Our Most Important Task

Since the very first behaviorally modern humans walked the Earth some 50,000 years ago, there has been an enhanced sophistication in their cognitive talents and an expansion of brainpower brought about by a gradually increased utilization of the human brain’s extraordinary architecture.  Fossil evidence of significantly more creative activities, like making tools out of bones, or markings and decorations on stones, which indicate a greater self-awareness and a capacity for symbolic thinking, began to appear at about that time, but there are competing ideas and sporadic finds that suggest it may have been possible even many years before that time.   

In any event, once the capacity was reached it eventually began to appear more widely in the regional human populations, and advanced rapidly after that point.  Considering the hundreds of thousands of years which it took for Homo sapiens to reach this point, it only took about 40,000 years after that early epoch to land a man on the moon.  This rapid acceleration, comparatively speaking, includes an extraordinary development in syntactically grammatical language and abstract or symbolic thinking, and with thousands of years of experience to build upon, humans have made exponential progress in scientific technologies, as well as achieving a greater understanding of the Universe in which it all takes place.

Sadly, it seems we still have a great deal of work to do in bringing all the diverse cultures and human populations up to speed on how best to proceed along the lines of modernity.

Part of the reason for the disparity in advancement for every human population can be attributed to regional differences in cultural priorities and beliefs, a variety of socio-economic conditions, as well as a lack of resources or an imbalance in the availability of opportunities that exist worldwide.

However, the limiting factors in these examples alone are not sufficient to explain the lack of advancement in the wide range of humanity.  Economic standards can be improved eventually with appropriate investment and attention to correcting whatever imbalances exist in the many regions that have them, and with a dedication to improving education and investment in forward-looking endeavors, we can help to provide the next generations with the tools they require to improve the status of whatever regions need it.   

Beyond these material or phenomenal concerns, though, is the urgent need to understand and appreciate our responsibilities as the species that can alter the future for the better, or risk failing to do so through ignorance or apathy.  We all have a part to play in the unfolding drama of life on Earth, and in order to promote a better future for all, we must be willing to do what is necessary to ensure that future generations are equipped to meet the challenges they will likely face.

Coming to terms with our true nature as evolved human beings, in my view, now requires a degree of attention to our “inner evolution.” With the rapid pace of the last 40,000 years as a guide, it seems clear that we have accomplished much in the phenomenal world of science and technology, and made great strides in coming to terms with our fellow humans, in spite of all the competition and adversarial relationships that exist among the countries of the world.  The same cannot be said of our progress in understanding ourselves. 

The broad range of human interactions these days includes just about every variety of cooperation and conflict that one could imagine.  There are no limits, it seems, to what might possibly develop in both the promise and the peril represented by today’s modern humans.  A significant factor in this uncertainty is the apparent lack of attention to our inner lives—what one might wish to describe as our truest selves.  We spend so much time concerned about the events in the wider world of human society, and yet we often neglect to consider sufficiently the most important influential factor in all of human life—our own subjective experience of consciousness. 

It may seem to us as though our own experience of our existence is less concerning than the events of the wider world, until we realize that every single event in the wider world is populated with each of us.  Every participant in world events, from the lowliest individual to the heads of state and the most famous and celebrated individuals involved—each of us has only the same singular experience of our existence.

Even though our individual experience is only one of many, the ripples of consequences of the collective experiences of all, combine in every case to influence events in one way or another.  Many times throughout human history, while the famous and celebrated have garnered much attention for their actions, and in many cases, rightfully so, none of those actions could have come to fruition without the participation of every individual involved.

Whether we are the leader of the free world or the least well-known and unrecognized participant in a crowd of thousands, each individual contributes a portion to every moment in the larger range of world events.  We may never learn of the contributions of every individual in these events, but rest assured, if the majority of unknown spirits participating in an event can alter the outcome, as we see many times in large scale events, it is only possible with the combined strength of each individual.

How important it is then to bring to each endeavor we undertake the most aware and considered self that we can be!  This then becomes our most important task, regardless of what our social status or prominence in the world might be.

A Writer’s Dilemma

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

 

Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.

 

So bitter is it, death is little more;

But of the good to treat, which there I found,

Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

 

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,

So full was I of slumber at the moment

In which I had abandoned the true way.

 

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,

At that point where the valley terminated,

Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

 

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders

Vested already with (the sun’s) rays

Which leadeth others right by every road.

 

Then was the fear a little quieted

That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout

The night, which I had passed so piteously.

 

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,

Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,

Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

 

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,

Turn itself back to re-behold the pass

Which never yet a living person left.

 

Dante Alighieri – excerpt from Canto I – Inferno

Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Illustration by Paul Gustave Doré

 

 

It is often true for me, and I suppose for most other writers as well, that it is sometimes difficult to settle down enough at my writing desk or at the keyboard to give sufficient consideration to my thoughts, and so several years ago, I began to record myself dictating them into an audio device, which produced results in a way that writing with a pen or typing on the keyboard had been occasionally less effective at capturing.  The problem soon became that I had recorded so many episodes and created so many sound recordings, without taking into consideration that I would eventually want to sort them according to the subject.  Certain ones were used quickly for one reason or another and that works out when it happens, but now there are so many, I felt the need to begin to review them and figure out a way to categorize them.

 

Some of them are just rambling thoughts, some are about subjects that are not precisely within the framework of my current writing and are less useful in that way, but every once in a while something appears that astonishes me, or by some coincidence, fits perfectly within that framework and in that sense alone it has made it worthwhile to use this method.  I think it’s interesting that many of the recordings are personal and are either reminiscing or pondering “what-ifs,” or just ideas for what might become content that I could use for some future fiction project. 

 

 

I’ve written chapters with my voice that are completely a fabrication of my wandering mind or maybe a reflection on an actual memory in the bare essence of the experience, which I then embellish or expand upon, sometimes as a means of indulging my creative urgings, sometimes as a way of expressing what MIGHT have happened had I gone down a different path.  Once the juices start flowing, it’s hard to turn them off. I have a fairly active imagination and I have plenty of vivid memories of past events; I can remember the way it felt to be in those moments very well and sometimes I am surprised when I read what I wrote later.  The level of detail is occasionally stunning to me.

