Innate Morality

Olivia: I want to ask you is there such a thing as innate morality? Can morality be deeper than an idea, a belief, an education? 

Godfrey: First of all every human being that has ever lived has lived in a particular culture and every culture has its norms, every culture has its rights and wrongs. But probably in most cultures, certainly the culture that we live in, there are people who don’t perform within those norms. People who can be regarded as behaving badly or immorally. This can very easily create the impression that morality is something that we learn, or we don’t.

When I was young there was this sense that its up to parents to install the sense of right or wrong in their children. This idea may have roots in the idea that god gave Moses the ten commandments. Judeo-Christian morality came from God. Of course this is used by and in support of religion. The foolish claim that without religion we would be immoral creatures or ruthlessly selfish creatures and we have to learn not to be.

When a  question is being asked any answer has to come from a culture, from a way of thinking, from a way of seeing things. I think my way of seeing things is a little different. It’s not necessarily in conflict with all other ways but it might be in conflict with some. So I’d like to sketch out my point of view, my perspective. As somebody who has been relentlessly examining my experience as a human being and bringing that inquiry into my  personal and professional relationships.

I am not a scientist. I haven’t done any controlled experiments. Nevertheless my personal and professional exploration of human experience has left me with an understanding of human experience that differs from that of professional thinkers: whether they are philosophers or scientists. I suspect that this is simply because they are thinking about this,  instead of also trying to experience it.

What I  am talking about here is consciousness. The word consciousness in the intellectual establishment of philosophers and scientists, normally refers  to the conscious mind which is at the heart of human experience. However when I use the word consciousness I mean it much more deeply and broadly than that,  but not excluding that.

So to put it simply, to be endowed with consciousness is to be endowed with the ability to discriminate, respond and learn. Which of course all life is. An amoeba responds to its environment, and so not only survives, but also learns. Without unicellular learning we would not be here having this conversation. Within that bigger view of consciousness there are many layers.

The language that we have to speak about consciousness has developed in response to what consciousness reveals, rather than in response to what consciousness is in itself. The language that we have to talk to each other about our experience is based on the things that we experience, rather than being based on what allows us to experience.

When you start looking at how consciousness or awareness participate in human experience you have to start saying things like conscious awareness, unconscious awareness or subconscious awareness. This is because we don’t have enough words. So it can get a little messy and become very easy for people to assume a meaning that is actually not intended.

So anyway my principal professional and personal interest has always been consciousness. This means I have spent a lot of time being intimate with my own presence, in order to clarify what is really going on within human experience. I have always been fascinated by what it is that is expressing itself in human beings as human nature. My main research tool is being intimate with my own presence, and supporting others in that as a yoga, meditation and tantra teacher.

Intimacy with your own presence confronts you most obviously with the presence of the body and the sensations it generates. Less clearly it confronts you with  the presence of mind and the interpretations it is making.  It also, but much more subtly, presents you with that which reveals them: which is consciousness. Of course that is consciousness in the limited sense of conscious awareness. That’s what we are actually experiencing.

However our experience as human beings also contains what you could call subconscious or unconscious awareness. This expresses itself when you are asleep and you wake up in response to a loud noise. Of course it also expresses itself all the time you are awake.

So there is awareness that is conscious, which is normally referred to as consciousness. Yet there is something much bigger that is also consciousness, for which we have no specific word. Most of what it contains never reaches conscious awareness, but it is all potentially available. The conscious mind is continuously filtering it so that we can function.

It is not part of our direct experience that the conscious mind is continuously selecting and filtering what is going on more deeply. So it is easily overlooked, and in that oversight the fundamental nature of consciousness is not recognised. Most people don’t carry the thought that consciousness is intelligent. Most people, even professional thinkers, dont acknowledge that conscious awareness is an intelligent presence. It’s not a dull, passive presence. It reveals, it illuminates, it brings into the light. Its illumination, its revelation are functional properties of consciousness and they generate experience.

When you spend a lot of time just being intimate with your own presence you feel many many things. Many of those things are easily recognisable as having an anatomical nature. You could feel your knee, you could feel your ankle, you could feel muscles. Some of those things can be recognised as having a physiological nature. You can feel things moving, flowing, you can feel your heartbeat, your breathing.

