Ancient Beginnings

–Marcus Tullius Cicero, by Bertel Thorvaldsen as copy from roman original, in Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen.

“We must fight…against old age. We must compensate for its drawbacks by constant care and attend to its defects as if it were a disease. We can do this by following a plan of healthy living, exercising in moderation, and eating and drinking just enough to restore our bodies without overburdening them. And as much as we should care for our bodies, we should pay even more attention to our minds and spirits. For they, like lamps of oil, will grow dim with time if not replenished. And even though physical exercise may tire the body, mental activity makes the mind sharper.”

“How wonderful it is for the soul when—after so many struggles with lust, ambition, strife, quarreling, and other passions—these battles are at last ended and it can return, as they say, to live within itself. There is no greater satisfaction to be had in life than a leisurely old age devoted to knowledge and learning.”

—excerpts from Cicero’s essay, “On Old Age,” —44 B.C.

An orator, philosopher, poet, and activist politician in his day, Cicero became consul of Rome in 63 BC—Rome’s highest political office. He wrote much that is worth reviewing and the quote above seemed to resonate for me currently, as I am paying “even more attention to (my) mind and spirit, so that they won’t “…grow dim with time.” My life is not what I would describe as “leisurely” exactly, and although I do have more time to devote to “knowledge and learning,” it’s still a struggle to balance what is possible to do and what is required of me.

This month I wanted to set the stage for a review of some of the main foundational subjects about which I have been writing, particularly for those who may be only recently encountering the nearly three hundred postings here. Over the past several weeks, I have spent a fair amount of time in support of my newest granddaughter, who just arrived home from the hospital this past weekend, and I’m happy to report that she is not only well and healthy, but simply perfect in every way.

Holding my beautiful granddaughter and sharing intimate family moments is not only a privilege of great value to me, but perhaps even more importantly, it is an unambiguous affirmation of the existence of the human spirit, which may not be possible to achieve in another way. The awareness of the presence of spirit in this situation is primarily intuitive and subjective, but unmistakable.

Her arrival on Earth has been a momentous one for the family and watching my son and his wife caring for their first child, feeling all of the emotions and concerns that come along with it, I can’t help but reflect on these very same moments in my own life, when I brought my son home for the first time.

 

 

The experiences I have known as a grandfather or any number of individual phenomena clearly cannot, by themselves, fully explain or illuminate comprehensively the broader subject of the nature of our subjective experience of human consciousness, nor do they necessarily compare in intensity or magnitude to other reported mystical or spiritual awakenings over the centuries, but considered together in the broadest sense of human experience, they do provide a window into the character and quality of our humanity, and since I bring decades of serious contemplation of the subject with me to such experiences, for me, they lead to at least a solid opening for a discussion.

In order to begin to understand our subjective inner experience, we have to imagine what life must have been like for our earliest ancestors, who possessed all the requisite physical structures for a comprehensive cognitive system in their brain architecture, but were only slowly becoming self-aware in a meaningful way, and who were beginning to devise ways of demonstrating it to themselves and to their fellow Homo sapiens. These capacities did not develop suddenly, nor were our early ancestors equipped initially to make use of them once they did appear. Our ancient beginnings were humble indeed.

Although several locations in Europe boast of ancient cave paintings with remarkably detailed renderings of a variety of animals known to exist in prehistory, there have been very few discoveries of images or objects depicting human figures recovered in excavations of prehistoric archeological sites in Europe, and the earliest occurrence of such images in any significant number now appear to have been located in South Africa, in the Drakensberg Mountains.

According to the popular PBS documentary series, “Civilizations,” the San Bushmen hunter/gatherer culture produced a number of displays of prehistoric artwork, placed there tens of thousands of years ago, which feature multiple instances of human figures included in the paintings on the cave walls of those ancient sites, indicating some of the earliest links to what the narrator describes as “…clues to the birth of the creative impulse, and modern human self-consciousness.” I highly recommend you locate this series on your local PBS station or other outlet, and several of these images are from the series.

Discoveries in several locations throughout the African continent provide remnants from the ancient world, which suggest evidence of the earliest attempts to build large communities, based on practical considerations of sustenance and survival, like the early development of agriculture about ten thousand years ago.

About seven thousand years ago, in what we refer to as the “fertile crescent,” and “the cradle of civilization,” in the area between the Tigress and Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq, the first evidence of the establishment of “true cities,” can be found in areas where the remains of ancient cities like Eridu and Uruk were once located.

Perhaps as early as five thousand years ago, artwork became more deliberate and more potent as these early civilizations became more complex as unified cultures, and centers of power. Some of the earliest recorded writings in ancient scripts, according to the narration in the series, recorded ordinary events like “…the payment of taxes,” but sometimes “…told the stories of gods and heroes.”

Around four thousand years ago, the ancient Egyptians began to establish trade with the Minoans, on the island of Crete, part of modern day Greece. The gradual rise and eventual disappearance of many of the ancient civilizations led to a blending of traditions, and the dissemination of a variety of languages and cultural influences, which are still evident today in our modern societies.

