Raising Consciousness

May 9th, 2011

We tend to think of consciousness as that inconvenient time between naps. Is consciousness just the state of being awake, or is it more than that? There are many theories about what consciousness is and where it is located. It remains a mystery and a miracle.

A few years back I was on vacation in Panama with my family. We had our first experience of eating miracle fruit. The miracle fruit is an amazing berry. It doesn’t claim to be a weight loss marvel or to increase antioxidants like some other wonder fruits. It’s more fun than that. It’s a miracle because for several hours after eating the miracle fruit, everything else you taste is sweet. So we ate lemons and limes and they tasted as sweet as pie after eating the miracle fruit. It’s a pity the miracle fruit is so hard to find.

Consciousness is like the miracle fruit, and not only because it’s hard to locate. Life tastes exactly like your current level of consciousness. With a grateful consciousness, everything becomes a reason for gratitude. With a fearful consciousness, everything becomes threatening. Your experience of life lasts as long as your consciousness stays the same. When you raise your consciousness, you change your experience of life.

We each have our own level of consciousness, the total package of our current awareness. Our consciousness is not one static thing, and it may not be located in any particular part of the brain. Instead it may consist of the sum total of all the interconnected neurons of the brain. It is the ever changing combination of nature and nurture, genes and scenes, thoughts and feelings, impulses and instincts that give you a unique perspective in any given moment. It’s not necessarily the way things are. It’s the way they taste to you at the time.

Consciousness Raising

The consciousness of groups and nations is raised when individuals raise their consciousness. Most traditions and movements are led by consciousness raisers. You might even call them hell raisers; people like Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. More recently people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto among many others, have helped to raise the consciousness of the planet by raising the bar on personal responsibility and reinforcing the social contract to be mindful of others, especially the most vulnerable. It’s frightening to think about how many of the people I just listed were assassinated for their efforts. When you challenge the status quo, which is what is often required to raise consciousness, people get scared and tragic things happen.

The purpose of human life is to follow their example and raise the consciousness of society by raising your own individual consciousness. When terrible things happen in your life or in the world, your challenge is to come from a higher perspective than the act or situation you are responding to. Albert Einstein said, “You can’t solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them.”  If someone is acting with hatred, you can’t beat them with more hatred. You will just create an endless spiral of hatred.

I’m not talking about being passive or allowing abuse to continue. I’m talking about being smart and coming from a broader perspective. Raised consciousness is able to hold more than one quality at a time, for example both forgiveness and personal rights. You can forgive someone and demand that the behavior changes at the same time. You can accept someone without fully trusting them. Let the trust grow in time. The amazing thing is that the behavior is more likely to change with this raised consciousness, and if it doesn’t change you are more able to deal with it internally.

Protestors in Egypt and now Syria are a great example of this very point. They are demanding change, but doing so in reasonable ways which makes their case more compelling and their actions more effective.

Raising Consciousness

Seeing as we have just celebrated Mother’s Day, it’s a good time to remember that mothers have a special role in raising the consciousness of the next generation. The ancient story about John the Baptist jumping in Elizabeth’s belly when Mary came to visit is usually told at Christmas time. I always liked it, but when I considered it in the context of consciousness, it came alive for me. There is no reason to think of it as a story of supernatural intervention. Babies kick, and from one perspective this is just the story of a kicking baby. The miracle is in the circumstances and the experience of connection. The story is told through the eyes of two women which was revolutionary enough in a patriarchal world. Elizabeth, according to the story, was 80 years old and barren. The connection she experienced with her unborn baby was tender and significant. She was beginning a bonding process that is itself a natural and beautiful miracle.

This is a parable about the incredible merging of consciousness that takes place between parents and children. Kids do not arrive in the world as blank slates. They come with a huge amount of genetic coding and unconscious impulses. Then their environment and parents help to shape them as people. It’s not that the whole pressure is on moms. But moms are powerful to impact the consciousness of kids from care during pregnancy to the way you talk and play with kids in their early months. The relationship between mother and child is a mirror into wonder. Until about 18 months old, the child thinks she is an extension of her mother and many later beliefs grow out of these early interactions. At the same time, for a mom, your child is a mirror into the mystery of who you are as a spiritual adventurer on a human journey.