 

In the process of a recent review effort, I came across a particularly surprising account, recorded while I was engaged in a long distance conversation which included the opening lines to Dante’s poem, “Inferno.” The poem itself is a huge endeavor that encompasses a wide range of ideas, and which offers the reader the opportunity to explore many different aspects of the human condition, but for me, the opening was a suggestion of how purposeful reflection can illuminate potential solutions for even the most daunting of challenges.

 

 

Over the years I have accumulated a number of extraordinary experiences which took place within remote areas of forests, while exploring pathways across mountains, and in various nature preserves, many of which became openings to the ineffable world within. Dante’s references to the “forest dark,” the “things I saw there,” the “mountains foot,” and the “heart’s lake,” all leading up to “my soul, that still was fleeing onward,” resulted in the following record of reverie, recorded one night by the fire, while inhabiting the “forest, savage, rough, and stern.”

 

 

“I completely opened myself and listened. I could feel the very essence of your emotion. There wasn’t much time left to linger, and I wanted to embrace you—to reassure you.  It seemed you had sensed this and stepped toward me deliberately.  Without saying a word, I gestured with my arms my openness to such a suggestion, which you accepted without hesitation. 

 

As I held you close, I whispered words of comfort and had already determined that the embrace would continue for as long as you wanted.  Without warning, a sense of astonishment overtook me as your inner world collided with mine.  I unambiguously sensed the presence of your spirit clearly as mine opened immediately to welcome you there. It almost felt like a blending of the two—our souls were touching.  For those few brief moments, I experienced what I could only describe as the feeling of bliss.  Our embrace was warm and firm—offered and accepted equally without condition. 

 

 

After what felt like a sufficient duration to impart a sense of comfort, we both loosened our grasp just enough to pull slightly away. I still had my arms around your waist and your hands were resting gently on my arms, as our eyes met.  I felt a truly visceral connection between us.  Our faces were briefly only inches apart. I stared directly at you for maybe thirty seconds and I did not want to turn away.  Even though words probably weren’t necessary, I still somehow felt the urge to express a willingness to be available whenever the need might arise for such an exchange in the future.  You grinned widely in gratitude, and I sensed a lessening of the sadness which brought us into that moment in time.  

 

I could barely bring myself to leave you.  I stood nearby for several minutes, almost unable to move. I had trouble focusing.  At the last possible minute, as I pushed open the door and waved, I hoped that you could feel intuitively what was in my heart at that moment—I don’t want to go!  We only came together briefly in each other’s arms. The moment was fleeting, to be sure, but all the more precious because of that. 

 

 

There is more between us than what meets the eye. We have both traveled through the ages—through the eons of time—in order to meet here in this time.  We agreed before we abandoned our previous lives that we would be together in this life.  The connection is undeniable.  The years it has taken to come to fruition, the profound sense of connection which occurred immediately upon our appearance, and the subsequent recognition of love as a grace or gift, are impossible to deny.  When my heart rises, I know that it is you.  I gaze intently into your eyes. The mere sight of you raises me up and I find myself once again.

 

You used to sing to me.  You knew I would recognize that voice when I heard it.  That would be the sign that you were here.  I never could have known how challenging the future would be, nor how complicated my temporal life would be.  Somehow you knew that I would find a way to you, no matter how long it took—no matter what sacrifice was required.”

 

 

These words strike at the very heart of the river of consciousness, and it is almost painful to acknowledge the power of these sentiments as I recorded them, but they ring so true that I cannot help but do so.

 

Recognizing that love is a “grace or gift,” and not a natural entitlement of our humanity is urgently needed in our modern society. Understanding that we must somehow find a way to yield to our most urgent longings, even recognizing that they may be neither ultimately fruitful nor fully possessed, is a truth rarely emphasized in the general population these days. We routinely see individuals desperately trying to possess them, and refusing to submit to them, often with tragic results. We are flawed beings, we humans, and often refuse to acknowledge what is patently obvious, but this brief expression of longing forced me to confront this truth.

 

 

While the sense world alerts us to the visceral embodiment of love through our intense desires, the sense world only points to something far grander and more vital in our experience of life. Even just the emotional power of the grace which inhabits these experiences, points to the spirit which is foundational to that grace, and the ebb and flow of life and love, is fundamentally a result of the same rhythms which point to the foundations of formulating the meaning and purpose they serve.

 

We must have some reinforcement or confirmation in our lives in order to appreciate that even the deficits and struggles of life must be included in order to arrive at the affirmation that it is “an incomprehensible gift just to be alive.” Such a conclusion may be much more challenging to someone deprived of basic needs or afflicted by some of life’s more daunting challenges, but it is the same struggle we all have based on the myriad possibilities for each life.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

 

 

                                                                        “Hope” is the thing with feathers—
                                                                       That perches in the soul—
                                                                       And sings a tune without the words—
                                                                       And never stops—at all—

                                                                       And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
                                                                       And sore must be the storm—
                                                                       That could abash the little Bird
                                                                       That kept so many warm—

                                                                       I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
                                                                       And on the strangest Sea—
                                                                       Yet—never-in Extremity,
                                                                       It asked a crumb—of me.


                                                                       Emily Dickinson – 1861

 

 

 

Anyone paying attention to the state of affairs in America recently knows well the challenges we have had to face these days, some of which we share with the rest of the world like the global pandemic and its economic fallout, and some that are uniquely American, not the least of which has been a terribly divisive and contentious election process this November.

While these issues have often seemed to dominate the relentless range of available news in the world’s media outlets, they often haven’t fairly and accurately represented the broad range of positive and noteworthy efforts by innumerable individuals that have accompanied those difficulties. News organizations tend to emphasize the more sensational aspects of these events generally, and in order to get a more balanced perspective, it seems that we must not only temper our exposure to such reports these days, but we also need to dig a bit deeper for sources of information that can provide additional input to help us gain that greater balance.

 

 

Emily Dickinson provides us with a good starting point in her poem, which begins with “Hope” is the thing with feathers, immediately leading us to infer a metaphorical association, as a feature which “dwells inside the human spirit,” according to an analysis on http://www.litcharts.com, and which was “written to honor the human capacity for hope.”