Even more intriguing, was the discovery of the ancient city of Petra in modern day Jordan, established by the Nabataean Empire around 400 B.C., where the thriving culture carved out some of the most spectacular stone edifices of ancient times. Although the living, breathing trade center and creative culture in what was then the capital city of the time, only lasted approximately three hundred years, they left behind an extraordinary legacy of engineering acumen, evidenced in the “…cisterns and reservoirs,” to trap the winter rains, and a flourishing artistic heritage in the stone sculptures, elaborate mosaics, and legendary gardens, enjoyed by a population at its peak of about 30,000 people.

Looking back over the millennia through recorded human history, it appears that while our cognitive and creative capacities during these early epochs, began to gradually produce ever-more elaborate demonstrations of “modern human self-consciousness,” it would take tens of thousands of years to develop a more nuanced and sophisticated capacity for our modern day form of human consciousness.

…more to come…

Awareness and Consciousness

“Solitude seems to me to wear the best favor in such as have already employed their most active and flourishing age in the world’s service…We have lived enough for others; let us at least live out the small remnant of life for ourselves; let us now call in our thoughts and intentions to ourselves, and to our own ease and repose…”

—excerpt from Michel de Montaigne’s “On Solitude.”

Greetings to all my subscribers, casual readers, and visitors here. Hopefully, 2019 is shaping up to be a better year for us all, and I encourage everyone stopping by or returning here for a visit to remain open to new ideas, and to look inward to seek an expansion of our understanding of ourselves and the world-at-large in the New Year.

Over the past eight years on John’s Consciousness, the primary subject I have chosen to pursue, concerning the complex machinations of our subjective experience and the nature of consciousness itself, can be quite challenging to write about in a way that is accessible to the general reader, and I am constantly searching for ways to relate my own and other people’s personal experiences as a means of illuminating the many facets and mysteries surrounding the human subjective experience. The subject also requires of the readers here having some familiarity with the subject from a modern perspective, and now that I am enjoying a greater degree of “ease and repose,” I feel compelled to “at least live out the small remnant of life,” that remains, by attempting to summarize my general understanding of the subject as well. This is the first installment of that summary, which hopefully will be followed by a more elaborate treatment of specific areas of concern in the blog posts to come.

Possessing a comprehensive cognitive awareness of being aware, knowing that we exist, and knowing that we know, so far as we know, can only be attributed to humans currently, which uniquely empowers us to know we exist as a self-aware, individual person, to devise complex plans, to imagine unseen worlds, and to choose even reprehensible or unnatural behaviors, as well as to directly change and influence our environment. It is my contention that all of this is made possible by virtue of an elaborate synthesis of both temporal and ineffable elements. While this idea represents a challenge to our 21st century scientific community, it is not completely intractable. As with most phenomena with multiple layers of both coherent and ambiguous components, the connections between disparate elements are often only possible to discern with determined effort, and an open-minded approach as to how these aspects might come together.

Ever since the hominid brain evolved sufficiently to provide modern humans with an adequate degree of species-specific cognitive talent, which remains undetected in any other known species, the blossoming of conscious awareness slowly provided Homo sapiens with the ability to not only be aware that they exist, but to utilize this new ability deliberately and to do so quite often with a predetermined purpose, not necessarily instinctive in nature, nor in our best interests always. It seems likely that some form of this ability may have been present in several other early hominid species, but only began to coalesce into a functional and more useful process during the Aurignacian epoch, where a fuller development of our higher cognitive functioning was facilitated by a gradual but significant increase in the complexity of the cerebral cortex.

While very little solid evidence of any truly functional self-awareness has been found prior to that time, I think even the most empirically-minded paleoanthropologist would concede the likelihood, that the process of human evolution provided the capacity for our enhanced cognitive skills long before we were able to take full advantage of them or to demonstrate them.

The ability for complex thinking and to remember what we think, when combined with an expanding comprehension of the world generally in which the thinking occurred, led to an increasingly sophisticated thought process, which may initially have flourished because it enhanced our ability to survive as a species, but ultimately imparted a great deal more than a survival advantage. Once the potential for meaningful self-awareness was in place, it slowly began to manifest in demonstrative ways as we have seen in the early cave paintings by our primitive ancestors. The journey from those ancient beginnings to the modern day variety of human consciousness shows a remarkable range and variety of progress and aptitudes, which were a direct result of a gradual development of a more richly textured and nuanced human variety of self-awareness.

Ask any parent or caretaker of a human baby—especially when they occupy that role the majority of the time and are observant of the child’s progress—and they will likely report a gradual degree of increasing awareness in that child as time passes. As a child learns to accomplish a greater number of complex tasks through play and begins to make associations with objects and sounds, they will begin to demonstrate increasing sophistication with the use of specific sounds to get what they need or want.

As a direct result of trial and error in many behavioral choices, as well as accumulating experience and memory in all basic human functions, once they are able to combine their experience and knowledge of specific sounds with the memory of the results achieved by doing so, they begin to acquire an expanded functional ability with language, and undergo a transformation to a wider awareness that naturally unfolds.

What is most intriguing about observing the blossoming of modern consciousness in a 21st century child, aside from the insights we can gain about the process of cognition generally, is the intimation that there might be a correlation between the development of consciousness in children today and the evolutionary path which resulted in the achievement of cognitive self-awareness in the first place.

