Body, Mind, Spirit & Time

A series for Counter Culture investigating Body, Mind, Spirit & Time
Part 1

Whether the spirit chooses the body or the body the spirit may be irrelevant to the fact that spirit “finds” itself in a material being and has to develop alongside – or catalyse – the human body’s development. We (the “I” the “ego”) become aware of ourselves gradually with the development of self-consciousness – the question is has that consciousness come about through the action of spirit or has it come about in order to enable awareness of the spirit. Or is spirit something that has simply been created by consciousness and has no independent or true existence?

Firstly, let us say (rightly or wrongly!) that spirit belongs in, or comes from, a timeless state – possibly a space-less state if that isn’t too much of a paradox. Does our spirit come into our body and eventually leave it or is it grown in the body at conception or sometime thereafter and then leaves it at death? If it is the former then has “our” spirit inhabited other material bodies beforehand? What might be the point of this? Certainly given that there is SOME point in our spirit having a material, earthly experience then exploring the potential of the realm of our human senses must be of some importance.

If the sole reason for the spirit is to experience why is it that these earthly bodies and their minds have deliberately put limits to that which they can experience? Rules and codes exist expressly forbidding some experiences of the flesh? Well I shall try and ask many more questions and ponder some of the answers that spring into my mind. These thoughts will fill a number of articles in future Counter Culture magazines and on-line. You are invited to comment and criticise and add to this debate. Anyone who has knowledge of the functioning of the brain and/or experience with mental dysfunction or mental illness or who has a strong atheistic or religious viewpoint are most welcome. We need to ask: Does spirit exist? Can spirit be measured?

Firstly – Time & Spirit
We are defined on this world by our span of life – between birth and death. We arrive in the world and grow physically and mentally before beginning to decay and die either of old age and/or illness and disease or accident: innocent or malicious. Everything we do is patterned by time and defined by time and – in fact – time only “stands still” or ceases to exist where there is NO MOVEMENT. We move externally and internally until (and even slightly after) death. We are the beings who give time reality. Time is our perception. In a sense we invented time! Interestingly though we don’t necessarily live an internal life in a linear time fashion. Thoughts come as if unbidden at any time; perpetually and almost unrestrained and if we recall our lives we might well not begin with our first memories and follow on sequentially – it is more likely that the most important moments of our lives will come first – and where do they come from; in our minds…stored away until needed/recalled – always there (one presumes) but not in our everyday consciousness until brought forth into that consciousness. Brought forth consciously or otherwise. And ideas about who we are or ideas that “spring” into our heads or thoughts that we try and marshal are also stored in our minds. They exist and they don’t exist at the same time (we are unaware of them until that deliberate conscious moment).

Okay this means that we perceive the external world in a linear, finite fashion but that our internal world although existing within our conscious linear world is – itself – non-linear. If there is an existence of the spirit then it has come from a state of neither time nor place (“place” will need to be analysed!) into this world of movement and “time” (created by us and continually fractionalised; from perceiving the time as the passing of a day to highly developed atomic clocks – the latest type of which can accurately “measure” time within a fraction of a second over millions of years!!!). The most obvious questions needed to be asked at a later stage are: Why? Why come into a finite existence? Is this earthly existence of paramount importance? Why would a timeless and placeless entity come into solidity and finiteness? Has the spirit come from eternal being? Is our mortal existence part of that eternal being? Mortality within immortality! And many, many more…

Before being carried away by streams of consciousness – we must keep focused on the essence of Spirit and Time:
Spirit. If the spirit animates our earthly body or simply uses our physical senses, in which manner has it a sense of being itself? Is that essence something we should know – in other words how much is the spirit PART of us? Is spirit beyond the capabilities of language? If so, how is it that we have named and identified something that is beyond the physical/beyond supposed language? Is there (or must there be) a connection between spirit and physical being? What is the interface – is it the mind? How far is the mind a spiritual or physical entity?

