There is a fanciful story of a yogi who died and was taken to yogi’s hell because he had broken his vows. In yogi’s hell he was shown three rooms and given the last choice he would ever make of where he would like to spend eternity. The first room was full of yogis standing on their heads on a cement floor. He declined because he thought that sounded painful. In the second room there were yogis standing on their heads on a wooden floor. This seemed like a better option but still very painful. So he asked to see the third room. In the room the yogis were sitting in chairs at a table drinking coffee, but they were knee deep in filth, mud and excrement. This didn’t seem great but a lot better than the other two rooms. After all, it was only knee deep and he was able to drink coffee. So he chose the third room. No sooner had he sat at the table and poured himself a coffee than a devil walked into the room, blew a whistle and said, “Ok, coffee break’s over. Everyone back on your heads.”
Should have gone for the room with wood floor after all. It feels quite liberating to make light of a religious belief that has been used to spread so much fear and shame. The belief in heaven and hell is attractive to the small self because the ego longs to live forever and it loves to believe in absolute good and evil with appropriate rewards and punishments. Did you know that 63% of Americans believe in hell where people are punished eternally? But when the question becomes more pointed, “Do you think you will go to hell after death?” only 1% say they are going to hell. Nearly 2/3 of Americans believe in hell but virtually no one thinks they’re going there. French existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre was right; “Hell is other people.”
It feels comforting to put other people in the box of evil, because it makes you feel righteous and safe. It’s been interesting to watch the response to the killing of Osama bin Laden this week. A few times I had to pause and wonder what it was we were celebrating. I don’t fully understand the psychology of celebrating the violent death of any person. I can understand celebrating a sense of relief like you might have at the end of a drawn out trauma, but it didn’t feel like that. It was too joyful, almost smug. The word “justice” was used too often, or in the case of Rudi Giliani the word “revenge”. Justice that is based in revenge just adds hate to hate, and revenge is an insatiable beast that in the words of Ghandi “makes the whole world blind.”
The death of bin Laden could be celebrated but not because of his personal demise. Rather it could be celebrated as part of the demise of bin Ladenism and all that he represented. His death was one more step in a process of global transformation that has been taking place for some time, a raising of global consciousness being led by young, non violent protestors in the Middle East who neither looked to bin Laden for leadership nor served his violent agenda. We could celebrate the resilience of Americans who refused to give in to the cunning attempts by terrorists to engender fear and uncertainty into everyday life. If we now revoked the Patriot Act that was only ever supposed to be a temporary measure after 9/11, we could celebrate the raising of consciousness in this country because we choose not to live in mistrust and suspicion.
With our raised consciousness, we don’t need to imagine bin Laden in hell. We can make peace with him, knowing that his agenda failed because we wouldn’t let it infiltrate our psyches. To live in fear and paranoia is to be in a hell of our own making. We can make peace with bin Laden, knowing that like many misguided extremists before him, he had a partial truth about heavy handed American foreign policy that created far too many enemies. We now seem to be heeding the same message but we hear it so much clearer from non violent protestors in the Arab world that it’s time to let Middle Eastern countries create their own form of democracy.
With our raised consciousness, we don’t for a second condone the calculated violence of bin Laden, but we choose to respond from a higher perspective than what he operated with.
What is consciousness? There are many theories about this. The way I describe it is that we each have our own level of consciousness, the total package of our current awareness. Sometimes we include more people and perspectives in our awareness than other times, but we have a general level of consciousness. Our consciousness is not one static thing, and it may not be located in one particular place. It is the ever changing combination of nature and nurture, genes and scenes, thoughts and feelings, impulses and instincts that give you a unique perspective in any given moment. It’s not necessarily the way things are. It’s the way they taste to you at the time.
A few years back we were on vacation in Panama. We had our first experience of eating miracle fruit. The miracle fruit is an amazing berry. It doesn’t claim to be a weight loss marvel or to increase antioxidants like some other wonder fruits. It’s a miracle because for several hours after eating the miracle fruit, everything else you taste is sweet. So we ate lemons and limes and even they tasted sweet after eating the miracle fruit.
Consciousness is like that. You experience life exactly according to your current level of consciousness. With a grateful consciousness, everything becomes a reason for gratitude. With a fearful consciousness, everything becomes threatening. You imagine that you are a highly rational person and that you make well informed decisions and discernments. But in reality a good portion of your life is driven by unconscious forces; memories tucked away in your inner filing cabinet, intuitive understanding that seems to come from nowhere, sudden achievements that surprise even you.
Similarly, communities, nations and the globe as a whole have their current levels of consciousness. Sometimes we unconsciously follow the group response without much thought. I had this experience in 1994. I was downtown in Sydney one night when huge crowds began to gather in the streets. I had no idea what was going on. People were singing and dancing arm in arm. I found myself caught up in the festivities without a clue what I was celebrating. Finally I said to someone, “What is it we’re celebrating? Why are we so happy?” He said, “It’s just been announced that Sydney won the bid for the 2000 Olympic Games.” Ah, woo hoo, I said and the party continued.
