and objects is, obviously, an important one. In fact, it is an essential pedagogical step on our road toward discovering what we essentially are. It is a concept that enables us to move about in and interact with the world on a basic functional level.
The problem is that without realizing it we have assumed this early developmental step to be the final step in our process of basic self definition. Rather than continuing with our inquiry from this point, we, as individuals, as a culture, as a species, in fact; — have built our subsequent definitions of reality upon an assumption we made before we entered kindergarten.
The tragicomic result of this premature conclusion we have reached about ourselves is that our life, despite all our advances in the realm of manipulating objects, has essentially ended up conforming to the limitations, to the corresponding whims and fears, of a four-year-old mind.
What If We Backtracked And Picked Up Where We Left Off?
What if we decided to continue with our prematurely aborted investigation into what it is we essentially are? What if we picked up where we left off at age four and began to question our “I am my body” assumption?
Interestingly, this is where the procedures of many of the “spiritual” traditions begin. In actuality though, this inquiry is just as much a scientific endeavor as it is a spiritual one.
When I was four years old I began assuming that there is an independent separate world, a world totally distinct from myself. I presumed the existence of this separately existing independent world based on my four-year-old mind’s interpretation of the information provided by my senses and my culture.
If I had at some point a bit later in my development looked more closely, more deeply into this information my senses and my culture provided though, I would have noticed that all I know experientially of this apparently external and separate world of objects and others is the seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling of it.
I would have eventually come to the realization that these experiences of sensing take place at no distance from myself. I would have recognized that seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting are actually, when examined without preconceptions, totally intimate.
Now I’m Faced With A Dilemma
Okay, so now what? Do I continue to presume the existence of a world that exists completely independently from the only carrier of reality that I can ever experience directly — that carrier of reality being my awareness, my consciousness?
Oh jeez! All this time I’ve been making an assumption that there is a completely separate realm of independently existing stuff called matter. But now I’m noticing that I can only know this supposedly separate independent stuff called matter through the filter of my senses and thus through my mental interpretation of “it”, whatever “it” is, if “it” even exists at all.
In philosophy this move is known as an inference, a supposition that is not based on the evidence of direct experience. In this case I am inferring the existence of an entirely separate ontological category, an entirely separate realm of being (an independent material world), which is, by definition, completely inaccessible via direct experience. Uh-oh! If I continue to do this I will be relying on a belief, on a supposition about reality rather than on my direct experience to form my opinions about reality.
Yikes! That’s about as unscientific a move as one can make.
Instead, let me stay with experience (rather than a belief about experience) as my test of reality. Let me be truly scientific about this endeavor even if at first it feels counter-intuitive to do so. After all, we’re talking about my definition of what I essentially am here! This is important stuff! I’m not a four-year-old anymore! This inquiry deserves all the rigor I can muster.
The Primary Generator Of Human Suffering
All of our psychological suffering is linked, ultimately, to the fear of loneliness and to the fear of death. At the root of the fear of loneliness and the fear of death there is a core, unexamined operating belief that is the primary generator of suffering: “I am a separate entity with a separate, isolated consciousness and I share the limits and the destiny of my physical body, which, of course, will eventually cease to exist.”
Aha! Now I am beginning to see the connection between my greatest fears and the conception I’ve been holding onto of what I essentially am.
Yes, and I have just poked a hole in that conception! I’ve realized that all my life I’ve been assuming that what I am is limited and finite. I took as a given that I, the one who is aware, am generated by and confined within the limits of a body. I have just realized, though, that what I formerly considered to be separate from myself is never directly experienced anywhere but inside myself, inside the awareness that I am. Hmm?
What a minute! This then raises the question: If everything and everyone I once considered to be “other than myself” is only ever experienced within myself, within the awareness that I call “I”, then maybe what is limited and separate are only my thoughts, perceptions and sensations and not awareness itself?!
Could awareness itself ultimately be universal? Could consciousness be, ultimately, shared?! Imagine a world filled with people who, instead of believing that we are all separate and finite, knew that we all fundamentally share our being.
No! No! No!
