Living on the edge of Subject and Object

posted by adam in degeneral on 1/18/2006 12:00:00 AM

Subjective and objective, two simple words with such a wealth of meaning that I believe we often fail to appreciate fully. At the moment I'm typing on my keyboard, I know that the sensation of the keys under my fingers and the colour of the plastic are simply the way my brain interprets tactile and visual information, I know that if I pick the keyboard up it's weight is relative to the force of gravity on this blue green orb and the strength the muscles of my arm can exert. More subjective still, I changed keyboards this morning (my repeated heavy handed typing hammering my own keys to oblivion) and this new keyboard doesn't feel the same. The keys are in the same place and formed of the same plastic of it's predecessor but the subtle bond I developed with the tool I used almost everyday is absent from this new object.

Ok so far so Matrix, a large amount of information I perceive about an object is the product of my own nervous system. However if I close my eyes and wish for my keyboard to turn into a pile of money when I open them the keyboard is still there looking distinctly un-crisp and un-green. If I grab one of my work mates and drag them to my desk and ask them to tell me what they see they would invariably tell me that they see a keyboard, before looking at me bemused and telling me to fuck off. They may not perceive the object in exactly the same manner, their black may not be the way I see black, the keys may not feel exactly the same as to my touch but we would generally both concede the thing on my desk is an object labelled keyboard. Finally, if I took the keyboard away its keyboard like qualities would vanish with it, there would in the middle of my desk be the absence of a keyboard, demonstrating that there is some physical something with which the properties of keyboard are linked.

All right! I hear you cry, we understand it's a fucking keyboard already, what's the point of this? The point is that our reality as we perceive it is not situated in our heads, neither is it situated in the outside world, it's created at the point where the two meet. Woven from a web of perception that every organism on this planet partakes in, be it a blade of grass, an alley cat or a merchant banker we live at the point where the sea of matter laps at the shore of consciousness.

Exercise: Take an object; it should be small enough to take in with a single gaze and something that doesn't have an emotional context for you (like a picture of a loved one). Sit in a comfortable straight back position (this can be lotus if you are flexible enough, though it tends to fuck the knees if you try and force it, but kneeling and sitting in chair are equally OK) place the object in front of you at the distance where your gaze falls comfortably (not so close you have to tilt your head down and not so far you're straining to see it) and then stare at the object with a relaxed, softened gaze referred to in yoga as tratakem (please note, you can blink).

Try to keep the object in your mind. Try not to name describe, analyse or label it in any manner whatsoever, just focus on the object and be aware of it to the exclusion of everything else.

After a while you may notice an aura or border appearing around it, this is fine just try not to get distracted by it, keep your attention. After a period of time you can close your eyes and see the after image in your minds eye, see how long you can concentrate on this, once it fades then open the eyes again.

One word of warning when performing this exercise: DO NOT USE A CANDLE! I hope everyone heard that but just in case: DO NOT USE A CANDLE! In some classical yoga texts there are versions of this exercise where a candle is used, however in my opinion these are downright dangerous. Staring at a candle in this manner can, in the long run, cause long term damage to the retina and should be relegated to the silly yoga bin along with swallowing cloth into your stomach and causing a voluntary prolapse (they're all in the Hatha Yoga Pradapika if you want to look).

If you practice this exercise for any length of time several things begin to occur, you lose sense of both time and place, your body becomes very relaxed and then all sense of having a body begins to fade. The idea behind this exercise is to explore this boundary between subject and object, to remove our emotional and analytical reflexes and reach a point where we are experiencing the reality of our senses directly with no filters. This point is known in the early Yoga sutras as Samahdi, it's the point where notions of subject and object cease and the seer and seen become one.

Exercise: Go to a park, field, woodland or any place where there is an abundance of foliage and wildlife. Find a tree and sit near it, somewhere comfortable where you can take in the tree without having to strain your vision. Start contemplating the tree, if it's an old tree try to imagine how long it's been there, what things have occurred beneath and in it's branches, imagine how it pulls the nutrients out of the ground or absorbs the sun through it's leaves. You don't have to mystify this, it isn't necessary to anthropomorphise the experience by imagining a tree spirit in human form, try instead to generate an awareness of the tree as a living alien entity, sharing the experience of the world only from a different viewpoint. If you feel like it go up to the tree and rest your hand on it, notice the sensation of the rough bark under your fingers but also be aware that the tree can feel you, it may not have a consciousness the same as you but it is still a living presence.

Try the same with random wildlife, try to get into their headspace. What differences would there be? What would they smell? How would their experience of time differ? How does their sense of sight differ? Again strive not to give the animals human qualities, just be aware of them as another entity experiencing a different facet of the world.

There is a park near where I work and in the summer I'll often go and sit and watch the squirrels. I'll try the exercise above or I'll adapt the first static exercise and just try to watch them move without attributing any analytical content to them. After a while you can almost feel their movement as a palatable thing, you can feel them move through the grass, feel their muscles tensing before they leap.

I think that we can by using techniques like the one above, start to reconnect ourselves to the 'Web of Wyrd' as Doctor Susan Greenwood calls it. The feeling that we are a part of a wider web of perception, a perception that isn't just limited to our narrow human viewpoint. The Self or Fullness (as the Gnostics call it) looking back at itself through millions of reflections like a giant hall of mirrors.


Its so fucking important that we try to reconnect with the other entities that we share this planet with on a flat rate of perception. I think the importance of this type of work cannot be stressed enough.

posted by: John Harrigan on 2006-01-18 Guys out there, some years ago I really got stuck for some time in condition “body fading away”. I have to say it's not fun at all, it's extremely uncomfortable and dangerous to one's mind. Beware, the suggested “exercise” may lead to very serious consequences.

posted by: Stacy on 2006-01-25 Stacy do you want to elaborate on what you experienced? I've been practicing the exercises above (especially the first one) regularly for a couple of years without ill effects. I'm curious to know what happened.

posted by: adam on 2006-01-26 You've got to ditch your name first. Don't let your head come up with anything like, “I'm fading away”… just think about how I, me, my are all just words that people invented, and they're fake like the internet or economics or anything else. So it's not “you” fading away, it's your sense of the concrete nature of language fading away.

I can't keep it up for long, for various reasons, but when I can do this for a while, I'm on a different level, and everything's good.

posted by: t0tem7 on 2006-02-06 What I've found with this technique is that because you have an object to concentrate on, I'm using one of the traditional yoga methods of focusing on a red triangle, you bypass the whole “I” issue because your attention is focused on an external object (at least it's external when you begin, part of the whole exercise is to realise how much of the point of concentration is actually internally constructed).

So far I've gone from the stage of being aware of the triangle as a describable object (red triangle, red triangle, red triangle). To a state where the triangle expands to fill my whole awareness and I'm no longer describing it, it just is. These moments are fleeting but I'm able to extend them for longer periods the more I practice. Ultimately the aim is the same as Basarts seated mantra meditation (found here), but I find this method suits me better.

posted by: adam on 2006-02-07 Sri Nisargadatta might have referred to this concept with the simple phrase “I Am That”.

posted by: lvx23 on 2006-02-08