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief in America when the news came that there would be a change in our national leadership, and while there has been an unfortunate lack of acknowledgement by everyone in the positions of influence regarding the ultimate outcome, there can be no doubt that the tide has now turned back toward the preservation of our democracy, and away from the deliberate efforts to undermine the collective values enumerated in our founding documents.

Beyond these pressing considerations of our current national circumstances, there are other concerns that require our attention, which are much closer to our hearts and minds as members of our extended families and local communities. This morning, as I slowly rose to waking consciousness, there was an echo of a particular theme upon which I have been ruminating of late, and it played subtly over and over in my head, prompting me to sit down at the writing desk to capture whatever I could of the momentum I had built as I contemplated the start of yet another day.

 

 

There can be no greater task for us as living beings than to achieve a degree of urgency in recognizing just how tenuous and fragile our existence might become if we do not attend to our individual lives as being a part of something much greater than the daily machinations of national governance or to the selfish tendency of some to restrict their concerns to a more narrow-minded viewpoint. Our fortunes clearly do rise and fall together in important ways, and unless we can step back to some degree from the limitations produced by such viewpoints, we may eventually find ourselves in even more dire circumstances than those which might have prevailed had we not done so.

Right within our own very personal environments now, we have come face-to-face with the necessity to avoid close contact with others in order to keep us safe from a deadly virus. The very structure of our social lives has been disrupted in a myriad of ways, and as we observe the necessary precautions to preserve our health and restore a sense of normalcy, we have begun to see much more clearly how important our personal connections to others have been all along, and their absence is keenly felt.

Our family gatherings and typical celebrations have been relegated to sharing in the much less personal venues of video images and exchanges made available through the internet. While these options have their own sort of appeal by providing opportunities to actually SEE each other and to interact when being together in person is not possible, the visceral experience of proximity with other human beings is immediately raised to a level of appreciation that we hardly knew would figure so prominently in its absence.

 

 

As the year slowly winds down, we reflect on the astonishing parallels of this absence, to those which we experience in a variety of situations of loss. We miss the proximity and the personal interactions with those we have already lost over the preceding years of our lives, having accepted as far as we can the unavoidable aspects of age, accident, or illness, as well as the inevitable changes which occur as a result of the variety of fluctuations within relationships of every sort. If we are even minimally aware of the importance of our social relationships, we quickly appreciate the significance of the consequences wrought by the pandemic.

Our celebrations this holiday season will be severely limited in comparison to other years, and perhaps there might not be any better circumstance for regaining our perspective on the importance of being able to interact with our close family relations and our dearest friends. We can no longer take such relationships for granted, and once the threat of illness from the virus subsides, we should not forget the sense of loss we now feel.

 

 

A few years ago, as I documented in a previous posting at year’s end, I wrote a scripted scene which my niece and I performed for my immediate family at our annual Christmas gathering. Within that text, I included this excerpt, which now seems prescient.

“There are so many reasons for me to have hope for the future, however long it might be for me. In spite of the sometimes unceremonious departures from this life of others in the same neighborhood of age as mine, I have seen the brightness of spirit that filled many of the moments of their lives, and I am heartened beyond measure to have shared such a range of wonders with these bright spirits, that it begs the question for me…What contribution have I made…and what might I still contribute in the days to come… especially at this time in my life, when every morning is a gift, and every effort requires the presence of hope.”

May all of my readers and visitors here at John’s Consciousness embrace the spirit of the holiday season, no matter how you celebrate it, and my wish for you all is a prosperous and healthy new year to come. I look forward to sharing with all of you in 2021 and thank you all for your continued generosity and kindness as this year winds down to a close.

A Cascade of Autumn Leaves

 

Last Gasp of Summer

Sitting out in the backyard on a November morning with brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures approaching 75 degrees F, sipping on my morning coffee, it seems almost surreal given the circumstances.  Perhaps it is the last gasp of summer, or simply a consequence of a random twist or turn in the weather patterns bringing warmer air from the south currently, but whatever is responsible, it is a welcome development. The warmth of the sun on my skin is oddly out of sync with the calendar as we approach mid-November, but even as I embrace the experience of the ambient air and savor the flavor of my morning jo, I know well that it cannot last much longer, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and allow the thoughts to flow out of me while it lasts.

 

 

The day is young and there isn’t much activity in the surrounding area yet, so it is relatively quiet, with a few more distant sounds barely discernible in the background. Within there is a barely noticeable sensation of anticipation, which seems to be cautiously awaiting acknowledgement as I let go of the temporal stream of events, and open to the vibrations of my inner life.  So much of what flows through the conscious mind can be ignored or cast aside in favor of the immediate circumstance one finds one’s self in until an effort is made to focus more specifically on a separate task, and it takes an extra degree of attention to filter out what may somehow interrupt the flow of attention and disrupt your focus.

 

As I sat contemplating my next sentence, a tiny baby spider dropped on my laptop screen, momentarily interrupting my concentration, just as a curious young squirrel stirred right beside my chair, apparently expecting some sort of attention as well. 

 

Intermittent Moments of Silence

The silence is intermittent as the neighbors on either side of us stir and attend to their chores, but as I wait for the next moment of silence, I begin to notice other audible intrusions in the distance.  The leaves have begun to fall in earnest now from the backyard tree and with the gentle wind stirring occasionally, bits of tree branches or other debris also drops to the ground, disturbing the intermittent silences.

It is curious to me how much is transpiring at every moment in the yard that is only apparent when sitting in a chair awaiting the moments of quiet.  The movements of nature are generally detectable as they catch my eye, whereas the actions of people are obvious at a much greater distance since they can be heard more easily than seen.  As the sounds reach my ears and are processed by my brain, I am able to discern what they are and to decipher the degree of attention they may or may not deserve, but the activity of the natural inhabitants in the yard barely make a sound.

Now it has become a contest to see how long I can go with near-total silence before being interrupted by one or the other of the distractions currently available.  The relentless drone of distant traffic is easy enough to filter out, and the occasional bird song or squirrel chatter isn’t particularly intrusive, but even a distant single-engine plane can intrude in a way that requires a pause in the absorption of silence.

