Thursday, July 06, 2006

Enlightenment & Witnessing

Originally uploaded by JoeBanana.
To Maharishi the hallmark of Cosmic Consciousness is the discovery of the “Self as separate from activity.” This is also called “witnessing” as a way of emphasizing the fact that the Self becomes a silent witness uninvolved in all activity. Buddhists cultivate “detachment” and this conveys a similar sentiment. On the other hand, the medical community describes a emotion distancing called “depersonalization.”

Since the 1860’s there have been numerous reports that some people with temporal lope epilepsy (about 15%) experience a shift in emotions and perception called depersonalization (in reference changed perception of self) and derealization (in reference to changes in perception of the world). For instance, two patients described this shift in these words:

“The singing of birds sounds different to me, as do the utterances of my relatives; the air feels different, and the body feels as if made from another material…I seem to be walking around in a world I recognize but don’t feel…”

“My husband and I have always been happy together but now he sits here and might be a complete stranger. I know he is my husband only by his appearance- he might be anybody for all I feel towards him.”

The psychologist’s diagnostic bible, the DSM IV, formally defines “depersonalization disorder” in this manner:

“… characterized by a feeling of detachment or estrangement from one’s self. The individual may feel like an automaton or as if he or she is living in a dream or movie. There may be a sensation of being an outside observer of ones mental processes, one’s body… and a sensation of lacking control of one’s actions, including speech.”

“Living in a dream or movie,” to me, this sounds like a good description of the witnessing experienced by individuals with Cosmic Consciousness-like experiences.
In 1990, Richard Castillo, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Harvard University, wrote an article entitled, “Depersonalization and Meditation.” He interviewed many TM meditators as to their experience with witnessing.

There was Ms. B, a 34 year-old graduate student. At the time of being interviewed, she had been doing TM for 14 years. She first experienced witnessing 11 years prior to her interview.

“I was talking with someone and all of a sudden it felt as if I wasn’t doing the talking. And it was a very disconcerting experience because you always feel like you’re in charge. And all of a sudden I had the feeling, “Who’s doing this talking? It’s not me.” So I was listening to my voice and the words came out without my doing it. It feels like a dichotomy. You’re so used to being a part of the experience you’re undergoing that to all of a sudden not be part of that is very strange.”

There was also the 38 year-old chiropractor, married with one child, who had his first experience of witnessing 12 years prior. In 1990 he was experiencing witnessing to a mild degree a large part of the time:

“There is a definite aliveness to the environment, almost as if you’re aware that there is consciousness in everything. A normal day for me is when everything just goes right. When things don’t go right, then I think it’s strange. But my emotions are not ecstatic… I would say sort of warm; and it’s very fulfilling in a knowing sort of sense rather than in a feeling sense.”

Castillo concludes that depersonalization in meditators practicing TM results in the loss of the ability to feel strong emotions, either negative or positive. Instead, there is a constant experience of mild pleasantness or contentment. He viewed these meditators as successful in their careers, satisfied with their lives, optimistic with regards to the future. To Castillo, their depersonalization did not seem like pathology. But, it did represent a significant change in perception and consciousness.

Mahairishi has commented upon the strangeness of witnessing:

“…one begins to feel one’s Self as separate from activity. This experience brings with it a feeling of confusion. One finds oneself active and yet inwardly one feels somewhat aloof from activity. Doubts begin to arise in the mind, and the intellect seeks an explanation… Without proper understanding, even direct experience of eternal freedom may be found to create confusion and fear… in this state [one] fails to live Being fully, fails to possess the Self in Its full glory and grace.”

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