The Enigma of Consciousness 12b – The Think/Feel

Curriculum Focus

  • What is Reality
  • The Awesome XX
  • Foundation of Freedom
  • Recreational Silence
  • Awe States

Material

Marshall, Gene, The Enigma of Consciousness, Realistic Living Press, Bonham, TX, 2012. Chapter 12.

Great Thinks, Great Feels, and Great Resolves

Being conscious that we are conscious beings is impossible without the aid of the symbol-using mind, but it is also true that the thoughts of our mind are substitutes for the realities they symbolize. As conscious contemplators of our inward reality, we need to remain clear that thoughts are an important reality, but that the thoughts themselves are not synonymous with the Reality to which they point. Just as the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon, so every thought, while a real finger, is not the object to which that thought points.

The thought that thoughts are Reality is as off the mark as thinking that a dictionary is the same as the objects and relations to which the words of that dictionary point. Our human thinking is a very complex and wonderful dictionary that we humans have created to augment our handling of Reality. This dictionary is a valuable tool that our consciousness can use, but to use our dictionary well we must be clear that the items in our dictionary are not Reality. They point to Reality, but they point to Reality partially. Reality is more than our mental dictionary encompasses. Seeing this truth is the first step toward true wisdom.

A person who is lost in thought, as we say, is not a true thinker. A true thinker is someone who is aware that his or her thought is not Reality, but only a pointer to Reality. A true thinker is therefore open to think different thoughts because of this awareness that Reality is always more than the thoughts we currently think. Reality does support some thoughts better than other thoughts, but no thoughts can be counted on as the last word about Reality.

The Great Think that Reality is beyond thought can transport consciousness to a state of Awe, where Awe is defined as a primal dread of the Unknown plus a fascination with the Unknown plus an elemental courage to remain conscious of this dread and this fascination. Dread and fascination are words that point to a vast array of specific feelings in our bodies, not our minds. We can use the term Great Feel to point to whatever feeling attend a specific Great Think about Reality beyond thought. The courage it takes to remain conscious of a Great Think and its attending Great Feel also has a specificity that can be pointed to with the term Great Resolve. Any specific state of Awe can be described as a Great Think, a Great Feel, and a Great Resolve. This threefold description (Think, Feel, Resolve) are not the Awe itself but mere pointers to the Awe. The Awe itself is an experience within some human beings consciousness of which that consciousness can be conscious through the agency of the symbol-using mind.

I will illustrate these dynamic of Awe experience by describing a simple experience of Awe that we have all likely experienced. Each of the following sentences can be said to constitute a Great Think that associates with a specific Awe experience:

Life and Death are two wings on the same bird.

Life is a countercurrent that turns rock, water, and air into living, and living is a fragile quality that death will turn back to rock, water, and air.

Death walks with us every day of our living. As Carlos Casteneda suggests, Death walks behind us just over our left shoulder. If we turn our head quickly we might see Death walking there.

Each of these thoughts comprise a Great Think if they awaken in us a Great Feel. So what Great Feel do we feel as we think the sort of Great Thinks just listed Perhaps the state of Awe involved includes a dread that what we call life is not forever. We may experience this as a pain we could do without. It is a presence of rawness that we often want to ignore or suppress or find some substitute for. Let us think happier thoughts, do some distracting thing. Surely we need to flee somewhere rather than walk today with death. This dread, if we take courage to live with it, is also attended by fascination. We are drawn to death. We pay attention to the deaths of various persons in our lives. We attend funerals or wakes with the courage to face our sorrow and our identification with being a person who also dies. We may hope that the funeral will paste a smiling face on our experience of death, help us deny death or forget about death. Perhaps the pastor was chosen to help us deny the reality of death. Nevertheless, the funeral in its essence is a ritual of fascination drawing us to the reality of death. Perhaps we experience this fascination as a kind of peace or rest from the frantic impulses we have been doing to avoid being conscious of death. For a moment or for a week or for a year we may allow our sorrow, our grief, our fear, and perhaps our relief to just be there as the reality that this funeral symbolizes.

Such Great Thinks and Great Feels about the ever-presence of death do not remain in our consciousness without a Great Resolve, without a choice for Reality over escape. So how do we describe the Great Resolve required to live in the face of the Reality of the ever-presence of death It is a sort of solidity of commitment about not being taken in by the superficiality of any assertion that only a life without death is worth living. Real life and real death are worth living: this is the resolve that permits the Awe state we are describing. The mystery of coming into being and going out being is the life that is worth living. Indeed, it the only life there ever was or ever will be. In this Great Resolve, I join the animals and the trees in affirming life; I rejoice in my privilege of having this opportunity to live, however short or however long this opportunity may last. As Psalm 90 puts it in the form of a prayer to Reality, So teach us to count our days that we may enjoy a heart of wisdom. Such words as these enable our consciousness to notice the Great Resolve that enables us to experience and continue in the Great Feel and Great Think that death walks with us every moment of our living. Such a courageous opening to the actual is an experience of Awe before the Awesome Unknowable Reality in which we dwell.

There are an unlimited number of ways of being in Awe. Each Great Think that carries us beyond what we think we know to what we know with our consciousness beyond all thinking carries us to some state of Awe. A feeling of dread may predominate or a feeling of fascination may predominate. It may take great courage to sustain this particular state of Awe Consciousness, or only a little courage. Each Awe experience is unique. I am here and not there can be a Great Think that emphasizes fascination for us. We may feel mostly gratitude for our opportunity to live our life. If our life is very hard at the moment, the dread aspect of this Great Think may also be strong. The Resolve to be here, to be here intentionally may take great courage or seem quite easy. The unlimited states of Awe can be categorized in many ways.

Reflection Questions

  1. What are the words or phrases that caught your attention in this section

  2. What is the difference between a thought and Reality

  3. What does this statement mean: Reality is more than our mental dictionary encompasses. Seeing this truth is the first step toward true wisdom.

  4. What is awe as described in Paragraph 4

  5. Talk about the experience you experience when you encounter the thought: Life is a countercurrent that turns rock, water, and air into living, and living is a fragile quality that death will turn back to rock, water, and air.

  6. What are some of your favorite distractions for avoiding the dread that often accompanies an awe state

  7. What does it mean to make a choice for Reality over escape

  8. What examples can you share from your life of Great Thinks, Great Feels, or Great Resolves

  9. In your experience, what is required to sustain a life-lived-in-Awe