Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Experience of a Body

By Alex Grey
We will descend down into a body and its experience. This article presents a crazy perspective on it. This is intentional and brutally honest, just because normal is boring.

The waking body

The body is a structure that appears on the screen of the Self just like any other structure. The mental patterns and the world also appear on the same screen. In the state of deep sleep, all these disappear. In the state of dreaming or imagination, a different body or different worlds may appear. In some exotic states of the Mind, the corresponding bodies and worlds may appear as solid and real as those of normal waking state. That’s all I can say about the body as far as my experience goes. Anyhow I will go ahead and note some details about the body and try to draw some clear inferences, whenever possible. In this article we will discuss the body that we experience during waking state of the Mind. This is the most frequent of my experience and hopefully yours too.

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From the point of view of the Mind, the body appears as a collection of sense perceptions. In the visual sense it has a definite form, size and color, just like any other object. When perceived via other senses it becomes a cloud of perceptions. One can immediately see that the body is different from other objects as its presence is also conveyed via some special internal senses such as hunger and pains etc. We have discussed those before. Another peculiarity of the body is that it hosts senses themselves, all of them converge in the head, where the brain is. The Mind perceives itself as located in the head, when focused on the sense of sight and hearing - the dominant senses. When we attend to other senses, the perceived location of the Mind shifts to the source of that sense, more or less. For example, try touching something with your toe, you will find that the Mind also goes there. This is even more clear when the eyes are closed and you bring your attention back in the head. A movement of the Mind is felt. So where is the Mind located in the body? Nowhere. It is nonlocal. The locations of the objects are assigned by the Mind itself via creation of space, and it does a poor job locating itself. However the body is correctly assigned a location, right in the centre of the whole world !

Where is every body? 

Of course one can entertain a belief that one’s body is located in the world, at some random place in it, and the Mind is located in the body, specifically in the head, because that’s where it is perceived. We have already experimented with the location of the Mind in the body, it keeps shifting. But it is certainly in the body somewhere, isn't it? One can do another experiment to check that. Stare at an object that is at a fair distance from you, such as something in another room or a tree outside. Stare at it for a while completely focused on it, ignoring everything else. Now bring back your attention in the head again by defocusing and becoming aware of the overall field of view. You will notice a shift of the Mind, it comes back from that object, which means its perceived location shifted from inside the body to outside and back inside again. Something similar can be tried with sounds, e.g. chirping of a distant bird. So the Mind is not in one’s body too. Unfortunately the belief that the Mind resides in the head leads to a belief that all of the mental phenomena are generated by the brain. As far as I know, there is no indisputable evidence for that. Brain and the body are both created by the Mind out of information received via senses. The world around the body is created in a similar way. In other words, the brain, body and the world are all virtual entities, an interpretation of the underlying structures created by the Fundamental Process. Obviously, these structures are in the Presence, in others words, nowhere and everywhere.

Note that we are talking about the Mind, not the Self. Some people have this strange belief that the Self (aka Consciousness) is also generated by the brain. Again we find no evidence for that too. Such beliefs are a result of uncritical and illogical thinking. Some people have this belief that if something cannot be objectively perceived it cannot exist, and so the entities that are not an object of perception are assumed to be non-existent or at most an extension of perceivable entities. Perception itself is subjective, so all that is perceived is subjective. The perception of the brain and consciousness of the brain appear at the same time. There is no causal direction here.

What is the reason for the belief about the body being located in the world at some place? It originates from seeing other bodies roaming around the world, they are seen located in the random places inside a world, and so a conclusion is drawn about one’s own body. However if you ask others about their honest opinion about their own bodies, you will most likely get a reply that it is also at the centre of the world. So one must conclude that the locations are relative and subjective. There are some experiments which were conducted using VR headsets strapped onto subjects eyes and these were fed with visuals from another place instead of subject’s immediate point of view. People reported their entire being getting shifted to the location of the camera which was feeding their headsets. Something similar occurs during a run of a mill out of body experience, when the sense of one’s location gets shifted to some place else from where the extrasensory perception is taking place. So if you have lost your body and are trying to find it, chances are you may not find it at any place.

