Turning Points are the Peaks of Transitions

self__awareness

We seldom look back over the years of our lives and view them together as a comprehensive whole, but rather, most often, in retrospect, we see ourselves as having experienced a number of “turning points,” and while this terminology does address the sometimes “sudden” nature of what feels like pivotal moments of our lives, it seems to me that these moments are actually more accurately described as the “peaks of transitions.”

We are all on a journey through time. This is not a journey in the sense of the H.G. Wells novel, or the film, “Back to the Future,” but in the sense of a lifetime, or the time in which we live, or the time it takes to accomplish our goals or reach certain hallmarks. The journey is through time, and since the beginning of time, humans have contemplated the passage of time, looking for ways to make use of it, to master it, and to comprehend the meaning of our journey through it.

Throughout our daily lives, although through the night there can be a peculiar sense of time possible in our dreams, our days begin as we awaken, and through whatever routines and habits compose our days generally, we experience a continuum of mental and physical events. Many of these events go unnoticed, or slip quickly into the background of our day, but some days in particular are punctuated occasionally by more urgent or important events that soon become our memories of that day. Our days end at whatever time we relinquish waking consciousness, once again suspended as we enter dream-time.

MorningCoffee

Looking back over the past week, certain events stand out—the sluggish beginning on Monday morning due to a late night conversation on Sunday evening—the surprise visit on Tuesday by my daughter—the aching back that kept me awake on Wednesday night—the daunting effort to close out the workday on Thursday—and the preparation for this discussion after the house got quiet on Friday. In between all of these events, were innumerable others, each of which composed the transitions between the minutes, hours, and days of the week.

Looking back over the years, even larger gaps between events, and the avalanche of moments, hours, and days, all of this turned into the weeks and months, and then the totality of the years. All the while, as life progressed through these measurements of time, memories of potent experiences, endings and beginnings, and the relentless cycle of change and stability, composed the transitions between who we used to be, and the person we are constantly becoming.

man-alone.jpg

When we do finally achieve even a moderate degree of longevity in life, and take the time to consider the passage of whatever time we have accumulated, this progression of all the transitions from where we were to where we are at that moment reveals certain “peaks,” sometimes described as “turning points,” which can range from the most subtle realization of change, to the stark realization that nothing will ever be the same again.

For me, there seems to have been many “peaks” which occurred in my youth and early stages of life, and with a fair amount of regularity. The early memory of life as a middle child—the loss of a beloved brother at age eight—the end of innocence as adolescence arrived—the first real torment of lost love in high school—the collapse of my relationship with my father during my tenure as a college student—my agony and successful completion of basic training in the Army—all of these “events” signaled a change in the direction of my life from the perspective of youthful innocence to the harsh realities of independence. Once established finally as a truly independent person, the stage was set for a stunning “peak experience,” which stands out even today as the one irrevocable and life-altering event. This most potent “turning point,” took place almost two years into my training in the military, and set me on a path that continues to this day.

consciousness

In the autumn of 1973, I experienced what C. G. Jung described as “an eruption of unconscious contents” which led to the creation of a document entitled, “The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance. Although I did not fully recognize it as such at the time, I gradually came to view the experience as a pivotal event in my life, and I have spent much of the time since it occurred attempting to decipher its message. The bulk of the document’s contents remained poorly understood by me for many years afterwards, and only in recent years have I finally begun to comprehend it more fully and place it in perspective.

Reviewing the cryptic writing in this document has always been problematical for me, as doing so not only reminds me of how it came into existence, but of how much I have struggled since then to extract some kind of useful information from the stream-of-“unconsciousness.” Over the past twenty years or so, I have devoted every available temporal and mental resource to enhancing my understanding of the content of the original document, although the opportunities to do so have been far fewer than my own inclinations would have provided. My temporal life during this time, all too often, “pushed” active pursuit of my goals to “another day.” Forced to find ways of getting to the research, I resorted to recording my incremental progress and my relevant observations in a series of journals, which provided a consistent location where I could continue to work as time permitted.

Our individual lives, to some degree, are a mirror of the development of all life on this planet. Our beginnings are microscopic; our progression as a fetus has many of the features and developmental qualities of life forms that existed prior to our own species; our development from a child into adulthood is marked by sequential growth through physiological stages, levels of consciousness, accumulation of knowledge, and sophistication through experience. With only a little effort, one could draw many parallels from our individual development as a person, to that of our collective development from a primitive, upright mammal to modern Homo sapiens. I also feel strongly that the metaphor could be extended to the progressive development in sophistication of human consciousness, which in many ways is responsible for our continued survival as a species.

I recognized at this point that all I had endured, suffered, and learned prior to that day had created the foundation for all that was to come. If we arrive at such a moment reasonably intact, where we finally abandon our naïve notions of the world, leaving behind our childhood, we may then hopefully embark on a truly original individual human life.

The journey upon which I embarked as a result of the creation of this document had been in the making for twenty years. My arrival at that moment in time and every twist and turn and significant event of my life–every moment–was a preparation for that day. The foundation had been established for an extraordinary journey.

As my story developed, I began to see links from the writings that flowed from me to temporal events which transpired both in the past and in my immediate world. The story was being written long before I began writing it. I began to search for ways to explain the document within the body of the story. The document soon became an important story element.

