My friend Genie (aka Palestine Rose) writes potent poetry and has the soul of an artist, and with great compassion and humanity, expresses all of her creations with grace and love. To know that such souls exist in the world, reignites my own compassion and hope for our world.

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries…sometimes.

Back in 1976, I was living in what used to be called West Germany, in a quiet little town called Kaiserslautern, in an apartment on a quiet street which had a cherry tree in the backyard, right outside of the kitchen window. When the cherries were in full bloom, I could pick them off the tree without leaving the apartment. I loved this part of my living arrangement, and one day I took a photo of the cherries in a little glass bowl next to a figurine of a red cat that had been given to me by a dear friend who thought my apartment could use a little color. At one point during the photo session, I inadvertently bumped the dish with the camera and it fell over. It seemed to me to be the perfect rendering of the image I was hoping to create, even though at the time, there was no way I could have known that it would end up as the lead photo to my 100th blog post.

These days, it’s a perfectly good metaphor (especially for those who love cherries) to say that “Life is just a bowl of cherries,” when life is going well. We tend to lose perspective, though, unless we realize the deeper meaning of the message contained in the song. The original song by that title was popular in 1931 with lyrics by Lew Brown, music by Ray Henderson (1931)

People are queer, they’re always crowing, scrambling and rushing about;
Why don’t they stop someday, address themselves this way?
Why are we here? Where are we going? It’s time that we found out.
We’re not here to stay; we’re on a short holiday.

Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.
You work, you save, you worry so,
But you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go.

So keep repeating it’s the berries,
The strongest oak must fall,

The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned
So how can you lose what you’ve never owned?

Life is just a bowl of cherries,
So live and laugh at it all.

Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.
At eight each morning I have got a date,
To take my plunge ’round the Empire State.
You’ll admit it’s not the berries,
In a building that’s so tall;

There’s a guy in the show, the girls love to kiss;
Get thousands a week just for crooning like this:

Life is just a bowl of . . . aw, nuts!
So live and laugh at it all!

As a young lad at age seven, firmly entrenched in the family religious regimen, I could not have anticipated living in Germany in my own apartment, attempting to photograph the cherries I had picked while standing in my kitchen, but I clearly believed that life was just that sweet, and the photo above seems to confirm that sweetness. If those sweet things in my life were just loaned, than how did I lose what I never owned?

In 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, I was living in Europe, actively engaged in the defense of my country, a young soldier and unofficial diplomat, a German linguist, and resident in a lovely neighborhood in a small town, never imagining what the future held for me, not really worried about why I was here, or where I was going. Life actually did seem like a bowl of cherries–for a little while.

As the years passed, and I moved into my role as a father to my children, I rarely had the same feeling as the day I photographed the cherries on my windowsill in Germany. There was great joy at certain times as each of my children appeared in the world, and plenty of happy memories to savor, but the carefree bowl of cherries was a distant memory, and the weight of responsibility and the urgency of caring for them all prevented life from being possible to describe as anything near carefree. Once again, at a time when I was actively engaged in the serious cares of life at the time, I was attempting to photograph myself for a distant friend, and inadvertently caught myself unaware:

You can almost see the worry in my face, as I became lost in thought, momentarily forgetting that I had set the timer on the camera. Distracted beyond my ability to focus so often, (with a house full of children) that even when I was trying to redirect my attention, I would frequently become lost in the moment. Life was accelerating, and the hope for any sort of contemplation by design was constantly being redirected into a host of other more pressing issues. I worked, I tried to save, and I clearly did worry so. I struggled to attend to my inner world, and in desperation, took to writing as a means of reaching beyond the temporal concerns and the chaos. I worked long hours, and tried hard to seek the answers to the big questions, sometimes in between sleep and work, sometimes in a brief moment of silence with the whole house asleep ahead of me. More years passed, and there were other struggles. As the song says, the strongest oak must fall. And I fell.

Pulling it all together when you’re falling apart is no bowl of cherries, but somehow I managed to survive long enough to see my children grow and to learn a few things about life in the process. I even tried my hand at baking:

Since beginning this blog last year, I have had the privilege of sharing some of my accumulated progress over the years, and with all the children grown up now, a little more time for contemplation of the important aspects of my inner world. I’ve met some truly talented writers and shared many feelings and emotions and ideas with some wonderful bloggers here, and have found much inspiration in learning about what others think, and feel, and care about. I am grateful to all of those who have read along with me and shared their thoughts and feelings in the comments section of these first 100 posts, and hope to share much more in the days to come. Life may not always be a bowl of cherries, but blogging and sharing with all of you has been fairly sweet.