The matter of the body. 

These arguments about the locations of the Mind and the body may seem childish, but the beliefs about them are childish too. That’s what one must do to destroy the beliefs, become a child again, question everything, you will make surprising discoveries. We will deconstruct more notions about the body. Are our bodies alive? It depends on how liveliness is defined. In ancient days the body was regarded as made from special kind of matter, the living matter. It grows, heals, moves, is warm, juicy and tastes delicious, especially when baked in fire. The non-living matter does not have these properties, so it was fair to conclude that the body is made of living matter. These days we know that there is no difference between ordinary matter and the matter of the body, everything is made of same elements and there are no special living elements. The matter in a rock is essentially same as that in a body. However, the body displays a far more complex arrangement of it, thanks to the unique properties of Carbon atoms, including their ability to form long chains and self-arrange into a large variety of molecules. Some kinds of Carbon molecules can re-form into two whole identical copies when they break, and this is the basis of molecules like the DNA, which is the basis of growth and reproduction. So we see that everything is alive and everything is dead, the distinction doesn’t make any sense. The life is not about the matter of the body, the life is about the experience of a body.

A seeker must go deeper into the matter of the matter. There are many experiments that show that matter, as is commonly believed, does not exist. In some forms it is just energy, which is nothing but a change, and when we go even deeper, we find there is nothing there at all, there is no matter, no energy, no change, just an experience of it all. These experiments are at the foundation of the very famous and successful theory of Quantum Mechanics. So the body is made up of nothing. It is a virtual body, a dream. This is not a surprise really. What happens is that the Fundamental Process constrains the relations when change (aka Experiencing) happens, and gives rise to apparent structures, which the Mind organizes into matter, bodies, worlds and everything. These are ethereal, with no reality of their own and obviously do not last. The change, the impermanence consumes them very soon. The body also appears, changes and gets destroyed, like everything else.

The flow of body

One thing can be immediately noticed about the body - matter flows in and out of it continuously. The food provides the raw material for the cells in order to grow and reproduce, and the waste, burnt fuel and dead cells are ejected out of the body. The digestive, respiratory, lymphatic and excretory systems take care of this activity. Cells are born and die in billions every day, and even momentary cessation of the flow of matter through the body causes death (especially of breathing). A quick googling gives an estimate of about 30-40 tons of matter which passes through an average body in a lifetime, from and back into the environment. One can directly see the changes in size, shape and weight of the body as one grows old starting from infancy.

So the question is - which one of these continuously changing bodies is me? If you are a body, are you the same person today when compared to yesterday or even a few breaths earlier? The answer can be, I’m all of these bodies or I’m none of these. But there is no certain answer. We recognize somebody by their face more than by their body. The face also keeps changing, although retains some essential features in spite of complete replacements of underlying structures. And this is the reason people associate and identify with a body. People and mirrors keep reminding us that we are this ever changing structure of cells, because the facial features retain a pattern (more or less) for long durations.

So what exactly remains constant while a river of matter flows through the body? Obviously it is the pattern of the body, the essential design, that remains relatively constant. The water changes every moment, but the river retains its unique serpentine shape and can be recognized easily. The pattern is nothing but information about the structure of the body, it doesn’t change much. When a cell dies, it is replaced by a newly born one just like a damaged brick in a house can be replaced by a good one. All the bricks in the house can be replaced like this, one by one and soon we get a new house that looks almost like the original but is not the same house now. The house is not bricks, a house is the information, a pattern and so is a human body.

The information about the structure is not centralized, it is contained in every cell. So not only are our bodies non-material, they are non-local and dynamic. It is mind blowing to realize that even if we choose to call ourselves a body, we are still just information, virtual, non-physical, non-local, dynamic and ephemeral.

