It rained on and off as I backpacked the 2-1/2 miles into Williams Lake. It was late October and cold. But the forecast was for fairer weather in the morning when I planned to climb Mt. Wheeler.
Williams Lake is at 11,000 feet elevation at the base of our state’s highest mountain, 13,000-foot Mount Wheeler.
My backpack into Williams Lake would be my last for the season. I didn’t want to miss it. Besides, since this is one of our most popular day-hike destinations, the mid-week rain would probably discourage hikers from coming into the lake.
There was though another tent of campers atop a ridge a few hundred yards west of the lake.
I chose to tent east of the lake at the edge of the woods, putting me a good half mile away from the others.
However, as it turned out, the campers were pulling stakes as I arrived, leaving the area to me alone.
My Williams Lake Camp
It did stop raining long enough for me to set up my tent. But it rained on and off all evening. So I ducked into my tent during squalls and back out between them to prepare and eat my dinner in shifts, reading magazine articles in my tent when it rained.
At nightfall I got a dry respite from rain, long enough to finish eating, sip a cup of hot chocolate and meditate.
The gentle play of clouds down among the peaks, dancing around the edges of the lake, allowed the moon to peek through from time to time.
I’d just finished meditating when I got a surprising insight.
As I thought, ‘I’d come to awareness,’ the words “come to” posed a question.
Was awareness already out there, and I was literally “coming to” it?
Was there another more plausible explanation?
No doubt brain scientists would say I didn’t actually come to consciousness. But consciousness was due to a neuro-chemical process in my head.
That sort of explanation, while undoubtedly true, did not answer my question.
The nuero-chemical activity in my little grey cells would simply be an accompaniment to my awareness.
But I was more interested in what underlies the mental process.
Isn’t saying that a brain function caused my consciousness like saying that a forest fire “caused” the trees to burn, instead of looking for what initially sparked the fire?
And another question. Where was the consciousness before I “came to” it?
I didn’t think it made much difference whether consciousness was latent in my head or latent in the world out there.
Consciousness is available to every human everywhere and always has been.
If we all have access to consciousness, is it unreasonable to consider it something more prevalent to all who are capable of “coming to” it?
Why not suppose consciousness to be something like a “field,” the same as gravity? We all respond to gravity in the same way. Isn’t gravity in us and in all other objects of the world around us?
Likewise consider the warmth of the sun. Isn’t it in and all around all of us too?
Same with space. We are all in it, as is everything else.
And time, too. Everything is in the same moment of time as we are at all times.
These Written Words Are Not What I am Talking About
It is difficult to explain the experience of being conscious.
The more I try to explain it, the further away from the experience I get. Likewise, the more I experience consciousness the farther away is any explanation I am trying to give.
This is a reason I like being out there at night by the lake, immersed in nature as I was at my camp.
It was the real thing. Not written words in books. Not in lectures. Not even in this post.
Words are such limp tools to try to describe it.
Call a tree a Christmas Tree. Or give it the name Douglas fir. Or even call it a Pseudotsuga menziesii.
None of these gets you anywhere closer to my awareness of the tree next to my camp. As a matter of fact, each of those names takes you a bit farther away in your thinking from what I am talking about.
But if you have ever camped near that sort of tree, you’ve got a closer idea of what I am talking about than you’d get from reading a nature guide about Pseudotsuga menziesii.
I Believe My Insight Was Correct
Consciousness is an aspect of ultimate reality, a characteristic of that which is impossible to observe with our senses.
I found, at my Williams Lake camp, that my experience was just what Eastern philosophers mean about one of the characteristics of ultimate reality, when they call it sadchidananda.
That Sanskrit word is composed of three words, sat, chit and ananda. In English being, consciousness and bliss. I know that the awareness that I experienced at Williams Lake was that chid, the universal consciousness of sadchidananda. It was more than what my senses were aware of. It was beyond all that I ordinarily experience when I am fully aware of all that is around me.
The experience didn’t last long before my head was again full of thoughts. And I learned from years of meditation that thoughts are the enemy of this consciousness. What’s more, I know that we all experience this transcendent consciousness from time to time.
But we usually dismiss it as “just something” without further adieu. And we continue to search for it, as though it is something far more difficult than it is in truth.
Having said that, I also believe it is far too easy to “think” we have it, when that thinking about it is actually an illusion of the real transcendental consciousness. An Indian Spiritual Master, Ramana Maharshi, said it is very like dreamless sleep, which is aware though we aren’t aware of it.
Guess that muddies the waters enough for this post.
Those who know, will know what I mean. And many of those who don’t will think they know. And there will be a few who will wonder. That curiosity is precious. Hold onto it and stick with the quest. I believe the quest is best undertaken out there alone in the woods, mountains and deserts.
I mentioned Ramana Maharshi with no introduction. He’s the guru who Larry Darrell in the Razor’s Edge visits in India.
The best book of his advice to seekers is Talks with Ramana Maharshi: On Realizing Abiding Peace and Happiness.
Ramana makes it sound so simple. And it really is. But very tricky, too! Best to have a tutor or guru for help in seeing when it does get tricky.