Journey of the Human Spirit

journey-human-spirit-banner

http://bncdance.com/company/performances/a-journey-of-the-human-spirit/

“Once we find the transcendent experience and open up to a greater flow of spiritual energy and security within, something profound begins to occur. We begin to see ourselves and our behavior from a higher perspective, from a viewpoint of our more energized higher self. Our sense of identity moves past the insecure reactions of our ego self and assumes a witness viewpoint, identified now with all of divine creation and able to see our socially defined self with a new objectivity.” — James Redfield from “The Celestine Vision,” 1997

The developments surrounding my experience of what Jung described as”an eruption of unconscious contents,” while poorly understood by me at the time it occurred, set the stage for an extraordinary journey of the spirit. The beginning seemed to be traumatic at the time, and it struck me without warning or my own intention to undertake such a journey, but it felt almost immediately like I was destined to begin it. When the original episode took place, I have no recollection of actually seeing anything in my immediate conscious state, but images figured prominently in the document, which seemed to come in three sections. Most of what I have deciphered came long after the document appeared, and as I will recount in my subsequent assignment to the base in Massachusetts, an extraordinary mystical experience filled in many of the gaps the document contained from being illegible due to the frantic manner in which it was recorded. I eventually incorporated several excerpts in this version that were, to the best of my knowledge, part of the original configuration, but were unreadable when it was created originally.

Dreamscapes #1

It was in a dream one lonely night that first gave me the clue which told me of a life lived in the past–the existence of one unfulfilled life by some cruel twist of fate; some unaccounted for incident that survived the ravages of time–transmitted into the future by an unknown force or energy that permeated my every waking hour. The document was written in a trance-like state, and upon review of the writing afterwards, I realized it was an account of a journey, but not to a place that appeared on any map. The excerpts seemed almost like a commentary by the entity named in the document as Jonas Rice.

The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance.
By JJHIII24

The Beginning

Raging seas, darkness, the gap between appearance and reality, and the finality of the good earth.

Emotion has been the first of the significant elements involved in the purpose. An ocean of emotion reflected in the mirror of existence, observable only in the conscious mind inside, invisible to the world.

Years pass and the masses see only the surface. No exploration for fear of discovery. Torturous hours, lingering for an eternity, serve only to irritate and inflame the water’s rage. Pain is washed ashore and left to keep alive the disturbance, while the tide is out. Travel is the only temporary and eventual escape.

Sensitivity increases the spectrum of its effect. It lures and repels erratically, ever changing. Continuity is destroyed, forgotten and flung beyond recall. Destiny is playing his fiddle, inviting, then demanding compliance with his tunes. The weak fall prey and only the strong survive. The moments tell the story; the thoughts display a reality and truth–unacceptable–yet, escape is impossible. The blind go unaware and the sighted are driven to the edge, clinging to the branches of light that only truth can provide. The search appears endless, yet is known to be finite in a reality which cannot be confirmed.

(Consider all that you have learned here and you will find the Beginning of the Path.)

(It began in the year 1770, with the birth of an ideal, the arrival of the correct moment in time–the beginning of an era. The settlers of the new colonies were more than just pilgrims in a new land; they were pioneers in a new world–newborn babes of a destiny not yet realized in its entirety.)

The Foundation

Blackness, darkness, a void–uncertain. Faith flickers in the distance. Defeat is in the air, polluting while defenses weaken, threatening the footsteps. Motivation building a path, shedding an amber light on the doorway to the surface. Time and endurance, hand in hand, break the chains and grapple furiously, transported momentarily to green pastures and blue skies, with the light of day surging through the bloodstream, providing the sword and armor of power, strength, and humanity.

(You are to go forth from this place and seek the Fortress which holds the hidden purpose for existence. You alone are capable of this deed and at this precise moment of your life, as you would not have been prepared to assume the burden of these tidings were it any sooner.)

(Recall all that you are and you will discover what is contained in the Foundation of the Fortress.)

The Entrance

Oh, the joy, the courage and stability. Pause.

Placid sea.
Love rippling.
Its presence, once recognized
Brings sustenance, completeness.
Fullness and solidity appears
As a finely sculptured entity,
Focused to perfection,
Flawless in its detail,
Unsurpassed by any existing structure.
A FORTRESS among fortresses.
Soon to be seen and understood;
Glorious, yet, not divine.

Set apart, protruding on a level far beyond earthly significance. Relating humanly to encountered sameness and varying differences. Strength to friendly, open souls. Menacing to the fearful, the ignorant, and the superficial. Distant from the souls lacking completeness.