We infer from the available evidence in the fossil record that while our ancient hominid predecessors may have possessed remarkably similar brain architecture for hundreds of thousands of years, they were very likely not fully or cognitively self-aware in a way that would permit a more developed sense of how to utilize that awareness for much of that time.

The survival advantage conferred by a sufficiently complex cerebral cortex which could facilitate such awareness only became demonstrably clear with what is now viewed as the likely species-ending interbreeding of the Neanderthals with their more cognitively talented and successful Cro-Magnon competitors. Whatever degree of consciousness was adequate to impart that advantage to modern humans, once it took hold, sophisticated and functional self-awareness appeared to be one of the defining hallmarks of a successful hominid species.

While it is clear from an evolutionary perspective that any ability or pattern of behavior which enhanced the survivability of our species would favor those who employed them, at some point, higher levels of cognitive functioning began to impart what scientists like to describe as “secondary” or “coincidental” subsequent advantages and capacities. Creative use of our development of cognitive skills for survival, also presented us, by coincidence, with a creative capacity for art and music and mythology. Awareness of our inner mental imagery and development of a complex grammatical language to express that imagery, as an enhanced survival strategy, also just happened to provide us with a way to construct elaborate creative solutions to our questions about the mysterious workings of the world around us.

According to the empirically minded amongst us, now that we have finally progressed to the point where we can resolve many of the questions about how the universe came about and to comprehend the underlying principles of the physical laws which govern the universe we observe, whatever value creativity may have in other realms is interesting to be sure, but unlikely to yield much in the way of explanation of our fundamental character as cognitive creatures.

Those whose emphasis is concentrated more toward the ineffable or spiritual realms often tend to downplay the benefits of the empirical scientific view, except when it pertains to physical facts about our complex human biology, and feel strongly that it cannot adequately explain our subjective experience of consciousness; the “what it’s like” experience of being human. It leaves unanswered all of our most pressing questions related to the transcendent. It seems more likely to me that a comprehensive theory of consciousness will contain elements from both ends of the spectrum of ideas in this matter.

The concept of transcendence, going beyond the ordinary limits of our physical existence, and theories dealing with the incorporeal and elusive aspects of human existence, do not lend themselves well to empirical scrutiny, but the astonishingly complex workings of our evolving cognitive capacities require us to acknowledge that there may be a profoundly important fundamental connection between these concepts with the equally astonishing cognitive functioning which facilitates our subjective “what it’s like” experience of consciousness.

The idea that transcendence is expressed through our richly textured subjective experience of existence as temporal beings, and that we rely on the many complex interactions of cognitive functioning for access to our temporal awareness of the transcendent, offers a path to a possible middle ground, which may just assist us in achieving greater progress in this study.

There are several schools of thought which currently dominate the arena of consciousness study, and each one actually offers a degree of insight into what David Chalmers has called, “the hard problem,” presented by the apparent lack of adequate evidence to explain what we perceive as the naturalistic dualism of cognition and consciousness.

As Chalmers points out, even with all the progress in our current understanding of the workings of the brain, as fascinating and comprehensive as it has become recently with the great strides made in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive studies, none of it seems to account very well for the highly subjective component of experiential, sentient, self-awareness. Progress in understanding and explaining our brain physiology, which facilitates our perceptions and neurological functioning, is slowly unraveling the tangled web surrounding our observations of activity within the brain and between brain regions.

What we seem to be missing along the way, is why these astonishing discoveries of how the brain works, and the role of genetic and chemical components in the equations which describe brain physiology, as well as the advances in fMRI technology, fall short of explaining our experiential awareness. In my view, it is precisely because they do not adequately address the fullness of human consciousness, and do not take into account the many possibilities represented in a variety of alternate modern ideas, which express a burgeoning and keen awareness of an essential interaction of non-physical aspects supporting and integrating with our experience of temporal subjective awareness.

This year on John’s Consciousness, I will be working to explain and integrate some of these attempts to bring together the disparate competing theories, and to offer insights gathered over the last eight years on this site.

2019 started for me with the arrival of my newest grandchild! This newborn beauty will, no doubt, provide much in the way of educational and familial insights, as well as illuminate in a clear way, the process of gaining an increasing degree of awareness as she grows. Solitude will have to wait whenever she requires my attention and love.

Looking forward to our ongoing dialog and sharing with all my readers.

Solitude and Connection

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

–excerpt from “Nature,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

A recent conversation with a friend sent me digging through the archives to locate a brief essay I wrote years ago entitled, “Why It Is Not A Good Idea To Live Alone,” which was part of an ongoing debate about the merits of solitude, which exist independently of the benefits of healthy regular relationships with others. Since I have been writing about solitude in recent postings, I thought my readers might enjoy this brief look back at, what was then, an earnest attempt to make a case for cohabitation:

“Why It Is Not A Good Idea To Live Alone”

Everything that lives, lives not alone, nor for itself.” –William Blake

Virtually all common human activities have some social aspect in that people generally engage in them together, rather than alone, and mutually influence one another. Throughout human history, in nearly every civilization, the overwhelmingly dominant characteristic arrangement of our species has been found in the many varieties of living together.

