The Search for the Origins of Consciousness

The Search for the Origins of Consciousness

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Have you noticed that there seems to be something very important happening in the world today? The current epoch in human evolution has spawned a renewed interest in discovering the truest nature of our existence and relationship to all of life. We are becoming more conscious of the maintenance of our bodies, the powers of our mind and spirit. Satellite news and the Internet are creating in us an awareness of human suffering on a level that exceeds our predecessors.

Quantum Physics and String Theory are bringing us to a paradigm shift that is in many ways reflective of the mystical traditions of the ancients. We are in effect going through a radical phase of evolution; an evolution of consciousness.

I have been fascinated with this evolution since around age seven when I first became aware that I was aware. This awareness awakened in me a series of questions that surrounded the essential topic of my existence and my purpose. These same questions have been posed for eons and have inspired many religious philosophies. These philosophies have served as guidelines toward civilized behaviors and given us possible reasons for our being. As such, they have done a fine job and helped to give us a focus on a transcendent reality.

Perhaps you too have noticed that there seems to be something looming on the horizon which is inspiring a deeper yearning in the human heart. Like a motivating force, our rapidly changing awareness seems to be encouraging us to inquire into the truest nature of our being and our collective purpose. The resulting spiritual effect has been a spawning of what is loosely termed New Age Philosophy.

A deeper inquiry into New Age Philosophy, reveals that it is really just a new interpretation of some age old concepts. Concepts regarding the nature of human consciousness, our ability to ponder our relationship to divinity, the world around us and each other.

Perhaps it was my endless curiosity that somehow created my experience of the past few decades. Perhaps it was my destiny or karma as Hindu philosophy would imply. In either case it has been my good fortune to have taken part in some cutting edge research on the nature of expanded consciousness and its applications. In 1988 I was invited to join the lab team at The Monroe Institute.

The Institute was founded by Robert Monroe who in the 1950’s began having spontaneous Out of Body Experiences which prompted him to research brainwaves. In time, he developed a sound technology which would create a brainwave entrainment and facilitate altered states of consciousness. I joined the Institute in the capacity of Recording Engineer/Producer to create the audio exercises utilizing this technology for the Institute. In the early days of my tenure, questions arose surrounding the truest nature of the effect that the technology had. Most assuredly, the data supported the claims and prompted deeper questions; “What is consciousness?” and “Where does it originate?”

The brain has long been considered the seat of consciousness by materialists.  Our purportedly unique ability to be aware that we are aware is a phenomenon called self-reflective awareness, which distinguishes us from many of our planets species. In strictly reductionist fashion, the human brain and its functions have been studied for well over one hundred years. Science has quantified the complex whole into various regions and found specific functions attributed to these regions. You have probably read that the concept of spoons or chairs lives in one region of your brain, while what one does with these items lives in another.  This information is processed faster than any computer yet invented. The brain is a fantastic organ.

Science has also quantified states of consciousness and identified correlating brainwave regions such as Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta and Gamma. Each of these electrical regions have distinct yet subjective experience in consciousness. This quantification has aided the psychiatric and educational communities greatly in understanding human behavior and cognitive learning styles. While science has gifted the world with intriguing information and new working models, there are quite few holes left unfilled. The question’s “What is consciousness?” and “Where does consciousness originate?” remain a mystery.

If we are to break down what we humans have been able to ascertain thus far, we can see that western science clearly views consciousness as a byproduct of electrical activity in the brain. They obviously have a point because it is observable in living organisms. Once brain function ceases, the subject it dead and therefore no longer conscious. The only problem with this rather clear cut observation and final analysis, is there have been a volume of documented cases involving people who die on the operating table. They return with experiences of being conscious of what was being done by the doctors to revive their dead bodies! Western researchers often scratch their heads at such stories while at the same time, resolve that there must have been some remnant of brainwave activity that somehow went under the EEG radar.

