Just the other day, I was watching how my mind was going through various solutions to the problem of the neck pain (or some other pain) I sometimes have. Normally, every time I experience some discomfort or pain, there is an immediate looking out for a solution, say a dietary supplement, a homeopathic remedy or the chiropractor, a surgeon or what not, even if I had already gone through several of them before to no avail. If it is a new symptom I experience, it immediately triggers a panic response in me, and the effort to look for a solution immediately goes into operation. That day, I became aware of the process (not that it was the first time that it ever happened); then my mind stopped looking for a solution. My attention was turned ‘inward’ to the discomfort itself and soon there was no discomfort (not that this happens every time). One can say that I ‘accepted’ the pain. (Please note that I am not suggesting here that merely 'accepting' pain will make it go away or that one should not get medical help when one is in pain or that medical help is useless.) It was in this context the meaning of ‘looking within’ became rather clear to me. When the problem had disappeared on this occasion, there was no ‘within’ or ‘without’, nor anything like looking within.
What came through in this experiment was that the awareness of the discomfort was enough to trigger the duality of the mind, with its accompanying panic, which implies a solution other than myself (and of course, making the effort of looking for it), as well as the time process, i.e. creating a future which implies a hope or dread or whatever.
The experiment reminds me of one of the angas of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga, i.e, pratyahara, which is normally translated as withdrawal of the senses. I used to explain this step to my students as withdrawal of one’s attention from external objects. The next step is dharana, holding your attention on something and then you have dhyana, meditation. Maybe my experiment condensed all these processes into one and removed the duality of the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ as well as of myself and the world. My experiment also presupposes that within the duality of the mind, there are no ‘external’ or ‘internal’ objects as such; yet the very idea of an object as other than myself ipso facto presupposes that it is external to me.
‘Looking inward’, ‘looking within’ are phrases used in the spiritual world. In psychology, the more common term is ‘introspection’. In either case, the most common things one does with oneself are being aware of one’s memories (for instance, by honing into a past scene and reacting to it, often as if it were happening now), or being aware of parts of the body, thoughts, feelings, emotions, actions or intentions. What we are aware of and respond to is part of our mental world. All transactions take place within this field – the field of consciousness where objects are present in our mental world. And the response or reaction takes place from a certain point of view, which we generally acquired in our past, and which we are at the moment. (We may that the point of view is what constitutes the ‘I’ or the ego.) Hence the duality. Time and time-consciousness are inherent in this process. That is, divisions of past, present and future are created through the process of self-consciousness.
We know that such awareness is almost never neutral or impartial. We are partial to ourselves when we take a look a our own actions. More often than not, that point of view expresses itself through a thought which is more or less express, verbalized and conscious. In our attempt at introspection, we normally attempt to change what is given into what is we think is more desirable or pleasurable (or less painful), so that eventually we would appear to ourselves as more acceptable. When we do this consciously, we call the process self-consciousness. When we give directions to ourselves, we also do so with a view to better ourselves, be somewhere else or become someone better. Of course, the same processes could be done not so consciously; then we would not use the expression ‘looking within’, or self-consciousness.
When we withdraw our attention from the world of ‘objects’, the thought process mediated through verbalization is suspended, albeit for just a moment, until something else draws our attention and the thinking process is resumed.
Often, the process of self-consciousness is a battleground. There is a constant striving that occurs and it is driven by goals or objects we are attached to. We use the process not just to solve problems, but to plan, scheme and plot our path to achieve our desires or avoid painful things (such as fear, inadequacy and guilt), to maintain, enhance or protect our status, and to defend, justify or glorify ourselves, often at the expense of other people. This normally goes under the name of ‘thinking’.
When we stop looking for external solutions to our problems, we are giving up trying to solve the problem. Then presumably we accept the problem. At least for that moment, we cease to strive. (We ‘detach’ ourselves from the problem.) That’s when we can say that our attentions is turned within. But there is really no ‘within’ to look at. Just plain consciousness, if you will, or awareness of parts of the body, without any attempt to to change anything or become something other than what we are. There is neither a within nor a without. You just are.
Also, when we stop reacting to the problem, the personal point of view from which we look at the problem disappears. At least for the moment, the point of view, or rather the ego, the reactive mechanism disappears; at least it is held in suspension.
I know I am over-simplifying the process, making it look too easy. My interest here is to point out the elements of the process, not to claim it’s all that easy. I am not even claiming that the result is lasting.
Even when we become free from the thought process, i.e., when we give up a goal or an object we are attached to, this is done consciously. That means, an internal dialogue goes on in which we either explicitly or implicitly tell ourselves to let go of something, just about the same way as when we talk to ourselves when we plan, justify or defend ourselves, or try to calm ourselves when we are agitated. The directive that is given is through this talk, verbalization, although, when it happens, the result may be nonverbal.
This leads us to the question of whether there is anything like consciousness without the accompanying thought process. You can’t just say that thought goes on all the time. In fact, when, for instance, UG describes his state of mind when he looks at a clock, he says that his whole being is like a question mark -- “What is that thing?” This just means that he is just conscious of the clock, (even to say that he is conscious of the clock or “that thing” is misleading; it’s more appropriate to say that he is just conscious) without any knowledge that it is a clock or knowledge of what time it is. Of course, when he is asked later what he is looking at or what time it is, then, as he says, the answer comes like an arrow. That’s when he knows what he is looking at.
How long such a state of mere awareness or consciousness lasts is really not a relevant question. It is quite possible and indeed likely that when we get involved in a situation, or we are in the heat of the moment, we don’t get the chance to look at an object dispassionately or ask ourselves questions regarding our relationship to an object or a goal, thereby creating a ‘space’ between ourselves (i.e. our reactive mechanism) and the object. Here I am more interested in analyzing the process itself and pointing out the elements in it.