The family unit, however loosely arranged or tenuously held together, is the foundation of life among most living creatures on our planet, and the building block of civilized society. Early humans, not restricted by social convention or modern ethical and sociological considerations still instinctively lived together in social groups for protection and survival. Due to the dangers inherent in the world of predatory dominance, a person living alone was virtually non-existent in those ancient epochs. As the human species evolved, with the advent of agriculture and the subsequent development of communities, humans became more diverse in their social arrangements and the nuclear family eventually emerged as the dominant social unit.

Around the third century A.D., the first indications of the eremitic life were discovered in Egypt. From the Greek word, “eremites,” meaning “living in the desert,” the word “hermit” is derived. Known in many cultures, the hermit generally adopts a solitary life out of an impulse to pray or to do penance.

In the fourth century, the eremitic life became known in Western Europe. In order to combine the personal seclusion of individuals with the common experience of religious duties, gradually these hermits formed groups of disciples under a particular spiritual leader. Thus, even the extreme eremitic life eventually gave way to the less rigorous community life that was the basis for monasticism. The early hermits who formed these communities had a group of separate cells called “laura,” to which they could retire after discharging the common life duties, combining the communal with personal solitude.

In modern society, there is a much heralded emphasis on the individual, and a much more flexible attitude toward unorthodox lifestyle choices, resulting in a variety of societal living arrangements. Despite this increased freedom of choice and available options, human evolution has not yet progressed to the point where we do not require close personal relationships that are developed during cohabitation.

The late Leo Buscaglia, Ph. D., former associate professor of education at the University of Southern California, and well-known author of “Loving Each Other,” asserts the vitally important role of relationships:

“Human survival is dependent upon healthy relating. The complex ongoing process of people interacting with others in harmony through each stage of life is the highest and most demanding form of human behavior. As we mature, we become more deeply aware of the devastating effects arising from aloneness.”
Instinctively, we seek out others, even though modern society tells us that strength lies in independence.

Dr. Buscaglia says, “We see ‘need’ as immature, and ‘dependence’ as weakness. We fear commitment in that it may destroy our individuality and our much coveted freedom. In so feeling, we build self-imposed barriers to genuine encounter and the deep unions we so desperately seek.”

It can also be said that while living alone can be challenging, enlightening, and even joyful, humans are by nature social beings. With each close relationship to another person, we are brought closer to ourselves. Without these close ties to other human beings, our development is seriously hindered. Recent studies by a variety of behavioral experts indicate, “…a positive correlation between human concern and togetherness, and human growth and development.”

There is no question that solitude and time to one’s self is vitally important to a balanced individual life, but the prospect of living alone for extended periods and avoiding intimate, long term association with other humans can only be a limiting and potentially harmful lifestyle.

Clearly, it is possible to live alone and to flourish, assuming some form of regular attention to maintaining and developing friendships, and at least some form of interaction with others outside of the home. It is quite another matter, to achieve a balanced life, without some exposure to both close relationships and to opportunities for solitude.

I once wrote about my appreciation for the opportunity to experience solitude, since it forced me to contemplate the importance of a particular memory, which might otherwise have escaped notice:

“I remember hearing the seagulls. Perhaps the natural spring was in a mountain near a beach. There was no other sound aside from the water, the birds, and the music in my soul. With eyes closed, the memory of the experience was fully engaged. It was a moment of repose, of silence, of solitude, forcing me to contemplate a memory of a feeling. I cannot completely or precisely replicate them. They only rise up within me in my solitude. In spite of the difference in time and possibilities, the unknown, the uncertain, the vague, all of it comes together in a moment of solitude. “

Gazing upon someone we love, and sharing the special closeness that can only come from such connections, creates a lovely memory of the experience when it happens. The memory of that experience holds particular pleasure because those aspects which we hold on to, those which mean the most to us, are the parts that we remember. And there are lots of parts–tender embraces and loving glances, but also heartaches and tears, and even profound sadness sometimes. We tend not to want to remember the difficult parts in these special relationships, because they take away from the feelings of joy and fulfillment that we associate with them. Integrating all the different aspects of our lifetime of memories takes time, and requires dedicating deliberate effort in quiet contemplation.

Even as a younger person, who was essentially on his own, I still never felt alone, at least, not in the way that I do now. I think because I am older now, I feel this aloneness more profoundly, while still recognizing and acknowledging the unity of everything that lives. The feeling combined with this recognition suggests the dual nature of all aspects of life, especially to be alone, but also to be one with all life simultaneously. It is a gift. It is a consequence of our humanity–a temporal manifestation of the infinite, the spiritual, and the ineffable. It is a paradox to know for certain that there is unity among all people, all creatures, all parts of the universe, and to feel so desperately, profoundly alone simultaneously.

Walking alone down the street, I am, all at once, completely unified with everything I see and feel and sense, in every way, and yet, distinctly alone, individual, apart. The differences between myself and other living entities is a signal that there is a variety and a number of differences in the way that consciousness manifests in the world. If you go down deep, and when we say “go in deep” or “go inward” we mean not temporally, but spiritually within us–when we do that–it emphasizes both our unification with all life and our inner separateness from it, and the simultaneous recognition of both becomes clearer when we withdraw within.