With much appreciation to my readers and with hope for the future…..John H.

“Love is a Mode of Knowledge”

“We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge…” Aldous Huxley

The Secret Bench of Knowledge – A sculpture by Czech-born Canadian sculptor Lea Vivot – image from Vlastula’s photo-stream on Flickr

The image above caught my eye and my heart as I contemplated the subject of the title of this post. It is a sculpture of two young people who appear to be seated in front of the National Library of Canada building in Ottawa, who seem very much to have a love interest of some sort, and the young man is holding an apple, suggesting a reference to the original apple from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Huxley’s claim that we can only love what we know, resonated for me personally, as I recently began to contemplate just why it is that I feel the way I do about such connections of both knowing and loving. Aldous Huxley is considered by many to be the original author of a very particular idea, called “The Perennial Philosophy.

According to the article in Wikipedia, “The Perennial Philosophy” is essentially an anthology of short passages taken from traditional Eastern texts and the writings of Western mystics, organized by subject and topic, with short connecting commentaries. In my edition of the “Bhagavad-Gita,” which is “a 700–verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata,” Aldous Huxley wrote the introduction, and outlined the four fundamental doctrines of perennial philosophy:

1. The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness–the world of things and animals and men and even gods–is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

2. Human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the know-er with that which is known.

3. Man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

4. Man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.

Regardless of whatever cultural or spiritual influences we are exposed to during our lifetime, even if the subject of a spiritual component to life never comes up at all in our education, at some point, there will be an experience of unbridled joy or terror, a traumatic event, a brush with death, a profound and lasting impression from any number of joyful or sorrowful experiences, and depending on our level of intuitive inclinations, we begin to suspect that there may be something more to life than just what our senses and brains reveal to us.

Our human mind and brain are inextricably linked by both biology and psychology. Our species was able to expand and develop our access to consciousness from a merely functional level to one which now allows us to project our thoughts far beyond the physical or primal mindset of ancient times. At some point, human beings (hominids) crossed over a threshold from primal instinct and the necessities of survival, to self awareness and introspection. The capacity for self awareness by itself was only enough to begin the process of developing a fuller access to a comprehensive experiential awareness.

In his book, “The Neanderthal’s Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers,” Juan Luis Arsuaga, a professor in the Paleontology Department of the Faculty of Geological Sciences at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, points out that our ancestors (modern humans) coexisted with Neanderthals for at least 10,000 years. While archeological evidence points to Neanderthals demonstrating rudimentary tool-making and burying their dead in caves, “so far, no one has presented any definitive proof of ritual or other symbolic behavior before the time of Cro-Magnon in the Upper Paleolithic.” The reasons for their apparent deficiencies in cognitive skills were at least “partly demographic,” as their group size was too small to develop a “full cultural identity,” and partly because of “their lack of fully developed syntactical language.”

Access to a fully developed consciousness, seems to require the ability to “transcend” the awareness of our physical environment, as well as to be able to make a firm connection between physical reality and the many abstractions which are represented in the tangible manifestations of those ideas and concepts. Modern Homo sapiens were simply the first to be able to exploit their cognitive and social capacities, and the evidence seems to point to a “dramatic genetic change in brain function,” that gave modern humans the edge.

As the ancient cave paintings in Lascaux, France and elsewhere show, even our earliest Cro-Magnon ancestors, while conscious enough to report their experiences in cave paintings, were not able to fully express their consciousness, and only beginning to be introspective. These early humans were concerned with the most compelling of their experiences, and felt the need to express them in a demonstrative way. Their ability to create images from their experiences and attribute meaning to those symbolic images, was a quantum leap that began the unfolding of our access to ever-increasing levels of consciousness.

The uncertainty of what we are able to conclude at this point is sufficient to leave the door open to the idea of an “inner evolution;” a dramatic change in the attainment of increasingly higher levels of access to consciousness over thousands of years, and to other more complex notions of what might constitute a spiritual capacity within us which supports and provides essential input to the unraveling mystery that is life.

© 2012 Etsy, Inc.

…..more to come…

Inner Worlds Within Worlds

Title: Self Awareness: Size: 21.5” x 30.5”x 1.75″: Media: acrylic, oil, collage & assemblage: Surface: canvas over masonite & board with wooden framework: copyright 2009 Lisa L. Cyr, Cyr Studio LLC, http://www.cyrstudio.com

“The only right and legitimate way to (a mystical) experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path, which leads you to a higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher understanding of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism.”