These experiences of the anatomical, of the physiological are based on the intelligence of the mind interpreting the activity of the body: which is an intelligent activity. It is intelligence meeting intelligence. The orthodox scientific and philosophical view is that that is all there is, somatic and cognitive intelligence at work.The religious view is that there is also a soul.

I take the view that whatever is here, it is here for me to find out. I don’t need to rely on anyone’s opinion because it’s here. I don’t have to go anywhere. I just have to pay attention deeply enough to try to make sense of the different things I can feel or hear, smell, taste within me. Of course feeling is the primary sense, of which all the other senses are refined extensions.

The somatic element of human experience is the physical body and the sensations it is generating. The cognitive element of human experience is the mind and the interpretations that it makes. Then there is this third element of human experience: that which makes experience possible in the first place. For me this is the spiritual element, the intelligent presence of consciousness, with its inner qualities of spaciousness, openness, lightness, peacefulness, delight, love.

Any well educated philosopher or scientist can tell you that there is no reason we have to be aware, to have experiences at all. The human organism is a finely tuned action/response mechanism that could perhaps survive without a conscious mind, without experience of its own presence and activity. Although i doubt that myself: we are too vulnerable, we need to communicate and for that we need a conscious mind.

Anyway, we are not zombies.

We are conscious beings and of course this is the mystery that confounds everybody. The usual assumption is that conscious awareness is an after thought that came after a long developmental process. I don’t think so. I think its roots were there from the beginning. I think the whole of the evolutionary process is an expression of consciousness. Not conscious awareness or the conscious mind, but the ability to discriminate, respond and learn. When consciousness is seen in this deeper, broader sense it no longer appears to be an evolutionary side effect.

What consciousness does can be summarised as its functional properties: it illuminates, it reveals, it even generates. However, it not only makes things possible, it also has intrinsic qualities or properties that reveal its presence directly. Qualities such as spaciousness, openness, lightness, peacefulness.  What it can be directly experienced as can be called its structural properties: how it feels, tastes, sounds.

To become intimate with your own presence you only need to be interested. It is not a special skill. When you do, you may notice pain, anger, loneliness, hunger. These kinds of biological or social feelings are common enough, but they don’t last, and they are not always present.

However there are certain things that come over and over again no matter what you feel in a biological or social sense. These are those structural qualities, such as spaciousness, openness, lightness, peacefulness. When you experience certain qualities over and over again it’s very difficult to tell yourself that they are coming from a psychotic episode. It is hard to write them off as  delusional because they are happening all the time, and not only to you.

Intimate awareness of the intelligent presence of consciousness reveals other quite surprising qualities: peace, love and delight or joy. Of course having recognised that consciousness does not actually originate in the sophistication of human neurology this has implications. Love, as the poets often declare, may be a property of life itself, not unique to humans at all. The empathy that animals display, and not only towards their own species, may not be only a social or survival skill. It may be expressing something deeper than evolutionary success.

Anyway, to me, love is a fundamental property of consciousness. Therefor it is a fundamental property of any creature endowed with consciousness. Which according to my definition is all creatures: including amoebas.

What does it mean that almost every stranger you stop to ask the way responds politely and patiently? Is this simply social conditioning? Perhaps not. I would say that this demonstrates that there is a kindness and generosity built in to human beings. Some might argue that people only do that out of social conditioning. But that is an assumption based on a very narrow view of life.

It is clear to me that human beings are by nature exquistely sensitive creatures: that all animals and even insects are. It even seems to be the case that plants are too.  I don’t think that sensitivity is learned, even though it does become specialised. To me that sensitivity which allows living organisms to discriminate, respond, and also to learn, is an expression of consciousness in the deeper, broader sense.

At the same time this ability to discriminate and respond expresses through other functional properties. These include openness, honesty, intimacy and generosity. To me these are all functional properties of consciousness in the deeper, broader sense.

It is mind, not consciousness that has limited and limiting agendas. While we know that mind selects, filters and excludes, consciousness includes. This is an expression of its generosity. It is also honest, its inclusivity allows it to accept everything without needing  to judge and distort.  Its openness also: while mind becomes easily prejudiced against recognising certain things, this is not the case for consciousness. Exclusion and prejudice are properties of mind, not consciousnes. Equally consciousness does not hold itself back from anything. It functions through a direct, unmediated intimacy.