(Despite efforts to avoid the purpose, I am compelled to seek it out. Nothing else matters. An overpowering inner drive pushes me toward the mysterious, unknown end, lured to it like the sirens who once lured the great Ulysses. Even now I sense it coming. Distant footsteps echo in the halls of my inner world. It ceases–then begins–and ceases once more. The event of my life is upon me.)

Beginning, Foundation, Entrance documents–© 1973-1975 by JJHIII24

MYSTICAL3

The spiritual nature of the journey of Jonas has now become the focal point of my investigations. The awakening to transcendent knowledge is a most difficult and deeply personal undertaking requiring a sense of urgency that will prevail in spite of the relentless struggle to survive and maintain our daily lives. The leap from the physical to the metaphysical can be the most difficult leap of all, even realizing the potentially profound consequences of neglecting such a vital aspect of our existence. In order to begin, it was necessary to strive toward achieving a level of awareness I had never even imagined was possible. The pursuit of the achievement of higher levels of consciousness is uncommon in our current culture with its emphasis on materialism and the advanced technologies growing exponentially in the 21st century. Ironically, the advances in technology provide a larger number of people with access to the world of information and global educational opportunities, but promote the tendency to provide only the most popular or immediately beneficial of those possibilities, adversely affecting the dissemination of the more long-term essential aspects of those available–aspects which require more time and effort to become evidently as important.

Ancient Mountain of Memory

“Memory performs the impossible for man; holds together past and present, gives continuity and dignity to human life.” — Mark Van Doren, Liberal Education, 1943

“In a large sense, learning and memory are central to our very identity. They make us who we are.” — Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory, 2006

“Has it ever struck you…that life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going? It’s really all memory…except for each passing moment.” — Tennessee Williams, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, 1963

As I contemplated the landscapes along the highways on my way across the United States in 1975, I began to sense more than just the wider world through which I was passing, and often found myself absorbed by persistent thoughts in my mind, still bubbling from all that I had experienced in the extraordinary hills and valleys of California, and still haunted by the traumatic events in Massachusetts. The world had suddenly become utterly incomprehensible in some ways, and every moment of the journey held another new experience–each equally fascinating from my perspective as a traveler, and oddly troublesome in the degree of uncertainty I felt as I approached the unknown.

desert view

The stark desert scenes along the way through the American West were startling to me in a way that felt both unsettling and wondrous. Traversing the sweeping desert vistas of New Mexico and Arizona, I often felt the urge to pull the car over and just stare at these scenes. As oddly as it seemed, they felt familiar to me. I couldn’t understand the feeling at the time, but somehow knew that it would all start to make sense before long. The stunning and occasionally unnerving dreams that had been pervasive and even intrusive in Massachusetts and California, subsided during this trip, and I slept peacefully most nights in a way that seemed to escape me at all other times.

john home cali2f

My arrival back on the East Coast was triumphant in my mind. I had survived the dark night of the soul, and the threat of death, and journeyed thousands of miles across the USA in a remarkable and healing transitional experience. For a short time, the dreams that had interposed themselves in my psyche faded, and I was able to recuperate, and reclaim some of my previous confidence in going forward to the next stop along the way. Visiting with my family was always restorative and rejuvenating; an oasis in the desert of uncertainty that I always seemed to find myself in those days. As the time for returning to military service approached, I felt compelled to review my writings, and as I did, new images and thoughts started to appear in my nightly dreams. In the excerpt that follows, I begin to sense a connection to the “ancient mountain of memory,” and prepared to go deeper into the abyss:

forest within

The Forest Within

“Away from the routines of the everyday, I find my heart in turmoil, withholding the silent sound of my true voice. I can hear the strains of music that have sparked hidden fires, whose embers refuse to be extinguished, nor can I seem to leave them undisturbed long enough for them to simply run out of fuel. The spirit that embodies these fires haunts me in the tremulous strains of familiar and beloved memory. Held at bay by the thinnest of barriers, my most persistent attempts have failed utterly to relinquish the wisps of flame that languish in the furthest reaches of the forest within. The trees grow even still in splendor that penetrates my visions of centuries past, and through the countless millenniums of ancient memory.

