What is this thing we call spirit? For now, we are going to use the word consciousness as a synonym for spirit. Let us conduct an experimental study. A consciousness experiment, if you will. We have natural evidence that our consciousness/spirit is beyond mind and matter and before you draw your own conclusions about this, let’s go till the end. It’s not a laboratory experiment, and maybe it’s not the kind of evidence you would imagine, but it certainly brings an interesting perspective. We may be on the verge of becoming an interplanetary species exploring outer space, so perhaps it’s time for us to travel first the other way around to our inner space and understand what consciousness is. I invite you to try it yourself since this experiment can be conducted by anyone.
You can use your attention to observe things. For instance, you observe objects. When you observe an object with enough focus and concentration, your consciousness forgets everything else, and the perceived object seems to be the only thing that exists. A good example is the use of electronic devices, as you might be doing right now. If you direct your focus and attention from the object to encompass the entire room, your consciousness slightly expands to become aware of the whole room. Your attention can also be absorbed by one single thought, and your awareness of everything else fades away.
Consciousness has no boundaries. It only seems restricted because your focus is placed on small things. That’s why when we meditate and find ourselves free of thoughts for a period of time, we feel extended, limitless, as one. Because our consciousness has the chance to expand beyond the object of our focus, in this case, beyond our thoughts.
Now, let’s go a step further. You may find yourself with a completely different perspective on who you are, and there’s freedom in it. We know you can observe objects, spaces, thoughts, and even feelings. It turns out you can also observe the act of observation itself. You can witness the fact that you’re observing. However, there’s one thing you cannot observe directly: consciousness. We can observe the act of witnessing, but we cannot observe consciousness itself. We can observe the object and the act of observing the object, but not consciousness itself.
You are now observing these words. You can also witness the fact that you’re observing these words. Try it yourself. Observe the words, and you perceive the words. Witness the act of observing the words, and you broaden your perspective. However, try to observe the observer, and you will notice that you don’t see anything. This little experiment is replicable since anyone can do it.
If you are new to this, you can view this whole experiment from an allegorical perspective — think of life as a game you’re playing. Very often we live our lives identified with the things we observe every day; so, imagine all these things, such as your body, mind, and other objects, as parts of this game. To be aware of the act of observation imagine yourself in a stadium, you exit the game for a moment and head towards the bleachers, where you witness the game from a bird’s-eye view. Furthermore, there’s a camera filming the game, and observing the people in the stadium watching the game. The camera is a metaphor for the brain; the stadium for the body; and the game for the life you live. If your mind is in the stadium and there’s a camera (brain) filming it, you don’t see the consciousness (viewer) who’s watching all of it behind the cameras.
We cannot see the observer directly, but we can know that we are observing. Neither the body or the brain is the observer since the observer witnesses their existence as being outside. Let me explain this. What we call inside is only inside if we use the body as reference, as opposed to that which is not the body. However, for the observer, there’s no inside. The observer sees the body as outside, in the same way it sees anything else. Look at any part of your own body and you will see that it’s “there” for the observer.
Let’s say you are inside a room right now, but you can also say the room is outside of your body, correct? In the same way, you can say you are inside of your body, but you can also say your body is outside of the observer.
One might ask: “Are you saying that consciousness observes everything, including the body and the brain? But isn’t consciousness at least linked to the brain?” Yes. We, humans, have made the assumption that the brain creates consciousness because we can’t find its origin anywhere else. We are just finding out that it’s actually so much more than that.
You have probably heard of the placebo effect, which is a phenomenon that occurs in the physical body, but with its origin in the individual’s beliefs. Basically what happens is that beliefs alter biological functioning, as in the example of someone who is cured of a disease through the use of a sugar pill, while believing he is taking the right medicine. Other examples widely studied by medical science show spontaneous healing through sham surgeries. Simple reasoning leads us to observe that if the brain were pure chemistry, none of this would happen. The disease would not be healed by a sugar pill or a false surgery, as the right chemistry is not there for this to happen. The reality is different and although many times diseases can be cured by proper chemistry, often, as we see in the cases of the placebo effect, it can also be healed through consciousness.
In a similar way a radio picks up waves, the brain is a receiver of consciousness. If we humans were able to create a radio that receives frequencies, imagine what Life was able to create in billions of years of evolution. The reason so many of us have difficulty accepting consciousness as something beyond the brain is that we have to accept it as something beyond individuality as we know it.
You might have been told before to observe your consciousness (the observer, the watcher), but in truth, all we can do is observe the act of observation, the reality of being conscious. Consciousness is not the object — it’s the subject. There’s no place where you can see your own observer because it’s not a place, it’s beyond form. It’s formless. Isn’t it interesting that even though we observe through matter, observation does not come from matter?