In seeing these intrinsic, functional properties of consciousness, I see an innate morality. The sensitivity of human beings, and other creatures may become focussed and specialised by way of biological and cultural conditioning. Nevertheless, at its root, it is innate. It is the same for honesty, generosity, inclusivity etc.

Being human has three elements. The somatic element is the body and its physical sensations. The cognitive element is the mind, making interpretations imagining, speculating. Then there is this third element, which is not effectively in our vocabulary,  which allows that to be experienced. It allows you to know that you are feeling, to know that you are responding, to know that you are thinking, to know that you are processing, evaluating and reacting to life.

For me it’s very easy to see that that is the fundamental aspect of being human. Not just in terms of my and your development, but also in our collective evolutionary development from amoebas. Amoebas had unconscious consciousness or unconscious awareness. Probably they didn’t know that they were feeling, opening, contracting, reacting and all of those things they were doing, but they were doing them.

So this is how I would define consciousness, which could easily be referred to as natural intelligence. Only I would say that intelligence is a property of consciousness, rather than their being synonyms. So to me it’s really clear that any human being that has not been so traumatised that they totally lost touch with their deeper natural intelligence of consciousness is going to be a moral being. Any healthy, sane person is going to be disturbed by women being raped, by people having sex with children, by people being locked up, tortured or killed because they believe different things than you do.

These things are going to disturb any human being who has not been traumatised. To be deeply conditioned into believing that women are here to be raped, that children are sex objects is to be traumatised. That trauma puts you out of touch with natural intelligence. To believe that those kinds of atrocities are justifiable is an aberration of human intelligence.

It is only because trauma is so common that the significance of natural intelligence, especially the intelligence of consciousness, is overlooked. Then it is assumed that people need to be intimidated into being decent, moral beings. This intimidation is assigned to the divine being and their commandments, heaven and hell.

There is a kind of twisted truth in that. Our sense of right and wrong does come from a more reliable, subtle, even invisible intelligence: the intelligence of consciousness. This is an intelligence that actually has many of the properties attributed to divine beings. It is only because we are out of touch with it that we deify it.

Our natural morality is coming from this intelligence that we are out of touch with. However we can be in touch with it, and even though we are out of touch with it consciously, nevertheless it’s forming everything. Consciousness and its functional properties is forming our experience; so we are not completely out of touch with it. We are only out of touch with it consciously. So that’s more or less how I am seeing it.

Olivia: So what do you think one can do to support being in touch with innate morality? Or being in touch with consciousness? 

Godfrey: Well you just said it really. What can help us to get in touch with our innate morality is to get in touch with consciousness. Which means to have a conscious experience of the presence of consciousness. Then we start to recognise, enjoy and be nourished by its structural properties.

Eventually that recognition of the properties and functioning of consciousness allows the mind to realise there is a deeper intelligence functioning and available. Then the mind doesn’t have to work everything out, it doesn’t have to go to a library to work everything out, it doesn’t have to go to a church to work everything out. There is a source of wisdom as well as morality already present. So the real question is then how do you get in touch with the presence of consciousness.

It turns out that the most simple direct way is by way of physical sensations.

The key is feeling sensations as deeply and intimately as possible. It doesn’t matter what the sensations are. Of course the willingness to feel sensations varies, not only person to person, but also sensation to sensation.  Some are easier to feel, some are more present, some are more stable.

The more intimate you become with physical sensations the more you start to encounter the structural properties of consciousness. Encountering these structural properties of consciousness, especially the love and the peace,  has an effect. Like nutrients, they nourish you. Part of the nourishment is to relax you. To allow you to let go of the continuous struggle to get things right from and with the mind. Which rarely has an enough data. It knows it rarely has an enough data.

One of the properties of consciousness, and one of the indications of its inclusiveness, is that it has all the data.

All the data is available. This is how people can have intuitive experiences, psychic experiences, all of a sudden do something, say something that’s exactly the right thing. This is not coming from any conscious process. All of these types of experiences people can have can be made sense of when we understand the nature of consciousness, the nature of intelligence and how that functions as what we call knowledge. Knowing what to do, knowing what to say.