When not persuaded by necessity to avoid them, I walk these woods, through dazed states of mind and melancholy. Occasional streams of sunlight peak through the dense forest canopy to reach my face and my heart. Echoes of ancient music reverberate through the thick layers of trees and against the faces of the great cliffs of stone, which hold the forest to the earth. Every so often, the strains of a familiar pattern of notes catches me unaware, and I am transported momentarily to that place–the clearing at the center of the forest–where I find the living memory itself. Each time, I am undone by the clarity and the durability of these memories, and each time, they penetrate deeper within, and stay hidden longer.”

jonas settler

Jonas Rice lived in colonial America, and was one of the founders of the city of Worcester, Massachusetts. He served as a soldier in the struggle of American independence and made important contributions to that effort. Jonas and I came to be linked when his name appeared in the writings that burst forth from me during what Jung describes as an “eruption of unconscious contents,” that brought forth the original document from that experience. My discovery of his tombstone in the center of Worcester literally took my breath away, and I could not shake the sense that he was a part of me somehow.

In those early days, before I had a clear idea about what was happening to me, I felt as though Jonas was alive in me. As a member of an active continental regiment with the U.S.Army, I felt certain that my role in that organization was part of my destiny. There clearly was a purpose to these events, but it was clear also, that it would take time for me to understand it all.

…..next time….the document itself…

Reflections on Chaos

sunset chaos

“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” — Buddha

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” — Deepok Chopra

Recent developments in my personal life, which have affected me deeply, have clearly resulted in a degree of chaos for me, and have also pointed to some key distinctions, which I had been creating out of my own mind, and which I believed to be true. It would seem that the Buddha was on to something when he pointed this out. Even now, as I contemplate the events of my life recently, I am beginning to see how this chaos may be a necessary part of the path forward, and how it relates to the unfolding story here in these pages. We sometimes fail to consider how even heartache and emotional turmoil may, in fact, be the only way to discern what is most important in our lives. I am feeling better about these recent changes now, in spite of how difficult it has been to endure them, and I am beginning to see the wisdom in accepting them, rather than fighting against them.

john massachusetts2

The images directly above were taken just before I departed Massachusetts for my next assignment, and they still evoke a powerful sense of those days in my mind. Certain images, even ones I have received recently, can stir my heart and mind beyond the mere beauty they might reveal. It seems that whether they are from the past I remember, or simply so striking in their resonance within my heart-of-hearts, deeply touching my inner world, what lingers is the sense of familiarity and the emotions they evoke.

In the course of my research into the nature of consciousness, which began in earnest after the traumatic encounter with what Carl Jung called, “unconscious contents,” I began to see how the events of my youth were starting to fit into a kind of pattern in the way in which the contents of my unconscious mind were being revealed to me. The sensations and emotions and experiences in Massachusetts felt familiar in a way that didn’t make sense at first, but slowly, subtly, I began to understand that they were all somehow part of the same experience. It would generally begin with a spontaneous eruption of some sort, a flash of insight, a sudden sense of recognition, an unexpected turn in the routines of daily life, a remarkable confluence of deeply personal longing which would suddenly be accompanied by a feeling of fulfillment, all of which seemed to be guiding me toward an avenue of thought or action that I otherwise would never have thought to pursue. The truth is, throughout the many years that have passed since my journey began, as I reflect on the many missed opportunities of my youth, I have found that I no longer wish to miss a single possible moment of fulfillment of these longings. I trust enough in my heart and in my soul to be true to their inclinations, even when they lead me to something painful, or which I don’t fully understand at first.

James Redfield, author of “The Celestine Prophecy,” suggests that what we often consider “coincidences,” are in fact meaningful and essential events in our evolution as an individual:

“It begins with a heightened perception of the way our lives move forward. We notice those chance events that occur at just the right moment, and bring forth just the right individuals, to suddenly send our lives in a new and important direction. Perhaps more than any other people in any other time, we intuit higher meaning in these mysterious happenings.”

Redfield also asserts that the introduction of certain individuals into our lives, at particular moments in our lives, frequently seem to occur at just the right time to help us move forward or to solve some particular problem. In this regard, I have had many remarkable experiences, the significance of which was not always evident to me until long after the influence had occurred. A very small group of significant individuals stand out. Although it would be difficult to quantify their value precisely, it seems clear that my life would have been quite different without the intercession of a few of these “significant others.”

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Many times, the arrival of certain individuals has had a compensatory effect for some other significant influence, helping me to maintain balance at a particularly precarious moment. Some of these individuals have been mentors and teachers. Some have been irritants who have compelled me away from certain situations or ideas. Some have been beautiful angels who lifted me up and made it possible for me to continue when it seemed like there was nowhere to go. Some have been adversaries, whose challenges have brought aspects of my personality to the forefront, broadening my self-awareness. Some have been lovers who renewed my faith in life and all its possibilities. In most every case, in retrospect, I have been profoundly grateful for whatever time I was privileged to be in their company.