But my experience, my thoughts, my sensations and my perceptions are private! How could I be sharing the same awareness with others if all that we experience individually is experienced privately?
And if the awareness that I call “I” is truly what I am then what are my thoughts, sensations and perceptions? My thoughts, sensations and perceptions all come and go. But what about awareness itself? Can I be certain that awareness, that consciousness comes and goes?
Actually, I have never experienced the disappearance of awareness. I have been assuming that awareness disappears in dreamless sleep and in bodily death but I have no actual proof of this assumption. Neither does anyone else, come to think of it. Maybe what disappears in dreamless sleep and in death is the awareness of phenomena, the awareness of objects, and not awareness itself?
But what is my body then, if it’s not the fundamental element of my existence?! Does the body appear in me (awareness) or does awareness appear in me (the body)?
I’m going back and forth here. I’m beginning to see that there are cracks in my long held conception that I am the body and that I share its limits and its destiny. It’s quite exciting to see those cracks. To be honest though, it’s also a little frightening. It’s just too much to take in all at once. My mind feels like it’s gonna pop! Could my fear of death be rooted in a huge misconception? Could our whole culture be mistaken?!
Well, as a culture we’ve been collectively wrong about a lot of things in the past. In fact, when people like Isaac Newton and Copernicus first made their theories public they were thought to be quite “far out” and lacking in common sense. Now, a few centuries later, their “far out” ideas are considered to be the bedrock of contemporary common sense! Hmmm?
Don’t Believe Anything You Have Read So Far
Maybe you are resonating with what has been said here so far? Maybe you’re not sure if you are resonating with it but something about it feels kinda true-ish and your curiosity has been piqued a bit? Maybe what I’ve said so far doesn’t jive with you at all? Maybe you stopped reading this article a few paragraphs ago, in which case you’re not even reading what I’m saying in this paragraph?
Assuming some of you have stuck with me up to this point, I’d like to make a suggestion which you’re obviously free to take or leave as you see fit: Don’t believe anything you have just read. In other words, if something feels true about what you’ve taken in here so far, put it to the test of your experience before you turn it into another untested belief.
What I have written here directly challenges long-held culturally accepted beliefs. Some might say that what I’ve written here so far is blasphemous. Others might say that it is unscientific. Still others might say, “There’s nothing new here. All of this was said two and a half thousand years ago by ______.”.
I’d have to cop to the third criticism, I guess. But if I were asked to respond to the other two possible criticisms, that the point of view presented here is somehow blasphemous or unscientific, I would reply, respectfully and definitively, that what I have written here is precisely the opposite of blasphemy and that it is as logically consistent, from a scientific point of view, as anything you will find written on this subject inside or outside any academic circle existing today.
Damn! Them’s some big-ass claims there, man! Maybe. Or maybe not. As I mentioned in the beginning of this piece, I am confident that anyone with an average level of intelligence and an open mind who is (really) willing to trust their experience rather than their beliefs about experience will be able to, at the very least, be on their way to understanding what has been said up to this point.
Should I Be Open To A New Possibility?
Look around you.
I gave serious thought to ending this article with the three-word sentence you just read. I reconsidered, though, and decided it was necessary to write a bit more.
I’m guessing that the last thing you’d wanna read at this point in our little journey together is yet another detailed list of ways in which our human culture seems to be on some sort of frantically confused, greed-propelled fast track toward annihilation and extinction. So I won’t include one here.
What I will do though is encourage you, dear reader, to question the “given”, to question the founding principle of our culture. This founding principle, this currently universally accepted metaphysical position is called “materialism”.
Materialism (Or Physicalism) Says
Materialism (or physicalism) says that reality is always reducible to matter, to physicality. In other words, materialism categorically denies the plausibility of any interpretation of reality that gives primacy to subjectivity over “objectivity”.
The problem with this idea, however, is that all supposed objectivity is observed via the subjectivity of a subject. In other words, the one making the proclamation about what he has deemed to be separate and independent from himself is always basing this proclamation on subjectively gathered information.