William Blake Soul

For me, it has been a struggle to sift through the avalanche of chaos which surrounded my awakening to the existence of the stream. Since I was not given much latitude regarding spiritual matters as a young man, when it finally was possible to explore freely, it seems to have burst forth from me like a volcano. This past October, I suffered another potent life-changing transition, when I lost my dear older brother to brain cancer. Although life can consist of many potent losses, this most recent one shook me to my very roots. Although the immediate pain of loss has subsided, it has caused me to reflect like never before on all that has come before.

We are meant to understand our lives, not so much in what feels like the sudden “turning,” from one point to another, but in the longer view, which is punctuated by these “turning points.”

Van Cliburn 1934-2013

van cliburn

One of the greatest musicians of our time, and featured on one of my all-time favorite recordings, Van Cliburn demonstrated some of the finest qualities to which a person can aspire. Some of my earliest memories include listening to recordings of Van Cliburn performing as he did all over the world, and it seems I have loved to listen to his musical performances my whole life.

As a young lad, I was exposed to a variety of musical influences, but in our home, Van Cliburn was admired in particular by my parents, who made sure we were given plenty of opportunities to listen to him play, since they loved to listen as well. My older sister started taking piano lessons at a very young age, and Van Cliburn was held as a role model for being a virtuoso, and an inspiration to all young people who aspired to learn the piano.

The Washington Times article By Angela K. Brown – Associated Press said this:

Mr. Cliburn played for every U.S. president since Harry Truman, plus royalty and heads of state worldwide.

Mr. Cliburn also used his skill and fame to help other young musicians through the Van Cliburn International Music Competition, held every four years. Created in 1962 by a group of Fort Worth teachers and citizens, it remains among the top showcases for the world’s best pianists.

Despite his phenomenal success over five decades, Mr. Cliburn remained humble and gracious, friends said.

Throughout his life, Van Cliburn represented what is best about our humanity–with great talent and determined effort–he gave us all a gift of love and beauty and grace that is everywhere in our world, but so rarely contained within one soul so willing to share it.

vancliburn_icon

On the website : http://www.cliburn.org/

“It is with great sadness that we announce that our dear friend and inspiration Van Cliburn died peacefully in his home in Fort Worth, Texas, surrounded by loved ones, on February 27, 2013.”

Godspeed, Mr. Cliburn…..

A Summary of Quotes from My Blog on Consciousness

fmri_wheeler

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.

As the foundation for our awareness of possessing consciousness, neurological functioning may facilitate its unfolding, allowing it to become manifest in the physical universe of human endeavor, and provide a common platform for meaningful interaction amongst our fellow cognitive creatures, but it cannot constitute the whole of it.

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. 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.

Alva Noe wrote in his book, “Are We Out of Our Heads?:”

“The brain is not, on its own, a source of experience or cognition…The conscious mind is not inside us; it is, it would be better to say, a kind of active attunement to the world, an achieved integration. It is the world itself, all around, that fixes the nature of conscious experience.”

If Noë’s contention is correct that consciousness consists of “Mind-Body-World,” i.e. the interaction of all three of those elements being required to connect us to our richly textured experience of conscious awareness, then many of the other widely-held ideas about cognition and neuroscience may also need to be reconsidered. Many of Noë’s arguments are relentlessly compelling for me as they affirm what I have long posited myself—to quote Noë:

“Consciousness does not happen in our brains; it is not a product of the brain. Certainly, there is no sound empirical evidence to support the idea that the brain alone is enough for consciousness.”

It always intrigues me when anyone attempts to simplify “human consciousness” as being some sort of evolutionary adaptation easily explained by brain physiology or cognitive functioning. It’s a “no-brainer” that our development of a complex and integrative cerebral cortex gave us access to a level of cognitive function (as yet unmatched by any other species to our knowledge) that permits an exceptionally keen awareness of BEING conscious, but consciousness itself is a much larger and expansive subject than brain physiology or cognitive science and any attempt to explain consciousness in a comprehensive sense, in my view, clearly requires a much broader understanding.

Part of the problem with judging as to whether or not a machine can be “conscious” lies in the difficulty we currently encounter when we attempt to confirm this same condition in other sentient beings. We experience conscious states vividly in our own day-to-day existence, but can only “infer” conscious states in others through observations and interactions with them. We cannot know with absolute certainty what others are experiencing, precisely because of the nature of conscious awareness. Even when conscious awareness was finally possible for the early humans, they did not immediately spring into functional consciousness. Even with the advantage of being able to “load” information into a machine, which is still a fairly lengthy process for humans needing years of learning, there are very few shortcuts available for accumulating experience, which is the real game changer.

Our distinct version of human consciousness permits the subjective awareness of “what it’s like” to experience our existence, and to be able to contemplate it, ponder it, and express our experience of it. It is, perhaps, most evident in our attempts to describe consciousness, to articulate the process, to measure it and theorize about it, that we realize it cannot be reduced to physiology alone.

It doesn’t help much that our ability to acknowledge and contemplate the nature of consciousness REQUIRES our physiology to be precisely what it is–a cognitive apparatus attached to a central nervous system and an array of sensory inputs supported by heart, lungs, and nutritional systems to sustain it. This essential apparatus, which merely FACILITATES the expression of what Kant called “transcendental consciousness,” is inseparable from our ability to possess our subjective awareness, but it does NOT define the foundational and transcendent principle which makes our cognitive apparatus most useful–as a conduit for consciousness. There is a huge gap between “being conscious” and “having access to a transcendental consciousness.”

Without consciousness there could be no awareness of existence, and without a temporal existence, we could not gain access to a subjective awareness of consciousness. If our existence is a manifestation of a transcendent consciousness (Kant) then the two are inseparable and intimately intertwined.