Massachusetts tree2

The initial revelation of the Jonas story found me mostly baffled and confused as to the nature of its significance in my life at the time it occurred. While I knew it was important, I was unprepared to assimilate the information it contained into anything even resembling a coherent response. Over the span of years in my life as a self-aware and conscious being, I have gradually come to feel a powerful sense of having been born to some vital purpose, and have been reminded often of the feeling that what was unfolding within me was somehow remarkably different than what I observed to be happening in those around me.

The image above is a photo of the very place where, after months of chaos and confusion and a series of astonishing changes within me and as a young soldier, I realized that all I had endured, suffered, and learned prior to that day had created a foundation for all that was to come. As I sat beneath that tree on the square in front of my barracks some forty years ago, I knew that the journey had only just begun for me. At some point, we all encounter experiences and important events that change us in this way. If we arrive at such a moment reasonably intact, where we finally abandon our naive notions of the world, leaving behind our childhood, we may then hopefully embark upon a truly original individual human life.

….still to come… California impressions…

To Everything…There is a Season

time enemy

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Time is my enemy now. Not only does it often seem to be in short supply when the work of writing begins for me, but over the years, it has been so heavy-laden with intrusions which divert me from the task, that many times, I have found myself near despair. Recently, I have only been able to manage short bursts of productive effort, and with all the chaos of late, I have been so frequently interrupted by a host of other considerations, it seems amazing to me that I’ve accomplished anything at all.

Modern technology has made great strides since the time I began this work, and I have been fortunate to have access to materials and resources that have helped me to make even the meager progress I have managed so far. With only a very limited budget over the years, and many competing priorities for the funds that were available, it has only recently become possible to acquire the tools needed to truly begin to construct a comprehensive summary of what has occupied me for more than thirty years now. At first, much of the work was recorded on hand-written loose-leaf papers, and whatever else I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, many of my original papers have been lost after moving and all the various changes which occurred in those years. However, I was able to preserve the core elements of the writings in the subsequent revisions and copies which I recorded in a series of paper-bound journals that I kept relentlessly during that time.

In recent years, as I was able to acquire a computer and access to the digital world, I was able to preserve and store the accumulating documents on compact discs, along with the many photos which were taken during the early days of my struggle to come to terms with the extraordinary events which led to my ongoing investigations. This blog represents my best efforts to gather the materials from my research and writing, and to make some kind of sense of it all.

Secret Double Magritte
Secret Double by Magritte

“If a man sits down to think, he is immediately asked if he has a headache.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson from a journal entry in 1833

In the autumn of 1973, I experienced what C.G. Jung described as “an eruption of unconscious contents,” which led me to create a document entitled, “The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance.” Although I did not recognize it as such at the time, I have gradually come 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 the meaning contained in the document. 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 to begin to place it in a broader perspective. Magritte’s image above seemed an appropriate illustration of what felt like an agonizing struggle to reveal the inner workings of the process, which I subsequently engaged in attempting to discover what it was that erupted from within me.

Reviewing the cryptic writing in this document has always been problematical for me, as doing so not only reminded me of how it came into existence, but also of how much I struggled to make some kind of sense out of what initially seemed like a “stream of unconsciousness.” Over the years, even though the opportunities to spend time on the writing have been far fewer than my own inclinations would have provided, I have devoted every available temporal and mental resource in the service of enhancing my understanding of both the experience itself, and of the content in the original document. 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 those journals, which at least provided a consistent location where I could continue to work as time permitted.

collective unconscious

According to the famous Swiss psychiatrist and scholar, C.G. Jung:

In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually, but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. It is man’s task to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.”

After several exposures to what Jung described as “unconscious contents,” in my early twenties, it became apparent to me that a greater comprehension of my own cognitive processes was necessary if I was ever going to come to terms with the inexplicable nature of these extraordinary personal experiences. The learning process has engaged my own consciousness in ways that have been both rewarding and challenging. In the coming months, it is my goal to organize and communicate this process, as a means of formalizing a theory which will summarize and bring together all of the many pathways which I have been traveling these many years.

To all of the many wonderful readers and visitors here, I extend my best wishes for much success to you all in the coming year……

Consciousness in the World: Memory and the Extended Mind

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“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Nature.”

