Relationship How Are You Connected?
Chapter 1 from
Radical Knowing: Understanding Consciousness through Relationship
By Christian de Quincey
What is most important in your life? Put this question to a wide range of people and, sure enough, you'll get a wide range of
answers ... everything from "money," "sex," "career," to "good health," "family," "love."
And if you were to ask some deeper questions about why such things are so important my guess is that underneath all the answers you would
find some common ground. What you and I really want most of all are meaningful, satisfying relationships.
Relationships? Everybody has them. In fact you can't avoid them. Even if you decided to live alone in a log cabin on a remote
island, you'd still be in relationship—at the very least with your memories of other people, and with the animals and insects and plants
that surround you, and on which you rely for companionship and nourishment.
Yes, we are always embedded in relationships, and the mark of a good life is the quality of our interconnectedness.
This may come as a surprise to some people: You cannot not be in relationship. It is a fact of life. Yet so many of us spend a
lot of our precious time and money trying to find relationships, or the perfect one. But after some reflection and clear thinking we come
to recognize a basic, simple fact:
We are always in relationship ... of some kind. It's part of the welcome package we get on arrival into
this world. Every one of us—no exceptions—gets the basic package: a body, a mind, and relationships.
At home and in school we are trained to take care of and develop our bodies and minds. For the body, we go to the gym, play sports,
eat healthy food; for the mind, we learn how to count, to spell, to read.
Our culture spends untold billions of dollars each year to help
us take care of our bodies and minds—from medical and healthcare institutions, parks and recreation services, to colleges and universities
and other institutions of higher learning. Yes, we are trained and encouraged to care for our bodies and to develop our minds.
But when was the last time you entered an "institute for relationship"? The phrase even sounds peculiar. It is an alien idea in
our culture. It's as if we have been led to believe that our relationships will take care of themselves. Just put two or more individuals
together, and, if they have sound bodies and minds, chances are they will develop good relationships.
Oh, if only it were that simple! Check
out the divorce statistics and you'll soon see that, as a society, we're not very good at relationships at all.
Of course, there are all kinds of relationships besides love and marriage. Relationships with our family of origin (and her/his
family of origin!). Relationships at work and in our careers. Relationships with our neighbors and community.
Relationships with our pets,
and with all the other animals and plants we rely on for companionship and nourishment. Relationships with bacteria and other microbes that
influence our health and vitality. Relationships with our homes, and cars, and boats, and all our other worldly possessions.
Relationships with our environment. Relationships with our church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or stupa. Relationships with our God or gods, whatever we
conceive him, her, it, or them to be.
You get the picture. Relationships are pervasive. Take a few minutes to write out your own list of all the kinds of relationships
you have. You will think of many not listed here. It's a useful exercise that will help you become more aware of just how embedded you are
(like the rest of us) in a rich tapestry of relationship.
Yes, just as the new sciences keep telling us: We are all interconnected. The question, then, is: What is the quality of our connections?
Are We Connected?
We can begin to answer this question by exploring the nature of our relationships. In today's world, one way we are all related
is through fibers and filaments of physical connection—through, for example, the local and global networks of telephones, computers, and
the Internet, using the media of voice and images to keep each other informed about the things that matter to us.
The common factor in all these modes of connection is that they are physical—involving exchanges of energy and information.
However, we are also deeply interconnected in other important ways—through non-physical connections. These are much less obvious
and less easy to identify and define, though not because they are less real or have less impact on our lives.
In fact, I believe our non-physical connections have a much deeper influence on the quality of our lives and relationships than the more visible and tangible physical links
What are these "non-physical" connections? I'm not talking about some esoteric, "far out" metaphysical lines of force running
through our lives and world, shaping our destinies (for example, the kinds of connections astrologers say link us to the positions of the
planets and stars).
No, I mean something much more mundane and closer to home—something common to all of us, something we all share, something
so familiar and intimate that many of us rarely pay much attention to it. I'm talking about consciousness.
But, I hear you say, isn't my consciousness my own private affair, my own private world? My consciousness, my mind, exists inside
my head, and nowhere else. No one else has access to my thoughts, feelings, and desires unless I express them. Right?
So how can I be connected to other people through consciousness? How can consciousness be one of the fibers of relationship?
Actually, I hope to show you that not only is consciousness a key ingredient in all relationships—I will emphatically state that
it is not just a fiber but the very fabric of all our relationships. And that without cultivating our consciousness we will not be very successful
in cultivating any of our relationships.