Letter from Carl Jung to Bill Wilson – Jan. 30, 1961

All of our longings, both temporal and spiritual, as well as the pain of new growth are felt both within and without. For me, the pain experienced within has always been the strongest and most difficult to endure. As an adult, I have come to understand more clearly now that something within me, long ago born and over countless centuries grown seeks acknowledgement in consciousness. As a youth, I felt this strange urge to express thoughts and feelings which burst forth without warning, and which I could not comprehend. Each time I would attempt to grasp the meaning of this inner force, bits and pieces of the curious puzzle would become clear briefly, and then vanish in the strictly-controlled religious world of saints and sinners and unquestioning obedience.

Occasionally, I would get glimpses of this inner world despite the pervasive atmosphere of strict controls and absolute rules, but could not sustain the thoughts and feelings long enough to make any significant headway. Looking back over the years, my whole being has now shifted from a traditional middle-class, religious upbringing, to a more unconventional and classless view of life that is a sharp contrast to the way it all began. Between moments of cognition in my inner realm, as rich and expansive as they continue to be, are extended periods of redundancy of obligation in the temporal. While most of these efforts represent necessary items that produce important results, it is often difficult to endure these gaps between meaningful awareness and dedicated efforts to sustenance, and it seems like endurance becomes more the goal than the means to an end at times.

Inner Worlds Within Worlds Art by Norman E. Masters

For some time now, the world outside of me has been at such odds with the world inside of me, that as I strive to maintain stability in both, I seem to be constantly shoring up the walls of one, deteriorating from neglect, and then racing back to devote my energies to the other. The subsequent chaos from running breathlessly between the two usually results in both alternately suffering to varying degrees. To complicate matters further, I have recently gained greater momentum in coming to terms with my inner world, significantly raising my expectations of achieving the goals I established for myself years ago. This hopeful progress, though uplifting, has created serious conflicts with my temporal existence. Thus far I have resisted abandoning my obligations for the sake of my work, and likewise refused to consider abandoning my work in favor of temporal considerations.

As with most esoteric undertakings, increasing comprehension precedes further progress. As my knowledge and appreciation of the complexities and subtleties of the evolution of consciousness grows, the many diverse and related theories begin to coalesce into a synthesis which is more comprehensive and quite beautiful in its depth and breadth. Human evolution, however convoluted or complex, has resulted in access to the penetrating self-awareness which characterizes human consciousness, and precipitated the development of human cultures, religions, and mythologies, as well as human psychology, philosophy, and a variety of sciences, all branching out like the veins of a large leaf, or a complex crystal formation.

The Psyche, according to Pythagoras “is the intermediary between two worlds: the Material and the Spiritual worlds. It is the Vital Energy that nests and inhabits in the matter”.

When we contemplate the astonishing variety of contingency necessary for human life to have progressed to this point, and to continue to progress beyond this point, it compels us to consider even some very unconventional points-of-view. How else can we arrive at such a distant destination in comprehension, as that of human consciousness, unless we remain open to alternative methods of enhancing our current comprehension, augmenting our current capacities, and altering our current level of consciousness? If the development of our ability to access higher levels of cognitive functioning, achieving an expanded intellect, and becoming self-aware, all were only just necessary adaptations for survival, and merely the consequence of natural selection, favoring those hominids with more complex brain architecture, there would be no compelling reason for consciousness to have progressed beyond a certain “survivability” level.

But if, as modern physics has demonstrated, we are all ultimately linked to the universal energies present in the early universe, and made from “the stuff of stars,” subatomic particles floating in the Higgs field, then it seems to me, that whatever forces govern the quarks, and hadrons, and leptons, and most recently, the theoretical “Higgs boson,” must be, in some manner, active within the wider universe of humans, planets, galaxies and super-clusters. All of existence, both temporal and metaphysical, must be a manifestation of and possess some degree of consciousness, only on a much grander scale.

If awareness of consciousness is an inevitable consequence of any evolutionary life process which produces creatures of sufficient cognitive ability and architectural complexity in the cognitive apparatus, then consciousness may well be what we can expect to find at the heart of the universe, manifested in an infinite variety of displays throughout. We will never know unless we expand our range of explanations to include every conceivable and inconceivable possibility.