Here’s to the hope for all those who wish to find a connection to the path that leads away from being alone, that they will find that path, and truly flourish and grow into a fullness of life underway.

All Heaven and Earth Are Still

All Heaven and Earth are still though not in sleep,
But breathless, as we grow when feeling most;
And silent, as we stand in thoughts too deep:—
All Heaven and Earth are still. From the high host
Of stars to the lulled lake and mountain-coast,
All is concentered in a life intense,
Where not a beam, nor air, nor leaf is lost,
But have a part of Being, and a sense
Of that which is of all Creator and Defence.

–excerpt from Canto III of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” by Lord Byron, 1816

In the current maelstrom of life in the 21st century, it may seem from the accumulated reports from across the globe, that Lord Byron was recounting the state of the world from an impossibly gentler time, when stillness was a great deal more common than it seems to be in our time. In some ways, of course, it may be true that our modern world has become less amenable to calm and stillness, with fewer opportunities to stand in deep thought, or to appreciate a lulled lake scene, or to be soothed by the gentle rhythms of a mountain coastline. Our apparent societal obsession with the advancements in digital technology and the relentless machinations of the 24-hour news cycle, may make it appear as though “life intense” no longer infers a condition where “not a beam, nor air, nor leaf is lost.”

In spite of the demands of modern life, there are still opportunities for appreciating the view of heaven and earth “…from the high host of stars.” For Christmas this year, I received a signed copy of “Infinite Wonder,” a book by astronaut Scott Kelly, detailing his year in space aboard the International Space Station. The photo above is one of the many views provided by our participation in the work being done 250 miles above the earth. Thanks to the efforts of astronaut Kelly and the many international participants in the space program, anyone who wishes can now appreciate these “unspeakably beautiful” images of the Earth from space, and realize that the stillness of “heaven and earth,” from this perspective is fully available to any who have eyes to see, and the ability to ponder “thoughts too deep.”

Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt
In solitude, where we are least alone;
A truth, which through our being then doth melt,
And purifies from self; it is a tone,
The soul and source of Music, which makes known
Eternal harmony, and sheds a charm
Like the fabled Cytherea’s zone(*)
Binding all things with beauty;—‘twould disarm
The spectre Death, had he substantial power to harm.

–Canto III again…(*) —Cytherea’s Zone – refers to the fabled belt or girdle (zone) of Aphrodite/Venus, the goddess of love (Cythera was the mythical birthplace of the goddess), which conferred upon by any mortal who wore it, the power to attract love.

Recently, as I have spent more time in solitude, I have begun to understand how Byron concluded that when we spend more time there, “where we are least alone,” we come upon a truth, which illuminates an “eternal harmony,” at the heart of life. Last year, depicted in the photo above, I performed a scene for my family during our annual Christmas celebration, which I wrote as part of a larger work-in-progress, where I reflect in solitude, and affirm Byron’s contention that such contemplation “stirs the feeling infinite:”

When I’m alone, looking back over the years, I can still hear the beautiful song of hope that played in my head as a child. It’s like a siren song. I believed in it. I believed in it because it was not a song that leads to destruction, but one that was calling me to my task. That beautiful voice gave me hope. Now that I look back on it, I know that it was not just one voice. I know that each time I heard it, I recognized the spirit who dwelled within it…it may be the voice of my unborn grandchild…it may be a voice from the future or from an ancient past. I know that essence. In unguarded moments, in the silence between words, in moments of quiet contemplation, I know that it is a part of me, telling me to move forward with hope.

Spending more time now in contemplation has provided me with opportunities to reflect and focus on the meaning of a lifetime of experiences and “deep thoughts,” which were so rare during the demanding work schedule I pursued. For many people, the frenetic pace of modern life, with so much more attention being paid to our digital lives, rather than our temporal and spiritual lives, contributes to an awareness for some of us of an emotional and spiritual deficit, which we try to fill with “mindfulness programs,” which often seem more materialistic, emphasizing profit, rather than providing the personal benefits possible when applied empathetically as a therapeutic approach to the modern challenges of life in the 21st century. Anyone can subscribe to one of the many offerings made available through large for-profit organizations, and some of them do provide portions of age-old wisdom traditions in a way that might lead to a more considered approach to those challenges, but with the additional requirement for monetary contributions, when there are other religious and spiritual centers which provide similar programs without cost.

During the past eight years here at John’s Consciousness, I have endeavored to provide some sense of the underlying “eternal harmony,” which I believe exists within us, and which can be accessed regardless of our ability to participate in the modern amenities available in such for-profit programs. This is not an indictment of any such program or a criticism of those who participate in them, only a suggestion that when we seek outside of ourselves for the answers to our most pressing personal and spiritual challenges, what we often find is that we can often better serve those goals by taking what we find and comparing it to our own inner sense of what life requires of us in pursuit of these answers. With a consistent and concerted effort to explore our inner world in this way, we can arrive in a place where our very human spirit and our evolving inner life can expand and become fuller, even in consideration of our jam-packed modern lifestyles.