Look at the list of relationships you have created, and now ask yourself: "How is the quality of
my consciousness reflected in the quality of those relationships?" If you meditate on this question for some time, I think you will discover,
as I have, that consciousness and relationship are so deeply and intimately related that we could confidently say: "The quality of my consciousness
is the quality of my relationships," and vice versa.
Relationship is all about consciousness. And consciousness is all about relationship.
This last claim may need a little unpacking.
Let's go back to our "welcome package," the one we all received at birth: body, mind, relationships. I said above that our society,
our civilization, trains us to take care of body and mind, through healthcare, diet, exercise, and education. Now I'm going to take back
what I just said. Or at least modify it a little.
Yes, it is true enough to say that we have developed social institutions for taking care of body and mind—but only to a degree.
And in many ways to a very small degree when it comes to "mind." In Western cultures, we are trained to develop a certain kind, or part,
of our mind. We are trained to think rationally and logically.
Our entire educational system is designed to foster skills for working with
the contents of our minds. We are fed "facts." Passing exams is all about getting the right answers, about getting our facts right. Getting
a job is all about being able to apply the facts in a commercial environment in a way that adds value to our employer's bottom line.
Facts Wrapped In Feeling
In Western cultures, we are trained to work with facts, we are not trained to work with feelings and intuition. Picture it this
way: Every fact comes wrapped in a tissue of feelings. There is no such thing as a stand alone, pure objective fact.
Every so-called fact—every fact—every item of knowledge only becomes a fact when someone's consciousness becomes aware of it. All facts, all the thoughts and ideas that fill up our minds, exist only because they have found a place in someone's consciousness. And everyone's consciousness is notoriously
The key distinguishing mark of consciousness is its subjectivity. Consciousness does not exist in physical space. You cannot see
it, cannot touch it, cannot measure it. Subjectivity means this: It feels like something from the inside. When you have a toothache, it is
subjective; you feel it from inside your own consciousness.
Nobody else can feel or experience your toothache for you. And this is just as
true for so-called objective facts—whether it's this month's financial statement, the flat tire on your car, the rain beating on the window,
your computer crashing, or the book in your hands.
Every "objective" known fact always shows up in someone's subjective mind. That's the
only way it can be known. Facts come wrapped in feeling.
I know, you're already saying, "Hey, this is getting pretty deep. Heavy-duty philosophy." But it's "deep" only because it may
be unfamiliar to you. And that's my point. Our educational system—our entire culture—has missed this crucial part of the "human welcome package."
In other traditions, for example in Buddhist societies, this kind of thinking is not at all deep. It is part of their everyday exploration
of what it means to be a human being.
Rather than fall off the "deep" end into bottomless philosophizing, I want you to simply, and easily, just pay attention to your
own experience, to the feelings coursing through your body right now, at this very moment, as you read these words.
What are you feeling? Where in your body do you feel it? What does it feel like? Is it moving? Is the feeling stuck?
Now, if you are an educated Westerner, you have probably already begun thinking about what I've just said. But don't try to analyze
my words, trying to figure out what they mean—even though that's what you've been trained to do (and I'm sure you do it very well).
This book is about stepping outside your training and the usual way you use your mind. So don't think. Just feel. Later on, we will explore what
it means to feel your thinking.
In our culture, we are trained to use our minds to figure out what's best for our bodies. What I would like you to open up to
now is the idea of the body being in service to the mind. Or, more accurately, learning to use the feelings in our bodies in ways that will
help improve the quality of our consciousness.
I want us to learn to pay attention, not just to the contents of our minds, but also to the
quality or "context" of our minds—to consciousness itself.
You Are Not an Individual
And (letting the secret out right at the start) I suspect that when you engage in this exploration, when you pay attention to
your own mind, to your consciousness—to your feeling of subjectivity—you will discover, as I have, something quite unfamiliar, perhaps even
The deepest nature of consciousness is communion, or relationship. Subjectivity is actually inter-subjectivity. (Don't worry about
that word for now. It will become much clearer soon enough.).
Here's a different way of looking at this "startling discovery": Of the three items in our "welcome package" (body, mind, and
relationships), our culture has got at least two of them very, very wrong. We've been given very inaccurate information about the nature
of consciousness and the nature of relationship.
Let's look at consciousness first: It is not isolated within our private brains. It is shared, communal. (Yes, contents of consciousness
may be, for the most part, private. I don't have access to your memory of what you had for breakfast, for example.
But the context of consciousness,
the source from which all thoughts arise, is shared. It's like we have a time-share for our thoughts. We get to keep them private if we choose,
but the consciousness that houses our thoughts—the "building"—does not belong solely to us.)
And then there's relationship. Contrary to what we've been trained to believe, relationship does not happen when two or more people
come together. This is the "rugged individual" view of relationship.