 

Melancholy Beauty

There’s a distinctly melancholy beauty about such an afternoon.  There’s hardly a cloud in the deeply blue sky; the air is unusually warm and dry; the wind rises and then dissipates in an unpredictable rhythm.  The cats have joined me in the afternoon sun, attending to their routines at my feet, and as I type these words, I feel a degree of calm that is uncommonly pleasing and refreshing.  I’m almost hypnotized by the sweetness and delightful lack of concern I’m experiencing about what comes next. This is a new sensation for me, and even though I know it will not persist as the day rambles on toward the darkness of night, I am content to allow myself to absorb each and every aspect of this sensation for as long as it lasts.  I am able to close my eyes briefly and imagine a time and place where such delight might be available on demand, but quickly realize that the pleasure is heightened by the rarity of opportunity for such experiences, and easily dismiss the idea in favor of the kind of serendipity which produced these circumstances.  When I open my eyes, I begin to look around and observe my world of the moment, to take notice of this melancholy beauty.  

 

The leaves are thinner on the branches than they were yesterday.  They are falling all around me. The air is oddly warmer than usual for the middle of November; there is a gentle breeze that stirs every so often which releases the tenuous leaves for their short trip to the ground, and there are thousands of leaves already laying on every surface outside.  It’s hard to believe that I had swept off the porch out back just yesterday, when I stand at the wall looking out over the scene.

I savor the mildness in the air and the easy breezes which send a cascade of autumn leaves all around me, and I am able to catch a few as they descend in mid-air.  These are the ones I will press into my writer’s journal and preserve them between the pages as I have many times before. 

 

Occasionally, as I peruse one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in my office, looking for a passage to quote or when reviewing the pages from one of my journals, I will encounter a leaf that was placed there years ago, and it always brings a smile to my face, knowing that it was collected from some late autumn day, sitting outside somewhere, fully intending to rediscover it at some later date.

The coffee is starting to cool off now, as I approach the bottom of the cup, and it’s time to refresh it, and review what I have written today.  The words are only pointing toward a thought, a sensation, or a feeling; they reach out in an attempt to capture a moment in time, and to make it possible for the reader to share in that moment.  

For me, it is a delight and a privilege to have this moment of life, on a warm and luminously beautiful autumn afternoon.  One day, on some bitter cold winter morning, as I prepare my coffee in the kitchen, I will bring up this entry on my laptop, and relish the memory of every delightful second, inhaling the fresh air, the sensation of warmth from the sun on my skin, and the periodic moments of silence that inhabit my world as I contemplate the exquisite pleasure I once enjoyed on one fall afternoon, not so long ago.

Epilog:

This morning before I posted this entry, I walked out into the brilliant sunlight out in the backyard; I was astonished to see that overnight nearly every leaf left on the trees just yesterday appeared now to be on the ground.  The trees out back are now almost completely leafless, with a few stragglers still clinging to the nearly bare branches. 

It began to sink in that winter is well on its way now, with cooler temperatures and shorter days, and reluctantly grabbed the rake out of the shed to clear the avalanche of leaves off the deck.  As I began to work, I enjoyed a brief moment of Zen, looking down at the various and multi-colored remnants of the season now ending, embracing with gratitude, the memory of the numerous pleasures experienced during the autumn this year, while still hoping for a gentle or less harsh winter season to come.

 

A Teacher’s Dream

 

A Teacher’s Dream On the Nature of Time

 

After enduring an intense and startling dream about a difficult personal experience,  upon rising it was apparent to me that during the dream, I had acknowledged an important aspect of my own way of being, which has occasionally created challenges for others, due to my inclination toward emotional involvement, when interacting with them. While still in the dream, I seemed to understand and appreciate the predicament my emotional intensity could sometimes create, depending on the circumstances, even though I was still unable to avoid expressing it in real terms as I understood it.

In this instance, I had been engaged in an emotional conversation with a friend, and while it wasn’t a particularly unpleasant interaction, I left the room abruptly and proceeded down a hallway to a short set of stairs, where I promptly sat down in the stairway and began to weep for a moment or two.

 

 

The very next moment, I found myself walking outside in a large park of some kind, and pulled open a large green metal gate, just enough to allow myself to squeeze by and descend a long walkway leading to an open area, where a family activity was underway, and as I engaged the members of the family in the middle of this scene, I somehow found myself having to explain my reason for being there.

I shortly left that area and walked up to an adjacent building, and entered a hallway leading up to a large room with a group of young students, waiting to have a class.  The subject of the class was to be the nature of time, and it became apparent after a few moments that I was about to assume the role of teacher in that room.  As the classroom settled down, I started to speak.

 

 

 What follows is a surprisingly lengthy accounting of the ideas I expressed in that setting:

 

“The nature of time is not like a river,” I began, “as most people think of it.  It is more like a continuum.”

 

“The concept of time itself is still somewhat mysterious, especially when you consider that the current wisdom on the subject suggests it is not a linear phenomenon moving inexorably from the past to the future, creating a relentless flow of events taking place, but rather as a streaming sequence of moments that follow each other at all times. It appears now that we may be the ones traveling through time, which exists as a constant, and within which we always participate in our own way.”

 

 

“When we speak of ‘where we are’ at any given moment, it may be more correct to speak of ‘when we are,’ when that moment takes place.  The moment in which any event takes place has always been there before we ‘arrived,’ and remains there long after we have ‘departed’; it is we who are ‘traveling’ through the time continuum, experiencing each moment as we ‘arrive’ in it, and remembering each moment after we move on to the next.  Time doesn’t flow; moments in time remain where they have always been since time began, and where they will remain for whatever amount of time our universe continues to exist.”

 

 

“The beginning of the existence of space occurred at the ‘Big Bang,’ and with it, the existence of time as we experience it also began.  As we now know, for example, the light ‘arriving’ on Earth from space of distant stars, depending on how many ‘light years’ distant they are from us, is doing so long after that light actually left the location of those stars, and so the light from a star that is 100 thousand light years away, is only now arriving when we look up at the area of the sky where it can be seen, but what we see is light that left that location 100 thousand years ago.”