Every year, particularly for those living in regions which experience the full range of seasonal changes from Spring through Winter, Emerson reminds us to use an “attentive eye,” to see the beauty contained in every season. Each period of the year has its particular rewards: the renewal of all life in the Spring is an affirmation of life; the warmth and lush greenery of Summer is an experience of the fullness of life; the brilliant colors and easing of the summer heat provide both beauty and solace at its peak; and scenes of pristine snowfalls and brilliantly clear winter skies at night remind us that all life is finite in one sense, and limitless in another. Emerson also reminds us that beauty is not confined to the temporal world:

“Beauty is the form under which the intellect prefers to study the world. All privilege is that of beauty;for there are many beauties; as, of general nature, of the human face and form, of manners, of brain, or method, moral beauty, or beauty of the soul.” – from his essay, “Beauty,” (1860)

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It was in the Autumn of 1956 when I first began to establish moments of conscious experience in memory, and had the first recollections of acknowledging my existence as an individual person. I can recall only brief moments of awareness for the most part, but they are potent and remarkably clear to a degree I find surprising these many years later. The image above was an attempt to recreate one such moment, in which I found myself staring at length at a patch of autumn leaves on the lawn of my childhood home. While similar scenes are easily reproduced each year as the leaves begin to accumulate wherever there are trees in seasonal transition, as Emerson suggests, every moment is unique in its own way, and will never be repeated precisely.

At this tender age, even though I had acquired a fair talent for both language and the association of words with objects and people, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend the implications of my experiences, nor was I fully competent cognitively. My brain was clearly functional in every way that the age would permit, and my ability to learn and respond to typical social interactions was well established, but the level of awareness was still in the process of unfolding to fullness, in spite of all that I was capable of doing with my brain. We tend to think of memory as something that only accumulates in the immediate experience of our lives, but as an emerging adult and after years of deliberate and steady contemplation of the significance of my life experiences, so many of the notions of familiarity with the content of those experiences are remarkably varied in their character that it seems possible their origins could be the result of a much wider range of sources and levels of consciousness. The theory of a “collective unconscious” from C. G. Jung suggests a framework for a collection of forms or “archetypes,” elementary constructs that already exist within us, which are filled in by conscious experience, and which resonate in the psyche in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

Copy of BrainSparks

We know now that memory is not an isolated process that takes place in any localized region of the brain, but is rather a symphony of processes acting fluidly in harmonious cooperation to stimulate an astonishing array of neural pathways, which reassemble the components of our recollections. We also know that memory is not like a video recording of events reproduced in exacting detail, but rather more like reconstructing those elements as we perceived them when they occurred. In many cases, we remember more precisely how we felt at the time the memory was formed. The more significant the event or the greater importance our interpretation of the event holds, the more profound and detailed the memory may be. This fluid processing is directly linked to the structure of the brain, formed as the human embryo develops during a nearly miraculous process of cell migration governed by instructions from our inherited genome. As complex and intricately woven as these neural pathways end up, since memory is a combined form of energy and information, stored and recalled through electro-chemical impulses between neurons, the process necessarily depends on particular structural foundations in order to function properly and must, at least to some degree, reflect the nature of that structure.

extend mind

http://consc.net/papers/extended.html

With the publication of their essay, “The Extended Mind,” – – David Chalmers and Andy Clark began the conversation about just how far the process of mind may actually go. We tend to think of the mind as something inside our heads, or at least contained within or constructed by the brain, but as we investigate and contemplate these matters in the 21st century, we are beginning to see that our understanding generally may only be scratching the surface. There are clearly very specific and necessary neural substrates which support our ability to access consciousness, and if they become compromised by some sort of injury or illness, that access can be diminished accordingly. What is not so clear is the exact relationship between the source of consciousness and the temporal structures which support our access to it. Homo sapiens required hundreds of thousands of years to achieve a level of useful cognitive awareness before even the simplest demonstrations of possessing a mind could be made.

In this important essay, Clark and Chalmers make the case for categorizing some of our uses of modern technologies as not simply a means for producing gadgets for consumption, but as manifestations of our cognitive abilities–an actual “extension” of our human mind out into the world:

“Language appears to be a central means by which cognitive processes are extended into the world. Think of a group of people brainstorming around a table, or a philosopher who thinks best by writing, developing her ideas as she goes. It may be that language evolved, in part, to enable such extensions of our cognitive resources within actively coupled systems.”