Typically, we believe that each individual is kind of like an "atom,"
and when two atom-individuals bump into each other, they form a relationship.
We even talk about the "chemistry" of relationship. Think of your own first love affair, perhaps in high school. You went to the
dance, or the mall, or wherever, no doubt with some friends, a group of "atoms" out for a good time.
And then your eyes met. You encountered
your partner-to-be, two "soul atoms" coming together, and forming a relationship. First you were individuals. Then you entered into a relationship.
Seems kind of obvious, right?
Well, I'm proposing that that view of relationship is wrong and, in so doing, I'm turning the usual view of things on its head.
I'm saying that relationship comes first, and then our individuality grows out of our relationships—not the other way around. The illusion
of individualism is the "box" we will be thinking and feeling outside of as our journey through radical knowing unfolds.
At John F. Kennedy University, in California, where I teach, I begin many of my classes by advising students not to believe anything
I am about to tell them. And I'm now extending the same advice to you. Don't believe a word I say.
I don't want you to believe anything.
Not what I say, or what anybody else says. I want you to learn a new way of using your mind that liberates you from "facts" and "beliefs"
by focusing on your own direct, moment-to-moment experience. This is where your real power resides; this is the way to wisdom.
Philosophy, Stories, and Healing
I will begin with a personal story, a narrative about how I came to realize the limitations of mainstream academic philosophy,
and how I opened to a different kind of philosophy—one more aligned with its original intent and meaning (philosophia, love of wisdom).
In the next chapter, I will tell this story of my own awakening, and how I came to understand two different kinds of awareness: reason-based
consciousness and feeling-based consciousness.
While developing the ideas for this book, I gave many public talks to test the material with different kinds of audiences. Almost
invariably after each presentation, women would come up to thank me for putting into words an issue they had difficulty articulating.
As these women explained it to me, they felt most comfortable relating to the world through their feelings, whereas the men in their lives typically
used reason as a basis for communication.
Many of these women had spent years in relationships where they felt that their husband, boss,
teacher, father, or brother had used the power of intellect to invalidate their feelings and in so doing, dominated them; these men and women
were experiencing a clash of worldviews.
For the women, feelings were the best guide to speaking their truth; for the men getting at truth involved a process of probing
and questioning. Frequently, communication would break down, with each accusing the other: "You're stuck in your head. You have no heart."
Or, from the other side, "You're too emotional. You don't think clearly enough." After hearing about the two modes of consciousness discussed
in this book, the women told me that they now had a new perspective that gave them insight into the dynamics of their relationships.
It's not that one way of knowing is right or better than the other—we need both reason and feeling for getting on with the complicated
business of living. However, if we can develop an awareness and sensitivity first of all to the fact that these differences exist, and then
achieve some comprehension of their underlying dynamics, we can begin to exercise more choice in how we understand and relate to the "other."
Gender and Consciousness
We should be careful not to generalize or to stereotype genders. Not all women use feeling as their primary mode of consciousness
or communication. And, of course, women can be just as rational and intellectual as men.
Similarly, not all men are unskilled in the "arts"
of feeling, either. Furthermore, feeling-based consciousness is not always so gentle or nurturing.
For example, I remember teaching a class on the evolution of consciousness where the women in the class (the majority), ganged
up on a couple of the men. The women accused the men of being "too intellectual."
This was at a university, and of course the men were entitled to use their knowledge and powers of reasoning to explore the topic; it was entirely appropriate.
But the women let rip, and the force of their emotions clamped down on the two men, effectively silencing them for the rest of the class.
Fortunately, I had designed the course to include, the following week, some Bohmian dialogue (a form of communication that encourages
and facilitates truthful and authentic self-expression, as we will see in a later chapter), and this turned out to be a fruitful learning
opportunity for all involved.
Employing the technique of Bohmian dialogue, the women came to recognize that even while talking about the value of feeling the
previous week, they had actually been using forceful, rational arguments that were driven by charged emotions.
By attacking the men, the women had effectively demonstrated that strong feelings can dominate reason—especially when expressions of the feelings are distorted by emotions such as fear or aggression.
This interaction served as a dramatic real-life example of what can happen when thinking and feeling
get tangled up without sufficient discernment between them.
From my perspective as a class instructor on dialogue, I saw the irony: women using reason distorted by emotions to express their
feelings against men who were speaking clearly and rationally, guided by their own felt sense of what was true. In this case, the women "conquered"
the men, switching the usual gender roles of feeling and thinking.
Intellectual vs. Intuitive Knowing?