Put yet another way, materialism seconds lived experience to conjecture. It considers the relevance of lived experience to be secondary to the relevance of beliefs about lived experience.
Aren’t You Denying Reality By Denying The Claims Of Materialism?
Quite the contrary. Materialism, which you were unknowingly sold and which you unknowingly bought at age four has subjugated you and sidetracked you into believing that you are ultimately nothing but an object, a thing.
This next bit of information might surprise you. Check it out: Most people don’t realize that materialism claims, without a stitch of actual proof (nor a stitch of irony for that matter, no pun) to back itself up, that all of your experience is unreal, that it is a simulation of reality that takes place inside your skull.
According to materialism, which is our global culture’s core belief system, you have never actually hugged anyone, you have never really seen the color green and you have never tasted actual food. Materialists say that the stars you see in the sky at night are a recreation inside your head of something outside your head that you never experience directly. And this separate, independent “something” that they claim is outside your skull is, in their opinion, akin to a set of mathematical equations of some sort.
I’m not kidding. This is exactly what materialists assert. Click on any of their TED Talks if you don’t believe me and you’ll see. These “experts” are saying that everything is reducible to mass, charge, momentum and spin, and that your conscious lived experience is an unprovable secondary phenomenon. Yeesh!
And You Know What?
If we look very closely at our own beliefs, what these “experts” believe is, believe it or not, quite similar to, if not ultimately the same as, what you and I believe.
What?! Maybe you’re thinking, “No way dude! I don’t believe that! I’ve never said any of that!” Well my sister, my brother, I say you almost certainly do believe it and you don’t even know yet that you believe it. That is how deeply the centuries of unobserved conditioning we have undergone have prejudiced us.
Materialism is the metaphysical water we fish have been swimming in since age four, and because we’ve never contemplated the possibility that we are swimming in anything, we don’t even see the water at all.
Correspondingly, materialism has bred and fertilized a whole range of problematic tendencies, the most glaringly perilous one being the belief that the accumulation of material objects, of material “wealth” is the source of happiness. As I said earlier though, I’ll spare you the itemized list.
The Infinite And The Eternal Are Here And Now
We have unknowingly been fetishizing the infinite and the eternal. Our reductionist materialist cultural model of reality has had us placing the infinite and the eternal at a distance from ourself. Our materialist conditioning has us convinced that the infinite and the eternal are not experienceable except maybe by a few saints or for a few fleeting moments during a massive mind-altering psychedelic experience.
The truth is actually just the opposite. The infinite is not in space and the eternal is not in time and they are experienced continually.
Regarding time and the now: There are not many different nows. Now is not dividable into sections. We do not experience time in the way we normally think we experience it.
Try to leave the now and enter a realm called the past or the future. Really, actually go ahead and attempt it. You’ll notice, if you stay with your experience rather than your thoughts and beliefs about experience, that you never experience anything but the now. Even memory, which we consider to be proof of the existence of a past, always appears now. Test it again and again and you will see. Memory proves the now, not the past.
Similarly, “here” is not a place in space. It is not locatable. When you say, “I am here”; which is entirely true, you are not actually referring to a location in space. This is one of the hardest pills for us to swallow because we have been so heavily conditioned to believe that “I” is located someplace inside the body, usually someplace inside the head.
If you really inquire though, if you really incorporate and combine what has been discussed here so far with an earnest examination of your actual lived experience, you will eventually see clearly that “here” is, ultimately, not locatable.
What all of this is pointing to is that we have mistaken ourself for a finite object and that if we look closely, we are not an object at all. In fact, all the evidence of our experience points to our eternalness and our infiniteness.
I Feel I Owe You An Apology
I realize that what I have just said might sound like the opposite of what is real to some of you and I would just like to say, I feel I owe you an apology. We normally never free a mind once it has reached a certain age. It can be dangerous. The mind has trouble letting go. I’ve seen it before and I’m sorry. I did what I did because, I had to.