The mystics and religions however have a different slant that easily falls into their model of what consciousness is. They are very comfortable with the idea that consciousness survives the physical body and therefore cannot be a byproduct of brain function. This is one of the basic splits between science and spirituality. So let’s take a look at the models that we humans have created around the concept of consciousness by asking the first question:

What is Consciousness?

If you put 100 consciousness researchers from several different disciplines in a room and asked this question, you might get as many as 100 different answers. This is because there are so many different ways to answer the question. The diverse explanations of the nature of consciousness might be joined in one word; experience. The experience of consciousness (as we humans experience it) is mostly subjective or personal. It is a product of so many things which includes the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual make up of the human being. One thing we all have in common regarding consciousness is that it seems to require something that we call awareness.

Consciousness as Awareness.

For both the scientist and the mystic, the buck could stop here. On the surface level, awareness seems to be consciousness. That is the first dictionary definition. However, the definition of the word awareness would differ in both camps. The scientist would be talking about the physical body and mind being awake and functioning, while the mystical interpretation would include what you were aware of on a spiritual level. The Buddha called his brand consciousness enlightened consciousness. He was aware of his Buddha nature and that we are all of the same substance. A Christian might have the same interpretation with regards to being awake to the workings of the Holy Spirit. In either case, both camps the scientific and the spiritual, referring to consciousness and awareness, as meaning that you are either awake or asleep. For those who adhere to this mindset, consciousness and being conscious (or aware) are one and the same.

However, consciousness or awareness is much more than simply being awake or asleep. Think of all of the things that you are aware of right now. You are aware of what you are seeing, the room temperature, the feeling of pressure on your body from the furniture you’re sitting on and the sounds in the room. Many of these, you probably weren’t cognitively aware of until my words directed your attention to them, but the information is presented and integrated at the subconscious level of your mind never the less. You knew on some level, what the state of your surrounding were.

Now that you are consciously aware of these, allow yourself to note that you are also aware of your thoughts on this presentation. We can obviously hold a lot of things in our “consciousness and awareness”. Scientist and mystics alike would likely agree that consciousness and awareness is indeed multi-layered. Western science speaks of information moving through our senses into our brain at the subconscious level. The mystic would include that information is coming to us from the superconscious level.

Consciousness as awareness and comparison.

Human consciousness is considered by both the mystic and the scientist as being unique. One of the more unique facets is our ability to compare one thing against another. One researcher I know answered the question “What is consciousness?” like this. He said “Consciousness is a compendium of cortical stimulation and cognitive content”. This means that as you experience things in present time through your physical sensory perception, the information coming into the brain dances with the information that is already stored in memory.

Let’s imagine that it is about 4:30 pm and you are in the kitchen watching dinner being prepared. Immediately your senses of smell, sight, hearing and taste are engaged. This information sends signals to the brain which begins to analyze that your hunger is about to be satiated. Prior to this input, you might not have even been aware that you were hungry. It wasn’t part of your reality until your senses were engaged. This is an example of cortical stimulation.

To continue: On closer examination of the food being prepared, you find that your favorite entree is in the oven along with a side dish of something that you don’t like at all. You experience a desire for one food, but will resist the other. That is cognitive content in action. You compared the two and made a decision based on past and present experience. In this particular example, we see that human consciousness has the unique ability to move around in time. The present, past and future are integrated into our experience of reality. Amazingly, all of this takes place in a matter of seconds, mostly without our thinking about it.

Our ability to compare things we like from things we don’t like, is analogous to a river which runs from the deepest wells of our psyches. Its origin springs from the observation that you are you and everything else is…..well everything else. We all share this individuated sense of awareness and act upon it daily, usually without consciously thinking about it. Some call this the subject/object split. This strange and ancient part of our psyches places each and every one of us in a rather unique position in space. Alone in a universe of our own making, while simultaneously experiencing a collective reality with others.

Consciousness as Perception of Reality.