“The Grievers” by Marc Schuster—Life is funny—sometimes.

Life is funny—sometimes—and at other times it can be—unbearable.  There’s really no way to be sure just how it’s all going to turn out, but one thing is for sure—you’re probably not going to get far as a guy in a giant dollar sign suit.  Success in life might even require a healthy dose of maddening chaos combined with the stark realization of just how much you’ve messed it all up to bring you around.  You might even have to suffer through the loss of someone you knew—someone you didn’t treat very well in life—before you realize what truly matters.  That’s how it was for Charley Schwartz, anyway.

Marc Schuster has written a compelling and comically tragic story about a man who has to face the hard truths about his life, his friends, and his future.  He might not have even noticed his inexorable trajectory toward the creeping sinkhole of failure, if it hadn’t been for the suicide of someone who went to the same school as he did years before.   Anyone who ever attended Catholic high school or any school named after a saint can relate to what Charley Schwartz was going through, and belongs to a kind of fraternity or sorority alumni that inevitably finds you and asks for money.  But this story is just a little too close for comfort in my case.

I spent my high school days at Monsignor Bonner High School in Pennsylvania.  Our motto was, “Purity, Integrity, and Loyalty,” and at the top of the symbol is a reference to the Latin phrase, “Noverim me, noverim te. –The two parts explain one another: one cannot know God without reference to oneself and one cannot know oneself without reference to God.”  This relates back to the Augustinian Friars who taught at the school for fifty-six years, four of which included my high school years.  Not only could I relate to Charley as someone struggling to find himself through his years after attending the “Academy,” but we also had to face the suicide of one of our own some years later.

Fortunately, in my case, I wasn’t the one with memories of treating people poorly.  Unfortunately, I was the one on the receiving end of that arrangement.  I was the creative sort; a bit geeky, loved writing and the Arts and Theater.  I never seemed to fit in with any of the kinds of characters in the Grievers, but I knew them all, and Marc Schuster has done a damn fine job of evoking the memories and flashbacks that made me feel like I was there all over again.  While reading this gem of a novel, I laughed a lot even though my experience was nowhere near as humorous as Charley Schwartz’s.  I even went back into the archives and dug up this photo from the yearbook, which shows that I actually succeeded at something.

Our school had a literary magazine called, “The New Spectator,” and they let me write the little blurb in the yearbook that went along with the photo.  As a senior, I finally made something happen.  Go figure.

The last three chapters really grabbed me.  They bring together all the craziness and wisecracks and sadness, and build up to a nail biting car chase scene worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster, and it concludes with such poignancy and satisfaction for the reader, that I actually kind of wish Marc hadn’t ended it right there.   I found myself cheering for Charley, and wanting to know just how he would turn all that madness into a future.

A delight to read and filled with such a variety of characters and so many moments of just plain craziness, that you almost want to reach through the book and grab Charley by the shoulders and shake him.  What is he doing hanging around with all these crazy people?  When I got to the part where Charley gets up to speak at the memorial service, I actually had to stop for a minute.  It is quite a moment, and worth a long, hard look for anyone who is grieving.

I had the opportunity to meet Marc and his lovely wife, Kerri, and I couldn’t shake the image of the two of them the whole time I was reading.  Marc is a great deal more accomplished than Charley, and I’m sure Kerri is probably different than Charley’s wife, Karen in the story, but it seems to me that Karen was the only sane part of Charley’s life, and Kerri impressed me as the sane one too.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly, and hope for much continued success for Marc in his sometimes funny life.

Campfires and Tranquility

The Mountain laurel is a member of the heath family (Ericaceae). This family of plants contains many of our most common and best-known shrubs including huckleberries, blueberries, azaleas, cranberries and rhododendron. – Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Treading a path last month in the hills of Belle Plain State Forest, I encountered this delightful view of the Mountain Laurel, which appeared in sporadic bunches and clumps along the trail. Some of the plants were quite large, but this lone branch hung out in front of my path, and caught me at eye level, providing the opportunity for a closer look. The typical time period for observing these sweetly scented pink and white blossoms spans from about the middle of May and sometimes through much of June. They herald the fullness of spring and announce the arrival of summer most times, and are quickly gone.

