Thursday, January 10, 2008

"How Do We Transform Our Consciousness?"

The title above is a question Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell in their famous conversation, and I'll post his answer below. But first, I want to take a moment to ask you to think about what the word "consciousness" really means, or what it means to you.

Certainly you've heard it before, and maybe you've given it some thought. Perhaps you think it is thought, the ideas and notions that occupy your mind. Ah, but then, what is mind if it is not thought?

Or maybe you think it is awareness, or an awareness of self. But from what does this awareness spring? Is it purely the brain? The neurons wrapped up tightly into folds of gray matter? But then what is the gut instinct? Why do you physically feel it in your stomach--and not necessarily the organ of your stomach either, but almost in the cavity of your lower torso as a whole? Or heartbreak? The feeling in your chest of pressing sadness that seems to originate there. You are aware of these sensations, yet they seem independent of the head's direction.

There are no easy answers. There are whole lives devoted to the study of consciousness, conferences held, scientists and mystics and theologians devoted to this great mystery.

So, I hear you asking, if we can't really define what consciousness is in any absolute terms, why are we at all interested in working to change it?

Because if consciousness is the great mystery upon which our lives are founded, if our lives are going in the wrong direction, it may do us some good to start effecting change on that ground floor. If you are unhappy, or feel unlucky, or are troubled or otherwise unsettled, working to transform your foundation--your consciousness--in a positive direction may help.

If you're truly lost, as I was, it may be the only thing you have. If you're truly lost, trying to get things going in the right direction this way certainly can't hurt.

Here's what Joseph Campbell had to say on the matter in The Power of Myth:

Campbell: I have a feeling that consciousness and energy are the same thing somehow. Where you really see life energy, there's consciousness...There is a plant consciousness and there is an animal consciousness...

Moyers: How do we transform our consciousness?

Campbell: That's a matter of what you are disposed to think about. And that's what meditation is for. All of life is a meditation, most of it unintentional. A lot of people spend most of life in meditating on where their money is coming from and where it's going to go. If you have a family to bring up, you're concerned for the family. These are all very important concerns, but they have to do with physical conditions mostly. But how are you going to communicate spiritual consciousness to the children if you don't have it yourself? How do you get that? What the myths are for is to bring us into a level of consciousness that is spiritual.

Just for example: I walk off Fifty-first Street and Fifth Avenue into St. Patrick's Cathedral. I've left a very busy city and one of the most economically inspired cities on the planet. I walk into that cathedral, and everything around me speaks of spiritual mysteries. The mystery of the cross, what's that all about there? The stained glass windows, which bring another atmosphere in. My consciousness has been brought up onto another level altogether, and I am on a different platform. And then I walk out, and I'm back on the level of the street again. Now, can I hold something from the cathedral consciousness?

Certain prayers or meditations are designed to hold your consciousness on that level instead of letting it drop down here all the way. And then what you can finally do is to recognize that this is simply a lower level of that higher consciousness. The mystery that is expressed there is operating in the field of your money, for example. All money is congealed energy. I think that that's the clue to how to transform your consciousness.
If you look at the consciousness of your spirit and your money and your family as something along the same continuum, like a long thread, you can begin to effect change in all those areas by working to align the higher consciousness, which the others must necessarily follow. Maybe not immediately, but assuredly.

While I am not a religious person dogmatically speaking, I do think that human beings have a spiritual element within them. Every single person, no matter how lost, or how disturbed. I also believe everyone can, by tending to their spiritual selves, find improvement and more peace in life. Some people are very good at helping themselves, others need the assistance of friends, family or clergy. Either way, I guess I am saying that in order to follow and find and experience bliss, you do need spiritual health.

I am not prescribing what method will work best--for me, it's time alone in nature and in meditation--but find a method to transform your consciousness, and do the work. The work may be hard, yes, but bliss awaits.

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