The question; “What is consciousness”, gets even more bizarre when we consider that consciousness (defined as experience and awareness) also effects the components of our psyche,through a sort of “learning feedback loop”. Since we transfer our past into the present through memory and comparison, we actually react as if the past were present and reinforce our past beliefs in this way. Effectively, we are internally creating reality rather than experiencing it for what it is in the now. I know, this sounds a little mystical, so let’s distill it into something that everyone can relate to. Let’s go back to the kitchen.

The side dish, (let’s choose carrots because I don’t like them) is sitting in the oven next to this wonderful leg of lamb! (You can tell I like lamb) My comparative mind is doing a dance that affects my reaction to my sensory perception. My mind is longing for the lamb and rejecting the carrots. My rational mind might be concocting a scheme to avoid eating the carrots! Why, don’t I like carrots? Because when I grew up, they were served boiled and I remember not enjoying the flavor. This is a learned response. My wife (who is preparing this wonderful meal and knows I don’t like boiled carrots), reads my facial expression and informs me that this particular carrot recipe is the perfect compliment to the lamb. “Try it. You might like it” she says. What is the reality? Already my comparative and rational minds are using past tense information to effect my experience of the present moment. My mind is made up. I don’t like carrots! This recipe could be fabulous, but I am not going to even try it. Unless I have the courage to push past the threshold of my past experience.

This rather mundane example has far reaching applications, when we consider how many other beliefs we transfer to the present based on past experiences. Psychologists deal everyday with people whose entire present time realities are reinforcing some sort of distortion based on past experience. The sad part is that often times these distortions have gone well below the threshold of the client’s awareness. These belief structures lay in the subconscious mind and are often times more difficult to bring to the foreground of cognition, to say nothing of the struggle to release their enticing grip.

We all have belief systems that have been become ingrained. These beliefs provide a comfortable foundation upon which we can view our own unique sense of reality. People who work with therapists are often trying to release the grips of these belief structures because they suffer on account of them. Without question, the content of past experience has a definite impact on our current sense of reality. This psychological phenomena creates limitations to your experience of the present reality which, if given half a chance, might prove itself to be a completely different experience than the past. In the interim, they are depressed, angry and full of other limiting and life stifling emotions.

The emotional component of consciousness.

Our emotions play such a huge roll in our experience of consciousness. On a mental level, if we are happy, we think more clearly and positively. Sadness and depression have the opposite effect. On a physical level, happiness shows itself in an energized body. We have a spring in our step and physically move in the world with lots of energy. Sadness and depression leave us feeling as if we are moving through quicksand. Our emotions have a physical and mental effect. Where do these emotions come from?  It is possible that these feelings are the products of the subconscious mind (cognitive content) interacting with the conscious mind (cortical stimulation) as part of the feedback loop. The feelings themselves are transferred to the present because of past experience.

All forms of contemporary psycho-therapy are designed to help the patient bring into cognition (awareness) the subconscious emotional components of their current experience. It is believed that through bringing the subconscious thoughts and feelings into cognition, that the problem will heal itself. This is obviously true in many cases. Through therapy, people make significant changes in their lives as they realize that they are no longer beholden to the past. Some however, continually loop their experiences and get stuck. For example, even though the patient can now intellectualized that their abusive parents are dead and no longer hold any influence, the patient still acts in the self destructive forms that keeps them miserable. Usually in the form of attaching themselves to abusive people.

In the psychiatric community, it is believed that these problems stem from a chemical imbalance in the brain. As such, by introducing the right combination of pharmaceuticals, the imbalance can be corrected. This is why so many people are asking their doctors if (insert drug here) is right for them.

For right or wrong, these methods of working with the emotional components are largely due to the Cartesian model of consciousness.

The Father of the Western Model of Consciousness

Since the time of Renee Descartes, western scientists have held the belief that the seat of human consciousness is the brain. His famous statement “I think therefore I am”, is the foundation of western model of consciousness. The Cartesian model has helped western civilization in ways too numerous to mention. It has brought so many things out of the realm of myth and into observable truth. Its primary function is to create tests which can yield observable results.  It is a good model and has recently gotten a bad reputation by those who find it annoyingly dismissive of anything not observable. In truth, the Cartesian model has some holes in it. It’s far from perfect in its search for clinical perfection. Not everything can be observed. Sometimes, observation leads to the wrong conclusions. Clinical observation of the human brain has led to some very interesting correlations between brain’s electrical activity and the subjective nature of consciousness.