I’m not saying that moms need to be perfect. On the contrary, moms can model a sense of adventure and forgiveness to their kids because you are willing to try new things, then acknowledge your limitations without dwelling on failure. This is part of a raised consciousness. You can change direction without lapsing into blame and shame. You can be exasperated with your kids and deeply loving at the same time. This is part of the spiritual elasticity of a raised consciousness.

And I’m not just talking about moms. You don’t have to have children to be a mother. We all have a parental instinct to nurture children, pets, communities, ideas and causes and when you are truly passionate you will give yourself to these children of yours unconditionally. When it comes to consciousness, you are always giving birth to something. As with the story of Elizabeth, the consciousness of one person can raise the consciousness of others by virtue of their interactions. Something incredible is being birthed in the world right now, as more and more people honor the feminine dimension of life, tap into their intuitive wisdom, and seek non violent transformation of oppressive systems.

Consciousness Cleanse

With all this talk about raising consciousness, how do you do it? Where does this new consciousness come from?

It comes from within. It’s all there to begin with. You just need to remove some of the protective layers to uncover your wisdom that is often unconscious. It’s partly about trusting your intuitive wisdom, and it’s partly about making manifest instincts and motivations that are unconscious; make them conscious and intentional. Either way it’s an inner challenge.

It’s like cleaning frost from the windows of your consciousness. You can scrub for hours on the outside and make only slow progress. The more effective way of wiping away the frost is to light a fire on the inside. Shine a warm light on the frost from the inside and the frost will vanish like nose prints on windows. Frost on consciousness is often hiding your awareness of what you value, why it’s important and where your true motivation lies. Revenge for example is often suppressed self loathing. Light a fire of awareness on all the dark places, fears and habitual patterns and you will see beyond them to the perfect peace within. Then this peace will manifest in your actions.

We tend to imagine that we are a highly rational species and that we make well informed decisions and discernments. But in reality a good portion of life is driven by unconscious forces; memories tucked away in your inner filing cabinet, intuitive understanding that seems to come from nowhere, sudden achievements that surprise you. Unconscious impulses drive the majority of your life.

Jonathon Haidt, in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, describes the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind as being like the relationship between an elephant and its rider. The rider is your conscious thoughts and plans while the elephant is your bundle of automatic operations that take place every second outside of your conscious awareness. The elephant operates like Pavlov’s dog with gut instincts, emotions and innate responses. The rider struggles to convince the elephant of anything. The rider can only change direction when the elephant has a change of heart. The struggle that most of us have is that we forget that the elephant has to change for our lives to change. The elephant will win every time. It has been building its instincts for millions of years.

David Brooks uses the analogy of a general and his scouts in his recently released  book The Social Animal. The conscious mind is like the general who sees life from a distance and analyses things logically. Countless scouts send back a constant flow of intelligence, immersed in the space between language, in dreams, in emotions, in stories and signs, in relationships and in the environment.

Keep in mind that the unconscious is not all sinister and primal. This is also where incredible wisdom and surprising acts of altruism emerge from. The point is to become aware of more of the unconscious, both to uncover some of the less than healthy patterns that have formed in your life but also to maximize the wealth of untapped resources at your disposal in every moment.

Collective Consciousness

At root, the situation we face in the world today is not a political crisis, and it’s not an ecological crisis. Nor is it a financial crisis. It is a crisis of consciousness. The old way of operating is no longer working. We can either rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic and slowly sink or we can radically change the way we approach the challenges and do it from the inside out. The solutions are there, awaiting our attention. It’s a cause for great optimism that there are signs that people are beginning to make this quantum leap in consciousness. The collective consciousness seems to be rising above the individual challenge to incorporate the ultimate truth of the unconscious mind that we are all related.

Evolving consciousness in me greets the same in you. Namaste

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  1. Nancy Rose says:

    I love how you point out that “you can be exasperated with your kids and deeply loving at the same time.”  Teaching kids to hold seemingly conflicting feelings at the same time is a precious gift.

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