 

 

“The idea that time flows is based on the assumptions we make as physical creatures, who exist on a planet which rotates predictably about every 24 hours in its orbit around the sun, part of the time facing the sun, and part of the time facing away from the sun, which is also tilted part of the time more toward the sun in one hemisphere, which then eventually ‘wobbles’ back the other way, so that the opposite hemisphere then is tilted more toward the sun.  The entire planet travels in an orbit around the sun, predictably about every 365 days, and presents us with the experience of the ‘passage of time,’ with seasonal changes taking place as a result of the tilting of the angle of the Earth toward the sun, and the apparent ‘rising’ and ‘setting’ of the sun as we spin on an axis.”

 

 

“Time itself is unchanging, unmoving, existing at all moments as we experience them, and those ‘moments’ that seem to unfold as we ‘arrive,’ have been there waiting for us all along, and the moments which we describe as being in the ‘past,’ are still there, as we remember them, but to which we cannot physically return, since we are the ones ‘traveling,’ through the continuum of time.”

 

“It’s not obvious from our experience of the time continuum that this is the case, and as physical creatures, our perceptions of time and space and of the sequential events that we experience as our daily existence, rely on our sensory systems of sight and sound, scent and taste, and the all-important sense of touch, to determine what is happening in each moment.  Since we are limited in each of these areas regarding the range of what we can experience, as sophisticated and complex as the process of sensory experience truly can be for each of us, our perceptions of our experience can only provide us with a partial picture at best.”

 

 

Some Afterthoughts Upon Reflection

When I awoke from the dream, I immediately got up and wrote down everything I could remember.  I was astonished to see how much I was able to recall of what transpired in the dream.  It was an extraordinary dream sequence that I actually found somewhat disturbing, at least in the sense that I seemed to be quite familiar with the environment and the individuals within it, but have never actually experienced any such circumstance in my waking state.  I don’t have a clear sense of how I could have arrived at an explanation of the nature of time in this dream, even though it seemed to make sense to me while in the dream state.

 

 

Through the development of our advanced technologies, we have been able to extend our knowledge about the nature of our physical existence, and expand our understanding beyond the speculations and superstitions of the past. Even with every advancement made over the tens of thousands of years in which humans have been capable of deliberate investigation and subsequent discovery, there still remains much that we have yet to fully understand, and mysteries abound throughout the Universe, some of which we are likely not yet aware.  Exploration continues at an amazing pace in many areas of science and technology, but our understanding and appreciation of the fullness of our experience of life seems often not to be keeping pace.

 

Physical Reality

Physical reality, within which our moment-to-moment experience of life as a human being takes place, has revealed many fascinating and terrible aspects of existing in a physical universe, and we know for certain now, that there are a number of layers to our experience of space and time, which clearly do exist, but which we cannot affirm or prove using any traditional scientific methodology.

 

 

 

No one has ever actually seen an electron, traveled at the speed of light, or penetrated the farthest reaches of space, but their existence is not in question.  Other dimensions outside of the three we experience physically and the one dimension of time as we know it must exist, in order for the ones we experience to be explained.  Since they are somehow beyond the capabilities of our science to detect or demonstrate currently, we must “infer” their existence, based on what we do know.

The entire universe, in which all of everything takes place, appears to be made up mostly of undetectable “dark matter,” and is being influenced by some kind of undetectable force we call “dark energy,” which is responsible for the expansion of the universe currently. 

There are even limits to our knowledge regarding the well-understood force of gravity, which show up when we encounter what we call “black holes,” like the one at the center of our own galaxy.  No one really knows the full extent to which such extreme gravitational forces might affect our physical reality, but we do know that we don’t want to get too close to a black hole.

 

 

All of these ideas and explorations show us an undisputed aspect of our existence—there are a great many parts of our experience as a human being which are clearly understood and known, and still others which are beyond our understanding and which remain, as yet, unknown.  There are many aspects of our existence which we can demonstrate and explain through science, and others which may never yield to any scientific investigation we might devise. Even so, the existence of such aspects can be “inferred,” as a consequence of what we know to be true subjectively, and which point toward a level of experience that exists outside of our temporal existence. 

 

Experience and Existence

The words “experience” and “existence” are themselves an approximation based on our limited physical capacities for perception and observation of physical phenomena.  Any person with a nominally functional sensory apparatus, and central nervous system attached to a functional human brain, who has accumulated a sufficient amount of knowledge of the world, can determine that they exist physically and appreciate the range of experience possible through the use of those assets.

 

             Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

Every “experience” in the temporal world is made known to us and is understood through our perceptual and cognitive talents as humans, but our objective knowledge and appreciation of what takes place temporally is only part of the story.  Our objective physical “existence” is perceived and processed by our physical systems, but our moment-to-moment “experience” is profoundly and wholly subjective in nature, in spite of being reliant on our brains and senses to sustain our access to our subjective awareness. 

 

The Nature of Light

Light photons enter our eyes and strike the retina, which is connected to our visual cortex in the brain, which processes the electrical signals it receives in various other regions, which then “inform” us as to what it is we are seeing.  Our memories of having seen similar objects is retained in the neural networks, which have been established from previous encounters, and strengthened by repetition and sustained learning.

The eye is the portal through which light is perceived, but our subjective awareness of what we are seeing does not take place in the eye.  Our cognitive functioning allows us to process all the signals coming in through our sensory apparatus, to remember what we’ve learned, and to respond according to our respective talents. 

 

Subjective Awareness

Our inner subjective awareness of our temporal experience informs us about the nature of our existence, and although it relies on objective physical systems for perception and data processing, the awareness itself is subjective, and it has no physical existence in the same sense as objects do.  Thoughts are not experienced in the same way as objects, even though they are facilitated through similar objective processes. 

We can dissect a brain, determine its physical attributes, and map out the neural pathways through which the electrical signals travel, but we cannot dissect our thoughts with a scalpel, or surgically extract our awareness.  We can injure our brains and surgically remove parts of it to impair or disable our access to awareness, but the awareness itself has no objective substance.

 

              Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

What’s Next?

In the weeks to come, I will be re-examining some of my previous work on the nature of subjective experience, in light of more recent investigations and progress in the related fields of thought surrounding the nature of our existence, and hopefully shed some additional light on the continuing struggle to determine how it is that we experience our lives in the way that we do.