In the coming months, I will be devoting more of my time to expanding on the work I have accumulated over the past eight years, and presenting examples of the many ways in which we, as individuals, can enhance our understanding and appreciation of the pathways leading to a greater spiritual and less materialistic approach to modern life, and sharing the many stories of all the various experiences and explorations that contributed to my present world-view. As the previous year recedes and the new year approaches, as is usually the case with me anyway, I engage more fully in contemplation of what I have learned and what still remains unanswered, and how to discern which efforts in which areas may provide me with an improved path forward. I thank each and every one of my readers and commenters for their continued support and encouragement in this effort, and look forward to an expanded amount of sharing as life unfolds in the year ahead.

Wishing you all the best of what life can provide in the coming year. With warm regards…John H.

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Part Two

Back in June, while contemplating the wondrous display of nature right in my own front yard, I wrote about the extraordinary life force evident in the plants and trees that burst forth with such intensity every summer, and how I marveled at their tenacity to find a way to overcome their circumstances to flourish and grow, almost beyond belief:

https://johns-consciousness.com/2018/06/09/the-extraordinary-in-the-ordinary/

As the months progressed since that posting, I have been monitoring and photographing my efforts to tame the wilderness encroaching upon my house, and in spite of my determined efforts to prune and chop down the overgrowth, Mother Nature continued to impress me with her tenacious refusal to allow my efforts to completely stop her progress. In the image below, I recorded the winter status of a rogue tree growing right in front of the window on the living room side of the house:

As you can see, this errant seedling had grown beyond the height of the roof and was already tangled in the power lines running from the house to the power pole out front. At the time, I was reluctant to chop it down since I enjoyed the amount of greenery that it added to the front yard, and had observed the changing leaves in the autumn with great pleasure. When I saw this scene in January, I realized that it had clearly grown beyond the point where it was just nice to look at in the change of seasons, and when the opportunity presented itself in June, I enlisted the assistance of my young grandson Alex, 15, to bring it down.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

As much as I wanted to see the leaves on this beautiful rogue sapling turn again in the autumn this year, I reluctantly agreed to chop it down, carefully avoiding damage to the wires, while standing on a stepladder, amazed at the strength and weight of the trunk of a tree that had only been growing for a few years.

Much to my surprise, several months later, in September, right at the end of the summer season, the stump had sprouted an astonishing number of tiny branches that seemed to burst into being in a matter of weeks:

After careful consideration, I decided to let the bunches of greenery play themselves out in the coming fall season, hoping the leaves might turn and provide an attractive image for my annual photographic ritual of recording the changes. It seemed that Mother Nature had other plans. Just last week, my hopes appeared to be thwarted by both the peculiar weather patterns this year, which provided an unusually high amount of rain in November, and sudden cold spells which simply seemed to kill the leaves off:

It was disappointing from my perspective, but also a completely natural development given the circumstances, so I decided this week to just go out there and remove all the dead branches, and noticed that the vines had surrounded the stump, probably contributing to the choking off of nutrients to the abbreviated stump. As I followed the winding tangle of vines, it led me to the brick wall where they had begun to aggressively climb and cling to the front of the house. It seemed that in response to this attack, the only sensible response was to remove as many of the vines as I could:

With the wind at my back, and momentum built up in my determination to avenge the destruction of the greenery, I decided to trim the vines from the light pole which had completely overtaken the light in over the summer. The result was unexpectedly satisfying:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

The swiftness of the change of season this year, and the disadvantageous conditions that diminished the number of colorful leaves, while disappointing in one way, made the necessity of pruning the branches and removal of the vines much easier to execute. Once begun, I seemed to gather a fairly robust amount of energy to complete the task, and once it was done, I consoled myself with reviewing some images from previous autumn photos from years gone by:

One bright moment to balance out the disappointment I felt regarding the doomed sapling came the following morning when I opened the door to retrieve the morning newspaper. (Yes, some of us still like to read an actual printed newspaper!) When I opened the inside door, there was a leaf from the tree out front stuck to the storm door, which was wet from the rainfall overnight–one of the few colorful leaves of the season. I took it as a small compensation for the deficits I experienced otherwise, and I smiled right away and snapped a few photos of it, just to capture the spirit of the moment.

It wasn’t lost on me as I ripped the vines away from along the wall, as well as those which were strangling the tangle of branches surrounding the plants and trees and the lamp post, that Mother Nature will no doubt continue to press on with her relentless pursuit of growth, in a perfectly natural and ordinary way. Even my own pursuit of efforts to curtail the overwhelming abundance of creeping vines and rogue saplings, falls under the category of an ordinary and practical undertaking. What inspires me to conjure the extraordinary view in the face of all this activity is the obvious connection between the living plants and trees with the living creature perpetrating the removal of the overgrowth. My own spiritual growth, which was clearly enhanced and illuminated as a consequence of the almost meditative state required to perform the actions in direct opposition to the implied goals of the abundant greenery in my yard, parallels the imperceptible natural growth of the plants and trees that occurred over several years when my attentions were elsewhere. I can’t help but feel that our natural inclinations in the pursuit of spiritual growth may be directly related to the natural incremental growth of everything that lives. The living spirit of the Earth itself mirroring the spirit within each of us.

