Sunday, June 18, 2006

What is Real?

water droplet
Originally uploaded by Uggla.
I began meditating in 1969 to see for myself whether there was more to our minds, and to Life, than commonly accepted. I wanted to see for myself because I didn’t trust the second hand reports available in bookstores. In the intervening years I have seen plenty: devas, demons, and the hand of God at work. For a time, I saw myself as unbounded and transcendent, in tune with and in command of the laws of Nature. But, the bottom line is this, “Was it really Real?” Having never fully trusted the writings of a disembodied author, now I have to wonder, can I even trust myself, my own experience? Have my perceptions been real or are they simply delusion? Even if we can physiologically identify the neural circuits used in generating beatific vision can this question be addressed. We may just be identifying the neurophysiology of real, brain based hallucination.

Strangely enough, objective reality has this huge social component. There is this “consensus reality” that stands for what is Real. We’ve agreed that dreams are not real, or that the image in the mirror is not real. But my bodies, cars and trees are real.

Everyday consensus reality depends upon a certain solidity. This solidity is “objective proof.” On the other hand, what we feel and see inside our heads falls into the notoriously suspect category of “subjective experience.” Of course, everything we perceive is a mental construct and thus subjective experience. But, in ordinary parlance when we talk about something being real there is a solidity to that reality that we all appreciate.

“Yes, the truck is out there, bearing down on you.” There will be real consequences.

Here is where levitation might come in as data for the grandest experiment in human history. I think a fair test for the Absolute, and by extension the reality of a meditator’s subjective experience of Pure Consciousness, is to ask if we can see some concrete effect stemming from that experience.

Levitation occurs when you settle deeply into meditation. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the practice in these words:

By making samyama on the relationship between the body and akasha and/or by acquiring the lightness of a cotton fiber, passage through the sky can be secured.

Commentary describes samyama as consisting of three elements. It begins with concentration or Dharana in which the mind is fixed upon an object. It’s as if the mind finally sees and manages to take a snap shot of the object of perception. The next stage is meditation, or Dhyana, in which thought becomes an unbroken flow toward the object of concentration. The snap shot is now transformed into a frameless motion picture. The third and final stage is absorption, or Samadhi. There is no longer a duality between object of perception and perceiver, between the object and subject.

Yoga Sutra commentaries explain that by being absorbed into the relationship between the solid body and akasha, the element of space or ether “and/or” [translations vary] absorption of the lightness of a cotton fiber, the mind becomes lightness itself, and as the mind changes, so does the body. Thus the physical body looses its heaviness and lifts into the air, thereby revealing that the solidity we had perceived as our body was all along created by our consciousness.

If levitation is actually occurring, it means that a specific subjective experience correlates with the ability to counteract gravity, one of the four fundamental forces of the universe. More concretely you can argue that to pop a body into the air, consciousness must have the ability to overcome, to actually do away with (if you believe the above commentary) the body’s mass and inertia. Andy thought in terms of the nervous system generating an antigravity force. And here we can get into actual physics.

Soviet dissident and physicist, Andrei Sakhorov, was the first to conclude that gravity, could be understood as the effects caused by changes in quantum fluctuations of the vacuum state in the presence of matter. (Elsewhere, I’ll have to talk about the vacuum state. It’s an invention of theoretical physics and it seems remarkable analogous to what the East calls Pure Consciousness, or the Absolute.) Through the years, Sakhorov’s speculation has been refined into a literature of quantum-fluctuation induced gravity. The argument has grown to include a similar connection between vacuum fluctuations and inertia- the resistance of a body to being accelerated. Inertia arises when a body is accelerated relative to a frame of reference. We are pushed back into our seats when a jet takes off down the runway. While it appears that our acceleration is relative to the earth, actually it is relative to the stars. To make the point more graphically, H.E. Puthoff writes that “one could say that it is the stars that deliver the punch.” However, the mechanism by which the stars manage to connect to us remains unexplained. Puthoff and others believe that the force is transmitted to us by “the wall of vacuum fluctuations acting as proxy for the fixed stars through which one attempted to accelerate.”

Here is the abstract from an article entitled “Mass Modification Experiment Definition Study” published in a 1996 report to the Advanced Concepts Office of the Propulsion Directorate of the Phillips Lab at Edwards Air Force Base:

“Many researchers see the vacuum as a central ingredient of 21st-Century physics. Some even believe the vacuum may be harnessed to provide a limitless supply of energy. This report summarizes an attempt to find an experiment that would test the Haisch, Reuda and Puthoff (HRP) conjecture that the mass and inertia of a body are induced effects brought about by changes in the quantum fluctuation energy of the vacuum…. It was possible to find an experiment that might be able to prove or disprove that the inertial mass of a body can be altered by making changes in the vacuum surrounding the body.”

To me, it seems that a meditator levitating would also be the proof-of-principle that physicists go after. And I can think of no greater scientific discovery than that of human consciousness (and by extension human physiology) being able to interact with a physical force that permeates the spacetime continuum (i.e. gravity). To show that levitation actually occurs would be to demonstrate that our inner, subjective experience can intermesh with and modify objective reality. Or as Stanislov Grof has written, it proves that the Self does indeed extend “beyond the brain.”

So what is real? Maharishi use to say, “Reality is different in different states of consciousness.” To most people, a truck is real. To a mystic, the truck can be taken on entirely different levels. It can be part of the Cosmic Game, a delicious play of Self. Or, it can be “non-self” and thus not real with a capital “R.”

Maybe one day May, 1977 will be regarded as an historic moment. Maybe one day, we’ll be able to see that levitation is possible and we will have a science that can explain how such an impossible event can transpire. Maybe then, we can heed these words:

“You never identify yourself with the shadow cast by your body, or with its reflection, or with the body you see in a dream or in your imagination. Therefore you should not identify yourself with this living body either.”

Viveka Chudamani by Shankara (788-820 AD)
Quoted in “Consciousness and Body Image,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. (1998)

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