Tuesday 22 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. 

Why are we, here, now; so much more vulnerable to wrong ideas than Men of the past?

It seem clear to me that Men of the past could believe all kinds of wrong things (and even have massively contrasting religions), without coming to serious harm. 

There was a very broad area of what seemed like common sense that meant almost all people, everywhere, shared broadly the same ideas of The Good.  

But that now wrong ideas, and almost any wrong idea seems to suffice, leads to the grossest evil of value-inversions; such that people nowadays consciously, actively and strategically pursue lies, ugliness and sin (and persecute truth, beauty and virtue) in ways that simply did not happen in the past.  

The best explanation for this difference of which I know, is Owen Barfield's account of Original Participation

What this suggests is that originally Men were spontaneously, and mostly un-consciously, immersed-in and controlled-by the divine and spirit world - from birth and through their lives. 

This influence came-through in all kinds of natural instincts; and these instincts shaped all traditional social practices - without awareness or planning. 

These ancient Men were less free, less consciously aware - and they just accepted and followed all kinds of behaviours which - ultimately - derived from the nature of divine creation. Men were mentally part-of divine creation, and therefore what they thought and did was broadly concordant with divine creation.    

However; across the ages and through the centuries this has dwindled. 

Men have become more conscious and autonomous of the natural and created; and in recent generations the immersive and unconscious, instinctive, controlling link between the divine and spiritual, and each Man's thinking, has been all-but severed (except during early childhood). We are cut-off from God and divine creation. 

This phase we currently inhabit is what Barfield calls the Consciousness Soul; and it explains why bad/ wrong/ evil ideas now have such a devastatingly inversional and weird effect on individuals and societies. 

There is still a sense in which we all still already-know (naturally, spontaneously, instinctively) what is Good (i.e. true, beautiful, virtuous, in harmony with God and creation) -- Yet that knowledge lacks the automatic regulatory power it used to possess. Instead, we are often deeply suspicious of this innate kind of knowing. 

At any rate, such knowing is far more easily confused or over-written than ever before in history - often as a prelude to its inversion.   


If all this is so - what does it mean and imply? 

It means that, in some sense, we can and should return to living in harmony with God and creation and in connection with the world of spirit. 

But it does not imply that we should recreate the behaviours and societies of the past. Indeed that is strictly impossible; since we are now so utterly, radically, different from the Human Beings that used to inhabit such societies. 

A society based-upon the natural and spontaneous connectedness of people to God, cannot happen when people are - as a matter of fact - Not spontaneously connected to God!

If not, then what? If not the impossible reversion - how instead might we move towards the harmony with God that Christians desire? Well, one helpful step is to identify and correct wrong ideas of our own

The fact that these wrong ideas were (pretty much) harmless to Men of the past does not mean that these same ideas will not harm us now. 

Bad ideas now are widely and deeply toxic to our whole alignment with the world of divine creation - therefore we absolutely need to become aware of them, and correct them.  

It's a big job - for a Christian to identify that which used-to-be regarded as harmless, or even as necessary, to his faith - and then reject it as incompatible with the basic aim of Christian life! 

Yet something like that, seems to be the special and vital spiritual task of this time and place.