After completing my task for the day, I stood silently near the scene and took a moment to simply breathe and be present, reminded of the importance of this very moment now. We must be present and allow ourselves to open to the extraordinary in order to know it and bring it into our awareness.

Navigating the Path Inward

In the stillness of the morning, as I attempt to venture inward, I am uncharacteristically ill-at-ease. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over my journey; an inexplicable degree of reluctance to disengage fully from my worldly concerns prevents me from easily letting go as usual. Normally, I can easily quiet my mind, gradually descend through the layers of consciousness, and with minimal effort, center myself. In doing so, I typically am able to arrive once again where I left off, able to resume the journey, and to recognize and evaluate both how far I’ve come, and how far I have yet to go.

Oddly enough, in spite of this unsettling struggle, the effort required to resume my journey and the difficulty I seem to be experiencing, have not dissuaded me from being optimistic about the outcome. At times like this, I often wish I could more readily summon some greater personal strength or draw upon some untapped reserve or force of will to supplement my inner energies. In the past, I simply had to persist long enough to get back on track, or to withdraw and regroup at a later time in order to feel more confident in reaching the next step, and to resume the path of exploration.

I’ve conducted a great many such explorations of my inner world over the years, and, most often, once begun, it has been nearly impossible to contain myself, only occasionally requiring an additional effort to sustain momentum. This current bout of uncertainty is less familiar, but no less daunting. Over time, I have released much from within me, but I still typically sense that more is to come. How it will eventually turn out is still a matter of some speculation, and yet, I feel as though I am at least still headed in the right direction. If the problem persists, I may need to engage some sort of personal muse to awaken the inner strength to push me forward, and to drive me to go deeper—to reveal more.

I am feeling a bit lost, yet, not totally so. I have a sense of the landscape, but at times, it seems my eyes are either closed or unable to see clearly; the only way to progress requires me to redouble my efforts to relinquish my concerns about what I may or may not currently be able to see or feel, and to descend through the layers of my inner life to arrive at the core of my being, where all is one. After a short break, I once again resume my efforts to withdraw within, after conjuring and then utilizing the following words to help me focus:

“I am slowly descending now through the layers of consciousness. I am letting go of the temporal world. I am releasing my temporal self and my conscious thoughts. That which is me, that which my mind engages—thoughts, feelings—all of it—I release them all.”

As the weight of all these considerations becomes less, I am finally able to dissolve the partitions of objective existence, and to slowly descend into my inner world. As I navigate the path inward, I must allow my spirit to incrementally consume me, so that it can seek out and attain a degree of solace and inner solitude, and thoroughly relinquish all that concerns me as a conscious being; it is in this “place” where the temporal world crosses over into the intangible world.

I don’t have a clear view of it. Even my most earnest attempts to describe this process cannot accurately express what is taking place. I believe what I seem to “see” is not visual in nature, and there is no recognizable sensation—it doesn’t feel like anything I usually feel when I am awake and conscious. It actually doesn’t feel like anything at all, and as I reflect upon these moments later, I know there is nothing at all that it is like. It is not sensory. It is intangible, and the impressions I am left with afterwards, seem to have “floated up” from this “place.”

The resulting impressions sometimes inform my subsequent attempts to achieve a meditative state. I cannot say definitively what the true nature and source of these impressions might be, but upon reflection, I seem to possess a kind of “knowing,”—and I use this word as a concession because no single word can truly express it—but I know that it is real, and if there exists something akin to a “spiritual feeling,” I think that may be as close as we can come to describing the effect afterwards, and it clearly affects me deep down.

I do not pretend to know, in any more accurate manner, how to express what transpires during these episodes, expect perhaps to add that it is objectively real to me in my remembrance of it. It is always in retrospect, when I rise back up to subjective consciousness—when I reflect upon it and contemplate how I feel as a temporal being afterwards—that it seems to me, these “experiences,” in the depths of my inner world, are manifesting in very subtle ways in my temporal life after I return to the surface once again.

I have periodically noted in my personal journals, after I transcribed the words and thoughts and feelings I could recall about these interactions, when reviewing them later on as a conscious person, I occasionally only had a vague sense of having written those accounts myself. When I read the words on the page, conjured in an attempt to describe those moments again from memory, I sometimes wrote that it almost didn’t seem like the words were mine. And yet, I know they issued forth from me as my hand held the pen, or as my fingers glided across the keyboard, or as my voice echoed in the stillness as I spoke them.

It is not possible to definitively express such profound concepts, nor is it feasible to explain what takes place during such ineffable moments in terms that you might use to describe an ordinary experience, because they aren’t strictly experiential in the same sense as swimming in an ice-cold lake, or floating in the salty summer ocean.

There is no unambiguous corresponding way to describe such events. We can only search for metaphors and point in certain directions which inevitably must fall short of exactitude, since these events unfold where there is no physical space. Even so, from my point-of-view, the direction I follow within is fairly consistent in its breadth and depth, and it always brings me reliably to a realm where words and thoughts and feelings and sensations are not necessary. When I find myself there, I am consistently inspired by the strength and intensity of my inner life; my connection to it is predictably temporary in duration—so truly fleeting in the broadest sense—but it is, upon reflection, always subjectively real, and I cannot now imagine enduring my temporal existence without periodically spending even the most fleeting of moments interacting with the world within.

