Friday 11 August 2023

The great (and attainable) task of becoming more conscious

It seems impossible (for many reasons) for us to make ourselves feel good, or even better, most of the time - certainly not all of the time. Indeed, to focus on our feelings seems like the wrong approach altogether. And indeed it is! (although our feelings are nonetheless always relevant). 

Higher consciousness (i.e. a more god-like awareness and perspective) sounds to be working along better lines, with better goals; but it is hardly more attainable in practice - if higher consciousness is regarded as a more divine way of being. 

It does not take much adversity to prevent us achieving higher consciousness (or even imagining that we do), or to knock us off such a perch. And our own sinful natures will do the same, sooner or later.  

Yet if we recognize that consciousness is a kind of awareness, then more consciousness is a frequently attainable goal. 

In the first place we can be aware that more consciousness is needed in general; 

Secondly we can be aware that greater consciousness is desirable in some particular; 

And thirdly; at best we might actually experience that consciousness

Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield both regarded this as perhaps the most important task of Western Man in the Twentieth Century - and that fact that Western Man did not even attempt that task, is a deep and primary cause of that profoundly self-hating, and self-destructive civilizational trend that continues to increase. 

Of course, consciousness is a means or a mode; and to become more conscious means conscious of something. That bit often gets left-out when people talk about consciousness. 

The first step therefore needs to be gaining an understanding of that reality of which we desire to become more conscious - and that implies metaphysical reflection which is itself a form of consciousness. 

The first goal (for most people) is to become conscious of our own primary assumptions concerning the basic nature of reality - how reality is 'structured', how things-in-general work... whatever these assumptions may be (and they are likely to be negations, about what is Not; since that is what our culture inculcates).   

Only after we are aware of them, can we decide whether or not our metaphysical assumptions should be allowed to stand, or should be changed. 

For example, yesterday I was writing that I personally want to regard (assume) reality, the universe, this world... as alive, and composed of Beings. And that I want this - because I regard it as true, and because regarding the universe as made of things leads to great evil. 

Such a recognition (a specific wanting) is at the second stage I described above; it is a recognition of some specific awareness that I desire to develop. 

Even of itself, despite that this form of consciousness is known-about rather than actually achieved, this is progress - and it potentially enables discernment and evaluation of the world.  

From this recognition, I can then strive actually to experience this consciousness of the living universe; actually to see things that way, from that perspective. 

This may be achieved to a partial degree, or for a limited period of time; and we should aim to be aware of this achieved degree of success as well. 

At this phase of Man's development; self-awareness, consciousness, is a vital concern; because without it we cannot escape from this arrested spiritual-adolescence that afflicts so many Western people so severely (and indeed - apparently - nearly everybody everywhere to some significant degree). We have painted ourselves into a corner by our fundamental assumptions - and there can be no escape until after these assumptions are revealed and challenged - otherwise we will just set-about rebuilding our own prison. 

There is therefore a necessary inward turn; rooted in a recognition that our external culture is making things worse; but an inward turn that enables and should be followed by an outward turn, whereby we strive for consciousness of this/ then that/ then the other. 

As a task; it has no obvious end point, and is the task of a lifetime potentially. 

However, what it is that we become conscious about, is a thing that will vary between individuals, and at different stages of life. 

For the young adult; love, sex, work are likely to be subjects about-which to become more conscious of our assumptions, and what we would desire our assumptions to be. Such concerns are spontaneous and unavoidable. 

Whereas for an older person; sleep, death and "the dead" may well become much more important subjects than they were for the young adult. Again; such concerns tend to arise spontaneously.  

In general, the subject matter is not chosen but presses upon us spontaneously. However, the formulation of the pressing problem or recurring question is almost certainly wrong (and therefore unanswerable) - unless the earliest stage of metaphysical reflection has been successfully accomplished. 

It may seem that the task of becoming more conscious is a futile and quietistic bit of private piety - irrelevant to the world, and symptomatic of extreme decadence and selfishness! 

But that is itself an assumption based upon metaphysical convictions that are (very likely) to be unknown and unexamined. 

Before validly discarding the ideal of increased consciousness as a valid goal - for you yourself, here-and-now - you would need to understand explicitly what you would regard as a valid goal and why - in an ultimate (not merely short-term expedient) sense. And become conscious, too, of the nature (and 'mechanisms') of relationship between the individual person and society. 

The thing is to Make A Start; from then, the next problem you ought to address will reveal itself - and one thing will lead to another. 


agraves said...

Bruce, higher consciousness is something which must be desired to be achieved. My experience is that developing higher states needs a change in the subtle physiology in the body. There needs to be a glandular stimulation via pituitary, pineal or other bodies to move vertically rather than horizontally. How this stimulation occurs is a good question: verbal understanding can bring sudden insights via such stimulation, people have tried drugs and other things to bring the change about. But somehow today we don't seem to be getting the increased consciousness. We are getting increased emotionalism with enhanced imagination and decreased intellectual capacity leading to an unlimited number of problems. In the days of the Vedas it was said that just hearing an explanation of reality was enough to move the student to enlightenment. Today not so much.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - I am pretty sure that higher consciousness - of the kind we need, that is genuinely higher, and not a reversion to childhood or earlier developmental states - cannot be achieved via physiology or any other bodily change.

What these may do is remove obstacles or distractions, or simply provide evidence that consciousness can be different from the mundane.

The states you seem to be talking about were what Barfield terms Original Participation - the natural and spontaneous consciousness of tribal hunter gatherers and children, and one which partially (although dwindling) existed until recent human generations.

These are reverted-to with altered states of consciousness such as drugs, during psychosis, and in partial sleep states.

But that is Not what is needed - because they diminish conscious level and diminish awareness of self and discernment, and memory. The multiple failures of the 1960s in this direction (not only with drugs, but also Eastern religious practices) should convince us that it is not what we should be doing.

But for us, I'm sure we need to be aiming at a conscious and chosen type of thinking, and intensification of self-awareness and of thinking; not their reduction.

i.e. At Barfield's Final Participation - or what I have tried to describe as Primary Thinking.

Epimetheus said...

If indeed we are all under individually customized “bespoke” tutelage of God and the Angels, then the primary reason to have enhanced & increased consciousness is so that we “pay more attention in school.”

agraves said...

Bruce, isn't Primary Thinking already based in higher consciousness. To make use of such thinking one must have the capacity to employ it, hence existing higher consciousness.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - I think I agree!