A Reflection 4.2 – Consciousness

            In the book “The Untethered Soul,” the author Michael Singer says, “Consciousness is the highest word you will ever utter” (page 28). Why?

            I turn now to my own self. What do I think about this which comes from within me? What do I contemplate, without going to Mr. Singer’s book and reading the answer? I want to know what my thoughts are because it must be what my consciousness has to say to me.

            Oh, shoot. The first thing that came to mind was from an article on consciousness found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I read there a few months ago on panpsychism: that consciousness is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality that exists throughout reality. I rather liked the idea that consciousness is, and nothing more needs to be said. In my own words, I would say that consciousness is the fabric of existence.

            Mr. Singer said that consciousness is the highest word. Others would say that the name of Jesus is highest. Why does the height of the word matter to me? What happens to me when I utter the word consciousness or think it? Does how I feel change? Well yes. In my case, thinking the word consciousness is a prayer of calling. That tells me that I think consciousness is more like a being with whom I can communicate. I think that the consciousness feature of the universe is also relational. From that point of view, then those who say Jesus or Spirit, are communicating with the same feature of the universe that I am.

            I think that my consciousness and my soul are the same. I also think that my consciousness was somehow in a non-physical state before I was born. But I can’t prove this and it surely comes partly from the study of other spiritual writers and from my own intuitive thoughts. Consciousness has not yet been measured. We don’t know when it arrives in any physical body or where it goes under anesthesia. Consciousness is not DNA but it probably utilized epigenetics and brain circuitry, and in fact, helps build these from the ground up in a new human apparatus. Some neuroscientists believe that consciousness is just brain circuits arranged in a particular way as a result of experience and predictive simulation. “A mind is something that emerges from a transaction between your brain and your body while they are surrounded by other brain-in-bodies that are immersed in a physical world and constructing a social world” (7½ Lessons About the Brain. Lisa Feldman Barrett, page 100). I think that there is more than just a brain. So I am a philosophical duelist, not a physicalist. Unconscious parts of my brain are still part of my consciousness. The only meaning that human life has is consciousness. There is a difference between consciousness and conscience. My conscience directs me. My consciousness listens to my conscience. But in many ways, my conscience is as mysterious as my consciousness and similar to my consciousness.

            I’m not sure that there is a difference between consciousness and love. And so I will have to stop this reflection. Love is ineffable to me.

An Essay on The Zone

            Two days ago, after twenty miles, I found myself pushing through the last six miles of a marathon. It was the second marathon in two days. I was supposed to run a third marathon on day three. I consciously thought during this second marathon, “If you don’t slow down and reduce the damage, you won’t be able to run another marathon tomorrow.” The reply of my consciousness was, “I’m feeling good. Let’s throw all our stuff into this one race.” I couldn’t slow down. I was compelled to keep running as fast as I could. I was driven to push beyond logic and self-protection. How did I get to that condition where I could throw away logical consideration and seek a peak performance? What was I experiencing or trying to get out of this experience?

            One definition of consciousness is experience. Consciousness is: what it is like to experience something. The mental state I experienced during that second marathon is what I call being in the Zone. The Zone is a term often used concerning peak performances of athletes. But I also think the Zone is an experience of the brain’s default mode network shutting down enough that one can “get out of their head,” get out of their self. We feel much better when we are out of our heads and focused on performance. Sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, gambling, zip-lining, meditation, and many other experiences, are ways to get in the Zone, to experience some peak mental state. The Zone is riding the wave.

            Back to my marathon Zone experience, and its analysis. First of all, the Zone is unpredictable for me. I’ve run over 100 marathons in my life and most of them were not Zone experiences. Mostly they were pain and perseverance. To experience the Zone, the moons have to line up. For a marathon Zone experience, what has to line up? My body has to be trained but also feeling good on the day of the event. The weather has to be ideal for running fast, like coolish temperature and not raining. The course of the race has to be fairly easy, not too hilly. The environment of the race has to be fairly hassle free. That is, I didn’t get too pissed off over traffic, parking, waiting in lines, inconvenient packet pick-up, etc. For my marathon Zone experience, I also needed the consciousness of making a conscious aware choice. Internally, I had to choose between the logic of slowing down to protect my body, or riding the wave of higher consciousness and running at my physical limit. I had to have the awareness to feel the Zone in real-time. I had to feel the compulsion to run, the presence of the wave and riding it. That uncontrollable compulsion to keep trashing my body is the thing I keep feeling and experiencing over and over now, two days later. That feeling, that moment, is the Zone. I felt some consciousness, other than my usual logical ego-self, pushing me into a peak performance. I was being all I could be. It was a moment in time of living beyond what I could logically produce. I don’t know for sure how the wave got there, but I noticed its presence and I consciously jumped on it.