Consciousness as Self Reflective Awareness. The hall of Mirrors.

Descartes theory was the basis for the well know phenomenon of human consciousness referred to as “self reflective awareness”. Self reflection is an “I/Thou” form of consciousness or perception. Personally speaking, it began for me the day that I realized that I am me and everything else is not me. For most people this happens at a very young age. This boundary is a container for the ego. “I” exist within this boundary and everything else that I experience in my world is outside of the boundary. This ego boundary is necessary to experience life. As I grew, I learned more about what it meant to be me. The boundaries became more defined and rigid as I thought about it. I became reflective about who “I” was, and established a relationship to the world based on my experience of this I. In many ways, this I in development was also informed by the influences around me in order to fit in to my society.

As I continued to define myself through my external stimuli, my internal world began to make certain discreet shifts. My thoughts and experiences took me to new levels of expressing my identity. I was a musician and I was not interested in things that weren’t part of music. I was intelligent but hated the drudgery of the lessons they were teaching in school. I like lamb but I don’t like carrots etc. As you can see, my ego boundaries were consciously defined by me based on whatever seemed to make me happy versus what didn’t.

We humans do a lot of thinking as we move around in the world. Most of this thinking is done without our being aware of our thoughts. To us, our thoughts are just a part of our experience. We rarely question them at all. It is almost as if we are separate from the process of thinking.

One day, I realized that not only can I think, but I can also think about my thinking! As I took this new awareness a step further, I realized that I was thinking about my ability to think about my thinking! This line of “thinking “ or more accurately meditation, moves on into infinity like seeing your reflection in a hall of mirrors. This is an example of the depth of what Descartes called self reflective awareness!

Maybe, Descartes was right. Human consciousness seems to have an awful lot to do with thinking and perceiving! Our ability to reason and problem solve has had obvious effects on our evolution. However, this hall of mirrors has a slightly different flavor than just our ability to problem solve. Perhaps, this is an example of the human brain trying to understand itself. While still being part of the feedback learning loop, this level of self reflection is an internal one. As such, it is a different experience than using external stimuli to engage the comparative mind. Perhaps this ability to meditate and therefore experience something more about the nature of self and awareness is actually rooted in something deeper. That some thing can be considered a soul, spirit or essential nature of self and making contact with that level of our awareness.

Some say that the human brain has evolved to this level of self reflection as a means of quell our fears of death and other unknowns. We use this hall of mirrors to try an answer the unanswerable. This goes way beyond our problem solving abilities and leads us into a more spiritual model of consciousness. It is here, in the hall of mirrors, that the western and eastern models of consciousness find a more unified co-existence.

A quick disclaimer.

So far I am hoping that you have found this exploration into the nature of consciousness to be informative thought provoking and helpful. Even though it is quite lengthy, we are still at the tip of the iceberg! These questions are as old as recorded history and cannot be answered completely by me or anyone else at the current time. You simply will have to do your own exploration and find your own answers. The next topic has to do with spiritual beliefs as part of the human evolutionary process. As religion is an incredibly charged topic, I ask you to consider what is being said in the light of the topic at hand. Please, rest assured that I am not out to challenge your beliefs, let alone ask you to change them. The point of this article is to discuss something much larger than ideological conviction. I am simply bringing into awareness questions for your consideration.

Cartesian Black Holes.

While all of the above information seems to be true and has been put to the test over many years of scientific observation, there is still something dissatisfying about the Cartesian model. It doesn’t really speak to the spiritual yearning which is part of our humanity.

