25. A Conscious Relationship to Experience
A conscious relationship to experience is one in which one is aware of the contents of consciousness not as reality but as experience. To be aware of contents as such (as object-- whether in the world or in the mind) implies a subject/object relationship. In being aware of the object per se one is simultaneously aware of one's creative awareness as subject and the indeterminate presence of the object. In an unconscious-- or pre-subjective-- relationship to experience, there is awareness of the object alone, but not as an object. Rather, there is total absorption in whatever appears to be happening, without awareness of having experience at all.
In the naive pre-subjective consciousness, the subject does not exist, but only the world. That is, everything contained in what we subjectives call the mind is projected as "objectively" existing in the external world. (Not the physical world as we sophisticates conceive it, but the magical world of what we would call objectified psychic forces, in which subject and object are merged without distinction. The concept of the external physical world of modern science is a product of the subjective era, along with the concepts of psychology). As the subject comes further into being, so does the object. The world becomes more objective in our view as we become more consciously subjective-- not in the sense of irrational or narcissistic, but in claiming responsibility for experience. As the subject evolves, more of the cognitive apparatus becomes an object of awareness; less of it is projected into the world as "reality". This means, paradoxically, that the subject moves further interior to experience, which is perceived more as an object with which it is no longer unconsciously identified.
In subjective consciousness, the relationship of the subject to objects-of-experience is one of relative but increasing freedom. The subject, in pre-subjective consciousness, does not know itself to exist, and so has no authority within the organism. There is no power to consciously choose a course of action because there is no self to choose it. The subject is totally identified with the organism's programming, which it cannot distinguish from the reality of the world. The point of view of the subject is simply that of the organism-- completely determined and reactive. But a transformation begins in subjective consciousness, in which the point of view of the subject is increasingly disengaged from that of the organism. The subject is less obliged to see and respond to the world through the body's values and the mind's conditioning, and more able simply to see the world for what it is and to see the programming of the organism for what it is. The subject becomes cognizant of its situation at the epistemic center of a "complex adaptive system" which is a player in the game of life, a survival machine. With this recognition comes some choice of whether, how, and when to identify with the organism.
The evolving subject occupies an increasingly transcendent and logically superior position. It is potentially free from its identification with the organism and with all contents of mind. What invests experience with urgency is the sense of reality associated with it. If that is discovered to be merely a program of the organism, there is little reason to be compelled by it other than the desire to survive, which is also but a program of the organism. Experience loses its automatic import and action becomes a voluntary play of gratuitous forms. The world is seen to be an improvised drama, not meaningless but without fixed substance.
The ultimate implication of subjective consciousness is that the subject is freed even from its own reality. The subject realizes it is nothing but a receding and effervescent perspective on a shadow show. Even its own drive toward subjective freedom, of increasing independence and power, is seen as part of the evolving machinery of the organism hosting it-- another ephemeral object with which it can decline to identify.
On the robbing of consciousness of its intrinsic qualities through reductionism, a contemporary philosopher writes:
"No one ever considered his own terrible pain or his deepest worry and concluded that they were just Turing machine states or that they could be entirely defined in terms of their causes and effects or that attributing such states to themselves was just a matter of taking a certain stance toward themselves".
But this is precisely the spiritual accomplishment of subjective consciousness! The Buddha and thousands of other aspirants to enlightenment have claimed that suffering is a matter of cause and effect and that release from suffering is a matter of the stance we take in regard to experience. They teach that "reality" and "self" are alike inherently empty, and that our deeply identified states are the effects of thought or belief-- that is, Turing machine states!
Mind can appeal only to objects of consciousness-- things apparently outside itself (whether reality, logic, or even emotion). It must have reason or just cause-- that is, justification analogous to cause. Therefore the mind's hope for change remains tied to the contents of experience. It waits upon a change in experience in order to shift its priorities, leading to a change in behavior. Usually one does not strictly decide to behave (or think) differently, rather expecting to have a course of action dictated by experience, which usually means by something in the world. The mind depends upon experience to know what to do, looks to "reality" constantly, and in fact is addicted to it.
This leads to the perverse effect of experience being repeated in the misguided belief in it as oracle. But then, since it is worshipped, experience does not change, except to become exaggerated. The dependency upon experience cannot be broken, so long as one waits upon it to change first. New experiences may dictate new behavior, but the dependency continues. The cycle can be broken only by intention, with a change in experience following (or not-- it is irrelevant!) One must choose to change the relationship to experience rather than expecting the content to change. Apparent choice is between experiences, while the deeper choice is at another level. Apparent choice is between the wants of the ego, but the real choice is whether to follow ego or surrender ego. Whether to pursue being someone or to let go of being anyone. Ego consciousness is a floating cursor that follows whatever object appears "out there". The real alternative is to abide at center.
The life cycle and the daily cycle present us with these levels of choice and take us through the range of states from overidentification to the dissolution of all ties in death. We suffer many little deaths through loss and frustration, and then the big one. The normal course is to experience this cycle in time. But the possibility afforded us in the conscious relationship to experience is to face death outside of time. Thus we have the opportunity to be fluid in embracing change, through internalizing as logical relationships those we normally experience as causally imposed. Even in the midst of health and plenty, we can know-- for instance, at the moment of apparent loss-- the wisdom of letting go, since this is based on knowing the state of non-identification before loss or death. We step out of time and causal circumstance, out of limited thought and purpose identified with the premises of life, and into a timeless relationship with the whole cycle, embracing the dramatic urgencies of life within the context of the eternal ocean of Being in which all appearances arise and fall. In a conscious relationship to experience, we know ourselves to be both the thrill of the surf and the silence of the deep. We recognize this embodied and identified experience as a momentary unfolding of the stillness on either side of the great phase transitions of life. Dwelling in this awareness beyond time, recognizing we are temporarily on loan to a life that is beyond our control, we can be ready to go or to let go at a moment's notice. Herein lies freedom.