Two stories:
A man is everything he is because of what he has experienced; he has listened and learnt; spoken, touched, experienced pleasure and harm – everything he has seen is stored in his brain. He is fully formed and has a distinct personality. One day the man loses an arm. He is changed by this event and grieves over his loss. But he copes, learns to live with this handicap and is essentially the same man. Later he loses his other arm. Again he grieves and curses his fate – but he learns to use his legs and toes to do all the things he once did with his arms. He is still the same man with the same personality although he has become slightly bitter and more determined. Later he loses a leg. (He is an unlucky man – whatever “luck” is!) He needs to use a crutch to walk; he becomes ever more dependent – but he still lives, still experiences – is still the same man. Next (in this unsubtle relentless story) he loses his other leg. He is immobile except his ability to shuffle along or to be carried by others. Later he loses his sight. His personality – though the same – is still more bitter or maybe resigned or maybe wiser or maybe something else…he is definitely more dependent. But he can still laugh and joke when he isn’t given to periods of anger or frustration or sadness. He can communicate and have relationships with others. His personality is the same yet – as ever and as always – is developing through its sensory experience. Is he the same, essentially as when he was a child? Is he on a kind of interior journey? Have his experiences fundamentally changed him?

We continue the fate of this “poor” man. He loses his hearing. The world becomes silent as well as unseen – he is plunged into his interior world – a world made up of all the experiences of his senses before he became blind and deaf or without legs and arms. His interior world in his dreams is perhaps more real than the world he “wakes” into. But he can still feel the wind against his face…okay I can hardly bear to persecute this body further. But if he were to lose all senses he would – in effect – exist ONLY in his mind and his mind would be everything that made him who he was THROUGH HIS SENSES. If he creates jokes inside his mind or has courage or weeps bitter tears that is because he has learnt all these things – has experienced them or understood them through language; verbal and written – through interaction and physical experience.

Now. Let us hear a story of an even more unfortunate man:
This man was born and immediately put into a cell (this is a horrible idea and I don’t like writing about it – especially after the case recently in Austria) – he is fed and given water but denied all physical senses. No touch other than being fed (in twilight) and no verbal or otherwise communication. He grows and as he grows his movement is restricted and eventually he experiences complete sensory deprivation (perhaps suspended in a chamber used for such experiments). Without going into details because I don’t wish even a FICTIONAL character to be so cruelly treated – we will progress simply to the ideas of that man’s being or self or consciousness or state of mind. Given that I haven’t explored tight, narrative details (I am capable of this if any have read Biting Tongues and the detailed description of a man incarcerated in an old air-raid shelter for seven years) – we must presume that this man has had the most limited input to his senses. The man cannot talk – has no language. We might wonder at his ability to “think” and if one can indeed think without having language. What could we say of him?

Without language how developed would his mind be? How much of the mind is language based – would that mind choose to be itself using say – the experience of chemical reactions within the body and brain?
Without external sensory experience – how developed would/could his mind be? Again would the mind reflect internal bodily reactions?
What would his mind consist of and how would it make sense of itself; how would it be conscious? How could it be conscious without “thought”? Or am I showing my mind’s weakness by now being unable to comprehend a mind operating totally differently?
Would the man be a “vegetable” – equivalent to a vegetative state?
How would the man – in a permanent state of non-movement perceive time if there is part of him that comprehends something or identifies a “him” an “I” – though in non-language form?
Is he a man? (Heavy but necessary question.)
Where is his spirit, if indeed he has spirit – where might it be situated or interface?
There are many more questions but I’m uncomfortable with this character – and such a horrific fate. So, please imagine for yourselves what might or might not constitute this man’s mind. Yet there is a point to these two stories. The man of the second story cannot (we imagine!) articulate any connection with spirit and spirit inside him would have no – or little – ability to experience. Maybe the spirit would manifest in the workings of the body and internal organs etc but regardless – this is not the usual form of experience for either spirit or man.

