Consciousness as the Result of Contact

Oftentimes we think of our consciousness as continuous. Gautama the Buddha said that in fact, consciousness only takes place as the result of contact between a sense organ and sense object, and has no real continuity. I would say that Gautama’s explanation probably had a lot to due with his experience of proprioception (consciousness generated by particular muscle or ligamentous tissues, concerning the placement and orientation of those tissues relative to the body as a whole).

In a stationary posture, proprioception takes place as the body is relaxed with the movement of breath. The T’ai-Ch’i master Chen Man-Ch’ing said that when the entire body is relaxed, including the chest, the ch’i can sink to the tan-t’ien and circulate; I would say that in Zen practice, the mind or the “heart-mind” sinks to the tan-t’ien and circulates. Here I am talking about proprioception and equalibrioception informing one another, a kind of movement and centering in the location of awareness that normally takes place with the eyes closed just before falling asleep, but in Zen practice takes place with the eyes open while waking up.

John Upledger speaks of how he learned to feel what he says is the rhythm of the cranial-sacral system with his hands, about how he can feel where the rhythm is moving well and add a pressure equivalent to 5 grams of weight to that movement to open the places in the body that are stuck. I often look for specific feelings of pitch, yaw, and roll in my awareness; as my sense of location registers the movements that are always present in my balance, proprioception and the sense of gravity enter into my sense of location and exert the kind of slight pressure where things are moving that Upledger used, allowing the sense of location to act to open and align the body.

Gautama’s description of consciousness as the result of contact between sense organ and sense object resonates for me as a way to describe the consciousness that includes proprioception, equalibrioception, and the sense of gravity among the other senses, even though the tight connection between my eyes and my sense of location might sometimes make it seem otherwise.

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