Here’s a very powerful TED Talk by neuro-scientist Jill Taylor about her experience having a stroke and what it revealed to her about our two consciousnesses. Her conclusion, “which [consciousness] do you choose, and when” is not very satisfactory so I’ve added my thoughts below.
We are raised to use our linear conceptual brain because we’d be unable to navigate life without it. Just think for example, about Jill’s struggle to dial the phone. But we also have moments of delight, and if we have an activity like painting, we also spend some time in our other consciousness, the one she describes as energy meeting energy, with no boundaries.
Jill suggests the world would be happier if we spent more time in our joyful consciousness. Meditation practice helps us recognize that we have such a consciousness, something we forget during everyday, moment to moment living. The amazing joyfulness she experienced in that consciousness is what many devotees of spiritual practice hope to achieve. Many Western Buddhists think nirvana must be like that.
What I have slowly come to understand through my reading, reflection and practice was made clear by what she says about the structure of our brain. Happiness and the good behavior resulting naturally from it come when we inhabit both consciousnesses simultaneously
It’s not that we could be happy some of the time by switching out of our conceptual consciousness into the other one and continue being stressed the rest of the time when we’re living in conceptual consciousness. There’s nothing wrong with linear, conceptual consciousness. In fact it’s essential as I said before. The problem is conceptual habits, emotional habits, any kind of habits.
Happiness comes from simultaneous experience of both our consciousness that reveals the world we are in at each moment and of our logical, linear, conceptual consciousness which enables us to navigate that world.
The Tibetan Buddhist practice I do is one of thousands of ways to train oneself to live more of the time in that way. It aims to disrupt fixed concepts, the ones that make us think situations are what we expect, not what they actually are. Our ability to conceptualize is an enormous blessing. Autopilot with the radar shut off is a curse.
A friend who has practiced as I do for many, many years put is this way: “Dharma is malware for conceptual thought”. He is referring to Tibetan Buddhist practices that disrupt our everyday imagination of how things are. They linger in our mind and resurface unexpectedly.
I mention this because living in both our consciousnesses is actually very difficult. We’re greatly over-habituated to living in a world that appears as it does because we conceive it to be that way without noticing the reality.