Jeffrey Martin, Ph.D.’s two-part interview with BuddhistGeeks provides a glimpse into some of the most bleeding edge, beyond-the-shark, over-the-moon research being done these days in interdisciplinary psychology. But it’s hard to put a label on precisely what sort of research that involves.
Much of the problem, Martin suggests, relates to the difficulties people at advanced stages of psychological development have in describing the phenomena of memory, thinking, experience, and thought in general. For some, the language of religious and spiritual traditions helps them to make sense of their mind. But then there comes a time for many of the people he studies where the traditional terminology becomes inadequate, and the language of spirituality becomes not only unhelpful but increasingly problematic.
Martin searched for terminology that his desired study participants wouldn’t reject out of hand, and he settled on “non-symbolic consciousness.” That is, consciousness beyond the power of language and other symbols. According to Martin’s organization, the Center for the Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness, it includes:
- Nondual awareness
- Mystical experiences
- Peak experiences
- Plateau experiences
- Silence beyond sound
- Unity consciousness
- Transcendental experiences
- Cosmic Consciousness
- Numinous experiences
- Flow experience
- The peace of God, which passeth all understanding
- Shamanic ecstasy
Although he’s holding onto his research while he prepares it for publication, the Harvard doctoral student’s BuddhistGeeks interview provides a glimpse of what consciousness beyond language looks like.
Unusual degrees of presence:
The one thing that everyone mentioned, they often feels like they?re the only person who?s actually in the room that?s paying attention to what?s going on. And that you know everybody else is 30% there or 60% there or 10% there or 2% there. But they are just a 100% in that room…
You know again because they don?t feel like they have the ability to take any action often times they?re sort of watching what?s coming out of their mouth just like everybody else in the room is watching that?s coming out of their mouth. And so they?re lots of time as surprised by sort of the insights that they?re offering to the board meeting or whatever it is that they?re at as everybody else is…
Dramatic changes in thinking:
Thinking is significantly changed and you?ll often hear a certain subset of that population. It seems to be right around 70% of that population just immediately sort of come back with the idea that well you know thinking has stopped for me. But that?s almost never true for people who are on that side of the continuum…
For the other 30%, their number of thoughts they would actually say has increased after their awakening experience or whatever you want to call it today. So their thoughts have really multiplied. But again it?s a situation where it?s like the tree blowing outside the window even thought there are more thoughts they?re still not really being affected by them…
Startling changes in emotion:
People basically represent that they do not experience emotion ever. Now that sounds like terrible like it would be some automaton type existence but in fact no one wants to go back. You know whatever that?s like not to experience emotion, it?s better than what came before it…
An experience of moving beyond their religious tradition:
You know they may really feel like they made that transition away from having any sense of an individualized self but then they?re in for this very sense of this rude awakening that occurs if they try to go beyond the sort of the end points of their tradition. And when that falls away, then those construct fall away it?s a whole other invisible piece of the self that seems to fall away with it…
The term “non-symbolic consciousness” fits so well with what I want to explore in Beyond Language, I’ve just now added a reference to “symbolic consciousness” to the site’s tagline (for a while anyways). As readers will see, this isn’t so much a “language blog,” as a blog about what is there when language reaches its limits, an awareness that itself is sharable primarily in symbolic expressions.