            Physiologically speaking, the experience of the zone requires combining activation of the nucleus accumbens, the ventral tegmental area, and the prefrontal cortex, all with a good soaking of dopamine. The nucleus accumbens is the pleasure center of the brain. It is stimulated by dopamine. The ventral tegmental area stimulates the release of dopamine. It is stimulated by an outside experience. The pre-frontal cortex is for decision-making. It regulates the activity of the nucleus accumbens and the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is produced in the substantia nigra, ventral tegmental area, and hypothalamus of the brain. I, as the consciousness that lives in this body, cannot directly enact a neurological circuit that feels like a peak experience. I can’t push a button in the pre-frontal cortex and feel the zone. All I can do is think thoughts, and notice how I feel. I, that consciousness that lives here, am not physical. This statement, I am not physical, is what brings me to the whole importance of the experience of the Zone.

            Is there anything spiritual about being in the Zone, or producing a beyond mental state, to connect with some higher level of consciousness that can be called spiritual? I deeply want the spiritual: conscious contact with a non-physical realm of being. I want my life to be something more than the biological effects of having a human brain. Neuroscientists and philosophers do not know where consciousness comes from and cannot measure it. I myself, as I sit here thinking about my experience and writing this essay, know for sure that I am more than a purely physical, neurologically developed ego. That I am a non-physical entity with a human body and brain is my conclusion. And you know what? I now define peak experience as conscious contact with my higher consciousness, the spiritual realm of being. Experiencing this spiritual aspect seems to be my whole purpose of living.

Virtual Marathon, An Experience of Conscience

 

Awesome Houston Marathon swag.

Marathons are hard. They are all hard, for the fast and the slow alike. Some people don\’t know so I\’ll tell you: a marathon is 26.2 miles. In the time of COVID, many races got canceled and many popular races offered a virtual race. A virtual race means that you run the distance by yourself, on your own course, and report the results. Then, the race organizers send you the swag: a medal, shirt, and bib. 

In 2018, as the gun went off in January for the Houston marathon, I was sitting on my bed with a box of Kleenex and feeling miserable. It was the only time I had entered the Houston marathon. I had been entered for a year because the race fills up. I did not start, DNS. 

So, fast forward to 2021, I no longer live in Houston. However, the Houston marathon is canceled and a virtual option is available. I signed up just to get some Houston marathon swag. It means a lot to me to have this swag for my collection of virtual marathon medals.

But running a marathon in January is a tricky thing in Missouri. It is usually too cold to spend 6 hours outside jogging and walking your way through 26 miles. I had assumed that I might have to run the Houston marathon on a treadmill. This year, however, the weather is pretty warm. The problem is snow laying on the ground. The snow on the bike paths means I can\’t use them for running. But in the little complex where I live, the roads have been spectacularly cleared. 

I picked yesterday to run my Houston marathon. It was supposed to get warm. I had devised a 1.2 mile loop around the complex. I could return to my home for pit stops. I had to start the marathon after the sun came up, but early enough that I could finish before it started to cool off. I got started at 8:40. The first miles were a bit slow and tricky because of…black ice. I only fell once.

The day was beautiful. I settled into lap after lap. What happens in my head during 6 hours of boring running? Frequently, my head is trying to figure out how to quit. Falling on the ice was the first excuse. Along with excuses for quitting, there are devious plans to fake results and post them anyway just to get the swag. It is only a virtual race so what does it matter if I lie about the results? Truth is, my brain wants to quit in real races and often suggests that I cut the course. 

I have never cheated in a marathon or anything. While some part of my brain goes on and on with cheating suggestions, some other part of my brain quietly pursues real achievement. I call this quiet part of my brain my conscience. 

Up until 14 or 15 miles, I find jogging quite easy. The black ice has been disappearing. The sun is out and actually doing its job of warming the earth. But after that, my feet begin to hurt and persevering becomes harder. I cut myself a break and start adding short walk breaks. Once past 20 miles, I know I can finish, even if I walk the last 6 miles. 

For most of my life, I\’ve been a runner, sometimes sacrificing hours at work because I need to go running. I spent my career getting up at 3:45 in order to go running before going to work. I often wondered if I was wasting my life. But now, I think not. What I am doing each time I complete a marathon without cheating, especially if I am doing it by myself, is experiencing a higher-order consciousness than ego consciousness. I experience my Conscience. The experience of Conscience is one of the highest things a human can experience, and running marathons gives this to me.

Quiet and Wet

This weekend, there is no excitement with racing. I am quietly doing miles. Owing to a stationary low pressure, Houston has been drenched all week and it continues to rain.