Our True Nature

 

“The Buddha taught that our true nature is emptiness- a lack of a permanent Self- and when this true nature is realized, the divine states of the Brahma-viharas – loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity- emerge.”

“In the teachings of the great yoga masters, our true nature is Brahman, the universal soul, of which the individual soul is simply a part. When this is realized there is ‘satchidananda,’ the awareness of bliss, from the knowing that pure awareness is our ultimate nature.”

“There are moments small and large when we are filled with the transcendent, as though we have been lifted out of our bodies or the Divine has entered us as grace.”

“Both the path of transcendence and the path of immanence are beautiful, whole, and worthy. It is your heart that must find its true path.”

–excerpts from “Realizing Your True Nature,” by Phillip Moffitt

 

 

Inspired this week by a personal challenge to the true nature of our world and our humanity, it occurred to me that any unnecessarily extreme version of a worldview, whether it is based on science or religion or philosophy, can mitigate our ability to navigate  in the world of our everyday living, and if we could only see that much of the discord in the world could be lessened significantly by striving for a balanced approach to addressing any of the most vexing questions we are engaged in answering, we might find that greater progress is possible.

No matter how much effort we pour into finding an explanation of how everything works in the physical universe, and no matter how much progress we achieve in all of the related sciences surrounding our subjective experience of human consciousness, any effort to compose a comprehensive accounting for every aspect of our existence, if it does not include the contributions made possible through transcendence and immanence, will likely fall short of an actual understanding of our true nature.

One need not be an advocate of Buddhism in order to arrive at a better understanding of our true nature as living beings, and although ideas like the ones expressed by Phillip Moffitt provide an excellent starting place for approaching the subject in conversation and study, even those with no inclination generally to support specific religious viewpoints can join the conversation by examining the basic principles they address.  Whether or not we embrace such ideas as a matter of course or bring other opposing views to such interactions,  giving consideration to the full realm of possibility, at least as a starting point to explore the ideas presented in the quotes above, is a helpful tool in our progressive discernment process.

 

 

We are beginning to see a few hopeful signs in the willingness of scientists, philosophers, and poets, to at least listen to a greater range of ideas from their unique viewpoints, which include sincere scientific approaches, as well as genuine philosophical and spiritual inclinations found often in music, art, and poetry.  Just because some ideas come from a creative approach to human expression, they shouldn’t be automatically dismissed as “wishful thinking,” and well-reasoned, thoroughly-researched, and innovative scientific ideas should be given commensurate consideration when they are presented in the interest of moving our understanding forward.

In asking ourselves questions such as, “What could account for our intuitive sense of the unity of all life, when such clear divisions exist between species and among all levels within major branches of the tree of life?,” or “Why does anyone suppose because we are not able currently to fully account for experiences of transcendence and immanence as measurable phenomena, that giving consideration to the potential existence of such an idea isn’t worthwhile?,” we begin a dialog that can lead to an expansion of the realm of what’s possible.

 

 

I was recently able to review a National Geographic documentary, distributed by PBS, and appearing on Disney Plus streaming service, called, “The Greeks,” and prior to the Greek Civilization, much of what occurred in the world was cloaked in superstition and thought to be the result of the influence of benign Gods and malicious demons, but according to this presentation, that all changed once the Greeks set out to understand the world through reasoning and focused attention on philosophical thinking.  The mini-series is informative and interesting with a number of modern-day thinkers contributing to an overall view of how the Greeks contributed to important changes in the course of human history.

Did our inclination to abandon the notion of Gods and Demons influencing and directing the fate of humanity in the world originate in Ancient Greece?  According to historian, J.M. Roberts, who wrote a volume of “Ancient History,” published by Duncan Baird Publishing, 2004:

 

 

“The Greek challenge to the weight of irrationality in social and intellectual activity tempered its force as it had never been tempered before…They invented the philosophical question as part and parcel of one of the greatest intuitions of all time, which was that a coherent and logical explanation of things could be found…the liberating effect of this emphasis was felt again and again for thousands of years…It was the greatest single Greek achievement.”

Whether or not a “coherent and logical” accounting of consciousness might eventually include aspects of transcendence and immanence as essential components is still an open question, but a comprehensive account of the true nature of things begs the question, and requires a serious look at the kind of philosophical thinking inspired by the Greeks!

100,000 Page Views – An Appreciation

Appreciation Video

Click the link above to view my appreciation video!

 

 

It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge a new milestone achieved here at John’s Consciousness.com – the accumulation of 100,000 page views by more than 50,000 unique visitors. It has taken me almost ten years to get here, and while I understand that it is still a modest achievement in view of how long I’ve been writing, and in consideration of having reached this level as a result of the many efforts of both individual visitors and an equally modest loyal fan base, even just enduring these many years in order to accomplish the task feels like a reasonably sufficient reason to express my gratitude and acknowledge the important contributions of my readers over that time.

 

 

On the way to achieving this milestone there have been many wonderful people who have stopped by here at johns-consciousness.com, and hundreds of thoughtful and interesting comments posted over the years, from people all over the world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of the most popular posts from nearly a decade of effort in this regard, and sharing some of the behind-the-scenes stories about how they came about and, in some cases, provide some follow-up to the stories I’ve shared from years past.

 

 

I encourage my readers and visitors to share their favorites if they are so inclined, and would be glad to respond to any genuine query about any of the subjects I’ve written about along the way.

Thank you all so much for your support, and I look forward to sharing more as we move forward!

With kind regards…John H.

Reading in a Quiet House

 

The simple pleasures are often the ones that fall to the side when life gets complicated or hectic in its pace and most often, out of necessity, we are compelled to engage in the more immediate tasks and responsibilities that such circumstances require of us.  When we all recently had to confront the consequences of a global pandemic, again out of necessity, those of us in “non-essential” roles and occupations found ourselves isolated from most of our normal daily routines and social associations. The resulting conditions suddenly presented us with a much greater amount of time alone or at least with very few options with regard to activities and opportunities beyond the boundaries of our immediate locations at home.