What Will Come

We all know that the living of an individual life, at its core, often consists of a fair amount of uncertainty. There are no guaranteed outcomes. As much as we rely upon and announce the accomplishments of our science, as we explore the physical world, and proclaim with certainty, the results of our explorations, about what is and what has been, what will come is nearly always unknown.

Granted, there are particular natural world outcomes, which we can routinely predict with a degree of confidence, for example, the characteristics of seasonal changes in the areas of the world where they routinely occur. In the spring, in the northern hemisphere, as the earth tilts gradually more toward sun, the blossoms will unfold. By the time the summer arrives, all of nature will become full and green. Temperatures will rise and the sun will burn us, unless we take precautions against it. At the same time, the opposite conditions will persist in the southern hemisphere. There it will be more like our winter; the earth tilts away from the sun, and alters the temperatures in such a way, that will require those who inhabit that area to dress appropriately for significantly cooler conditions. For them, the celebration of Christmas is a summer festival, in much the same way as those of us on the opposite side of the globe celebrate our traditional summer events.

The inclination of the earth, tilting on its axis, in our hemisphere, creates the increasing heat and humidity typical of our summer months, while simultaneously lowering the temperatures on the opposite side of the world. Neither one of the hemispheres, regardless of the season, can lay claim to having the “right” conditions for summer or winter. Neither one can be described as “unnatural.” Our perceptions are simply two different views of the very same experience of life in different locations on our planet.

Yet, as we view a life lived in our accustomed and predictable seasonal conditions, all that we know, all that we experience in our lives, often reflects our expectations of these changes as an essential component, and when circumstances vary from what we typically expect, either through travel or unexpected variations in the weather, the altered states we encounter can be disorienting.

So it is with our lives as viewed over the span of years. We are born helpless and remain young for an extended period of time, and if we are fortunate, we live to see advanced age, gain a degree of perspective in the process, and only relinquish our lives after a lifetime of experience, when we can truly claim to have survived until we are “old.” As many of us who have endured through the passing of many years can attest, our view of life as a young person was likely, in many ways, far different once we arrived in this timeframe; perhaps, we might even wish to describe our viewpoint as the “opposite” of what we thought back then.

None of it—not the beginning, nor the end; not the heat, nor the cold; not the summer, nor the winter; alters the life within us. Regardless of where we live, what language we speak, what conditions exist around us—in every case—every living being is alive and existent in the physical universe, for as long as that life can be sustained; we each experience our individual lives subjectively and over time, accumulate the knowledge and experience that makes us who we become.

Whether there are many advantageous opportunities or only a few; whether we enjoy robust health or suffer through disease; whether we live with a degree of abundance, or suffer a life of scarcity or lack of resources; whether we enjoy the pleasures of a tropical paradise, or suffer the challenges of life in the arctic regions; all life, all peoples in every corner of our planet, while they live, experience the uncertainties of life. No matter what they look like, what they believe, or where they grew up, each one is a human being who deserves the opportunity to live as best they can, according to their talents and by their determined efforts to carve out a life as a person in the world.

No matter where you look, no matter to what region of the world you travel, you will find a robust variety of conditions—examples of great progress and great tragedy; evidence of tremendous accomplishments and devastating failures; examples of extraordinary love and compassion, along with the unfortunate reality of bitterness and hatred—all taking place in the same world, among the same people, only varying as the result of different choices. Some of us succeed gloriously in our efforts; some fail unerringly; some rise and fall, some will rise and stay risen; some will fall and stay fallen.

Every variety of experience and character you can imagine exists now or has existed somewhere in the world, at some period of time in the history of humanity. Throughout all of it, humans have made astonishing discoveries, and committed epic failures. Depending on how you view the world, you could easily dismiss the chances of achieving any significant degree of equilibrium in the future. We’ve already seen how the tides of fortune can change. A poor person can become wealthy; a wealthy person can lose everything; a bitter and resentful person can become compassionate and loving; severe misfortune and suffering can turn even the most resourceful person into a pessimist.

At the core of our humanity is the one unchanging and constant presence that cannot be irreversibly defeated or permanently swayed by the events of the temporal world. It is our individual human spirit or soul. Although we often experience it and view it as belonging only to us, it is more appropriate to view it as a manifestation of a much larger oneness of being—an individual experience of a universal and ubiquitous reality that unites every living entity, and which provides the foundation for the observable and the unobservable universe.

And no, this is not science. The premise is not empirically driven or provable by experiment, but it can be known by us and confirmed subjectively to exist as a component of our experience of human consciousness. All that is necessary is to simply allow ourselves the permission to probe the full realm of possibility—to look more deeply within ourselves—and to see past all the limitations and characteristic prejudices that often appear, when we view the world through the prism of materialism or the superficial criteria of our human frailties. When we view our lives as merely being surface dwellers on a random planet in an obscure corner of an unremarkable galaxy, it is no wonder at all that we experience the divisions and conflicts that we see occurring all the time. In order to overcome these limitations, it is essential that we expand our understanding of life to include the more profound aspects of our inner lives, and to seek in others, what is truly at their core—the very same spirit of which we are only one part.