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What on earth is consciousness?

A couple of days ago, I was listening to a podcast about consciousness and its rather confounding theories and consequences. What is the meaning of it all and why should anyone even care?

It was all as despairingly complicated as one would imagine and provided me with more questions and fewer answers than I started with, thus serving its purpose splendidly and getting two thumbs up from me.

According to the modern-day equivalent of lengthy research, a google search provided me with the definition of consciousness as "sentience or awareness of internal or external existence" and because that sounded too complicated for me I translated it to "an understanding of yourself as a thing that exists in the world and recognizes the fact that its a thing". What is phenomenal about it is, of course, the fact that in this vast meaningless universe of matter we've grown to understand a little bit about, here we are - a species with something on the inside that propels us faster and faster into the unknown. Something which seemed to have no evolutional benefit and yet developed anyway. Through an error? An accidental flux? No one has any idea.

The talk brought me back to last year when we had students come for yoga teacher trainings and the topic of consciousness was always breached with the expectation of a succinct and easily memorizable definition. In someway, spirituality, especially the Hinduism and Buddhism areas I've studied, do make the concept easier to grapple with.

Yoga theory teaches us that who we believe ourselves to be and who we truly are, are hardly one and the same. What we believe are illusions that have been conditioned onto us at birth, things like race, sex, nationality, profession, and many more, everything that comes to your mind when someone asks you the question of "Who are you?" though I don't imagine you get asked that very often. Who we really are is the so-called True self, decidedly spelled with a capital T to showcase its utter trueness. This True self is the "light, radiance, knowledge and transcendental being", sort of like the soul or "Purusha" if you will but who's to say that that pristine, unidentifiable part of us isn't our true consciousness. If you believe in yoga theory then you'll know that that is the part that binds with the overall eternal great consciousness when we transcend the shackles of conditional existence. Even if you don't believe the "spiritual mumbo jumbo" it is the unique and yet all-encompassing part of us that makes us all, no matter our differences, acknowledge that each and every human is a conscious being.

The very thing that makes us all different is the sameness within us.

If I asked you right now to delve within yourself and try to pinpoint that center within you that should by all accounts be there. That part of you that makes you - you. Would you be able to? Moreover, would what you find be who you truly are or will be a biased perception of what you believe yourself to be. How could one know oneself when one can never fully know what he is?

How much dedication and meditation and self-awareness it must take to unbind yourself from conditional existence and how liberating it must be.

It is questions like this that plague me when I think about what consciousness is and isn't, scientifically, philosophically, and spiritually. Then I think how lucky we all are to be given the opportunity to find out for ourselves.


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