Too often, religion is like this; group think, assumptions and prejudice justified by self serving beliefs that God takes sides and rewards loyalty. Some of the response to bin Laden’s death has also seemed a bit like this. Crowds of people going along with the group response. The President tells us it was justice. The government tells us we’re safer. The media conveys pictures of New Yorkers partying at Ground Zero and crowds gathering at the White House. Our consciousness is so often shaped by group think.
At a time of global transformation such as where we find ourselves now, it’s a great opportunity to check your assumptions, search for the hidden motivations and consider what level of consciousness you are operating from. Global consciousness is raised by individuals who raise their consciousness.
There is a long tradition of leaders who were consciousness raisers. You might even call them hell raisers; people like Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. More recently people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto among many others, have helped to raise the consciousness of the planet by raising the bar on personal responsibility and reinforcing the social contract to be mindful of others, especially the most vulnerable. It’s frightening to think about how many of the people I just listed were assassinated for their efforts. When you challenge the status quo, people get scared and tragic things happen.
Our calling is to be consciousness raisers. When terrible things happen in the world, our calling is to come from a higher perspective than the act or situation we are responding to. Albert Einstein said, “You can’t solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them.” If someone is acting with hatred, you can’t beat them with more hatred. You will just create an endless spiral of hatred.
I’m not talking about being passive or allowing abuse to continue. I’m talking about being smart and coming from a broader perspective. Raised consciousness is able to hold more than one quality at a time, for example both forgiveness and personal rights. You can forgive someone and demand that the behavior changes at the same time. You can accept someone without fully trusting them. Let the trust grow in time.The amazing thing is that the behavior is more likely to change with this raised consciousness, and if it doesn’t change you are more able to deal with it internally.
Protestors in Egypt and now Syria are a great example of this very point. They are demanding change, but doing so in reasonable ways which makes their case more compelling.
Being Mother’s Day, it’s a good time to remember that mothers have a special role in raising the consciousness of the next generation. The ancient story about John the Baptist jumping in Elizabeth’s belly when Mary came to visit is a story usually told at Christmas time. I always liked it, but when I considered it in the context of consciousness, it came alive for me. There is no reason to think of it as a story of supernatural intervention. Babies kick, and from one perspective this is just the story of a kicking baby. The miracle is in the circumstances and the experience of connection. The story is told through the eyes of two women which was revolutionary enough in a patriarchal world. Elizabeth, according to the story, was 80 years old and barren. The connection she experienced with her unborn baby was tender and significant. She was beginning a bonding process that is itself a natural miracle.
This is a parable about the incredible merging of consciousness that takes place between parents and children. Kids do not arrive in the world as blank slates. They come with a huge amount of genetic coding and unconscious impulses. Then their environment and parents help to shape them as people. It’s not that the whole pressure is on moms. But moms are powerful to impact the consciousness of kids from care during pregnancy to the way you talk and play with kids in their early months. The relationship between mother and child is a mirror into wonder. Until about 18 months old, the child thinks she is an extension of her mother and many later beliefs grow out of these early interactions. At the same, for a mom, your child is a mirror into the mystery of who you are as a spiritual adventurer on a human journey.
I’m not saying that Moms need to be perfect. On the contrary, moms can model a sense of adventure and forgiveness to their kids because you are willing to try new things, then acknowledge your limitations without dwelling on failure.
And I’m not just talking about Moms. You don’t have to have children to be a mother. We all have a parental instinct to nurture children, pets, communities, ideas and causes and when you are truly passionate you will give yourself to these children of yours unconditionally. When it comes to consciousness, you are always giving birth to something. As with the story of Elizabeth, the consciousness of one person can raise the consciousness of others by virtue of their interactions. Something incredible is being birthed in the world right now, as more and more people honor the feminine dimension of life, tap into their intuitive wisdom, and seek non violent transformation of oppressive systems.
With all this talk about raising consciousness, how do you do it? Where does this new consciousness come from?
It comes from within. It’s all there to begin with. You just need to remove some of the protective layers to uncover your wisdom that is often unconscious. It’s partly about trusting your intuitive wisdom, and it’s partly about making manifest instincts and motivations that are unconscious; make them conscious and intentional. Either way it’s an inner challenge.
It’s like cleaning frost from the windows of your consciousness. You can scrub for hours on the outside and make only slow progress. The more effective way of wiping away the frost is to light a fire on the inside. Shine a warm light on the frost from the inside and the frost will vanish like nose prints on windows. Frost on consciousness is often hiding your awareness of what you value, why it’s important and where your true motivation lies. Revenge for example is often a suppressed self loathing. Light a fire of awareness on all the dark places, fears and habitual patterns and you will see beyond them to the perfect peace within. Then this peace will manifest in your actions.
At root, the situation we face in the world today is not a political crisis, and it’s not an ecological crisis. Nor is it a financial crisis. It is a crisis of consciousness. The old way of operating is no longer working. We can either rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic and slowly sink or we can radically change the way we approach the challenges and do it from the inside out. The solutions are there, awaiting our attention. It’s a cause for great optimism that there are signs that people are beginning to make this quantum leap in consciousness. That is something well worth celebrating.
Evolving consciousness in me greets the same in you. Namaste.