This was first written on 20/11/2019
The vulnerability of our biological nature does not define us. We are also spiritual beings. This does not mean we are made of two different parts, or substances. It means that we experience ourselves in two fundamental, and differing, ways: the outer and the inner, the external and the internal, the visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual dimensions of our experience, of our nature.
Like all living creatures we are bio-spiritual beings. These two dimensions of our nature are neither separate nor in conflict. Nevertheless so much human suffering, struggle and confusion arises from the differing weight and emphasis we give them in our daily living. We are always driven from within, by what we feel: huger, pain, joy, enthusiasm, curiosity, anxiety, insecurity. Yet we almost always navigate and strategise by the outer, by what we have learned about the world.
This shows itself even in our vocabulary. We have many words for, and can make much finer distinctions amongst, the objects and actions that populate and define the external world. We have a much more limited vocabulary for our inner experience.
Take the phenomenon of consciousness, for example. It is the ground, the root of our lives. Without it we could neither think nor speak about anything. We could not even experience anything. Yet how rich is our vocabulary of consciousness? How many distinctions can we make amongst its properties, its frequencies? What if any is the difference between consciousness and awareness? What is the relationship between intelligence, consciousness and awareness? Our internal vocabulary is so limited that even these questions are not so clear in their meaning as the kinds of difficult questions we ask and answer about the external world.
This leaves us not only ignorant about, but alienated from, our spiritual nature. Yet here it is. It does not go away in our ignorance. It still expresses itself, but not into our conscious understanding and experience. This is a disaster.
It not only leads, by way of good intention and honest aspiration, to the tragedies and terrors of religious fundamentalism, but also bounces off them into denying the existence of the spiritual altogether. Within the materialist fundamentalism of some well educated minds there is actually no such thing as consciousness. In that view consciousness is simply an impression, a delusion generated by neurological sophistication.
So we are left stranded between or amongst the speculative metaphysics of religions and their cultish cousins, and arrogant dogmas of mechanical materialism.
Yet we all experience love. We all know that courage and friendship exist. We experience them. We all know that there is more to life than that which can be measured by technology. We all long for more than our intelligence reveals when it is projected outwards.
When we turn our intelligence in upon itself a new world opens. It is not the world of science, though we can approach it with the scientific spirit. Neither is it the world of which religions usually speak, though it speaks to the longing that underpins religious endeavour.
It is first the world of internal experience. A world in which intelligence encounters not only its own context, but its own functioning. Secondly it is the world of perception, rather than the world of objects and actions. The concrete is replaced by the fluid. The particular is replaced by the general. The local is replaced by the non-local. The stable is replaced by the dynamic. We are no longer in a world of objects and actions. We are in a world of rhythms and vibrations, currents and tides.
Our everyday vocabulary is populated with words derived from our experience of objects and actions. It is inadequate to our inner world. We can not navigate and map it with the same terms and points of reference. We must let go of our need to be right. We must let go even of our ability to be certain. We must relax and let go into the dynamics of change.
Yet if we let go deeply enough we will be taken through the ever changing flow of sensations, perceptions, impressions into their context, their container: the changeless. While everything we are used to naming and describing is continuously changing, the changeless remains. While our experiences, feelings, sensations, thoughts, perceptions come and go, they do so within the continuous presence of awareness.
Even when we are asleep awareness remains. Otherwise how would you be able to wake up when the alarm goes off, when the earthquake cracks and rumbles? The assumption that awareness disappears when we fall asleep is based on the inadequacy of our interior vocabulary. Awareness can be conscious, as it is when you read or hear these words. It can also be subconscious, as when you are woken by a sound or a vibration.
Awareness is the non-negotiable foundation of your experience. Without it you could have no perceptions, thoughts, sensations, feelings, experiences. You would have no life.
Yet how well do you know awareness? How many of its properties can you identify?
Perhaps the most obvious and important functional property of awareness is its ability to reveal, to illuminate. Perhaps its most significant structural property is its changelessness. Everything we know changes, in one way or another. Except for consciousness.
There are other structural properties of consciousness that are more seductive, delicious and obviously nourishing: spaciousness, love, peace, delight.
Yet the changelessness of consciousness is what we most need to become intimate with in the face of the ecological catastrophe that is approaching. This catastrophe, which is already well under way, will challenge our every vulnerability. It is already compromising people’s ability to breathe, drink and eat healthily. Our biological vulnerabilities are going to become more and more obvious, more and more deeply challenged.
If we are not to be overwhelmed by these challenges we need something real and available to offer us courage and resilience. It is in the changelessness of consciousness that this can perhaps most easily and authentically be found.
Don’t waste your time thinking about whether or not this idea fits into your pre-existing belief system. Forget about it, or test it. Try being scientific about it. Take the time to get to know your own nature. Take the time to become intimate enough with your own presence that the presence of consciousness becomes clear. Not only as the subtle luminosity by and within which everything is revealed, everything is experienced. Find its changeless nature. Find that unchanging invulnerability at the heart of your own nature: the love that you most deeply are.
If you need help visit radicalecology.net.