As Edmund Husserl taught, transcendental phenomenology, aided by the skilful application of mature contemplation, prepares the mind to recognize the essential properties of its own operation. And as such, phenomenology is logically and developmentally prior to any scientific or philosophical epistemology. Why do I say this? Well, if the world of our experience is a world that the brain produces for its own consumption, and presuming a reality independent of our experience of that reality, then some aspects of our experience will be due to events and patterns detected in reality and other aspects will be due to the properties of the experiencing brain. Now, wouldn't it be nice if scientists and philosophers could distinguish which patterns derive from reality, and which are properties of the mind being projected on reality?

The obvious answer here is "yes indeed," but that kind of facility is easier to talk about than it is to realize. Most of us have been reared in a sensate, materialist culture in which we were taught that what we experience IS reality. We are discouraged in various subtle ways from paying any attention to how our minds produce our experience. So we spend our lives glued to the TV of the mind without looking behind it to see the tubes and chips and wires that make the picture happen. And should we decide for some reason to take a look at the operations involved in producing the theater of mind, we have few guides to follow in such explorations. And there are many out there prepared to claim with great assurance that we are wasting our time and effort. There is nothing to be learned, they will assert, from the application of introspection.

But if you will stand back as an anthropologist might and look at the interconnection between values and attitudes making up our Western culture, you may conclude as I have done that the society around us has a great stake in not having folks look too carefully at the properties of their own minds.

But suppose you do decide to learn how to apply phenomenology and begin a systematic study of the essential properties of your brainmind, how would you go about it? As I say, there are few guidelines for this kind of exploration in science, and only Husserlian phenomenology to help you in Western philosophy. On the latter front, I can recommend the books by Don Ihde to you. He has written such books as Experimental Phenomenology (New York: Putnam, 1977), Existential Technics (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1983), and Consequences of Phenomenology (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1986). These are all good books and the first of the lot, Experimental Phenomenology is full of suggestions about how to carry out a phenomenological investigation.

Buddhist meditation is another route you can take. There are various traditions of meditation in Buddhism. I strongly recommend either the original form of Buddhism, often called Theravadan or Southern School Buddhism, or zazen as practised by various Japanese Zen traditions. And of course, Tibetan Buddhism has its own versions of phenomenological practice, although there is often a lot of preliminaries you have to wade through Tibetan Vajrayana before you can get at the meat of the phenomenological exploration of the mind. My experience is that Theravadan and Zen are fairly straightforward, and the Tibetan vehicle is not. That is not to say that you may not profit from the Tibetan Vajrayana in a personal, spiritual way. You may well do. But it is not the path of preference for someone who wishes to quickly and directly learn to view the properties of their own mind. A good book I can recommend is the no-nonsense approach of Tarchin Hearn in his book, Natural Awakening (Wangapeka Books, P.O. Box 80-141, Green Bay, Auckland 7, New Zealand, 1995).

But remember, I am not talking about a full-on path of awakening in the Buddhist sense. To take that on often requires consulting a meditation master or spiritual guru, and that is another story altogether. What I am talking about here is finding some guidance in doing phenomenological investigations leading to clearer seeing relative to the productions of one's own mind. At the same time, one must be aware that to learn how one's mind works changes the mind that is doing the learning.

Make no mistake about it. If you pursue phenomenology in practice, and not just in theory, you will inevitably enter "transpersonal" and "mystical" domains of experience. Or let me put it to you again this way: Transpersonal paths may or may not lead to phenomenological understanding of the essential properties of mind, but disciplined pursuit of phenomenology will inevitably lead you into the transpersonal domain of experience.