So the simple answer to your question is to hang out with physical sensations while sober. Because if not sober the implications of those sensations won’t become clear. And the nourishing possibilities of their qualities won’t be available.

Olivia: I’m just going to step back a little bit. Cause it makes me think as we grow up we are giving a certain compass from our parents, from our school system, from our community. And then as we start to grow up more maybe as teenagers, early adulthood we start to recognise ‘Hold on a minute, is that the compass I want to refer to?’ and we go out and find our own compass. And it kind of seems like all of us have to have some kind of compass in which we live our daily activity and our a sense of what’s going to project us this way or that way and more often than not we don’t question that compass. We just take it for granted So, what I am hearing is first of all maybe just take a look at your compass. And then see, is that a healthy place from which to orient your life. And perhaps there is somewhere that could be a lot more wholesome and could engage us in that innate experience of just morality that’s already there. 

G: I think many people do change their compas when they become adults. The problem is  that it is undertaken and established intellectually. So it may lead to an intellectual understanding that you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that, you shouldn’t lie, cheat etc. However it doesn’t necessarily change the way you actually function. It doesn’t necessarily change the deeper, perhaps contradictory assumptions and beliefs, that have been put there by your social conditioning. For that initial intellectual challenge to bear fruit, of putting you in touch with innate morality, there has to be a process of somatic intimacy.

Becoming intimate with physical sensation seems to be an indispensable necessity to permanently transforming behaviour.

This intimacy, this process doesn’t require any help from the mind. The mind participates in it. It learns from it, but it can’t guide it. This is what makes it difficult, because the role that we’ve given the mind, collectively, culturally and individually, is to be the problem solver. Mind is taken to be the director of the game, to make sure that everything works out.  This supposedly quintessentially human gift of the mind and its ability to rationally to think about cause and effect.

That rationality  of mind of course is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t actually help us to get in touch with consciousness, or with our innate morality. It just leaves us going round and round in philosophical circles. Philosophy has been going round and round in those circles a long time: without really changing how people relate to each other. People are still killing, raping, exploiting all of the time. People have put it down to human nature rather than not paying attention to human nature. Not becoming intimate with human nature.

Olivia: Do you think the part of the problem or part of the human suffering is the fact that  innate morality  rubs up us against what our minds are telling us. The mind compass rubbing up against the deeper intelligence. 

G: Yes. It’s here. It’s in us. It can’t be taken away. It can be ignored or not heard. Nevertheless I don’t think it can completely be ignored.  A guilty conscience might sometimes be expressing it. It is not something that needs to be recovered, it is something that needs to be uncovered. The fact that it needs to be uncovered doesn’t mean that it isn’t already actually functioning. Surely it is not functioning freely because it has been interfered with by the unconscious assumption that the mind has to work it all out, or the priest has to tell us, or God has to inform us of what’s right and what’s wrong.

The fact is that we all know what’s right and what’s wrong. Everybody. I’m sure the people in ISIS were cutting heads off partly because they knew its wrongness would make it so shocking. If not then they are sociopaths or psychopaths. That’s perhaps a definition of a psychopath: completely cut off from innate morality, completely cut off from the intelligence of consciousness. Then maybe a sociopath is a bit cut off.

O: And back to what you were saying about how do we get more in touch with this. And you were saying basically just feel the sensations. That’s pretty radical. 

G: Radical is the word. Because it’s going down to the root of human intelligence. You could say it’s very contentious. Its displacing the mind, the rational intelligence and information that we’ve accumulated in a life time from its throne. That’s why it is difficult for people to even consider that it’s possible. Yet even if they are willing to give it a go, it is very easy to be sidetracked by mind constantly chipping in: “Am I doing it right?”, “What should I be doing?”. The point is that you don’t have to do anything. You just have to feel the sensations as deeply possible.

O: And would you say in your experience the more you do that the more certain kind of experience of living comes out? 

G: Well it seems to be that way. I have a slightly sceptical mind and I like to apply that to my own thinking and experience. I wouldn’t like to be definitive, but it really does seem to me that hanging out with physical sensations really intimately does affect how you experience life. This is not only from my own experience, but also observing other people who have done likewise, including yourself.