For anyone unfamiliar with the pleasures of camping in the woods, the idea of spending time sleeping in a tent, cooking all your meals outdoors, and coping with the circumstances surrounding life in the natural world for a period of time longer than a walk in the park, the concept of such an adventure may seem unappealing at first glance. There is a fair amount of preparation that needs to be considered like the details of exactly where to go and how to arrange to stay at a campground, and if you haven’t ever been camping, there are some essential pieces of equipment that you need to acquire in order to conduct your daily routines of eating and sleeping and preparing for inconvenient weather, but most of the essentials really aren’t that expensive, and you can either rent the bigger items or borrow them from someone who DOES like camping and probably has them all. It’s an individual matter how you get there, but if you’re really not sure if you will want to do it more than once, it’s best to either rent or borrow the essentials, and maybe purchase a few of the smaller items which you could easily sell or give away to someone who you know enjoys camping.

Our family has been camping for many years now, and most of the time we enjoy it enormously. We’ve gotten pretty good at all the routines of setting up camp, knowing what to bring, packing the food, knowing which supplies can be acquired locally and which items you are better off leaving home. All it takes is preparing well, anticipating contingencies, and common sense. We have some favorite parts of camping down to a science now, but the learning has been fun too. Once you forget to bring something important, or fail to check the weather report, or bash you finger trying to break a tree limb with your bare hands, you generally don’t repeat those kinds of mistakes. And every once in a while, you meet up with a fellow camper who has figured out how to do something easier than the way YOU do it, and can learn from seeing what other campers do just by observation.

Many of the campgrounds are located in some of the most scenic and beautiful natural landscapes in the area where they are found. Tranquil scenes such as these are delightfully common. Spending time outdoors can be challenging at first, but once you have spent time in the natural beauty of remote areas, it’s easy to see why so many people do this.

For me, one of the most thoroughly pleasurable experiences of camping is enjoying the campfire in the evening. Few other moments of outdoor recreation rise to the level of enjoyment as sitting comfortably by the fire YOU have built after a long day of activity. It’s almost the whole point of camping in my view.

Constructing a campfire that is both pleasing and safe takes some practice, but it is possible, with the right preparation, to get it going and sustain it for hours if you apply a few simple techniques:

1) If possible, you should arrange to bring at least some firewood with you, or stop along the way to pick some up from locals who often have wood out for sale. Paying a few dollars per bundle is an inexpensive way to have a supply handy, and eliminates the need to find it later.

2) Keeping the wood you bring with you in your vehicle is generally a good idea, as wet wood can be a challenge to ignite if you happen to encounter a rogue storm or sudden downpour. If you are confident in the weather forecast for sunny skies, you can leave it out, or as an alternate strategy, cover it up with a plastic tarp just in case.

3) Most often, campgrounds will allow you to pick up the dead branches and sticks that are already on the ground for burning at your campsite, since this reduces the fuel for wildfires, but it’s best to check with the park ranger’s office or the rules for each campground which do vary.

4) Assuming it is permitted, you should start gathering this smaller wood supply in the afternoon, before it gets too dark in the evening. Keep in mind that you will need some small, thin branches as well as more substantial sized limbs to support the fire beneath your chopped logs you bring with you.

5) It’s probably a good idea to pick up a few of those “fire starter bricks” that you see in the stores in case the wood is damp, or not plentiful in the campground. They can supplement your small branches and sticks in keeping the flame alive while the bigger pieces of wood get started. We also like to hang on to our paper plates, paper towels, and cardboard packaging like cereal boxes, as these can also help to kindle a flame when first getting the fire going.

6) I usually start by placing either a half of a fire starter brick in the bottom of the fire pit, or some items of paper or cardboard trash underneath a small bed of sticks and thin branches as the “bed” for the larger pieces. A few medium sized limb chunks go on top of that, and maybe one or two large logs on top, before striking a match or better yet, flicking on one of those long handle lighters to get things moving.

7) Once the flames start lapping up the pyramid of sticks you have built, you may need to fan the flames a bit with a paper plate or piece of cardboard to stoke the flames enough to ignite the larger pieces.

8) Once you get the fire started, check to make sure you have good air flow around the larger pieces of wood, as this ensures an even burning of your fuel supply. Many times, campers see a lot of smoke or lose momentum in their fire due to improper stacking of the pieces to allow air to flow around them.

9) It’s always important to have someone tending to the fire at all times, or to at least be present at the campsite, in case embers escape from the main fire pit. Never leave a fire unattended, particularly when there are young children around. It’s also a good idea to have a jug of water handy or some way to dampen the fire should it be necessary. Careful attention to the fire is essential no matter what the conditions are in the surrounding area, and containment is the key.