Got it? We still cool, Neo? 😉
Don’t Get Me Wrong
Don’t get me wrong. Concepts like materiality and time and space, etc., are obviously, tremendously valuable, useful tools which have enabled our human species to rapidly advance in ways that no other species has, as far as we know. To deny this fact would be absurd. However, when these concepts are mistaken for the foundations of reality itself, well, then we end up exactly where we are at at this moment in our development: In more than a little bit of a mess! I felt it was important to include this paragraph so as to make it completely clear that this piece of writing is not suggesting that the worldly and the eternal are in opposition.I
I Exist Because You Exist And Vice Versa (Imagine a World …)
Now that we have examined the shaky assumptions that underly our culture’s currently dominating model of reality I’d like to offer up, very briefly, another possible model. It’s a model that’s more in line with our experience, that doesn’t depend on beliefs or assumptions.
Instead of desperately trying, via all kinds of metaphysical gymnastics, to prove the existence of a completely independent substance called matter that is, by its very definition, totally inaccessible via direct experience, why not be open, at least to the possibility, that reality is one, that it is not two or any other number of things.
In other words, why not entertain the possibility that you and I and everyone and everything else, ultimately, share our being? After all, we have now seen through the heavily flawed arguments to the contrary.
What if the awareness that I call “I” is, ultimately, the same infinite awareness that you also refer to as “I”? What if what underlies our individual private thoughts, sensations and perceptions is universal, is shared? What if this shared universal consciousness is, ultimately, the “substance” out of which everything that is apparently separate and finite is made?
There has not been one iota of evidence that has ever been found that contradicts this possibility. Why not be open to it? In fact, the more you seriously entertain this possibility (that consciousness is universal and shared) the more you will see how absurd and anti-scientific it is that this possibility has been and continues to be discounted by so-called experts.
Repeating what I said earlier: Imagine a world filled with people who, instead of believing that they are separate finite beings, knew that we all fundamentally share our being. Imagine what it would be like if we human beings related to one another from the vantage point once suggested by an Argentinian philosopher and writer named Silo via a character in one of his fictional short stories: “I exist because you exist and vice versa.” What kind of world could we build together with this idea acting as our underlying foundational baseline?
Freedom Is Free Of The Need To Be Free
“Freedom is free of the need to be free.” The band Funkadelic said that fifty years ago, in 1970.
What this piece of writing is suggesting, at bottom, is that we are, in reality, already free. It is saying that all that is ultimately keeping us from individually and collectively realizing and actualizing the potential that lies coiled within this recognition is our long ingrained conditioning and our knee-jerk insistence on the idea that we are separate and finite.
We’ve built our whole culture, which is currently beelining for extinction at breakneck speed, on the materialist conception of reality. There is no denying that our current cultural model of reality has produced marvelous technological advances. But of what use will those advances be to us if we wipe ourselves out as a species.
We do not have to give up our technologies. Not at all! That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What we need to do is retrace our steps and reconsider how we’ve defined ourselves and how this definition corresponds to what we value most as a global culture. We’ve unknowingly shaped the way we relate to each other and to our environment based on a very shaky underlying conception of reality. Maybe it’s time to entertain a new concept of reality?
“You rise as high as your dominant aspiration. You descend to the lowest level of your concept of yourself. Free your mind and your ass will follow.” Funkadelic, from the song “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts”
With The Groove Our Only Guide
Having said all this, I don’t believe that conceptual discourses are going to be what ultimately shifts the cultural paradigm. Essays like this one can provide a window for people to look through, so that they can see that there is new terrain out there to be traversed. However, the impulse to explore and eventually occupy that new terrain is going to have to come from someplace else, in my opinion. It will come from someplace less rational that involves images and movement. We, the human race, are going to have to somehow dance our way out of this mess. We’re gonna have to learn to dance with each other, literally and figuratively.
“With the groove our only guide, We shall all be moved … Here’s our chance to dance our way, Out of our constrictions.” George Clinton, Funkadelic.
Mark Lesseraux is a singer/songwriter/philosopher from Brooklyn, New York, USA. He is a humanist, a proponent and practitioner of active nonviolence and a student of nonduality.
The photo accompanying this article is of model/actress/activist Marcia McBroom, who is the founder of the For Our Children’s Sake Foundation.