femme Neuroscience

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The Viewer Who is Viewed

You can study your own consciousness but you cannot study the consciousness of others. When you study your own consciousness, you view what is being viewed. You watch from meta- monitor position that is somehow aloof, detached from the flow events passing through consciousness. This is a delicate matter for discussion. I have found that few other humans recognize my description of the metamonitor because either my words are poor indicators or they have not experienced viewing the viewed. Terms such as reflection" or contemplation" sometimes suggest the metamonitor. In some literature, the metamonitor is described as precognition" or "preconscious" or the prereflective self.

In Buddhist literature, you get a profusion of terms and metaphors that point to this detached observer of consciousness. A reasonable Sanskrit word would be Sati. More than an observer who is located somewhere, the meta monitor, Sati, is vast and overseas the whole universe of mind. Indeed, enlightenment would appear to be the perfection of the metamonitor, Sati. A reasonable description of mind modules recognizes layers in the human mind. You could talk in terms of four fundamental layers: a responder, a doer, consciousness, and the supreme metamonitor, Sati. The trick, of course, is that you cannot recognize a mind layer until it declares itself in consciousness.

The responder reacts to events out there. The doer is driven by needs and desires originating from within. The sense of “ego” or “I” is attached to the responder and doer. Consciousness monitors all these events. The metamonitor watches consciousness and is completely aware of the responder, the doer, and the sense of I, but is not directly involved. The high goal of meditation practice is to reside in the metamonitor, undisturbed by emotion or feelings; to be calm, clear, stable and present. The reward is not feeling one way or the other, but being present and completely aware. One of the most important skills learned through meditation is to not act. The doer and responder functions are powerful and will, at a moment's notice, disconnect the metamonitor and have you running around doing things.

Meditation, over a period of many years, reveals all tendencies of mind and tends to dissolve any sense of a solid self with boundaries, preferences and opinions. It might seem rude to ask the metamonitor - what exactly do you do? This question does not have an easy answer. The responder and doer are mostly robotic and react spontaneously and reflexively, offering little choice. The metamonitor or more conscious being feels the whole mechanism of reaction taking place but has the option of suspending the action. If I can feel angry but not shout at you, I am becoming more aware and have more control of my behavior.

The image of Buddha is an outward expression of perfecting the metamonitor; a gentle man sitting quietly, aloof from events going on around him, completely aware of the flow of events in his consciousness, but at the same time free of distractions and drives that would move him from his immovable spot under the Bodhi tree. The Buddha probably represents an ideal state of being that can only achieved by dedicated abstinence from the responder and the doer. To be practical, without the responder and the doer, a human will die of thirst, starvation, hypothermia, or preditation. Enlightenment is, therefore, not a practical survival mode for the human mind, but a temporary resting place and perhaps a destination for a few privileged individuals, who, like a queen bees, are fed and protected by a host of nurturing workers.