It is not that there are clear markers about how this deeper intelligence of consciousness expresses itself into life. One way for sure is a reduction in anxiety about decision making and their consequences. They still need to be made, but they more or less make themselves. Then more generally there is a sense of freedom, acceptance and tolerance that comes with not being so beholden to what you think about anything. You can give up your ideas quickly, easily. When you get a bit of new data or coherence.

I think there is an element of trust that comes into it. You start to trust that there is an intelligence within you that is very sensitive, very competent, very capable. That you don’t have to rely only on your ability to think and to have all of the right data in order to meet the challenges of life. So this is very relaxing. Of course as you become more relaxed you become more open, tolerant.

It is kind of a win win situation.

You actually don’t have to do anything: just feel. You don’t have to have a strategy, you don’t have to have a formula, you don’t have to keep track of what’s going on. It’s going to be happening and it doesn’t matter if the sensations are sunlight on your skin,  breath in your throat, pulsations in your pelvic floor, throbbing in your armpits: it doesn’t matter. They are all coming from the same source and they are all being revealed by the same source: consciousness.

O: I think I need to also add an experience for me I recognised happening is that first of all a recognition of how I have been oriented very subtly by ideas about this is right and that’s wrong. And in deepening into the experience of  sensations that right and wrongness as a clear concept has slipped away. Instead there is just a deep inner conviction in the moment of what is right and wrong.

G: I think that I can see how that’s possible. When you become intimate with your own body, you eventually become intimate with the presence of consciousness. You experience its functioning through those functional properties: sensitivity, honesty, openness, intimacy and inclusivity. By immersing yourself in the presence of consciousness you are immersing yourself in those properties. Then those properties start to express themselves into your life more.

For example yesterday when you were feeding Ayla and there was stuff on the floor and you had to go and you said to me ‘Don’t worry I’ll clean up that later.’ I just cleaned it up. It was there, so why not? Why wait for you? Rather than thinking it’s not my business, it’s not my child, it’s not my food, it’s not my space. Which is the kind of way I would definitely have reacted when I was younger. Not with a conscious thinking but automatically avoiding what i saw as work. So I think those kinds of things change in ways that it’s very easy not to notice because it’s incremental.

O: But I particularly notice that in the way that my mind works in response to hearing other people talk or hearing their perceptions on life and my mind would go ‘Hmm yes they are either right or they are either wrong.’ Getting like that very nitty gritty. There’s been that releasing of that, seeing that it’s just a perception. 

G:  I think it brings you more directly into immediate contact with what’s actually happening. After all physical sensation is the base of your experience. On top of that the layers of interpretation that the mind creates can go on and on and on forever. Many people just hang out in those layers without ever making direct contact with the base. Except maybe with the first lick of the ice cream. Then they finish the ice cream while thinking about something else. You could call it a grounding. Hanging out with physical sensation grounds you in the foundation of life which is actually consciousness.

O: Sure are you saying that just feeling sensation is enough or is there a help or support to do a specific practice to feel sensation?

G: Simply feeling sensations is enough. Nevertheless the reality of the situation is that a particular practice creates a framework within which you stay with it and go deeper. If you just sit down in a chair maybe somebody comes in and you start talking. Or you notice ‘Ohh there is this mess that I didn’t clear up yesterday I better go and clear that up.’ On the other hand if you go to a predetermined place and you give yourself exclusively to a somatic practice, like sensitive yoga or somatic meditation, then you are in this enclosed space. You created a frame and in that frame you are more likely to be able to become deeply in touch with physical sensations.

I don’t have any reason to believe that any particular kind of sensation works better than any other. So therefore I couldn’t say that any particular practice works better than any other. I would say that the practice has to be a somatic practice. Putting you in touch with your body generating sensations. Of course the body is always generating sensations. When you are still, meditating or in the hammock, there are many less sensations than when you are active. An effective somatic practice will have both. The changing sensations of a dynamic practice allow mind to calm and clarify gradually, without struggle. The less changing sensations of a passive practice invite a deeper intimacy.

So practice helps. It’s not the practice istelf, it’s not the technique itself. It’s what the techniques make possible; which is feeling sensations deeply enough for it to be a real intimacy. This deep intimacy brings you into direct contact with the intelligent presence of consciousness.

(Interview with Olivia Crooks, July 2018)