The man in the first story – who also has a terrifying fate – develops his personality through tragic experience. But one could always imagine his spirit keeping him alive, functioning and giving him the will to continue. The man of the second story would lead an essentially interior life that would have no reference to anything we might understand. What memories would that mind have? What concrete experiences beyond taste (or even more cruelly) the absorption of food into the stomach? We cannot conceive of the nothingness of his mind – if indeed “conceive” and “nothingness” are the correct words. The man of the second story would be unlike any other man but perhaps most similar to a very heavily physically and mentally handicapped baby (and I mean this in the broadest sense). And I would wish to ponder at a later stage the experiences of those who have “lost” their minds.

We can say that our minds and personalities are dependent on our physical experiences and therefore NOT dependent on spirit. We can say that spirit and mind perhaps do not interface. We can say that spirit is maybe the outcome of a mind that reflects upon itself and that has sophisticated language. Without personality what could go on after our death? Is the man of the second story just unfortunate and the same as a lower-life animal or simple living being? Does the spirit/soul only reside in the human form – and if so why so in humans who are mentally and physically less able than say, primates? Is it possible that we can be totally unaware of our spiritual “self”? If spirit is neither of our mind nor our personality can/should we, our minds and personalities care too much? If we cannot know the spirit are we – in any meaningful sense – doomed to annihilation? Doomed to annihilation because we do not know our spirit or because (if one believes) spirit does not exist.

Okay it’s getting to sound fairly bleak and hopeless thus I am compelled to throw an optimistic light on the case.
Our minds can be changed by our experiences, by drugs by malfunctions; our personalities can change. Yet we come into this world with a personality (ask any parent); we do not enter tabula rasa as the romantic poets once thought. And yet at that point (birth!) we have experienced very little and NOTHING of this world. We can sense that the newly born babe has a definite personality (or it exudes something that makes it individual and different) – this is quite strange. This could well be its spirit. If spirit is formless and timeless then whichever body it enters is – in a sense – irrelevant other than there being some occult/mystical/Godly reason for spirit to need a physical experience (and here religions have their answers). People have claimed to experience being out of their body and during near-death experiences of inhabiting a spiritual body and plane and of meeting deceased loved ones. Those who had afflictions have experienced perfect health; the blind have been able to see. Maybe our unfortunate man of the second story would inhabit a “perfect” body and have an instant “personality” made manifest in ways unknown to us.

If the mind/personality can or does continue after the body’s death then either it would go into a timeless (motionless) state and thus the personality would become meaningless within eternity (I will come back to this) or the mind would create for itself an existence within timeless and spaceless-ness – whereby it exists in a heaven of its own creation. This to a degree is borne out by the different experiences of people having had near-death experiences based on their cultural/religious outlook; though there is a surprising amount of shared revelations across experiences.

Maybe we are not liberated by our senses but imprisoned by them. On death we are liberated from bodily existence. Our concept of our personality is limited by our ability to conceive!!!! Although – again to be meaningful – we would need to recognise ourselves beyond death or as stated earlier that would be simply another form of annihilation. (At this stage of my thoughts and arguments I deliberately haven’t introduced the idea that annihilation is what awaits us all!!).

We may indeed lose a sense of “ourselves” but in some way keep connected to our spiritual essence so that we might meld into a greater consciousness. We might simply operate on a super-natural level – a step-up from this existence. We might inhabit a parallel universe. These are all speculations. Everything IS speculation – but if this life has meaning then perhaps we must – as human beings with or without spirit – try to unravel the greatest mystery of them all – death. Some might say don’t worry about death and simply lead and experience life. I say we must do both – lead as moral a life as we are able (and certainly strive towards) whilst keeping in mind (!) that this life is finite and that everything we do on earth has a beginning and a very definite end. Are we flowers that bloom but once or are we perennial spirit – either way we (our personalities) have only one life to explore and develop; that in itself is enough to warrant much greater thought and investigation. As humans we need to constantly ask: Why?

Tim Bragg

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1 Comment »

  1. Part Two is germinating!

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