We can learn to discern which life situations call for intellect or instrumental knowing, and which call for feeling or intuitive
For example, in balancing your checkbook or finding your way through the streets of an unfamiliar city it probably works best to
rely on reason and intellect (though, of course, even in these situations we would not want to block off all access to our intuitive faculties,
But developing a relationship is not at all like balancing a checkbook. And it is here that people often get into difficulty.
Trying to "figure out" relationships by relying predominantly on our rational instrumental mind is likely to result in breakdown.
It's simply the wrong tool for the job. As we will see, relationships form and develop through participation in shared meaning and cannot be figured
out the way we would analyze parts of a machine.
Even though some people may find the ideas in this book to be "therapeutic" (in the style of "philosophical counseling"), that
is not my central intent. Yes, certainly, I am passionately interested in what I called "epistemotherapy" in Radical Nature—healing the split
between our different ways of knowing, between intuition and intellect, between feeling and thinking, between body and mind.
But I don't believe ideas can do it, certainly not on their own. The best I can hope for is that the words on these pages may loosen up some deeply held
beliefs and create openings for meaningful insights and experiences to arise.
I am not a psychotherapist; I am a philosopher committed to
exploring the nature of consciousness. Nevertheless, paradoxically, it seems that a willingness to openly explore consciousness without having
any therapeutic agenda can lead to a kind of healing—especially when we successfully integrate thinking and feeling.
But this is not your typical philosophy, either.
I have deliberately chosen to weave personal narrative into this book because I am urging us to honor different ways of knowing
when exploring consciousness.
Including a "first-person" narrative, I feel, helps balance the more objective and academic "third-person"
approaches typical in most philosophy and science. Further, as you will see, one of the key themes in my story is the crucial importance
of acknowledging and including the "second-person" perspective ("I-you" or "I-to-I" relationships).
As a result, readers familiar with the first volume in this trilogy will notice a shift from a predominantly philosophical writing
style to (in this book) a style that is more "user-friendly"—more an anthropology of consciousness.
(I promise there will be no mathematical equations or complex formulas. Even though we will be moving into some deep philosophical territory, my aim is to keep the message simple.)
I believe a user-friendly approach is appropriate given the subject matter of this book: exploring different ways of knowing consciousness
and who we are in the world. As in my previous book, I believe the role of story is fundamental both to how we understand our place in the
greater cosmic scheme and to how nature itself has produced beings who thrive by sharing meaning.
We are such beings—storytellers.
Consciousness Knowing Consciousness
In recent years, consciousness has been described as the "final frontier" for science. It is also the hardest problem in philosophy,
and the great mystery in spirituality. All three disciplines offer ways to study consciousness—it is the one reality common to all of them,
and essential to all of them.
Each discipline relies on its own particular way of knowing: for science, it's the senses; for philosophy,
it's reason; for spirituality, it's direct experience.
But what is the best way to know the mind? How do we know what we know? We will attempt to unravel this mystery by asking three
1. How far back in evolution does consciousness go?
2. Are philosophical truth and spiritual wisdom compatible?
3. What is the essential nature of consciousness?
As you will see, these questions reflect my own evolving struggles as a philosopher who, while rigorously investigating "mind,"
honors the very different perspectives of science and spirituality.
I am particularly interested in what happens when philosophy and spirituality
engage in dialogue about consciousness: Can reason enlighten our steps on the spiritual path? Can mystical experience guide philosophy?
In exploring the relationship between reason and nonrational ways of knowing, our first clues will come from the science of anthropology,
and the discovery of two radically different forms of consciousness found in different cultures.
One, typical of indigenous peoples, is rooted
in feeling and focuses on communal well-being. The other, typical of modern culture, is rooted in dialectical reason and uses confrontation
to dispel ignorance and get at truth.
In the chapters ahead, we will see that unless the rational mind reconnects with its own deep roots
in feeling, and opens to transcendental intuition, it will continue to conquer and suppress other ways of knowing.
When reason is rooted in feeling, however, philosophy can attain wisdom beyond mere truth. In a nutshell, the central theme of
my work in philosophy is this: In exploring consciousness are we searching for truth or for wisdom?
Are we looking for decisive facts or
for enlightening experience? Do we want more theory or do we want deeper insights into how we might better live our lives?
In short: Are we looking for consciousness through words or through silence?
On the one hand, we may study mind because we want to understand it—to talk or write about it coherently. On the other hand, we
may study consciousness because we want to experience it—to know it from within in a way that illuminates our lives.
The first approach gives
us philosophical truth; the second can lead to spiritual wisdom. This book honors and integrates both.
Reprinted with permission from Park Street Press. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2005 Christian de Quincey
To order this book from Amazon.com, click here!