An orphaned body

Who owns this seemingly real body? No one. It is just there, just like all other stuff, the body appears out of presence and dissolves back into it. We have already seen that the concept of identity is an illusion created by the Mind. There is no owner of the body. The body is experienced and afterwards an owner is assigned to it. Sometimes the identity shifts to the body and the person sees himself as a body, as in the expression - "I’m sitting" .This seems to be the most prevalent form of identity. Often the body is seen as an object that one owns, as in the expression - "my body is healthy". The identity shifts to one’s intellect, profession, past, relations and even to the Self. Even if you are not identified with the body, I recommend that you use the usual language anyway. Uttering phrases such as - “My body is sitting" can have unintended consequences and there is a good chance that you will find your body locked up in an asylum next day.
Identification with the body is a major cause of suffering as the body is subject to change and decay, and also to pains and afflictions of various kinds. The body is a cause of major fear of mankind, as it eventually disappears. It is difficult to find anyone who is not afraid of death. In essence the cause of all these strange beliefs, phobias and suffering is ignorance, and knowledge is the obvious cure.

A marvellous imperfection 

Isn’t human body beautiful and shouldn’t we be proud of the fact that we are experiencing something like this, a marvel of evolutionary process, a culmination of billions of years of creation? Of course it is beautiful, especially with an intact and brand new skin. However only a few bodies are beautiful and remain so for a short while. The rest are ugly and out of proportion, owing to the unhealthy habits of people. Strictly speaking it is not an end product of evolution. The evolution never stops, there is no culmination. Moreover, the basic building blocks viz. the DNA and even the cells, tissues and various chemicals are essentially the same for all living creatures. Things do change but very slowly and the changes are incremental. Evolution is more like periodic releases of a software with major changes in UI or appearance and minor bug fixes, with the code at the core remaining the same. So the human body is not a culmination at all, it is just one of the versions. It is surely perfect from the point of view of Presence, but not from the limited point of view of humans. There is a lot of scope for improvements and bug fixes. If you have ever wondered why males are equipped with nipples and why a tiny amount of dust in the air lands you in hospital, then you will know what I mean. Not to mention that there is some gross stuff like aging and deformed babies, which destroy our fluffy beliefs of perfection.

In spite of all this, people do get overly attached to this temporary shelter of theirs. The reason, as we have discussed, is the Ego - the mean machine, whose job is nothing but preservation and procreation of bodies. The Ego colours our perception of the body. No matter how they look, most perceive themselves as avatars of Casanova. We have discussed how the evolutionary biases affect perception of human form. Strangely, it is the Egoic mind itself that perceives ugliness and disgust, in not only other bodies but even one’s own. Traditionally, masters encourage students to observe the disgusting aspects of body in order to destroy one’s attachments [1]. We will do that in brief and if you are faint of heart you can skip it, its going to be graphic.

Take a closer look

A body, when seen from a neutral perspective is nothing but a bag of flesh, blood and bones with eight orifices, out of which sticky smelly stuff oozes continuously. Try not showering for two days and you will find that no one wants to sit near you. Our whole skin is a sponge that secretes sweat, oil and odours of various kinds. It is always coated with microbes and other tiny living creatures. Skin also sheds dead cells and hair. We instinctively avoid touching people and feel dirty when touched by others. We like to maintain distance with other bodies and they like to keep us away too. So it is not only good manners but also hygienic to respect others space. A body becomes somewhat bearable when washed with soaps and covered with clean clothes. In some cultures the ugliest and most socially unacceptable sight is that of a naked body. But then we fill the internet with naked bodies, taboo is more attractive.

Even the Ego knows that the beauty is only skin deep. Any exposure of the internals of the body makes us cringe in disgust. We hate seeing mutilated bodies, blood, open wounds and surgeons operating on internal organs. Skulls and bones are archetypal symbols of death and we get scared to death when we encounter them [6]. The duality of love and hate of the body is intense and astonishing.

