Darkness of the Psyche

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The Inner Tradition and consciousness...

The nature and source of human consciousness lies outside the realm of Newtonian style science, and outside the realm of the varied contents of the psyche, for it contains them.

The psyche can form an explanation of it – can infer the existence of an unperceived observer or 'witness', but only when attention is 'pointed' toward it by something outside itself.

It is sometimes revealed or experienced in the inner darkness of meditation or prayer, in which bare consciousness survives even when we are not conscious of anything.

The first of my examples, mentioned above, was one that is common to those who learn to meditate or pray in traditional ways. We had just learned to meditate, and were meditating together in one of the three buildings I referred to.

The activity of the meditation became faint in my psyche. It vanished in stillness, so that I was 'ignorant' in the sense in which it was probably used by the early saints and modern monastics; I was no longer aware of anything. 'Not very impressive', you could say.

Yet afterwards I could remember a gap, a 'flash' in my awareness, yet not of light, but of darkness, and this, the first time it happened, was something new to me.

Only later did I come to understand it in terms of consciousness. Modern definitions of self-consciousness are what I call 'transitive': they refer to a condition in which we are conscious-of something, and so they contain subject and object.
But in this inner darkness to which I refer, we still are ... we still are conscious, yet at that moment we are no longer conscious-of anything at-all.

There is, for that moment, subject, but no object.

A new concept of consciousness

“For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but [by means of] the Spirit of God.”

Consciousness is not seen fully through intentionality, as modern philosophy suggests; but it can be clearly comprehended through special methods of interior meditation, especially through prayer of the heart, which provides us with means of transcending and becoming free from the activities of the psyche.

When prayer transcends the activities of the psyche, consciousness is directly experienced in the combination of self-awareness with the absence of any changing content. This not only proves that awareness can survive a lack of changing activity - the existence of something beyond change and content - but in doing so it forms in us the first component of a sense of Self through which, in this deep stillness or hesychia, we may become aware of a non-sensory reality.

In time this makes it visible as a triad known in Indian thought as consisting of experience, experiencer, and a medium of experience.

This slowly helps us to see ourselves as separate from the activity of mind and body, and from the forms and states of the body; from our thoughts, feelings, sensations and all kinds of physical states and activities. It brings into question the modern philosophical concept of intentionality, and when this is experienced and understood it makes the assumptions of the neurosciences that the seat of consciousness will one-day be found in the brain - and even in a specific location within the brain - appear highly improbable.