The Heart of Husserl's Method -- The Reduction

Edmund Husserl, the father of Western phenomenology, repeatedly emphasized that phenomenology is a method of self- discovery, a series of reductions that lead to essential self-knowledge. The term "method" is not used here merely in the "small-m" sense of a specific anthropological technique. Rather, the methodological claim of phenomenology is a radical one -- a Big-M Method as sociologists would say. Phenomenology claims to be nothing less than a spiritual discipline with all the attendant techniques and intuitive insights requisite for leaving the practitioner essentially changed. As Eugen Fink, one of Husserl's more accomplished students, wrote: Astonishment is original theory because man suffers the experience of a breakdown of his traditional knowledge, a breakdown of his pre-acquaintance with the world and things, and that as a result of a new confronting of the existent and a new projection of the senses of "being" and "truth" become necessary. In turning towards the existent with astonishment, man is as it were primevally open to the world once again, he finds himself in the dawn of a new day of the world in which he himself and everything that is begins to appear in a new light. The whole of the existent dawns upon him anew. (from Eugen Fink in McKenna, W., R.M. Harlan and L.E. Winters, eds., Apriori and World: European Contributions to Husserlian Phenomenology. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981:24)

This is nothing less than a radical return of consciousness to what some folks in the Zen tradition call the "beginner's mind." As a consequence, the reductions are difficult to realize because, prior to performing them, we are ignorant of their possibility and their implications. Again, as Eugen Fink put it: Every discussion of the phenomenological reduction, no matter how incomplete, finds itself faced with the unavoidable difficulty of being compelled to speak about it as if it were an activity of knowledge which it is always possible to perform, and which from the very start lies within the horizon of our human possibilities. In truth, however, it does not at all present a possibility for our human [read "natural attitude"] existence. The unfamiliarity of the reduction is therefore not only an unfamiliarity with it as a fact, but also an unfamiliarity with its possibility. Although we also say that all talk about a particularly difficult kind of knowledge quite remote from our everyday knowing ...presupposes actually having been involved with it ...a discussion of the reduction not only signifies an appeal to its actual performance, but also imperatively requires the performance of an act which places us beyond the horizon of our own possibilities, which "transcends" our human [read "culturally conditioned"] possibilities. (Eugen Fink in Elveton, R.O., The Phenomenology of Husserl: Selected Critical Readings . Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970:104- 105).

Definitions of the first, or "phenomenological" reduction, for instance -- definitions such as "the suspension of belief in the existence or nonexistence of phenomena" -- make it appear to the casual reader to require nothing more than a simple act of reason. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The reduction is a radical shift of consciousness that requires training to realize with any consistent results. For this reason, transcendental phenomenology may be compared with other spiritual disciplines, including the Buddhist traditions of contemplation I mentioned above.

Unfortunately, Husserl left no clear, concise manual on how the phenomenological reduction is to be performed, and students are left more or less on their own to discover the explicit "small-m" methods. Husserl taught that what is reduced is the so-called "natural attitude" about the world; that is (in our terms), the culturally conditioned, cognized environment that is so taken for granted by people that it is tacit and reified, and indeed perceived as being quite "natural" -- the way things are! As Husserl himself put it: Daily practical living is naive. It is immersion in the already-given world, whether it be experiencing or thinking, or valuing, or acting. Meanwhile all those productive intentional functions of experiencing, because of which physical things are simply there, go on anonymously. The experiencer knows nothing about them, and likewise nothing about his productive thinking. The numbers, the predicative complexes of affairs, the goods, the ends, the works, present themselves because of the hidden performances; they are built up, member by member; they alone are regarded. Nor is it otherwise in the positive sciences. They are naivetes of a higher level. They are the products of an ingenious theoretical technique; but the intentional performances from which everything ultimately originates remain unexplicated. To be sure, science claims the ability to justify its theoretical steps and is based throughout on criticism. But its criticism is not ultimate criticism of knowledge. The latter criticism is a study and criticism of the original productions, an uncovering of all their intentional horizons; and thus alone can the "range" of evidences be ultimately grasped and, correlatively, the existence-sense of objects, of theoretical formations, of goods and ends, be evaluated. (Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology . The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977:152-153)

But the reduction is not simply one of dropping this "natural thesis," or "natural attitude," and leaving a residue of "real world" to ponder. Rather, it is a sort of staged process of discovery of the constitution of the world leading to the point of clear reflection required for apprehension of the essential order of phenomena and meaning as they are produced by the mind . Moreover, the reduction is not a process of analyzing the meaning of words, an activity dear to the hearts of academic philosophers, for words are notoriously ambiguous and fuzzy in their meaning. (Remember my discussion in Day Five of the problem of "transposition?")