An alien body

In modern times we know that a body is a collection of tiny organisms called cells. Specialized cells form organs and the whole colony lives together in a symbiotic relation to each other. Only about 30% of the cells in our bodies are human cells, genetically speaking, which is shocking to know, even when you don’t harbour rosy beliefs about being a human in some romantic way. The rest are "alien" cells or other microbes, bacteria, eukaryotes and viruses - the Microbiota [2]. In addition to that there are microscopic worms, parasites, fungi and bugs. These live peacefully with the "native" human cells in either mutually beneficial or harmless manners. Most of them live on the skin, mouth, gut and other unmentionable cavities. An average person is surrounded by a cloud of microbes thanks to breathing and sweat etc. Dogs find it helpful in order to pinpoint a person, because each of us carries a unique micro-biome. Fortunately we rarely look into the mirror with a microscope, so this big pile of squiggly creatures remains hidden.

The “human” cells are also not pure in a way. They are infected with ancient viral DNA, foreign stuff and a special symbiotic creature – the mitochondria with its own DNA. It is just a way of looking at it, a cell is what it is. When looked at with neutral perspective, a cell is a very complex chemical factory, with its own software and nano-machines. One can be forgiven for believing that one is a whole unit, with some magical abilities of growth and reproduction, as the micro-structures are beyond our day-to-day experience of a body.

So the body is not a unit, it is a whole ecosystem, a colony. It is also a part of macro-ecosystem and circulates air, water and food through it. Without an ecosystem to live in the body perishes quickly. It also dies if its micro-ecosystem is disturbed. The body is a part of earth, it grows out of the earth and returns to earth.

Does my gene fit snugly?

The body is a self-replicating structure. Upon maturity it starts a new instance of it out of a single cell. The entire evolution of billion years is repeated in a few months. Its like watching the evolutionary history in time lapse. It looks like it starts from a seed, but actually it starts from information, the genetic code. As it must happen with any self-replicating structure, a resilient structure outlasts the weaker ones and produces more copies of itself. This necessity naturally biases the organism formed around a code to favour that code. It appears as the Egoic tendency for procreation and tendency to favour one’s own offspring, and also to favour organisms with same genetic code over other kind (as a second priority). So we find that humans, like other creatures, are biased towards their own children, own relatives and own races, in that order of priority.

It looks like we favour our children as personalities, but it is actually the code that is ensuring its continuation. A person is only a puppet that dances on the instructions of the code. Anyhow, the illusion that we are somehow related to our parents and children is very strong. So the tendency to favour our own and our own kind is very strong. Unsurprisingly, people are unaware of what animates them. Their ignorance is the cause of animalistic behaviour and resulting suffering. Strangely, the strong biases are entirely blind. We tend to favour, but we do not know whom we are favouring. If one is not told who is his father, mother or child, one will never know it. If some other people pose as his parents or children, his biases shift blindly towards the imposters. There is no natural way to know your, so called "blood relatives” or genetic relatives [4]. Yet people make a huge issue out of blood relations. It is funny and sad at the same time.

Well, you might say that these days its possible to simply match up the code and confirm who is who in one’s blood relative gang. So lets check it out. The entire humanity matches with each other 99.5 %, as far as the genetic code is concerned. Roughly speaking, chimps are 98% similar to us, cats 90%, dogs and cows are 80%, rats 70%, fruit flies 60% and a banana is 50% similar [3]. So one can say that not only all humans are our blood relatives, but all animals and plants too are so. The line we draw when we decide to call someone genetically similar enough to be marked as a blood relative is entirely random and arbitrary. Unfortunately the Egoic tendencies in people are so strong that they simply ignore, refuse and oppose anything that goes against their blind beliefs and robotic behaviour.

Aren't those tiny differences important? After all, its the differences that make us a human rather than a potato out of a given genetic code. So lets check it out too. Note that now we are comparing exact matches, not merely similarities. A child is only about 50% exact copy of his father, the other 50% is a copy of his mother’s code. A person is only 50% same as his sibling, thanks to DNA recombination. We are only 25% match with grandparents, 12.5% with first cousins, and less than 1% with 3rd cousins [5]. It stops making sense for relatives more distant than that, including your greatest grandfather, some random dude whose last name you still carry and are so proud of.