“It is widely accepted that all sorts of processes beyond the borders of consciousness play a crucial role in cognitive processing: in the retrieval of memories, linguistic processes, and skill acquisition, for example. So the mere fact that external processes are external where consciousness is internal is no reason to deny that those processes are cognitive.”

Excerpts from “The Extended Mind” (with Dave Chalmers) ANALYSIS 58: 1: 1998 p.7-19

What I am proposing in my own work here, while advocating my own interpretations with enthusiasm, is not an especially radical departure from the mainstream views found elsewhere, but might be viewed by some as being a bit “outside-the-box,” in both its premise and development. My life experiences in my years on this planet encompass qualities and characteristics which suggest a range of possibilities which might explain the nature of the mind and consciousness in ways that mirror ideas like the extended mind. Many of the writings and ideas of history’s most notable philosophers and revolutionary thinkers and innovators have been met with great resistance initially, and only gained more widespread acceptance after much consideration and review by a more measured or deliberate approach.

Characterizing external processes and devices as extensions of the human mind, as controversial as this may seem to some, is an intriguing component of the search for a comprehensive understanding of the mind, and the arguments put forward by Clark and Chalmers are coherent and substantial in supporting their premise. It clearly requires a profoundly sophisticated cognitive structure to produce devices which qualify as extensions of those structures. The parallels between our own cognitive components and those which we have produced as cognitive creatures in the modern world are not so far fetched as some would suggest. There are arguably several potential fields of endeavor currently which may well produce what may appear as a genuine cognitive system, with some degree of similarity to our own. At the same time, we should not expect those devices to begin spontaneously producing other extensions of themselves, nor should we expect them to be on a par with the human mind by any comprehensive standard. My overriding sense is that no manufactured device could be expected to appreciate human experiences without actually having them. Not every human can fully appreciate the experience of another human in every case. As C. G. Jung wrote:

“The collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual. In their present form, religion, science, philosophy, and ethics are variants of archetypal ideas. It is the function of consciousness to not only assimilate the external world through the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.” – from Jung’s “Symbols of Transformation.”

Consciousness in the World: Ancient Ideas Still Resonate Today

“The reflective understanding of reality has seemed to me helped by the incursion into the present moment of remembered situations from which one gains his bearings and his stance as a human being. Thus the re-collective understanding of one’s actual experience is intimately connected with the reflective understanding of reality…Above all else, then, I trust in the remembrance of what I have loved and respected; remembrance in which love and respect are clarified. And I trust in such remembrance to guide my reflections in the path of essential truth.”

— Henry Bugbee from “The Inward Morning,” July 1953

Egypt farmer2

Image from the burial chamber of Sennedjem, Egypt; Scene: Plowing farmer.

Part of my fascination with the study of human consciousness clearly stems from my intense interest in ancient human history, which was originally piqued by its introduction in my earliest educational experiences. As far back as I can remember, images of ancient peoples and civilizations always seemed to engage my mind whenever I encountered them. In particular, images from the first books of children’s stories of mythological creatures and ancient hunters, and early text books which contained stories and illustrations of ancient cultures in distant lands, all excited my imagination and prompted me to imagine myself participating in the lives of such cultures. The intensity of this interest has stayed with me my whole life, and in the unfolding of my education through the years, I accumulated dozens of books about a variety of ancient civilizations. Our complex modern-day existence and our deepest sense of our humanity has been built upon ancient beginnings, and even as our modern lives become entangled in advancing technological innovations of every sort, there are indications of our ancient beginnings which resonate in our modern consciousness.

Farming scenes in the Tomb_of_Nakht

Agricultural scene from the tomb of Nakht, 18th Dynasty Thebes

One of the most important adaptations which resulted from a shift in the sophistication of human consciousness was the one which saw the transition of the many nomadic groups of early human hunter gatherers to the development of agriculture and small communities of individuals engaged in farming the ancient lands. According to most estimates, (Wikipedia) deliberate and organized “sowing and harvesting of plants,” appeared somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 years ago, and arose independently in the various continents of the world, but was quickly adopted among many adjacent civilizations as the advantages of food production which would support “increased population densities,” necessary to support expansion of the various cultures of antiquity. In Egypt, as farming developed in the fertile Nile Valley, images like the one above began to appear in many of the illustrations of life in those times. Eventually, this shift to agriculture contributed significantly to the expansion of communities into cities, cities into regions, and larger and larger aggregations of humans into empires and great civilizations.