From the most philosophical regions of the Cartesian model, human spirituality is a by-product of our self-reflective awareness. This is to say, we become spiritual beings because we have a need for answers or we become unhappy. Some suggest the human spirit directly reflects our emotional state. Remember that western science only deals with what is observable and measurable. Someone’s emotional state is measurable. How we feel about life, tells us whether or not we are in good spirits! The human brain, considered the seat of consciousness, is also measurable and has been considered the source of the human spirit.

Over the past 50 years, scientists have made attempts to study the human spirit using the Cartesian model. Applications of this model have found an obvious home in psychiatry and psychology. The more fringe sciences, such as parapsychology and psychic research, also used the model to solve the mysteries of the mind. All of these sciences continue to seek answers to the question of human spirituality through observation of the human brain. Much about the brain has been discovered, but in my humble opinion these discoveries don’t really speak to the spiritual aspects of the human psyche. They are clinical and logical, where our spiritual aspect speaks more to the heart of our evolution. The word evolution here, meaning one’s ability to mature and grow psychologically and spiritually. The result of this research should be treated with respect and at the same time be accepted for what it is. The Cartesian model of spiritual consciousness is only part of the picture and can be misleading. There are recent attempts by some clinicians to explain away all spiritual or “peak experiences” as mere hallucinations brought on through mind altering drugs, temporal lobe seizures or mere flights of fancy. In futures decades this type of information may lead western civilization to regard all forms of spiritual searching as something which no longer serves a purpose.

The Wisdom of the Eastern Model of Consciousness.

The sages of eastern thought have approached the question of consciousness from a whole different perspective than the west. Up until recent times, the eastern model saw everything in reality from the spiritual perspective. In the east, consciousness is defined as a form of energy. Part of this energy is a sort of spiritual wave which one learns to navigate through exploration. A proverbial sea in which one can learn to swim with grace. It is through the use of meditation and the exploration of consciousness, that one becomes enlightened to the truth of existence.

There is more to this energy than something which can be explored to achieve enlightenment. The eastern model of consciousness, although aware of the many aspects of form in the world, sees everything as connected by an energetic force. This unseen force is our connection to the divine, to each other and everything in the universe. This force is compared to the energy of the sun, which encourages plant growth and sustains life. In this same way the sun encourages plant growth, so too does this force encourage our growth or evolution on all levels of the psyche. It is referred to as the spiritual Sun. Most people familiar with ancient religions will understand this connection of the sun to the spirit of enlightenment.

The eastern model of consciousness maintains that every human problem is a problem of the spirit or psyche. All sickness (in whatever form) is a result of a spiritual discord or disconnection from the energetic force that is the super consciousness. Although eastern religions have this same basic idea, they express it differently. In Judaism and Islam, this is expressed as a break from the covenant to remain faithful to divinity or God. Christianity expresses the same idea of connection in the embodiment of one man, Christ; who taught that forgiveness, kindness, and compassion are the keys to salvation. Buddhism speaks of it as seeking out the “Buddha” (or awakened) nature. All of it pointing to the same direction of connecting to something outside of our personal sense of consciousness. Something which is larger than our selves.

Another unifying theme of eastern thought is that physical reality is somehow an illusion or not the highest truth of reality. The afterlife is a continuation of life after death. Death is the illusion and that only the physical body or ego can die. The eastern model considers physical body consciousness to contain consciousness, but is not consciousness itself.  In this model, the physical body/ego is something the eternal spirit puts on like a garment to experience physical life. The consciousness moves throughout physical reality and gains experience. The experience of physical life can either help or hinder the eternal and individuated spirit in the afterlife. The concepts of karma and reincarnation found in Hinduism and Buddhism may differ slightly from Christianity or Islam, suggesting that the soul returns to the physical plane, rather than going hell or paradise; but there is no denying that the idea of a soul exiting the body only to continue it’s existence in some form remains consistent. What is this about? Wishful thinking on the part of our collective psyche that the body will one day die?