So its surely possible to identify one’s shared genetic code with others, if you do hair splitting analysis, but it is like cherry picking and ignoring the elephant in the room. We choose to hold on to tiny matches and exaggerate tiny differences in order to keep the illusion of biological relations alive. A wise man sees through it all and frees himself from this madness. All bodies are essentially the same and all creatures, living or dead are either relatives or not related at all. A relation is more meaningful if you share your love, life and happiness with others, sharing a string of data has no meaning here.

What's the point? 

So, then what is the point of a body that does not really exist, is located nowhere, is a filthy bag of chemicals, is a home of billions of creatures  and is owned by no one? I think this question needs to be asked more often. Everybody takes their bodies for granted, for some strange reason. It does seem like we do not have a body, rather the body has us. We are dragged along with the body as it traces its mechanical path from womb to grave. We don't really have many options but to comply and baby sit a body for the whole of our life. The usual carrots and sticks keep us motivated. Whatever it is, it is the most fascinating and complex thing in the entire universe. All other forms we see around us are nothing in comparison to a body of an organism. We have this complex gadget, yet we have little idea about what to do with it.

One fine day, I just found myself trapped in a monkey suit, looking out of two holes at the top of it, curiously, towards a strange imagery of shapes, colors and movements. I had no memory of how I got there and why, but the suit got hold of me and demanded stuff and forced me into action. Noncompliance simply meant pain and suffering, and obeying it meant rewards of pleasure. Since then I’m stuck with it. Later on I was told that this suit is a body that everyone had and it was born on some date, in such and such family with all the blood relatives bundled with it, for better or worse. They had their own demands, which made it even more torturous, but they did help me to manage the body, especially when I was totally a newbie driver of the suit and crashed it often. I still do not fully understand the point of it, but it is clear that we are more or less free to assign a reason or a purpose to it, of our own choice, even though we are not so free to simply get rid of it.

So what purpose should one assign to one’s earthly existence? Big question, and there is no certain answer. This is where the whole idea of a path comes in. As soon as one gets a grip on basics of keeping a body alive, one needs to decide on a purpose, a path, else the whole circus show of this body becomes meaningless, devoid of any point. Body becomes just a burden that one carries for no reason at all when there is no purpose, no path. One cannot be told to take a certain path, you need to choose your own path. The path must have a heart, else its meaningless too.

If you have chosen a path of happiness, knowledge and freedom, then it will be useful to know some tricks and tips on how to manage a body. We will discuss those in the next article.



[1] E.g. see Vivek Chudamani by Shankara. Also, some Buddhist texts. Be warned that such practices are not meant for ordinary people and can cause an unhealthy disgust of the body. Some medieval religious beliefs are good examples of how it can go out of hand.

[2] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_microbiota for up to date data and interesting (?) details about what lies inside and on our beloved body.

[3] The term “similar” can be defined in various ways in the field of genetics. Here it relates to the encoding for proteins, which make up the bodies. Irrespective of the technicalities, a wise person can immediately see that all genetic code on the earth is essentially the same. This also throws the strange notion that humans are “superior” to other species, out of the window. As I said, we are just another version of an application written around a basic genetic code. Humans do have some interesting features, that make us a unique species, but its our actions, not our code, that decides if we are really superior. Sadly, some actions of humans place them below viruses in genetic hierarchy.

[4] Ironically, red blood cells do not have any genetic code, no DNA, not even a nucleus! So I guess, the more logical phrase would be muscle cell relative, or neuronal relative or perhaps a sperm relative.

[5] https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/articles/202907170-Average-percent-DNA-shared-between-relatives

[6] This fear has ancient roots because a dead person was always seen to be reduced to bare bones. Perhaps we find mutilations disgusting and scary for evolutionary reasons too, as such a body meant attack by a predator, a bloody fight or disease. It makes sense to run away from it.

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