modern farmers2

Recently, I visited the location of a brand new farm in the early stages of being established locally by my son and several others, and as I photographed them on the modern bulldozer which was clearing the land in preparation for planting, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far we’ve come in some ways from those ancient “farmers,” and how much we owe to those intrepid innovators of antiquity for so much of our modern mindset. The ancient farmers had no such advantages as bulldozers or modern day tractors:

modern tractor2

The path of illumination and discovery, not to mention technological innovation over the centuries, could only have occurred with a commensurate expansion of human consciousness. We infer from the available evidence in the fossil record that while our ancient hominid predecessors may have possessed a remarkably similar brain architecture for hundreds of thousands of years, it seems apparent that they were not initially as fully and cognitively self-aware in a way that would allow them to utilize that awareness for much of that time. From an evolutionary perspective, any ability or pattern of behavior which enhanced the survivability of our species would favor those who employed them, and at some point, higher levels of cognitive functioning began to impart what scientists like to describe as “secondary” or “coincidental” advantages and capacities. Creative use of our development of cognitive skills for survival, also presented us with a capacity for art, music, and mythology. Awareness of our inner mental imagery, and the development of language to express that imagery as an enhanced survival strategy, also just happened to provide us with a way to construct elaborate creative solutions like farming, and led to contemplation about the mysterious workings of the world around us.

According to Carl Jung, in his writings on Gnosticism:

“The ancient mind rejected the material world and felt that everything originated outside of himself. The modern mind rejects the gods and is smugly satisfied with the false material nature of both himself and the world. The mind of today must acknowledge the origins of self in the unconscious and the duality of humanity as being both material and non-material.”

Deep within us lies a tremendous storehouse of knowledge–not knowledge in the sense of information, statistics, or formulas–but rather, knowledge of centuries old memories, ancient thoughts, and the progressive synthesis of understanding inherited from the dawn of humanity. The synthesis of old and new, much like the changes that occur in us genetically through periodic advantageous mutations, produces variations of our inner life that did not exist previously. While those changes may be incrementally small and subtle, after a time they result in profound differences in the depth and breadth of our inner lives. The signposts of these changes range from subtle cultural changes as are evident in the ebb and flow of conventional wisdom, to the unfolding of dramatic alterations that come to define a shift in the direction of our species. One need only contemplate the progression of humanity from ancient times to today to realize that it required not only imagination, intuition, and innovation, but also a fundamental alteration in the depth and breadth of our inner worlds to support those possibilities…

The Universal Flow

There is a stream of consciousness flowing within each of us that never ceases, nor diminishes throughout our years as self-aware sentient creatures. In our everyday awareness, we can be consciously connected to this stream to the degree that we seek it out, and as we attend to the matter of nourishing the path which connects us to it. There are many different ways we can detect the stream, and they are limited only by our willingness to be open to them. For some of us, it is simply a matter of persistent effort. For others of us, it may be a struggle to first sift through an avalanche of chaos, before settling into a place where we can discern the flow routinely.

In my early life, it was a constant struggle emotionally and psychologically, to feel the pull toward the flow so strongly, but to be so severely limited in gaining insights; forced to adhere to a strict religious regimen with regard to spiritual matters, every effort to veer away from the established course was thoroughly and effectively suppressed. Once I began my life as an independent person, safely beyond the grasp of my upbringing, the powerful rush of the internal flow burst forth from within me like a volcano. Unprepared for the intensity of its streaming energies, I submitted to it only haltingly at first, stumbling as I attempted to remain with one foot in the past, and the other in the stream.

Intense fear of the unknown nature of my experiences at that time were contrasted by the tremendous excitement I felt at the revelations they contained. While I understood little of what it meant to be connected to this mysterious flow, I sensed immediately that there was a profound nature within it, and was enthralled by my sudden awareness of an expanded potential within me. These many years later, I am finally coming to not only acknowledge my lifelong connection to a universal flow of consciousness, but can now proceed deliberately and willingly towards it.

Even in spite of this advantage I don’t, at every moment, know exactly where I am going or how it is that I feel what is within me now. The moorings seem to have broken loose and I feel often as though I am drifting without direction in an uncertain world. I cannot reconcile my longings with any rationale, nor can I say with certainty that I will find my way. The light in the afternoon sky grows dimmer as I seek shelter. In the distance, the rumblings of a storm can be heard. It may pass or it may strike with full force, I cannot say which. Even so, there are aspects to the uncertainty which can be quite appealing too. Within the discomfort of “not-knowing,” is also the promise of change, however disadvantageous in the immediate sense, and the long term consequences are never completely known.