This morning, I thought about the treadmill. But, nah! It wasn\’t raining that hard and was pretty warm. So I went outside for my run. I ran pretty fast for 7 miles. It surprised me how fast.

Then I went out again in the afternoon. I was taking it easy by walking and jogging on a path by a lake. I went there to be near water. It did rain some more. For awhile it was very light, but finally a downpour with wind so I stopped as I was getting cold and not having fun. 14 miles total today.

This evening I did a strength workout of 34 minutes. Now my shoulders are quivering. I did this workout while listening to Garrison Keeler on A Prairie Home Companion. He was cracking jokes about his seizure earlier this week. He will retire in July. I will miss his shows.

I am reading a book written before 1900. Maybe more like 1800. It is upstairs so I don\’t have it in front of me. I love the detailed writing style.

Today I downloaded a voice recording app to my ipad. And I recorded my own voice reading a meditation. I think it will work very well to go deeper into Mind. Last weekend, when I was in the zone, I learned about my inner self. This weekend in my running and meditating and silence, I am learning about my inner self also. What I know about my inner self is it\’s drive. It has an urgent need to push forward.

Tomorrow, there will be more miles.

Grace

It is 4 days since my foot surgery. I am off the hydrocodone and my brain is functioning normally right now. My body hates hydrocodone. It threw it up yesterday, thank you very much.

A set of wheels makes a huge difference in the life of a one legged person:

Crutches are very difficult, but this little scooter makes many things possible.

I have tremendous access to support staff.

So I am always pondering greater issues of the spirit, wondering if I do indeed have a higher self. I realize I am an ego consciousness; but an ego that wants to be more than an ego. This desire could in itself be egotistical; or it could be a symptom of a true higher call.

During surgery, I was \”gone\” for about 2 hours. My body, while still alive, was completely an object in other peoples realities. Like, no less than 3 anesthesiology staff were pissed at me because I am hard to intubate. The results of their work, in the form of gouges in the back of my mouth, still hurt.

I do not know this world if the body connection is taken away. But, when it was restored, I came back. Am I the brain in the body or a spirit which returns to this body while this body exists? Some of chose on faith to live from the spiritual foundation. I myself find the spiritual foundation inescapable.

It is fitting that I would arrive today at a chapter on Grace in Paul Brunton\’s book \”The Wisdom of the Overself.\” Here are some quotes:
\”What is Grace? It is a descent of the Overself into the underself\’s zone of awareness. It is a visitation of power…the voice of the Overself speaking suddenly out of the cosmic silence….a mystical energy…an active principle….Such is its dynamic potency that it can confer insight into ultimate reality as easily as it can lift a dying person to life again…Grace manifests itself in two ways: first a sense of dissatisfaction and insufficiency with the exterior life alone, second: a yearning for inner reality.\”
\”Psychoanalytical professors are apt to regard what they call the unconscious mind of man as a bottomless well swarming only with shapes of lust and lewdness. They have yet to learn that it holds also an infinite fund of goodness, truth and beauty such as would overwhelm them with its grandeur could they become but momentarily aware of it.\”

My decades long obsession with spiritual matters is fruitful. I used to think it was a failure since I had not achieved that enlightenment described in the books. It has taken a long time to believe that the subtler and frequent awarenesses are true and permanent. I refuse now to de-value the still small voice.

Just as the healing of my foot is going on in a silent cast, so the transformation of my ego is going on in the cocoon of this life.

Who Do I Follow?

You are about to think I follow a philosopher, so I\’ll say upfront: this philosopher has helped me frame \”who I follow.\”

I have been reading the notebooks of Paul Brunton (google him to find these online). I am up to book 5, with 11 to go. This morning I read about 3 different types of consciousness: individual pseudo-consciouness (I call ego), society\’s collective will and true inner divine wisdom.

As a solitary, contemplative, mature athlete, vegetarian, non-religious, spiritualist much of my life goes against society\’s collective will. Hence it feels like sin. My quest to give up many of the things related to money and position cause my ego much angst. Hence they also feel like sin. However, these sins are not true sins. They are in fact life on a higher moral plane than the norm. Isn\’t that interesting. Attempts to rise above the group cause angst. What strength of will or reliance on the inner divine can enable this diversion from group norms?

I am taking a break from workouts for a day or two to rest up for my weekend at the Silverton 1000. I am using the time for reflection and additional meditation. I am resting an endocrine system and feeding it super nutrition. Symbolically, I put new batteries in the car\’s key fob and cleaned the toilet. Today, I will get a deep tissue massage.

Multi-day races are for the patiently enduring. The average age of the athlete rises into the 50\’s. Its point is the forward movement over time and the eventual mental and physical struggle; a microcosm of life and death and re-birth.

My bags are packed. 2 days of work. Thursday, I fly to Durango. Friday, the race starts.