Regarding Swans, Solitude, Science & Consciousness
Regarding Swans, Solitude, Science, and Consciousness
Long cattails undulate in the breeze. A blue heron sits on a birdhouse along the edge of the marsh. In the distance, through the telescope, swans cavort along the edge of the wetland. In the foreground, a pair of woodland ducks, the male displaying spectacular coloration, root amongst the lily pads.
Returning to the marsh overlook later in the day, the blue heron stands like a statue along the edge of the wetland. Except for an occasional swivel of its head, it doesn't move for the half hour I'm there.
It's unseasonably warm for mid-October in Michigan. The chilly nights and warm days are quickly turning the leaves. There are many gorgeous sights on the long loop through the woodland preserve adjacent to the marsh, as greens, yellows, reds, and browns flash in the bright sunshine and blend into a kaleidoscope of color.
It is good to be in a different place, and to visit the land where I grew up. Though unfamiliar to me after all these years, there are echoes (literally sometimes, in the sounds of the water or woods) of boyhood.
The next morning five white swans (undoubtedly the same one's seen through the telescope along the edge of the marsh) glide across the large bay, so becalmed that it looks and feels like a pond. The stillness and hush of the morning compound the beauty of the scene. The swans' single-file procession throws a long wake, which silently washes over you with mystic effect.
A few minutes later they begin to flap their huge wings, and slowly lumber into the air. The sound of their wings beating the air is surprisingly loud. It takes them nearly a minute to become fully airborne, and then they are gone. Afterward one realizes that one has witnessed a scene of such sublime beauty that it embodies the essence of life.
Solitude is a state of being and not a physical circumstance. It means being one with everything, not cut off, or living in one's own world. One can be in a state of solitude even with others, though it is difficult and rare enough to reach solitude even when alone.
Meditation and solitude go hand in hand. Most people don't like being alone, equating it with loneliness. There is always some form of escape, especially in the West, where it is so easy to lose oneself in television and movies.
Striking a healthy balance between being alone and being with others is something each person must do for himself or herself. But in America, the very idea of spending time alone is viewed with suspicion. Personally, I like to be around people, but I also must be alone for a period each day.
In being alone, one realizes that consciousness is a single stream, and that below the surface level there is no 'my consciousness' and 'your consciousness.' Because there is no actual separation between people (no matter how different our cultural backgrounds), what we do to another we do to ourselves.
Science can study the brain, and how consciousness arose (once scientists agree on what consciousness is!). But science will never be able to study consciousness, because consciousness is the thing doing the science. In philosophical terms, that would be a reductio ad absurdum.
To observe, without any separation or division, the stream of consciousness in oneself, is the highest action of which human beings are capable. When one observes the movement of consciousness within oneself exactly the same way one intensely observes a river, then thought-consciousness quiets down, and ends.
At that moment another kind of consciousness altogether comes into being.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.