Breaking loose from the restrictions and suppression of my early life, I stumbled at first, and made errors so glaring now in retrospect, even I have to shake my head at myself. These past few years have been stable enough to gain a bearing of sorts, and having attained some stability, I can at least be said to be considering these ideas from a vantage point. The tumultuous years of my youth, not entirely ill-spent, have not produced the precise figure of my youthful visions. The disparate pieces of my life have not combined as yet to form a complete character that I can identify unambiguously as myself. In retrospect, the course I followed satisfied the obligations I had incurred, and in so doing, performed a necessary function that prevented me from falling off the cliff of self-destruction. It may well have been a necessary adaptation for my survival.

Carl Jung once wrote:

“We do not know how far the process of coming to consciousness can extend or where it will lead. It is a new element in the story of creation and there are no parallels we can look to (nor can we) know what potentialities are inherent in it. If we assume that there is anything at all beyond our sense perception, then we can speak of psychic elements whose existence is only indirectly accessible to us.”

The proliferation over recorded time of the various intellectual and spiritual movements is representative of the entire spectrum of inner human life. As a direct result of these movements, complex social and environmental changes have occurred. Unless all such activity ceases, it seems likely that our species will continue to progress along these lines, transforming our present level of understanding and consciousness to levels never before imagined.

Exploring Below the Surface

A recent article in the New York Times, (“Decoding the Brain’s Cacophony” by Benedict Carey-Published: October 31, 2011) reports on research by Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which suggests that the functioning of our left brain hemisphere is responsible our familiar view of ourselves–an interpreter–and that what we view as our “coherent self,” is a construct of mental processes that are, in large part, unconscious:

“We are not who we think we are. We narrate our lives, shading every last detail, and even changing the script retrospectively, depending on the event, most of the time subconsciously.”

In his most recent book, “Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain,” (Ecco/HarperCollins) Dr. Gazzaniga addresses his ideas at length, and presents a strong case for resisting the urge to equate all of our behaviors and explain our humanity by “studying neural circuits:”

“Can brain science tell exactly where automatic processes end and self-directed “responsible” ones end? Not now and not likely ever, Dr. Gazzaniga argues in his book. Social constructs like good judgment and free will are even further removed, and trying to define them in terms of biological processes is, in the end, a fool’s game.”

Dr. Gazzaniga says our inclinations to be generous or loving, ruthless or responsible, are not properties of brain function, but rather a “strongly emergent” property — a property that, though derived from biological mechanisms, is fundamentally distinct and obeys different laws, as do ice and water.”

Writer Benedict Carey reports Dr. Gazzaniga’s contention that with all the benefits of research in neuroscience, the tendency to draw conclusions, particularly in a courtroom setting, may be premature:

“Brain-scanning technology is not ready for prime time in the legal system; it provides less information than people presume. Brain images are snapshots, for one thing; they capture a brain state at only one moment in time and say nothing about its function before or after. For another, the images vary widely among people with healthy brains — that is, a “high” level of activity in one person may be normal in another.”

Carl G. Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, wrote extensively about our unconscious nature, concentrating his formidable intellect in the pursuit of understanding the psyche by exploring the worlds of dreams, art, mythology, world religion and philosophy. In what may be his most important work, “Symbols of Transformation,” (from his Collective Works, Volume 5) Jung described his idea of a “collective unconscious:”

“The psyche is not of today; its ancestry goes back many millions of years. Individual consciousness is only the flower and the fruit of a season, sprung from the perennial rhizome ( perpetual root) beneath the earth; and it would find itself in better accord with the truth if it took the existence of the rhizome into its calculations. For the root matter is the mother of all things.”

Jung’s theory points to a much larger view of how our conscious awareness may rely on numerous layers of unconscious processes, whose influence and effects come through a synthesis of our cognitive functions, including sense perceptions, the process of recognition, evaluation, intuition, feelings, instincts, and even dreams, which Jung says warrant inclusion on the list:

“…because they are the most important and most obvious results of unconscious psychic processes obtruding themselves upon consciousness. The dream as such is undoubtedly a content of consciousness, otherwise it could not be an object of immediate experience. For it is the function of consciousness not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.” – (from “The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Collected Works, Vol. 8”)

Expanding our views of what might be contributing to our humanity through consciousness, beyond what we discover through cognitive neuroscience, as amazing and important as this work can be, requires an exploration below the surface.