 

 

Depending on the personal resources each of us can bring to bear on such circumstances, and the degree of wellness we experience during this time, the “social distancing” mandated by “an invisible enemy” created an environment where the constant stimulation of our modern existence dropped off precipitously, leaving many of us to our own devices as far as how to fill the time normally consumed by the routines of work and social interactions of every sort. Those who depended heavily on such interactions and work obligations for deciding which activity would take priority, suddenly find themselves in a kind of middle ground between the two worlds of routine activity and the strangeness of unexpected isolation.

 

We can certainly appreciate the challenges for parents with small and school-age children at home, as well as caretakers of those who require daily assistance under these conditions, and must acknowledge the difficulty for those whose dependents may be geographically distant. My own familial circumstances, as the parent of six grown children widely dispersed across the Northeast corridor and several southern states, at least has a familiar amount of social distancing experience taking place as a matter of course, but the social limitations and travel restrictions imposed by the current crisis affects even these routines, as visitations which were planned and might have taken place must now be postponed in the interest of reducing the spread of a highly contagious virus wreaking havoc now throughout all fifty states.

 

 

No one would wish to characterize these circumstances as advantageous in any broad sense of the word, and the toll it is taking is nothing short of tragic for thousands of families across the globe.  The pain of loss and the terrible suffering of tens of thousands of individuals across our world now could only be described as completely awful by any measure we might apply to such circumstances. Our own hearts must surely empathize with those inflicted during this time, and the stories of loved ones lost or suffering inflict us all with their potent emotional and psychological effects. We must continue to take every precaution to avoid exposure and maintain vigilance until the threat subsides sufficiently to allow a gradual return to resuming any semblance of our previous daily lives.

 

In the meantime, assuming that our mandatory isolation is taking place in a safe and illness-free environment with our immediate family or normally present occupants, or perhaps even with only ourselves, the task then becomes how to occupy our time and to maintain some degree of equanimity while we endure the crisis.

 

Even a brief review of the online offerings, which show a variety of choices for dealing with the challenge of isolation, and the innovative methods people are employing to encourage and inspire others, have demonstrated a preponderance of creativity and an unexpected level of empathy for our fellow humans that only this kind of seriously difficult circumstance might bring about. We have to decide how we are going to deal with the challenge, and looking for any positive choice possible regarding how to fill this time seems to me to be the only sensible approach, since the alternative would only make our situation worse.

 

 

Whatever method we decide to use, and whatever avenue each of us is inclined to pursue, isolation is now providing us with an opportunity to consider what matters to us personally, and giving serious attention to pursuits that may have been put on hold, as well as returning to simple pleasures that may have fallen to the wayside previously, now assume even greater urgency, given that we are compelled to occupy ourselves in ways that may not have been available before this.

 

For me, this represents a more robust return to quiet contemplation, to long and productive hours of writing, and to actually holding a physical book in my hands, turning pages, and mulling over the worlds represented in those pages, as well as having to step up my game a bit more in order to cover a greater variety of selections.  One such selection came as a suggestion from a fellow writer to review a poem by Wallace Stevens.

 

Isolation Contemplation

With much more time being spent at home these days, I’ve had more time than usual for actually sitting at my desk and have been reading and writing a bit more often, and taking the opportunity to consider more carefully the events in the world-at-large, as well as those closer to home. The photo above was taken of a tree branch right outside the window in my upstairs office, and got me to thinking about an upcoming event in my life that has been the source of some anxiety, and writing about it seemed like a good idea in order to help me prepare for it.

This week I started writing in a brand new writer’s journal presented to me as a gift over the holidays last year. On the cover of the book itself is an ancient map of the world, and as I began to record my thoughts on the first pages, I began to wonder about the origin of the map and launched an investigation to see if I could locate it. It took a fair amount of searching on the internet, but I was able to find it and it is a visually rich and intellectually appealing image, which harkens back to an age of exploration and discovery, no longer possible on the same scale except perhaps in the depths of the oceans, or out into the vastness of space.

Very rare double hemisphere map of the World, engraved by Henri Le Roy in Paris and published by Michael Van Lochum. The map is based on Hondius’ World map of 1617. The map was the first to show Le Maire’s Straits and the islands in the Pacific discovered by Le Maire and his explorations in New Guines.

When it was published in 1636, we were only just beginning to understand and fully appreciate the enormity of our planet, and much of what appears on the map is only suggestive of the actual dimensions and shapes of the land masses so familiar to us now, since we have the perspective of viewing the Earth from space.

Even though the world has been constantly changing since the beginning of time, in ancient times, they believed that most of what we could observe and know was fixed and immutable, and that the Earth was the center of the Universe. Since life was profoundly more difficult to endure and life expectancy much shorter typically, surviving past what we now call “midlife” was rare, and with the world nearly always in a state of war or at the mercy of conquering armies, there wasn’t much an average person could do to affect the outcome of events.

It has taken tens of thousands of years for humans to make sufficient progress in order to make the necessary changes that have brought us to modern life in our century. Yes, times like those we are experiencing currently may cause some to wonder aloud if we’ve actually made much progress at all, but with even a brief investigation of ancient history, we can see that life in ancient times was often “brutish and short,” and the concerns which we all feel so worried about today are, by just about any standard, far less worrisome by comparison.

Still, our lives these days do contain urgent matters with varying degrees of difficulty, given whatever kind of circumstances and limitations we encounter, and when we are pressed to make certain choices these days, it isn’t always clear which one is most or least advantageous. Due to a number of different circumstances where I live, I’ve had to make a choice to cut down the large tree out in front of my house where I have lived for nearly thirty years. She’s a grand old lady, this one, and after months of wrangling with the authorities and pondering the fate of the tree, it became clear that it has to be done.

Without getting too deep into the whys and the wherefores, the decision to take it down brought me to consider several other similar relationships with other trees, specifically, the even grander and older tree in my backyard, and one that recently came to my attention in the news. Current events have a lot of us thinking more about what is important to us generally, and while contemplating a story about a tree might not seem to fit logically into the narrative of what’s taking place now in the world, it got me to thinking about what meaning might be found in these events, and it felt right to explore it in the context of our connection to the natural world.