All of these are part of the eastern model of consciousness. They are not so different from one another on the most fundamental expressions. So powerful are these ideas to the psyche, that eastern thought has become the basis for the major religious practices of the west. One might think that this unification of thought might be helpful on a global level. So it is reasonable to ask, if all of these are in such agreement, why all the divisiveness? The answer is found in the comparative mind and the struggle of the ego. Perhaps this is our need to cling to the little “I” (the ego) versus coming into connection with the divinity that exist within humankind.

Descartes versus Siddhartha.

Perhaps if Descartes and The Buddha had lived in the same era, they might have come to some agreement on these matters and could have helped the rest of us along, but that was not the case. For many centuries, science and religions couldn’t live well under the same roof. Up until recent times, they seemed to considered each other a necessary evil. The “I’s” just seem to get in the way. The divisiveness extends even further to each respective house. Religions have always argued amidst themselves and have fought to the death over it. Science has the same problem when one area of science considers the other sheer quackery! The “I’s” get in the way.  The truth has a hard time revealing itself under these conditions, but some how light manages to shine through the tiniest of holes in the defensive walls that we build for ourselves. These walls cannot stand against the light of consciousness.

The New Age of Consciousness Expanding.

With the dawn of the atomic age, things are really starting to spice up in both the scientific and spiritual communities. These two communities may be finding a common ground which could assist the whole of humanity grow in the process. Quantum physics (once considered the fringe element of the physics community), is showing us that physical matter reality is not really what we once thought it was. Matter has a lot of unpredictable elements which some experiments show is actually affected through consciousness. Strangely enough, at the same time there has been a growing interest in mystical spiritual traditions which embody the same ideas on how mind affects reality. String theory a relatively new branch of quantum theory, are using complex mathematics to show us that there is a line of communication that exists between quantum particles in multiple dimensions of reality. The concept of multi-dimensional realities is a favorite topic of folks who are interested in new age spirituality. Quantum field theory and Quantum mechanics are beginning to understand that consciousness itself, whether personal or collective is actually fundamental; meaning that consciousness exists on some plane outside of the human brain.

Modern western medicine is taking into consideration the concept that the body is not quite as mechanistic and disease not quite as pathological as once believed. Many physicians are exploring the field of psycho-neuro immunology and are observing a direct correlation between the emotions and the immune system. Spiritual healing and “alternative methods” are gaining so much momentum that they are beginning to reform the established western medical model. That is when opposition isn’t fierce coming from the pharmaceutical industry. In short, these two distinct models of consciousness are beginning to find some common ground. The house’s are not quite as divided anymore.

Something very important is happening. It is a very exciting time to be alive on planet earth. We are in the throws of another major evolutionary cycle were eastern and western models of consciousness are beginning to blend and merge. Societies throughout the globe are changing through the interconnectedness and access provided through the internet and social media. The once clear lines of demarcation are moving and shifting. We are evolving into a new and expanded experience of consciousness on planet earth.

But what is consciousness?

Spirituality and the consciousness evolution.

Before we answer this, we need to visit the last and perhaps most important aspect of the psyche, the spiritual. Since humankind first became self reflective, we have been trying to figure out: Who made all of this? What is the purpose of our lives? Where do we go after we die? When did this all begin and when will it end? Why am I suffering? How did we get here? Let’s call these questions, the who, what, where, when and how in the story of consciousness.

Purportedly our dogs and cats live in blissful ignorance of these questions. They are not self reflective as far as we know, but they do seem to have a concept of self. They think and feel, they just don’t seem to analyze or realize in the way we do. They do not possess the same form of consciousness as we do and as a result, although they too have evolved, their social structures do not include the same sense of spiritual searching as our species. Human spirituality is perhaps the most important aspect of our evolutionary process.

Mankind has spent many thousands of years contemplating our existence. To answer these seemingly unanswerable questions, we have looked to the heavens. In the first recorded civilizations in the east, the ancients told stories that contained unified themes that continue to this day in modified forms. They all believed that the universe was created and inhabited by external deities. What I mean is that these deities existed apart and outside of mankind. They were superior to we human. These deities were personified and projected in the heavens and took the form of star constellations, as idols, such as those found in archeological ruins. Over time, the Gods themselves changed and became something more akin to spirits. Intelligent energies which had agency upon the physical plane. Sounds very much like what quantum physicists are discovering about human consciousness. They theorize that consciousness is fundamental, exists outside of us acts through us.