Once you have enjoyed the warm glow of a campfire at the end of a long day, or spent some time in conversation around one, you will no doubt wish to return again to this ritual many times. Before you settle in to your tent at night, you should always pour some water on the bed of hot embers to ensure that it stays dampened while you sleep. Safety for yourself and your fellow campers is a must!

From Ancient History to Modern Consciousness

Praetorian guard with sword and lance, wearing a cucullus (hooded cape) – Berlin, Pergamon Museum. Credits: Ann Raia, 2005

Since the first suggestion of the existence of ancient cultures in grammar school history classes, I have cultivated a fascination with what it might have been like to live as a member of ancient societies. As my education progressed and my passion for comprehending the foundations of humanity expanded, my persistence led me from the ancient history of civilization and of writing, to the foundational element of all comprehension–the acquisition of consciousness itself.

For me today, no other subject seems quite so compelling, as a means to begin to comprehend all other things, as the study of human consciousness. No other single undertaking would have such far-reaching consequences for the future of humanity as the attainment of even a basic understanding of how it is that we experience our existence through self-awareness. To fully appreciate our modern dilemma as Homo sapiens, it seems vital to me that we investigate how we became capable of understanding in the first place. Not only are we a product of evolutionary biology and genetics, but also of our evolving capacity for an expanded access to consciousness.

Comprehending ourselves as modern Homo sapiens, the most recent version of a long line of upright, bipedal, social creatures is only possible when we consider the perspective of millions of years of human evolution, and tens of thousands of years of reasonably productive mental efforts as cognitive beings. Neurological functioning clearly advanced in complexity and capacity from the earliest hominids to the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon, gradually permitting access to “higher order consciousness.” Figuring out how our species came to acquire our extraordinary cognitive capacities and to achieve our subsequent developmental progress are central to our continued success as modern cognitive creatures.

While our specific cognitive skills may not have evolved dramatically since the first recorded images were painted on cave walls of ancient history, the acquisition of functional consciousness, i.e., the ability to not only be aware that we exist, but also to contemplate that existence in a meaningful way that can be communicated, was a pivotal achievement in an epoch that altered the course of human history more than any other evolutionary change. In my view, what the cave paintings intimate, beyond the burgeoning of “higher order consciousness,” is the development of a connection to the foundations of consciousness–a connection which exists and is evidenced to some degree in all the manifestations of life in the physical universe.

As human beings, we are, in large part, unremarkably different from many other species on our planet when you consider us in our most fundamental nature. We exist physically as they do, we are made up of the same basic biological elements, and rely on the physical environment for our continued existence. Our genetic structure and specific biological architecture are unique in some important ways, but it is our much more complex cognitive functioning and access to higher order consciousness that permits us to dominate presently on earth. These differences could easily be made irrelevant by catastrophic changes in our physical environment, should they manifest in the way they did when similar events resulted in the demise of the dinosaurs.

The extraordinary complexity of the human brain, which developed over millions of years of evolution, has finally produced creatures who can acknowledge their existence in a way that complex artificial physical systems may never do. The correlation between the processing of information in the brain, and that which takes place in our most sophisticated computers, in my view, will be insufficient to produce the same conscious “experience” that humans enjoy. As complex biological creatures, what WE have that computers cannot independently produce is LIFE–the animating force of everything that lives. Our rich inner life–our experience of existence–while facilitated by complex cognitive functioning, resists empirical scrutiny in my view, precisely because it does not “arise” simply from those physical systems, but rather, through them–utilizing them as a “conduit for consciousness.” They make awareness possible, but they cannot explain what it is like to BE aware. As someone having these experiences, as deeply personal and profound as they are, my experience of awareness intimates the existence of a non-physical realm or dimension which is entangled with the physical world. Just because I rely on an intact physical system to be aware, doesn’t convince me that consciousness “arises” from those physical processes.

Recognition of the existence of higher levels of consciousness moves us toward a potential expansion of the process of our intellectual awakening, which has been in progress for millennia. Such non-physical abstractions as thoughts, desires, intentions, imaginings, and even the experience of dreams, while clearly interacting with the perceptual mechanisms and central nervous system of the human body, exist also as components of contemplation, integral to cognition, and essential to maintaining a balanced mental life. What are sometimes referred to as “spiritual inclinations,” may indeed enter our awareness as the result of these abstractions, and lead us to developing an awareness of a whole other level of existence.

….more to come…