The story of the death of a very famous tree in California caught my eye recently and the response of people familiar with the iconic “Witness Tree,” in Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, California touched me deeply, especially in view of my own impending loss of a familiar arboreal friend out front. The story goes that the “Witness Tree,” was probably more than 100 years old, and had been the site of numerous events for locals during that time, but also served as a location for a number of Hollywood films and television shows, including “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” and HBO’s “Westworld.” In 2018, the now infamous “Woolsey Fire,” destroyed the entire set surrounding the tree, and so badly burned the iconic symbol that it wasn’t able to come back to life. One particular couple, who had their wedding underneath its canopy, posted a couple of photos typical of the many stories surrounding the tree.

 

My own reflections of my thirty-year relationship with the enormously appealing Silent Friend growing still in my backyard, give me a much greater appreciation of how these living arboreal beings could have so much importance to generations of people who interacted with them for decades. Contemplating the loss of any tree that has a familiar place in the events of our lives over a lifetime or more gives us a glimpse of what matters to us in other ways as well.

During this global crisis, with millions of individuals at risk from the virus circulating through the entire population of the Earth, it seems our best defense against it is to hunker down in our own homes, and remain isolated from everyone we know, at least physically, providing us not only with a challenging endurance run of being out of circulation, but also providing an extended period of time to reflect on the importance of all our relationships, including those we acquired right in our own backyard.

There are many thoughts bubbling up from within me as I write these days that beg for expression, and since there is ample time to attend to the need to release them, I have taken to recording them by hand in the beautiful journal that’s been sitting on my desk since the holidays, and reminiscing with my “silent friend,” out in the backyard, contemplating the impending loss of the tree out front, and how the unfortunate need for isolation from the rest of the world-at-large has provided this time for us all.

Isolation Intuition

During this time of social isolation, as we join in the efforts to support each other and to slow the progress of the recent proliferation of the virus spreading across the globe, it is important to keep in mind that even as we must sacrifice our routines and leave our normal social activities unattended for now, there are also a number of opportunities that this situation presents to us, which may have been set aside or pushed off to “another time.”

Wherever you happen to be in the world, the time has come to take stock of what is truly important in our lives, and there could hardly be a more advantageous circumstance than this one for accomplishing that, as we are compelled to spend much more time with ourselves and our loved ones. There are many hopeful stories and reports of heroic efforts in this fight to battle “the invisible enemy,” many of which involve our front line health care professionals, and all of those designated as “essential people,” who are tasked with keeping us safe, and providing basic services under extraordinary circumstances.

As there are many different people and cultures and worldviews to consider, the specific activity that may provide each of us with a degree of solace and offer us opportunities for gaining an appreciation of what is truly important can take a variety of forms, and there is no right or wrong way to deal with the social isolation we now must endure. For me, as someone who is already fairly isolated generally as a writer, and now as a semi-retired person, solitude is available much more often than in previous years as the parent of six children, now all grown up.

In a previous post about the libraries of the world, I placed myself in several scenes using digital photography magic, and a recent review of those images inspired me to place myself digitally in a few additional photos, only this time, as a way of expanding a little on the benefits of both isolation and intuition.

The background photos in these altered images are from the website of the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., and while it should be fairly obvious to those who visit here on a regular basis, my interest in Thomas Jefferson’s life and times has been ongoing since I was a small boy in grammar school.

Way back in 2001, in the Spring of that year, I had the privilege of participating in what was the Annual Spring Garden Tour sponsored by the White House, which permitted participants to roam the grounds of the White House freely, including the various gardens established by prior occupants of that fabled structure, like Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as the famous “Rose Garden.” Walking past the beautiful flowers and plants was a real treat, but standing on the sidewalk leading up to the “Oval Office,” was especially impressive.

On the website for the Jefferson Hotel was an invitation to stay there and take advantage of the Cherry Blossom display which normally takes place around this time of year. Sadly, this will not be available due to the current situation in the world, but I couldn’t help but reflect on how fabulous it was to be in that place that year. The events which took place in September of that year put an end to people walking freely through the lawns and gardens of the White House.

The quote at the top of the page by Thomas Jefferson struck me as being a very important reminder about what is truly important for everyone to consider, and while many of us are unable to go to our everyday work locations, it seems like a good time to give some serious thought to what would increase our tranquility, and perhaps also to what we might do occupationally going forward. Not everyone is working in the occupation best suited to their talents, out of necessity or other urgent causes, but time away can be advantageous to seeking alternatives and to pondering other important matters.

Tranquility is achievable in many different ways, but being socially isolated at length gives us a rare opportunity to explore the many options available without the usual interruptions, as well as precious time that normally isn’t available.

Our intuitive sensibilities can be enhanced in circumstances such as these, by allowing us an extended opportunity to seek out information regarding methods of developing and exploring our natural endowment as cognitive creatures, and also to practice techniques for tuning in to our own inner strengths and capacities. There are a number of resources available that do not require physical social interaction, which can be a starting point for the uninitiated, and a launching point for a deeper understanding for those already engaged in seeking to improve or enhance their intuitive senses.

One of the most interesting and commonly available areas to explore in this effort is the intuitive response many of us take for granted, when we encounter others in our travels, who immediately strike a familiar chord within us, one way or another, and we somehow know deep down that our response is warranted. This awareness of familiarity or a keen sense of a positive or negative response is often the result of a deeper level of awareness within us, of which we may or may not be fully or consciously aware. A certain degree of intuition seems to be inherent in our basic cognitive capacities, and depending on our upbringing and educational environment, there may be some additional enhancement, especially if we are encouraged by our caretakers to heed this instinctive inclination.

 

As we navigate through these difficult days of social isolation, it will be very important for all of us to keep in mind, that adversity and struggles, while challenging to endure, are vital to the well-being of all of us now, and since we are already required to stay home and to be socially responsible to our fellow humans, we might as well use the opportunity to attend to those important matters we normally try to defer to “another time.”

This is the time. The present moment now is where all possibilities exist, and we can think ahead, ponder the important questions, and imagine a world where sitting in the Jefferson Hotel library and staying there during the future Spring Cherry Blossom displays might just be what the doctor ordered.