What is sought in phenomenology is clear, absolute and unambiguous self-knowledge. What are gradually intuited and changed in the reduction are the many onion layers of seemingly "natural", but nonetheless delusory views upon the foundations of which the natural thesis is constructed. These are set aside via certain knowledge of their artificiality. At the same time the mind comes to gradually intuit the principles upon which it, by its own activities, produces the phenomenal world for itself. And in the process of learning to clearly see the essential properties and processes of mind, the mind comes to free itself from the chains of its own delusory misapprehensions. The mind learns to replace the naive empirical ego with knowledge of the transcendental ego, or what Buddhists might call "the builder" --that hidden "me" that desires the world and for whom the world is constituted by the self.

And Example of the Reduction

Discussions of phenomenology always seem to get more technical than the actual doing of the reductions warrants. Perhaps it would be useful to offer a concrete example of the kind of introspection I mean so that we have a shared concrete example upon which to ground our mutual understanding.

May I suggest that you fix your gaze upon some object in the distance. It could be a spot on the wall or a shoe laying in the corner. Whatever. Concentrate your attention upon the object as intensely as you can. Feel the effort it takes you to maintain such concentration. It is especially hard to maintain undivided attention if the object is really boring.

Now, without moving your gaze from that object , shift your attention to some sound in your environment, and concentrate your attention upon the sound of as a new object (but without taking your eyes away from the original object. Feel the effort this shift of attention requires. Then try moving your attention back and forth between the visual object and the sound, intensifying concentration upon each in turn. But gradually begin to watch, not the objects themselves, but the actual effort required to shift attention and to intensify attention upon the different objects. That is, gradually make the effort of attention the principal object of awareness.

When you get the hang of this subtle shift in attention, add a third object, say the pressure of your buttocks on the chair or feet on the floor. Now move your attention and concentration around in the sensorial field circumscribed by the three objects from three different sensory modes, the visual object, the sound and the sense of body pressure. Then once again gradually pay more attention to the effort required for the change in orientation rather than the sensory objects themselves. Study that effort. Add more sense objects (e.g., breath at the nostrils, other sounds, colors in the peripheral field of vision) if you wish, but keep your eyes glued to the original visual object. You may notice that the more you pay attention to the effort -- perhaps an aspect of consciousness to which you have never before paid any attention -- the more the effort aspect "stands out" in relief from the rest of the context of perception.

There are three things I can say about this exercise that will allow you to better understand the practice of phenomenology:

If you experienced the effort aspect "standing out" from the total field of experience, you have now got a clear example of what we mean by adumbration . the object of attention is adumbrated from the stream of consciousness and if we continue to study it, we are relevating (remember David Bohm's term?) it into consciousness where we may wish to study it, and perhaps name it -- say, call it the "effort," as in our phrases "effort for meaning" and "effort for truth."
You also have a clear example of a reduction in Husserl's sense. "Reduction" has many meanings in English, but Husserl used the term in the ancient sense of "leading back to the beginning." He would often say, "return to the things themselves" as in the essence of things, their basic properties as they appear to and in the mind. You have "reduced" effort, adumbrated it, relevated it for study and then let it go.
You can do this kind of reduction for the next fifty years, and become an expert phenomenologist, without ever once asking any questions about your brain. But you will recall that I argued in Day Four for the importance of a neuro- phenomenology. All that is required to produce a neurophenomenological exploration of "effort" is to ask what neurophysiological processes are involved in producing the experience of "effort" and control of "attention." And indeed there is a rich literature in the neurosciences that addresses that question.

In order to carry out any phenomenological analysis, the contemplative must learn to redirect attention away from conditioned ways of viewing and toward the normally unconscious processes that participate in constructing the object. And as we have seen from direct experience, this redirection requires effort, and more than the usual self- awareness. Yet the ability to expend this type of effort, and to maintain this level of self-awareness is fundamental to everything Edmund Husserl and the Buddha taught about the exploration of consciousness.

We have come to the end of our discussion of the reduction. I am leading up to a neurophenomenological examination of some of the structures of experience you may wish to adumbrate and study for yourself. But perhaps you may wish to return to Day Seven and continue with our discussion of transpersonal anthropology, or return to the index and come back later.