What is consciousness?
Isn’t it that we simply are conscious? We know that we exist! Animals also know that they are here, they communicate, so they have some sort of consciousness. Trees and plants must be conscious too, because they also react to their environment.
A remembered dream shows that part of my consciousness does remain present while asleep. Which part is that? What happens when I get an idea? Who or what put the idea in my brain?
What happens during a tarot reading or an I Ching divination? Where does the reading’s information come from? Shuffling and cutting the cards condenses the past, present, and future into one sublime moment of revelation. What unimaginable part of consciousness changes the positions of the cards in the deck or makes the coins fall in a particular way?
Consciousness is a labyrinth when you start thinking about it. There are many phenomena outside normal consciousness and reality:
the co-occurrence of mutually meaningful events that do not have a logical connection. I may think of someone and five minutes later that person rings me. Synchronicity – unexplainable to the sciences – is quite common, it happens to everyone. What is the nature of synchronistic events?
2. Heart, kidney and liver transplants:
Substantial medical evidence shows that recipients of organs often adopt personality traits that belonged to the (deceased) organ donor. Where in the organ is that behaviour stored? The conclusion is far-reaching: all cells have memories. We unknowingly train our cells to behave in a particular way; the movie ‘What the ‘Bleep’ do we Know?’ discusses this extensively. Do cells have consciousness?
3. Para-normal experiences:
Telepathy, near death experiences, out of body experiences, clairvoyance, divination, the energising and healing effect of trees, aromas, crystals: these strange marvels all show that there are information-energies ‘out there’ that we can tap into if we are sensitive to them.
4. Quantum physics:
Among many other things, quantum physics has proven that a matter-particle existing in only one place can suddenly change into a wave that exists everywhere. A wave can also change into a particle it just depends on the situation that we humans orchestrate. Quantum physics has also proven that we cannot simultaneously determine place and movement of a particle with absolute precision, only the possibility of finding it somewhere in space.
5. Depth psychology:
Jung and Freud uncovered aspects of our psyches we are unconscious of, but that do control our behaviour. These structures are called the personal unconscious or shadow or id, and the collective unconscious. They store enormous information-energies. From the shadow, libido empowers us. In the collective unconscious are the archetypal energies (A-energy) of all that have participated in archetypes through the ages—stories, myths, legends (Caroline Myss in Sacred Contracts).
6. Meditation, yoga and prayer:
These open our mind to influences from unseen levels of existence where ‘worlds’ of universal understanding and compassion may give us a more conscious and better life.
What is reality?
Reality is what we are aware of. It comes to us via the senses. The brain-mind processes its impulses based on existing memories. We know that witnesses’ accounts of events vary greatly from one person to another. The brain-mind filters objective information from the senses into a message that is acceptable to the ego. Pre-programmed ego conditioning makes life easy because we have ego-driven ‘snap’ reactions at hand. On the other hand the self-preserving ego prohibits creative reactions and new ideas. A person’s ego tells that the perceived, processed-and-memorised information is ‘the only’ reality. This obviously is not true, but for the ego, self-preservation is more important than objective truth.
Reality and consciousness
Reality seems to exist independently from you and me. The star constellations are always there. Is reality the foundation of consciousness?
Let’s suppose that on the beach I am watching a father playing with his child. I do not see the surfer in the ocean behind me; he rides a wave. As I am not conscious of the surfer he is not part of my reality. The father who plays with his daughter has a reality that is different again: he is fully concentrated on his daughter. In the meantime: for the surfer the ride is very real … four people all with different realities, all believing that their reality is the ‘real’ one.
Similarly, the sands of a smooth beach hide a reality of millions of footsteps never seen since waves washed them away (figure 3).
In his book, ‘The Self-Aware Universe’ Amit Goswami points out that it is not reality that determines our consciousness. It is consciousness that creates reality, not the other way around! When we become conscious of something – only then is it real and exists in the brain-mind. The reality that we are aware of is adapted by previous memories in our personal consciousness and by the personal and collective unconscious.
The ground of all being is consciousness.
Consciousness is different from awareness.
When aware of the world around us the ego provides us with interpreted perceptions. We call these opinions, judgments and ‘preferred’ ways of acting that strengthen or preserve the ego, a consciousness structure inside our brain. It exerts ego-selective attention: only what the ego allows will we become aware of. People’s brains interpret the same reality differently, because their egos are structured differently. Ego differences are the cause of most, possibly all, conflicts.
Awareness always causes a division between subject and object, the observer and the observed. On the other hand, mystic consciousness comprises everything. At this level of consciousness the ego has ceded its influence and is under the control of a higher, non-local consciousness structure. This controls the censoring ego and opens up mystical consciousness. We could say that in the brain-mind a ‘battle’ is going on between ego and non-local consciousness structures.
Mystical, non-local consciousness dissipates the subject-object dichotomy. The division between the observer and the observed disappears: we are aware of all-and-everything. Then consciousness and awareness have become the same.
The conscious and the unconscious
Each of us harbours deep inside painful memories and secrets that the ego has repressed because they are too painful, shocking, or shameful. Freud called that place the id. Jung named it the shadow self, or personal unconscious.
The shadow-self secretly exists in the personal unconscious. From there it wields its power and influence and controls our behaviour through prejudices and idiosyncrasies (if we let them). Psyche is conscious of the unconscious and constantly takes it into account when new incoming information must be assessed and actions decided. Psyche is a consciousness structure of which we are normally not aware.
Rob Docters van Leeuwen, PhD, is co-author, together with his brother Onno, of ‘The Complete New Tarot’ which reinstates to the Major Arcana the two archetypes that have been ‘lost’ for centuries.
Adapted from a lecture given by Dr Rob Docters van Leeuwen at the University of Western Australia (Extension) in January, 2006, entitled “Grasping Consciousness I: Introduction”.
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