What is consciousness?
What can you become aware of?
Can you be aware of yourself?
But who, what or where are ‘you’ then?
Does our consciousness start in the womb?
And where does it end? At death?
Do animals have consciousness?
Do plants have consciousness?
What about water?
How about the earth itself? Is she a conscious being?
Consciousness and the dance of the five elements
In all spiritual schools the question, ‘What is consciousness?’ is a limitless source of inspiration. In Taoism, consciousness is seen as the interplay of five separate forces: metal, water, wood, fire and earth. These are the five elements, the ingredients that make up both the nature that surrounds us, as well as our inner consciousness.
Depending on how this interplay unfolds, five different forms of consciousness arise: Psychosis, Confusion, Specialization, Wisdom and Realization. We use capital letters to reveal the alternative definitions of these words, rather than the regular ones - although they certainly do overlap.
Five forms of consciousness
The five forms briefly explained:
Psychosis is the lowest form of consciousness. Under the influence of Psychosis, the five elements each move in a different direction and hence they lose each other, becoming disconnected. Destructive behavior follows.
Confusion is the most common form of consciousness. Here the five elements work against each other, so a coherent interpretation of reality becomes impossible.
Specialization is regarded as the highest form of consciousness by our current culture. The five elements all move in the same direction, working together to acquire knowledge about one particular subject. The side effect is limited awareness of the rest of reality. The archetype of Specialization is the absent-minded professor.
Wisdom is a rare form of consciousness in our culture. The five elements move together, but towards a central energy where they start to merge. They cooperate not in order to gain specific knowledge, but to develop a constructive force that benefits the greater good.
Realization is the highest and most abstract form of consciousness, also called Christ or Buddha consciousness. The five elements are completely amalgamated here. An all-encompassing fusion with nature arises.
Wisdom and the Pearl
In principle, all five forms of consciousness are simultaneously active within a person, but in different ways. In most people, one of the first three forms of consciousness is predominant: Psychosis, Confusion or Specialization. The other two forms: Wisdom and Realization are quite exceptional in our modern world.
In Taotraining we focus on Wisdom. We pursue Wisdom as the dominant force of our consciousness. The path towards this goal has seven different stages. We call ‘the Pearl’ or ‘Pearl Consciousness’ the first step.
Where does consciousness dwell?
The longer you think about consciousness, the more complicated it gets. If you are aware of yourself, then who is aware of what? Or what is aware of whom? And where does consciousness actually reside? If you try to measure or locate it, it is nowhere to be found - not even in the brain! Yet, despite the indefinable nature of consciousness, we are undeniably aware of the fact that we exist.
Reality as a storm
Taoists are masters at observing nature. They have a keen perception of everything that happens in and around us. In contrast to gentle slopes, burbling rivers and fragrant flowers, there are also thunder, lightning, avalanches, tsunamis and earthquakes. Storms rage over the sea, coast and land, taking people, animals and plants with them, bent on a path of destruction.
A Taoist embraces the storm as a symbol of reality. Life is seen as a constant interaction with the storm. Whether you are running errands or stuck in traffic; whether you break a leg doing sport; apply for a job or get fired; fall in love or into hate; whether you are rich or poor; healthy or unhealthy – everything you experience is personally linked with the storm.
Just like the storms that rage across the earth, the storm of life rampages across our consciousness. It pushes us inexorably into a state where Confusion and Psychosis play a dominant role. The deeper you move into the storm, the more psychotic you become. The more difficult it is to stay calm and clear. The more destructive you are to both yourself and to others.
The place of absolute silence
What is interesting about the storm as a symbol is that despite its destructiveness, it has a place of absolute calm amidst the chaos. This sweet spot is found in the center of the storm, right in the middle. In the eye of the storm, everything is safe and quiet. Here you can find a unique perspective of looking at the storm from within, without getting blown away.
The storm of reality, life itself, has a place just like that. It’s a place where you cannot be touched by the storm, nor damaged by it. It’s a place where you can think clearly. It’s a place where Wisdom reigns.
Fear and temptation
As a human being, you can opt for two directions in life: a movement towards the eye of the storm, which is towards stillness, safety and Wisdom; or a movement away from the eye of the storm, towards chaos, destruction and Psychosis.
Selecting the first option may seem obvious, but two major forces make this choice less likely than you think. Under the influence of fear and temptation, you may want to turn your back to the eye of the storm. Instead, you might lose yourself in the raging storm of reality, drifting away from the center.
The Pearl as an anchor
Taoists will always strive to face fear and temptation. Despite the power of the storm, they will always move towards the eye. But how does one do that? This is where the Pearl comes into play.
Developing Pearl Consciousness means to symbolically place a fragment of your consciousness permanently in the eye of the storm. This will become your anchor. It means that a part of your self remains in contact with the heart of reality. Freed from the storm, you can rise above the chaos, towards non-duality and wisdom. From here, you can clearly see what is appropriate in the moment and act accordingly.
Effects of having a Pearl
Some of the welcome effects of this leap in consciousness can be that:
You start to act less out of temptation and more out of desire.
You think and move in a long-term way, less sensitive to the need for instant gratification that characterizes our society.
You become less vulnerable to all kinds of emotional upheaval. It is easier to step out of the emotional rollercoaster that life can sometimes be.
You develop a crystal clear perception of whether someone is telling the truth or not, whether a decision made is correct or incorrect.
In short, the Pearl helps you to think clearly. Perhaps most importantly, the Pearl helps to guide your process of self-inquiry. To “know thyself” is an integral step towards self-healing.
The Pearl functions as a lasting reminder of where you want to go: straight into the eye of the storm. Your natural desire to be at peace in the eye of the storm will grow and attune your thoughts and actions to one goal: to become a wise man or woman.