It is believed by many in the current era, that these ancient stories were not stories of actual Gods, but external expressions of the human psyche and its journey toward self discovery. These myths expressed our longing to answer the unanswerable. They are: Creation stories, Hero’s journeys, Stories of epic battles between good and evil, Mortals who struggle with Gods, Mortals who become immortals and many others. In these stories, the deities seem to act and think very much like humans do. Some are loving and kind. Some are warrior like and destructive.

Humans often interacted with these deities. In these interactions, humans are at the whims of these deities, answering to the question of human suffering. These stories of the Gods of ancient the world all share these common threads. These stories can also be found within the faiths of today and although they have evolved in many ways, the basic messages remain clear. These stories speak to us on the level of spiritual consciousness. They are asking us to have faith, love, hope, and charity. They are asking us to continue the struggle against our shadow natures and ascend toward our own divinity. They are asking us to evolve in consciousness. In my humble opinion, all religions and philosophies have played an extremely important in the evolution of human consciousness. Regardless of belief or tenet of faith, they help us collectively to ask the questions and search for answers. The search is what is important. Life and its continued evolution is a journey, not a destination. The story of consciousness, its unfolding and expansion, is still being written.

The question in the “New Age” is not who is right about the nature of consciousness and matters of the spirit. The question is not about the origins of consciousness and whether it survives the physical body. The questions are: How will we use consciousness? How will it evolve to help empower us to get through the cracks and schisms that cause us unnecessary suffering? Can we explore it, change the internal landscape of it to create a better world for ourselves through our authority and agency? Can our leaders (in all of their varied stripes) afford to use their talents to to teach the young how to do this, or will they simply maintain the status quo in order to hold authority and sway over the consciousness of the masses?

It seems to me, the first step is to unite the varied states of consciousness within each of us. That connection alone will save each of us lifetimes of needless suffering if karma, heaven, or hell do indeed exist. I think they do and we manifest them here in the physical world through how we use consciousness everyday. If that is true from your observation as well, then uniting the states of consciousness is perhaps our best hope. For the benefit of those living in this era and generations to come, I hope we will realize that. In this respect, consciousness is indeed fundamental. Everything we humans experience or create on a personal or collective level begins with consciousness. Every created thing is experienced through our consciousness as we experience it personally is fundamental to our world view. The feedback loop continues as the story of consciousness unfolds.

The only real question we can ask ourselves that can make a difference in how we use consciousness is “How can I integrate my experiences and cognitive content to create the life I intend to have?” This important question bypasses the need to understand the content fully from an intellectual perspective and brings us to presence that we are a story, and that this story is not yet fully written. If we take the time to access, explore, review the content of our own personal sense of consciousness, which many in the “New Age” movement are doing, the tension that is created between what you truly are and what you are to become creates just enough space within you for something else to inform you. In the “New Age” that is often referred to as one’s higher self, spirit guide or something else denoting a higher intelligence. The ancients called it by other names. This “intelligence” is also a consciousness but seems impersonal and its source point outside of the bounds of the self having the experience. Those who experience this phenomenon in consciousness know that creating this space is a journey. A journey of individuation, self reflection, and self realization. Those who dive deeply and come to understand what emerges in this space can use it to self actualize.

To close, this short journey through the possible origins of consciousness is only scratching the surface. It is rooted in intellectual understandings of this thing we call consciousness. All part of the story of consciousness which has been added to for thousands of years. These offer no real clue into the origins of consciousness from an absolute perspective. Although consciousness is ubiquitous, a part of you and everything around you, it is still a mystery. If you take the time to explore this mystery in all of its facets, you will find something very worth while that will feed your body, mind, and spirit. That can be achieved through meditation. Meditation is consciousness exploring itself. The feedback loop continues.