If we follow the process of evolution back as far as single cell beings, they have no eyes, no ears, etc. They are cell bodies with a nucleus inside and they respond to the things they come into contact with. They respond to sensations on and within the body.
We are an evolved species that draws on this heritage. We start our lives as a single cell which must come into contact with the necessary stimulus in order to fertilise and grow into who we are today. Our subconscious is like the single cell, it is constantly responding to sensations on and within the body. This is how we manage to maintain homeostasis and regulate all the complex processes that keep us alive and healthy.
We are so evolved that we’ve developed sense tools such as vision & hearing, which expand our awareness beyond our immediate physicality in space. They give us a sense of over there and the area around us. With the aid of taste & smell we also have a strong sense of what we take into our being.
These highly evolved sense tools create sensations on the body so that the subconscious mind can respond to them. This makes it easier to maintain homeostasis within our environment.
There is one more sense tool that we have evolved. This sense tool enables us to take our awareness even further. It is the mind, or the sense of thought. We are able to appreciate and understand a landscape, a situation, a feeling and so much more through abstract thought. As you read this now you are using the very sense tool! It enables us to share ideas and appreciate different sides of the same story.
This sense tool also works in a similar way, creating sensations on the body that the subconscious responds to. A simple yet effective survival technique. Nice/favourable sensations and the subconscious will try to recreate the experience, unfavourable sensations it will try to avoid.
According to the Buddha this simple survival technique is the cause of all our miseries! We spend almost all our time wanting, and in extreme cases craving the nice sensations that we experience from time to time, and most of the rest of our time not wanting or trying to avoid the unpleasant sensations. This happens at the subconscious level, as we almost unknowingly and constantly react to the sensations on the body in order to maintain homeostasis, a life supporting balance.
The process of homeostasis is a process of constant change. Sometimes it seems like a slow gradual, almost unnoticeable change and sometimes the changes are noticeable. What we can be sure of though is that we are not the same as when we were first born; and it was not one huge change that happened overnight. We have been (and still are) changing with billions of tiny changes constantly taking place.
All of these changes, tiny as they are, are observable. By sharpening the conscious mind, we can experience all of the sensations on the body consciously. A lot of the stronger ones we experience anyway, pain, pins & needles, prickling, stinging, heat, cold, sweating, the touch of our clothes, the touch of a person and there are many more… There are also many subtle sensations that we can also begin to experience if we learn to sharpen our mind and develop our awareness.
The process that Gotama the Buddha describes to sharpen the mind is Anapana meditation. We take the breath as our map, our guide that will help us find the doorway that connects the conscious and subconscious. It’s a good start but where on the map is the door!?
We need to zoom in so that we can see the detail. With Anapana meditation we focus in on the triangular area above the upper lip to the top of the nostrils, and in a Goenka 10 day course you spend 3 full days learning to discover the subtle sensations over this & even smaller areas.
It is important to learn to just observe these sensations, and that means to observe them without reacting to them.
When we start to observe the sensations on the body, we may have a feeling that this is a nice sensation. This is a good situation because it is easy to focus on nice sensations. We have already established that we are constantly changing, and so we know that this nice sensation is not going to be there forever. If we react in this situation we are likely to grow attatchment to the nice sensation. Then when it passes away we will look for a way of repeating the experience. The cause of all our desires, all our wants, is the subconscious’ search to find these nice sensations on the on the body!
Other times we may find an unpleasant sensation. If we react in this situation we are likely to do something to try and get rid of the sensation. Again we know that the sensation is not going to be there forever because we are constantly changing. So reacting to unpleasant sensations could be seen as wasted effort! It sounds a bit harsh. If something is unpleasant, why shouldn’t we change our situation and do something about it? The fact is that there are millions of sensations happening all over your body every second. By reacting to them we will never find any peace.
These sensations are the result of changes taking place on and within the body. When anything changes from one form to another, some energy will be used up in the process. In the case of changes on and within the body, the energy that is used up creates an observable sensation. These sensations are observed and reacted to by the subconscious, and they can also be observed by the conscious mind if the mind is both sharp enough and has a subtle enough awareness.
By learning to just observe without reacting, we begin to see the changing phenomenon of mind-body for what it really is. We experience the impermanence of everything firsthand and we feel the environment that both nourishes and feeds our conscious. By knowing the environment that our conscious mind lives in we can understand why we react the way we do. We can also learn to recognise the environment other people’s conscious minds live in and understand the cause of their actions too. Eventually, we can become powerful masters of ourselves choosing what to react to.
In this way our actions cease to be reactions, they become choices. Choices informed by our experience of the truth. Our truth. Everyone’s truth is different, but a world of people living their truth would be a great thing because within each of our unique embodied truths are the universal truths.
The truth that we are all extra ordinary beings of sensation…